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August 23, 1996 - September 6, 1996
Wendy Strutin & Jeffrey Riedy

Jeff's Prologue:

The story you are about to read is the result of many months of research, reading, planning, and long, sometimes drawn-out discussions. In the end we made the decisions together, we being my girlfriend Wendy Strutin, and myself, Jeff Riedy. The choice of vacation destinations was an idea I had thrown out during the early stages of vacation planning. Ireland was always my idea of a dream vacation. My blood runs thick with Irish heritage and DREAMS OF GREEN.With Ireland as our goal, we mapped out courses, considered the proper gear, rethought the course chosen, and constantly sought out more ideas, resources, and friendly help from friends, family, and strangers on-line. With my faithful and info-hungry Wendy at my side, we seemed to collect an overwhelming supply of maps, guidebooks, and tourist information. With pens in hand and only months before the journey, we pressed on through the mountain of stuff, until finally just days before our scheduled departure all plans were in tentative position and Ireland lay across a wide Atlantic Ocean, waiting to be discovered.

Friday, August 23, 1996.
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to Dublin, Ireland

2.5 miles out it started raining.
3.25 miles out we passed a McDonald's.
Is this how it's going to be?
We arrived on the red-eye into Dublin. The 5 evening hours we lost should have left us exhausted, but instead we were both exhilarated with anticipation. By the time we cleared customs, claimed our luggage, and reassembled our bicycles it was nearly 11:00. We made plans to meet a friend at the Guinness Brewery downtown at noon, and we were wondering if we would make it. We attempted to orient ourselves and find our way into town. We asked at the Tourist Office, and were told there was a bicycle route we could follow. "Just follow the signs," she said. Well, we saw exactly one sign, and then were left to fend for ourselves. We ended up on some pretty major roads, without a map or a real sense of where we needed to go. Riding on the left proved to require some getting used to, and our bikes felt heavy and slow. Stopping several times to ask directions, we finally found the Guinness Brewery at about 12:15. We searched frantically for our friend, but he was nowhere to be found (in hindsight, I now know he was actually 45 minutes late himself). Amid a bit of anxiety, we locked our bikes in the rainy parking lot, and went on the factory tour. The tour was a self guided walk through a mixture of real but retired brewing equipment and replicated machinery accompanied by an overwhelming amount of written information. We learned quite a bit about the history of Guinness, and of beer in general, and then got to the good part: the beer tasting. The beer was of course quite smooth and flavorful. Wendy surprised us both by liking it. Eventually, the rain stopped and we headed back into the city to find a room for the night. We stopped at several hostels listed in "Let's Go" but they were are full - it was Friday night in Dublin. Finally, on a recommendation from the Avalon House, we ended up at the Malaysia House just a few blocks away from the Temple Bar area. This section of the city is very young at heart – reminiscent of Greenwich Village (NYC) or South Street (Philadelphia) - where it seems everybody has something pierced. Our room was tiny and equipped with bunk beds, but it was an oasis to us. We unpacked our stuff, locked our bikes in the basement, and set out to explore the city on foot. We visited the massive St. Patrick's Cathedral and the Dublin Castle before we felt hungry enough to investigate a meal. We wandered up and down the streets looking for the spot befitting our first meal in Ireland: something cheap, and typically Irish, and filling. There is, of course, no such place, and we ended up opting for excellent Italian fare at Mezza Luna (probably part of the chic chain by the same name found in cities throughout the United States). After our meal, we stopped at the Square Wheel bike shop and chatted with an extremely friendly chap who gave us some route advice and a smile. We stopped at the Avalon House hostel for a cappuccino, and returned to the Malaysia house for some much needed rest.

Saturday, August 24, 1996
Dublin to Wicklow

We woke up shortly after 8am and were the first to enjoy the continual breakfast in the cute dining room. Breakfast was coffee, orange juice, and toast. It was drizzling as we walked around Dublin expanding our wandering to include areas north of the River Liffey and back across the Ha' Penny pedestrian bridge. Near noon, we walked eastward and back to the hostel to pack up for our coastal ride. We then did something we've never done before: set out on our bikes in the rain. We have both ridden in the rain, but it has never been by choice. We suited up in our rain gear and wondered if this was how it was going to be. We headed south through the suburbs of Dublin and as the city traffic diminished, we were happy. The rain stopped, it warmed a little, and we removed our rain gear. We traveled through coastal towns including Dun Laoghaire and Bray. Since we were not able to bring ours on the plane, we needed to purchase a camp stove, and heard of an army-navy store in Bray that might be able to supply one. We searched for 45 minutes, asking directions constantly from friendly but apparently misinformed locals. When we found the store, they were sold out. But we were guided to the Anvil Hardware store where we eventually got our stove. While Wendy shopped, I watched the bikes and was approached by an older local as to our "county of origin." This charming man enlightened us both with his words of wisdom. The most memorable of these was, "Love all, trust none, and paddle your own canoe." And so with that, we proceeded to paddle our two wheeled canoes down the coast through Gravestones, another beautiful village. After awhile, my stomach and bladder begged for attention, and we stopped roadside for rest, relief, and a small snack. We pressed on towards Wicklow while drizzle fell again and the wind picked up. We put our rain gear back on. It was starting to seem like the weather was changing in direct response to whatever we were (or were not) wearing. We were wondering if the whole trip would be spent changing clothes to match the constantly changing weather. We continued towards Wicklow and eventually saw signs for the tourist office. While we were following those, we saw signs for The Marine House, Wicklow Bay Hostel. We took a chance, and went to check on a room. Upon entering, I fell in love with the construction, refinishing, charm, and appearance of the interior. We checked in. En route to our room, the proprietor told us of the structure's history, including past lives as a military installation, convent, orphanage, and more recently a brewery. Our room had a great view of the shore line. As we settled in, the howling wind outside reassured us that we had made the right choice choosing the hostel over free camping available just a few miles down the road. We cooked ourselves a nice meal of corn chowder and red pepper pasta (that really hit the spot) and prepared to walk into town to tour, phone home, and have a beer at the local pub of choice, Philip Nealy's. It was a wonderful, rustic Irish pub, with all the local ales and stouts. I ordered a Guinness for myself and a Carlsburg for Wendy who usually prefers lighter beers. But Wendy sipped both and declared the Guinness as her own. After our pints, we headed back to the hostel for a good night's sleep.

