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A Rainy Day in Ireland

“You know it’s summer in Ireland when the rain gets warmer.”
– Hal Roach

We all know the feeling: putting on your kit with a wary eye on dark, distant clouds. But it’s my only day to ride this weekend. You take the gamble, gear up, feel like a champ as you roll down the block, and by the time you hit the stop sign? Fat, cold drops pelting your face and blurring your glasses. You pull on the rain jacket–because you made it this far–and suffer through your Sunday loop as mother nature gradually soaks your shoes, freezes your fingertips, sends trickles down your scalp and, my personal favorite, slaps a thick streak of road grime straight up your spine.

Or maybe instead you make a second cup of coffee and hit the garage to detail your drivetrain. Preparation for the next sunny day.

I’ve travelled with many tough, hard-working friends, guests, and even fellow guides who often seem to maintain the belief that rain and riding are highly incompatible. In a community of cyclists, where persevering through a good struggle is in our blood, I’m not sure how or why this rain aversion is quite so prevalent. We’ll ride up mountains, into fierce headwinds and through suffocating heat. And yet in my experience, rain seems to have a particular power to fizzle our spirits and drain our motivation to get in the saddle.

Of course, this isn’t to suggest an absence of legitimate safety considerations around wet-weather riding, and I’ll touch on those later on. I would also never claim that everyone is rain-phobic, as I’ve been pulled and inspired through many a soggy ride by the warmth and grit of my companions. Finally, I must state with greatest sincerity, we at Trek Travel embrace and celebrate all types of relationships with cycling. I can’t speak for your buddies back home, but I can assure you that your guides will never hassle over the decision to call it a shuttle and a hot cup of tea. When it comes to relaxing, we consider ourselves hard-earned professionals.

But when it comes to getting out in the elements, do we ever sell ourselves short? Are we sometimes missing out? As we enter the early, rainy spring cycling season I’m here to argue that sometimes we do, and so maybe, sometimes, we are.

It may be unsurprising to hear that I’ve spent the previous two summer seasons guiding our Ireland Explorer trip. This wasn’t because I love the rain (I actually grew up in the notoriously sunny Bend, Oregon). Rather, the experience and effects of this rainy exposure surprised me. Far from leaving me with post-torrential-downpour stress disorder, I believe that being forced to ride in rainy conditions for months at a time actually fostered a depth of connection, fondness of memory, and warmth of respect for the Irish landscape that is unparalleled among my cycling and travel experiences. That, and a passionate disregard for weather forecasts. And while perhaps not everyone would share my unique response to this particular rainy experience, I do believe there are some far-reaching and fairly universal truths to be had when it comes to the pleasures and rewards of overcoming a little natural challenge.
 
 
Beautiful rainbow on Trek Travel's Ireland Cycling Vacation
 
 
In fact, I think nature is a good place to start, with a quote from Victorian naturalist, artist and philanthropist John Ruskin: “Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.”

Living modern, often urban and highly specialized lives, it’s easy to overlook the beauty in something so essential and life-giving as rain. Without an immediate, personal connection to its importance for the landscape, we relegate it to an inconvenience on our commute, something to be stared at through windows, and the spoiler of afternoon rides. But isn’t one of the great joys of cycling the opportunity to experience a landscape at a slower and more intimate pace? Certainly a huge reason to cycle new destinations is to explore and become acquainted with a new landscape.

To make an analogy, getting to know a place can be a lot like getting to know a person. Just as love and friendship grow deeper with time and experiences, riding in diverse weather acquaints us with the multi-faceted personality of a place. A rainy day brings out different colors in the sky, and not just different shades of gray, but purples and blues and pinks, or, in the case of Ireland, the green reflection of fields below. Filtered through a kaleidoscope of clouds, the light transforms even a familiar landscape into something completely fresh for discovery. Different colors, different moods, and my personal favorite, so many different smells! Always that sweet, familiar one, and then the tangle of unique, subtle contributions from the local flora and fauna.
 
 
Sheep and Donkey on Trek Travel's Ireland Bike Tour
 
 
But what about those days when the sky really actually is just gray? Or maybe it’s just that your feet are soaked, you’re riding into a headwind, and you couldn’t possibly care less about the yin and yang of Mother Nature? One word: rockstar.

