Smiling Irish Eyes
10 Pages: Enjoy!
The Peace Pedalers rainbow was clearly in full force when Neil, my guest rider from Northern Ireland, and I rolled into the charming town of Sligo as darkness was rapidly approaching. We asked a nice woman where the pub “Shoot the Crow” was just as hundreds of crow flew over our head and she gave us quite clear directions with a smile. But, that was not good enough for this kind soul. She actually got in her car and followed us with a full escort to make sure we made it! The had held off for our ride all day until the exact second we parked the tandem and the sky opened up to let loose all the rain it had saved up all day as we enjoyed sunshine and mixed clouds.
Now every Irishman will tell you that the Guinness is better in Ireland and I have to agree. But there is actually nothing better than a cold Guinness, in Ireland, after a 56 mile ride with a bad ass Irish brother on a tandem, consumed in Sligo’s most reliable pub for the perfect pint “Shoot the Crow”, on a lively Friday night surrounded by friendly locals and beautiful ladies! No, there is no better pint of Guinness than that, trust me.
These are the moments in life that I just know I won’t forget. Neil and I enjoyed every sip of our beers but still were not sure where we were going to sleep that night. The dumping rain and lack of daylight was not such a good sign for our planned camping mission. My Couchsurfing.com host Monica was not expecting me to stay with her and her three children until the next night since she just returned from Portugal that day and understandably wanted a day to regroup before hosting me. But Neil and I both knew we had nothing to worry about as we settled into the positive energy going on, meeting friendly locals and eventually were even joined by Monica and her son Art.
I have been using Couchsurfing.com for a few months now with excellent results but Monica and her three children would be the first family I would stay with. I had a good feeling I would get along great with Monica as she had several shared interests and was well traveled. I also knew I would get along with her son Art since Monica mentioned he was a die hard surfer and knew all the local surf spots. I liked Art and Monica the second I laid eyes on them with their relaxed, genuine and friendly demeanors. And I think the feeling was mutual as we all cheered to a pint and the safe arrival of Neil and me into their city.
It did not take long for Monica to realize that she could not let us two mildly buzzed and endorphin filled boys set up a tent in the dark and sleep in the pouring rain. She offered both of us to stay with her family, which of course put an even bigger smile on the grinning faces of all of us. The only challenge was how to get four bodies and a massive 100 kilo tandem into her little 4-seater car. But when there’s a will, there’s a way. We simply met the owner of the bar, told him about the challenge, and he quickly came up with a solution to store the bike in a secure bottle recycling area and just take my bags in the car. Problem solved, we were set!
I told my follow surfing addict Art about the tail wind that was wailing behind us all day and he confirmed that indeed the waves were big and the next day was likely to be legendary with offshore winds. This fact kept my beer consumption and normal Friday night shenanigans to a minimum as we all headed back to the house at a reasonable hour with relatively clear heads for some good rest. Art made a few calls and lined up a super fun single fin 6’8 fish surfboard, wetsuit and booties so you can imagine how excited I was!
We hit the beach the next morning and when we feasted our eyes on the most perfect waves I’ve seen in since Morocco we were jumping for joy. Monica and Neil did not quite get the same satisfaction but they could tell from my smile that I was one grateful traveling surfer boy indeed! Art said it was the best surf they have had in months and the Peace Pedalers Rainbow clearly was still showing its colors!
I had dreamed of surfing Ireland for many years and to be realizing exactly what I dreamed of and more was truly bliss. We hit the water at a very local spot and were immediately greeted not by snobby surfers like many local spots but big smiles, generous handouts of glassy peaks and cheers to other surfers. The offshore wind and perfect long period swell created a session from heaven. My only complaint was being out of shape and not able to surf as long as I wanted to with my arms becoming jelly after just about 90 minutes of fun. But I got some of the best waves of my life, with stunning scenery from the water of huge green mountains and surrounded by cool guys so no way I can complain.
The boys stayed out for at least a three hour session but I was soon joined by Monica and Neil to grab some tea and grub at Monica’s art studio. Monica is a marvelous painter and aspiring film maker so we got along very well. Neil was hoping to catch a bus back to home later in the day so we eventually made our way back to downtown Sligo. But when we finally made it to the bus station after several funny diversions there were no more busses left for the day so, boo hoo, Neil had to stay another day. Of course, all of us were totally excited about this, including Neil!
Monica cooked up a delicious meal and Neil and I sat amongst the madness of life living with three teenagers. It was almost like watching a reality TV show or something with so many dynamics of different personalities, emotions, egos and issues. Monica’s children were typical teenagers minus the fact that they had to get used to these strangers coming into their house with Couchsurfing.com. We had a nice chat about it with the crew and these teens were switched on, open, accepting and more cultured than most mature adults in ole USA.