Sunday August 25, 1996
Wicklow to Carlow

We woke around 8am, and motivated to the hostel's spacious kitchen to prepare our breakfast of toast, Gatorade, and tea. We ate, cleaned up, and after some discussion and sky gazing, chose to wear our rain gear. By the time we gathered our stuff and loaded our bikes it was 10am. Our planned route would take us over a mountain that several people had described as too steep to ride up. Still feeling the effects of the jet lag, and not yet accustomed to the weight of our bikes, we chose an alternate route -- but it would be a longer day to get to a town for the night and keep us on schedule. We had 60 miles to ride, although we had selected some bailout options if absolutely necessary. We left Wicklow on the coast road, passing many people traveling by foot. We're not sure if it was because it was Sunday, or if people just walk more here. Today's portion of the coast road skirted closer to the shoreline than yesterday. The scenery was again spectacular with sandy beaches and rocky cliffs to our left and rolling and climbing hills to the right -- it seemed each hill was greener than the last. Amongst this scenery were meadows full of sheep, cows, and more sheep. Even the tops of the hills were covered with green meadows and sheep. Some of the hills seemed to disappear into the low clouds. The coast also supported numerous sport and golf clubs. After 20 miles, we arrived in the village of Arklow and browsed "Let's Go" for a lunch recommendation. We chose the Roma Grill on main street. It was a little greasy, and mayonnaise laden, but it was food in our bellies just the same. Around 1pm we hopped back on our bikes and turned westward away from the coast that had guided us thus far. It had not yet rained, so we stopped to remove our rain gear. Were we wrong? We headed out of town on a winding road, following the Aughrim river into Woodenbridge (where we rode over a wooden bridge). There, we crossed the river and continued along its' banks to the north. As we began to climb out of the valley, rain began to fall. So, we returned the rain gear to our damp bodies just in time for the rain to taper off. The rain continued to tease us this way for awhile until we were bombarded with a very wet deluge of rain and stopped for shelter under a petrol station awning near Killaveny. We waited it out and returned to the road again. We climbed, descended, and found ourselves into Tinahely, another cute village where if you blink you just might miss it. The views along our inland route were spectacular rolling pastures on hillsides, age old structures alongside newer homes and farms and of course more sheep, cows and now horses grazing in the grassy meadows. The surrounding landscape and countryside are divided like a huge patchwork quilt by tree lines, hedgerows, and long, ageless stone walls. Road surfaces are not particularly smooth, but we've considered that it might be intentional. The rough surface makes the road less slick beneath Ireland's frequent rains. The vegetation surprised us too. It's an eclectic assortment of evergreens, flowering plants, and more tropical species like palm trees and cacti. We also saw our share of smiling locals as we went by on our overloaded bicycles. As we passed through the tiny village of Shillelagh, it began to rain hard again -- pelting us with great force. We sought shelter under an overhanging tree for a few minutes and then headed on. We stopped before Tullow for a snack of dried fruit and crackers. Tullow was a very hilly town, but fortunately downhill for us. We pressed on to our evening destination of Carlow. Carlow is a college town, as quaint as any we've seen. Streets are packed with pubs, shops, restaurants, and more pubs. We found the overrated Verona hostel on a back street (Pembrooke) in an older neighborhood. It is a huge (by American standards), old row home that has been converted to a rest stop for the weary and tight-budgeted. We easily fit both requirements so we checked in, took very low pressure showers, and headed to town for some grub. We strolled through town on the main street, side streets and alleys seeking out just the right spot. Everyplace we looked at seemed either overpriced, over heated, over smoked, over crowded, closed (it was Sunday) or just gross. It's hard to believe that as hungry as we were we'd be so fussy. Finally, we settled on The Owl bar and restaurant along Dublin Street. We sat in a neatly trimmed wooden bar room and enjoyed our pub grub. The meal wasn't the best, but it filled us up. On our way back to the hostel, we got some juice for breakfast and I was craving ice cream. I got a Mammoth, Europe's equivalent for a dove bar, only cheaper. We returned to the Verona for our night's rest.

Monday, August 26, 1996
Carlow to Kilkenny

Again, we find ourselves waking a little after 8am, wandering downstairs for a light breakfast and packing for our journey. Wendy has been complaining that her knee hurts often and intensely, but insists on riding anyway. We decided to make today's journey shorter because of that, and also because Kilkenny is rumored to be a really neat city. We dressed in full rain gear, but just before rolling off we had a fit of optimism and removed it. We began our trek south towards Kilkenny along N9 and then N10. The road was not as tranquil as some of the roads we had taken previously, but it was direct and it offered us a nice wide shoulder to ride on. We spun our wheels past more farms and small communities, as well as some deserted ruins of once grand structures. I amused myself by playing with the neighboring animals, baahing at the sheep and mooing at the cows. One heard of cattle was especially excited by this, causing about 100 of them to run towards the road. I was already stopped to witness this near stampede as Wendy downshifted and pulled in behind me to stop. Unfortunately, right about then, her right shift lever fell off right in her hand, rendering itself useless. We stopped, and after much frustration, used super glue and electrical tape to hold the lever in place long enough to get to town. Sadly, this left her with only one useable gear, and no means to shift. Combined with her already hurt knee, it was to be a tough trek for her into Kilkenny. Once in town, we attempted to find a bike shop for a better fix. It was a little before 1pm and as we stumbled across one bike shop after another, it became evident that everybody in this town took a long lunch. With a little time before the shops opened again at 2pm, we went to find our evening accommodations. Following the advice of "Let's Go," we searched for the Bregagh House B&B with "camping in their giant backyard." The book was right again! What a valuable resource it has become. We wandered into the courtyard and were greeted by the owner's daughter. We paid her 4 pounds each, and were asked to set up our tent in the rear of their spacious yard. We chose a spot, and unloaded our gear. We were concerned about Wendy's bike, and walked it back into town in search of a solution: temporary or permanent. J&J's Bikes couldn't do anything for her, so we were told to try another shop on St. Michael's Street. There, the owner said the equipment (downtube shifters) was a bit more high tech than he could repair without the proper parts. Our last resort was the hardware store. I disassembled the levers and determined what might help. With that, I went inside and purchased a strap clamp and a long bolt. After quite a bit of anxious tinkering, we realized that neither was going to work effectively and we returned to the bike shop on St. Michael's Street. We begged until the owner gave it another look. He said he might be able to temporarily fix it by mounting shift levers on the stem, but he couldn't guarantee the performance or that all the gears would be accessible. Somewhat reassured, we left the bike in his capable hands and were instructed to return after 4pm. We decided to put some food in our bellies and after our usual fussy search found ourselves in a cute luncheonette off a side street. As usual, it was greasy but good enough to satisfy. We then returned to the bike shop just as the mechanic was taking the bike for a test ride. It seemed that the stem mounted shifters wouldn't fit her bike, so he disabled the front derailleur and made the left shifter work for the rear derailleur. This was by no means an ideal solution since it left her with only 7 of the 21 gears, eliminated index shifting, and meant getting used to shifting on the other side of her bike. But it was much better than it was when we left it, and possibly even good enough to finish the trip on. We paid our friend the extremely reasonable price of 4 pounds for his service and went off to enjoy Kilkenny castle. As we walked to the park entrance, we were delighted with the tranquillity of the River Nore on our left and numerous castle ruins and greenery throughout. As the park trail wound around to our right, we were suddenly overlooking a vast, grassy field laid out in front of the huge ancient structure. To the right of the castle itself was situated a large play area for children. It has been our observation that the Irish diligently try to entertain their youth. Even the smallest of communities seem to have large arcades for the young and young at heart. We wandered through the castle grounds and across the street where some of the lesser castle structures have been converted into showcases for local crafts people. The structures were beautiful and massive in size. After our castle walk, we headed into town to cruise the shops along Parliament and Kieran streets. Most of the shops are small with lacquer painted fronts and cute hand painted signs. The streets were canopied with strings of Smithwyke flags and mobbed with locals and tourists. After we had our fill (if that's possible) of browsing, we stopped at the large SuperQuinn market to gather some grub for dinner and breakfast. We picked up some potato leek soup, small baguettes, pineapple juice, and porter cheese (local cheddar with stripes of Guinness beer.) We returned to the B&B to write up some postcards and prepare our dinner. The soup and bread hit the spot and our newly purchased Gaz stove worked well -- although not as hot as our peak 1 Coleman stove (Coleman fuel is not available in Ireland, and not transportable on the plane, so we left that stove home). We cleaned up and went back into town for a few pints and some traditional music at Cleere's Pub. The pub was small, the Guinness was flowing, the people were charming, and the music was spirited and fun. After finishing our Guinness, it was time for a good night's sleep in our backyard Shangri-La.

