When I arrived in Galway, I packed all my stuff onto the bike just so I could carry it all, even though I hadn’t installed the chain or derailleurs or pedals. I had already had a chance to hammer the wheel straight enough to pass through the fork, though. I found I could sit on the saddle and coast almost everywhere, even with a big air-cushion boot on my broken foot.
The sun was shining that day, and Eyre square next to the bus station was teeming with frolicking college students. I chatted with some Canadians while I waited for my host to get off work, then made my way(after stopping by the visitor’s center for a map) to his place. Tristan’s an American living and working in Galway; I crashed on his floor for ten days. His flatmates were all young college kids, and I got a good dose of the Galway party scene that week. Drinking Buckfast(“the dirty black stuff” – a very popular herbal caffeinated tonic wine made by monks in England) in public on the Spanish Arch(a big park downtown where the river Corrib empties into Galway Bay), having a few drinks at pubs and clubs, wishing I could dance. During Fresh’s week, a big party time in town before the classes start, we took the bus downtown, then decided to take one of the pedicab rickshaws to the club. Four of us fit on the bench, while the other two helped push us up the hill. But when we crested the top, they didn’t need to push, so they both jumped on the front, and we started really speeding down the hill toward the crowds on Shop Street. Everything was fine until the driver hit the brakes; he had a split second to yell “It’s too heavy – somebody jump off!” before the thing flipped over. I was on the edge, thankfully, and was able to jump free with only a slight impact to my injured foot. Before the crowds of drunken students could start laughing at us, I raised my arms and yelled in triumph; that way everyone was cheering instead of jeering. Everyone else sustained only minor injuries, but we didn’t take the rickshaw again – I spent the evening hobbling around with a beautiful lady under each arm instead of crutches.
Then my mother came to visit. She took her vacation time early, so she could come take care of me for a little while. It had been a year since I had seen her, but we instantly fell into our familiar rapport. It was great! She rented a cottage in County Clare and we did the whole tourist thing, visiting the stunning Cliffs of Moher, the Burren National Park, a megalithic tomb, Celtic gardens, a Catholic Abbey in the mountains of Connemara, and an old cave(which didn’t really hold a candle to the Cave of the Mounds). It was nice to have my mommy around, and also to have a little space I could really call my own for the week, instead of the guestroom or couch of one host or another. I had my gear spread all around, slowly reorganizing, and I spent some good time with my bike, de-rusting, painting, covering in black duct tape, and decorating the frame; rebuilding the front wheel with the replacement rim she brought with her, and finally installing all the components. It was a unique opportunity to get everything in order for my eventual continuation of this world bike tour. After ten days, she dropped me in Galway and headed home, and I was on my own again.
I stayed with my next host, Leufer, for a week with his girlfriend Maeve and their flatmate Kim. Leufer took me to some African and Sufi drumming classes(the first time I’ve actually played a rhythm on a djembe) and to Storytelling night at the Spirit Center. I told a little zen parable, but was quite inspired to tell a real fable, or to polish my performance of a bike tour story. The next time I was ready with “How I Learned There’s More Than One Way to Deal With a Bear,” a true story about West Virginia blackbear-and-redneck country, which went over superbly in my exotic American accent. Leufer introduced me to the Galway Social Space, a non-profit public flat downtown, where they have workshops and practice space, books and Wi-Fi and hot cups of tea or coffee, often food as well, all for donation only, and always lots of people being social! It’s a really great place. I was immediately inspired to hold a bike-repair seminar, and did my first watercolor painting for the flier. The workshop went well – even though only one person showed up, a punk rocker kid with a rusty garbage bike. Nothing like a broken bike for learning on – you can’t build any skills if you’re just putting together brand new, fully functional components. He learned a lot, and I got to teach about more than just flat tires. We finished the overhaul of his front hub on the sidewalk out front just as the rain started.
Then I met Dawn. One night at Arus na Gael, an Irish-speaking pub, unable to stay off the dance floor during World Music DJ night, I asked her name, and she told me I was beautiful. I had seen her down at the Social Space, doing amazing pencil drawings on an easle. She offered me a place to crash, and a few days later I moved into 12A, which is infamous for huge parties, but has since calmed down considerably. There were six very cool people living there, three Irish(Dawn, Keane, and Nick), one Czech(Eva), one Polish(Alicia), and one Spanish(Alberto). Over the next months of my recovery, we all became fast friends. Lots of tea and good food; traditional Irish meals and other recipes from all over Europe. I made tortilla chips, burritos and guacamole one night, since the only real American meal I could think of was cheeseburgers. Mexican is close enough! I also made our family recipe of potato soup, albeit with a few modifications – all Irish ingredients. Irish spuds – can’t beat ’em!
I built a cieling lamp from hardware store components, complete with custom origami shade, since the house had a distinct lack of lighting. I helped install the new lavender carpet in the sitting room. I fixed some bikes, played some harmonica, learned some chords on the guitar, and banged on some djembes. I met Marshall, the resident bike-dude in town, who let me complete the finishing touches to my front wheel down at his shop and ordered me a new middle chainring. I did some drawings, paintings, origami, stencils, and other crafty stuff. I sewed my clothes back together and made some raincovers for my shoes out of a €3 charity-shop raincoat. I learned a few tricks in front of the fireplace – the only source of heat(they burn peat in Ireland). I sent in my absentee ballot and suffered through many discussions about US politics. I was very relieved to hear of Obama’s win. I had a one-time gig down at the college carreer fair for a few Euros to keep me going.
The whole 12A crew dressed up for Halloween and went down to the Spanish Arch for the Critical Mass ride. It was of course the best Critical Mass of the year – dozens of cyclsits all wearing freaky costumes. I was a vampire(easy-to-carry costume) and Dawn was a murdered bride with a bouquet of dead stuff I found for her. We rode around the city center a couple times, nice and slow, chanting and singing and assimilating every cyclist we passed. Later in the evening, out on the town, I went into McDonalds just to check out the menu(I’ve vowed not to eat McDonald’s at least until I return to the States); but I guess I just looked like trouble, because the Polish security guard physically removed me from the premesis after just one glance… rather proud of that.
And slowly, amidst all the vibrant life in Galway, and with the help of a couple visits to Merlin Park Orthopedics, I rehabilitated my atrophied foot muscles.