Photo by Jason DeVarennes

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.

One down...

We made a quick detour into the thriving metropolis of Glencar, where we found the classic Irish scene of a couple of old farmers holding down the bar stools at 11 o'clock in the morning. One was complaining about his tax bill which I believe totaled less than the price of the few pints of Guiness he consumed that day. With no other options for food, the publican offered to make us some cheese sandwiches, which we happily accepted. One of the disadvantages of getting off the beaten track is lack of places to eat. In Ireland, you will almost always find a pub and a church at any crossroads, but maybe not food.

Next up was the climb up Ballaghisheen. We were climbing the side we descended 24 years prior with our busted freewheel. It was obvious now how we were able to coast for so long. But the climb seemed much harder than it appeared. I was really struggling in my lowest gear and wasn't quite sure I was going to be able to pedal all the way to the top. Nevertheless I persisted!

When we got the the signpost marking the pass, we took a photo signifying our successful ride 24 years later. Although not so fast with celebrating success!

As I rolled the bike away from the sign, I noticed a bit of clunking coming from the drive-train. I lifted the rear wheel and discovered that the pedals didn't turn freely. Maybe that's why the climb felt so hard.

After some investigation, we found a pulley wheel was not moving at all. We tried lube and other simple things (turning it by hand) to no avail. At that point, we removed the pulley entirely to discover it had significantly fewer bearings than it should have and that there was, in fact, no cage to hold those bearings. Floating freely, a few had managed to get out of their groove and jam.  I miraculously had put 10,000 miles on this derailleur prior to this without a problem. We were lucky to not lose any bearings on the side of the mountain, and got the whole thing put back together and moving freely again.

Despite the photo showing John doing the work, it was actually my small hands that were able to fit into the tight spot while replacing the bolt that held it all together. When John was freeing the now jammed clutch, he suggested getting a photo for posterity and to contrast with the shot of me holding the busted cog in the same location 24 years ago.

So Wrath of Ballaghisheen strikes again, but this time at least we were able to get the bike fully functioning again.
Who is that young gal?

I commented that the drivetrain had been skipping for few days when I rolled it backwards and we realized it had likely been getting progressively worse over the last few days. This could explain some of my struggles with climbs. Indeed, the next few miles were a breeze! Oh wait, they were downhill and with a tailwind!

There had been a surprising lack of wind turbines on this trip. Maybe it's too windy out on the peninsulas, or maybe there is a restriction on wind farms in touristy spots. We were thrilled when we rolled up toward these turbines on the quiet road well away from buses full of photo-taking tourists.

We eventually popped out on the Ring road near Caherciveen. We spotted some confusing protest signs that we later learned were related to a proposed off road bike path that would involve some eminent domain type seizures of land. With careful mapping, it is possible to avoid most of the main roads in this area, but a signposted cycle route would be even easier. I hope they can resolve the dispute to the satisfaction of the landowners. We certainly want the locals to view cyclists favorably.

After a late lunch in Glenbeigh, we pressed on to Killorglin where we found a hotel directly across from the bike shop where we'd bought that replacement freewheel 24 years ago. We stopped in to ask about replacement pulleys, but the owner said no one ever needed anything like that! He said we should be able to find some in Killarney.

We then found a variety of closed, but awesome sounding restaurants nearby. Luckily the one place that was open was fabulous. After a week of avoiding seafood after my misadventures in Macroom, I finally had a seafood stew and it was heavenly. And most importantly I didn't get sick!

It may not have been adventure-free, but we had now successfully pedaled over the Ballaghisheen Pass, and that was worth celebrating! Do we dare make another attempt in the future. Third time is the charm, afterall!

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