Tuesday, August 27, 1996
Kilkenny to Cashel

Woke up, prepared a light breakfast of bread and juice, broke camp and loaded up for our journey towards Tipperary. We said our good-byes and thank you's to our hosts and were off. It seems to be fairly consistent that the hardest part of orienting ourselves is getting into and out of cities. We generally do not have good city maps, and the cues we copied from "Ireland By Bike," are just to and from the edge of town. It seems we could ask 5 different people how to get somewhere and each will give us different but complex directions. Well - we were reassured as we finally found N76 towards Cashel. N76 is a wider, busier road as we left Kilkenny, but it provided plenty of shoulder for most of the distance. Traffic was moderate leaving town, but much heavier in the other direction into Kilkenny. About 5 miles out of town we came upon a young Irishman who had run our of petrol. He claimed he had no cash and asked me if I could help. After some discussion, I believed he was genuine and gave him one pound -- enough for about 1.5 liters of fuel. He thanked us and we rolled on. Soon after we reached our turn onto R691, the road became a very typical winding country pass. The road surface was a condition I've taken to calling "Accidental Paving." It seems sparse amounts of paving materials were thoughtlessly spilled on the roadway and left to chance in hope it would spread to cover the road. We passed plenty of farmlands, small cottages, run-down buildings and even some new construction. Within a few miles, we pedaled past a thatch-roofed house - the first we'd seen. At this point, Wendy was sufficiently frustrated with her bike and removed her front derailleur completely. There was no cable leading to it and it was impossible to fine tune. In low gears, the chain was rubbing against it. We successfully removed it. As she put even more pieces of her bike into her pannier – she wondered aloud if removing all these parts would make her bike any lighter. Wendy was continuing to struggle with her sore knee and ailing bike and our pace continued to slow. A few more miles along we passed a small caravan of what seemed to be gypsy wagons. Brightly colored and possibly a permanent roadside fixture. We has passed other trailers blocked up along the road in previous days, but weren't sure just why or how long they had been there, We guessed they might be migrant workers, but for all we knew they were just carefree vagabonds with no place to call their own. We took a photo of these gypsy-like carts and moved along. The scenery continued to be awe inspiring and without end, including wonderful rolling terrain spotted with cottages and more long, endless stone walls. Again we passed many groups of cows and horses. We also passed several groups of young children along the road, each curious about our country of origin. Their faces lit with wonderment when we said, "We're from the United States." One of the more exciting experiences with local children occurred as we entered the tiny village of Ballingarry. As I neared, a young red-headed lad, about 8 years old began running towards the road yelling "Mister, Photo, Photo, Mister!" I stopped and three more of his small friends ran up beside him, apparently quite accustomed to this scenario. I gathered them on their front fence and snapped that precious picture for our album. We talked with them for a short time and told them we were American. Their Hazel eyes lit up. We had probably made their day. We know they made ours more special. When we reached the center of town, we stopped for a snack of soda and cookies. Wendy was struggling with every mile, and with some deliberation decided that Cashel would be today's journeys end instead of Tipperary. After a brief rest we resumed our ride towards Cashel, passing many people walking roadside, each offering a friendly smile and "hello." As we approached town, we passed more kids also asking where we were from. One young boy in particular followed us along the road for about half a mile, beaming with joy. The route all day was up and down with a few significant hills in both directions. The nicest downhill was into Cashel. In general, towns tend to be small built up areas in the middle of great expanses of not very much. There are often few warnings that a town is approaching until it suddenly appears. Cashel was no exception and we made the rapid transition from farmland to small metropolis. We found a hostel in "Let's Go," and inquired at the tourist office about possibly taking a bus to Limerick the next day. Taking the bus was not an easy decision, but Wendy needed a rest and we were falling far behind our schedule. The next 150 or so miles had far fewer attractions than the west coast where we were heading, so we decided it would be best to jump ahead. We proceeded to the Cashel Holiday Hostel just off Main Street on John Street. The hostel is located in a 200 year old Georgian town house. We found our cozy room, unloaded our bikes and took turns showering away the road grime and sweat. We then proceeded into town for a wonderful late lunch at The Bake Shop. This was by far the best food we had eaten in Ireland thus far. After our meal we were off to the castle on St. Patrick's rock (also known as "The Rock of Cashel", or just "The Rock"). For a minimal fee, we took the guided tour and learned of the Rocks long, intriguing history. For centuries it was occupied by kings until the 12th century when religion gained a stronghold in Ireland and the church was given the grounds by the current king hoping for favors and a continued tenure at the castle. The church destroyed all the structures and rebuilt them from the ground up. The present structure is massive and stands in partial ruin. Parts of it are being restored by a heritage society. We enjoyed the tour very much and snapped more than a few pictures. After the tour, we headed back into town, bought some ingredients for dinner and breakfast and headed on back to the hostel. Wendy did laundry while I prepared a pasta dinner for two, complete with fresh bread from The Bake Shop. The hostel's dining area was large and somewhat rustic with heavy wooden tables and benches, tile floors and an illuminating skylight in the middle of the ceiling. Dinner was pleasant and filling, although not all that exotic. After dinner we returned to our room, the "James Joyce Pubs" room and finished off some postcards before passing out. Today was the second day in a row we were not rained upon while riding, and for that we were thankful.

Wednesday, August 28, 1996
Cashel to Kilkee

We felt rather ambitious today, planning to conquer nearly 150 miles en route to Kilkee on the west coast of Ireland. On the bus. We patiently waited at roadside for the noon shuttle to Cahir (pronounced "care"), anxious as to whether the bus would allow our bicycles. "Let's Go" says that it is driver's discretion whether to allow bicycles, and that often there is only room for one. We waited at the bus stop with one other person: an old Irishman who we had seen on main street the day before with his pants around his ankles squatting, and doing what nature requires. Especially since most of Ireland has readily available public toilets, this was completely uncalled for. The empty bus arrives, and we rolled our bikes right onto it with no problem and arrived in Cahir shortly after at 12:15. With about an hour to kill before our connecting bus to Limerick, Wendy found a phone and called home. She was a bit vague on the details of her mechanical problems and knee pain because she didn't want to alarm anyone. That done, we stormed the Cahir castle. "Let's Go" describes the castle as gray and damp and everything tourists expect of a castle. Owing to a shortness of time, we skipped the guided tour and opted for a self guided one. We enjoyed the castle and headed back to the bus stop to find a large crowd also waiting for the same bus. Would our bikes fit? The bus finally arrived and I flipped open the underside compartment and neatly pulled both bikes in. We boarded the bus and arrived in Limerick around 3pm. Since Limerick is the second largest city in Ireland, we thought we might find a good meal here. Unfortunately, we found the bus stop was not in the better business district and after a short walk decided to do without the hot meal for now. We snacked on some stuff from our panniers, and eventually boarded the bus to Kilkee. This time, we stored our bikes in the rear compartment. The bus was packed and we chose to sit at the back of the bus to keep an eye on our bikes. The unfortunate part of this was that the rear of the bus is sometimes a favorite spot for younger kids. There were 9 young teenagers, with one pesky lad in particular. Johnny was his name and he was full of energy and a squeaky, shrill voice. The entire trip we were entertained (and occasionally annoyed) with their antics. The bus wove through the countryside, taking back roads and apparent cow paths. I kid you not. At one point a herd of cattle had stopped traffic as two Irish women proceeded to walk a small group of cows along the road with little regard for congestion. What a sight! We continued to pick up more riders around every turn. People were standing in the Aisle and sitting on the steps. Finally, we arrived in Kilkee, unloaded our bikes, and headed for the Kilkee Hostel on O'Curry street. Kilkee was our first stop along Ireland's western coast. It is a small seaside community with tiny streets and brightly colored buildings. We checked in, unpacked, and hunted down some dinner. We opted for a diner like restaurant with the usual grease. Then we picked up some breakfast fixings and headed back to the hostel for some much needed slumber.

