We departed the ferry onto Irish soil, just south of Dublin and headed for the dorms at University College Dublin (UCD). It was after 8 p.m. and we still had not had dinner!
The drive to UCD didn’t take very long. The sag vehicle ended up following the bikes through the city. The sun was still strong in the sky, so darkness was not an issue. Once we arrived I jumped in the very long “end of day” checkpoint line, then waited in the next line to get a room assignment. This time I was happy to get a private room, for just me.
Food was still not available, the cafeteria had long closed. I learned later that the cafeteria had been given 10 minutes notice that the first ferry people would be eating there. It was obvious that they weren’t planning on our group, because they kept running out of food and replacing it with something different. The staff was annoyed, but doing their best to accommodate us.
Since the late people were the largest portion of the riders, and we were hungry too, TK&A had a bunch of pizzas delivered. We had Irish pizza and baked potatoes for dinner. How’s that for a traditional combination? It was a welcome feast. Unfortunately we had to sit outside in the cold or on the stairwell while eating. It was definitely NOT fine dining for us tonight!
I grabbed my goodies from the locker and headed for the shower in my “pod”. The dorm rooms are divided into “pods”. Each pod in my section had 3 private rooms that shared a large common area with a kitchen, shower, bath and toilet.
Once again, the plumbing was most interesting. We Odyssey riders joke about having to learn a new way to flush a toilet every time we go to a new country.
To run the shower, one must have at least one year of college! It took me 15 minutes of naked experimenting to discover the “secret” of water that I could stand under without scalding or freezing my body! The whole process is a four step process.
- Step 1: pull the string cord from the ceiling to turn on the HOT water.
- Step 2: twist dial number 1 to turn on the water.
- Step 3: twist dial number 2 to adjust the water pressure.
- Step 4: twist dial number 3 to adjust water temperature.
I kept having trouble because I like a lot of water pressure in a shower, however the high water pressure does not mix the water well, you get either very hot or very cold. Finally, I discovered turning down the pressure, gave me less of a trickle but water temperature that was OK. This whole process was so very difficult I at one point considered finding a hotel! I hung in there and now I am smarter. I know the plumbing in this college totally stinks!
We never did discover how to turn on the heat or the hot water in the bathtub bathroom. I guess cold baths are normal.
June 28, 2000 Dublin Layover Day
I made a huge blunder when I tried to spend my English money in the Republic of Ireland. I had gotten the two mixed up, thinking Northern Ireland was the separate country. I had it backwards. It didn’t take long for the shopkeeper to set me straight. They don’t like money with a picture of a Queen on it! Off to the ATM machine I went! So sorry!
It was a lovely day outside, but my laundry was calling. I knew if I didn’t get it done first, I would be forced to do it along the next segment of the trip. So, off to the laundry I went. The laundry on campus was not self-service, they only had 24 hour service, to late for me. I ended up walking off campus for at least 2 kilometers to find one.
While doing the laundry, I met a delightful older man, who entertained me for the duration. His name is John McCoy and he had been in the laundry business since he was a kid. I never asked, but I would take John to be at least 85, maybe more. He told me how he used to drive a horse and buggy service to pick up the laundry. He loved his horse who had a reputation for being a very “high stepper.” It was an enjoyable experience to listen to John and his thick Irish brogue. More often than not, I was trying to understand what he was saying!
The laundry itself was an experience in varying culture. Instead of being coin operated, self service, which it looked like, I had to have the attendant assist me. She wrote down what washer number I was using, then charged me for one washer and one dryer. I placed my own clothing in the machine, then she showed me how to pull out the coin box to get a token to start the machine. The attendant was also assisting dry cleaning customers while doing all this. It took longer to get the machine started than it did to complete the job. Bureaucracy and paperwork in the laundry mat!
Returning home to the dorm I opted to take the bus. Walking was not my favorite thing to do today. My next chore was to try to catch up on this lovely website, before I forgot everything. I figured I would work on it an hour or so. Well, time flies when you are having fun, before I realized it, it was time for dinner! So much for lunch!
On the way to the cafeteria, I was feeling guilty about not visiting downtown Dublin. It was a shame to come so far and miss it, but one day off is just not enough time! As luck would have it, Dorothy invited me to go with her “group” for a “literary pub crawl”. I’m not a beer drinker so the pub part was not all that interesting to me, but at least it was a way to go with some folks and see the nightlife. I accepted.
