Thursday, May 31, 2012

Thus Far...Chapter 2

Thus far I have discovered; hiking over mountains is hard, meeting new friends is easy, and Ireland is magical; and thus my journey continues. By now I have finished my adventure along Kerry Way having covered over 80 miles of the 120 originally planned. I have written about the difficulties of hiking across the “bog,” about the people I have met along the way, and about the amazing beauty of this place. Over the past week I have experienced an array of new and wonderful things as I met characters from across the globe, hitchhiked, camped, and laughed my way across County Kerry all the way back to where this particular journey began; in my new favorite town in Ireland, Kilarney.

I found that I was not the only hiker who eventually became overwhelmed from the tough and grueling trail known as Kerry Way. Almost every person I met who was attempting to hike the “Way” hitchhiked for a least a part of their journey. It made me feel pretty good that I was not the only person to fall victim to the trail; with sore shoulders, spent legs, knees that no longer wanted to work, and a lack of willingness to put myself through another day scrambling over some mountaintop somewhere. I don’t remember what day I left, as the hours and days seem to be running together for me now, but at some point I departed Carsiveen on foot heading for the edge of town hopeful that I would be fortunate in my pursuit of a ride to Caherdaniel. It was there I was going to camp for a few days and hike out along the “Way” to the Strand (aka Beach) at Darrynane. Man, it was a tough crowd that morning and I began to wonder if hitchhiking was a complete and utter waste of time. However, I finally got a ride from an Irishman named Danny (go figure) who was on his way to work in Port Magee. Danny was eating a sandwich as he pulled over and he ushered me into the passenger seat with a randy smile, and I spent the next ten minutes feeling the need to wipe off the dollop of mayonnaise that rested on the left side of his face the entire time we spoke. Although he wasn't going far at least it was a start and as he dropped me of at the turn to the port where he worked, he smiled, waved goodbye, and wished me a safe journey. I can only assume that the mayonnaise has since been removed. At least one can hope. That was the beginning of my hitchhiking experience that continued with some fairly good results, well…for the most part. As I stood in the road waiting for my next lucky break I was blessed with a spectacular view and again a rare glimpse of Irish sunshine. Kay was the next person to pick me up and after what I can only describe as a hair-raising lift around the cliffs of County Kerry, delivered me unscathed, but weak in the knees, right down into the center of town in Caherdaniel. I made my way along the road side to the campground where I stayed for two days until the midges drove me back to the confines of a hostel (more on them later). So to get to my next destination I stood in front of the campground with a sign that simply read “Sneem” and it wasn't long before I was motioned over into a van by two Germans who happened to be heading in my direction. Now I have spoken about going with ones gut on more than one occasion…I really need to start listening to my own advice. My traveling companions were heading into Kilarney which would be my ultimate destination. However, I really wanted to go to Sneem and Kenmare to hike part of the “Way” and discover the beauty of those towns. So I forged ahead, got out at Sneem, waved goodbye to my travel companions, only to discover; there was no hostel. Okay…forward march. My thumb was already warmed up, so flexing it like a fighter about to do battle, I forged ahead yet again and off I eventually went with Ian, a lumber jack who waxed poetic about sustainability, my kinda guy. He dropped me off in Kenmare where I was assured there would be ample accommodations. Ummm…yeah, no go. Kenmare was beautiful but the one and only hostel was dinky and overpriced. So being the hard headed person that I am I briefly looked around town and then decided to hitchhike, right then there, back to Kilarney. In this I learned a life lesson; when hitchhiking to a specific town it always helps to be on the correct road. I stood there for about three hours trying to get out of that god-forsaken town (my pet name for Kenmare). Finally, a nice woman who lived there told me I would have more luck if I stood on the main road into Kilarney not the scenic route that only the tourist took. Duh. She was kind enough to give me a lift to the right road where within a matter of minutes I was tucked into a small beat up ole car with Michael and his daughter who were seemingly headed in the correct direction. Well, once again trust your instincts people. Michael, I found out after the fact, wasn't actually going to Kilarney he was going to Cork. So I was somewhat shocked, to say the least, when he dropped me off at a T-junction in the middle of freakin’ nowhere Ireland, I was like wholly shit batman you…are screwed. The sign indicated that I was 20 miles outside of Kilarney and the day was drawing to a close. I just stood there with my sign that read "Kilarney" looking like what I can only assume was either pathetic or terrified. Luckily, it took even less time than the last to get a ride, within the first three cars turning for Kilarney a nice family, who obviously saw the look on my face, picked me up and took me all the way to the hostel. Whew, hitchhiking was almost as crazy as hiking over a mountain alone and every bit as challenging. I want to thank all the folks who made that part of my adventure although often hair-raising, a safe and memorable experience. And to the Germans who made it to Kilarney hours before I did, next time…I’m stickin’ with you.

