Not a walk in the park

Day 1 Clonegal – Boley / Distance: 20 km / Hours: 6,5 (9.00 – 15.30)

The sunrise colored the sky red and orange when I opened my eyes this morning. I felt a slight tingle in my stumach. Today I was really going to start walking the Wicklow Way. This walk had been in my mind ever since I saw the signs 2 years ago during my stay in Glendalough. A month ago I decided that I was really doing this and now I was here. At the beginning of this journey, my new adventure. The next 6 days will be filled with walking, walking, walking and resting.

After my host of that night made me a warm and filling breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausages, tomato and bread, it was really time to start walking. My backpack was big and heavy but I got it on my back. “I would help you, but the next days you would also have to do it yourself.” It sounds weird if you think about it, but it is a good thing he didn’t help me. Because I really was going to have to do this for the next days.

The first 5 kilometers over a small road took me further away from Clonegal and after some mild climbing I saw beautiful rolling hills with sheep and cows grazing them. I noticed that I was smiling. “I am really doing this. I am alone in Ireland and walking the Wicklow Way.” The feeling I get from doing something that I feel I wanted to do for quite some time is proud. Proud of myself for going through with it, although I am afraid of all kind of things that could happen.

After these first kilometers I saw the first sign with the yellow walker on it. It was pointing in the direction of a dirt road that was leading up into a forest. I smiled again. Climbing deeper into the forest and ending with views on the hills that surround Clonegal I kept on walking and following the yellow arrows.

Even when you are walking on small roads where cars drive you feel like you are alone. Once in a while there is a house or farm. But today I know for sure that I saw more sheep than humans. When I left Dublin yesterday I was already happy to see the Irish nature from the bus, but walking right in the middle made me even more happy.

During the walk my backpack was getting heavier and heavier. I noticed that I couldn’t concentrate on my surroundings. My mind was only thinking about the pain in my shoulders and focussing on taking steps to keep moving forward. The time between my breaks became shorter. Although my body was in pain, my mind was not. When I was resting my shoulders and back I enjoyed the silence around me.  I felt the wind that was slightly blowing and the warmth of the sun struggling to come through the dark clouds. I forgot about the pain and was happy.

Until I had to carry the bag again.

Evelien Buynsters - Wandelend fotograaf

Day 2 Stranakaley Crossroads – Kyle / Distance: 20 km / Hours: 6,5 (9.30 – 15.00)

Everything was lighter. This might have something to do with the fact I arranged for transport for my way too heavy bag. Or because the sun was shining almost the entire day. Or with the beautiful scenery with deafening silence to go with it. Or because I decided to go with the other guests in the B&B and skip 5 km of today’s walk. Today I was taking breaks because I wanted to enjoy the view or a cup of tea, not because my shoulders needed the rest.

My mind was more empty and I was able to enjoy the walk over small country roads and boreens (= old narrow tracks). The signs showed me wide views over valleys, hillsides filled with ferns and forests where I could here the theme song of Lord of the Rings all around me. I was waiting for a elf, unicorn or hobbit to pass my way. That would have been a great story to tell.

Now I can only tell you how happy and alive I feel walking over the mountains and small creeks. No worries in my head and just the sight of all that is green, the animals and mountains are making me smile from ear to ear. It was a long time since I felt this alive and it is only been 4 days since arriving in Ireland.

After a shower and watching a movie I saw red sunlight on the wall outside of my window. I came out of bed – very graciously with every muscle in my legs, hips and lower back being sore and stiff – and looked out to see a sun that was shining so bright that I had to put on shoes again and go for a small walk. That walk turned out in a run and a lot of sighing and laughing by seeing the sunset coloring the fields, trees and houses bright orange.

