Tuesday, August 3, 2010

An August Weekend in Kerry

Mobile homes are, apparently, the only real and popular manifestation of the Dymaxion house. This was a 1930s idea and design by Buckminster Fuller which tried to float the idea of a mass-produced house on the same level as the mass produced car. He was so convinced that he even declined for a one-off to be made as a showpiece at the Chicago Century of Progress Exhibition in 1933. He wanted it to be mass-produced or not produced at all. And so we have the mobile home, the closest that the world has come to a Dymaxion type utopian dwelling. Mass produced, cheap compared to standard and traditional houses, stand-alone or capable of being in a park with others and of course mobile, they have the ingredients needed. Still, they aren't quite what he had in mind I would imagine although the interiors of both have something of a similarity looking at that picture there.

I hadn't been to the mobile home in Kerry for quite a long time - it had been at least a couple of years since I had spent any substantial amount of time down there and with the August weekend approaching I thought it would be a good time to go and have a look. The bike would be the mode of transport - I had travelled to Kerry on it before and had even visited the mobile home but that main road down to Killarney, and Tralee was nothing if not a little boring. The twisty bits, which really should be fun, are usually spent with me wondering how it could be while stuck behind an old Ford Escort with a man driving it and that man inevitably wearing some sort of a hat and a jacket even if the sun was after being angled to beam down on his car and his alone. He would be convinced that this was his road, and his alone too. After all, he had paid his road tax and although his little Escort had failed the NCT (or had just not bothered to even be examined at all), this gave him the right to go at whatever speed he so wanted to. I don't get this at all, if you want to travel at 20mph then fine but pull in and allow other drivers/riders to go past you safely rather than allowing them to become frustrated and then attempt irrational overtakes while sticking up the middle finger as they wizz by barely missing a tree or a rock on the opposite side of the road. I mean what if there are two Escorts, both going in opposite directions? And what if both of those Escorts are holding up frustrated motorists behind them who then......oh oh....

Accepting the fact that the ride down would be boring, I packed some clothes, a pizza and some waffles,my camera and mp3 player and strapped the tankbag to the bike with bungee cables. The magnets in it are meant to hold it to the steel tank but I reckoned a couple of bungee cords would do no harm in case of a gust of wind or something. My camera was in there! Plus those cords could be used to great effect at hitting that man with the hat in the Escort if his window was open. They'd be like whips, they might make him go quicker.

Despite the warnings, there were no Guards on the road that I could see (and besides I obeyed the speed limit mostly anyway!). I suppose accepting a banal journey kept me extra safe from speeding tickets too. There was one part though where I really enjoyed the bike - outside of Macroom as the road becomes narrow and twisty, I managed to put myself in front of a few cars and with some clear air I could enjoy the road. Then of course I met more cars and that was ended abruptly. Still at least I could take some pictures and as I crossed the border into Kerry that was just what I did. In fact I pulled off the N22 to a church to take a picture, expecting this church to be fairly important and beautiful. It was signposted from the main road by a prope
r road sign...however this was misleading, it wasn't all that important or even aesthetically pleasing. It was set in the Clydagh Valley, just down from the main road and where traffic once used to flow on by.
Now though the road there in the valley, houses on both sides, is full of gravel and used only by the locals who probably appreciate the lack of traffic and noise in their little piece of heaven. Shame that they couldn't make that church a little more inspiring in it's location all the same.

As I exited the valley I noticed again an awful lot of gravel on the roads, something that as a motorcyclist I absolutely hate to see. Not only is this type of road repair illegal but it also smacks of laziness - "ah it's ok, the cars will run over the gravel and flatten it down". No, it doesn't work like that and if you, like I did once or twice in the weekend, run over gravel mid-corner on a bike, then you'll not be happy at all. Unless you're a fan of sitting in a ditch with your bike trashed and somewhere away from you on the road. Thankfully that didn't happen
to me as I saw the gravel but it so easily can. You've probably done it on a little bicycle.

My next stop was to take a few pictures as I went into Rathmore. The place consists of a church, a better looking one than the one pictured above, and a fuel station which
also sells ice-cream. It used to anyway. I had traveled between these rocks for so long in car but never had I stopped to actually look at them and on the bike I had the chance. The road wound it's way around these rocks but it was much too wide for these little bends to be any much fun but perhaps this was just as well. These are views to really take in and to wonder - those rocks just stand there in time. People have died in and around here, people have been born in and around here. These rocky hills and jagged edges have seen it all and will see it all again, almost immune to the effects of time. You have to admire that and reflecting on it does make you feel a little bit less important and a little bit less, well, big. What you can or cannot do matters very little to these inanimate objects of nature. They've seen it all and they'll survive it all longer than you or I. That's unless the NRA come in and blow them up with dynamite to build a road but with no money in the country they probably can't do that. The rocks didn't care to comment on that.

