Every bicyclist has their reason or reasons for cycling.
From the Pelotons that fill the roads on a Sunday like brightly coloured parakeets to those who cycle from the sheer necessity of getting from A to B.
And all of us in between.
Whether we choose main roads, bóithríns or greenways, it boils down to the one thing!
We spend an inordinate amount of time on a strange two wheeled object which by forward propellant of its pedals (which in turn revolves its wheels) causes it not only to defy gravity and remain upright but also to move forward (and even backward if you are a circus cyclist) and once continuing to do so, will not keel over, dumping us to the ground (Unless of course it is leaning against something).
Greenway: a preserved car free trail often a disused railway line or a canal towpath (In Ireland) used for recreational purposes such as biking and hiking.
(A civilized place to rest on the Achill to Westport greenway)
Boreen/bohareen: derived from the Irish word bóithrín meaning little road. Usually single tracked, often with grass growing down the center. Banked by stone wall, hedgerow or ditch, they twist and turn and part ways around hills and over streams and generally find their own natural and interesting path through the country side.
(One of the many bóithríní crisscrossing the Irish countryside complete with bystander)
Recently a friend asked which of the above I would prefer most to cycle along and she had to wait for a day or so while I pondered over her question.
Now I think greenways are wonderful and I have four of the five Irish ones under my saddle with a plan to cycle the fifth http://www.deisegreenway.com/ when there is a break in the clouds (so to speak).
They have stunning scenery, are car free, for the most part flat, mostly straight (they usually follow a disused railway line or canal towpath) well organised, well signposted, well maintained.
In fact too good to be true!
Why therefore does the untidy and rarely signposted mishmash of tiny roads (Bóithríns) so common to our Irish country side, attract me more than the safe civilized well signposted cycling trail.
Well You see I don’t LIKE to know where I am going. (I enjoy getting home, pulling out the map and thinking THAT’S where I’ve been).
I am not organised and I cycle in a most haphazard manner, choosing my route spontaneously.
And maybe I just like getting lost (easy to do on a bóithrín but impossible on a greenway)
Scenario One: The bóithrín
A yellow bicycle complete with occupant is moving slowly but surely up to the top of a low hill. The rain has finally stopped and the scent of meadow sweet, dog roses and hawthorn lies heavy on the air.
The bicycle is an old fashioned upright type making it difficult for the rider to stand on the pedals and gain any momentum.
Equipped with just three gears, she is now in first and smiles triumphantly. The crest of the hill is about to be hers. But just as she makes that final effort, a voice from the ditch startles her.
‘You’d be better off with one of them electric yokes’.
Losing concentration (and momentum) she wobbles towards the owner of the voice and just about manages to dismount awkwardly, preventing the bike from toppling over.
A middle aged man with a sally rod under his arm hops out in front of her over the low ditch.
‘I’m perfectly able to get up hills under my own steam’ she says haughtily.
Ignoring her obvious annoyance he pulls open a nearby gate.
‘Would ya ever mind standing there for a moment and put a halt to the cattle if they try to head down the hill’ He motions with his stick in the direction she has come from ‘They’re mad for the river’
He has barely finished his sentence when a herd of unruly bullocks shove through the gate and turn towards her.
‘I’ll stand by the lower gate’ and without waiting for her reply he is off over the hill, disappearing down the other side, leaving her alone with her charges.
The bullocks snort and bellow and lower their heads looking at her and the bike with suspicion
One tries to make a dash past.
Still smarting from her now questionable ability to cycle up and over a hill, she has a good mind to let him go his merry way and the others too if they should wish.
But she holds her ground and does as the farmer has bid.
‘Shoo’ Waving one arm up and down, the other holding the bike in front of her for protection she glares at him.
The bullock knowing instinctively he has met his match, backs into the herd who realizing they are defeated turn and, with much snorting, butting and mounting each other, make their way up the hill after the farmer and down the other side out of view.
She follows them (after all she is going in that direction) keeping her distance in case they change their minds.
They don’t, but in revenge one or two lift their tails and splatter the road with dung.
‘Yuck! great!’ She swerves to avoid running her tyre through the mess.
At the bottom of the hill the farmer is standing guarding the road. The gate to another field lying open. He raises his stick and the cattle who, despite constant stops to snatch mouthfuls of grass, have reached him, swing in unison into the new field where they proceed to charge around madly trampling the fresh luscious grass.
‘Don’t forget to think about that electric yoke or better still, get a car’. The man calls out as he ties the gate shut with a piece of baling twine.
Throwing her eyes up to heaven, she doesn’t bother to reply but mounts her bike and whizzes down the hill past him.
At the bottom of the hill the bóithrín forks. She hesitates momentarily before turning left.
As she sails along her wheels hissing on the still wet road, small finches scoot from the gnarled and wind-shaped hawthorn trees to the stands of willow lining the bóithrín.
Like dolphins with a boat they keep apace with her.
The bóithrín twists and turns, dips and climbs, its appearance ever changing.
Here a bit of stone wall, there a low ditch, here a flower entangled hedgerow, again those low hawthorns and all interspersed with gates of some kind. Some large and galvanized, others shaped from old pallets keeping livestock off the road.
At one point a solitary horse, alerted by the sound of her wheels, meanders over, she stops to stroke his nose. Then she is off again.
They only sound she hears apart from the wind and the odd call of a sheep are the far off cars on the Westport to Louisburg road and even they fade as the road swings further south.
Another fork! again she decides to take the left turn. At this stage she has lost track of where she is or what sort of distance she has covered.
All she is aware of is that the far of sound of traffic has been replaced with the sound of running water and she is getting hungry and is keeping an eye out for a suitable picnic place.
Rounding another corner she finds that the river has either done a full loop or maybe she has backtracked.
Jumping down from the saddle and leaning her bike against the low stone bridge she unstraps her basket from the handle bars and lays her picnic out on a flat area of the bridge
Wine, some bread and cheese and an apple.
She settles herself comfortably on the wall in the late afternoon sun.
Coming next ; The greenway.