One of the magazine reviews described the “Literary Pub Crawl” as: “A highly enjoyable evening that gives you the pleasant notion of simultaneously replacing brain cells as you drown them!” It was an excellent tour even for one who’s pint is filled with Coke light! The humorous and rather irreverent performers poked fun at many of the famous and not so famous Irish. We visited four pubs and stood on the grounds of Trinity College and learned about all the rich, intelligent drunks who attended.
Dublin is a very friendly city. The people in the streets are smiling and happy, maybe because they all have a buzz on, or maybe it’s just a fun place to live. I enjoyed my brief time in Dublin and will add to my list of places to return.
June 29, 2000 Dublin to Athlone
The ride out of Dublin was not at all difficult, once I figured out which way to go. The DRG was very confusing, it referred to “pillars” at the University, I never did see the pillars and would still be looking for them if Rich and Jane had not come along. I followed them.
My ear was hurting, but I didn’t want to miss the ride today. I figured I would go as far as I could then catch a ride if the pain got too bad. It was a great sunny day and I was enjoying the ride, except for that one thing.
Riding out of Dublin was sort of flat, we didn’t have any difficult hills to speak of, at least not like the ones in Wales. I know the hills are waiting for us somewhere in Ireland, but they didn’t catch us today.
The countryside was rather plain. I did notice something that I haven’t seen in Europe yet, that is lots of new construction. The Irish are building new homes everywhere. The homes are very attractive, made of block construction which stone facing. The most common style has been the ranch, although I did see a number of two story homes too. The other trend I noticed is the adding of a large sun room or greenhouse to the end of the homes. The economy here is healthy.
The most notable happening on the ride today was how Rich and I were able to “draft” behind a huge tractor. It was on a narrow, back country road. He (the tractor) came up behind us, taking up most of the road. As he passed I got behind him and before I knew it, I was in his slip stream. It was very cool, he was going about 30 mph and I barely had to pedal. I lost him though when he stopped and pulled over to let an oncoming car pass, he started up so fast again, I couldn’t catch up.
At mile 48, Lynne came along in her newly rented car, asking if I wanted to ride to camp with her. At that point I had enough riding. My ear was still throbbing, so I hoped in the car, falling asleep almost immediately.
Our campground in Athlone was rather basic, to say the least. We were assigned to camp on the Athlone Rugby Football Club’s field. The bathroom facilities were reminiscent of the ones in Chile (awful). TK&A thankfully put up the showers and brought in a few porta potties. Dinner was take out chicken (for over 200!) augmented with grocery store cake. The staff set it out, after working the road all day long. Too bad, they must be very tired.
For the most part the day had been a perfect one for me. I know I will sleep well tonight!
June 30, 2000 Athlone to Strandhill (Sligo)
This morning when I woke up from a difficult and painful night of sleep, the right side of my face was swollen. On the way to the bathroom, several riders asked me if I had been stung by a bee. My ear was throbbing so I knew it was time to see a doctor. We don’t have medical personnel on staff with Odyssey as the advertising brochure had promised, but we do have several riders who are doctors. Bill Wiggans encouraged me to seek out Charmaigne, one of the terrific Dr. riders who has been committed to helping riders with medical problems.
Charmaigne took one look at me, pulled on my ear asking if it hurt. Of course it did, and told me to go find a local doctor and get some antibiotics. There was no doubt my ear was infected.
Lynn volunteered to drive me to the next camp town, so I could see a doctor where I could be around for another day, if follow up care was needed. So that is what we did.
We arrived in Sligo and popular tourist town on the western coast of Ireland. The town was overflowing with traffic. As far as I could tell that was normal for the town with the typical narrow, one way streets. I figured the best way to locate a doctor would be to go to the Pharmacy and ask for a referral, which I did. The Pharmacy I located happened to have a doctor’s office right above it. So within an hour I had an examine and a prescription in hand.
While I was there I asked the Doctor if she could give me my second Hepatis shot, since I had forgotten to get it in the U.S. She said sure, I just needed to go to the pharmacy to get it and bring it back to her. No problem. When the pharmacist saw the prescription, she exclaimed, “this is expensive! Are you aware of that?” I asked how much, she looked it up and said “40 pounds” (less than $55). In the U.S. I paid $80. I appreciated her consulting with me, rather than shock me, but I was delighted to save a few bucks.
Lynne had left me in Sligo, she needed to get back to pick up the other folks in her car. I strolled around Sligo enjoying the town and even had lunch. I stopped in a nice looking cafeteria, hoping to enjoy some local color. When eating I listened to the conversation of the folks getting served, everyone coming in was an American. So much for local color.