I stopped in Tralee to fill the bike up. It cut out on me in the petrol station as I waited for two cars to move so I could get at the pumps. It started back up again just fine and it didn't have me worried but it is something I will have to sort - carbs need to be balanced and the valves probably need adjusting and then the idle rpm will need setting. That should cure it but really it's no big deal.
As I put the pump into the tank the petrol stopped flowing...it was only allow
ing me €2.40 worth of petrol. I couldn't understand and I was there trying to hold the tankbag away from the filler cap with it's magnets scrambling against me to hold on! Into the shop I went and itturned out he couldn't see me so he stopped the pump. It was probably the helmet bu
t I never got this before. He apologised after and on a bank holiday there was no way I was going to make a big deal about it. Besides I had seen McDonald's and that was looking a little tempting to me so I wanted to park the bike and get in there, or at least think some more about it.

There were busloads, literally, of Spanish, Italian and French kids in and around the McD's but the queue looked fine. I would have hated to be working on this day though, some of the tables were covered, and I mean covered, in cups of Coke or milkshake. The manager of the place, or the franchisee, must have been making substantial donations to all of the religious orders or else had undertaken some sort of big PR exercise in the schools these kids came from because I could see him out the back counting money and then giving up. He was exasperated by it, wouldn't you be after you have just counted to two million? I think I saw him rolling around in the money then although I couldn't be sure. Anyway he got an extra €5 from me when I ordered a double cheeseburger, small fries and a small drink. Nothing special but I thought it would be a good idea to fill the gap and while I had went in meaning to spend no more than €4, a Happy Meal (€4) was out of the question. All of the kids would have laughed at me. I mean they were obviously all watching me!

With a full tank of petrol and the demands of hunger fulfilled, I made my way to Camp,
located West of Tralee on the Dingle Peninsula. Once I got here i
t would be into the mobile home I would go and life would slow dramatically. Without a watch, time would melt away. With no place to be and no deadlines to meet, time
would be meaningless. Hunger could be a guide but better yet I find the sky, the moon and stars to be more entertaining. And you can see all of them down here without a city around to pollute
the darkness.

Arriving was actually a bit of an experience. Through Blennerville and the windmill there and seeing the Slieve Mish mountains unfurl before me as I rode west was one thing. It was another thing to look out at Tralee Bay and see Fenit Rock shrouded in cloud as more white fluff descended from the mountain behind me. I promise that it wasn't as dark as this photo shows where I was, it just seemed that the cloud was quite happy to sit out at sea. However I have another thing to tell - it was a whole other thing altogether to arrive into the campsite and see children absolutely fascinated by the fact that a motorbike was coming in. I suppose thinking back on it now there weren't ever many bikes came to the place at all despite some of the roads on the peninsula being great to ride on. Perhaps most bikes just passed through aiming for Dingle instead. The energy and excitement from these kids was really something to behold and made me think that I would look a right fool if I happened to drop the bike at low speed in front of this lot. The other side of my mind was wondering if I should have brought chocolate bars and humanitarian equipment. It was a bit like arriving in to a place full of kids who had been told the weekly medicine and chocolate delivery was going to finally arrive after the last 5 deliveries failed. I smiled a lot but behind the helmet they probably couldn't see that so had I put on a "sorry kids but the other guy is bringing that stuff, he's just five minutes away" face then they wouldn't have seen.

After arriving and putting the motorbike on it's centre stand I opened the mobile home. Here it was, the Dymaxion House with the Slieve Mish in the background.
The thing was, I had no running water here. Electricity and gas for cooking were not an issue but the pipes had ruptured in the winter frost and we had not had the chance to fix those up yet. And by "we" I mean "Dad". There was some water there in a large container, enough for copious cups of tea and coffee and cooking. And for brushing teeth too. Toilets and showers would have to be done camping style though - over in the communal block that the, er, campers use. The main thing however was that I was now down in Kerry, had a place to sleep, to read and to sit if I wanted to. That pizza I brought though was now of seemingly no use as a good friend of mine came over to me and
informed me dinner was ready for me. I'd only barely gotten off my helmet! That's the thing with friends though, not even having to ask. By the way, it was delicious.Well, Mr Fuller would have been proud of me for at least remembering him!

I was toying around with the idea of leaving on Sunday, basically just staying for one night and going home but the place was after capturing me and it wasn't about to let go to easily. I had to stay another night. And I did. Sunday didn't feel like Sunday at all down there now that I bring it up. At home there is just this general feel about a Sunday - a Sunday just is. It exists and you know it is there but what to do and what to fill it with are two questions that are difficult to answer. It's a timespace normally occupied by a sleep in and then a think about what to do with the rest of it. While there was a sleep-in in Kerry there was no question of what to do with the rest of the day - it didn't matter. I could sit on the dunes and watch the people on the beach or just wait until a sunset occurred or just walk around. The pressure of leisure wasn't there - there was no need to feel that you had to go and do something fun. Although I did end of having fun anyway and it started with a hearty breakfast after a phone call from another good friend of mine. His parents had made sure that extra rashers, sausages and eggs were on the pan. It would have been rude to refuse of course. The funny bit was that the litre of milk I had bought was still pretty much unused!