With the swell continuing to pound the coast and perfect offshore wind still present there was no way I was going out late hootin’ and a hollerin’ that Saturday night. I already had a handicap of being out of surfing shape from 4 months away from the ocean so I did not need any tiredness or post party physical challenges. We started out with some Dig lessons where Neil promised to teach me in 10 minutes and HE DID! Not the fancy circular breath but I can play! But then news came in that there just happened to be a live traditional Irish music band playing 200 meters from Monica’s door and a mature crowd of 40’s to 60’s so we had to tilt a few before bed and boy was it fun!
This band just sat in a stall and jammed a few songs, took a break for some Guinness, then jammed some more. The music was stellar and they even allowed me to record them for some native soundtrack for the TV series. Neil and I had endless chats and sucked up our last moments together since Monica was taking him back home the next day. My plan was to wake up early to ride my bike and surfboard to the ocean for a few more days of fun in the sun before pedaling east to Dublin.
It felt like California that day, seriously. It must have been about 75 degrees and almost total sunshine with steady offshore winds. I was torn between filming scenes on the way or just pedaling as fast as I could to get my tail in the water. I found a compromise and rolled a cameras as I found my totally flat, free of charge, on a cliff, steps from epic surf spot location for the next few days.
I ended up having the surfs of my life, epic clean waves galore, meeting several very cool local Irish cats who added the perfect spice to this yummy meal. As the day went on a few sprinkles of rain came around us, but never on us. With the rain and all the sun came rainbows—plenty of them. One of them was just for me as I got out of the surf and it bowed right over my spot. Life was good!
I was hoping to get some cycling in with some of the local Irish surfers between sessions but the swell died out fast and the crowd of cool guys left soon after. Luckily, Monica wanted to take a spin so she met me at the beach the next day and took me on a tandem coastal adventure to her “favorite secret place”. Since its secret I’ll tell you only that it involved ancient graves from like 5,000 years ago, beautiful green sand dunes, epic views and cool animals running around. We ran the cameras and Monica shared some great wisdom with me and the world as the sun became rain and back to sun in just minutes. Love that Irish weather!
The swell died out and the wind changed direction so I saw this as a clear sign to get the pedals cranking west to Dublin to explore the midland region so often missed by tourists. I had an invitation to reconnect with my bro Jono who lives in Dublin and since my boat to Wales took off from there I now had an adventure west ready to rock. I spent another full day getting my gear ready and enjoying a final day in Sligo. I also started to put some feelers to the locals that my rear seat was empty and I was looking for some company on my adventures heading west.
So here’s where the magic of Ireland starts to really show its colors. On my last day in Sligo I had no idea who would be riding with me or if I would find a rider or not. But I knew in my heart that the adventurous Irish would pull through so I just kept the faith. I had loose plans with Monica’s son Art to pedal out of town a bit but it was not concrete. So as I was sitting using the WiFi connection in a cool Irish bar I was approached by a friendly man named Sean who was quite intrigued about the tandem parked in front. When I told him about the trip his eyes lit up like a little boy and he said something I hear often like, “Wow, this is exactly what I would have dreamed to do but just didn’t make it happen. I wanted to do it when I was young but the years have just passed by and I doubt I’ll ever be able to do anything like this…”
He explained how he was going through somewhat of a “midlife crisis” and looking at his life and what new moves he might make to have the next phase be more exciting, positive and adventurous. I knew right away that Sean had to come on the bike so I pulled out my map, showed him my route to Dublin, and told him to come meet me the next day in on my route and come ride. We made a plan to meet up, ride in the afternoon after Art went home, camp that night, and do some riding the next day as well. He bought me a pint of Guinness, we shook hands, and he was in—excited, nervous and grateful at the same time for the adventures ahead.
That night I planned to meet up with Art to firm up our plans for the next days morning departure. But by the time I found him he was already in “party mode” with his university friends and I was starting to lose faith that he would be in any kind of riding shape the next morning. But he said he was in, and would be there at 8AM for our ride, so I surrendered and rode home to get a good nights rest. I gave a short ride to an interesting and quite intoxicated young Irish chap Oisin Brennen and he had such a blast and wished he could come riding too. I rode the 14km back to Monica’s where she had cooked up a yummy Mexican feast so we had our final dinner together just her and I as the kids had gone to bed. I felt very much like part of the family by this time and was so grateful for the experience to live with this unique and cool family.
