Dear Dundalk*, why do you hate children?

I am still shaken as I write this. I still see the nose of that car stopping no more than a metre from impact. I still hear my own angry voice shouting, swearing, gesturing to the green pedestrian signal, through which one car had already breezed, before this one, too, ignored traffic rules, and almost smashed into Adam.

As we walked on into the park, trying to process the shock, I knew probably those who witnessed the incident would be far more concerned that I dared shout and gesture like I did, it was just my dog that was almost run over, after all. Nobody would listen to my argument that the driver no doubt didn’t sit in her car, see me and my dog waiting to cross, and decide sure it was okay to run us over. No, she simply ignored the red light because she was careless, because she didn’t think. Nobody would think it could just as easily have been my child. Nobody would likely know how frighteningly often this kind of thing happens, because everybody who saw this happen was a driver, very unlikely to walk and cycle as much as I do, and see first hand how dangerous Dundalk’s cavalier approach to driving is.

I knew complaining would most likely garner nothing more than a shake of a head, tsk-tsk, it’s a disgrace, so it is, and then anyone who might have listened would carry on with their lives as before. Dundalkers would continue to claim to love their children, claim to put their children first, while driving with little regard for traffic rules, making cycling and walking dangerous. Parking their fat, lazy butts in cycle lanes. Smashing bottles in those same cycle lanes. Making parents fear for their children’s safety too much to let them walk or cycle, instead dropping them at school in their cars, poisoning the air those same children will breathe all day, depriving them of the most obvious chance to exercise and reap the near endless list of benefits that exercise will bring: move from home to school under your own steam.

Ah, we love our children, until we are asked to love them enough to sacrifice our convenience so they will have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, a planet remaining when they are our age which is still fit for human life. Until we are asked to suffer some inconvenience, show some patience, so infrastructure can be provided to make cycling a more attractive option. Until we are asked to sacrifice ten more minutes to walk or cycle with them to school instead of driving them as they sit passively in the back seat, getting fat, sick, and stupid.

When you strip away the bluff, we love our children, all right. But we love our cars much more.

*If you read this and go: “Hang on a minute, how dare you, I walk everywhere/cycle everywhere/walk my child to school/drive like a saint but am too scared to walk or cycle because of what you describe here,” you are obviously not the part of Dundalk I’m referring to. And you should join me in my outrage at the status quo.


Hooking in Strange Places: Church

My visit to St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dundalk, Ireland, was frightening. I’d been there before, to show visitors around, once or twice when the kids and I were about just before noon. We’d tiptoe inside, go and stand at the bottom of the belltower and listen to the awesome duff! duff! accompanying every peal when the bells sang their tune and rang the midday hour. There’s something about knowing the small room you stand in is not small by any stretch of the imagination – if you count the space above the ceiling – and hearing the strikes against the bells far above your head.

Today my purpose was different. No foreign accent and discreet camera clicks would announce my goal of admiring the beauty of the building. No hushed children’s whispers would leave a door open that we’d come to pray, disguising our true aim of enjoying the thrill of the bell tower. Today I was, in a way, abusing the church. It wasn’t built for people like me, or for my purpose. In fact, a few hundred years ago the organisation it represents actively hunted down and killed my kind. A good few long-dead faithful no doubt did some revolutions in their graves as I stepped over the threshhold.

I’m not only not Catholic, I’m not Christian. Or Muslim. Or Buddhist, Sihk, Jain, Hindu, nor a follower of Quetzlcoatl. I don’t believe any gods exist. I couldn’t help but feel I walked into the church with a huge sign over my head, in neon lights, that proclaimed my disbelief. A kind of anti-halo. Even if whoever waited inside missed this, me walking in and getting busy with a hook and wool would be a rather large clue that I didn’t belong here. Continue reading

Cycling… Gah!

In other news. Marshaling at a cycling race can be terrible.

These cyclists woosh past at hair-raising speeds. The roads were closed to traffic along the cycling course. You’d think pedestrians would, for the most part, see the barriers, the Gardai (police) and high-visibility-vest-clad marshals and realise maybe they should be careful crossing the street. And do it quickly.

You’d be wrong.

For the most part, people needing to cross the street were good about it, but there always has to be a few nuts in the fruitcake. I suspect I might be too anal about this, as I am in such awe of the racing cyclists. But even taking my overly developed respect for the race into account, there were a few complete idiots out there last night.

One guy seemed to have a few drinks in him already. He ignored my warning that there was a group of cyclists coming really fast. Instead of waiting just ten, twenty seconds for them to pass, he staggered across the street in a small gap between one clump of cyclists and another. From where I stood, it looked like a close thing.

Another who stands out in my memory was a woman in a dress that had aspired to be a shirt before it changed careers. Its cousin would be the skirt that applied for a job as a belt, but was considered a tad too wide. (I am trying to say the dress was very short.) She tottered across the street on heels that had been stilts in a previous life. I watched, heart in mouth, the whirr of approaching cyclists in my ears as they came down the alley before the S-bend where I stood. I know there was probably a bigger gap between her making it to the pavement and the next group of bikes zooming past than it seemed to me, but from my harassed point of view she only just made it.

Other things I did was to chat enthusiastically to a taxi driver, with a big disclaimer that my knowledge of this sport is woeful; give directions to several people; and help one pair to find the nearest hotel.