Brandon had always been in my thoughts for the weekend. The place has always held a special kind of intrigue for me - this small village out on the very west of the northern part of this peninsula, a small harbour with it's back to a violent sea, the spray from the
Atlantic waves almost seeming to fly over Mount Brandon and down to the harbour below. Narrow roads, jagged mountains and wavey seas all around. I had to go.
Before I did though a few of us walked along and I took some pictures of some unusual looking little creatures below sand dunes near a marsh that is home to the bullfrog. So much of a home in fact that mobile home sites were taken away from this particular area in years gone by. It's strange seeing the bays that people had created for themselves, where 30 foot homes of steel
once stood and gazed out.

You wouldn't even know now unless it was pointed out to you so fast does the sand move here and that tough dune grass. It was in that grass that this bumble bee was spotted, gathering up the pollen in the summer heat. And at this point there really was summer heat, it was turning into a beautiful day with a little humidity but then let's face it, we can't have it all out own way. Once I managed to get this picture I knew that there was definately a point in getting some more of the same and it was a coincidence that one of the guys had become a little fascinated by a red bug that was flying around the place and in general making itself an object of fascination to said person. Really it was black but with red dots - impressive all the same. Getting a photo of this was difficult though, the camera wanted to focus on the grass all around the place but that wouldn't make for a great shot at all. Who wants to see grass? It was a group effort to try and get a picture of this red and black bug between holding back blades of grass, suggestions of "macro" this and that and "point it somewhere else" along with various swear words and associated vocabulary of frustrations. It all failed. Nature gave us another chance though and we saw another one crouching peacefully, and alone. The other one was with a friend, a very very close friend it seemed actually. This one was alone and with a steady hand and the camera now cooperating (on auto mode surprisingly) this was what happened. Look to your right!I know I said before that time is not an issue down here but with me being
persuaded to have dinner again I thought I had better be on time for it. And so the time was right to suit up and leave for Brandon. It was, I now know, 15 miles away (25km) but I was confident of getting out there and getting back by 7pm. It had been a few years since I had been out to Brandon but I remember being fascinated with the place. When you stand there and look at the mountain to your west (well it's at your feet really if you turn around!), the next town is in Newfoundland. There are indeed further points west on the peninsula but you'd have to go over to Dingle first and even from that angle Mount Brandon won't allow you too far back up to the north of the peninsula thus preventing a proper ring road around the peninsula. A formidable mountain then. It certainly looked it as I made my way out and took a right at the fork that questions you whether you'd like to go up the Conor Pass and into Dingle or down into Cloghane and eventually Brandon. Unfortunately there was some gravel on the roads even before the bike and I hit the very narrow passes after that fork. As such there wasn't a whole lot of fun on the road but again the scenery made up for this and there was actually some fun to be had on the very narrow bits into Brandon - they were twisty, tangling themselves around trees, rocks and fields with small hump backed bridges bringing you across little streams and rivers. I had to stop a few times, it was too impressive not to take some pictures home. It would be like going into Leonidas, standing at the counter and just looking. Lapidus, the architect you have probably never heard of but whom I would like to quote simply because I have been waiting to use this quote for a long time, said "Say you like ice cream - why have one scoop? Have three". And so I decided to have three and stopped to take a few pictures. More than three I'll have you know. Morris Lapidus would have been proud.

The way you know that this picture was worth taking was because of the straight road. No entrances to it from anywhere, no people around....perfect to open up that throttle. I didn't though simply because this scenery demanded to be looked at and admired. And of course photographed too. This was proper wilderness, and that includes with houses. It's still wilderness even with houses by the way, who's to say the people in them aren't wild? More power to them.
I was left wondering at some points about what happens here in the winter. I mean in the city we had enough problems with ice and snow but what about out here. You complain about rain? Well try looking for a bus shelter here then. Go on call a taxi if you like, you can wait under that bush there. I'd hazard a guess at saying it takes a good while for any service technicians to come out here to sort out electricity if poles fall or if pipes go bang. Even getting an FM radio signal out here is troublesome with all of the mountains. Mobile signal isn't bad though.

