This is the 2nd part in a series about my trail run of the Kerry Way. If you haven't read part 1 yet, click here! I've changed the structure a bit to provide an easier reading experience, with the journal entries first and most of the photos at the end. Enjoy!
Day 3 on the Kerry Way
Day 3 was only 8 miles from Glencar to Glenbeigh. This was my last day trail running the Kerry Way before heading to the Dingle Peninsula to guide hikers on different long-distance trail, the Dingle Way. I woke up excited for the short distance, but it became exceedingly evident that it was going to be a tough day. My legs were heavy, my pack was heavy, and my mind was heavy with thoughts that I needed to get to Tralee to meet my Dingle Way hikers later in the afternoon. My left hip was still very tight and my ankle had swollen to tennis ball size, but I had a very busy day ahead of me. When I stepped outside, the chilly morning air immediately stung my cheeks, but I pulled my sleeves over my frosty hands and shuffled away from the hostel.
I chose to firmly ignore all of this as I began my run, or kind-of run. Really at this point, I only had the capacity to take on downhill sections, letting gravity pull me ahead. Even flat stretches were a struggle. A couple miles into this ridiculous shuffle, I entered the most surreal forest I have ever experienced. The massive trees and sheer cliffs muffled the sounds of my feet on the ground and made me feel more secluded than any other landscape along the way. Though no other person was there, it was so alive; I could hear noises all around me but only caught glimpses of the animals that made them. I’m glad my tired legs led me slowly through that place.
Eventually I wound my way out of the forest and some tiny back roads led me to the base of Seefin Mountain. A sheep’s path switched up to Windy Gap, the pass between Seefin and Coolroe. I began the slow and steady hike to the top, listening as a farmer screamed at his dog and his sheep on a different mountainside a couple miles away. It was here that I turned around and took in the immensity of the place before me. It was easy to hear that farmer from so far away because I was tucked in a horseshoe of peaks known as MacGillycuddy’s Reeks (try listening to an Irishman say that). I was far above the grassy green valley and far below the lenticular clouds swishing over distant mountain tops. I exhaled and smiled and my legs were suddenly much lighter. As I’d come to understand, my mood and perceived pain levels were intricately tied to my ability to appreciate the landscape surrounding me. The gorgeous weather on this day helped me forget the injuries I had acquired over the last couple days.
I ascended once more until threading through the Gap, and was spit out on the other side of Seefin. I’d reached a breathtaking overlook of the northern Iveragh Peninsula and saw the tiny Irish town of Glenbeigh below, the Dingle Bay and the Dingle Peninsula beyond, where I’d be spending the next 12 days guiding. After breathing in the chilly air 1100 feet above the sea, I raced down the trail ahead; 2 straight miles of continuous grassy downhill. I felt open and free and fast for the first time since I set out from Killarney.
My run ended in the tiny town of Glenbeigh at the base of Seefin Mountain. Then I hitchhiked to Killarney and caught a bus to Tralee where I met my hikers for the Dingle Way. For the next 12 days, we roamed the Dingle Peninsula north of the Iveragh, but that’s a story for another day.
12 Days Later
Day 4 on the Kerry Way: Pain
I’d arrived back in Glenbeigh the night before and stayed in a quiet bed and breakfast since the local hostel had already closed for the winter. Although the place was out of my budget, I was grateful for my private room and shower. That evening, I went on a run. Four miles without my pack, rewarded by reaching the sparkling Atlantic waters of Rossbeigh Strand during sunset. I felt more loose and springy than I ever have. It was my first time covering distance without my pack on in 15 days.
After a solid night's sleep, the trail brought its own rewards the following morning. After crossing a stone bridge to leave town, the Kerry Way rose sharply to enter a conifer forest where I crossed paths with other runners staring wide-eyed at the pack on my back. As I booked it up the slowly rising mountain trail, I definitely felt pretty cool. After half a month of distance running and walking, I felt strong and was proud of my new muscles.