Thursday, August 29, 1996
Kilkee to Doolin

We treated ourselves to a big breakfast of pepper and onion omelets, toast, hot cocoa and orange juice, cleaned up, and went for an early morning stroll along the beach. We wandered along a path, passing one of many of the coastal golf courses and enjoying the continually changing point of view until eventually we were looking back at the pastel colored village of Kilkee across an inlet. We wondered aloud why so many seaside resorts seem to consistently choose these same colors for their buildings. We returned to the hostel to pack -- or in Wendy's case, unpack. Her knee pain was still frustrating her, and in a desperate attempt to lighten her load, she went through her pack and left several things behind at the hostel for other travelers. Today's journey would take us north, through many coastal towns, stopping to gasp at the Cliffs of Moher before finally rolling into Doolin. We headed up the road, enjoying the sometimes microscopic towns. To our left was the Atlantic ocean – all that separated us from our far away home continent. As we traveled, it became more obvious that the rocky west coast was not as wealthy as the east. We began to see more thatched roofs, more expansive farmland (but less modern), and in general, less commercialization. The people, on the other hand, were just as kind and friendly - maybe more. We saw a few sheep, and lots of cows and horses. There were many old structures left in ruin. Just sitting there - nowhere. Our trek continued, winding ever so slightly away from the coast, only to quickly return to the crashing waves and misty view out over the Atlantic, We were sprayed with a heavy mist for most of our journey but never enough to require rain gear. As the afternoon approached, so did our appetite. We arrived in Lahinch shortly after 1pm craving some seafood chowder. We found the Cornerstone Pub and Restaurant with rustic, slate floors. The superb chowder was served with a grand whole grain bread and we practically inhaled the wonderful meal before continuing on our way. The road out of town offered more of the same. Gradual climbs, nice downhill and breathtaking scenery. We were both anticipating the much heralded Cliffs of Moher. The wait was well worth it. This sight was overrun with tourists, but the view is beyond compare. Sheer cliffs drop off 700 feet into the ocean below as seagulls soared BENEATH us. The water was a deep blue-green, viciously striking against the base of the cliffs, slowly reshaping the rock below. After many photos and lots of walking we were ready to continue our ride into Doolin. Before leaving, I inquired at a heritage research desk at the tourist center. I found a little about my roots, and traced the family name to County Clare (where we were) and the area around Tipperary. The woman showed me an example of our family crest: a very regal two headed eagle. I felt some satisfaction and looked foreword to further research of my roots. We climbed away from the cliffs and within a mile there was no sight of this tremendous tourist sight. Soon, we arrived in Doolin and found the Aille River Hostel. We checked in as campers and found a spot to pitch our tent in the crowded yard. This hostel is a farmhouse type structure with rustic atmosphere, youths from all nations wandering the grounds, and tents pitched side by side, peacefully coexisting. Pretty much what a hostel should be. We showered and prepared our dinner of freeze dried enchilada stuff (a tried and true meal we both like) and some Spanish rice. Then, we walked into the upper village for a couple of pints at McGanns pub. I wrote our journal entry and Wendy read the guide books. We returned to the hostel for some mocha pudding and fine conversation with people from France, Germany, and South Africa. We had great fun discussing politics, attitude and culture. Soon, we grew weary and retired to our tent for the night.

Friday, August 30, 1996
Doolin to Galway

The sky was ominous as we set off towards Lisdoonvarna. We opted for an unknown route instead of backtracking uphill onto the main road we were on last night, and were successful in finding our way back on track. But from Lisdoonvarna, we weren't sure which road to take and asked several people before getting a good (we hoped) answer from a young woman in the corner convenience store. As before, the road switched back and forth taking a few climbs and descents. The landscape was continually changing but always beautiful. As we approached Kilfenora we were suddenly confronted with Ballykeel Forest. A dark stand of pine that seemed to rise to either side of the road, tall and straight like soldiers on guard. Just as quickly as our eyes and noses were delighted with the pine forest, it disappeared, only to be replaced with more green rolling terrain. The sky was finally opening to reveal a wonderful blue background for big white fluffy clouds. After some stimulating climbs, we reached the small community of Kilfenora and stopped at the Burren Center to get an idea of what awaited us along the next few miles. We pedaled out of town and were soon confronted by what we assumed was Leamanah castle. Our reference books suggested it was opened to the public, but when we arrived all the gates and fences were locked and laden with private property signs. There was a small group of cattle behind the fence, and a bicyclist from Boston who was also confused by the closure. After some discussion and a few more photos we all rode along on Ballyvaughn road towards many more sights and Ballyvaughn. The road through the Burren climbed quite a bit and with the climbing came a change of terrain. The Burren is a large area covered with rocks, stone walls, and more rocks interspersed with some greenery and very little livestock. We soon found ourselves in front of Carran Church, a deserted 15th century structure nestled amongst the rock fields a short distance from the road. We wandered through the graveyard as I searched hopefully for my family name on one of the headstones. No luck! We proceeded down the road to Poulnabrone Dolmen, a 4000 year old grave built of two huge stones standing on end, and a third forming a roof. The sight was overrun with bussed in tourists. We traversed the vast rock field for a closer look, took our requisite photos, and moved along towards Ballyvaughn. We passed Glenisheer Wedge Tomb, but opted not to stop at all. At this point, our riding companion from Boston must have turned back towards Lisdoonvarna - we saw no more of him. We enjoyed a long, winding descent into Ballyvaughn. As we lost altitude, the landscape began to get green and lush again and we enjoyed the views of the valley and distant coast as it neared. In Ballyvaughn, we found lunch at a cute coffee shop / cafe' along the main road. Food at "The Tea Junction" was superb, and the Garlic Mussels were especially worthy of note. We continued north from town with the rocky Burren hills on our right, the Atlantic coast on our left, and a striking blue sky hanging overhead. We saw Dunguaire castle and decided to stop and roam the grounds. It didn't seem that there was much to see, so we skipped the guided tour and rolled onward toward Galway. We passed some tourists at an intersection, seeming somewhat lost. We turned around, offering our limited knowledge of the area and reference materials. They weren't lost but we chatted briefly with them and learned they were from Australia. We both thought they said they had been touring Europe for a year and a half, but because of their accent, we weren't entirely sure that was actually what they said. We wished them well. Following our planned route, we passed through Kinvarra, Kilcolgan, and finally Clarinbridge, a self proclaimed "Oyster Country." The final leg of our day's journey left us on the busy N18 and N6, essentially 4 lane highways with wide shoulders for bicyclists. We saw signs for a "Road Survey" and assumed we would soon see surveyors roadside taking measurements and making calculations. We were surprised to find that there were actually survey takers in each lane stopping traffic and asking questions of each motorist. We were simply amazed that despite it being rush hour on Friday, and this being the major Galway-Dublin artery, there was no congestion. As we rode by, they seemed uninterested in questioning us, so we didn't stop. Soon, we found ourselves on the main road with bumper to bumper traffic and not enough roadside room for our wide loaded bikes. To Wendy's dismay, I led us on the sidewalk and we wove in and out until we eventually reached Eyre Square in the center of town. I found a phone and called the Salmon Weir hostel to see if they had a room. They did, and I got directions to the hostel. We were immediately greeted by one of our friendly hosts, Nicole. It was obvious that she wasn't Irish and she told us she was from Calgary, Canada. She was on her way to Israel earlier this year, but stopped in Galway for St. Patrick's day and never made it any further. She showed us our bunks and the hostel facilities. We unloaded our bikes, showered, and headed into town. We found excellent and filling Italian food at Giribaldi's restaurant on Quay Street. Wendy discovered Irish Coffee. Content and stuffed, we headed out for some local music and some pints. We wandered through the streets, passing the pubs on Quay and Bridge Streets. All seemed too packed, or without music. Finally, we crossed the Wolftone bridge and headed for a pub suggested in "Let's go". The Roison Dubh was filled with locals, tourists, and the sound of great Irish music. The Jason Hurley Band offered a mix of traditional and rock music. We were enjoying our Guinness pints when at midnight the band announced their last song of the evening. It seems that for the most part, pubs in Galway stop serving around midnight. Disappointed but tired, we returned to the hostel for some sleep.