Day 3 Entrance of Sheilstown forrest – Drumgoff / Distance: 20 km / Hours:  6,5 (9.30 – 15.00)

A feeling of unreasonable happiness arises when the wind is blowing rain in my face at Drumgoff Gap. I feel the need to take a deep breath before the next wind hits me, but still I stand here looking out at the valley in front of me. The mountains are covered with ferns and pine trees. I see no house. I see no car. I am standing here alone. I don’t feel alone.

The realization hit me today that two tears ago I saw the signs with the yellow walkers for the first time. At that time I knew I wanted to do the walk. It took me two years to get back to Ireland and to do it. Confidence grows with every step I take. Walking is easy. I can do this. Step by step. Even when I think I can’t walk up the steep hill, I can. And every time I make it, I am more confident.

The route has changed from yesterday. There is less wide scenery of rolling hills, but more walking through forests. And these forests are nothing like I saw. I never knew there are so many shades of green! The ground of the forest is covered in ferns and branches that fell of the trees. These are covered with the brightest of green moss adding a look of softness that invite to lay down and take a nap.

Walking uphill for 10 minutes I knew I was coming up to a shelter and I was curious how this looked. I was wondering if one day I would walk around Ireland and stay in shelters like this? First I saw this small house and hoped that wasn’t it. It wasn’t – I know, good story -. A bit further there was a wooden shelter with christmas decorations in it and a mailbox where there was a notebook used as a log and the book ‘The Hobbit’ left behind to get picked up by someone else to travel the world. This was not the best part, although I think it was already pretty good. When you sit on the bench outside the shelter you have a amazing view on the valley and I can only imagine how it would look like if the sun was setting or rising.

The owner of the B&B asked if I wanted to be dropped of 4 kilometers outside Drumgoff so I could see the waterfall. I said yes and while we were driving I recognized the hills. We passed the waterfall and I was sure. Two years ago I was here and felt over the moon excited and deeply hurt in less than a hour. I didn’t walk in the valley of Glenmalure today. I am not sure it is because I am afraid of what will happen if I spend time here or that I want the memory to stay pure? The valley of Glenmalure will always be special to me.

Day 4 Drumgoff – Lus Mor B&B / Distance: 30 km / Hours: 8,5 (9.00 – 17.30) 

Rain and a long walk to my next stop was on my mind when I was eating my eggs and sausages at breakfast. And also wind, a lot of wind. And climbing 3 mountains. Motivating to take the first step right? The funny thing was that today of all days I felt most happy with walking. I had to push my own limits and challenge my mind to not get control over me. At moments I felt like flying up and down the hills. I think my pace was never this steady or quick. It’s funny to notice that by pushing my boundaries I feel stronger.

I am proud of myself for making it today. And not just because of the distance, but also because I didn’t start crying like a baby when I lost my way. On top of a mountain. Alone. In the rain.  I should have known I was walking the wrong way. In the mud I saw no footprints of the two people walking in front of me. So I felt something wasn’t right. When I was standing at a fence with no signpost and only fog, wind and rain on a open space in from of me I felt the tears coming up. I quickly realized that I had no other option than to walk back and look for the sign I missed. Of course, my other option was crying like a baby, get cold and keep being lost on the mountain alone. Didn’t feel much for this option though.

The reward for finding my way back to the Wicklow Way was a steep climb on steps made of stone into a dark pine forest. Followed by a misty and windy crossing of the Lugdoff Gap where the views would be amazing I think. Just not today. I knew that down on the other side in Glendalough there is a place where I could sit dry and warm. This was on my mind while I was descending. The funny thing is that when I got to Glendalough – which is a really beautiful place, especially when you can go there just before it gets dark and nobody is around – I didn’t want to anymore. Not because I didn’t want to get dry or have a hot drink, but because I didn’t feel like being around that many people. So quickly I walked of into the forest again towards aloneness and a amazing view of the two lakes.