The next morning I was super excited but the weather was pretty gloomy and wet. Monica was heading into town for work so she took my gear and allowed me to ride solo to save some strength and make some time since we got a late start. We met up at the coffee shop to fuel up and this is where Art and I had planned to meet. The tail wind was blowing just the right direction and I arrived at the café excited and ready to hammer. But my planned guest rider Art was in a very rare state—totally hungover, stinking of alcohol and dead tired. The look he gave me made it clear that he was out for the days ride. I could tell he was bummed out about it, but I also knew he was quite serious about his decision to bail out due to no sleep and the fact he was still likely drunk.
But, as the luck of the Irish would have it, his buddy Oisin was there too in just as bad a state. But Oisin got a taste of the adventure the night before and decided he was not willing to miss out on the opportunity to take part in the adventure. Oisin agreed to ride with me out of town about 15km to Collooney where he planned to hitch back and finally get to bed. But I knew that once he got on, with or without a massive hangover, he would stay on all morning and then some. So plan B was in full affect and Oisin, pronounced “osheen”, was soon pedaling away up and down the hills, reeking of alcohol and tobacco, but still doing a great job.
That morning the weather was pretty nasty and unstable with plenty of rain and wind followed by doses of intense sunshine. Once we got the bike rolling out of town and into the countryside we were loving the ride with great conversations, bright green scenery and challenging terrain. With the strong tail wind it did not take us long to reach Collooney and just when we arrived the sun came shining bring with a clearing that looked like it was going to stay around a while.
It was in Collooney that I got an SMS message on my phone from Sean saying that he had to back out of the ride since he could not find a dog sitter for his pup Shadow. I knew this was just a story and that with a little nudge he would come after all so I sent him a powerful SMS message and hoped for the best. Deep in my heart I knew we were meant to ride, connect, film and explore together.
As expected, Oisin accepted the invitation to keep the pedals moving past Collooney and I quickly went into action to film during this brief interlude from the rain. Oisin was also eager and excited to be part of the film so threw on the mics, cameras and pedaled off into the brightest sunshine ever as the tailwind blew us along and made for a perfect filming environment. Oisin shared his message with the world not to grow up to fast and take making money too seriously, which was exciting to hear from Ireland’s next generation. We talked about all sorts of interesting topics from reviving the Gaelic language, to the influence of American culture through media like MTV, family values and more. It was not only a beautiful ride but an experience for us both that one day you’ll all see and meet this cool chap Oisin.
At about the 30km mark we hit the town of Ballyfarnon to stop for lunch. By this time Oisin was starting to really feel the consequences of staying up all night drinking and warned me that that might be as far as he could go. I set us up with some sandwiches and bought some soup but by the time we were done with lunch he was in bad shape. He said he was going to call it quits but I urged him to push through to the town of Keadew about 8km up ahead where my turnoff was to Carrick-on-Shannon. He was hesitant but agreed and we were able to grab some more great shots, have more chats and he did manage to get through the wall of pain and enjoy the last pedal strokes together.
When we finished the ride in Keadew he was so excited. He was tired, but so grateful for the experience, and so was I. I was glad to have met a friend in the younger generation of Ireland and it gave me great hope in the future of not only Ireland but our world. In Keadew I saw an SMS message had arrived from Sean saying he was indeed coming and would meet me up ahead. Stoked! I printed him off an epic photo of Oisin and us riding, he hit the road back hitching and I rode solo towards Carrick-on-Shannon where I planned to meet Sean up ahead about 15km. Life was good!
“But just when life seems like easy street there is danger at your door” some song goes. In this case it was not danger but adversity. The moment Oisin got off and I pedaled away I noticed that the minor squeaking in my bottom bracket (the axel that the cranks and pedals run on) was not becoming almost satanic and very scary loud. A few minutes after that my timing chain fell off. Then it fell off again, and again, and again. This was NOT good.
After some investigation it was clear that my bottom bracket was totally fried and with over 200km still to ride I was pretty bummed out since I knew the chances of finding one outside of Dublin were rare. But I put Sean to work searching for one up ahead in the next town and I had to ride in a very inefficient way to keep the chain from continuing to fall off on the way to Carrick-on-Shannon. I finally arrived and found Sean on the phone to several bike shops but with bad news that nobody had this part, except way over in Dublin.
But the luck of the Irish was on our side and we decided to power forward and pray for the best. The bottom bracket continued to make horrible noises but with the force of two people pedaling it somehow kept the chain from falling off! Great news! So we hit up a market for some dinner supplies and pedaled off on some truly spectacular backroads with the continued tail winds pushing us along at a nice pace. Sean was not in the greatest shape but gave it all he had and I heard his rapid breath clearly. The sun came out, we powered the rolling hills and the positive energy between us was simply amazing.