We need the rain to provide a tough environment in which to feel totally and completely hardcore. It always feel good to get out on the bike–bluebird days included–but there’s something unique and necessary about a rainstorm to make you feel like the ninja you are. That extra something earning you respect from the locals.
 
 
Trek Travel Ireland Bike Tour
 
 
In fact, perhaps the power of contrast forms half the picture here, for consider now the ride in which the sky was actually gray, your feet were actually wet, and you felt slow, pathetic, and the opposite of ninja the entire time. In that case, how great does it feel to get home?! How much more delicious is your lunch? How much tastier is a beer at the end of the day, knowing you earned it? How much better is your entire day in general? It’s a level above. It’s not even a fair comparison. Perhaps my great love for Ireland actually has less to do with the rides themselves, and has mostly to do with the incredible joy and comfort to be found in returning from the elements for a scone and a cuppa. There are joys born of contrast that simply can’t be achieved in any other way. So capitalize on your mind’s incredible ability to quickly exclude discomfort from memory and reap the benefits of even a short excursion.
 
 
Enjoy lunch at the Heather Cafe on Trek Travel's Ireland Bike Tour
 
 
Easier said than done, right? So here are a few motivational ideas that might get you out the door. Whenever I feel my motivation starting down a slippery slope, the words of my great cycling mentor often spin through my mind: “There’s no such thing as bad weather! Just improper dress!” After all, you can float through space or the depths of the ocean if you’re in the right clothes. We have Gore-tex, Hipora, Hy-vent, E-vent, EtaProof, Nikwax’s fur-Analogy, MemBrain, Polartec, PreCip, and, you guessed it, H2No.
 
 
Trek Travel Ireland Bike Tour
 
 
If high-performance fabric isn’t enough to stir your desire to ride, another motivational tactic proved itself many times in Ireland.
Step One: Put on your riding clothes. If necessary, remind yourself that you’re not actually planning to ride.
Step Two: Throw back a shot of the roughest Irish whiskey you can find.
Step Three: Fake it till you make it.
Step Four: You’re probably already on your bike.
 
 
Enjoy Irish Whiskey on Trek Travel's Ireland Bike Tour
 
 
On that note, this is probably a good moment to quickly touch on safety practices. A lot has been written about wet-weather cycling, so instead of doubling the length of this article, I recommend a quick Google search. The top ten hits will cover just about every tip you need, including those about dressing for success in variable conditions. Remember that staying warm and comfortable can be as important for your safety as it is for your enjoyment of the ride!

I mentioned I dislike weather forecasts. This isn’t because I think they’re always wrong, as often they’re painfully accurate. The issue is how our lives are increasingly saturated by an overwhelming amount of information. Weather forecasts, of course, and also news reports, Facebook messages, calendar reminders, new downloads, blog posts, event invites, app updates, music releases, advertisements, and millions of other digital rabbit holes all happily guzzling our precious time and attention. It’s a tricky line to walk, that between the real benefits of the information age on one hand, and the potentially paralyzing mental inundation it creates on the other. Sometimes the little rectangle in my pocket feels like a ten-ton ball-and-chain.
 
 
Trek Travel Ireland Bike Tour
 
 
If nothing else, to set out into the rain is an act of reclamation. It’s an invitation for something unknown and unpredictable. Something that isn’t governed by an algorithm. It’s a celebration of our own spontaneity, in the face of minute-by-minute radar predictions available at our fingertips. It’s an acknowledgement that our physical experiences still really matter. In the rainy air, we can see the cloud of our own laugh, feel the water drip off our faces, and notice the enormous amount of heat our bodies generate against the cool, damp air. And above all, it’s an act of trusting ourselves. Trusting our ability to dress and plan and prepare. Trusting our own positive spirit. Trusting that we’ll figure things out if we run into a problem. Trusting that we know how to go out and be in the world and its many conditions, instead of hiding in our homes.

If it looks like the apocalypse has come, please do check for flash-flood warnings. But don’t obsess over that 30% chance of showers. Don’t scrutinize the radar images. Pull on your booties and high-vis slicker, put your cell phone in a baggy, give yourself a pep talk, and go do yourself a huge favor.
 
 
Trek Travel Ireland Bike Tour
 
 
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