Expect the Unexpected: Bike Challenges

It was pouring when I sat down for breakfast looking over a green field with sheep.  My B&B is a traditional Irish sheep farm and the son's owner is an avid amateur jockey. I looked over my paper map (shocking, I know) and decided I would make my way up to Doolin today.  The 50-mile route seemed easy enough.  I hand-wrote my cue sheet and started packing. As soon as I stepped outside, the rain suddenly stopped, but the sun did not break through the clouds.  I was riding for the first time with front panniers (these are small bags attached to the front fork of the bicycle) and pedaling against strong winds. The wind was blowing so hard that I could barely hear cars even when they were just 30 yards away from me. The howling wind drowned out all other sounds.

My front wheel felt wobbly on the compacted gravel road. I was initially not sure if the new panniers threw off my steering or the actual wheel got bent during the flight. Part of me wanted to ignore the issue, but I was worried about the long-term impact on the expensive wheel. If I had to replace it, a brand new wheel could cost several hundreds of dollars.

I was about 12 kilometers away from Ennis, a larger town, and probably my last chance to find a bicycle shop before heading into Burren and continuing into Clifton and Westport. After that I would be traveling only through tiny villages with plenty of pubs.

Ennis is a gorgeous fisherman’s town with a petite center.  A narrow, one-way street would lead me up to the bike shop. A middle-aged Irish woman was very descriptive in pointing me in the right direction: "You have to go straight, go through two lights, make a right into the one way.  You want to be careful since the street is narrow and the children are just getting out of school.  It might be better to push it up for a few streets.  You will see a big monument and it is behind it! The bookstore is right there as well. Just be careful with the heavy traffic!"

Just as she had described, I found the shop behind the towering monument at the top of the hill across from the bookstore. With a swift glance, the owner quickly pointed out that the wheel was not correctly aligned on one side. That can apparently happen with a new tire.  A simple realignment and some wiggling should do, the owner said.  I gave up after at least one hour of wiggling, which ultimately resulted in a punctured tube.

At this point, the owner stepped in shaking his head about my attempt to fix it. He offered to change the tube and realign the tire.  With no pride left, I accepted his offer and went for lunch. It was almost 3 p.m. and my only regret was that I had run out of time to explore Ennis.  I felt hurried to make a few more miles before I had to attend a conference call at 6 p.m. (noon EST).

How I found a my New Home-Ennistymon-Affordable with Artist Center

At 5:15 p.m., I wasn’t even close to Doolin. I had 20 miles left and against the wind I was crawling at about 4.5-6/mph. When I arrived at Ennistymon, I passed a house with a huge sign in the window offering 59 euros for dinner, breakfast, room and WIFI.  I knocked at the door and a charming lad told me with a smile that they were sold out.  He recommended that I stay in Ennistymon at another B&B because it was more of a typical Irish town than the next one over called Lahinch.

Ennistymon used to be a thriving market town and a hip and happening place in the earlier part of the 20th century. Back then, it had the highest pub-to-population count in Ireland!  Many people have left since the depression and only 13 pubs remain for the town’s 2,000 residents.

The old court house was renovated as an artist space with an adjacent gallery sponsored by the Irish government. Walking down the four to five blocks of the main street I noticed a storefront with paintings inside and an artist’s URL on the window.  I got curious and learned that Ennistymon has a Rudolf Steiner School, which has been drawing more creative people to the town.

On the side street many store fronts were deserted and vacant buildings had “For Sale” signs.  A house with the faint outline of its original hotel name painted over in gray was a reminder of more prosperous times.

In the town square, there was a traffic sign pointing in the direction of the Ennistymon Chernobyl project. I was tempted to walk over and find the project. There was a stone staircase to the cascades. I was not sure what to expect - cascades may refer to a waterfall. I climbed up the stairs, followed a narrow path down covered by trees that concealed my view. At the end of the path was a muddy, grassy rock platform and  the loud sound of gushing water.

Hesitant, I stepped onto the rock and mud, worried that I would slip and fall into the forceful water mass.  The grass provided enough traction for me to walk and see a huge rock hanging over the river against the warm evening sun. Turning around to look back, I saw the stunning cascades with Ennistymon’s colored houses as its background. Three mules were standing on a big grass field just beyond the rock. I figured it must belong to the Falls River Hotel that towered next to the field.  I saw people having dinner in the window and gathered that they must have a magnificent view of the cascades. I headed hungrily in that direction to find some dinner.

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