As I continued along the trail, I saw tiny colorful birdhouses and narrow doll-house doors nailed to the bases of trees and little signs announcing that fairies were about. I was in the Glenbeigh “fairy forest” and I felt their presence whispering in the pines. It seemed as playful and adorable as it sounds. A half mile later, I exited the fairies’ domain and re-entered the mountainous landscape of leprechauns. 🙂 I'd spend half of my day traversing the ridgeline stretched out before me.
After closing the distance between me and the top of that distance ridgeline, most of the mileage remaining was downhill. I slurped a caffeine Guu that made my heart pound, then blasted down the southside of Drung Mountain. I felt like an Olympic athlete. I’d be flying down the trail when suddenly, I’d have to freeze in my tracks and tip-toe over the muddiest sections, then just as I was arriving back at full speed, freeze again. It was an obstacle course that occupied my mind for the next glorious 30 minutes. And then disaster stuck.
As the downhill began to level into a valley, the trail became increasingly slick. I was hyped on caffeine and feeling just a bit too loose, when WHAP. My right leg slipped and flew out in front of me, and my left leg tucked backwards at the knee, hitting the ground firmly wedged under my weight. SHIT.
I slowly pulled my body up and hobbled out of the mud, wandering along the trail, tears in my eyes and my mind unable to tell my legs to stop moving. I was just 4 days into this epic journey and facing the only thing that could stop me: injury. Wet through and covered in a layer of mud, I dragged my body forward. After a slow walk, the initial pain and shock wore off, I dried my tears and started to jog. What does an ACL or an MCL tear or a burst meniscus feel like? I had no idea, so I just kept going. I hadn’t passed any hikers that day, so I knew I couldn’t wait for help and my options were limited. Just keep moving.
Soon after, the muddy forest trail met up with the paved Ring of Kerry Cycling Route and the grade was perfect. Two very straight miles of slight downhill and although my knee was complaining the entire way, I opened my stride and continued to blast away the miles. Or it felt like it. Any observer would have seen a haggard little muddy blond girl shuffling clumsily under the insignificant weight of a mostly empty wet green pack. I’d pay for an outsider’s view of what I looked like 45 miles in.
I took the Cycling Route to the busy and ugly main road, N77, and bypassed the last 3 miles of trail into Cahersiveen. I’d have to do this section (the Cahersiveen Spur) tomorrow anyway, and didn’t feel like repeating it. Turns out both N77 and the Spur were across messy and ugly landscape, but I powered into town after 16.5 miles, cutting an entire 5 hours off the estimated hiking time. I couldn't believe how fast I'd made it even with an injured knee. Once I collapsed onto my bed in the hostel though, I couldn’t move. I lay glued to my phone for a full hour before grabbing pizza, curry and chocolate at the convenience store across the street, then ate my brains out and iced my swollen knee.
This day wasn’t done though. It was a beautiful, clear blue afternoon and I wanted to explore so I just started walking. The coast drew me in and I walked 3 miles to Knightstown and watched the ferry come and go from Valentia Island. Without my pack, the weight of those 16.5 miles didn’t exist anymore. The result was that I tacked on 6 miles to an already massive day, and I definitely paid for it later. As I’m writing this, I feel incredibly stupid for continuing to run in light of what happen to my knee. After I fell, I should have walked to the main road and hitchhiked into town and rested. Instead, I ran the remaining miles into town and walked another 6, bringing my day total to 22.5 miles. I was stoked to be back on the Kerry Way after hiking the Dingle Way though, and wouldn’t have traded those sunset views of Valentia for anything.
I iced my knee for a while that night.
Day 5 on the Kerry Way: Chocolate
After writing about all the psyche from Day 4 (minus the knee injury...), I’m looking down at my journal and am struggling to find the words to describe Day 5. I’ll begin here: it SUCKED. My body is physically reacting to the words on the pages of my notebook. The details of the relentless uphill, the mud, the wind, the fog, the rain are clinging to my skin and making me squirm as I write in my comfy, warm bedroom.
The Spur I skipped the day before started out innocently enough, but the rainy and cold morning were already starting to drag me down as I entered a series of ugly, muddy cow pastures. The landscape was impossible. Deep ruts in the pasture created by heavy cow hooves pock-marked the path, and I had to jump from each slightly raised tuft of grass to the next. When I slipped in, my knee screamed. I slogged through and reached an easier gravel section that temporarily boosted my hopes for a good day ahead. The weather was supposed to clear, and I was holding out for that.
