Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Friday, September 29, 2017

Dingle: Castlemaine to Tralee

This trip to Ireland began in mid September 2017 - I'm slowly getting around to posting

Today was to be our last day of touring. Plans were to head back to Dublin to catch up with friends there before flying home in a couple of days. I checked the train schedule and determined we could  have a leisurely breakfast in Killarney and do some browsing in town before catching a mid day train back to Dublin, or we could have a quick breakfast and then climb over the big hill out of Castlemaine into Tralee and catch the train there (which would pass back through Killarney).

This is the very steep climb we did 24 years ago, after replacing our busted freewheel with a new one with giant cogs (i.e. much lower gears). It is a brute of a climb. I recall begging to stop and take a break on the tandem when we did it the first time. John had promised a great view, but it was so foggy and cloudy that I could barely make out the back of his head!

We went out of our way last year to take in this climb, leaving Camp, on the north side of the peninsula, climbing a horrendously steep road over the ridge to Castlemaine, then climbing back over the ridge towards Tralee on a similarly steep narrow road. Now rumor has it, there are much easier ways to get to Tralee, but despite having reasonably fresh in my memory how tough this climb is, I mapped out the route to take it in. This was to be our last day of touring with gear, so we might as well make it a good one.

Despite the orientation of this sign, we are going up that gradient!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Kerry: Gap of Dunloe and Molls Gap

This trip to Ireland began in mid September 2017 - I'm slowly getting around to posting

We woke to heavy rain. We are in Ireland after all, so it shouldn't be a surprise. After finding that the tiny lawnmower/bike shop in town didn't have any pulleys, I initially planned for us to head into Killarney and get some pulleys with the proper number of bearings before tackling the two big climbs. However, once on the road, I started to feel confident that our repair from the day before would survive the day. When we reached the decision point, a signpost indicated it was a bit farther into town than I'd thought, so we decided to take the risk and head straight up the Gap of Dunloe. I'm happy to report that we made it  up and over the two climbs and then into Killarney with no further problems. Once there we found a bike shop and acquired new pulleys and hopefully I am good for another 10,000 miles.

Last year we rode the Gap of Dunloe in the opposite direction, but on a similarly gloomy day. We didn't see a soul. On this day, we were surprised to encounter loads of horse and carriages. The area is famous for these tours, but it just seemed exceptionally busy. We also were surprised to continue seeing them on the other side of the gap. But I suppose if that's all the traffic we'd have, it would be fine. The rain also eased off as we climbed and soon I had removed all my rain gear and was down to shorts and jersey.

We had lunch in the gift shop at Moll's Gap and then bundled back up for the long descent down to Killarney. This was the only place we had traffic on our entire trip. At least it was all downhill, but it reminded me why we avoid the big roads.

We stopped for photos along the way, but soon arrived in Killarney, where first order of business was to find a bike shop. Once pulleys were acquired, we took the shop owner's recommendation for a nearby hostel, which turned out to be one of the nicest hostels we have found in Ireland.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Kerry: Ballaghbeama-Ballaghisheen

This trip to Ireland began in mid September 2017 - I'm slowly getting around to posting 

One of the things you may notice about our photos is lack of cars. Now this isn't from just not taking photos when there are cars around or selective editing. It is our careful choice of car-free roads. I say careful, but it's actually not hard to do - if you are in the know. As I've mentioned in previous posts, using OSMCycle maps on RideWithGPS, we simply select the white roads. Often after hearing that I've spent quite a bit of time cycling in Ireland, Americans, especially, express concern about fast cars on narrow roads. I always tell them if you get on narrow enough roads, you won't see cars. Just be sure to bring fat tires and fenders!

