Thursday, May 24, 2012

Across the "Bog"



                                                       Killarney to Black Valley

I often find myself torn between the part of me that enjoys being alone; torn between that need for complete and utter solitude where I can be nothing more than exactly who I am and not what people expect me to be and the other part of me, the gregarious part, the part that loves to be the center of attention and the part of me who loves people. Torn between that kind of solitude and that deep seated need in me that wants to know what makes them, or you, tick. I think I would honestly have to say that this trip has afforded me the opportunity to explore both of those very distinct, but different needs. While hiking the trail thus far I have had equal time to be alone and ample opportunity to connect with other people from all across the world. As I started out from Kilarney I had no idea what to expect and I certainly got more than I bargained for. Although there were at first many people along the trail to Torc Waterfall like Derek and Ellen who were from South Africa and were so taken by what I was doing that Ellen wanted her picture taken with me and Derek wanted to return next year so they could hike the trail themselves. Side note: Somewhere in South Africa right now Derek and Ellen are showing that picture to their friends and I am forever immortalized in their photo album. Need to connect with others and be the center of attention satisfied. Now, I eventually left Derek and Ellen behind me as I gained some height over the mountain pass and distanced myself from the crowds. The climb was rough; grueling would be a good word for it. I at times found myself climbing on hands and knees thirty pounds strapped to my back over shale and gravel slopes. I hopped precariously from one rock to another up the rough hewed mountainside only to find myself sliding down the other side on slippery, loam covered slopes, usually on my backside, trying not to fall and break something. At times I prayed to God to give me the strength to endure the next obstacle or cursed the mist filled sky wondering WTF I was doing out there all alone. And then I would find myself over that hurdle, standing on a mountainside, in complete awe of the sheer beauty that surrounded me.  And in an instant it all became worth the effort, the sweat, the tears. That day, my first on the “Way” was also the day that I met my friend Eric.
I was at one point taking a much needed rest sitting on a large flat rock watching some deer on the distant hillside when around the corner came Eric. He was as startled to see me as I him but we made an instantaneous connection. I smiled and put my finger to my lips and quietly motioned for him to look across to the far hills. As his eyes caught the movement of the deer he eased himself down on the rock beside me and in silence we watched the beauty of Mother Nature in motion. Eric took his eyes from the horizon, smiled up at me and in broken English asked me my name, and I his. We showed each other the maps we had and exchanged stories about the trail. Eric was on his 8th and final day, I on my first and most challenging. We decided to have lunch together and spread the contents of our packs on the rock between us. He pulled out some apples and chocolate and I some thick chunks of wheat bread, Irish cheese, and dried meat. We sat awhile sharing with the one another the food we had laid out, each other’s company, and the spectacular view. Sitting there silently with him I thought to myself; now this is part of what being alive is all about. About the connection we can make over something as simple as apples and cheese. About how similar we all are in our differences, and about the pureness one can find in the beauty of simple moments. When Eric and I parted ways it was with warm smiles, handshakes, and memories of a bond and a friendship which happened by chance in a land filled with immense beauty and challenges. I moved back along the “Way” and glanced back over my shoulder to see Eric doing the same. We waved a last goodbye and turned to finish that day’s journey each in our own quiet solitude. At the end of that first day I hiked, climbed, walked, scurried, slid, and cussed my way for 15 incredible miles over mountains, through valleys, across rivers and prairies. I met amazing people and saw things I had only dreamed of seeing. By the time I found the hostel in Black Valley I was completely spent. My entire body was literally quivering with exhaustion. It took me 2 hours longer than expected and the feeling of triumph was a good night’s rest away.

