Bicycling in Kilkenny
One of the philosophies of the space-a traveler is to make the most of every time and place they are in. There is no need to waste the mone...
Thursday, July 6, 2017
Our third day in Ireland had already been planned at the airport bar. As we sipped our last Americanized pints of Guinness, we decided to do something we had never done on any other vacation before. I’m not sure if my newly found courage came from the recent hours spent on the seat of the Wii-like virtual reality driven Expresso stationary bike at my local gym or the rapid buzz I was experiencing as a result of an unusually early quaff, but I wasn’t about to question it. Excited by the prospect of seeing the gloriously famous green countryside from the relaxed view of a bicycle seat with the freedom to stop and digest the scenery as often as we’d like, I happily entered our Costco Visa credit card number securing our bike rentals for two while figuring if nothing else, we were at least contributing to our annual cashback points.
While we do like to keep most of our vacation time open and flexible, we were glad to have a wee bit of structure. We were especially appreciative of this when it forced us to fight our jet lag induced desire to sleep until mid-afternoon. Such was the day we had planned to ride bikes along one of Kilkenny’s many famed bike paths.
Despite all the brain signals urging me to the contrary, we planned to drive the 129 kilometers to Kilkenny in our rental car because we had heard that Ireland’s bus service outside Dublin is not the most reliable, and we didn’t really want to be tied down to any mandated schedule. The one thing I learned from that decision is that freedom is never free! While we did enjoy the flexibility offered by the car, the anxiety and nervousness accompanying nearly every moment of that car ride was a heavy price to pay.
Driving on the opposite side of the road is scary enough, but we didn’t experience the worst of it until we drove into the actual city of Kilkenny. The tightness of its heavily driven one-lane but two-way thoroughfare was a terrifying prospect, but there was no turning back. As I desperately searched for a legal place to park, my navigating husband assured me through every centimeter of the drive by repeatedly and persistently reminding me that our tires were not about to inadvertently squash any toes attached to the numerous pedestrians crowding the skinny sidewalks brushing against our passenger side doors.
We parked the car in a nice roomy spot across from the River Nore behind the city’s tiny library and paid for the full day price. We had no intention of driving it anywhere else other than straight back to Dublin. Until then, it would remain there in that spot, allowing us to relax in the knowledge that it is much easier to walk on the opposite side of the street than it is to drive.
The walking we could handle just fine, but despite the bravery displayed back at the PDX airport pub, I was starting to get a little nervous about the bike riding part. I hadn’t ridden a real bike in years, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to. I kept this uncertainty to myself as we walked to the local and very nearby bike rental place. We arrived just after the main owner had left with the first tour group of the day and were greeted by a very friendly and outgoing gal from Argentina. She asked us where we planned to bike, and I told her the caves. “Oh, Dunmore Caves,” she said as she opened a book filled with trail maps. “That’s twenty-seven kilometers total.”
I must have been wearing a stellar poker face because inside I was screaming, “Twenty-seven kilometers! The most I’ve ever ridden on the Expresso bike was ten miles, and that’s not even a real bike!” I held in my fear as I watched her bookmark two separate pages mapping our lengthy voyage with a pen before she handed the book over to me. There was nothing left to do after that but put on our backpacks, strap on our helmets, and walk our bikes to an appropriate starting point.
After buying some extra water at the local grocery and hitting the pub for an early lunch, we were finally ready to board our bikes and embark on that 27 kilometer journey. But before we could go very far, I had to take a self-taught refresher course on cycling.
At first, things were not looking good for the bike. I’m sure my husband was already creating a plan-b pub crawl event in his head as he watched me mount and dismount that bike over and over again, but I had no intention of quitting, and after several tries on my original bike and a few more on my husband’s bike after he so kindly offered to trade, I finally got the hang of it. The pride of accomplishment and joy of riding in the unusually bright sunshine of early June fueled the first leg of our journey making it all the more worthwhile.
The map took us briefly along the river before we began our trip through a suburban neighborhood filled with modest homes which eventually gave way to a countryside dotted with mansion-like structures perched amid soft blankets of green grass, orange poppies, and fluffy cloud-strewn skies of iridescent blue. We passed by small herds of happy cows and also sheep covered in the soft, downy wool found only in the true Irish sweaters that every tourist must never go home without.
We stopped our bikes often and took pictures as we marveled at the views we had traveled a half a world away to see. The castle that we had been directly next to as we began our day’s trail stood majestically far away as we breathed in the beauty displayed between it and our most current location. We parked our bikes again as we lamented leaving our swimsuits in Dublin. We had not anticipated the many swimming holes the River Nore would have to offer, especially on such a hot, 90+ degree day!
Undeterred by the heat and bright sun, we continued our journey while breathing in the beauty of the countryside and marvelling at the many unexpected sights along the way including an indoor handball court! But as I turned the corner just behind the handball court, I saw a woman weeping over a grave in the oddly located cemetery behind it. Unfortunately, John did not share in my careful observation as he was quick to yell his comments about the paired settings. “Wow, they really take their handball seriously here!” His many years of working on a military flightline impeded his ability to hear my persistent shushes, but I refrained from yelling back at him to shut his yapper for fear that such an act would just add to the already ill-timed noise we were creating. He stepped off his bike and yelled, “I’m gonna take a picture!” Mortified, I slowly turned my bike around knowing that the damage had already been done. As soon as I got in whispering distance of my dear, sweet husband, he discovered the inappropriateness of his comments. “Oh, wow. There’s someone in there,” he said a bit more quietly this time. I dropped my chin to my chest and slowly walked back to my bike resting in the knowledge that everyone thinks Americans are obnoxious anyway.
Quickly recovering from our faux pas, we made our way further up the hill and closer to the caves while making another stop, but this time out of necessity. At one point the road had gotten so narrow and the passing farm equipment so big, we were forced to squeeze into the surrounding prickly brush to avoid assault by tires as tall and as wide as our bodies themselves!
But despite the record-breaking heat, the steep hills, and the monstrous tractors, we persevered to our destination, and it was very well worth it! Aside from just the satisfaction of the accomplishment itself, we were rewarded with a tour into a deep cave that at a perpetual 9 degrees celsius, was a welcome break from the high temperatures we two Washingtonians were not accustomed to.