Traveling in September also helped a wee bit with traffic or lack thereof, especially in the more touristy areas. It was precisely because we were not in prime tourist season that we were willing to head out onto the Iveragh Peninsula - that and the fact that we planned to spend very little time riding on the busy Ring of Kerry - unlike the 10,000 cyclists who take part in the annual Ring of Kerry Sportive. That is the only time many people will even consider cycling the Ring, because most of the roads are free of motor vehicle traffic on the day of the event. The Ring of Kerry route is one of the most popular routes for big tour buses thanks to wide main roads and beautiful scenery with mountains on one side and the ocean on the other - although from my experience, the best views of the Kerry mountains is from the peninsulas to the north and south.

Kerry is home to the highest mountains in Ireland. The interior is pretty rugged and there aren't a lot of thru-roads thanks to those big mountains. (There are loads of rugged hiking trails) The exception is the roads leading to and from Glencar over the Ballaghbeama Gap and Ballaghisheen Pass, both of which are really too narrow for those evil tour buses, making this option quite appealing to us.

On my first tour in Ireland, 24 years ago, we did actually ride some on the Ring road, but it was late November, and we essentially had it to ourselves. On that trip, we headed out on the southern side of the peninsula and stayed the night in Sneem. From there we rode to Waterville and on to Cahersiveen where we planned to cut back inland across the Ballaghisheen Pass, followed by Ballaghbeama Gap, then up and over the unpaved Gap of Dunloe to finish on Moll's Gap. Sadly we blew apart our freewheel a few meters shy of the top of the first climb. We walked the last bit and luckily were able to coast downhill to Killorglin, where we found a lawnmower/bike shop and replaced the busted freewheel. The primary goal for this day was to have our bikes survive the wrath of Ballaghisheen.

We planned a slightly different route this time. Starting from Kenmare, we would climb Ballaghbeama first, the Ballaghisheen and descend down Cahersiveen, where we would get on the Ring for a short while and pick up some smaller roads to Killorglin. We'd save Gap of Dunloe and Moll's Gap for the following day.

Oh good, we are going the right way

I mentioned lack of cars, but there is traffic, as shown above. We encountered a few sheep-jams on these small Kerry roads.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Beara: Coppermine Road

This trip to Ireland began in mid September 2017 - I'm slowly getting around to posting

The route that we took to Allihies the previous day circled around south of Knockoura Mountain. We spied the masts on top of Knockoura as we approached from the east and then noticed them again from the west side. John looked at the map to try to find a way up. I wasn't sold on the idea though and told him he could ride up before breakfast. I had mapped out a route over something called The Coppermine Road, that looked hard enough as is without doing a 1500 foot out and back beforehand. Looking through maps as I work on this post now, it appears we should be able to ride from Allihies all the way to Castletownbere via Knockoura on some future visit - when we will also plan to stay at the Buddhist Meditation Center.

Luckily for me, the climb up to The Mountain Mine Man Engine House and beyond was tough enough to get John's attention (and make him very happy). However, it nearly broke me! Just when I thought it couldn't get any harder, it turned to gravel AND got steeper. In the previous post, I talked about how gentle the Healy Pass was. Maybe that's because I was comparing it to this one. This was definitely the hardest climb I've done in Ireland.  John, of course, loved it.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Beara Peninsula: Healy Pass to Allihies

This trip to Ireland began in mid September 2017 - I'm slowly getting around to posting

People often asked me about favorite places to ride in Ireland. I struggle with an answer and have suggested this is like asking which is your favorite child. There are so many beautiful places, lovely quiet roads, rolling farmland, dramatic coastal views and breathtaking mountaintops. I can barely narrow the list down to 50 places that one simply must cycle through.

However, I will put a plug in for the Healy Pass on the Beara Peninsula as a worthwhile destination for a touring cyclist. The climb is gentle, but steady. It has loads of twists and turns, giving you multiple opportunities to see from whence you came and what lies ahead. The road is well maintained but narrow, and therefore quiet. And no matter what the weather, it is always beautiful.