                                                    Black Valley to Glencar

I awoke the next morning and could actually walk, much to my surprise. When collapsing into my bed that evening I thought there is no way I will even be able to move tomorrow let alone hike for 12 miles. I guess I was wrong. That morning I met Karen and Steve who were from England and were also hiking Kerry Way. Although we did not hike the trail together, as I wanted my solitude and they wanted theirs, we did spend the next two nights together at the same hostels where we drank a few cold ones and told stories from the day’s travels. Mine just happened to be the story of the day. (Center of attention any one?) I had a good start to the morning making my way past the Gearhanour Stream and past the Lough making the decision to veer off the trail and hike along a road that ran parallel to the Way and which rejoined it later. I made good time, it was a beautiful sunny day, and Broaghnabinna Mountain and Cummeenduff Lough were shining brightly in the rare sunlight. My spirits were high and my aim was true. I easily regained the “Way” and traversed down into Commeenduff Glen. I then followed the posted signs making my way up out of the Glen. I stopped to refill my water bottles at a mountain stream and after surveying my surroundings I instinctively told myself that south through the low pass is the way out of the valley. But the trail book indicated to first head up a steep graded road. I hesitated; it just felt like something was amiss. When in doubt people, go with your gut. I ended up taking the wrong path all the while Karen and Steve, who did not miss that particular marker, were across the mountain waving at me frantically and watching helplessly as I veered up the mountain and out of sight. Now when the trail ended smack dab into a lake I knew I was not where I needed to be. Decision time; forge ahead or retrace my steps. Since I am the type of person who always errs on the side of caution, I forged ahead. As I continued on I told myself all the while that I could regain the trail if I could cross the Infant Caragh River and make my way to the top of the near peak, or thereabouts, and look down into the pass to see if I could spot the trail. And that is what I did. I climbed to as near as I could to the top of the bluff, saw the Caragh Valley, which is what I had been searching for and was supposed to be heading into, checked my bearing with my compass, decided it was correct, and made my way down onto the valley floor below finally finding the “Way” markers and breathing a sigh of relief. I remember falling in the mud a lot coming down off that mountain; luckily it wasn't over a precipice. So with my pride intact, my ass covered in mud, and my sound sense of direction back on course, I traversed across the Caragh Valley where I found  a gravel road and where I was lucky enough too, after two hours of walking, hitch a ride with the one car that came by. It was occupied by two teenagers’ joy riding and who I considered to be my guardian angles. They took me the last 6 km and dropped me off at the front door off the hostel. Steve and Karen were shocked to say the least when I was at the bar awaiting their arrival. I let them think on that a bit before I told them I cheated. We all had a good laugh, a cold beer and a good night rest before we headed out again the next morning in the hopes of making it to Glenbeigh that afternoon.
                                                          Glencar to Glenbeigh

The “Seefin” and “Windy Gap.” Nuff said. The hike up and over Windy Gap was, to say the least, the easiest day on the Way. Leaving the hostel bright and early I got a good lead on Karen and Steve. I figured that way if I ran into trouble I would have them pulling up the rear and they could come and save me. This part of Kerry Way was only eight miles and was mostly road walking so it was a fine uneventful day. Oh except for the magic of the Seefin and getting lost in the clouds in Windy Gap. Now if you have been waiting for me to wax poetic here I go. I am not sure what “Seefin” actually is; whether it is the name of the area I was in or the sink that I walked though, but it was all amazing. At one point  I was coming up a stairway cut into the mountainside and I unwittingly scared a whole heard of wild goats. I’m not sure who was more surprised them or me, but they scattered across the glen way faster than I did that’s for sure. I continued my journey forward and found myself going down another set of stairs that had been carved into the rock outcroppings and then down deeper into what we call in F.L.A. a natural sink. In Ireland this is the stuff of fairy tales and leprechauns. It was so serene and so tranquil there. I found myself standing alone. I could feel my heart beat ever so gently in my chest, my own breathing the only thing I could hear, and feeling as if I was the only person on earth.You almost felt as if this, this place, was hallowed ground. Not from something religious or man-made, but because of something spiritual that was being given to you from the earth itself. And as I paused I could feel the presence of something, something special, of what I can only presume was…the aura of the earth. It was magical. It was difficult to leave that place behind me and I did so reluctantly. I will always cherish those few moments in time and I will always remember the intensity of that place. Without doubt I felt a peace there that I had never felt before. So with those memories made I continued my way out of the Seefin and headed towards the top of Windy Gap and very soon I again found myself in a place where the earth itself spoke to me. As I was making my way across the dell I could see the clouds drifting across the top of the mountains. At times it was so thick the peaks disappeared only to reappear moments later still looking strong, ancient…invincible. I journeyed up into the high pass where I could scan the valley below and where I could still make out the little country roads, the quaint country church, and the yellow flowers that dotted the valley floor. And then I was suddenly and quietly engulfed by a soft gentle mist. It surrounded me; I could hear the birds trilling below, I could taste the moisture on my lips, and feel the cloud on my skin as it drifted over me. But all I could see was…the grey. You want me to wax poetic about inter-connectedness, about being one with your surrounding and at one with this earth, about being a part of this planet, not just being on it. Well there you have it. It was a defining moment in my life. This was the most amazing day thus far and I will delight in it, revel in it, and remember it forever. Poetic waxing complete.

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