The Yes Woman: It was about time I got back in the saddle
Can a cycle along the Great Western Greenway help me get over past traumas?
The Greenway, which runs from Westport to Achill. Photograph: Michael McLaughlin
It has been at least four years since I have gone anywhere near a bicycle. As a student, I had a weekend job in a bookshop at home in Limerick, and would cycle across town to work in all sorts of weather to sell novels and colouring books to mildly disinterested customers. One day I collided with another cyclist in the hammering rain, and, being the smaller person, was launched over the handlebars and into the filthy road. A driver got out of his car to point out, helpfully, that it was unwise of me to lie in the road like a crumpled mound of garments, so up I got.
I’ve occasionally cycled since, but mostly around in circles in an enclosed space while glancing about shiftily. Cycling in Dublin is too daunting a prospect to consider. I admire people who have the unhinged bravery to cycle in the city, but I’ve seen too many of them clipped by buses and cars to try it myself.
This week, I found myself in Westport. I went with a group, mostly on the promise of those tiny scones you get with afternoon tea at Knockranny House, the ones that are much smaller than standard scones but still too big to fit into your mouth whole with any dignity. It was only on arrival that I was told the truth. There would indeed be scones, but only after we all cycled along the Greenway from Westport to Mulranny, 29km away.
“Right so.” The words – standard words of assent – came out of a mouth that was probably mine, but sounded oddly high-pitched. I was trying to tamp down the panic, certain that my body could not complete such a distance without shaming me in some way. I envisaged spontaneous roadside diarrhoea, or fatigue-related weeping along with several other scenarios that one just cannot get past easily. These things take years to get over. You’ll be forever remembered at the bicycle rental place as the person who got attacked by a sheep and soiled themselves.
Some time after that I found myself astride the smallest adult bike they had in the shop, which felt like a sufficiently degrading start. The helmet, which was mildly inconvenient at the beginning because it kept slipping back on my head, would later have me wishing I could fling it with all my might into the sea. But I didn’t know that yet. All I knew was that there would be no scones until we had cycled to Mulranny, so we set off.
As with a troupe of chimpanzees, hierarchical roles in our group quickly began to establish themselves. A friendly fellow I hadn’t met before turned out to be one of those people who enjoys leadership positions even when no one in a group consents to be led.
Whenever we came to a crossing, he would zoom ahead, jut his head out to survey possible traffic, and then shout, “Clear. Go, go go.” The cries became particularly aggressive when he spied a Ford Fiesta in the distance, approaching at a treacherous 30km per hour. He ushered one of the older members of our group across the road with a hilariously unnecessary sense of urgency, at which point she chastised him unreservedly. He cycled off, cheeks reddened.
When we got past Newport, I was elated. The landscape suddenly shifted into one of ascetic beauty. The sparse expanse put me in mind of poets such as Yeats and Kavanagh, and I could not help but understand how a country such as ours could produce such complex wordsmiths.
As the gulls screamed mournfully to one another, I was overwhelmed by the romance of the landscape, and torn from my reverie only when one of our party fell into a ditch.
Six kilometres down the road, as we neared our destination, everything felt less poetic. Everyone complained of the agony in their behinds, and it became more difficult to be stirred by the salty landscape into thoughts of Kavanagh’s Shancoduff as we stood on the pedals to give our bums a rest.
As we pedalled into Mulranny, exhausted, our “leader” declared, “Well, I think you all did very well”.
A voice piped from the back: “Don’t be so patronising, you.”
Yes to . . . getting back on my bike
No to . . . sore behinds