Our route on the Beara Peninsula saw us head out and over the Healy from south to north, then back south across the spine to Castletownbere, then over another little ridge to reach the tip before staying the night in Allihies.

We had finally dried out from the previous day's deluge and the sunshine and mild winds were not unwelcome.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sheep's Head

This trip to Ireland began in mid September 2017 - I'm slowly getting around to posting 

You tend not to remember the sunny calm days when everything went smoothly. It's the days with a big mechanical or ferocious winds and cold torrential rain - those are the ones that stick with you. I'm happy to report that, at least we had no mechanical problems on our ride to Sheep's Head. However, we had some pretty serious wind and rain.

It is not uncommon to get high or gusty wind in Ireland. After all, it's the first land mass after 3000 miles of open water. Storms will pick up some steam as they come across the Atlantic. Wind is just to be expected. So I shouldn't even call what we experienced at Sheep's Head extreme, at least it wasn't extreme for Sheep's Head. But it was pretty extreme for me!

The final mile to and from the turn around point made for a serious challenge in staying upright and making forward progress. When we tried to get a photo in front of the sign, I struggled to hang on to the bike. What a contrast to the calm sunny day before at Mizen Head. Needless to say, we didn't take a hike out to the headlands and even stick around at the cafĂ©.  We took our photos and quickly headed inland.

The wind swirled and gusts constantly threatened to toss us off the road. Then the road we had planned to take turned out to be a muddy track. So we had to backtrack a wee bit before finding the next road across the spine down the center of the peninsula. This one led us to an amazing little goat path of a road, that was somewhat sheltered from the worst of the wind. However, sheltered from the rain, it was not. Ah, finally a proper Irish-weather day. The rain came in sideways.

Still I wouldn't want it any other way. You have to have days like this!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Mizen Head

This trip to Ireland began in mid September 2017 - I'm slowly getting around to posting

Today's route would take us out to Mizen Head, the southernmost point in Ireland. Because of this geographic significance, Mizen Head and Malin Head, the northernmost point, serve as start and end points for many cycling adventures in Ireland. There is the occasional end to end record attempt, but lots of bike touring companies seem to have end to end rides as well. 

John and I came out to Mizen Head on our first tour together in 1993, a year before the interpretive center was built. I'm not even sure there was a sign indicating the significance of the place.  However, this time around we found a sprawling tourist info center and lots of visitors.

But I've leapt ahead. Before we got to Mizen Head, we deviated off our planned route when we spied the dead end road up Mount Gabriel, one of the nine radar sites operated by the Irish Aviation Authority, or the two giant golf balls, as the locals call it.

caught grammin'

Friday, September 22, 2017

To Skibbereen

This trip to Ireland began in mid September 2017 - I'm slowly getting around to posting 

Why, you may ask, do I go to the trouble of documenting our trips, including photos, maps and links.  Maybe one of my seven loyal readers will be inspired to follow our tracks or check out a few of the places we have visited. But to be honest,  it's really for my own use, when years later, I return to a place and want to see what we did before! My first trip to Ireland was in 1993 and I wrote an article that later got published in a now defunct Tandem Magazine. I subsequently put it up on our original website. Since we were planning to revisit some places from that trip, I pulled up the article to  see where we stayed and what we did.

While reading through it, I was actually surprised to discover that we had stayed in Skibbereen on that trip in 1993. I didn't have any distinct memories of the town from that visit. However, I had much fresher memories from last year, when we passed through at lunch time and had a fabulous meal at the Church Restaurant. I made note last year to come back for dinner, so I mapped out a route to Skibbereen.

