Thursday, August 2, 2012

Glendalough: The Myth, the Mist and the Midges


Now, there have been times on my journey across Ireland in which I made some seemingly wise decisions. Some even bordering on brilliant. And there have been other times when I, after the fact, said to myself: 'Self, what the hell were you thinking?' Now, as it happens, the time I spent in the Glendalough Valley was an experience that was as wonderful as it was god awful. Let me elaborate upon that last statement.

I arrived in the Glendalough Valley in the owner of Captain Halpin’s Bunkhouse somewhat beat up old van accompanied by my friends Anna, Eike and Myles, all of whom were staying at the hostel in Wicklow and who also happened to be my roommates.
 At the end of the day everyone had plans to head back to the hostel, well, except for me. The day before I had come up with the bright idea to take all my gear with me and spend the night alone in the hills of Glendalough. At the time I am sure I was thinking to myself, 'This is going to be awesome!' Hindsight they say, is 20-20.  As the day drew to a close, I certainly had some reservations as I watched all my new friends drive away in Ian’s van back to the comfort and confines of the hostel.  Had I known then what I know now, my ass would have loaded up in that van so quick it would have made your head spin. But no, I had to be the great adventurer. Taming the wilds of Ireland alone. Forging ahead into the distant horizon. Going where no man has gone…well, you get my drift. 
My first order of business was to find a place to pitch my tent as camping in the valley itself was not allowed. I had to find a site that wasn’t a three day hike out of the glen and was in a place that I felt comfortable and safe. To circumvent all of these issues I did what any mountain woman would do. I left the wilds of the valley via the park entrance, walked across the road, up the hillside, and found a place to pitch my tent behind a tree just outside the park boundaries. “Ha-ha” I said to myself. I am a damn genius. From my perch behind the small solitary tree I could look down not only on the parking lot of the park and the visitors center but the local hotel as well. Now this is what I call wilderness camping at its finest!  So, with that, I pitched my tent on the hillside being harassed in part by the few midges that had decided to join me. No biggie I thought 'I can handle a few pesky bugs.' However, by the time I had my tent erected, which takes all of about 5 minutes, I was beginning to regret my decision to stay behind. The longer I was out there the more midges joined the party until I unceremoniously left my tent behind, walked briskly back down the hill into the park, and finished my day with another short hike, because at that point constant motion was essential to my survival. Now, those of you who have read my blogs before must be thinking, she has dealt with this before, why on earth did she not bring some repellent? Well, that is a great question. And the answer is: NOTHING repels midges. There isn't anything thing that exists on God’s green earth that can combat those little flying Piranha teeth. What does work? Keep moving. Hey, no problem, at least for a few more hours. But eventually I would have to go back to my tent. And when I did, it was war. And guess whom was on the losing end...again. Sitting peacefully on the side of the hill watching the sun go down over the majestic Glendalough Valley was out.
However, lying in my tent with the door zipped up tight was in. One must understand that midges are so small and so crafty that they can somehow, someway, get in through the screen door of any tent. I don’t care how expensive and bad-ass you think your tent may be. Therefore, I could not even leave the tent flap open to gaze outside into the valley below me. By seven o clock that evening with four hours of daylight to go and another five until sun up, I laid on my back in my tent watching the million or so midges that had now found me and were trying, and often succeeding, to enter my humble domain. I had not brought my lap top, no book, no motor car, not a single luxury (sung to the theme of Gilligan’s Island) and I had only a partial charge on my I-pod. It was, to say the least, going to be a very, very, long night. Now, I did have three other sources of entertainment. One was listening to the midges bounce off the tent as they tried to get to me through the tent, the door, and any other crack or crevasse that they could find. The second was to go spastic on occasion. Like a cross between the karate kid kicking someone’s ass and a Ginsu knife on the Home Shopping Network: all going off inside my tent at once. This all in an effort to kill the little bastards that kept doing a great impression of Houdini and appearing out of thin air, again, and again, and again inside my tent. Then of course there was my third and most successful form of entertainment: snacking. I spent the evening lying on my front, back, stomach or side, shoveling whatever I could find into my mouth, watching and listening intently to the midges like they were on late night television, and flying into an occasional fit. I swear I laughed at myself a lot that night at how ridiculous this all must have looked to the universe.
The next morning I awoke, after maybe two hours of sleep, to the sound of a gentle rain falling on my temporary home. I thought to myself “well at least there won’t be any midges to contend with.” Unfortunately that was not to be the case. As I unzipped the door to my tent I realized that what I thought was rain pelting my sleeping quarters was actually….yup, you guessed it, four trillion midges. I took a deep breath of exasperation, ate 250 midges in doing so, and immediately re-zipped the tent door and thought…fuck. I considered my options. Grabbing my gear, leaving the tent behind, and high tailing it out of there, was on the top of the list. Couldn’t do it. That is in essence littering. So there was no way I could do that.Over the course of my camping experiences in Ireland I have done pretty much everything in that tent, sleeping, writing, brushing my teeth, getting dressed, all while lying flat on my back. 
That morning I must have looked like the three stooges all wrapped into one as I, laughing at myself once again, dressed from head to toe including my boots (no easy task I’m tellin’ya), packed all my gear, including all the wrappers and garbage from my marathon eating session, and made my great escape. I, at a frantic pace, opened the door, shot out of the tent like a cannon ball, rolled nimbly to my feet (just like GI Joe), and pulling my rucksack haphazardly behind me, un-staked my tent, grabbed it by one corner, and literally fled down the side of the mountain with its white and blue exterior flapping in the wake of my speedy descent. I was followed by a veritable sea of midges. All, in my mind’s eye, wearing tiny little napkins tucked in their tiny little shirts, holding  knifes and forks in their tiny little wings and making nummy-nummy-nummy noises. It took me the entire hillside and then some, to out run the little buggers. By the time I ran through the park entrance past the parking lot and reached the picnic tables at the visitor’s center I had out ran their entire ravenous army. No small feat for a woman with my short legs and stature. Victory was at long last...mine. If you can call it that. I found out after the fact that all my friends had gone back to the hostel, enjoyed nice warm showers, drank ice cold beers, had themselves a little music session right there at the hostel, and afterwards got a great night sleep in a nice comfy bunk. Ouch, that hurts.:)
However, I must say that the reward for my stalwart-ness was that at 5 o clock in the morning, which is when my “great escape” occurred, there was no one at the park, anywhere around on the trails, or in the valley itself. I literally had the entire place, miles and miles of wilderness, in all its wide wonder, all to myself. I did not lay eyes on another human being for 6 or 7 hours and it was a true gift to be able to wander the hills and valleys of Glendalough in such solitude. It was a treasure to behold. Now as stories go this is a pretty good one. I will have to say unequivocally that the trials and tribulations I had to endure, due to my own stupidity of course, were worth the experience, the solitude, and the sheer joy that I garnered from that part of my incredible journey across an amazing country know to those who love her as...“The Bog.”

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