Ah the great outdoors! Ya gotta love it, especially in Ireland. Now if you thought hiking over a mountain all alone was dangerous you obviously have never been camping with me. After finding a magnificent camping spot with an incredible view I managed to, in just a matter of an hour or so, bash my thumb with a rock (aka hammer), cut myself with my pocket knife, and step bare foot on what amounts to Ireland’s version of a stinging nettle. Geez, where is a nice safe precipice for me to almost fall off? Now, I will have to say that the view was spectacular at both campsites but for a couple of things. After my accident filled evening I snuggled down into my “tent with a view” that I had pitched along a sandy cove and watched the sun fade ever so slowly into the mountains. I awoke the next morning to the wind shaking my tent quite vigorously and when I unzipped the door I immediately got to eat a hardy, yet tasty, sand sandwich. I then proceeded to get a taste of that sandwich for the next hour or so while I packed my things and headed to my next camp site just a few miles down the road. Later that day I was still eating, brushing, picking, and rubbing sand out of every crack and crevasse of myself and my stuff. But did I tell you about how amazing the views were?? Now, the next view was even better. A beautiful spot along the open cliffs, but after the sun beat down on me for the entire day and the wind howled though me and my tent incessantly (I actually got a sunburn and/or windburn from those two days) I decide it might be prudent to move my tent to somewhere more, let’s say…sheltered. So I got situated in a nice little cove at the top of the camp ground with no view mind you but at least I didn't need to hold on to a tree to stand up and I didn't have to weight my tent down with boulders to keep it on the side of the cliffs. Score one for the gipper! Again, I climbed in and settled in for a nice warm sleep. In the morning I awoke to a quiet and still morning. The wind had died completely and as I crawled out of my tent to stretch I realized something was amiss. Now I have been in Ireland for almost ten days but that beautiful and glorious morning I met my first Midge. Oh, and his 50,000 cousins. Now if you have never met a midge you really must indulge yourself in their loving and welcoming embrace. Midges my friends are basically flying teeth, but not just any teeth, flying piranha teeth. Not just any flying piranha teeth, but ravenous, flying piranha teeth, and not just…well you get my drift. I have never dropped a tent and packed my shit so fast in all my life. I limped my sorry self up out of that place, thumb throbbing, hand bleeding, sore feet aching, being followed hungrily by a family of midges and looking as if I hadn't slept in days. I was surprised anyone stopped to give me a lift at all. But did I tell you how spectacular the views were??? To be honest it was one of the best times I have ever had in my life even in spite of the comedy of errors. Life is like that sometimes; you have to learn to take the good with the bad and when things don’t go as planned just put your head down, smile, laugh it off, and make the best of it. Deep thoughts with Kristine, complete.

The Players: I just want give a shout out to some of the people who have helped to make this journey so incredible.

Karen and Steve; I met Karen and Steve my first morning on the “Way” and we spent the next two nights in the hostels together. We lost each other along the way but reconnected yesterday in Kilarney. We had breakfast together one last time while we spoke fondly of our journey. It was nice to see them once again as we had started out together what seemed like so very long ago.