Saturday, August 31, 1996
Galway to Inishmore

We awoke near the usual time, prepared a pleasant breakfast of french toast and orange juice, and departed to spend some more time enjoying Galway. We walked up and down the streets and happened upon an open-air double-decker touring bus. We decided it would be a nice way to learn a little about the city, and boarded the bus. The Old Galway Tour wove up and down inner city streets, along the coast and out beyond the city limits to a wonderful view. After about an hour, we returned to the starting point feeling a bit more knowledgeable and enlightened thanks in part to the informative and witty narrative of the tour host. After the tour, we hunted for a phone to check in with my sister, and then headed to Fat Freddies on Quay Street for a lunch of seafood chowder and a wonderful roasted red pepper and garlic pizza. Stuffed, we hit the streets with shopping on our minds. Galway is a wonderful city, and we decided to purchase gifts for various people from here, and have them sent home. We did some comparison shopping, made our purchases, and returned to the hostel to prepare for our departure. Before I forget, let me pitch this hostel one more time. It is centrally located along St. Vincent Avenue, just behind the new city center near the river Corrib. The hostel is in an old townhouse with quaint rooms. The two kitchens are spacious and well supplied. The showers hot and clean, but most importantly, the staff is extremely friendly and outgoing. It was from here we picked up our new trip motto - "No Worries." We were able to keep our bikes in the protected courtyard while we enjoyed the city in the morning, and we now returned to them and geared up to ride. Shortly after 3pm, we were on the road enjoying the lovely weather and heading up the coast along R336. The scenery was ever-changing, with beaches and grassy sand dunes to our left and small developments interspersed with even smaller walled-in grassy fields, each containing some form of livestock. Traffic was busy at times, but as usual patient with us. We soon entered Furbogh, and the Gaelic region. The signs no longer included English translations - or included English only as a secondary language. We rode through Spiddle and moved away from the coast, noticing more barren, brown landscape complete with marsh and bogs, and very few homes to be seen. Of the few we did see, most were in need of repair. Nonetheless, it was beautiful and tranquil. We moved through Inverin and soon were confronted with a Gaelic road sign for Rossa Mhil. We hoped this was Gaelic for Rossaveel, and followed the sign. Happly, we reached Rossaveel and purchased tickets for ourselves and our bikes for the ferry to the island of Inishmore. We had awhile before our departure and went back up the road to buy groceries for dinner. We returned to the ferry, boarded, and we were pleased when the well loaded ferry left exactly on time. The cruise to Inishmore was cold and wet in the late afternoon, but we were prepared and bundled up. Inishmore is the largest of the Aran Islands and the most visited by tourists. We thought things were a bit backwards on the mainland, but our perspective changed after arriving on this small plot of land. The island is approximately 10 miles long by maybe 2 miles wide at the widest point. With very few roads, there are almost no cars. We unloaded our bikes from the ferry and headed uphill through town to the Mainistir House hostel, just west of town. The hostel sat atop a small plateau overlooking the port below. The home was expansive with many hallways, steps, and doors. The kitchen is big and there is even a dining room that serves "mostly vegetarian" buffets most nights (we arrived too late for this). We cooked up another pasta dinner and went for a walk through town. We walked, and walked, and walked. We walked down through town in search of some traditional music. At the end of town, we walked more. To Wendy's dismay we walked into the dark night with no destination in mind. We were accompanied on our journey by the hostel's dog who seemed to be responsible for our well being this evening. He continued beside or ahead of us for the whole long walk. Just as I was ready to concede to the crabby Wendy that there was no music to be heard, we saw a building in the distance. We approached and found our music at Tigh Fitz on the crest of the hill. I ordered two pints of Guinness and as I returned to the table the lights began to flicker and eventually go dark. It seems the entire island relies on an outdated and overloaded generator for power. Without batting an eye, the barkeeps placed candles throughout the pub. The band soon started playing again -- this time without the aid of their amplifiers. We were having a good time (actually, I think Wendy was sleeping) when the lights came back on and the musicians returned to the stage with their electric hookups for some good song and dance. Everybody was loving the spirited traditional music, but there was another source of entertainment as well. I'll say no more except to mention that that the top of her stockings were below her hem line, the moon was shining, and it soon became obvious that she was not a natural blond. We stayed until the band was through and retreated for our long walk back. As we left the pub, our dog escort immediately returned to our side, guiding us back across the dark island. As we walked we passed other people in search of music. Finally, pooped, we returned to the hostel. Our faithful dog companion strolled onto the front porch, sat down, and seemed satisfied with his evenings chore. We went inside to pass out.

Sunday, September 1, 1996
Inisimore to Clifden

Our day began with a continental breakfast of freshly baked scones, hot tea and pineapple juice (which we brought). We enjoyed the meal, and returned to our room to pack, get dressed, and see some of Inishmore before catching the noon ferry back to the Mainland. It was very misty at times, almost thick enough to be considered actual rain, but we pedaled west along the island's only paved road in search of Dun Aengus. Along the way, we passed other tourists and residents on foot, bicycle, and horse drawn carts. Some were presumably en route to Sunday's church while others had other destinations in mind. We found ourselves weaving along the roadway trying to avoid the presents left for us by horses and other livestock that share the road. We climbed through the hills and found ourselves at a beautiful cove with a white sand beach being caressed by a deep blue-green ocean. Magnificent only begins to describe the sight. We soon found ourselves at the entrance to Dun Aengus, an ancient fort dating back to the first century BC The stone walls of this semi circular structure are more than 18 feet thick at their base. This monument sits atop the cliff of the southern island coast, offering a remarkable view of the coast, the ocean, and on a clear day the mainland of Ireland including the Cliffs of Moher. I climbed along the huge walls as Wendy sat on the cliff's edge watching the crashing waves some 200 feet below. After some time and numerous photos, we headed back towards our bikes at the edge of the monument's trail. We pedaled slowly to absorb and embrace as much of this island as possible (and to humor Wendy and her still pained knee) before catching the noon ferry back to Rossaveel. As we rolled along the road, we were reminded of the island's simplicity. Small cottages dotted our path, with many interwoven stone walls partitioning homes and pastures full of livestock. It was refreshing being back in a moment in time where bicycles outnumbered automobiles, and livestock possibly outnumbered people. At the roads end, the docks of our ferry port destination were lined with horse drawn carts and mini tour buses offering alternative ways to view the islands treasures. We soon boarded our boat, and enjoyed the ride back to the mainland. The journey was a bit warmer than the previous evening, but the water was somewhat choppier. I finished my postcard writing just before docking, and we departed the ferry, reloaded our bicycles, and by 1pm, we were on the road to Clifden. We continued where we left off yesterday by picking up R336. The road wound through many bogs, boulders, small lakes and grassy dunes adorned with heather and wildflowers. The weather was damp, intermittently offering clearing only to be followed by more drizzle. When we headed due west, the wind was quite intense. Nonetheless, we enjoyed ourselves on the gently rolling terrain with 360 degree views of misty mountaintops. R336 soon met N59 in Maam Cross, where we took a short break for a nature call. We wasted no more time here and hopped back on our bikes, now on N59, towards Clifden. The road was at times uncomfortable for bicyclists, offering no shoulder and fast-paced vehicles. The ever changing scenery remained quite lovely, however, and as we rolled beside the evergreen scented foothills and wonderfully clear lakes of the Connemara mountains, we were smiling. Around every turn, we were confronted with road-hungry sheep aimlessly wandering from one side of the road to the other, oblivious to the hole laden fence that was intended to contain them. Soon, we came upon a spot called Recess, and did the necessary thing: we took a break. We enjoyed a light lunch at the local pub amid a small crowd of avid hurling fans. The championship was on (Limerick vs. Wexford), and these people took it as seriously as Americans take the Super Bowl. We returned to our bikes and climbed some more in the mist, drizzle, and occasional sunshine. Just outside of Clifden, we were reminded of how narrow the road was. Wendy was all but driven off the road by a small car trying to pass where there really was no room. Just a few minutes later, as I pedaled ahead of her, I noticed a small red car behind me. As the car drew closer, it seemed it would not stop. With less than 15 feet between myself and the front bumper of the car, the driver loudly braked, swerved, and narrowly missed me. The anxiety probably took 10 years off my life, and an equal amount off of Wendy's who was watching helplessly from a distance. N59 is not a particularly bicycle friendly road, although the alternatives are extremely indirect. Soon, Clifden's city limits opened up in front of us and we were looking forward to an evening in town. After some searching, we arrived at Leo's Hostel on the far end of the city and chose to camp. The hostel offers cottages which are really nothing more than 5x10 foot sheds covered with weathered quarter inch plywood, and the usual hostel type dorms, but both seemed a tad less than tidy, so we opted for camping in the spacious back yard. The price for camping was reasonable, and we had full run of the hostel facilities including the large kitchen, wash rooms (including a "loo with a view," which amused Wendy to no end), Showers, and laundry (which was out of order). We chose a campsite overlooking the Streamstown bay, pitched our tent, showered, and went into town to scrounge up an evening meal. When we realized that no grocers were open (typical Sunday in Ireland), we went to the DerryClare restaurant. The restaurant pampered our eyes with clay tile and hardwood floors, brick and stone walls, a fireplace, exposed barn beams, and two floors of pleasant, spacious dining rooms. The menu was extensive and the food was well prepared and presented. I had Cajun chicken while Wendy enjoyed the seafood pasta. We then made the meal complete with a shared piece of hot apple pie (ala mode, of course) and two Irish coffees. Everything was great and we highly recommend this restaurant. After a short stroll, we returned to Leo's to read, write, and prepare for bed. Upon retiring to our tent, we were serenaded by the sounds of a blues band echoing around the bay from town where the "Budweiser Blues Fest" was taking place. The blues continued until about midnight, followed by a traditional band with enough energy to continue until past 4am. We enjoyed the music as we nodded off into sleep.

