Roundabout: Circling the Emerald Isle, Day Nine

Day Nine (9/22/18): Children and Idiots

Mark Twain once wrote that “Providence protects children and idiots. This is really true. I know because I have tested it.” Not merely content to heed these words, on this particular day, I put them to the test, and I came to the same conclusion: God loves stupid people (perhaps that’s why He made so many of us, but I’m getting ahead of myself).

Prior to starting our trip, Tim had registered for an adventure race, hosted by a group called Gaelforce North. Participants had to endure 62 km of running, biking, and kayaking around the mountainous Glenvagh National Park. Now, I’m not opposed to athletics, as such (though my ample physical profile may call me a liar). However, I do believe that like in all things, exercise is best in moderation. The more moderation, the better.

In short, I thought my brother was crazy.

The adventure race would begin that morning, meaning that I had to drop Tim off at the starting line. This also meant that I would finally have to get behind the wheel, then proceed to the finish line at Inishcoole Beach, near the town of Bunbeg. With careful coaching from the passenger seat, my brother helped me to navigate the narrow roads to the national park. Once I dropped him off and saw him start his race, I was on my own. For me, driving on the left side of the road quickly became a harrowing experience. With hedges and rock walls pressing in to the left of me, and the oncoming morning traffic to my right, I was in a perpetual state of terror of hitting something or someone. However, the strange thing about my fear was that, after a while, I began to get used to it, and my rigid concentration to my surroundings began to wane with the miles. This

would abruptly come to an end as I rounded a narrow bend in the road and nearly ran head-on to an oncoming car. It turned out that, in my inattentiveness, I had drifted over to the right side of the road. To the other driver’s “What are you doing?” gesture, I grinned cheekily and yelled out the window, “It’s okay, I’m an American.”

I can’t imagine why they hate us.

After that, I became hyper-vigilant and tried to stay as far to the left side as possible. This also proved to be a mistake as I had a hard time judging just how close I was getting to the rocks and hedges along the side of the road. The first clue that I had overcompensated came with the large bump I felt somewhere along the left side of my car (I never did see what I had hit). My second clue came with the quickly deflating left front tire. So there I was on the side of a road on an overcast Irish morning with the annoying task of changing a tire (or tyre as it was spelled in those parts) instead of finding breakfast and desperately needed coffee.

Not to brag, but I’ve changed a few flats in my time, and I figured that this would be an easy 1-2-3 job. I assembled everything I needed and began to put together the jack. Well, I tried to put together the jack. Actually, thanks to my native stupidity spilling out all over the place, I couldn’t figure out just how to put the jack together. It required the attachment of a handle (which it came with), but I was at a loss as to how to correctly put it together. As I was fighting a losing battle with the stupid contraption, a car pulled up onto the shoulder behind me, and out popped two women, offering help. They were from Australia and they said that they recently had the same problem. In an obscenely short amount of time, they had the jack figured out, and we were able to get the spare tire on with little fuss. I thanked my two Aussie helpers, and with my wounded pride (I swear, I’ve changed tires before!), I made my careful, anxious way to the beach.

Meanwhile, while I was getting schooled in basic auto repair, Tim was getting more than he bargained for in his race. In total, the event lasted five and a half grueling hours. He later told me that he had wanted to quit the race about 100 times and there were points were his leg muscles refused to work. However, through the use of a few salt tablets and the encouragement of his fellow participants, who frequently cheered him on with “Good on ya, mate!,” he managed to cross the finish line, and with a smile on his face. It was an impressive accomplishment, and probably something that Tim would not repeat for a long time to come.

Despite the delays, I arrived at Inishcoole Beach well before the first runners crossed the finish line. With the morning tide out, the swath of beach was massive, and I had to walk some way before reaching the shoreline. Taking my shoes off, I stepped into the frigid Atlantic waters for the first time, crossing out one more item from my bucket list.

An interesting site nearby was the decaying wreck of a ship, seemingly stranded in the middle of the beach, far from the water. However, as the hours passed, the tide turned and I watched the beach slowly being overtaken by the surf. For a Midwestern boy who had always lived near bodies of water that didn’t experience tidal shifts, I found this natural wonder fascinating. Rocky outcroppings that I had climbed and sat on hours before soon became small islands. The skeletal ship also began to look more at home as the water rose beneath it.

Once Tim had staggered across the finish line, the plan was for me to drive to Belfast while my brother recuperated. However, I was so unnerved from the morning’s misadventures that after a few minutes of tense driving (and much flinching), Tim graciously offered to switch places with me. We stopped for dinner in Londonderry before moving on to Belfast where our next host home was located. As we drove, we had discovered that we had crossed into Northern Ireland almost by accident. Without Google Maps, we may never have known. Tim and I both found it strange that we never come across anything to indicate that we were in another country. No checkpoints, no “Welcome to Northern Ireland” signs. Just a quiet transition into the United Kingdom…and the fact that the numbers on the speed limit signs now referred to miles per hour, not kilometers. Surprise!

Although our reservations had been confirmed well before we left the U.S., I found it odd that our Belfast host had yet to get in touch with us. After all, we had been contacted by all the other hosts via the Airbnb website. I didn’t start getting nervous about this fact until we were about an hour away the city. I began to send a stream of messages to our silent host, keeping them appraised of where we were, and when to expect us.

No response.

*KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK* Airbnb host? *KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK* Airbnb host? *KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK* Airbnb host?

We pulled up at the given address around 10 p.m. and still we hadn’t heard from the host. What was worse, all the lights of the house were off, and repeated knocking at the front door produced no results. We checked and rechecked our information, and began calling the number listed on the host’s Airbnb profile—nothing. As Tim and I were trying to figure out what to do next, a taxi rolled up, and a young couple got out with their luggage. It turned out that they had also booked one of the rooms from our host, and like us, couldn’t get a hold of him…or her. Honestly, we weren’t even sure of our host’s gender at this point.

As it turned out, both sides of the street we were on were lined with bed and breakfasts. After knocking on doors and asking around, Tim and I were directed to a building a few doors down where there was a vacant room. However, the host for this particular building was nowhere to be found either (we wondered if this B&B was also operated by our AWOL host). As it was then approaching midnight, we didn’t care whose room we were in. Hoping that we hadn’t inadvertently stolen someone else’s room, we bedded down, yet prepared for flight if need be.

And thus ended a very trying day.

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