Brian; I met Brian at the “Sleepy Camel” my third day out. He came into the hostel the day Steve and Karen left and I had decided to stay an extra day. Now Brian was a card. He was 75 years old and sewn together with leather and nails. We sat together that evening in the sitting room of the Sleepy Camel, where he drank Jameson and regaled me with stories of his past. As the Jameson in his bottle got smaller his tales got bigger, his somewhat prominent nose got redder and my laughter grew louder. I met and/or traveled with Brian for the next two days until we lost track of each other in Waterville. He caught up with me again in Kilarney two days ago where we reminisced and said a final goodbye as he left on the bus yesterday morning for New Castle.

Glen and Molly: Now this had to be one of my favorite evenings thus far. I met Glen and Molly in a little town called Carsiveen. They were working at a Hostel called the “Sive” in exchange for room and board. They were disenchanted with the expectations and confines of life in the real world and decided to make and create their own path in life and good for them. We spent the evening sitting by a fire that Glen had built in the hearth of the sitting room, talking about the earth, about kids these days, about expectations of society, and about dreams that were meant to be chased. Loved those kids and I hope they follow their dreams to their fruition. I didn't have the heart to tell them “good luck with that…”

The folks at Neptune’s in Kilarney: All total I spent four nights at Neptune’s in Kilarney. So I have to give props to; Kinga, Juliet, Michael, Peter, who was not only the nicest guy I have ever met but the finest guy I had seen in Ireland thus far, (and BTW: thanks for the chocolate Peter!) and the rest of the people that worked at Neptune’s. That hostel became like a second home to me. Love you guys.

Ian; I met Ian as I was walking through Caherdaniel and as he was sitting on a stone wall having just come off the trail and was, as was I, tired of hiking. I was doing a day hike at the time so I crossed the street to speak with him and find out what he was up to, if he was hiking the Way, and if so to see what I had missed on that particular section. He was trying to hitch a ride into Sneem as I would do several days later. We spoke for a few moments and eventually parted ways; I heading south in to the park and he, hopeful to catch a ride north, to Sneem. When I arrived back at Neptune’s a few days later the first one to greet me was Ian who just happened to be sitting on the couch in the lobby when I arrived. It was great to see him and unknown to us at the time that would be the beginning of what my friend Ben would later refer to as “the perfect storm.”
The Kilarney Crew; Sunday was one of those days I will look back on for the rest of my life. I would later refer to it thusly.  That day it was as if some giant hand was putting together a puzzle, and as each member of the Crew came into play another piece of the puzzle was put into place. It was Ian and Sam who I met as I stepped back into Neptune’s that evening, where Ian suggested that later we should go for a pint, Sam agreed and the puzzle pieces began being placed. Over the next hour or so I met Lauren and Kellie two girls from Missouri and who in my mind were the salt of the earth; two more pieces of the puzzle in place. Then I met Ben. Ben was from Australia; we made an instant connection and Ben became what I would have to say was my best “mate” while I was in Kilarney. Sarah from Texas with her innocent smile was next to be placed and, last but not least, Hannah was added to the mix and with that the universe made an audible “click.” The “Perfect Storm,” as Ben would call it, had been created. Ben nicknamed me “mum,” as I was the oldest of the Crew, the rest of the kids soon followed suit and together we headed for the pub not knowing that night at the “Grand” in Kilarney would be one of a kind. A night that could never be duplicated, nor would any of us want too. 

Breakfast Club that morning was quite loud and a great deal of fun but unfortunately most had to leave that day. They filtered out one by one with hugs and handshakes and wishes for safe travels. And although over the next day or so Ben and I met new friends it wasn't quite the same. He and I slowly said goodbye to them all until he and I were the last two remaining. Ben eventually had to leave on the bus Tuesday morning. We gave each other a hug and a smile and said goodbye knowing that the universe had pulled us all together. 
The puzzle had been but for one day, but the perfect storm would stay with each of us forever. 
Me and Ben

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