In the shelter – where I decided to walk the whole way and not call for a pick up – I met two Belgian girls who were trying to light 26 candles for a friend of them who was turning 26 years old. I drank my cup of tea and ate my bread with Nutella while not being in the wind and rain for 20 minutes. That was good. Really good. Just another 10 kilometers and I would arrive somewhere dry where I could a hot shower and put on dry clothes. One of the discoveries I made is that it doesn’t matter how far I have to walk, but the last kilometers will always be the worst ones. These are the moments when you suddenly feel everything hurting, the rain is annoying you and you think the way is shorter than it is. To keep on going even though you have these thoughts and feelings is the challenge of walking I think. The moment I saw the sign of the B&B I was so happy. And the feelings of pain went away, just like my legs knew that they almost arrived.

Day 5 Pier Gates – Knockree Youth Hostel / Distance: 14 km / Hours: 5 (10.00 – 15.00)

I don’t know what to write about today’s walk. I have seen some amazing scenery from the top of White Hill. The forests were again beautiful and magical. But something was bothering me. Although it was the shortest walk today it felt like the longest. This might have something to do with the long walk from yesterday. My feet were telling me to stop walking all the time. I had not enough energy to feel happy with walking today. I hope it is just because yesterday asked a lot of me and that tomorrow I will have found the energy for the last kilometers.

Luckily the scenery was still able to make me happy today. The views took my breath away more than once and the forest made me feel I was walking in a fantasy movie.

In the book of the Wicklow Way I read about this guy who ran the whole 130 kilometers in 12 hours. I thought about this yesterday when I was on a super foggy and super windy mountain top, because I was thinking that I was crazy for doing this. But the guy running the entire Way sounded more crazy. Today I saw two guys running up White Hill! When I saw the first one I had to look twice, because I wasn’t believing it. I think I even saw this guy on the other side of the mountain again on his way back (again up and down the mountain). It does me good to know that there are people out there who are crazy too, maybe even more crazy.

Day 6 Knockree Youth Hostel – Marlay Park Dublin / Distance: 19 km / Hours: 7 (10.00 – 17.00)

Today was going to be a challenging day. Not that all the others days were not, but today I had to carry my big backpack again. This, and the fact that the weather forecast was not looking good at all, made me start less motivated on my last part. I didn’t want to do this, I didn’t want to carry this heavy bag, I didn’t want to walk 20 kilometers, I didn’t want to go back to the city, I didn’t want to climb one more mountain.

Luckily my mother asked me a question. She said that she would have given up already if it was this challenging and she asked me why I keep going. I decided not to have the negative thoughts in my mind, but this question instead. And I started walking my kilometers.

The first climb was heavy. I forgot how it felt like to ascent – I learned a new word, jeej! –  with this heavy bag. My knees and hips were feeling the weight and I was not as quick as I was yesterday. I knew this day was going to take me longer, because I needed to take more breaks. But that wasn’t a bad thing. The weather was surprisingly good today. A lot of sunshine and almost no wind, not the rain that was predicted. The warmth of the sun made catching my breath while climbing a pleasure.

It was weird walking up the last mountain and knowing that my walk was nearing it’s end. Knowing I would soon be looking out over Dublin I had my cup of tea on top of Two Rock Mountain. Overlooking Glencullen I thought about how far I came and how easy it felt doing it. Not one single moment did I think about quitting and taking a bus to Dublin.

By doing this walk and pushing my own limits I show myself that things that seems impossible are possible. I show myself that I am capable of more than I think. I show myself that I am strong. I show myself that I am happy with spending time on my own.

Slowly I started descending into Dublin and it felt weird to be coming back to a city with people, a lot of them. The walk down was still challenging for my legs. You might think that walking down is a breeze, but I might actually prefer walking up. Walking down means tension on all of my leg muscles and they were hurting already. On my way down a guy was just starting the Wicklow way and he congratulated me with finishing it. At that moment I realized that my walk was over and this gave me a energy boost for the rest of the walk down. This Jason Mraz song kept on playing in my mind:  “You fucking did it, yes you really did it!”

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