I’m off on a new adventure and I don’t quite know the way. I’d grab a map, but I can’t seem to find a grid reference. Menopause is something all women experience ‘at a certain age’ and yet I can count on one hand the number of women who have ever mentioned it to me. I’m now getting a taste of these life changes myself and I have a suspicion that I’ll be talking about it a lot!
No night sweats or massive mood swings as yet, but I’m definitely more scatty and forgetful than usual. My cycle is shifting and I got hit with cramps and illness that sent me back to bed last Friday and robbed me of a trip into the hills with the girls. Very annoying.
Realising that my body is changing, I hesitated before posting about it on Facebook. I think I felt embarrassed, I felt perhaps I was getting old. The notion lasted all of ten minutes. A few hormones didn’t ruin my transition from chick to hen, and they’re not going to stop me getting my butterfly wings.
I am glad I decided to talk about it. Within the hour, my friends on Facebook had put me wise about nutrition, remedies like red clover and vitamin B, and I had been put in touch with a very uplifting website called www.mysecondspring.ie. A site dedicated to supporting and celebrating women entering menopause.
I lost one day on the mountains, but that didn’t last long. I’ve had a wonderful few weeks; the 33k Walk The Line for Dublin Wickow Mountain Rescue, a beautiful full moon hike with MountainZone on Slievenamon, an 18k trek across the Wicklow Mountains with JuJu Jay and a lovely trot up Brown Mountain and Scarr with climbing buddy Vera Baker.
This beautiful sunny Easter weather has also served as a reminder of how wonderful Ireland is, and how beautiful our natural resources. I can’t feel bad with all those green rolling hills calling to me. Nothing like a brisk walk to reset a girl’s perspective. New shoes and a fresh new haircut didn’t hurt either! Control, Alt, Delete; that’s my reboot right there. Come on second spring; let’s be having you.
I’ll let you know how I get on..
Tomorrow I’m in the gym at 0730 before catching a lift to Donegal for a special birthday celebration for a really good friend. A bunch of mates are marking the occasion with a meal tomorrow night, followed by climbing the iconic, volcanic, and mysterious looking Mount Errigal. What a way to celebrate a friendship, which for me covers 4 years of extraordinary change. My friend and I both discovered hills and walking around the same time, and this weekend will be really special.
The annual fundraiser for Dublin Wicklow Mountain Rescue. It’ll be tight getting to the start in time, but I’ve a fireman driving me, so hopefully we’ll make it 😉
The 25k hike kicks off at 9pm and continues through the longest day/night of the year, to finish well after dawn on Sunday morning. This is a chance for the hiking and climbing community to give something back to the volunteers who are on call 24/7, 365 days a year – ready to pull us out of trouble when we discover our map-reading skills aren’t as good as we thought they were! If you fancy it, the starting point is the Brockagh Centre in Glendalough. Registration opens at 6pm and you can be join a group with a navigator or navigate yourself. Click on the picture below for details.
Presuming I finish up in time, it’s another dash – over to Swords this time, to meet up with my buddies from Get Off The Couch, the TV show we recorded last year. This bunch of adventurers from all over the country got out there and got active, and inspired a whole load of other people to do the same thing. They kept up their adventures, even when the cameras stopped rolling – and we also kept up our friendship, which is wonderful. They’re having a get-together in Dublin this weekend and I’m dropping in for breakfast to survey the damage….
From Swords it’s back to Lucan for another friendly get together with a mate who’s planned a bit of a spa-break to help me recover from all of the above. It’s certainly going to be a busy weekend – but it all counts as training too; because my trip to Mount Elbrus looms ever closer. I picked up my Russian Visa earlier this week, and it’s all looking very real..
I sit for a moment in the car, huddled against the blast from the heater. Peering out through the misty windscreen I can see cloud shrouding the top of the mountain. I don’t normally need encouragement to get out into the hills, but this morning I feel that I need a cattle prod to get me moving. It’s the beginning of May and the start of the summer but the weather looks more like mid-November. It’s cloudy, misty and quite cold and I grimace as I open the door and climb out, reaching for boots and waterproofs.