I began up the first steep ridge with no opportunity to run. The mud on the steep mountainside absorbed my taped-up feet and released them after a firm tug. I ascended for 2.5 hours into impenetrable mist, using my hands as much as my feet to grab onto rocks and tug my body up the mountain. Thus was my entire day. The ridge would dip, and I would descend low enough to be released from the cloudbank for a couple brief moments before ascending again into the wet fog. This first ridge reached 1413 feet above sea level, and it took me an hour to return to the valley. Here, I found a paved road that I pathetically jogged on for 20 minutes before my second ascent began. The weather had cleared here at sea level, but not up in the mountains where I was spending most of my day.
In the trail description, there was a post office in this valley called Mastergeehy, so I thought I’d be able to buy some chocolate in town. I convinced myself that this place would be my saving grace that day, and I put all my hopes and dreams into the chocolate I was about to devour. I kept pushing myself forward, knowing that I'd soon enjoy the delicious, smooth taste of Ireland's best chocolate if I could only move a little faster. No rain, no swollen knee, no creaky hip could keep me from destroying every chocolate bar in town.
And then… there was no town. The post office was just a room off of someone’s house, tucked into a hillside in the middle of nowhere. I was crushed. I can’t communicate to you how thoroughly let down I felt. I pulled out a bag of unsalted, disgustingly healthy and energy-packed fruit and nut trail mix, and fought off tears. I’m not even ashamed. Who even likes trail mix without chocolate in it? I put my whole heart into the faith I had in that stupid little Mastergeehy "town." Angrily, I started my second ascent, my thoughts were on chocolate and as low as the valley I was in.
As I began up the mountain, I stumbled past a rickety green barn. Instead of pointing me in the right direction and letting me continue on my way, the lanky old farmer who emerged from the building just had to ask the American about the USA's current political mess. I might have been able to stomach such a conversation with a tummy full of chocolate, but I wasn’t in the mood to talk. I rolled my eyes and pushed on. "Sorry, old man, this is not my day," I thought.
After leaving the farm, the second mountain ascent was faster, albeit just as foggy and squishy as the first ridge. I believe my mood could have been entirely different had I been able to see further than 15 feet in front of me. If I had truly been able to enjoy the three mountain summits I stood atop that day with panoramic views stretching off into the Irish countryside and beyond to the Atlantic, I could have mustered the enthusiasm I’d been feeling the rest of the adventure. The trail description touts, "fantastic views of the surrounding mountains," but I couldn't see anything. My feet even disappeared below the cold mud.
I crested the ridge and slipped and slid my way downward until breaking out of the clouds once and for all. I could see Waterville miles beyond, powerful gray waves crashing into its shores. My mind raced, “There’s chocolate down there!” My injured body sped downward, and I fell over and over, but the entirety of my being was focused on one thing only: CHOCOLATE.
Soaked and sore and crazed, I burst into the first convenience store I found and bought heaps of chocolate bars and cookies, desperately digging for Euros hiding in my pack’s hip pockets. I scared the crap out of a little kid who mistook me for his mother. The cashier feared for his life, but I finally had the one thing I dreamed about. Sugary, decadent European chocolate.
My destroyed feet stung in the hot shower, but the day was done. I scarfed down a heap of fish and chips, guzzled a well-deserved glass of cab-sav and finished the last of the cookies. 19.6 miles today, 57 more to go. I was officially going insane.
The Evening Before Day 4
Evening of Day 4
The weather was so terrible on day 5 that I only took three pictures, and the only passable photo was the one of the cow in the day 5 journal section. I should have taken a picture of all the chocolate I ate that evening, but it was all gone before I could remember to...
Thanks for reading part 2 of my Kerry Way Trail Running adventure! Comment below if you're enjoying this series, an look forward to part 3 next week!
Did you miss part 1? Click here.
If you're planning on doing the Kerry Way, shoot me a comment with any questions you may have. I can elaborate on the places I stayed and recommendations for things to do while you're visiting southwest Ireland!