For the past five years or so, Kim and I have taken a long (by American standards) holiday in August. In 2014, we went to Norway in honor of Kim’s 40th birthday, driving across the country to bask and kayak and hike in the wonder of the blue-green fjords. The next two years were domestic trips, our honeymoon in 2015 in the Adirondacks followed by our first wedding anniversary in Acadia National Park in 2016. In 2017, in honor of my 40th, we spent 10 days in Iceland, which Kim still refers to as “the trip of a lifetime,” driving the whole of the Ring Road, kayaking through Heinabergsjökull glacier lagoon, climbing to the top of a volcanic crater, venturing white-knuckled into the unpaved not-so-frequented Westfjords, plus my first-ever (and possibly last) horse ride on the beach on Snæfellsnes, all while hobbling around with a stress fracture in my right foot. Last year, we journeyed by train, starting in Amsterdam, then heading to Bruges in Belgium, then staying with friends in Thionville in the Lorraine region of France, and finally three days in Paris, where the aggressive cobblestone walking broke Kim.
Which brings us to this year: 11 days in Ireland for our 10th anniversary. That’s where I took on one of our most extreme travel challenges yet: driving on the other side of the road, from the other side of the car, for the very first time. (Dun dun duuuuuuun….)
And at first, it was…absolutely fucking TERRIFYING. Like, clenched hands on the steering wheel all the way into the Burren and back. Like, having to pull over to the side of the road because I needed to cry for a minute just to let the stress out. Like, waking up in the middle of our first night the closest I’ve felt to a panic attack in years: tightness in my left arm that led me instantly down the road of “This is it—the heart attack I’ve been waiting for,” which led to all the blood rushing to my chest, which led to icy fingers spidering up and down my spine, which led to all the heat leaving my body, which led to me huddling under the blankets a shivering mess, which led me to realize it was not a heart attack and that I should get my headphones and listen to my goddamn meditation app, which I did. Kim, thankfully, slept through the whole thing, and the next morning, I realized the pain in my arm, in addition to being a symptom of anxiety, was physically related to the driving. The steering wheel was too far away, which was causing me to stretch and put extra pressure on my left arm. Once I figured out how to adjust the wheel, the pain eased and then went away altogether.
We spent our first five days in and around County Clare with Kim’s family; in fact, it was Kim’s family who led us to Ireland this summer. Our nephew, Baby Hugh, was to be christened in the church where his mom (Kim’s sister-in-law) was christened, and we wanted to be there. We took day trips up to Connemara and out to the Cliffs of Moher, so by the time we left Clare to drive the Wild Atlantic Way down to Dingle and the Ring of Kerry and the Ring of Beara (we did all three) and then along the Copper Coast to Waterford and then up to Dublin and finally back to Clare, I felt like a pro, or at least like I probably wasn’t going to kill us or anyone else, even on the one-lane roads where the plants slap against both sides of the car and Kim kept saying to stay on the left and I kept saying there is no left because it’s only one lane.
All of which is to say, you really do get used to it—or I did, anyway—and you may just learn some things along the way. For example, here are 10 lessons I learned, in no particular order and with no particular relevance to driving.
- It’s totally possible to get car sick as the driver when you’re not used to driving on the other side of the road from the other side of the car, but it passes.
- Roundabouts are your friend—you truly can’t go wrong with a roundabout because if you miss your turn, just keep going and it’ll come back around.
- Plants hitting the sides of the car are a fuck of a lot better than other cars or walls hitting the sides of the car, so embrace them.
- Eventually, the 80-100km speed limits on one-lane roads weaving up and down mountain passes and around seaside cliffs don’t seem so insane, and the views are totally worth the trauma (I’m looking at you, Conor Pass and Healy Pass).
5. At least Ireland doesn’t have a 25-kilometer-long tunnel like that one in Norway, and even the narrowest, most harrowing road in Ireland is nothing compared to the dirt roads of doom in the Westfjords of Iceland.
6. It’s good to veer off the tourist path even if it means you and your copilot end up yelling at Google Maps a lot. (Two absolutely stunning spots we encountered were coves on the Copper Coast that we had nearly all to ourselves; similarly, one of our favorite spots in Norway was a mountain farm tucked away in the tiny municipality of Eidfjord.)
7. Speaking of copilots, rely on yours, and I’m not talking about god. Kim is an excellent copilot, but you’ll need to find your own.
8. The Pogues—yes, those Pogues—partnered with a distillery in West Cork and concocted a truly delicious Irish whiskey that was nearly impossible to find outside of Cork and Kerry. Seriously, we asked everywhere we went.
9. Ireland can be challenging for an introvert, so bring an extrovert to manage the excessive friendliness. Kim is an excellent extrovert, but you’ll need to find your own. Also, whiskey helps (see lesson 8).
10. It’s impossible to spend a day learning about falconry and not want to revisit the 1980s classic Ladyhawke. It’s also impossible to spend an hour in the snuggly company of Hilltop Farm’s alpacas in Ballinagar and not want to open an alpaca farm yourself.
Wanderlisting (see what I did there?),
Jessica the Westchesbian
Jessica lives with her shiksa wife and geriatric cat in picturesque Tarrytown on the Hudson. Although a proud Westchesbian these days, Jessica grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, back when the opening of the Olive Garden and the 24-hour Walmart were big news. During business hours, Jessica’s a communications professional who translates highly technical concepts into clear, concise, colloquial language that media buyers and sellers can understand. Outside of business hours, she’s a poet, cat mom, wife, avid reader, and lover of questionable crime, sci-fi, and supernatural TV shows (preferably all in one), not necessarily in that order. Her poetry has appeared in Tin House, The Paris Review, LIT, and The Huffington Post, among others.