Monday, September 2, 1996
Clifden to Westport

With only one full day of cycling left in the Republic, we arose at the usual time, prepared breakfast, and looked to the rain filled sky. We decided to do some laundry while we waited to see if the weather would clear. The washing machine at the hostel was broken, so we strolled through town in search of a Laundromat. We found two places that would do our laundry - neither was self-service. We went to the Shamrock Laundry, which promised to wash and dry our clothes in about 1 hour and left them with our bag of stinky clothes. We returned to the hostel for some research and journal writing. On our walk back into town, we were innocently lured into a wonderful bakery / coffee shop for some treats. We enjoyed a brownie, fruit tart, and dark coffee before returning to the Laundromat to retrieve our clothing. A fine drizzle continued to fall as we returned to our campsite, packed our clean clothes, broke camp, and were once again on our bicycles. The drizzle, ever so light, continued to spray us as we gradually climbed for 5 miles out of town. Upon reaching the summit, we enjoyed a gradual and relaxing descent which lasted 2 miles (somehow, it never seems to quite even out). The road continued to twist and turn making the ride slow, but fun. The road was wet, but not slick -- possibly because of the rough paving. We soon found ourselves rolling through the postage stamp sized village of Letterfrack, just a short distance from the Connemara National Park. The park entrance was the beginning of another change in landscape. The limestone covered fields were replaced by moss, fern, evergreens, and tall hills on either side of us that seemed to rise out of nowhere. The hills ascended into the sky, and disappeared into the low mist. I stopped often for photos. The scenery was splendid and serenaded our ears and eyes. We could hear waters rushing off to either side while we wound through the valley, finally coming upon some lovely waterfalls. We took every opportunity to take pictures of this wonderful stuff only seen by those traveling slow enough to be lured by the musical call of rushing water. Twelve miles into the day's journey, we saw the massive Kylemore Abbey to our left. The abbey is home to local Benedictine nuns and a private girls school. Set against the Porruagh Mountains, the abbey emits raw tranquillity. Standing tall with her reflection visible on the still waters of Pollacappay Lough, the Abbey posed for photographs. We paid the minimal admission price and were amazed at the natural beauty of the grounds and the man-made splendor of the interiors. The elegant buildings amazed us with exquisite woodwork, high decorate ceilings, and wonderful marble and limestone carvings. After getting our fill of this magnificent structure, we rolled back to the road and continued towards Westport. We pedaled through the winding Kylemore pass, amazed at the beauty of the surrounding mountains and lakes. The hills still were engulfed from above by slowly thinning mist. The roads began to dry and it seemed that the air was warming and not nearly as damp. As we pedaled beyond Kylemore Pass, we soon met the Killarry Harbour Coast. To the left was a long stretch of coastal waterway, and to the right rose the Maumturk mountains. The mountains appeared from nowhere, sometime rising at better than a sixty percent grade, covered in green and spotted as usual with many content sheep. Actually, not all the sheep were content to graze on the hillside, and quite a few just wandered into the road for amusement. The road was torn by crews digging up sections and laying temporary loose chip. We pedaled slow through the construction zone, and then left the coast. The sheep population seemed more abundant than the human population, probably because the terrain offered little in the way of flat lots for homes. We paralleled the Erriff River for awhile, following N59 through some rather barren and desolate areas, ever- changing and always beautiful. There were times we would stop just so we could enjoy the breathtaking 360 degree views. Just before rounding the bend to reach Lough Moher, we passed a farmhouse with two dogs in the front yard. They remained behind a non-confining fence, barking as I rolled by. Wendy was not so lucky, and found an ambitiously energetic dog at her heels. She tried yelling, and outrunning the dog, but with no success. I heard the commotion behind me, turned and gave one loud, commanding shout. Thankfully, the canine halted in its tracks and bothered us no more. We rode past Lough Moher and expected to see the conical peak of Croagh Patrick. Unfortunately for us, the mist foiled our plan by hiding the peak from us. Somewhat disappointed, we continued the short distance into Westport. We coasted down a steep hill into the center of town to get some information on tomorrow's journey to the North and Giant's Causeway. With a handful of info from the Tourist Office, we pedaled back up the hill and down the other side to the Westport Harbour and Mrs. Reidy's B&B. We were greeted by our pleasant hosts and shown to our room. As we settled in, we were invited into the sitting room for tea, coffee, and chocolate cookies (of which Wendy ate 4 of 5). We finished our snack, showered, and went for a long walk back over the mountain into town for a meal at the Clock Tower Pub. The food was more than adequate and the atmosphere was rustically charming. After dinner we walked back out of town, stopping at the pay phone at the top of the hill to call home. Just short of the B&B, we stopped at the Tower Pub for a couple of pints and some live traditional music. We enjoyed ourselves, and then returned to our room to enjoy the luxury of the B&B (after camping and youth hostels, it's easy to feel pampered).

Tuesday, September 3, 1996
Westport to Dublin

We started our day by waking up in our comfortable room about 30 minutes before breakfast was to be served. Wendy opted for the luxury of an early shower, while I returned to the sitting room to finish reading a passage of "An Illustrated History of Ireland," that I had begun the night before. The passage was from a chapter describing County Clare. The reason for my interest was that through inquiries made during our visit, I had found that my family name originated there around the twelfth century AD Soon, it was time for breakfast and we entered the charming and tastefully decorated dining room. We chose the table for two overlooking the harbour. Breakfast was toast, fresh baked brown bread, fried eggs, sausage, orange juice, cereal, coffee, tea, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms and what we think was blood sausage. It was a much nicer way to start the day than in the hustle and bustle of a hostel kitchen. After enjoying our fill, and being waited on by our pleasant hosts, we returned to our room to pack our gear and prepare for our day's adventure. Before we left, we spent some time talking with the Reidy's, who by the way are most likely distant relatives of my family, the Riedy's. Gerry Reidy is a civil engineer by trade, which is rather curious since many members of my family have pursued similar interests and careers. In a somewhat brief dialogue, he reinforced facts I had been told by others regarding our family history. He also added some more information to fuel my discovery of my heritage. Eventually, we were ready to leave and spend some time exploring the city of Westport. Once reaching town, we stopped again at the Tourist Office to confirm the bus schedule, and everything seemed in order. With quite a bit of time to waste, we locked out bikes and walked around while we waited for our 3:15 bus to Knock (for the connection to Derry, in Northern Ireland). We browsed in the stores, shopped a bit, and grabbed a light snack at a local diner before retrieving our bikes and returning to the bus stop. Then the excitement really began. The chain of events started with a strong odor of propane. I was somewhat alarmed, but did not feel threatened. Shortly after I noticed the smell, a pedestrian happened along, curious, and discovered that a "traveler" or gypsy had parked a caravan in the Octagon we where waiting, and the gas tank was rapidly leaking. He and I quickly alerted others standing near, and they moved and put out their cigarettes. The gentleman made several attempts to find a police officer. It took some time, but they finally arrived with fire-police and tended to the problem. At about the same time, a bus pulled in and began taking passengers. I asked several people if this was the 3:15 to Knock continuing to Dublin. Everybody insisted it was not. At long last, I was able to talk with this driver, who informed us that this was in fact our connection. Despite the appearance of plenty of room in the luggage compartments, the driver said he would not take our bikes because it is a busy route. I was pretty upset and frustrated. With very few options, we returned to the Tourist Office and learned of a train that would take us to Dublin's Heuston Station. The train left Westport at 6:30pm. We would be able to take connecting trains to Giant's Causeway from Dublin north in the morning. We walked the few blocks to the station, confirmed the information, and waited at the depot for nearly 2 hours for our train. We entertained ourselves by reading, writing, and calling the Avalon House in Dublin to reserve beds for our late arrival. The train was right on time and we learned the procedure for loading our bikes, took our seats, and enjoyed the evening ride back to the east coast. The scenery moved past us, sometimes little more than a blur. We saw far more rural communities than cities. As darkness set in, the skies created wonderful patterns and illusions, mesmerizing us into a dreamy trance. After stopping at many floral adorned depots, we finally arrived at Heuston Station at 10:15pm. We retrieved our bikes, studied our maps, and walked our bikes along the dark streets by the River Liffey towards the Avalon House. We found it easily, checked in, and soon were climbing the steep, airless stairs to our dorm room. The room seemed immense with rows of bunk beds filled with slumbering travelers. It was housed in the upper roof structure of the huge building. Reminiscent of the story of the three bears, somebody was sleeping in Wendy's bed, and she exclaimed just that. After a careful scan of the room, we noticed that an upper bunk was unoccupied and with the approval of the desk clerk, Wendy claimed this as her night's resting spot. We made our beds and walked back up George Street for a light snack. When we returned, I set my alarm for the first time all vacation. We had to catch an early train to Belfast in the morning. Soon, we were counting sheep. As is unfortunately often the case at hostels, our sleep was disturbed by some late night partiers, with no clue how to whisper or respect for those already sleeping.

