Just a Little Bike Ride in Ireland by Elizabeth Lawrence

My friend and I, 18 years old and full of youthful optimism, were on a backpacking trip in Europe. In County Wicklow, Ireland, we decided to rent bikes for the day and pedal down to the valley of Glendalough to explore the monastic ruins.

In the morning as we were prepared to set out for our Sunday adventure, the proprietress of the bed and breakfast we were staying in inquired as to whether we'd like to have dinner that evening: roast chicken, mashed potatoes and salad would be the hearty homemade meal, only 10 pounds Irish (about $14). We had to decide right then, because she needed to go shopping for the ingredients that morning. Mindful of our daily $35 budget (including lodging) we declined, planning to find a cheaper meal in town. In a day that would be full of bad luck and poor decisions, this proved to be the worst.

Still thinking the best, we set out on our trusty Raleigh 3-speeds. The countryside was charming and mostly wooded as we rode down to Glendalough about 8 miles distant. Riding on the "wrong" side of the road took extra concentration, especially when other holiday travelers sped by us in cars. We, however, sped by one or two families in horse-drawn "gypsy" type wagons, which are apparently popular recreational vehicles in Ireland.

It wasn't long before we realized what anyone who hasn't ridden a bike in a while knows immediately: this was hard work! And although we were riding into a valley, it was no smooth ride downhill. The road was full of valleys of its own and even as we lost elevation, we were constantly riding up and down rolling hills.

Finally we had almost reached the ruins, just as the clouds that had been darkening all day began their day-long deluge. We "locked" our bikes at the bike rack outside the visitor center at the ruins. No Kryptonite locks were required here, only a rudimentary front wheel key lock (the bikes weren't actually locked to anything!).

Inside the visitor center we tried to dry off with paper towels in the restroom. Unaccustomed to vigorous exercise, we sought the refuge of the darkened movie screening room and settled back for naps during the Glendalough informational film. When the movie was over, although tempted to stay for the next show, we reluctantly went outside into the rain to explore the ruins we had come so far to see.

The hulking granite gravestones were even more eerie and mysterious in the mist and rain. Legend has it that if you can get your arms all the way around one particular Celtic cross, any wish you make will come true. We wrapped our arms around that thing and prayed like heck that it would stop raining.

Unsuccessful in that attempt, we decided it was time for lunch: bread and pound cake. Carbo delight! We huddled under my rain poncho and made the most of our paltry meal. Finally we could no longer avoid the truth that it was time to go, and that meant we had to ride back up out of the valley. We briefly considered ditching the bikes and hitching a ride back to the village, but we decided that was too awful even for a couple of rude American teens.

Back on the bikes, we powered up the mountain in the big ring (no choice on a three speed!). Standing on the pedals nearly all the way, it was the longest, coldest, wettest eight mile ride uphill I could hope to endure. After an hour of pouty labor, we reached the town of Wicklow. We dropped the bikes off at the rental shop (parked them out front, "locked," and put the key through the mail slot). Starving by now, we surveyed the available restaurants and realized everything was closed on Sunday night! With a mile yet to walk, we conceded our defeat and began the march back to the B&B. As if to mock our predicament, the clouds immediately cleared and the sun came out.

Back in our room, we changed into our jammies, our only dry things. Our kindly landlady laid our clothes out all around her woodstove in hopes that they would dry overnight. Having spent approximately $0 of our daily budget, we realized our regret at not ordering the B&B supper. Our only remaining dining option: leftover bread and pound cake from our journey. Making us feel even more sorry for ourselves, we ate the by now very soggy bread and went to sleep early.

The next morning we hopped on the train that wold take us to Rosslare harbor and the ferry to France. We felt content knowing that our horrible travel day wold at least make a great travel horror story one day. I guess that day is now.

 

 

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