Sligo was about 7 miles from our final destination for the night. I found the road heading toward Strandhill and rode out. It was a great ride rolling along the countryside, ending at a beautiful sand dune surrounded little town, right on the ocean.
I quickly located a nice campsite, close to the locker truck and put up my tent. When the chores were done I walked down on the rockiest beach I have ever seen. The water was chilly but doable, if my ear would have felt better I may have been tempted to jump in the water. Instead I just enjoyed the minute, relaxing.
I was feeling energetic so I got on my bike to explore the area. Up on the hill I could see a lovely golf course, so I rode up and went to look at it. I’m still trying to find out exactly when the British Open is, I thought maybe the golf shop guy would know. He wasn’t sure, but he did tell me all about the area and attractions.
There is a thoroughbred horse farm that exercises the horses in the ocean every morning. He told me to watch for them early in the day, 6 a.m. I could see the horses swimming. That sounded exciting, but I never did manage to wake up early enough to get to see them.
The area is also famous for it’s ancient tombs dating back to 3000 b.c. We did end up locating them. I was surprised to see that there are so many (around 80 or so) that some are out in the middle of the cow pasture, with only a plague to indicate what they are.
The best part of my day was taking a seaweed-steam bath. The area has been famous for it’s seaweed baths for many years. Just the prior week a new and improved spa had opened. Learning this I knew I had to go try one out. Of course hearing that the camp showers were cold had nothing to do with the desire to have a HOT bath!
The seaweed bath is just that. First you sit in a steam bath for 10 minutes or so, then once the pores are open, you sit in a bathtub filled with hot water and a bunch of seaweed. The skin soaks up the vitamins, minerals and natural moisturizing elements. It was completely decadent. Even though the seaweed feels a little slimy, it felt good to be doing something relaxing.
When I got out of the spa, it was starting to rain. By the time I got back to the tent, it was pouring rain and I had forgot to close the tent up. My timing could have been better by a minute or two, but I considered myself lucky. Another minute and the inside of the tent would have been very, very wet! I learned another lesson, almost the hard way, never leave the tent open.
July 1, 2000 Strandhill to Portnoo (Donegal) changed to Rossbeg
After a day of self indulgence, I was not anxious to ride a full 75 plus miles. Lynn offered a ride and I immediately accepted, thinking I would go half way to checkpoint and ride the balance of the day. Jane McClain was already in the car, so it was a pleasant threesome.
We followed the rider’s route not wanting to miss anything. Along the way we saw directional signs pointing to “The Fairy Bridges”. Lynn who never wants to miss a site, followed the signs. We spent the next half hour trying to find “The Fairy Bridges”. We asked 3 different locals for directions, receiving a different answer each time. Finally we decided some Irish jokester placed the signs up just for fun. Or was it possible you can only see “Fairy Bridges” when you believe in fairies. Nevertheless, we saw some beautiful coastline, but never a fairy bridge.
Lynne tried to talk me into riding with her and Jane into camp. I was feeling sluggish from sitting in the car, I kept falling asleep and it wasn’t even noon yet! So I jumped out at checkpoint and started riding. There were several towns I wanted to see ahead and I preferred to explore them on my own.
The ride was hilly of course, we are still in Ireland! There was a tailwind so the hills weren’t so bad. I love a tailwind and always make the most of it. Riding with the help of the wind is the only time I feel really powerful on the bike. I was doing 35 miles an hour, really cooking!
Donegal was the town I wanted to explore. When I got there it was Friday afternoon, the beginning of a summer weekend for them. I stopped in the town square to rest and have a snack, while watching the happenings. Everyone was busy setting up for a carnival, there was a sound stage, rides, food and all sorts of fun things. The music was the funniest, here I was deep in the heart of Ireland, listening to Texas two step music. Ireland is the most Americanized country we have been in.
I didn’t mind the music, but it did make me homesick. I was missing Larry and all that is comforting and familiar, I truly felt alone. That is when I saw him, he was an adorable little guy. I knew immediately he could be my bike partner, Larry wouldn’t mind this kind of replacement. He looked like someone I could talk to. Without wasting another minute, I approached him to see if he would like to go around the rest of the world with me, I couldn’t understand his language, but he looked as though he was saying, “yes!” Cool!
He even fit on the back of my bike. This is great, now I don’t have to be alone anymore and we have so much in common!