Wednesday, September 4, 1996
Dublin to Belfast to Portrush

At this point in the journal, I can and must make a confession. This was a day I had anticipated for the last 5 months, and especially the last 2 weeks. I had chosen today as the day I would propose marriage to my beloved Wendy. Over the last few days, I had made numerous attempts to contact Wendy's dad, to ask for his blessing. My attempts proved fruitless, with busy phones, broken phones, lack of time, and the fact that it seemed impossible to shake Wendy for long enough to make this very private call. Today was the day though, and it began at 3:30am by walking down to the hostel lobby to use the phone. I found two phones, but both were broken. I inquired at the desk, but was told the only phones were blocks away. With only a pair of pants on -- barefooted and bare chested, I chose not to wander the Dublin streets for fear I might be mistaken for a vagrant. I returned to the dorm for some more sleep. We both rolled out of our bunks at 6:30, quietly packed up and pedaled off to Connely Station. After purchasing the required tickets, we boarded the train en route to Northern Island. Our train took us through rural areas, as green as many we had seen on previous days. After many stops, we found ourselves beyond the border of Northern Island and inside Belfast Central Train Station. We studied the schedules, and made plans for our connecting train to Portrush, just below Giant's Causeway. We were restless on the second train into Portrush, having to change once in Colraine before reaching what was quite literally the end of the line. Once off the train and ready to roll, we pressed on towards the visitors centre for information on campgrounds in the area. We were instructed that Margath's Caravan Park on the road to the Causeway welcomed tenters. Running out of valuable time, I made excuses to once again attempt to call Wendy's father. Not realizing that the international phone code had changed when we entered the North, my call did not go through. Frustrated, anxious, and nervous, I returned to Wendy and our bikes. We pedaled up A2, the coastal road, to the campground. It wasn't long before we reached it and we wasted no time in checking in and setting up camp. Using the excuse of an upset stomach, I excused myself while Wendy set up the tent. My stomach was fine, except for maybe a few butterflies, but again I had to attempt to reach Wendy's dad for his blessing and approval. I finally learned the new calling code, and tried my call, but my misfortune continued as the operator's recording informed me that his cellular phone was either out of service or out of range. Frustration building, I tried the only other possible number I knew, his wife's private line with answering machine. The machine immediately picked up and I opted not to leave a message. Almost out of time and luck, I returned to camp trying not to draw anymore suspicion than necessary. We unloaded our panniers into the tent and headed out towards the Causeway. On the way, we decided to stop in Bushmill for groceries for the evening's meal and a snack at Giant's Causeway. While shopping, I also suggested a bottle of wine for a more enjoyable snack and "end of ride" celebration. Innocently, Wendy agreed. Soon we were on the road again near my much anticipated destination. The road wound along the coast, gently climbing towards the much visited sight ahead. After a few miles, we reached the entrance to the Causeway and my excitement was building. You see, for the last 5 months or so, I had been anticipating this journey in particular. The trip to Ireland was considered a dream vacation. My ancestors lived here from the twelfth century until the 1730's when they emigrated to the promising shores of what would become the United States. I looked forward to adventure and discovery, including unveiling the truths of my heritage and this wonderful Island. Once our plans were made, there was but one more duty I wanted to perform. The proposal of marriage - it would mean a great deal to me to make this proposal in the land of my ancestors. After studying the many guides, reading of truths and folklore, I had chosen the Giant's Causeway for this task. The sheer beauty drew me to this conclusion, and also the folklore behind its formation. The tale of Finn McCool explains the Causeway's formation as stepping stones the giant had laid leading across the sea to his beloved in Scotland. Never mind what geologists say about evenly cooling lava formations. To me this story was charming and befitting the sight of proposal. Throughout our months of planning leading to this trip, we had dismissed visiting the Causeway because it didn't fit well within our route or time frame. As recently as yesterday, after our disappointment with the bus, it seemed the Causeway visit would not be possible. But we made it... We locked our bikes and proceeded along the Causeway walk. At the Visitor's Centre, I made one final, desperate attempt to reach Wendy's dad. The call seemed to take an eternity to complete, but finally the connection was made. My heart sank, however, when I again heard that same "out of service or out of range" recording. There was nothing else to do but call his wife and hope she would answer. No luck. Again, I heard her recorded voice, waited for the beep, and explained my dilemma and intentions to a tape recorder. I would have to propose without Wendy's father's permission. I returned to Wendy as quickly as possible (I had left her on the trail, still lying about a stomach ache), and we continued along the trail to the Causeway. A little more than half of one mile down the rocky shoreline, the phenomenon made itself visible. We quickly walked out onto the columnous 6 sided stone pathway, approaching the crashing waves and the moment I had been anticipating. We climbed around a bit until Wendy proclaimed her ravenous hunger and we stopped for our snack. I kneeled along side her as she ambitiously attempted to prepare some cheese and crackers. She had eating on her mind while I single mindedly thought only of proposal and our growing love. Soon, she began to realize I was on one knee in front of her, attempting to run interference from the food long enough to make my proposal. I began by proclaiming my love for her, the joy we have shared the last 4+ years, and in particular the wonders we had experienced so far in this magnificent land that my family once called home. After stating that this was the best vacation of my life, I said only one thing could make it more memorable: her agreeing to marry me. With that, she hugged me tight and we began to cry tears of joy. At the same time, I pulled from my pocket the ring I had carried with me everywhere along our journey. I slipped it on her finger and it was a perfect fit. It shone almost as bright as her tear filled eyes. We shared the excitement. I struggled to removed the cork from the wine. We were both mistaken when we thought our pocket knives had corkscrews. Finally, I pushed the cork down into the bottle and we drank while gazing at each other. The moment had arrived and it was nearly overwhelming. We asked a tourist to snap a photo of the moment, and shared a most memorable snack together. Eventually, we began our journey back to the bikes. After seeing peoples names scratched into numerous stones, I was inspired to follow suit. The etching reads, "she said yes.... Jeff Riedy / Wendy Strutin.. 9-4- 96." If you ever get to the Causeway, look for our stone. It is along the stone wall just beyond somewhat of a doorway formed by the walking path cutting through the stones on either side. About 10 feet from the Causeway is a wooden, black stake behind the stone wall. Our stone is about 15 inches off the ground, just below the stake, We are now immortalized in stone, not unlike the many historical markings and monuments we have passed throughout the trip. With much happiness and excitement, we finished our climb out of the Causeway, discussing wedding plans, family, and wondering what type of stir the message on the answering machine might cause. It was getting late, and we were soon pedaling back towards camp. We stopped along the way at Dun Luce Castle for a quick, self-guided tour of still one more Irish castle in ruins. The sun was quickly setting as returned to our bikes for the short journey back to camp. We had a wonderful meal of chicken parmesan with fresh bread and pasta. While I began dinner preparation, Wendy went to shower. After our very filling candlelight dinner, I showered and we called home to announce our engagement. We then returned to our tent for some sleep before catching the 6:35am train in the morning.