The car-park here in Glendalough is virtually empty. That’s unusual for this time of year and a clear sign of how gloomy the day is looking. I sigh and surprise myself by considering a retreat, but I’ve driven an hour from the city to get here and it would be silly to turn back now. Adjusting my walking poles, I start to stroll towards the upper lake, and turning left, head to the bridge that leads towards the Poulanass Waterfall.
The plan is to stroll along the ‘white’ loop-walk; up over Spinc Mountain, across the bridge over the Glenealo River and down through the Miners’ Village to the Upper Lake. I warm up quickly as step out towards the wooded trail. Birds are singing everywhere in the rain dampened trees and the crackle and splash of the waterfall gets louder as I approach. It drowns out the patter of raindrops but the birds still pipe loudly through the cascade. Pausing for a moment I wonder about the power of the water dropping here to pools carved out of rock, from a hanging valley formed in the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago. I wonder what the water feels like, how cold? I always promise to stop here during the summer when I’m warm and sticky after a long hike, take off my boots and plunge my feet into the white froth. Somehow I always forget. This year I’ll do it; definitely.
I reach the junction where I need to swing right for Spinc or left for the Derrybawn Ridge. I hesitate, with no sense of urgency in my mind. I meant to train hard today, to set a pace and work on my fitness, but I’m reluctant to push up into the cloud. Instead I potter around the river and take some photos of the water tumbling over the rocks. I’m familiar with the terrain around here and I have a map and compass; and so on a whim, I veer off the trail and into the woodland pushing ahead on an adventure and leaving the high trails behind.
Within moments, the roar of the waterfall is behind me, along with the brash, glare of the multi-hued, green riverbank. I’m entering into a carpeted, hushed arena beneath the bared bark of conifers stretching so high and thick above my head that the rain and cloud are banished. The change of atmosphere is dramatic, like stepping from the light and noise of a busy street into the sombre chambers of a cathedral. The light is amber, shaded by the canopy above and tinted by the russet carpet of fallen pine-needles and cones beneath my feet. Invisible birds make sounds all around me. I think I’m treading softly, but they hear the fine snap of twigs beneath my feet and clearly keep their distance.
I follow a gentle incline, moving steadily upward through the forest. I know Derrybawn is on my left and Mullacor is on my right and slightly ahead; but I don’t intend to push ahead that far. Reaching a fire-wall, I veer left, to meet a small stream rushing down from the ridge. I come back out into the light. There is no trail here and I have the river to myself. I potter around taking photos; and find I’m smiling and grinning at the sight of saplings and ferns unfolding, and clover in flower. This little glen has infrequent visitors and it’s showing no hesitation in sharing its secrets with me. I can almost imagine fairies dancing here in early morning sunbeams. Briefly I remember how it felt to lie beneath the yellow gorse in Roscommon as a kid fresh arrived from London; smelling the vanilla-scented pods of the furze, trying to whistle through stands of grass, watching fluffy clouds against a blue sky and dreaming of fantasy and wonder.
Eventually, I drag myself away from the magic glen and follow the river back towards the trails. I swing up left towards Spinc and climb the 600 wooden steps to the observation post high above the valley. Taking in the stunning views, I catch my breath. That will do for training for today! I swing down past Kevin’s Bed; the now inaccessible cave believed to have been used as a retreat by St Kevin and later for St. Laurence O’Toole; and down to the Upper Lake, past the 11th Century Reefert Church, the burial ground for the Clan O’Toole – the local kings or rulers.