The rest of the ride was even more difficult than the beginning. We were now traveling on back country roads to Portnoo, a coastal town out in the middle of nowhere. The campground and location had been changed from the DRG to one that was 7 miles closer. That was good news for today, but not for tomorrow, meaning tomorrow which was already a 95 mile day would be 102 miles now.
The views were awesome. We were surrounded by sheep. At one point the sheep were walking down the road in front of their owner, when we came along on bikes. The sheep starting running in front of us. They ran for a long time, prompting Emily to say to me, “I hope this farmer wants these sheep to go this far!” I kidded her she could now put “sheep herder” on her resume.
I arrived at the new camp only to find it wasn’t a camp for tents, but a trailer camp for both full time and holiday trailers. It was located near the ocean, but for the life of me I could not understand why we had biked so far out of our way to come to this place. No one I talked to could figure it out either. It was pretty awful. That night TK&A had to hire buses to shuttle us to dinner in a town 5 miles away. Dinner was OK, but the town was pretty dull. It was still a mystery to us why we were there. There were so many other nice places to stay much closer. Guess it was just TK&A wanting to make us go as many miles as possible without any consideration to anything else, including comfort.
Some folks made their own fun. Young Dave decided to get away from all of us, so he camped way, way up on top of a bluff. He had a major hike up that hill, only something a young person would do. Mark the shoeless staff person had fun preparing the white board. He drew a graphic of the area, including pictures (nude) of Rod and Mendy skinning dipping (which they did not do, at least to my knowledge!) Someone objected to the nude stick figures, so they were duly erased!
In the morning while taking down the tents, we were violently attacked by little biting bugs. By the time I got all my stuff put away, my face was covered with little red bites from these nasty creatures. This campground was one I was truly glad to be out of. It was the pits.
Today is the first day of the last 6 months of our trip. Wow, does time fly when you are having fun…
The pain in my ear has stopped, but it is still not healed and I am tired. I want to ride the bike so I figured I will ride to checkpoint then if necessary sag in from there. At breakfast I hooked up with Rich and Jane, they are always good to be with, and look out for me, which I need today.
I had not put air in my tires since Larry left, some 10 days ago, so I figured it was about time. When I went to loosen the rear valve, it shot off in the air like a rocket. Darn! Without a valve the tube was useless, I now had to change the tire. It took awhile, with not just Rich and Jane helping, but Dennis got into the act too. The committee got my tire changed and I was ready to hit the road.
Today was to be a 105 mile day, not as published but as predicted. The daily mileage overage was running about 8 to 10% depending on how detailed the DRG was. The terrain was hilly and beautiful. The wind of course was blowing in our faces. It was not so bad until we got lost, but didn’t know we were lost. I kept looking at the directions and my odometer getting madder and madder. He was 6 miles off at 10 miles out, that was ridiculous. Then all of a sudden it came to me, we missed a turn. This fact was confirmed when we came into a village and there was Elbert (our oldest, (80) rider) looking perplexed. We asked for directions and were quickly put back on the correct path. We had ridden the long way to the same point, adding 6+ unnecessary miles to our total!
Our ride took us through Glendowan National Park. The route we took didn’t look any better or worse than anything else we had been seeing in Ireland. When we stopped at a pub, the owner lady asked us if we had seen the castle, oh course we said no. She then went on to describe it and say we missed the best part. We never saw any signs nor was it mentioned in the DRG. I suppose that was the purpose for taking us that way, but we lacked the resources to know about it.
The pub itself was an interesting experience. I was short on Irish money (punt), knowing we would be leaving the Republic of Ireland and going into Northern Ireland that day, I didn’t want to have money I could no longer use. At the pub I ordered only a diet coke and shared a sandwich with Rich and Jane. We brought in our snacking food and ate it along with the sandwich the owner served. The sandwich consisted of a thin slice of ham and a lot of mayonnaise. It was the sorriest looking sandwich I have ever seen. Between my lack of money and the pub’s lack of food, it was a good thing we carried in our snacks. We were still miles from nowhere.
After a few miles the roads improved, until this time we had been on pot holed infested roads. As we traveled our bikes sounded as though they were going to fall apart any minute. It was hard to get up any speed, for fear we would hit a deep hole in the road.
I was anxious to reach checkpoint, by this time I was thinking I would hop in the car. Rich and Jane had invited me to join them at there car on the boarder of Northern Ireland. I said that would be good for me, if I could make it that far. With our late start, bike trouble and getting lost, we were running late. As a matter of fact we were almost last, leaving only Elbert and Anita the two oldest riders behind us.
