Today we woke up at Finglas House, and Kathleen made us an Irish breakfast. Charlie and Joyce chose to have beans on toast this morning. For unknown reasons, my eyes have a blurry fuzz and I am struggling to focus my hearing. I think it might be from lack of sleep. My normal sleeping schedule back home usually gives me close to ten hours. Now I get about seven, but according to the group that's the average for an "adult." Regardless, I like my ten hours. With my groggy mind, I spilled orange juice all over Kathleen's linens that cover her breakfast table. I believe my blurry vision, lack of hearing, and the spilt orange juice to be an omen for a bad day.
The plan for today - tackling Connor/Conor Pass. A gap that reaches ~1,500 feet in elevation and is five kilometers from the start of the climb to the peak of the mountain (from the northern approach). At breakfast, Kathleen said she heard about a cycling race on the radio that would close Connor Pass from 1300 to 1500. The race An Post Rás, that began in 1953, has eight stages and the 185 cyclists cover 1,235 kilometers within eight days. In this race they have 25 climbs, three of which are listed as "category one" and Connor Pass is on this list as a category one. Category one climbs have a mix of the most challenging distance, grade percentage, elevation change, and highest elevation. Only one more level, HC climbs, are higher than category one.
After breakfast, we went outside and put all of our gear on the bikes and began stretching. If the road to Conner Pass is closed by the time we get there we will go on a hike while we wait for it to open back up. We left the B&B and began our day. To get to the gap we rode on a country road that had several sheep farms. Since we have been here I have seen sheep, cows, and horses the most. One thing I notice about all the animals is how they are much happier here than in the USA. We have not been by one farm that has been over-run by too many animals, and they are all happy and healthy. It truly has been one of the most beautiful things about Ireland. We made it to the beginning of the pass before the roads were blocked off.
**Side Note: The sheep have colorful paint marks, (orange, purple, blue, or red), on certain parts of their body that allow their owners to differentiate whose are whose. The sheep farmers do this because the animals will jump over the rock walls or fences to graze other parts of the grass.
The climb was steep from the beginning, starting off with a six percent gradient. Charlie and I made it two kilometers, with the gear, before the first "granny stop." A granny stop is were you completely stop cycling to catch your breath before beginning again. If an individual decides to continue by walking their bike it does not give them enough of a break to come back down to equilibrium. This method was taught to me by, the marvelous, Erin Conners Bergfield. At this point, I could feel my heartbeat thumping in my ears, my chest pumping up and down, and the heat radiating off my body. As I leveled back down to normal, I appreciated the stream running next to me and the sheep running around freely. I splashed water onto my flushed face and started again to conquer this mountain pass.
Thanks to the granny stop, on our second start I felt brand new. It was not long before the feeling of my heartbeat returned, and stopped - this time - after 1.5 kilometers. The farther up we went the closer we were to the cyclist fans, and though we were, CLEARLY, not apart of the race they were there waiting to cheer us on. It was great to hear the encouraging words from strangers such as "Don't stop peddling," "Great Job," and "Only one kilometer to go!"
We started once more and made it one kilometer, and the hill was getting steeper and steeper. We only had 500 more meters left but decided to stop and watch the racers come up. This was my first experience with watching a live cycling race. The men were unbelievable, as they swiftly and effortlessly got to the very top. Several groups went by, all of which you could tell by their body shape and posture what kind of riders they were. The ones in the front of the race were lean and cycled up the mountain as if it was flat land. As the other groups passed, their calves got bigger and Charlie informed me that it was because they were good sprinters and not as good on the mountains. Cars followed behind with managers, team members, and mechanics of each team and also four to six bikes on top of the racks for back up.
After the race ended, Charlie and I started towards the top of the mountain. The last sprint was the most challenging of all. One, because it was the steepest. Two, because our friend lactic acid had returned from us standing still to watch the race. We gave it our all and when we made it to the top my dreams came true....an ice cream truck, that was thankfully not a mirage, awaited our arrival. We parked our giant green monster and indulged in the best soft served ice cream, with chocolate Flake, I have ever had. Mostly because I had worked so hard for it and my body craved the calories.
The ice cream disappeared before my eyes and we (Charlie, Mark, and I) started to climb the mountain to a higher view. At the top of our climb there was a cairn that was taller than Charlie. I previously had stuffed three green rocks into my jacket from the beach in Fenit. I was planning to carry them with me as gifts for others; at the moment it felt right to give each of us a rock to stack on top of this humongous cairn. The one that I placed on the very top is there for Kelsey Horton, one of my best friends from home that I miss very much!
Now, we got back on our bikes and received the reward of plunging down the other side of the mountain. We reached up to around 60 kilometers per hour on the way down; it was glorious. Upon our arrival at the bottom - the Dingle Brewery, whose flagship beer is Tom Crean's, awaited us. This was not planned, but a pint or two each was definitively well deserved. We took thank you pictures for those who donated beers and searched for a place to stay. Our discovery once we arrived in Dingle, a tourist town where star wars is being filmed and right after the racing cyclists, everything was booked. Thankfully, we found Rainbow Hostel. Charlie and I camped outside on the grounds and Joyce and Mark had a private room inside.
We went back into town for dinner and I will not say much about the restaurant because there is nothing good to mention. It was the least authentic meal I have had thus far.
Today easily became my favorite day. I feel strong because I am achieving goals that a year ago I would of not even imagined doing. I also thought that today was not going to be enjoyable because of how my morning started, but today reminded me that you "don't cry over spilled milk" or in my case spilled O.J.