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by Pamela Blalock with commentary from John Bayley in blue


We learned a couple of lessons on the train to Cork. One was that if you sit near the café, it can be very noisy, with the Irish equivalent of good ole boys, standing around drinking Guinness and shots and shooting the breeze. But it was also on the train that I had my first beer of the vacation. I was so jetlagged the night before, that I knew John would have to throw me over his shoulder and carry me home if I had anything resembling alcohol, so I stuck to coffee. But now I was awake and since I was in Ireland, I was going to have a Guinness. It was great It was also on the train while I was under the influence of Guinness that John started talking about St. Patrick's Hill...

It seems that there is this hill in Cork that's pretty steep and some criterium in some famous race goes up it a few times. I've never been one to follow racing closely, so I couldn't truly appreciate how well known this hill was.

For the readers out there, the Nissan Classic used to have a circuit that took in a few laps of St. Paddy's Hill.

The next morning at breakfast John was still talking about this hill. I suggested we could go find it, take the gear off of the bike, and I'd take pictures of John riding up the hill solo. So I wasn't too alarmed when he stopped and asked for directions to the famous climb. I remember something about a left and a right, and then across the river and it will be right in front of you, going straight up. The other bit of trivia John had shared with me was that it was one way in the wrong direction part of the way. I was still so turned around about riding on the wrong side of the road, that I figured I wouldn't even notice and we could claim it was my fault if we got in trouble. At that point we noticed a police car turning right on red (an illegal maneuver) and decided we would probably be ok.

Anyway we turned left and right and sure enough across the river this road rose up straight ahead of us. John started up the first block and I noticed the sign, and politely requested to be let off so I could take a picture. John ignored me and kept going. In fact he ignored my screams all the way to the top!! We drew a little attention as we went up the hill, with one observer suggesting we would be the first tandem, and me adding that we were certainly the first loaded tandem! But as we got closer to the top I was almost thankful for all that gear, for I am positive that the load in the front panniers was the only thing that kept us from flipping over backwards and tumbling down the hill. Well, we made it, but I promised John he would pay dearly later. We circled back around for a second lap - uh I mean pictures, before heading out of town.

What can I say ? The one way section was clear when we got to it, and I just knew the locals would be behind us ! It seemed like too good an opportunity to miss at the time. My oxygen-starved brain was having second thoughts near the top though.

What a way to start a day. Well now I was all nice and sweaty, and probably strained every muscle in my body in the first mile, and even if I hadn't I would blame every little pain on that stunt for the rest of the week. I definitely planned to get a few massages out of it. What I didn't realize is that John planned to make me forget all about that little hill with others far worse!

I'm not sure I remember too much else about that day. We stopped for chocolate bars and lottery tickets. I guess we were both feeling pretty lucky, in each others company, so we got a scratch card, with which we won £2. We exchanged it for £1 and another card, with which we won another £2. Our third ticket was not so lucky, so we stopped gambling and started riding again.

In the next town we stopped at a coffee shop for a lunch of soup and sandwiches and a shared desert. We had a little confusion finding our way out of town, with John of course trying to drag us up one of those "Unsafe for Horse Caravans" roads. We only went a block before turning back and leaving town in the other direction!

We then headed down toward the coast, where we got to see lots and lots of coastal birds, not that either of us could identify them. One of note was black with white markings, that kind of looked like a skeleton costume when he was flying. I wanted to get a picture, but decided my little point and shoot would never get it clearly. We passed through a few more small towns, each with a large church, whose steeple could be seen for some distance away, beckoning visitors from afar.

We took another snack break in Goleen, a deserted for the winter beach town, where we gave one merchant his first real sighting of a tandem, and tried to answer that frequent Why now question. At each of our little snack stops I tried a new chocolate bar. I was definitely a kid in a candy shop. I didn't want to have the same thing twice, although after a few days, I had developed a few favorites.

We stopped for the night in Skibbereen, where we found a nice little hotel and a fabulous restaurant. The seafood casserole was delicious. But it was the brown bread that made a real hit with me. And the dessert was pretty good too. John kept telling me before I headed over that the food would not be good. He lied!

Ireland isn't renowned for good cuisine, so I was just trying not to build up Pamela's expectations too much. Seems I succeeded !

We managed to pick a town large enough to have a laundromat and took advantage, since John assured me these were rare sites. (While we could wash clothes out in the sink, there wasn't much hope of them drying.) We dropped our clothes off just before closing time and picked them up the next morning. This meant that we couldn't leave before 9AM, but that turned out not to be a problem. After three days of sun, we awoke to drizzle. We moved a bit slowly and didn't actually hit the road until 11:30. But by then, the rain had stopped. The roads were fairly wet, and despite having fenders I was still very happy to have my rain pants.

John complained about all the main roads we had been taking, although they looked pretty small to me. So we headed off up one of the "Unsafe for Horse Caravans" roads. We continued up and up and the road became narrower and then just as we hit the part with grass down the middle, John exclaimed, "Finally, a real road." Then not too much later, we hit a classic Irish traffic jam, in the form of a few cows being led down the road, kept in line by a loyal little sheep dog, who decided we were also part of the herd, and encouraged us to get in line. We eventually decided to walk a bit, and get a few pictures, until the cattle reached their side road and we could pass. Well, heck, I would have felt cheated if this hadn't happened at least once. Now I could send off that postcard of the Irish traffic jam in good faith!

The rain did also bring a little bit warmer temperatures, so I found myself without my jacket for the first time in days, although not for long. We made a stop in one small town as we headed toward Mizen Head and decided to get food from a corner store rather than going into the nice fireplace-warmed bar across the street. We bought cheese and a sort of light fruitcake, drinkable yogurt, and chocolate bars, of course. This was where I tried my first Flake bar. This definitely became a favorite, and of course I can't get them in the US! We sat on a bench across the street from the store, and drew the attention of two pups, who looked up with big sad eyes and we ate everything ourselves. Eventually, I broke down and tossed a few crumbs their way. For this I was thanked with an attempted marking of my shoes by the little mangy looking one!