It’s cold down here, and dark, so I’ll keep this one brief. I’m in the common room, where the radiator is off. The German woman rooming with me tonight voices the entirety of her internal monologue aloud even when others are in the room. She has finally gone to sleep, and I’m trying to be polite, hence being curled on the sofa outside of our room.
I hiked 16 miles today!! I am now suitably exhausted. I’m clean again, which feels like such a relief. Warm showers are my second favorite thing, after soap.
Alright — this morning I started late, like woke up at 11. I guess I was exhausted. Black Valley Hostel caters breakfast — eggs, oats, cereal, and toast, and the little plastic squares of jam that remind me of Waffle House. They bought groceries for me, too. Not knowing what to ask for, I requested beans and chicken.
I made eggs with no oil and then made oats in the same pan, and was about to do the chicken, too, when I decided that I wanted to get on the road. I’d forgotten the joy of pan-cooked oats. It goes way faster in a pan than a pot, too. Perhaps the thing to take over from yogurt as a daily breakfast?
I got on the road at 12:45 and vowed to turn around by 4:30, so that I could be back by 8:00, an hour before dark. The first few miles, everything was wonderful, so beautiful and green. The open valleys enhance the beauty, too — every new turn showed a whole new space, the valley and the climbing mountain on the other side of it. I enjoy that more than forests, I think. Coming out of a forest to see the edge of a lake, the rippling water, and the beginning of a river — that was magical.
I texted some friends about how hiking is like what I imagine microdosing psychadelics would be — everything is beautiful and exciting, and from another angle it’s also beautiful and exciting. “A mountain! A cool rock! The same cool rock from a different angle! Another cool rock similar to the first cool rock. A river!!” There’s dopamine from moving at the pace you are. It’s lovely.
There is an Irish tradition of “permissive routes,” where landowners allow travellers to pass through their property. The Kerry Way uses these routes, winding for miles through private pasture. The gates have signs that I imagine are for foreigners, reminding them to always close the gates behind them.
I went through the gates, always closing them behind me. It felt — special? I knew this was an ancient tradition, and I was determined to respect it. I felt vaguely honored that this trust was extended to me, that I was not trespassing but being welcomed in. I would never feel safe on private property like that in America.
The first gate, I ran into a group of people herding sheep into a corral. They were shouting at the dogs, and one of the dogs was long-haired and mangy, and I wondered if it was aggressive. But it was fine, the sheep went into their corral, and the people asked where I was headed. I said I was walking the Kerry Way. That way, then, they said, and pointed me to their gate. It’s ok? I asked. Yes, of course.
I wondered if my nervousness around dogs could rightly be called trauma. Some of my family’s dogs were aggressive when I was a kid, though only toward other dogs, not people. We had to break up fights. I wondered if this is something I could resolve in the future, through some kind of exposure to aggressive dogs.
There were sheep everywhere, spray-painted bright colors, like I’ve seen on the internet. They were often nearly close enough to touch, but they always shied away from me. They were cute as hell, though. When you looked up at the mountain, it was specked with white dots, all the way to the clouds.
When I planned out this trip, and realized I couldn’t afford all the hostels along the Kerry Way, I was so afraid of camping. I didn’t really know the territory. I would definitely not camp solo in many parts of America. I decided to stick to affordable hostels, and hike out from wherever they were.
At this point in the hike, with the beautiful cloudy skies, I thought I could camp. Everyone I passed was friendly.
I didn’t see any routes on Google to tackle Carrauntoohil, the tallest mountain in Ireland, but I figured there might be some that Google hadn’t picked up on. My plan, then, was to walk the Kerry Way and keep an eye out for trails that headed up the mountain.
Spoiler: I didn’t make it to the top of Carrauntoohil. There simply aren’t any paths from here — the trails, it seems, were hewn out later, and they are all accessible from the highway on the other side of the mountain. I could take a taxi there, if I wanted — and pay Western taxi rates — or see if I trust some fellow I meet tomorrow enough to take me to a mountain. That seems a sure-fire way of dying, so we’ll see.
When I reached the end of the road shown on Google Maps (which doesn’t show ‘permissive routes’), I saw a pathway heading upward. It was made of crushed rocks, never really packed down. I hiked up, passing a woman standing by a stream — she seemed ominous until she waved, and I realized she was there with her family. At the top was an orange tractor, moss growing between the tires. As I came higher, I saw a lake, in the hollow between two mountains. It was so beautiful. I cannot describe it. The runs running down to it, all of these rock tumbles. I took pictures — the orange tractor, bright against the natural hues.
Then onwards — through this gap in the mountains, which had about 1000ft of elevation. There was a faint path, but mostly you were travelling from signpost to signpost. Fortunately the posts were abundant. The rocks were beautiful here, too, and impressive in their way. I was reminded of the stacked rocks in Arizona, although none of these were stacked, just jutting from the mountainside and covered in grass.
There is such abundance of life here, where everything is wet. The grass feels more soft, you wouldn’t call these plants tough — but they bounce back when they’re stepped on, because they have all the resources to. So you don’t have to worry about trampling them. It felt strange at first to step on plants so much, until I realized they would be okay.
Then down — for a long time — until I found the road again. There was a sign for the Cooky Monster Cafe, at the same place as a B&B I’d spotted on the map. I decided to shoot for it, telling myself not to get my hopes up (my hopes were sky-high. I was starving. I’d brought 2 granola bars, finished one).
In fact the Cooky Monster Cafe was closed, but the man there (who saw me in his window, came out to greet me) let me fill my water bottle from a tap outside. Kindness everywhere. I filled my bottle, and then didn’t touch it again until I got back, because it started raining and was too much work to pull out a water bottle.
I went back. I passed some hikers, asked the woman, is it raining up there? It’s raining now, she said, and it’s windy too. As if I couldn’t tell, I thought. Or perhaps she thought I was criticizing her rain jacket. I was now the unprepared tourist, I thought, remembering travellers from Europe and Asia with little 12-oz water bottles, sunscreen slathered on their faces.
I donned my jacket not long after, for it began to rain. And rain. And rain. But when I got back my torso was mostly dry! A huge relief.
The way back was exhausting. I was so hungry, wet, and tired. I started listening to a podcast of Irish folklore, which got me through. I ran into a whole herd of sheep, who ran away from me — by running farther up the road, so it looked like I was chasing them. I felt kinda bad but they eventually realized they could run sideways, and then I passed by them. A big fluffy dog ran out from its house, rolled in a field across the path, then ran back, directly at me. I shouted, NO! BE NICE! NO! BE NICE! and it kept running, but into its yard. I walked on in relief.
I definitely could not camp here, I thought, after the first two hours of rain. If I did, I would never be dry.
Then I was finally home. And I cooked all my chicken. And a nice man washed my dishes, even the pot with chicken stuck he didn't try to hit on me afterwards either! I disappeared to my room before he could try, but that didn't seem to be his intention and the German lady mumbled through all of her trip plans, and I went up to my room and read 2 pages of a book and then scrolled on my phone.
I loved the welcome on others’ property. How open a country would feel. How safe Ireland feels to me, now, even though I get anxious when travelling alone.
- he didn't try to hit on me afterwards either! I disappeared to my room before he could try, but that didn't seem to be his intention back to text ↑