I'd say it's all worth it for sights like this though. I would say that though as a person who doesn't have to live here. I can just go off and enjoy this place when the sun shines and return to the city in the rain. I wondered as I passed the turn off for the quay what it was like in the past winter - did families try and pitch together with one person going into Tralee to pick things up for people or are they all so used to things like this that they know how to deal with it in a way a city person doesn't. I carried on past the quay with these thoughts in my mind - I wanted to head to Brandon Point. This road just ends at the top and that is the best way of describing it really. It carries on as a fairly narrow local road but after a little while you begin to travel gently uphill.
Gentle but noticeable. Noticeable also, and alarming for many a person I would say, is the fall
on one side of this road.
It meanders it's way up the side of the base of
Mount Brandon. To be fair that base is pretty much mountain anyway, there's a good incline there and if you fancied rolling in some grass you'd be better off not doing it at the side of the road facing water because you'd probably need to be ready to get wet. Very wet, lungs and all. There is a bush that runs along the road though so it doesn't look this bad but being higher up on the bike means seeing over this and showing off a spectacular view back at the peninsula and the harbour. A clearer day would have given it that little bit of sparkle but there you go, Tralee is way way in the distance there somewhere and Newfoundland is behind that mountain which is behind me. It was nice but I thought the view of the harbour and of the lakes below the Conor Pass was a little nicer at the time.
I couldn't spend the whole night taking pictures though, I had a dinner to get to and 45 minutes to get back. Seeing as I hadn't bother to time myself on the way out I had no idea how long to get back. It was time to pilot the Bandit home.
Off I went, a better of idea of the roads then before and made i
t back in 25 minutes.
Not bad considering that the roads are insanely twisty but blind to the point where you really can't roll on the throttle until you're around the corner. No problems with the rear swinging out here. And yes, again it was delicious.

I felt pretty refreshed from the ride home as I sat down to dinner and then saw the top of the dunes turn orange. My head was clear, my tummy full and my mind ready, so it seemed, to take in a sunset that looked like nothing I had seen for quite a while. And especially not down here. I ran to get my camera, an dark rusty glow emanating from every surface the sun was touching upon before it slipped off under the horizon ready to wake the people of LA up from slumber.
Running up the dunes I could see on the path through the grass, the footprints of people in the sand and the shadows within them. All around them the sand was a strange
orange. I'd say that the
Orange mobile network would have been delighted, not to mention the Tango drink people.
I stood on the edge of the dune, not running down on to the beach in order to get a higher shot and saw the orange disc descend ever so slowly below the Maharees which nature was using as a horizon in this case. Focusing on it was a bit of problem, all of that light hitting the camera ensures that the shutter speed goes up in order to capture the light but not too much light. Too slow and the picture will just be white. The balance is difficult, much like life itself and the sun poses similar problems for our minds. It's all a bit much for the mind to take when you think that this thing sustains the planet, it can't be controlled but yet says hello and goodbye at the same times it always does. You can only do something about it if you are a cloud and you aren't so you can't. Some of that days resident clouds did actually try and do something about it all but they failed - there was no way this sun was being denied it's moment. And neither was I, I was going back to Cork the next day and wouldn't be around for the sun to be given a second chance.

I had intentions of leaving at about 8am to avoid the traffic but my inner guide of sense told me this was a ridiculous idea and made me sleep in till about 9am. After all I had spent the previous night and some of the very early talking with a few friends in their mobile home. Oh, and that pizza came in useful. We tried to cook it in my place, well I did, but the oven wasn't taking the flame. The gas was on but it didn't want to light and I didn't fancy attempting this too many times. I had visions of me seeing a ball of white and that would be the end. Mobile homes take to fire like magnets to steel if you aren't careful. Gas doesn't particularly mind where it sets itself alight and so I turned it all off. We'd cook it in another oven, in another mobile.

With the end of the night approaching I went off to bed, taking a caramel slice with me. It was only a small one, maybe an inch squared but it was delicious. For the associated logic I refer to the Lapidus quotation above. I did finally use that milk in a proper quantity in the morning when I had a bowl of cornflakes, coffee and then engaged in packing the bike after going for a quick wash in the communal toilet/shower area.
I filled up the topbox and made sure everything was in the tankbag for the journey home - the camera was put in here for easy access. I hadn't done this for the trip out to Brandon, instead just leaving the tankbag at home and popping the camera in the topbox but its handy stopping and taking pictures from the saddles without having to unlock a box and stop the engine. I had the intention of doing the trip back to Cork as a non-stop journey, and I did, so why I put the camera in there I do not know. Just in case I suppose. I made it back to Cork in 2 hours which wasn't bad considering there was some traffic on the road and also considering I took a regional road from Macroom to Cork and not the normal N22 main road. I was just sick of being stuck in behind cars and being on straight roads. What I'm saying is there was a possibility of doing the journey slightly quicker!

I was home for lunchtime though all the same. It seemed that using hunger as a time gauge wasn't a bad idea at all.

To see the full collection of photos from the weekend go to: http://pix.ie/fabio/album/383954