We started this day with two options:
So, we went into the decision making process with the mindset to avoid things we did not like, completely ignorant to the fact that our choice was about to take us through one of the most amazing places of our trip. In short, we chose the 'mountain' path because we: hate the tourist buses, had already seen the coast for the last few days, and did not want to add more miles; even if the alternate meant more climbing.
As we left Doolin we cut through, what has become to us, pretty standard Irish countryside. Grass, hills, grass, and things eating the grass. Pretty and always appreciated in alternate to tour buses on tinny roads. As we road what felt like a standard day, we slowly climbed up ~600 feet; we were all unaware of this up to the point in which the scenery all changed rapidly within a few kilometers.
Rolling grass fields gave way to forest on top of fluid highlands. The ascent was so gradual we were in it and done with it before we had realized we had already completed our first climb of the day. As we stood on top of this point, the change in scenery was refreshing as we looked out over the landscape. The smells and sights were fresh, crisp, and alive; very different from the salty bite of the coast.
With the moral boost of completing your first climb of the day in ignorance, we sallied forth with a wonderful descent into this new setting. As we road, we started seeing more signs of change and the landscape to come. The fields began to become speckled with stone and the rolling hills around us became more sharp, exposing the rocky frame underneath. As we approached and rounded a large rock wall, we entered what Skye described as 'it is like we just walked through the wardrobe into Narnia'.
The pictures and words won't do this setting justice. We were in a grass filled flat that was surrounded on both sides by sharp rock cliffs. The setting was remote with no noise except for the animals grazing the lush grass blanketed ground between the strong natural stone structures. I have never much understood the saying 'it was like time stood still'. I guess it is because I don't have the sensation. This moment was the closest I have felt to it as the three of us stopped riding in the middle of this landscape and simply looked around. As I look through our photos of the area, I realize they do not capture but a fraction of what it looked and felt like. This seems just, as it emphasizes the experience of the journey over the stories and pictures we can share of it.
Through this geological cut, we entered into our lowest but steepest climb of the day topping out at a 20% and averaging 15% grade. I consider 10% steep. This thing was a monster. We literally had to climb out of the beauty we were in. At the top, we rested and recovered, giving us the opportunity to meet and talk to a local cyclist on his long Sunday ride. He exclaimed short of breath, 'How on Earth did you get up that with all that stuff!' We responded, 'With many stops!' - Skye is, justifiably, a proponent of the 'Granny Stop' (Erin gets the kudos for this intelligent advice).
After a short chat we were rewarded with a drop into a small village to enjoy a meal at the one pub. From there we had our last climb of the day. It was the highest point of the day, but with much more manageable grades. From this point we were able to look out over 'The Burren'; a 250 km^2 karst region formed mainly of limestone. I encourage all to go check out the wiki page linked here - The Burren, as it will give you an idea of the setting we were in.
From this point, the rest of the day was a descent back down to the coast. The drop through the Burren was exhilarating as we passed through the many bio-mes that this unique area is home to. After a few stops, we were out and back on a busy N rode.
With the tour buses back and in force, the majesty of the day seemed far away. Soon dad called it and said, 'Next B&B we see is home for the night'. There were no objections. We settled in and ate a poor mans dinner from our stockpile of bread, cheese, and sauces of sorts; we were not about to get back out on that road to find food! With the promise of a full Irish breakfast the next morning, we all settled in comfortably for the end of our day.