11:29pm, Friday night, September 6th, 2002
(Average: 12.9 mph / Time: 4.06.40 / Distance: 53.49 miles / Odometer: 326.7 miles)
I set off from the campsite at about 11:30. I could have left earlier, but I kept waking up and hearing rain, so I had a lie-on. It’s strangely disorientating waking up in a tent. You have to establish what time it is, what the weather is like, if you’re in sight of anything. Your camp never looks the same in the daytime as it did when you set it up the night before.
When I finally left, I had not gone far at all before I had to stop, in Ogonneloe, and brew up a cup of soup. Half an hour and I was already bunched. The sky was very heavily clouded and I’d had one bad shower already. It did look brighter further on, so I was hopeful.
I had been especially looking forward to today, ever since I first mapped out the route. The road follows the side of Lough Derg and I’d reckoned it to be one of the more scenic days riding. But I couldn’t even see the lake for all the trees along it. They should trim a few hedges. I didn’t sem to have the energy to deal with the hills either. Even though I’ve been over much worse already. I think I’ve lost my taste for hills on a bicycle, you always feel cheated on the downside if it isn’t long enough.
So at 1pm I stopped in Mountshannon and spent an hour in a pub, being served by a very beautiful looking young woman, eating fish & chips washed down with a pint of porter. She put the best shamrock I’ve ever seen onto that pint. It was perfect, and I told her so. I also took the time to read a few pages of Stephen King’s new book ‘On Writing’, which seems pretty good, but I doubt I’ll get many chances to read it. Any free time I get is normally about doing as little as possible!
With that mighty feed under my belt I set off again and crossed into Galway soon after. My 13th county. It’s a beautiful area, but it could do with some attention. Even if we manage to get tourists here post 9/11, we’d want to have something to offer them. There are so few facilities here, why aren’t we investing in that?
I had a puncture in Portumna. That’s a good line. But I did, and thanks to the spare tube I bought on Wednesday, I had it fixed in about 10 minutes. I’ll fix the other one tonight, and then I’ll have a spare. There was lots of activity on the main street. School had finished and there were kids everywhere. And with kids come parents. It looked like a place that liked to be quiet but had to put up with occasional bursts of activity. I repacked the bike in the midst of this mayhem, then strolled the length of the main street. I had to do a lot of shrugging as people were forced to move around myself and my bike. After so long alone on the bike, I took great pleasure in being in the middle of the stampede home. And a perverse little guilty pleasure at being a nuisance, truth be told.
There was one shop that carried the banner above it’s name: Music CD’s, Videos, Confectionery, Wreaths‘. There were lots of familiar shops, including a Frawley’s discount shop. I suppose it’s the march of progress, and rural areas are finally getting the benefits of urban developments like convenience shopping. Some of the old world quaintness may be gone, but it definitely makes it easier to get by than it would have been not so long ago. Most towns have at least one mini-market that stays open late. Take my pitch for tonight. I’m in a town called Cloghan, in Offaly (14). I crossed that border not long after Portumna. I stopped for the night here eight years ago when I walked to Galway with Garvan. Back then it was nowhere. It was a crossroad literally in the middle of nowhere. It’s in the middle of a bog. It had one shop, one pub and fuck all houses. Now it’s got a roundabout. And there are two pubs and at least two shops. One of which is staffed by my new mate Anne-Marie from a small town outside Portumna. She keeps the shop open until ten. There are many many houses here now. And streetlights! I remember how dark it was here last time.
I met Anne-Marie while trying to find the owner of this field that I’m in now. It’s on one of the main roads, right beside Anne-Marie’s shop. It’s a quite spot, Cloghan, for all it’s fancy modernity. I don’t mind camping somewhere sort of exposed like this. I just didn’t want to be woken up by a herd of cows at dawn, or something like that. So I tried to find the owner. The shop was my first stop. She didn’t know who owned it but was able to point me in the right direction and I soon found out that the owner was the (currently absent) local priest Fr. Scanlon. A priest’s field. No cows here then! Thanks be to God. Sort of.
Anne-Marie made me a cuppa in the shop while I set up camp. There isn’t all that much traffic through the shop and she took advantage of the company. She entertained me with stories of badly behaved hurley players and the ‘vicious meanness’ of her headmaster. I’m not far off half-way around by now. Not too long before I hit that point. When I was talking to Anne-Marie about the trip, when I got to Portumna earlier today she gasped: “Oh my God, I loove Portumna! I’d love to live there, it’s amazing!” Cloghan is still in the middle of nowhere, and it’s bigger than her own village, but can that explain such a reaction to Portumna? Well, I hope she makes it.
And so now I’ve caught up to myself lying here in this holy field listening to the rain misbehave outside. It seems to be coming and going in flurries. I think tomorrow I’ll get beyond Athlone by afternoon and at a good push, with good roads and fine weather, I’ll make Roscommon. Yeah, right! I need to recharge my phone somewhere, somehow tomorrow. I might drop into a police station. Have to trust whoever I leave it with. Tell you all about it in a line or two.