At about an hour before sunset we started to keep an eye out for a place to camp for the evening. We met a few local hunters who gave us a few suggestions, and one of them sounded great—a free camping spot right on the famous Shannon river just up ahead. So we pedaled onwards and crossed one of the many beautiful old bridges and there it was, a flat, grassy, free spot right on the river with picnic tables and everything! We got a few shots with the video cameras and rolled on down to enjoy yet another beautiful camping experience in beautiful Ireland.
The spot was next to a bunch of boaters who were moored up for the night doing tours of the Shannon river and they were all quiet and friendly. We set up camp and prayed for no rain that night since my new tent was on the way and my current tent was not water tight. After a huge meal of yummy sandwiches, plenty of chocolate and a cold beer we hit the tent pretty early to have an early departure for a planned 85km ride to Mullingar the next day.
We both slept like babies with no major rain, just a few regular sprinkles. But when we woke up we were both amazed and surprised to see crystal clear blue skies and the continued tailwind was in affect! It was cool, crisp and looking like a gorgous day in the makings. We mowed down a big breakfast and hit the winding road west through more beautiful green Irish scenery.
In Ireland you never know when the weather will change so we decided to make use of the nice sunshine to do some morning filming. About 5km outside our campsite I set up the cameras and we filmed a beautiful slice of Ireland and Sean shared some great nuggets. His message to the world was to challenge yourself and to surround yourself with positive people who will support you to live the life you really want. I also learned that Sean is a musician and plays guitar in a traditional Irish band, sings and even writes songs. On the bike he even sang a few numbers for me and the world and one song was particularly wonderful called “Trouble Free Time”, which is a song about peace and getting over the “troubles” that plagued Ireland for so many decades.
After the filming mission we took tons of small back roads through charming farmland that likely have never had a tourist visit before. The “for sale” signs were popping up everywhere showing the signs of Irelands economic correction finally showing its face. Ireland has been growing very fast in the past 10-15 years and many people became wealthy, bought second homes and lived great lives of luxury. In fact, if you come to Ireland looking for those cute, small, stone Irish houses you see in postcards don’t be surprised if they have been bulldozed down and replaced with fancy, modern new houses.
The sun stayed out all day without a drop of rain, which totally went against the forecast. But Sean and I were not complaining a bit and we both were actually getting sunburned in Ireland, which we both got a kick out of. Sean was set on challenging himself more than ever before so the decision to pedal 85km to Mullingar was fully his. The bike continued to make evil noises that got worse and worse every kilometer, but we both felt confident that Edie, my bike, would pull through for us.
It was a truly epic ride that neither of us will ever forget. The conversation was non-stop, the scenery so sweet, the traffic light and the challenging hills just hard enough to make us sweat but not kill us. I asked Sean if he would consider us finding a guitar in Mullingar so he could do a proper performance of his peace song “Trouble Free Time” so we could film it for the world and he agreed it was a good plan. So we ran the cameras once again on the way into town as the sun set on the charming town of Mullingar and it was the perfect end to a glorious day of Peace Pedaling. The bottom bracket on the bike was screaming in agony but did make it all the way! Thanks Edie!
In Mullingar we met several interesting characters who led us to a pub that has regular live music so that was our first stop. We celebrated the perfect day with the perfect pint of Guinness and got the green light for Sean to perform a few songs at the evening performance that night by two beautiful singer songwriters from New York! Bonus! Several pints of Guinness later Sean got his chance in between sets and put on a stellar performance for the crowd. But by the time he finished it was past midnight and neither of us had a clue where we were going to sleep that night. Not only that, but the perfect weather we had was now pouring rain and wind. Another classic Peace Pedalers adventure indeed!
When word got out that we were homeless it did not take long for a local chap named Dave Ganly to offer up his house. When the pub closed the party moved on over to his place with a handful of cheerful locals and we continued to celebrate our unforgettable escapade. Dave even gave up his bed to Sean and I so we could get a good nights rest and he stayed in the living room so the Irish hospitality continued to show its lovely colors.
The next morning Sean had to head back to his dog Shadow and I was hoping to find a bottom bracket or I would have to take a train to Dublin. Dave pedaled with me to the best shop in town and he, like every other shop owner, confirmed that Dublin was the only place to find this specific part. Since I had to escort Sean to the station anyways, and in light of the continued downpour of rain and a dead bottom bracket, it was clear that the train to Dublin was my path. I gave Sean a huge hug and sent him off all pumped up with energy, excitement and a memory that neither of us will soon forget.