Fortunately my stomach was feeling much better after a day off and some pills from the pharmacist. For Americans, who are used to going into a CVS or Walgreens, and perusing shelves upon shelves  of OTC drugs, going into a European pharmacy can be a little intimidating. Although, in fairness, a visit to a US pharmacy might be intimidating to Europeans. In most of Europe,  pharmacies are quite small, and they don't carry vacuum cleaners and holiday decorations! And the drugs aren't sitting out on a shelf. Even for non-prescription drugs, you tell the pharmacist what's wrong and they suggest one or two drugs that may help. "I think I have food poisoning and I need something to settle my stomach." "Ok, take 1 of these every 12 hours until the symptoms go away." Whatever it was, it did the trick.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Happy Birthday Dave

This trip to Ireland began in mid September 2017 - I'm slowly getting around to posting 

Monday arrived and we found ourselves all alone.  On Sunday, Daphne and Kevin left for Portugal. Dave had an assignment in Macroom for a week. So Siobhan and Sam went out to stay with Grandma in Belmullet. John and I still hadn't decided quite what to do. My initial thoughts had been to get the train up to Sligo and tour around Donegal, but the weather wasn't looking particularly favorable up that way. Then I got a notification that it was Dave's birthday. How had we let that slip?

We came up with a plan to head in the direction of Macroom, take Dave out for his birthday and then take in the southwest peninsulas. We'd skipped these popular tourist destinations last summer, figuring traffic would be unpleasant, but decided since it was now off-season, we might find quieter roads. But first it was off to Macroom. We decided to get the train out to Mallow and then ride from there to Macroom. So we loaded the bikes up and cycled into Carlow to catch the train.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Some gratuitous climbing

This trip to Ireland began in mid September 2017 - I'm slowly getting around to posting

In 2016, we started our Irish cycling tour with a bang by aiming for Mt. Leinster right out the door. However, due to some excessive photo stops (on John's part) and poor communication (from me), I turned left at the Nine Stones and climbed up to the mast. When John arrived at the turn, he thought I had pressed on and descended, so he proceeded to chase a phantom cyclist down the far side of the mountain. At some point a flurry of "where are you?" texts clarified each other's whereabouts. Well, I'm not sure John has ever forgiven me for missing his chance to climb to the mast on that calm, clear day, so this year I had to pay penance. With a forecast for clear skies, calm winds and mild temperatures, I suggested we stay an extra day in Carlow,  so we could climb to the mast and take in the views.  John's eyes got wide and bright.

Mount Leinster dominates the horizon in Carlow and is always a draw for John when we are here visiting his family. Similar to Mount Washington in New Hampshire, Mount Leinster seemingly has its own weather. Even on days where it is completely clear all around, there may well be a cloud concealing the mast at the top. The intense rain and wind on top are the stuff of legends. But when it is truly clear, it is worth all the muscle aches and sweat to get to the top. This was to be one of those days.

There were just enough clouds in the sky to make for nice photos, and just enough wind to give a gentle push up the 22% gradient, while helping to evaporate some of the sweat gushing from my brow.

Altamont Gardens

This trip to Ireland began in mid September 2017 - I'm slowly getting around to posting

A couple of days ago, we stopped in at Altamont Gardens at the end of our cold wet ride, just as they were closing. Wanting to explore more, I mapped out a route down to Mount Leinster that would go by the gardens first. We had a lovely stroll around the place.  Now John could spend the whole day here taking photos, but we did have a lovely calm clear day and the mountain beaconed...

Monday, September 18, 2017

West Wicklow

This trip to Ireland began in mid September 2017 - I'm slowly getting around to posting

Siobhan again kicked Dave out of the house for more work as a local tour guide. This time we headed for some hills in West Wicklow, with plans to stop in for a visit with John's uncle in Ballyhacket on the way back.

We didn't go far before our first stop for coffee and scones at Duckett's Grove. Regular readers will have seen this setting many times before. It's only a few miles from John's grandparent's farm and is a regular stop for us whenever we are in the area. Despite numerous visits here, we never realized we could go inside. As we pulled up on the bikes, the woodworker, who has a shop there, told us we could walk around behind his truck and get in. We had a grand time seeing parts of the castle we had not seen before.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Around Mount Leinster

This trip to Ireland began in mid September 2017 - I'm slowly getting around to posting

With a new baby in the house, John's brother Dave, hasn't had many chances to get out for rides recently, but Siobhan (the new mom) was quite gracious in pushing him out the door to take us on a ride circumnavigating Mt. Leinster.  Daphne and Siobhan planned to spend the day together, with baby Sam.