When the checkpoint got tired of waiting for me, they came to me. Merlyn’s van was full and he said he would send a van out for me. I told him to never mind, I still felt ok and would catch a ride with Rich and Jane. Some time later Jeff showed up with his van, to check on me. Apparently he had not talked to Merlyn, because he was asking if I was ok and still wanted to ride. I didn’t tell him I had the possibility of a ride with Rich and Jane. This later would get me into trouble with Jeff.
My thoughts at the time were don’t mention the ride, because if I did, they would leave me out there. Then if the private ride didn’t work out, I would be on my own. Now I knew Rich and Jane wouldn’t leave me alone, but I knew TK&A would. My best bet was to continue riding and if I did get a ride, I planned to find a TK&A van and tell them I was off the road. I knew if I didn’t they would be looking for me.
Well, my gut feeling was right. When we got to Northern Ireland the car was waiting for Rich and Jane, but already had 3 other passengers, there was no room for me. Lynne was driving, she told me to hop in and we raced forward to find a TK&A van to put me into. It took awhile of some rather high speed driving, high speed for Lynne that is. It was fun and I was glad to be off the bike. About 20 miles down the road we finally caught up to Pierre, I jumped into his van.
Once settled and inside the van, Pierre radioed Jeff to see if he had room for me. Pierre was going out to the end of the road and Jeff was on his way into camp. Jeff had room for me, so he turned around to come back. It wasn’t very far away, because he was there in a minute.
Once again I was settled into Jeff’s van, when Jeff turned to me and began speaking in a rather condescending tone. He was annoyed that I didn’t tell him I was planning to ride in a private vehicle and he would have been out to 10 p.m. at night looking for me if I had. Well as I had planned earlier, I told him, I would have found someone with a radio to let him know I was off the road. Jeff was still annoyed and wasn’t listening or accepting my answer.
TK&A staff has been trained to demand that we do things their way. The tour directors have conditioned them and us that we are to do things for the convenience of the staff. Considering we have all paid a great deal of money for this experience, nothing irks me more than to me accused of doing something that I didn’t do.
I said “Jeff, If had told you I was going in a private vehicle, you would have written me off the road and I would have been left to fend for myself. I must look after my own best interest. I AM THE CUSTOMER!”
That was the end of our conversation.
I am thinking about having a small sign printed to wear around my neck. It will say “I AM THE CUSTOMER”. I think I can sell at least 200 of them to other riders. Actually, I would give them away. The attitude around here needs adjustment. We aren’t demanding, we the customer and we deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. (Are you still reading Tim and Karen Ann? Marketing statistics prove that it costs 5 times more to get new customer than it does to keep and old one. Treat us well and you will never have to advertise again. We will do it for you.)
I have written off the whole experience as just another example of poor service from a staff that is over worked and not paid. Jeff in the past has been a nice young man. I guess that night he was more concerned about his social life getting cut into. Still, his problems are not my problems and I refuse to take crap from staff.
Once again, the campground was changed. We were supposed to camp and be served dinner by the Catering College in Portrush. When we got to town, there was a checkpoint sign with new directions on it. We were now camping at a site 1 1/2 miles from there. Rumor had it that the college had changed administrators and the new guy didn’t want us camping on his grass. TK&A didn’t respond to any fax messages from them, therefore not finding out until we got to town.
Amazingly enough, someone got to town, found out we 200+ folks had no place to camp or eat that night, so they arranged a new locations. This has happened so many times now, they are getting pretty good at it. Practice makes perfect I guess.
The worst mistake someone made was pulling the checkpoint signs with the new directions up too early. My friends Rich, Jane, Lynne, Kathryn and Suzanne didn’t get back until after 7. When they got to the Catering College no one was there, nor was there any clue as to where we were. They stopped in a hotel to call and a local heard them talking. He told them where he had seen a bunch of bikes that day. Success, they found the dinner location. Of course dinner was over by then. Karen Ann had the gall to tell them everyone had checked, that’s why the signs were down. Lynne politely told them that everyone had not checked in, in fact 5 of them were standing right there!
I am beginning to think Odyssey would make a good setting for a soap opera. We have drama, love interests, good people and a villain (or two). There is excitement, danger and suspense. We could call it “Our Daily Odyssey, as the wheels spin”. Or should we call it “Spinning Our Wheels with Odyssey?”