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Weather adds a new dimension to the challenge of bike packing with kids on the Wild Atlantic Way

Lashed by driving wind and rain on Ireland's west coast is proving a learning ground for parents pushing their children beyond their comfort zone

by Kevin Vallely

How do you tell the difference between summer and winter in Ireland? In summer the rain is warmer…or so it goes. It’s mid-summer here on Ireland’s west coast and we’re being hammered by a series of nasty storms—all with warmer rain I suppose. We expected stormy weather on this trip but always secretly hoped we’d avoid it. Well, no such luck. Nasty weather has descended upon us and we have little choice but to deal with it. We’re on bikes, distances are significant and our days are limited. Taking days off because of inclement weather is not an option for us, certainly if it’s happening most days, so ride in the rain we must.

Finding shelter for lunch.

Bicycle touring in Ireland is bloody hard and can be downright demoralizing at times but it also touches on something else, something more meaningful, something more transcendent. As adults, we’re able to rationalize ourselves through the difficult times on this journey but we have our kids on this adventure as well. In tackling the Wild Atlantic Way as two families we knew we’d have to push our kids through some challenging times and we knew that by pushing them they’d become stronger, more capable and, ultimately, more empowered young adults. By facing uncertainty, discomfort and struggle we believe our children will discover their own capacity to cope and in the end we hope, will become more resilient. But here lies our parental balancing act. We need to push our kids to get stronger, allowing them to bend just far enough that they rebound tougher but not so far that they crack and break. Where this fracture line lies is always on our mind.

Our intent was to camp for most of our journey but we’ve decided now, that when we face exceptionally hard days in the saddle, we’ll stay in guesthouses instead. We elected to stay at the surfside Rougey Hostel in Bundoran after being thrashed by a storm from Killybegs. We nestled in to the 300-year-old Beach Bar and B&B at Aughris Head in County Sligo after being lashed by driving wind and rain through County Leitrim, and we huddled up at McCarthy’s Guest House in Westport after riding 100 km through nothing short of a tempest in Sligo.

“But those are the days you’ll remember,” says Geraldine, the hostess at McCarthy’s. “You’re seeing more of Ireland than I ever have.”

Managing our children’s rolling emotions on this journey is the biggest challenge we face but to date we’ve managed well. We arrived in Galway, the festival capital of Ireland, yesterday afternoon and, because of the difficult days travelled, took a day off today. Our kids are tired but upbeat and now know if things are tough they’ll get a warranted reprieve. So far they’re as strong and focused as we could have ever hoped. Tomorrow we tackle the wind (and likely some rain) as we head out into the limestone lunar landscape of The Burren in County Clare. It will be desolate, barren and wild, the savage beauty of Ireland’s west coast.

Part 1: Two Canadian families set off into the unknown on an Irish cycling journey

Part 2: The ups and downs of Ireland’s west coast

Part 3: The wild Atlantic weather rears its head on Ireland’s west coast