Biking the Aran Islands

During study week my friend, Megan, came to visit me in Ireland. We had many adventures during her week in Dublin and Galway, but the most memorable by far was when we took a day trip to one of the Aran Islands, Inishmore. The excitement began straightaway on the 8am bus to the ferry when a girl next to us threw up into a plastic bag. It’s pretty hard to get on a rocking boat after already witnessing someone be sick, but we survived. And Puke Girl made it to the island, so it was a success all around. Still, that should have been our first clue as to how the day was going to go.

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Biking the Aran Islands.

We rented bikes first thing off the ferry and immediately set off in the wrong direction. The road changed from pavement to gravel to straight rock, yet neither Megan nor I questioned it. I vaguely remember thinking it was odd that such a famous destination still had terrible roads, but Megan and I kept plugging away at the rugged path. It wasn’t until the road ended abruptly at a grassy field that we realized not a single person from the ferry was in sight. We had a long laugh before turning our bikes around and heading back to the little town.

After our hour-long detour we quickly found the correct path, which was, of course, very well labeled and well paved. The new path meandered along the coast, past tiny houses and sprawling fields. The road was still pretty empty, but it actually looked like a bike path, so we stuck with it. We biked at a leisurely pace past rolling hills, tumbling rock walls, grazing animals, sandy beaches and enclosed cemeteries. The path ended at Dún Aonghasa, a prehistoric fort on the far side of the island. The fort used to be enclosed in circular walls, but the cliffs have eroded so much that the ruins are now semicircles that are cut off by a steep drop. There are no fences to keep people back from the edge, so you can lean over it as much as you want to – and I watched many a tourist get questionably close. I peeked over the ledge briefly but then quickly returned to a safe distance away.

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Megan braves the edge.

On the way back to town, Megan led us down a side road that turned out to be not at all the right way to get back. The road was nothing more than a trail of rocks, and it ended up taking twice as long as it did on our way to the fort. We had exactly enough time to bike back to town for the ferry, so we couldn’t afford to backtrack, but the road quickly became more and more difficult – the hills became steeper, the wind stronger, the path rockier. More than once my brakes gave out, jerked my feet off the pedals, and forced my bike to topple over. Megan, like the great friend she is, would cruise past me, laughing as I fought and cursed at my bike.

Eventually we breached the top of the hill and saw the little town below us. Eager to be back on a paved road, we started hurtling down toward the harbor. It was terrifying. If I used my brakes, my bike would wobble uncontrollably on the loose gravel. If I let go of my brakes, then I was placing my life in the hands of fate. I chose the latter and it was the wrong decision. I suddenly was flying down the hill with no hope of stopping. I tried to brake, but that just made my wheels swerve towards Megan. She glanced back in time to see me speeding for her with what I’m sure was a crazed expression. Megan yelped and lost control of her own bike. I finally was able to jerk my handlebars in time to avoid sideswiping Megan, but then I was careening to the other side of the road. I remember thinking, “I’m going to die on a bike, on a tiny island off the coast of Ireland.”

But then, almost as abruptly as my bike took off, it stopped. It didn’t crash, it didn’t fall over; it just stopped. I was still sitting upright on a bike, somehow wedged into the gravel. I looked over to see Megan had miraculously survived as well. We waited a minute to let our minds comprehend what just happened, and then started off again. I was laughing so hysterically that I could hardly see where I was going anymore; tears were streaming down my sunburned cheeks as we passed a group of retirees hiking down the road. Somehow we managed to make it down to the harbor and onto the ferry without another incident. But I have to admit I’m hesitant to get on another bike anytime soon.

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Photo courtesy of Megan Thorwick.

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One thought on “Biking the Aran Islands

  1. Pingback: A Guide to Galway | My Adventures

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