That felt good. I remembered a day long ago, when only a spit away from where I was last night someone asked me to direct them somewhere. I grinned and said: “I suppose I need only speak for you to understand why you’re asking the wrong person.” Hearing the accent, they laughed and moved on to find a local. I felt a bit odd, because I realised the guy probably thought I was a tourist like him. I almost ran after him to say I lived in Dundalk, it was just…

Now I’m a local, and it feels good to be part of this town as much as any foreigner can be so. Wel, I’m at least local enough to be able to tell people how to get to where they need to go in Dundalk.

Most of the time.

Day after Valentine’s with my second-greatest love.

Yippee! Warm weather after a terrible cold snap. I had a good feeling about Sunday, I just knew it was going to be fantastic. And oh, it was. I started out with my leg warmers and a long-sleeved shirt. The leg warmers were the first to go, as it really was quite warm. South African friends, I should qualify: it was around 8’C. This was enough to inspire me to blind passing motorists with the sight of my really, really white winter-legs.

Ronan, my sweet darling, is still the best bike in the world. Second-greatest love after Micky!

I headed into the Cooley mountains, around Ravensdale, where there are numerous little hidden coves of tranquility. Hey ho, I think I was listening to really loud Snow Patrol when I took this photo. God bless the mp3 player.

I really wanted to cross the Windy Gap pass over to O’Meath, but astonishingly, I got lost. Actually, that should not be so astonishing, I make an art form out of getting lost. What is astonishing is that I got lost in a place I have cycled around in loads of times. At any rate, I cycled up a random little obscure tarred road, and lo, I ended up here:

Well. What to do now? The only way to go was here, and I don’t have a mountain bike.

Hmmm. While I thought over my options, I did something about being too hot. Observe, pack taken off, as were gloves and glasses.
Next went the long-sleeved shirt, and yes, now I was clothed in my bra and cycling shorts out in the open. It was hidden from view.
Then, evidence of the first short-sleevedness in almost six months. Of course I had to just aim the camera more or less in the right direction, so the results were a bit random. I think this is a rare nice-looking photo of me.
Micky thinks this one is nicer, and it achieves the aim of showing the short sleeves of the hippie tee shirt I have now had a chance to wear.

I was sooooo tempted. I just wanted, wanted to go up this dreadful trail. But oh, no mountain bike! Nothing but a hybrid, a road bike really. No nice fat tyres that can handle things such as this. It would be madness to go up here:
So, of course, I did.

And I was rewarded with this:

Of course, I had to push Ronan much of the way, and walking through mud with cleats means poor wedges got all mud-caked. I had to scrape it away with a stick before I could clip into the pedals again.
Ronan was also a very dirty boy when we were done with our little adventure.

I finally did find the right way to go, but by then I was really knackered as I’d gone up and down all sorts of interesting-looking nooks and crannies.

I’d had a very, very glorious time, and went home, having done about thirty, thirty-five km. That’s a pathetic distance, but truly, much of it was as steep as what I’d done in Switzerland. I had the most wonderful thrill when, in one place, I got going again after a rest and the front wheel lifted off the ground when I pushed down on the pedal. I’d wanted to do some hill training, and I think that would qualify as steep.

God, I can’t wait to get out there again. I love cycling.

Mucking about

Yesterday I left home on the bike, equipped for a day out, with no specific destination in mind. I felt like exploring down a little side road I always pass on my way to Newry when I go shopping.
This was my first serious trip after a layoff with a tendon injury. In this two-week period, I was also struck down by the worst cold I’d had in a very long time. My body, therefore, was not the eager, willing participant on the trip that it usually is.

Legs groaned in protest before we’d even left the boundaries of Dundalk. The whole biological machine complained ceaselessly from the word go. Every kilometre gained was a result of sheer obstinate insistence.

I ended up cycling along a very narrow, obscure little path to Jonesborough, from there to Forkhill and on to Crossmaglen. After two cups of tea, a good rest and the application of some Deep Heat spray, I set off back home. It would have been roughly 18km directly back to Dundalk, but I chose to retrace my route and cycled about 43km back instead.

When I finally made it home I was shattered. Yet the question that had plagued my mind along the trip was put to bed. It was the familiar old ground-out rhetoric: why am I doing this to myself? The answer came not in words. Not in pictures. It came in the slow-trickling satisfaction permeating my soul.
Total distance: 86.57km
Average: 17.9km/h
Max: 51.9km/h
Odometer: 1744.7km

Dundalk/O’Meath/Carlingford trip

I went on a lovely cycling trip today. It was meant to just be a short, leisurely outing, but it turned into something much, much more. To start with, I headed North, in the direction of the Cooley mountains.
I turned toward O’Meath just after the Carrickdale Hotel, on a path that takes me past Flagstaff Viewpoint.

Up near Flagstaff, I sat on a stone wall, enjoyed the amazing view and a snack.

From there I headed for O’Meath, where I had another rest – scandalous, it was hardly around the corner from the previous rest stop.

I went through Carlingford from there. Didn’t feel like taking the big, busy main road from there to Dundalk, so I went along another road which I thought wound its way along the flanks of the mountains to eventually pass Ravensdale Forest Park. Um, I was wrong. I soon realised I was on the wrong road, but with beautiful scenery all around, I didn’t much care.

To my great amusement, I ended up above O’Meath again. Higher up this time, with different views from earlier.

I went back the way I’d come, past Flagstaff Viewpoint, up an utterly brutal hill. At the Carrickdale Hotel, I had a cup of tea. A moment of sentimentality: this is the exact spot where I’d parked my old bike so many times when I cycled along here.

In those days, the Carrickdale used to be my ultimate goal. I’d never have made it the current distances on the ole thing, but it served me the best it could.
Distance: 74.44km
Average: 18.5km/h
Max: 43km/h
Odometer reading: 1 511.2km