Walking back towards the car to dump my damp gear in the boot, I glance at a teenage girl, dragging herself reluctantly from her dad’s jeep with a gloomy sigh. I smile as we pass each other, and I comment that I didn’t feel like going up myself this morning, but it was worth it when I got out there. “Really?” she replied. Not a bored ‘teenage’ reply, more hopeful and pleasant. Encouraged, I laughed and explained how I nearly drove back to Dublin without getting my boots wet, but ended up being thrilled by flowering clover, clever birds and silver spider webs caught in herbs and heather.
She smiled and said OK and headed for the hill. She may have been inspired, or maybe she thought I was ‘off with the fairies’. Although, I suppose, that could be inspiring too. Who can ever know what lies under a mountain of cloud and gloom? Like life itself, it’s often worth pushing on and giving things a chance. I may not have covered many kilometres of incline today, but I had fun and fed my soul. Sometimes it’s good to put the training regime aside and just enjoy the outdoors for its beauty and timeless simplicity. I’ve learned already, you can move mountains, just by ‘walking your way to fitness’.
There’s a reckoning a coming, I reckon….
If I’ve had a difficulty with training this year, it’s about balancing multi-discipline sports. Our Concern challenge in Uganda this November requires me to climb a volcano, cycle for several hundred kilometres and kayak the source of the Nile. Well I bought a bike and started clocking up hours earlier this year, and I signed up with the Wild Water Kayak Club on Dublin’s Strawberry Beds and learned the basics of how to fall in the river! (…and of course, more importantly – how to get out).
Now, as you can imagine, this all takes time – hours of time, and the one thing that has suffered is the activity I had previously been very familiar with – climbing mountains. To get hill-fit, you need to be walking up inclines for between 4 to 6 hours, at least once a week….and I haven’t been doing that. I simply haven’t had time for much more than a quick spin up and around Spink in Wicklow, which is a beautiful mountain, but not the most challenging – particularly when you’re only doing it intermittently at best.
So this Sunday, I’m facing the Goddess. Carrauntoohil in Kerry, at 1,038 metres (3,406 ft) is Ireland’s largest mountain, and she doesn’t suffer fools gladly. I’m heading there this weekend, feeling a bit like a fool – because I know I haven’t prepared, and I know I’m going to suffer. I love this mountain and know her well, but I also know it’s not clever to take her for granted. I’m also pretty certain she’ll be wet and cold and windy. Mountains have a way of letting you know……
I’ve decided to enable comments on this website – partly because of all the great advice I’ve been getting on Facebook today on how to avoid ‘Urticaria’ – or hives – or alergic reactions to bites!!! I’m just emerging from a nasty two-day bout of swollen joints and itchy skin, after being eaten alive by midges, while camping out in the Wicklow mountains at the weekend. Yuck..
I’d never heard of ‘Urticaria’ before – and I hadn’t experienced it before either. I have never been affected by bites or stings; and I am only now learning that I have lived a charmed existance. I’ve been reading about some horror stories from my friends on FB who have suffered, or know people who have suffered with the condition in a chronic way. My doc said it shouldn’t happen to me again, if I take all my medications and take proper precautions in future. I hope he’s right.
Although I had insect repellent in the house, I had never before bothered to use it. MISTAKE. I’ve learned my lesson, I’ll be sprayed within an inch of my life the next time I’m in the hills, and I’ll have one of those mosquito net things for my face and head. Some great hints on Facebook include a bug-zapping bracelet that apparently works very well – and Citronella spray or cream that is a natural product that keeps the little nasties away.
On training, I had a great burst of effort at the weekend, climbing hills with a heavy pack, setting up camp and really pushing the envelope. Then I hiked back down to sea-level and dashed off to Cork for a bit of Rn’R, before dashing back to Dublin for the Cork V Galway match – I was supporting Cork 🙁
I suffered an enforced break on Monday and Tuesday though. I did try throwing a few weights about, but my joints were too sore from this ‘bug’ thing. Feeling a good bit better today though, so I should be back in the gym tomorrow. Planning to squat with about 40kgs on the bar – maybe 50. Will let you know tomorrow. x