From Cork, Kyle and I continued out to Killarney in County Kerry to visit the national park and spend a night at the Railway Hostel. Our hostel was quite cheery and off from the city center which we liked, but I found unisex “toilets” and showers somewhat disturbing, especially given the sturdiness (or lack thereof) of the locks. The 30 mile ride into Killarney earlier through the mountains did not deter us from taking an evening bike ride out to the national park, though the clouds of gnats did not give us much peace! The park was quite nice in parts, but we discovered our taste for organized wildness was waning after the diversity of scenery we had witnessed while cycle touring across country. Just that morning we had been amazed at the abrupt change in land features as we cycled into Kerry – from rolling hills and green to some serious mountains! Still, it was worth the visit if only to get our kicks hearing the contradicting stories of the carriage drivers regarding the age of a tree (the first driver said 300 years old, but just a few minutes later another driver boasted 500).
That night we debated – do we spend money on a train ticket to Limerick just so we can spend a few days cycling the Ring of Kerry or the Dingle Peninsula? A man at an ice cream stand selling us the ever popular 99 cone (soft serve ice cream with a piece of chocolate stuck in it) had raved to us about Dingle. Or, do we simply cycle to a nice looking point along the coast and then head to Limerick on our bicycles? We decided to do the latter, cycling out to Fenit Beach the next day. Some terrific downhills awaited us en route to Tralee, though on an uphill we had our first bicycle breakdown on our journey when Kyle’s tire went flat. However, the tire fixed up nicely and the view from the beach when we finally arrived was positively breathtaking. After dinner on the beach and a raging game of Phase 10, Kyle and I cycled a path we’d seen many people walking on earlier following the coast line. Around a bend came the view of the open Atlantic and a wonderful spot to set up camp for the night. Right then and there we decided we had made the right choice.
Our ride the next morning was fairly dull, though we did pass by a nice cathedral and got a good laugh cycling through a community where nearly all the homes had put up For Sale signs pending a planning decision on a windmill development. The sun came out in the afternoon, once again coating the countryside in a glowing bright green. With the sun came much more interesting scenery. We made it to the Great Southern Trail, a rail trail project with the vision of connecting Fenit to Limerick along an old rail line. A non-profit group has been working tirelessly for 20 years to make it happen, though presently only about 40 km of what will hopefully be 85 km of trail has been completed from Abbeyfeale to Rathkeale. Local landowners have been an obstacle for the group, frequently opposing the project as detrimental to their own needs/wants. Still, the group plows forward, recently receiving 100,000 euros from the Irish government to make the trail a little friendlier to cyclists. Thank goodness, because Kyle and I had a rough next morning getting our bikes through the gates placed every 300 meters or so throughout a fairly large stretch of the trail! However, the trail was an absolutely gorgeous pathway towards Limerick with scenic vistas looking out over rolling hills and valleys.
That night, Kyle and I broke out a bottle of Merlot-Cabernet over dinner alongside the trail and tried not to get eaten by the bugs celebrating over a feast stupid enough to camp in their home. A few horses came over the investigate the spectacle. Setting up the tent as quickly as possible, we dived in and zipped, only to discover we needed to kill about 100 gnats that had followed us inside. Luckily, they are fairly stupid little guys and we made short work of sweeping them away from our sleeping quarters. The next morning we couldn’t pack up and get away fast enough! After eating breakfast in Newcastle, Kyle and I made short work of rolling into Limerick – just in time for our first planning interview in Ireland.