Just after Sean left I was disassembling my bike to get it on the train when a tall young man with a shaved head approached me. I noticed he also had a bike and he was intrigued with my setup. His name is Aiden and he was more than willing to help me sort out my bike, ticket and even get me a nice warm cup of coffee to keep me warm in the freezing wind and rain. We were both on the same train so before I knew it I had yet another cool new buddy in Ireland. I love this country!
We got the bikes on without any issue and had an enjoyable ride chatting away to Dublin. Turns out he lived for two years in Australia and is a Hare Krishna devotee. I have met several devotees in the past and always found them to be very caring, peaceful and laid back. The weather was horrific outside and my first destination was a bike shop called Cyclelogical who had the part waiting for me. I had no idea where the shop was so Aiden gave me a personal escort through the drenched streets of Dublin when we arrived and even offered me a free meal at the Hare Krishna restaurant he worked at. Lovin’ it!
I rolled my drenched bike into the shop and immediately felt welcomed and supported by all the shop employees. The mechanic Wayne was super cool and turned out to be from Swansea in Wales where I was going the next day via boat so I knew I was in the right place. They opened up Edie to discover that indeed the bottom bracket had dissolved and they had no idea how it could have still performed in that state. It literally feel into pieces when they opened it up.
I got the new part put in, selected a new pump, found some other spare parts and pieces I needed and was ready to pay my bill and head to the Irish Times newspaper for an interview. But when it came time to pay my bill I was given a most awesome gift of, well, no bill. The guys in the shop all chipped in and decided to sponsor Peace Pedalers with free parts and labor 100%. It was the coolest gift any bike shop has given me on my whole trip and sent me out pedaling with such a huge smile! Thanks guys!
If this was not good enough the weather cleared up and the rain stopped just as I left the shop so I did not show up to my interview too wet. The reporter at the Irish Times was cool but was digging for bad news and drama. When I told her that I really don’t have any bad news about Ireland or really anywhere on my trip I could tell that the article she was hoping to write would not likely happen. But we did a big hour interview and at least I did my best.
Jono and I reunited after about 2.5 years of not seeing each other but it was like nothing changed. He and I got along like brothers in the states and I was so excited to be in his local stomping grounds. He was just as excited to share it with me! So we tilted a pint and pedaled the ride to his pad where I once again amazed my host by finding a way to fit this massive load of gear into small studio apartments. Jono’s pad is small, he even calls it a “shoe box”, but we made it work and were gearing up for a rockin night in Dublin and my last night in Ireland.
Turns out that Jono is also a musician and plays a wicked guitar and sings like a champ. I filmed a few licks and we were soon off to meet his childhood friend Brenden and his lady Catherine. They cooked us up a beautiful meal, we sipped some pints and the boys played song after song on two acoustic guitars that totally blew me away. We followed that up with a trip out to a rockin’ local pub packed shoulder to shoulder with cool, fun, energetic and talkative Irish lads and gals.
When the pub closed Jono had a surprise for me. He took me to a heavy metal club that he spent much of his youth in and it was a sight for new virgin eyes of this kid indeed. When you think of a “club” you think of dancing people and loud music and lights. But this was a heavy metal club so there was loud music but people playing air guitar, head banging, swinging long hair in circles and more. At first I was caught off guard and felt quite awkward in my collard shirt and shaved head. But I decided to keep an open mind and see where the night would take us before asking Jono to choose another late night venue. Needless to say, it was not long before Jono and I were doing our own head banging, meeting friendly metal fans and playing our own air guitar. It was an absolute hoot and I’ll never forget that night, eh Joho?
We were in bed at 4AM and I had to be up at 6AM to ride to my ferry. I got the bike all packed up and went to say bye to Jono who was still in bed. We had a bit of a scare since the automatic garage gate would not open so we had to unpack the entire bike and bring it piece by piece through the hallway, both of us with mild hangovers and sleepy heads. But before I knew it I gave my “till next time” farwell to my bro Jono and pedaled off into the rain and wind. A massive storm was in the mix and half the boats over to Wales were canceled. Luckily I was rescheduled on a big car ferry that could handle the rough seas.
Before I knew it I was riding onto a ferry and would finally say goodbye to this totally amazing island of Ireland where I spent two of the most fulfilling weeks of my life. Ireland touched my heart in a big way and there is no doubt I will be back many times in this life of mine. Endless thanks to everyone who made this trip so special, especially Neil, Monica and Family, Oisin, Sean, Dave, Aiden, Wayne, Jono, Brenden and Catherine. You all made me feel so welcome, supported and nurtured. It was hard to leave but I will be back!
Go to Ireland. You won’t regret it!
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