Day 10

August 17, Monday
Day: 10
Mileage: 39
Killarney -> Gap of Dunloe -> Black Valley -> Moll's Gap -> Killarney
Night's Lodging: Aghadoe IYH (Killarney)
Weather: Brief spit of drizzle, otherwise sunny with imposing looking white clouds

My God, and Thank God! SUN upon arising. From my upper bunk I spied blue sky and sunlight. How long would it last? The pervasive question.

Jack, in his "no-hurry" way, strolled into the dining room, packed and ready to go. He said his B&B hostess proclaimed, "It is forecast to be a clear day." The clouds in the west didn't seem to support her information. I was skeptical, and by now, blatantly jaded. I wanted an early start; the weather looked to be falling apart, and I didn't want to climb the Gap of Dunloe in the rain. The dirt road would be horrid and the views non-existent.

It was a love/hate relationship I developed with my primary mode of transportation and the luggage carried thereon. I began giving a very critical eye to every ounce , ready to jettison anything at the slightest opportunity.

Oh joy! This was a day of touring without toting all the traveling gear. It remained in the hostel, and only survival items were on my bike - rain gear, bike tools, and water. Even Rufus was left behind, a first for him.

Once we reached the Gap, pony carts were in profusion, with strings of ponies clip-clopping down the mountain from a mysterious storage area higher up. Old men hawked rides with some success, while cyclists and trekkers began their way up the mountain track. The dirt road was well packed and not a problem for my road bike. It was wide enough that hikers and bikers alike were able to pass easily. A car or two ventured slowly up.

Soon the damned drizzle began, but not much and not for long. Not even enough to warrant getting into Full Rain Gear. The lower mile or so of the Gap was covered with damp sand, something that I expect mountain bikes excel in. With the "tready" 700Cx30 tire on my back wheel, I navigated with slightly more traction than I am used to. Even so, I fishtailed about in the deeper areas.

The going was not difficult - lots of low gear, but no "hiking" with my bicycle. The scenery was stunning...a U-shaped glacial valley with a burbling stream, boulders of every size, and very little vegetation over 4 feet tall. Macgillycuddy's Reeks loomed to our right. As Jack described it, "The Irish Alps." I was reminded of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California as they appear above the tree line where rocks, scree, mangy vegetation and sure-footed animals all share the same real estate. That was the trouble with being well-traveled throughout the United States - so many other places, in my limited world travels, look like places I've seen in America. We truly have a diverse landscape!

Sheep lined the road here also. One group of sheep had only blue dots on them, no other marks. There was an old horned goat sitting to my left under an oaky-looking tree, surveying his world atop a rocky mound .

Surveying our pedaling accomplishment up through the Gap to the summit, we coasted down the backside, following the river through the Black Valley, which only since the late 1980's had been wired for electricity.

The weather was friendly and our descent took us down into greener pastures, trees, and willows lining the river bank. The picturesque farms were overrun with sheep, looking very much like the boulders which decorated the higher elevations. I was never sure when a sheep might dart stupidly in front of my bike, bringing us both to an abrupt and unpleasant halt . I was sure I would be the worse off in that confrontation.

We noticed fresh peat bogs, something we didn't recognize at first. It was interesting to see how it "grew." It appeared to be a shelf of peat that was "mined" from the side of that hill.

After miles of constant downhill and braking, and a stop or two to remove the accumulated road debris from beneath my front fender, we were level in the valley. My legs were tired. Small rises in the landscape seemed daunting. My right calf was feeling crampy - a first in my biking experience.

The idea of pedaling up Moll's Gap was not appealing. But there we were, going up, and it wasn't bad . The sun was warm, but not too warm. The incline was steep, but not too steep. The scenery continued to awe. I learned that the "steepness arrows"(chevrons) on our maps were of a lessor scale than those on the Scotland map. The roads with these arrows were manageable for me. Last year they were not. I didn't believe that my strength was appreciably greater , but rather the gradient was relatively less.

From Moll's Gap, it was downhill to Killarney. As we descended, I anguished for the riders pedaling uphill. That was our route tomorrow. I wasn't looking forward to it. Tracy was out ahead somewhere while Jack and I traded the lead back and forth. I would stop for a drink or to take a picture and he would pass me. He would stop, and I would pass him. Leap frog.

We made the tourists' stops at the various view areas: Ladies View where Queen Victoria and her entourage viewed Upper Lake and Macgillycuddy's Reeks; the Long Range River; Killarney National Park. And then on to Muckross House. Quite an Elizabethan-style mansion with a perfect Mary Poppins children's room on the first floor of the house. The house included a crafts and historical center and all was surrounded by outstanding gardens.

During our self-guided tour of the house and gardens, I learned that Ireland is the northern-most latitude for Quercus (oak) and two varieties grow here (nearly an endangered species): the Sessile Oak and the Pedunculated Oak.

In the field surrounding Muckross House and Abbey, a special strain of pure black cows with white horns is bred, and kept true. They were kept nearly under lock and key.

Back to Killarney to prowl shops and look for dinner. We looked at menus posted all over town. Tracy was inclined to the more budget-conscious places. I had read that Foley's Restaurant had excellent beef and fresh fish, which appealed to me. Jack didn't care where we ate. Our first foray was into a cafeteria style place which had unappealing food sitting over the steam tables. We put our trays back and left. Dinner at Foley's was excellent. I needed to eat more meat and more fruit . Our eating habits were horrid - tea and pastries were the staple food and drink for us.

(Tomorrow - change money and go to the post. Save gift buying for Galway. Less distance to carry things. I'm tired. 10 p.m. Time for bed. No Guinness.)

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