“Women and Children First!”: a road trip story through Connemara
« But it’s not a myth! » None of them lied. Not our friends, with their warnings before our departure, not even Michel, singing Connemara’s weather forecast to us with remarkable accuracy. Ireland’s legends are there for a reason. We’ve been pedalling through the country for two days now, it’s raining, and it’s cold.
The day’s stopover leads us to Clifden. We take Tristan along with us. Tristan isn’t a cyclist. After having tinkered with a bike as best as he possibly could, his vagabond spirit decided to trust us in cycling more than 600 miles along the western Irish coast. So when we told him “to pedal, you have to pack light”, he went and brought a hammock. After a 50-mile day through breath-taking scenery, after having eventually understood that Ireland was not what you would call a “flat country”, and after a few pints in the first pub we laid our eyes on upon arrival in Clifden, we put our plan into action. We would treat ourselves to a night of camping at Twelve Pins (Bens?), an isolated mountainous spot slap bang in the middle of nowhere. We end the day with a long ride to this picture-perfect place, and nudge the meter to 60 miles.
From above, the stage is set. Once up there, we will be alone, surrounded by twelve mountains, cushy, sheltered by the understory, and we will make a cosy wood fire in order to devour our Chinese noodles, and we will mend our hardened muscles with I don’t know how many cans of beer during an evening we will remember for years to come. Aaaaaaah, Ireland! Once there, the curtain opens. We’re alone, surrounded by twelve mountains and… a disused mine. As if it popped out of nowhere, we see the abandoned worksite, bathing, rusting in murky, greyish waters. The wind, which hasn’t left our sides since the beginning of our journey, rushes into the mountains and invites a thunderstorm to our little party. From being gloomy, the place quickly turns quite squalid, scary even, as if taken straight out of Hitchcock’s imagination.
Once we abandon the idea of planting our tent at the bottom of the 130-feet-deep mine to escape the wind, we begin looking for a dry and sheltered place to pitch our tent. The fantasized understory a little higher up doesn’t offer enough space in between each tree trunk, and the slightest exploitable surface is, in reality, a blend of water and mud in which we sink up to our necks. For lack of anything better, and hurried by the oncoming nightfall, we eventually find a little spot after crossing a small stream. A rusty gear and a post borrowed from the worksite enable us to sling the hammock, and a few more or less flat pieces of land accommodate our tents. Alex saves the best location for himself, where he will be able to enjoy a “room with a view of the mountains – the best wake-up call”, as he says.
Out with the wood fire, the warm blaze will be made in a can! Our empty beer cans, cut through the middle, welcome our freeze-dried pasta soup, whose only merit is in being warm. The thunder that brewed its way towards us earlier brought its friends along for the ride, and the rain shower quickly transforms itself into a storm, spoiling our makeshift fiesta. We tie Tristan up in his hammock and hurry into our tents.
Never have we slept in such a violent storm. It quickly creeps from quite scary to straight out terrifying. We only realize its true intensity when the clock strikes 4, when the opening in Nico’s tent pulls him out of his half-slumber, and only a soaking wet duvet slapping him across the face manages to wake him. Alex dives into his tent: “Women and children first!” Confusing an eventual transpiration with the rising of the “small stream”, he only begins to worry when his miner’s lamp enlightens him to the situation. The stream has swallowed up half the tent, along with Alex inside, surviving on his blow-up mattress island.
Both of us stick our heads through the opening of the tent and analyse the situation: seeing as the hammock is floating like a flag in a hurricane, we gather Tristan isn’t inside it anymore. He must have joined Dodo in his tent. The stream, the mountains’ gutter, dampens our idea of ever crossing it. Our nerves crack, and after a fit of the giggles that lasts a good half-hour, reason hits us. Our bikes are on the other shore, our salvation as well! The storm doesn’t weaken, the terrain pukes up water it already can’t absorb any more; we have to get the hell out of here while we still can.
After long negotiations with the other team, we break camp just before 5am, cross the freezing waters and scamper off like rabbits towards Galway. We get there around noon (scheduled time: 5pm) and recount our film-like adventures until late into the night, accompanied by many, many beers in the warmth of Galway’s pubs, laughing at our blunders of beginner adventurers and telling them to whoever is willing to listen.
Our Irish getaway is only just beginning, but one thing is sure, we already have quite a few stories to tell.
Story by Alexandre Tessier and Nicolas Laurent.
Photos by Alexandre Tessier.