This one is short, sweet, and to the point: it was amazing.
When it came time to join clubs and societies at the University of Limerick I booked it straight for two in particular -- the mountain biking club and the outdoor pursuits club. Reason one? It was the mountain biking and outdoor pursuits club. Reason two? I wanted to see as much of this country as possible while spending as little as possible, and this was my chance to do so.
Heading out mountain biking this weekend was a perfect example of that. The Ballyhoura mountains aren't far from Limerick, maybe about a forty minute drive. They stand in the southeastern corner of the county right along the northeastern border of County Cork. Wikipedia puts them at about six miles long, running east to west, and consisting of six small peaks. Now, saying "mountain range" in Ireland is on the scale of saying "mountain range" in New England; the quotations are important. The peaks rise up to an average of fifteen hundred feet, the tallest standing at seventeen hundred.
But, what they lack in size the Ballyhouras certainly make up for in density and unpredictability in weather, making them a serious place to ride.
These mountains are one of the few places I have found so far that are comprised primarily of coniferous trees. Most of the green around here tends to come from small shrubs, expansive fields, and never ending hedgerows. These woods are thick. Picture the tall pines of the United State's west coast, merged with the thick undergrowth of the east coast. They are deep, dark, rooty, rocky, and lacerated with the twists and turns of biking trails.
They, like all of Ireland, also lie underneath a constantly changing weather pattern. And after this weekend I have officially decided that accurately planning out clothing and gear for a day in Ireland is impossible. Inevitably, something won't be used at all, and something else won't be near enough what you ought to have brought.
I was optimistic at the start of the day when it was a clear sunrise with only minimal clouds in the distance. And I was all but convinced it would be good weather when we were loading up bikes under sunny skies. But "oh no, naive newbie," Mother Nature said... "here in Ireland, it can pour even while being bright and sunny." And so it did.
That pretty much set the tone for the day. The sky proceeded to act like a shower-head the first time you turn it on after losing power. It makes lots of noise, spurts a little bit, you think water is on its way, and it's not until you look right up into it that it comes blasting out. The sun eventually dipped behind clouds and at first, I thought the on and off light rain was pleasant to bike in. "This isn't bad," I thought, "It keeps me cool, keeps the trail interesting, I can work with this." But I spoke too soon because not minutes later the hail came and the temperature dropped. "Dammit..."
I am beginning to admire the Irish mentality towards inclement weather. Back home, it seems the common attitude is something along the lines of "Ah shoot, it's bad weather out, guess we can't go." Here the thought process is more of "Dress for the bad weather, and you can still go out." I guess when the majority of your year consists of cool temperatures and rain, you don't have any other options.
The trip was a success as a whole, and as I stated in the beginning, an absolute blast. Just like climbing, I found that downhill biking requires such an intense focus that there isn't room for anything else to cross your mind. I've always thought of someone who is an adrenaline junky as someone who just loves getting their heart beating out of their chest for thrills. I never considered the mental aspect of it. But when that adrenaline pumps, that's when you completely hone in on what you are doing. It's just you on a bike doing all you can to not come face to face with a tree, and it definitely leaves you wanting more.
A weekend trip to Wicklow is coming up in just a few weeks so be sure to check back!