Hardware curmudgeons; Climbing mountains and coming back down them; Trying to find a house in a dark haystack

Morning came a bit too early and a bit too loudly as the construction crews on the road opposite fired up their machines around 8. It had been a chilly night, but we had both bundled up and used our silk sleeping bag liners - about which I can’t rave enough, they were well worth the money - so we were warm enough. We certainly weren’t comfortable though. For one thing, we were stupid enough to set up the tent on a slight angle, without thinking that our heads would be lower than our feet - it felt like we were sliding downwards all night and we both woke up with headaches. I knew better, but we were both so tired when we went to bed that we couldn’t face moving the tent. For another thing, I’ve never tried to fit two people and two full packs into that tent before, and putting the packs at the foot end (the only option) didn’t leave us with enough room to lie stretched out - we had to sleep curled up, which is fine for a little while, but doing it all night makes your hips ache in the morning.

Sheryl’s breathing was quite bad for the first hour she was awake - she was very congested and was coughing a lot. She started sounding better after a few cups of tea, though, so we dressed and headed into the village to rent bikes. The only place to rent them was the local hardware store, and the owner, a Mr. Tommy McGrath, was a rude and cranky son of a bitch. Refused to be talked down from his ridiculous €15 asking price, and wouldn’t offer a half-day rate. Sheryl was very displeased at the idea of spending so much on bikes, and so was I, but we needed them to get to anywhere good in the area, and so we thought we had no choice. He did finally relent and allow that we could drop the bikes at his house that night, instead of at 5pm when he closed his shop. Such a kind and generous soul. In the end, we only used the bikes to ride out to Glendalough to the Wicklow Mountains National Park, and back that evening, so it was a big waste of money, since we could probably have hitched there and back. I feel bad about it, since it was mostly me who wanted the bikes.

After settling with McGrath and receiving garbled and unclear directions to his house, Sheryl started for the park and I took a detour back to the campsite to pick up a few things, including my camera battery, which had been charging in the office building. After leaving again, Sheryl was a good 20 minutes ahead of me, so I tried to make up the time and catch her, but she finished the 14km to the park five minutes before me and was waiting on the lawn. On the way, we’d both passed a gang of cyclists in good bikes and spandex - Sheryl found out from a cop that they were on an annual 500 mile tour event. That would be so amazing to do - I’d love to tour Ireland on a bike. I’m going to have to find myself a touring companion, though - Sheryl is definitely not up for it, though she’d like to be.

After a short snack and a dramatic interlude when Sheryl had to have her little pumpkinhead doll mascot rescued from under a locked washroom stall, we started on the trails. After twenty minutes or so we realized that the trail didn’t make sense against the map, and that this was because there were two information centres for the park, not one, and that we were not at the one we thought we were. So, back on the bikes for the short ride to the other information centre, where we found trails that made sense and that we actually wanted to be on.

We picked an 11km loop that went up and down one mountain. The trail was very civilized for the first few kilometers, with a rail-tie boardwalk for footing. The ties were laid lengthwise and covered with wire mesh and big chunky staples to grip the shoes - quite smart really. There was an awful lot of climbing for the first half - up to 600 or 700 meters. Not a big deal for me, but poor Sheryl was suffering. She didn’t complain at all though, and kept up the effort, resting when she needed to and plugging away until we got to the top. The views were magnificent, with the bare sweeps of hillside and the blue of the lake at the valley bottom. The weather was perfect too, warm and sunny. I got a sunburn on my face despite the sunscreen, which was not a surprise - I expect to have a red face and peeling nose more or less constantly on this trip. My face seems to burn very easily since I got a terrible burn in New Zealand a few years ago.

Coming down the mountain the trail wasn’t as nice, being mostly on gravel roads, so I’m glad we did the loop in the direction we did. We finished back at the Visitors’ Centre around 6, taking 2.5 hours to do the trail which was rated for 4 hours. I’ve never understood how those figures are arrived at. We rode slowly back to town, getting there a bit late and having to scramble for groceries.

After dinner we had to return the bikes, which took an absurdly long time because we couldn’t find the man’s house. None of the streets in Ireland are signposted, and the house didn’t have a number, only a name. After crisscrossing the village looking, in the dark, for a nameplate on a house reading ‘The Beechgrove’ or something equally retarded, we finally gave up and asked the first person we found, who gave us enough direction to find a group of houses, the second of which was the right one. Not realizing the first house was actually the police station (locked up and dark, as Sean the policeman had gone home to his mum for supper), we went to the wrong place and got set straight. Finally, the bikes returned at last, we walked back to the campsite, turned the tent ninety degrees so our heads wouldn’t be pointing down, and crawled into our sleeping bags feeling very old and damp.

Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
This travelogue comprises 16,426 photographs and 402,515 words in 307 dispatches written from 335 places in 52 countries on 6 continents around the world.
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