(This is the second part of a two-part series.)
My wife Sarah and I could not be deterred. Even after our overnight flight out of Logan was delayed just long enough so that we missed two buses – the first from Shannon to Galway, the next from Galway to our starting point in Oughterard – we still were eager to start pedaling around Ireland’s west coast.
It didn’t matter that by the time we got to our bed and breakfast in Oughterard, at around 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 29, we had been on the go for nearly 24 hours. Having fought through the yawns and the head nods, we were finally in Ireland, on our belated honeymoon, and we were ready for anything Mr. Iron Donkey, tour operator Tony Boyd, tossed our way.
Or so we thought.
Boyd arrived at the B & B in Oughterard shortly after we did, so he could familiarize us with the Connemara route he had mapped out and also set us up on the bikes he was providing. I instantly liked the man for his Scottish-sounding Northern Ireland accent and his let’s-get-down-to-business attitude.
When he handed us a saddlebag and told us to pack it with what we’d need for two days, then bring him the rest of our luggage, we hopped to. While the “on-the-double” wasn’t spoken, it was certainly implied. That was okay, though. Sarah and I were sleep deprived and in need of some guidance. Boyd provided that.
Over the next hour Boyd used a highlighter to trace over the small roads we would take to get from Oughterard to Inishmore (the largest of the Aran Islands), then up the coast to Clifden, where we’d stay for two nights. From there we’d go to Leenane, then further up the coast to Westport, and eventually we’d finish back in Galway.
The only thing I really remember about the mapping session, however, was Boyd interrupting himself, while talking about a particularly strenuous day, to ask us, “So, how much cycling do you do back in the states?”
I felt ashamed, disgusted, like a kid who hadn’t done his homework, when I finally spoke up and said, “Well, not much, Tony. Funny thing, we don’t actually own bikes, but we’re both in pretty good shape. We’ll be fine.”
Or so we thought.
The first day of cycling began with what Boyd told us would be a gradual, three-mile climb into the foothills of Connemara. The dude’s metric-system conversion abilities apparently need some polishing. By three miles he meant six.
I was getting by on first-day adrenaline combined with the energy I got from the first of many traditional Irish breakfasts (one egg, two pieces of bacon, two sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms). The rationale that at some point we were going to chew up chunks of mileage cruising down the hills we were going up helped too. And of course the scenery – green hills, rock walls, flocks of freely grazing sheep – distracted me from the fact that my … ahh … my bottom was quickly becoming very sore.
Sarah wasn’t so willing to tough it out. With her hands hurting because of the falcon death-grip she had on the handlebars and her derriere in similarly deteriorating condition, she chose to walk her bike up the steeper inclines.
Even with our pace slowed, though, we made it to the Aran Islands ferry terminal in Rossaveal with an hour to spare. That gave us time to talk more about the terrain we had just traversed. The conversation, as I remember it, went something like this:
Sarah: “My bum really hurts.”
Me: “Ah, yeah, mine does too. And my knee isn’t feeling too good either.”
Sarah: “These bikes really stink.”
Me: “Yeah, they don’t provide much in the way of shocks, do they?”
Sarah: “It feels like I have a really deep bruise down there. I don’t think there’s anyway I can get back on the seat today.”
But she did. We both did. We had another three miles (Boyd conversion factor: five miles) to go after the 45-minute ferry ride to Inishmore, so we soldiered on – through our first Irish drizzle, then our first Irish downpour.
Soaked and sore, we arrived at our B & B and decided it was time to stop our complaining and make some decisions. So, after some more complaining, we decided that, this being our honeymoon – a time for romance and relaxation – we needed to rent a car ASAP.
If there were any lingering doubts, Mother Nature told us we were doing the right thing the next morning when she hit us with a raw, whipping wind and face-stinging rain during our ride back to the ferry terminal. From there, we caught a bus from Rossaveal back to Galway (the nearest city), found an Internet cafe and got to work.
Sarah’s Internet sleuthing is world-renowned, so I wasn’t surprised when she located a Budget car rental office within 300 yards of the cafe. An hour later we were on the road to Clifden in a tiny Toyota with Boyd’s bikes crammed into the backseat.
It took a while for me to stop feeling guilty about wussing out. I consider myself an active person, so I was ashamed to have given up on the biking so easily – even if my sore rear prevented me from sitting comfortably and my surgically-repaired knee was stiffening by the day.
But pints of cold Guinness helped me feel better about things. And Sarah kept reminding me that this was our honeymoon, so what if we weren’t torturing ourselves on the bikes? We were supposed to be having fun and we were.
We went on hikes and lounged in pubs. We ate fish and chips and drove our tiny Toyota at top speeds on the wrong side of windy roads.
When we caught up with some fellow cyclists – a middle aged woman and her father – at our B & B in Westport and admitted that we’d stopped cycling altogether they asked why.
“I had knee surgery recently,” I said. “And it was just too much.”
The father, probably about 70, sympathized with me. He’d had BOTH of his knees REPLACED within the past year.
I choked down the guilt with another pint.