Catherine adds clips to my bike, and I feel ready - except for adjusting my mirror, a knack that eludes me. But the countryside is heavenly, the roads in perfect shape.
As we speed along, we pass the ruins of a house.
As we climb, a fellow rider remarks that the rocky terrain is reminiscent of Turkey.
We have been warned that Shane is a real character and he doesn't disappoint. He has a heavy brogue, but he's worth decoding because he's a real expert on The Burren. Here is what I remember:
Ireland has no snakes, but they do have a "slow worm," in the form of a legless lizard. Which means it has eyelids and ears (snakes have neither). It lives in this area, though we don't glimpse it.
The Burren on which we stand is limestone, composed of fossils of plant and animal life (if we look, we can see them). It used to be sea bed. As we look around, we see small pools of rainwater here and there, which host micro environments. Over time, vegetation and eventually trees will grow up there and if left alone, form great forests - which is what Ireland used to look like.
But as we can see, Ireland has no trees. The Irish chopped them all down; they have little use for them, and would rather have fields.
But if they value fields so highly, I ask where are the farms? "Well, what do you call this?" Shane asks a bit put out. He gestures towards the countryside where we see a few sleepy cattle staring back at us. I explain that in the US, we define farms as places where there are fields of wheat and alfalfa. "Ah," he says. Well we have that too, in other parts of Ireland. But as much grain as the US grows, they still import grain from Ireland. Can you tell me what that is?"
We are all silent.
And then he takes out of his backpack, a full bottle of Jamesons (pronounced JAM-sons), a plastic cup, and pours me a shot on the spot. Just what I needed. Walking on the Burren in cleats, and now walking drunk on the Burren in cleats (I'm a cheap date). Well, he will clearly be insulted if I don't drink it down (ah, the heavy burdens of the tourist), so I oblige, inwardly hoping I'm not headed for a broken hip.
We bid a fond farewell to Shane and pedal to a nearby restaurant which has been expecting us. I order two strong cups of coffee. They top off tea in Ireland, but cups of coffee are bought separately. This is a small detail in my sleep-deprived state. I go for it. And then we're back on our bikes and the ascents begin until we reach…
And I thought I was old.
There isn't much to see, and not that much is known about it but it is remarkable to be in the presence of something so ancient which has kept its original state.
As we're getting ready to pedal back, Catherine asks me how I did on the hills. I tell her I barely noticed them; that if she really wants hills she should come riding with me in the Palisiades and ascend The Beast - a solid mile of climbing on the Jersey side of the GWB.
In hindsight, I look back on this moment and blush with embarrassment. I'm telling a guide about hills? But Catherine merely nods wisely. She knows what's up ahead.