Ireland’s weather is about as mercurial as my mood – one minute the sky is covered, casting shadows and gloom across the countryside and the next minute all you can see is an endless blue, the sun painting the land in its brightest green. The temperature fluctuates with the sun, requiring that you at all times be prepared for both summer and winter, making a layered outfit ideal. One instant the sun is out and all the fleeces and jackets come off, the next second it has dodged behind a cloud and everything goes back on. It is almost as if it is playing with us. Then there are times as we are riding or enjoying a picnic by the roadside when the sun will come out and warm us within its spotlight as if to apologize for earlier mischief.
These past few days have been glorious. For one thing, Kyle and I have finally begun to establish what works for us while riding. There have been several issues we’ve had to work through. One is food. For those who don’t know, I have Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disorder that wreaks havoc on my small intestine when I digest the protein gluten, found in wheat, barley, rye, and sometimes oats. I’ve been gluten free since August 2012, but studies have shown that adults take three years to heal from the damage prior to being diagnosed and that most people with the disease never fully regain their ability to absorb nutrients. Therefore, keeping myself nourished on a trip where I am sometimes burning over 1000 calories a day while still eating a diet consisting of mostly unprocessed foods has been a real challenge. We finally had to give a little on eating healthy in order to keep my stomach more happy, my energy levels high and our wallets fat. Luckily for us, Ireland is very conscious of the gluten free diet, with laws mandating that all allergens be labeled on all food. They also have significantly better bakeries stocking their stores because we’ve been able to find cheap (and even reasonably nutritious!) and delicious gluten free breads and snacks pretty much everywhere. As a result, we’ve been eating a lot more sandwiches. Of course, we still make some mistakes. For instance, on Tuesday we were riding from just outside Athy to Kilkenny and we decided to have a lunch consisting of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They were delicious, the first peanut butter and jelly I’d eaten in years. However, an hour later I was starving. And the half hour after that. And 15 minutes after that (we had a snack each time). Upon reaching our camp in Kilkenny, Kyle and I set up the tent and I literally face-planted, not stirring until dinner. We had only gone about 30-35 miles that day on fairly flat roads. We learned our lesson and now we always carry lots of high calorie snacks and only eat PB & J for snacks, not meals.
Another area that is improving is my endurance on a bicycle. Last year, Kyle and I went to Troy and back on our bikes (16 miles) with no load and my legs screamed at me. Earlier this year, the maximum mileage I did on my mountain bike with no load while training was 26 miles. Yesterday, Kyle and I climbed small mountains with our bikes, riding a total of 55 miles from Clonmel to our campsite just outside of Cork!!!
Of course what has really been wonderful is the adventure. The sky was blue for our last stint of cycling, making the Irish scenery pop. Yesterday, we saw everything from rolling farmland, to babbling brooks, to beautiful rivers, quaint little towns, castles, mountains, forests, and many many cows. We’ve also been meeting all kinds of people in our journey since we left Dublin. All the tourists have decided we look Irish, because Kyle and I have been asked 4-5 times for directions since we got here. We’ve been lectured by at least three older gentlemen on bicycle safety since we hit the road (the Irish are determined that all cars in Ireland hate bicycles, but our experience has been different). I was even hit on by an Irishman at McDonald’s. Friendliness seems to vary by town; for example, in one town we went to no one said hello, even if I initiated it, and all walked past us with eyes averted and grumpy expressions. In the very next town, we had a completely opposite experience where everyone was giving us jovial greetings, jokes and candor.
Lismore was one such town. Kyle and I picnicked in the park, just in time to share our meal with 50 some schoolchildren (Kyle says 200) led over to the green by their teachers. We then headed over to a local café where we ordered tea and coffee and plotted out our trip. Though it turned out the café had no WiFi, the visit was well worth it. Warm smiles basked us with their glow and behind the counter was a display of postcards from all over the world and we think corresponding tea kettles! Travelers were very welcome here. An older lady with long silver hair pulled back, cheery crinkles next to her eyes and a large welcoming grin on her face greeted us, excited to meet traveling cyclists. Upon hearing we were from America, she joked “Well if they traveled on their bikes all the way here from America then they aren’t Americans, but Earthlings!” She then went into a story of how just last year she had spoken with a 90 year old woman from New York who had previously been feeling very sorry for herself because no one would come visit her in New York. So for her birthday, she sent out letters to all her friends and family inviting them to stay with her in a castle she had rented out for a weekend in Ireland. Well 35 of them showed up for that! Our new friend went back behind the counter and gave us each something “special” to eat as we climbed the massive hill leaving town (that is all I will say on the matter). As we were leaving, I realized there was something lying over my front wheel – a travel pillow! Apparently good faeries live in Lismore.
So far we have two planner interviews lined up for Limerick and Galway (possibly a third here in Cork) and a Warm Showers host for tonight in Cork. According to my dad, my ancestors are from here in Cork County, so I am excited to start the day! Stay posted:)