“You must be out of your mind to be riding a bike here,” a thickly-accented Texan man declared as I pedaled up to yet another glorious sight-seeing view. He wasn’t the first one to tell me they thought I was insane that day in the Dingle Peninsula. Other, more gentle souls called me “brave.”
“No, I think I’m probably just stupid,” I consistently replied. “I didn’t really think this one through.”
And to be fair, I hadn’t. When I arrived in Dingle (yes, I went there just because I thought the name sounded silly), I decided to rent a bicycle. There’s a famous path called Slea Head Drive that begins and ends in the small, seaside Irish town. The 40 km loop is filled with beautiful beaches, cliffs, beehive caves and fairy forts. Bicycling it would undoubtedly be a challenge, but hey, why not.
The only catch was that I hadn’t actually ridden a bicycle in a really long time.
You know that saying, “Once you learn to ride a bike, you’ll never forget it.” Well, sure, you might not forget how you’re supposed to ride a bike. But it’s damn hard if you haven’t even tried in at least five years.
A few minutes into my first attempt at cycling, I almost knocked over a cheery elderly couple walking on the sidewalk—then I nearly knocked myself over trying to avoid them. I single-handedly caused a traffic jam, then ducked my head as many angry tourists in rental cars passed by my wobbly bike, beeping and cussing. I held the grips on my 7-speeder until my knuckles turned white, and I refused to let go even to untuck a piece of hair stubbornly stuck to my face. I felt like a baby deer on two wheels instead of two legs. On top of it all, the only helmet that would fit my under-sized head was an awkwardly thick children’s one. Imagine an uncoordinated Toad from Mario Kart…you get the picture.
Several “real” cyclists in tight-fitting outfits zoomed by me. Show-offs.
Still, I rode on, thinking shit, shit, shit this was a bad idea. That is, until I hit the first pull-over spot that looked out to the ocean. I was speechless, and it wasn’t just because I’m out of shape.
There were sheep nestled into the grass as if it were the comfiest, Egyptian-cotton sheets money could afford. If colors normally speak with indoor-voices, the greens of the fields and the blues of the ocean were screaming. Next to it was a white-sanded beach with adorable, pale Irish kids rolling around. Mountains decorated the horizon, and even the sky was strangely sunny and clear.
The sights continued to get even better as I passed by ancient “fairy” forts, medieval caves and bunkers, sheep farms and cafes.
One sign read, “HOLD A BABY LAMB, JUST 3 EUROS!” And you better believe I paid an Irish farmer man three euros and held a damn baby lamb. And It. Was. Adorable.
As my day and the drive improved, so did my bike riding—just in time to avoid oncoming traffic in the narrowing streets. I was avoiding cars left and right, and could luckily slip my little bicycle into the pull-over lots among the crowds of annoyed tourists waiting to park their cars.
Suddenly, I didn’t hate my bike all that much. I could stop whenever I wanted, go at my own pace, and pet whichever sheep and horses and donkeys I came across. Maybe the roads were a bit dangerous, but I felt free as I soaked up the sun riding alongside picturesque cliffs and pastures.
The half-way point of Slea Head was another, even more beautiful beach crowded with families. It was one of those rare days in Ireland where the weather was warm and it didn’t rain.
I sat there for awhile in awe of the view and the fact I didn’t get run over by a car yet. I hiked along the nearby cliffs to see an island that looked like a sleeping giant from afar. Then I made a friend from Manchester, UK, who was living out of his van. In typical, British fashion, he offered me a cup of tea and some candy bars, or biscuits as he called them.
The irony isn’t lost on me that I accepted candy from a stranger in a van.
However, on this occasion, it worked out. Plus, my brother, Dana, is a total badass and lives in his van, so Manchester Man and I could share notes on that. We eventually cooked dinner, drove to an even prettier beach, drank some beer and watched the sunset. It was dark by then, so I hitched a ride for me and my little bicycle back to my hostel, avoiding the last 15 km of the drive.
Maybe I was a little insane, or brave, or stupid to risk getting hit by a car just so I could go sight-seeing. Or to accept Kinder Bueno Bars from a surfer dude living out of his van (As my father would say, strangers have the best candy). In my opinion, though, you’d have to be absolutely crazy to not hire a bicycle and do the same thing if you ever find yourself wandering in Dingle.