Thursday, September 5, 1996
Portrush to Dublin

We awoke prior to the sun with the sound of my watch's alarm. I felt like I have never felt in my life. I recalled my night's rest, complete with my loved one beside me. I slept so soundly and peacefully with the knowledge I was soon to return home with my beautiful Fiancee in hand, our heads filled with grand memories of two fantastic weeks together and wishes for our future. We enthusiastically (for the middle of the night) rose to our feet and began preparations for our early departure. Our gear was covered with the heavy dew we have come to expect as a consequence of this wonderful lush and green island. With our campsite collapsed and packed on our bikes, we rolled off into the first rays of the morning sun. The roads were empty, making our journey easy and quick. As we reached the Portrush train depot, the sun rose above us filling the deep blue sky, and illuminating the soft white clouds overhead. Our train ride would once again take us past the splendor we had seen flash by our window on yesterday's voyage. Our connections in Colraine and Belfast left us with little time, although we managed to share another friendly conversation with some people at the Belfast station. I shared some of the joys of our Irish visit and listened carefully as they spoke of their life in Ireland. Wendy and I were soon on the train to Dublin. We spoke of the many wonders we had seen in the last two weeks. I often found myself gazing up from the pages of our journal, to be met mid-gaze by Wendy's loving, joy filled smile. Our train came to a halt in Dublin's Connelly Station just after noon, and we wasted no time unloading our bikes and heading back towards the Avalon House. Our stay at the hostel would be more pleasant this time – we had reserved a private room. Not wasting a moment of time, we checked in, showered, and returned on foot to the busy streets of Dublin. We felt more at home in Dublin than we had two weeks ago. We now knew our way around, and understood the rhythm of the city. Wendy and I adventured across Dame Street toward the area around Trinity College. We'd spent very little time in this neighborhood on our prior visit, but we found it be a lovely section of town filled with many unique shops and dining possibilities. The sidewalks were filled with the hustle of a busy city. Still on my quest for knowledge of my family's past, I was also looking for the National Genealogical Office near the college, which we found. Unfortunately, they could not provide much immediate information, but they offered an interview with one of their researchers if we returned in about an hour. We decided to kill the time by finding some lunch, and soon found a charming café in a beautiful terraced courtyard amid lush plants, and decorative railing trimmed balconies, staggered at different heights. Our newly found gem was "La Piazza" which sat on the upper balcony overlooking a shopping plaza. As we sat down to eat, a musician soon sat in front of the piano located on a wooden stage far below. With the sun shining through the glass canopy above, the courtyard was filled with the deep resonance of the piano. It was a great lunch and both the service and the food were excellent. After lunch, we saw a street vendor offering printouts from a name search database. He had the Reidy name online, and for a small price he generated the long historical report of my family name. Content, I informed Wendy that I didn't want to waste any more of our remaining time sitting and waiting for our appointment at the Genealogical office. The rest of our day was filled with long walks along Dublin's downtown maze of shop lined streets. The time passed quickly and we began to tire. We returned to the Avalon house, dragged ourselves to our third floor room, and rested while we made some tentative evening plans. We found Poco Loco's in "Let's Go," and were both anxious to see what kind of Mexican food Ireland could offer. We had passed it the other night along Parliament street as we returned to the city from Westport, and it was crowded. We enjoyed the short walk to the restaurant, and enjoyed the meal even more. This was real Mexican food, not "American Mexican." The homemade chips and salsa set the mood for a meal that was thoroughly great. We had one task left for the evening, and we sought a watering hole in which to enjoy the charm and excitement of Dublin one last time. After passing many packed pubs, we turned off the busy George Street to investigate a few glowing beer signs and were finally lured by traditional music into Molly Malone's Pub. The pub was spacious but with a nice crowd. We found two stools at the bar and ordered a Guinness and a Bulmer's Cider, a drink Wendy had been anxious to try. She found it refreshing and fruity, like a sweet wine. We sipped our drinks and listened to the lively sounds of the musicians. When we finished our drinks, we returned to the Avalon house for a night of rest.

Friday September 6, 1996
Dublin to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

We woke, packed, and wandered downstairs for the institutional continental breakfast. After breakfast, we checked out, loaded up our bikes and headed out towards the airport. We were still without a Dublin map, but followed a few signs pointing towards the Airport. We soon realized we were on a major (by Ireland standards) highway. Posted speed limit was 70 (MPH? ) The pedaling was a bit hairy at times, but we endured. The crisp morning air gave us strength. "No Worries" We easily found our destination. Once in the airport we discovered that there were no boxes available for our bikes. We were given heavy plastic bags to prophylactically cover the bikes. We stripped our panniers, turned our handlebars, let the air out of our tires and with some struggling eventually got the bikes in the bags. We checked in and spent the rest of our Irish Pounds on a snack at the airport restaurant. After a few delays. We boarded the plane. Sitting in our seats, we watched sadly as the plane rose above and beyond Dublin. Our adventure had cme to an end. We were filled with wonderful memories of the green oasis that embraced us for two weeks, and wondering when (not if) we would return to this special land.

Wendy's Epilogue:

I wasn't sure if Ireland would be a dream vacation or not. The rumor was that it was rainy, cold, windy, hilly and desollate. The exchange rate was unfavorable, and the roads were somewhat less than smoothly paved. This all turned out to be true. It also turned out to be a dream vacation. Ireland is blessed with the kind of beauty that renders mere words and photographs inadequate. It is wonder in the round -- 360 degrees of constantly changing splendor. The mountains are awe inspiring as they descend into valleys with tiny mountain lakes. The arrangement of flat water against reflected rugged hills is both spectacular and mesmerizing. Ireland's coastline is littered with small towns and scenic vistas, but it is not overpopulated and tired. The terrain in other places seems so rocky, or boggy, or just outright desolate, it seems that anybody who sets up a farm there must be an incurable optimist. And yet, there must be thousands of such farms out there. Sheep and cows share this landscape with the nicest people I've ever met. Their "no worries" philosophy is infectious, and their common courtesies are reminders of the respect for humanity (and the planet) that seems to be ever decreasing in the United States. Pubs are everywhere, and in many of them, there is music. Mostly, it does not seem to be a formal ensemble as much as a bunch of people with instruments playing songs they all know and love. Just for the sake of doing it, and maybe to tell the story of their land. In the larger cities, there are street performers on every corner. Talents range from fire juggling, to string quartets playing classical music, to individuals playing Irish folk tunes or rock music. Except for some small change tossed by generous spectators, I do not believe they are paid to be there. I believe they are there to have their Irish voice heard. It is a very artistic voice indeed. In many areas, tourism is the principal industry. Although obvious at times, even the tourist traps are tasteful. The attractions are not excessively built up or protected. We walked right up the edge of the Cliffs of Moher, touched castles, and of course wandered out far on the Giant's Causeway. There are no handrails, no limitations, and often no admission prices. It is a hands-on country. Spectacular natural and manmade monuments are enjoyed, not enshrined. And yet, they remain wonderful, not destroyed. But it was not all coasting downhill into quaint towns, built around castles and cathedrals thousands of years old. I struggled on this trip as well. I was not as physically fit as I had hoped to be. Perhaps it was my lack of preparation that led to my painful knee injury just a few days out. That, combined with a mechanical failure that left my lowest gears unavailable, made me outright pokey on my bicycle. I was frustrated and crabby at times, but Jeffrey was careful not to leave me too far behind in his dust. He was supportive of me, and did not gripe when I declared that we would have to shorten our days, stop more frequently, or take the dreaded bus to get back on course. He did not call me weak when I left some of our stuff at a hostel in Kilkee -- although I was in fact too weak to carry it anymore. He did not force me to ride when I was in pain (but of course, I always did). For all that, I love him dearly. That he proposed to me on one knee, in the most romantic way imaginable will keep me beside him forever. More than any other place I've seen, Ireland is loaded with bicycle tourists. It is not the weather, or the tourist attractions, or the youth hostels that bring them there. It is something magical.


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