Friday, August 23, 2013

Epic Walk Completed in Two Days!

Each year for the past three years I have set myself an unusual challenge to raise a bit of money for charity.

Two years ago I cycled solo across Ireland and last year I was joined on the same expedition by 30 other cyclists!  This year I decided to walk.  Easy I hear you say?  That's what I thought too...!
I was joined on this year's adventure by my Dutch friend, Vincent Miggels, and we set off on our two day walk from the beautiful village of Uachtar Ard beside Lough Corrib on Tuesday morning at 10.30am.  We were full of good spirit as we breezed out of the town and headed towards the wilderness ahead - a 60km trail through forest and mountain that would eventually lead us to the village of Líonán.  Our plan was to camp on the Maamturk mountains on Tuesday night and to walk along the spine of the mountain range the following day, all the way to Líonán.

The first half of Tuesday was beautiful - if a little misty.  However, as we reached the forest beyond Uachtar Ard it began to rain - not heavily, but consistently.  We were wet through by the time we took a wrong turn and went off the official 'western way' to emerge behind Peacocks of Maam Cross - a few miles off course but generally headed in the right direction and with spirits undampened by the rain.  It was just after 4pm at this stage and so we rewarded our first six hours of walking with a sneaky pint.  
The rain grew heavier for the next part of the walk, which was unfortunately over a section of busy road as we tried to connect back on to the 'Western Way' trail by going straight ahead and then turning down towards Uilinn Thoir and the holy mountain of Máiméan.  Thankfully D, her father and sisters came to the rescue here as the light was beginning to fade a little and without any footpath we were in danger of getting hit by oncoming traffic.  After five miles of main road we were delivered onto the trail again by the cavalry.
At this point we changed into our hiking boots and strapped the tent and overnight supplies.  We said goodbye to the crew and would be on our own now until the following evening.  There was a one and a half hour walk still ahead of us to the foot of the mountains and we were beginning to flag a bit.
We reached the foot of Máiméan at around 8pm with the rain still falling heavily.  The mountains were covered with cloud but we took the decision to camp halfway up Máiméan in order to have a head start the following day.  As we climbed the wind grew and visibility became an issue.  Mountain streams were gushing down and the ground underfoot was soaking wet.  What kept us going forward was the knowledge that there was a little church halfway up the mountain and that this would provide us with shelter for the night.  God would be on our side!
We finally reached that point only to find that the church was bolted.  Máiméan is a dramatic place at any time with it's little church, statue and stations of the cross, but in this weather it was like the setting of a horror movie!  Thankfully there was a grotto beside the church which gave us some shelter and we even managed to pitch our tent on the concrete floor of the grotto - safe between the altar and the back wall.  We were warm and dry there while the wind howled a gale outside and a poor lamb could be heard crying as she became separated from her mother.
We hoped for a clear morning so that we could climb the rest of the mountain and walk along the range to Líonán, however it was just as misty as the evening before.  We had no choice but to descend and to walk the long way around the Maamturks.  There was little talk between us for the first few hours as our bodies were feeling the weight of the heavy sacks on our backs and the effects of the previous days walking.  At 1pm we sat and ate some sandwiches and looked ahead to see a tiny forest miles away from us.  'We need to walk to that forest', I said, 'and then beyond it again... for miles'.  It didn't make for a pleasant conversation!
As the afternoon wore on we actually perked up again and the conversation began to flow.  Like Pinky and the Brain we had plans to take over the world - or at the very least we spoke about people who we felt were ruining the world!  We reached that far away forest at around 3.30pm and took our second wrong turn of the journey!  However, we had learned from our first mistake and rectified things without too much delay.  The forest, however, went on for miles and by the time we came through it our legs were aching and our backs and shoulders were feeling the brunt of the two days.  There were still the guts of eight miles to walk to Líonán.  Our loved ones would be waiting for us there in a little pub called Gaynors and the pints would flow!
The last section of the walk went on and on, we barely had enough left in us to finish it.  Hazel sticks that had been cut from the woods at a fresher time the previous day became our best friends as we leaned heavily on them to finish.  The up and down mountainy path that made up this part of the walk finally came to an end a mile away from Líonán and D and Ursula were waiting for us there to take the heavy bags into the car as we would walk unencumbered into the town.
When we finally reached Gaynors bar we entered to applause and hoopla! Two creamy pints awaited us - we drank them, and more, and told all of our wonderful adventure! 

Monday, August 19, 2013

70km Walk Tomorrow.

"Tomorrow will be loud with war... how will I be accounted for?"

... so asked one of our great war poets (yes we had war poets!), Francis Ledwige, on the eve of battle during the first world war.  Well, I can't really compare my task with his, but a mammoth task it will be for me.  I will set off at 10am from Uachtar Ard, on the banks of the Lough Corrib, heading towards Maam Cross, and then beyond that to mount the Maamturk Mountains, camp overnight, and then walk along the spine of those mountains until we reach the village of Leenane.  A near 70km hike in all.  I will be joined for all if it by my good Dutch friend, Vincent, and for some of it by sister in law, Teresa, sister, Róisín, and brother in law, Mark, and who knows who else!
The walk is in aid of the Jack and Jill Foundation - an organisation that help families of severely ill infants as they mind their children in the homeplace, so I'm delighted to have almost reached my target of €1000 by fundraising on the charity website,

Training hasn't been great this summer... sporadic runs only (which explains the lack of blogging), but I'm determined to see this walk through and hopefully it will kickstart a good autumn.  My aim is to get back to running some 10ks asap - I still boast a 10k pb from this year so it's not all bad!

That's it for tonight - I will check back on Thursday with news of the mammoth walk.