I didn't look carefully enough when Dave sent the route, and actually thought he had us going up Mt. Leinster. The route profile had a sharp spike and it was headed in that general direction, so I assumed we had a big day of climbing ahead. Taking pity of the sleep deprived dad, I decided I should go along with whatever he had chosen! If Dave, who hadn't ridden much this summer was willing, I shouldn't complain. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017


This trip to Ireland began in mid September 2017 - I'm slowly getting around to posting

We had such a nice time last year when we rode to Castlecomer, that we decided to do it again. We headed out via Milford, where hydro-electricity first provided power for streetlights in Carlow.

Friday, September 15, 2017

To Carlow

This trip to Ireland began in mid September 2017 - I'm slowly getting around to posting 

We did not have any definitive plans for our Irish trip this year, other than meeting our new nephew, Sam. OTOH, John's sister, Daphne, did have some definitive plans to head away for a couple weeks, just a few days after we arrived. So if we wanted to see her, we'd need to get down to Carlow right away. Conveniently, young Sam and his parents, Dave and Siobhan, live just across the street from Daphne.

So we loaded up our bikes with warm clothes and headed south. We found a great restaurant for lunch in Ballymore Eustace,  The Ballymore Inn. We will definitely make this a destination on a future trip. 

After lunch John had plotted out a route over Church Mountain, but he wasn't quite sure, he'd picked the right road, or even the right approach. I jokingly texted Dave to ask if he thought our marriage would survive the ride over Church Mountain.

As it turned out, the mapped out route became a very steep gravel track, and unlike the long days of summer, we were facing an early sunset and heading off into the unknown might mean a late night arrival. So we did a little backtracking and took the main road. That's the main road, pictured below!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Hill of Tara

This trip to Ireland began in mid September 2017 - I'm slowly getting around to posting

It has now become traditional to join Colm for a spin up to the cafe at the Hill of Tara. In 2013, I was still recovering from a broken back. So John, Declan and Colm cycled up, while Suzanne, Muriel and I drove up. After lunch I had a great time walking around and taking photos in the awesome early winter light.  The next year, I was thrilled to be back on a bike, as John, David, Colm and I cycled up. Then it just became an annual thing to ride with Colm up to the Hill of Tara, repeated in 2015, 2016 and again this year.

We spent our first day on the ground in Ireland walking around, running errands, and re-assembling John's bike. Since I'd left my Honey in Ireland last year, I just needed to attach a light and GPS mount.

Then we called Colm to see if he'd like to go ride the next day. Unsurprisingly, he said, "Sure, Hill of Tara?"

We decided to meet at his place, so he could show off his pristine bike shed. Something is just wrong that this shed is so clean or organized. Every tool is hanging or put away. Wheels and frames hang from the rafters, and one can actually walk around without tripping over tires or bike parts. I know John has dreams of a setup like this, but somehow our workshop just doesn't meet the mark.

So after geeking out for a while, looking at freshly repainted frames and new acquisitions, we finally hit the road. 

Sadly each subsequent year traffic around Dublin becomes worse, so it's a few kilometers further every year before John and Colm can ride side by side and catch up on a year's worth of conversation. This means the lunch stop gets longer and longer every year to make up for the lost chatting time on the bike! And with such a long lunch, including dessert and hot cocoa - the real reason for going - we didn't have much time to wander around the grounds. After our late start, and extra time checking out to bike shed, it seemed that the dark monster was certain to catch us on the way home, so we decided to head straight back. Also despite the way Colm was dressed, it was quite chilly and blustery.