October 7: Day of the car

It feels like a long time since I got up this morning. It is now 8 PM and I am getting settled in at my bed and breakfast for the night. So, you know that all has ended well… But I’ll warn you that this message contains a lot of whining and feeling sorry for myself. And it’s long. Very long. I apologize in advance.

This morning, I left my guesthouse and walked, finally, through St. Stephen's Green. I also tried to run a few errands. They held me up more than I expected and so I was later than I'd hoped as I climbed on a bus bound for the airport.

The traffic in Dublin is incredible. At one point our one-way road of three lanes was filled in front of us with three double-decker buses, plus there was another on our lefthand side, all just inches from one another. It was like a wall! (I tried to get a picture but couldn’t get my camera out in time.) A few blocks later, as the driver pulled away from the lefthand curb into traffic, he didn’t pull far enough and clipped a large truck that was parked illegally on the left. The huge bang of the exploding side mirror made us all jump and gasp.

Safely at the airport, I grabbed a courtesy shuttle to the car rental location. We went over all the details and then the attendant took me out to see my Ford Fiesta. As we did a walk-around of the car, he chuckled and said usually all the damage is on the passenger side. I modified the mental note I’d been repeating all morning (“Keep to the left”) to: Stay on the left but keep to the centre line.

I got in the car, intending to drive around in the parking lot a little. Except there was no parking lot. I knew which way I had to go and when I went, I was suddenly out of the hotel complex and at the roadway. I promptly prepared to turn left. But it was a one-way street running the other way. To cover up my gaff and correct the situation, I turned on my windshield wipers. As you might guess, that didn’t help.

Anyway, I got going (the right way) and soon came to my first round-about. If you’ve never driven with these things, they are to be FEARED!! I have the hang of them now, but at first they are just so different from what we’re used to. And I’d been preparing for them. And even watching them while on the bus, trying to figure them out.

The biggest problem is that if you don’t want to turn off of the road you’re on, you still have to go around and know where you’re supposed to get off. It’s not like at home where you can just get on Hwy 400 and as long as you don’t get off, you’ll find yourself in North Bay.

So, I think I did one round-about correctly and at the next one, I couldn’t figure out where I was supposed to be, I ended up passing the ring road (that goes around Dublin, kind of like the 401) and continuing on toward Dublin City Centre. (AAAHHH!!) I didn’t want to go there. Once I figured out that that was where I was headed, I took advantage of a red light to make a U-turn (no, I don’t know if they’re legal but there was no time to ask). Wonder of wonders, when I returned to the highway I was aiming for, I went the right way. You have no idea the joy I felt. It was much better than figuring out how to use the payphone for the first time.

Anyway, there I was happily going the right way. I’d left a fair bit later than I’d hoped and debated whether there was really time to get to Ceide Fields, four hours away. Part of the problem was that after looking around there, I still needed to get back to my B & B, just under two hours from there. In my first day with a left-side-of-the-road car. It was a dumb plan, I see now, but I’ve always tried to mash as much into life as I can and today was no different. I knew I’d not have another chance to get there. It was now or never.

I decided to follow the directions I had. If I felt tired, I could take them partway and then cut off toward the B & B instead of going on. But, see, part of the problem of traveling alone is there’s no one there to say, “that’s not very smart.” So, on I went, not getting lost any more, mind you. I got all my turns. (Anyone thinking of driving in Ireland should go to the AARoadwatch website. It allows you to print out step-by-step accurate directions that will not fail you.)

So, the driving was going fine. Aside from the little windshield wiper incident, I was having no trouble shifting gears or putting on my signal, or driving on the correct side. I was getting closer to Ceide Fields and I knew the timing would be tight, but it looked like I’d get about 30 minutes there and still get to the B&B by 6:30ish. And then there was this bridge.

The roads were narrower the closer I got to my destination. I’d come from motorways, to national roads, to regional roads, to sub-regional roads, each smaller than the one before. On everything but the motorways, there was often just room for your car. Then on the left was the yellow line (yellow on the sides, white in the centre: the opposite of home) and then bushes, or rocks, or signposts. I was very conscious of sticking to that white line on my right. But obviously, I was not conscious enough of it, or I was just too tired to concentrate properly, or I was distracted by wanting to drive the last 8 km to where I was going, but for whatever reason, I came to a narrow bridge at which the road suddenly narrowed toward the right. I pulled right, but not right enough. I heard/felt a bang and though, “Oh, no! I’ve just crumpled the left front corner,” You can imagine how I felt. There was a house up ahead a bit that looked deserted but I could pull off there. I got out and looked. My left front tire was blown and the rim was wrecked. Miraculously, the fender had not a scratch on it. So, that was lucky. It was 4:15 on a Friday night and I was 8 km from the middle of nowhere. I pulled out my cellphone to call the rental company, but there was no signal. And that’s when it started to rain.

So, there was a mixture of good and bad luck there. I’ll think about the good: I was fine and the car was damaged a whole lot less than I thought it would be. But the best piece of good luck came when I flagged down a passing car and a saint of a gentleman actually stopped. He was very nice and very rational. The first thing he said was, “Do you have a spare?” Why didn’t I think of that?

Anyway, to make a very long story – well – no longer, he put on my spare (The jacks here are totally different. I wouldn’t have had a clue. And there’s no manual…) and I, obviously, gave up on getting to Ceide Fields. After a brief stop in a town to rig up a passable spare tire, just in case, I made it to the bed and breakfast on the real spare.

So, my first true mishap. There are bound to be some. I hope the others aren’t quite as expensive as this one may be, but life goes on. And I’m not done here yet. I may have to stay in Ballymote an extra night so I can get a proper tire on Monday. Many worse things could happen. I’ll just keep telling myself that and, eventually, I’ll stop shaking…

P.S. I admit, I considered censoring my trip diary and leaving this out, but if I can’t admit my mistakes to my friends, to whom can I admit them? Besides, as my parents will tell you, I’m driven to confess.

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