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  • Writer's pictureMaria Vandenburg

Climb Every Mountain...

I have just returned from a two day "hill-walk" in Ireland.

While it was a lot of fun, it also left me feeling like I'm slightly nuts... but I already kind of knew that.

First things first - Items I have a learned today:

Hiking = hill-walking. Although there aren't any hills in Ireland - they are all apparently "Mountains"

There is waterproof and there is "Ireland Proof" - yoga pants, a Northface fleece and Saucony tennis shoes (even if they are green/blue and remind you of the home/the Seahawks) do not stand a chance against the "Mountains" of Ireland

Bogs = muddy ditches/trails. I guess these exist in the states as well, but I hadn't heard of them until this past weekend.

There is no complaining in Irish Hill-Walking. If you step in mud and get soaked it's "Thanks be to God." Trip over a rock? Get your backpack soaked in mud as well as your "dry" pair of socks and your journal? Same! Let's just say I was giving a lot of thanks this last weekend.

So after Bekah's wedding and a few days of hanging out with Reyana and Gary, It was off to Ireland to do St. Finbarr's walk with Top of the Rock - Pod Pairc and Walking Center

Now, I'm not Christian per se, but I am definitely Spiritual. David and Elizabeth Ross own the place and do this walk twice a year: once at Easter, and once this past weekend. I knew I wanted to get out in nature and do something before the chaos of my MBA program (and now a full time job) ensues, I just wasn't entirely sure what. I had a really good friend who had recently done the Carmino de Santiago. While I would have loved to do that, I knew there wasn't time. I'm also not sure if I'm quite ready for that sort of walk just quite yet. Ann (the really good friend) suggested one of the Pilgrim Walks in Ireland. I hadn't even heard of them. So off to Google I went. Not only did I manage to find a two day walk that seemed more of my pace/speed, it also happened to be guided by the third generation of this family run business.

A flight into Cork and a quick bus journey later, I am arriving at the Pod Pairc. I realized pretty immediately that it was a REALLY good thing I decided to go on this organized walk. Within my first hour there Elizabeth let me borrow:

-Two pairs of warm socks

-Two pairs of water proof pants

-A water proof jacket

-Her hiking boots

-A walking stick

What would I have done with out her? Probably not attempted to do the walk.

The next day it was up nice and early to complete day 1. We walked 23km to Kealkil.

Passing the following:

And ending up at the Kealkil Stone Circle. I absolutely loved it. What I love about all stone circles is that there is still so much mystery surrounding them. I walked in and immediately felt the need to do this:

The big challenge of the day was walking over the first of the "Mountains." My last name means "from the Mountain" in Dutch. A fact that popped into my head when I was halfway down - that "Maria from the Mountain is currently walking down the Mountain."

This was about hour 4 or the 8 hour walk we did that day.

The wind was acting up but what I said was

"So... I just walked up and down that thing. Anyone that knows me... knows that this is a huge freaking feat."

Day 2 the weather did not cooperate.... but still off we went.

I loved all of the people I met on this walk.

Including but not limited to:

David and Elizabeth - who run the Pod Pairc and whose generosity and kindness was really touching (I mean Elizabeth practically let me borrow her entire wardrobe to do this walk!)

Lauren: A fellow American from Ohio who has Japanese business cards with the the job title of "Pilgrim" on them. I absolutely LOVED that (and no mother, don't worry, I don't plan on going off to become a professional pilgrim at any point soon). Lauren had this incredible energy and really felt like a sister to me during this journey.

Marion: Who I only got to spend a bit of time with, but I will probably remember our 15 minute conversation while grabbing a coffee in front of the local grocery store in the village for the rest of my life. She is an incredible human being

To all of the people I talked to while on the walk itself. Every mile or so you sort of find yourself amongst another group of people discussing everything from what brought you out here, to how we are all a bit crazy to want to hike up mountains for fun, to whether or not there are fairies in our mist/midst (I'm not kidding, that was literally one of the topics of conversation). I am normally a person who walks with my head phones on tuning out the outside world, so it was a really nice change of pace to experience all of this.

The walk ended in Gougane Barra, and that was actually the highlight for me. There was this beautiful mist/clouds that covered the hills of Gougane Barra - it really did seem like a celebration of the beauty of darkness. Well darkness and light. It was also the day before the Solar Eclipse (which I obviously didn't get to experience as I am currently on the other side of the world) - so it felt like I got to celebrate just a piece of it.

I took a few pictures but they really don't do it justice.

The walk was amazing. I was so grateful that I got to experience it.

I loved the people I met, I loved that I challenged myself. I loved that I listened to my body and knew when to give it a break and go easy. I loved that I got to spend some time out in nature and just be mindful before my crazy work/school/student life unfolds.

I loved really.. everything about it.

And now I've also officially got my first stamp in my Irish Pilgrim Passport. OH, and the firm desire to complete the Carmino de Santiago before I return back to the Pacific Northwest... some day.




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