Assuming the transatlantic flight would leave us impotently unable to explore or party, we booked too much time in Dublin. Fair enough, we were unsure of our travelling stamina, and of what Dublin actually had to offer. This left us with time for a day trip.
We took to the tourist centre, asked locals, prodded other backpackers. We heard Belfast, and Galway, and other tiny Irish places now deserting my memory. Upon research, we dismissed Belfast as too far away and also requiring that we exchange some money from Euros to Pounds early (or spend absolutely nothing for the day, hahaha), Galway as a trip too long to do both ways in one day. Offhandedly, one of the tourist centre ladies suggested Howth, the sort of quaint little fishing town that counts as a Dublin suburb. It was, according to her, about 40ish minutes outside of the city centre, and it would cost us about €15 round-trip to get there. Yes, we thought, that’s exactly the amount of money and time were wanting to invest!
I sat on the commuter train into the suburbs, ebullient that we could finally experience some of that fine European train-smithing we had heard about, and eager for a new city already. I furiously scribbled in the journal I brought with me, updating with the events of the previous evening.
Let’s start with something: Howth is crazy beautiful. It juts out as a sort of miniature peninsula of Irish coast, a land-bar in lush greens and slate greys. The town is, essentially, a fishport with some restaurants, a train station, and a little mountain (“Kildare”). I took pictures around the town: old buildings, lolling seals in the dock water, weird old graves on hillsides. We explored the docks and went on a little boat trip to see the Ireland Eye, an island just off the coast housing incredible rock formations and also thousands upon thousands of disease-ridden Gaelic seagulls.
It was upon our return we made the fateful choice to go see the mountain. Zack and Donny both said, “It’s a small mountain, and within walking distance. Of course we’re going to climb it.” This logic seemed impenetrably bullet-proof, and there really wasn’t a lot else in the town, so off we went. And they were right: it was a small mountain. Large enough to make you feel accomplished for defeating it, small enough to pose no real danger or challenge. It seems as though the locals erected a town around it to lull travellers into a false sense of confidence.
I say this, because just nearby you come upon the entrance to the hiking trails.
Four trails are on the list, in ascending order of difficulty: purple stood innocently at the bottom, clocking in at the most difficult as 10 kilometres (the sign, further trying to make you drunk on your own hiking prowess, claimed the hike would be achieved in 2.5 hours). Around the sign, people have parked their cars, planning to return after an enjoyable, hearty romp in the trails. Children and tiny, fragile dogs gambol about. We feel assured: we decide on the purple trail.
For the first hour or two, everything seemed impossibly easy. Yes, it was all along cliffs, and the ocean loomed ominously hundreds of feet below, but toddlers and elderly were clambering the trail with as much vigour as we summoned. Other languages were heard: more travellers were around, doing the same as us. The coast offered unseemly amounts of natural and manmade beauty, and my memory card rapidly filled with shot after shot of idyllic cliffside paths.
We reached a branching point: here is where most of the other trails diverted off, and the purple trail marched bravely, valiantly, masculinely onward along the jagged coast. I was a little tired, and waved off going with Zack and Donny to check on a nearby building, but I was as strident as they in my belief that we could manage this hike no problem.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly when we developed the sense that things would not go so easily. I feel like it all came at once: the idea that we were more than halfway in; the awareness of not having brought any food and dangerously little water; the trail suddenly growing more difficult. Other hikers dwindled in number, and then disappeared but for some savagely efficient Swedish who lapped us. The townspeople erected signs absolving them of any liability should stupid tourists injure themselves on the path, and these signs grew more frequent, with larger and bolder fonts.
I don’t really know if we were even halfway at that point: I feel like that is maybe something I told myself to make me feel better. The second half will go by so fast, I felt, you will barely notice it. March on!
I tell the same joke whenever I discuss Howth, because it still rings true in my brain: I feel like M.C. Escher designed this hiking trail. No matter how many craggy hills and weird bridges you ascend, it feels as though you are constantly walking uphill, never met with the gentle, relaxing downhill you assume is nearby. You are always walking up. It does not stop.
The trail became less beaten and more precarious. I tried to keep my whining to a minimum, because: well, the others were just as tired and thirsty as I was, and we were still, ultimately, immersed in untold beauty (though, I notice, the amount of pictures I took plummeted after about fourth hour mark).
The trail itself seems to be against you. At one point it veers through the Howth golf course, asking that you be aware of people’s game (and incoming balls), and that you trample through from one bit of forest to another. Half an hour later, you cut through the same golf course again, at some other point. All efforts to look at my compass were fruitless. Occasionally, the trail led directly through bogs. We had all brought one pair of shoes a person.
There comes another point along the trail where things just abruptly end at the road, with no fanfare or signage confirming your completion, just road. It is as though the trail tries to rob you of your achievement in the last moments, to further denigrate you. Soon, through some random lip in the concrete on the other side of the road, we saw a purple marker. On we went.
Our jokes about how tired we were quickly became unfunny and delirious, but given that we were delirious, they spun around back to funny again.
Finally, astoundingly, the trail ended: directly across from the train station where we first entered the town. We found a restaurant, ordered booze and food, and didn’t talk for at least the first twenty minutes of dinner. We were too tired to joke or discuss, but we were also happy to roil in our own pride. Our (and especially my) feet were riddled with blisters, our throats were parched, and we had taken three hours over the suggested time for the trail. I was actually quite badly sunburned (in Ireland!). But we had vanquished that fucking thing like some horrible, terrorizing dragon.
We wanted another mountain. Another trail. Another hike. Next time, we would even think to bring sandwiches.