Isn’t it funny how milestones can become both more and less important over time? Last Sunday marked seven years since I first took the advice this blog’s name offers, yet this fact was barely discernible from the dozens of other sheep I counted as I fell asleep.
(I mean that literally—I was sleeping in a B&B on a farm in southwestern Ireland.)
This makes perfect sense, in one way. In the context of the journey I’ve been on since 2010, a thousand-mile road trip around Ireland is far from extraordinary, even if the experiences I’ve had on the Emerald Isle have been surreal in their beauty and satisfying in their serendipity. Nowhere a day’s drive from Dublin compares to Ethiopia’s “Door to Hell” or even Shikoku, Japan’s most mysterious island.
Just 11 months ago, however, I was trapped in a controlling relationship, one whose long-term survival would’ve required me to destroy everything I’d spent the preceding 2,220 days building. There were days I didn’t think I’d ever walk a mile away from my home again, let alone cross an ocean.
In fact, Ireland was a destination I had planned to visit in 2016, at least before a man I barely knew came to dominate my life. The idea had been to fly to Dublin, probably with my perennial travel partner Dora, then drive around the island counterclockwise to Belfast, spending about two weeks en route. The details were fuzzy, but I usually figure those out as I go anyway, or at least I did in the days before I met him.
A year later, with neither Dora nor Danilo and coming from Bangkok instead of Austin, I structured my trip much more methodically than I’d imagined would be necessary for a place like Ireland. Two nights in Dublin, one in Blarney (Cork was fully booked), two outside of Killarney and two inside Galway, then a sleep each in Donegal and Portrush before a couple of evenings in Belfast to finish up the trip.
My list of must-see attractions was likewise longer than it should’ve been for a 10-day trip, even if I did leave space in it for discovery. On the first day of my drive, for example, visiting Christ Church Delgany (where one of my favorite albums was recorded) was just as high a priority as the tourist traps of Kilkenny and Kinsale; I had a contingency plan to drive the perimeter of the Iveragh peninsula after I failed to secure a place on a boat to Skellig Michael (of Star Wars: The Force Awakens fame), as I feared I might.
But in other ways, my trip was delightfully oblivious, even deliberately so. I took an Irish literature course my senior year of college, yet didn’t think to Google the title of even a single book I read, or to re-familiarize myself with the historical narrative to which the class had introduced me.
My knowledge of contemporary Irish pop-rock is impressive, even considering that I grew up with albums by the Cranberries and U2—multiple ones—in my CD player, but the only local voice I sang along with as I drove was Sinéad O’Connor’s, and even then it was just “Nothing Compares 2 U.”
My trip to Ireland was methodical: Perhaps more than at any point since I started traveling, the objective of the past 10 days was more about the dots along my thousand-mile path, and less about the space in-between them. In fact, until last night in Belfast, I wondered if the convergence of my travel style with my Type-A personality might’ve rendered it soulless and ineffectual.
Linda, one half of the couple who owned my B&B near the Parliament of Northern Ireland, popped open a glass of chardonnay.
“So you’re living in Bangkok?” she asked, spreading delectable Irish butter onto a slice of wheaten bread and handing it to me.
I nodded and took a bite.
“You know,” she said, “our son lives there, too.” She motioned to her husband to look up the young man’s most recent address.
Ireland frequently showed itself to be more than the sum of its parts. For every overpriced accommodation (or meal or retail item—Ireland is way more expensive than one of Western Europe’s poorest countries should be), there was a timeless landscape out the window of my rental car, or a priceless story from one of the characters I encountered along the way. I woke up every day dreading the drive ahead (I jumped a curb and got a flat early in the trip), but went to bed wishing I could follow each route again, if only to see all the things I must’ve missed.
I don’t believe in “luck,” but my mouth still fell open when I saw the pin on the map—Linda’s son lived just five minutes (by foot!) from me. I didn’t see many shamrocks on my trip to Ireland, but shit like this makes me believe a pot of gold awaits me at the end of the rainbow I’ve been riding on the past seven years, however long it stays in my sky.