Friday, November 12, 2010

I Rattled O'er The Bogs

Backing up again… The weekend following my trip to Killarney was the first of two trips that IFSA-Butler organizes for its students in Ireland each semester: Two days at the Killary Adventure Centre in Connemara.

Killary is located in the middle of nowhere (again!) next to Ireland’s only fjord. Who knew Ireland had any fjords?

Connemara was breathtaking. Mountains and bogs and scrub and the ubiquitous sheep. Instead of green, it is mostly shades of brown and orange. I loved the Burren, and I loved Kerry, and after Connemara I had to resign myself to having three favorite parts of Ireland. (Observe: They are all in the west and near the coast.)

I tried for a while to think of how I’d describe each of them if I had to choose just two words and wanted to really describe them instead of using vague terms like wild and beautiful and stunning. I still think of the Burren the way I first described it, in words like “stark” and “desolate,” but at the same time I feel like there needs to be some kind of qualifier or disclaimer to keep those words from making it sound sad or unappealing. Perhaps “haunting” instead of “desolate.” I’m not sure that’s any better.

Kerry is harder because it’s so varied. I like “lush.” I also like “dramatic,” but that doesn’t do a very good job of differentiating it from the other two. “Vivid.” “Sweeping.” I’ll have to ponder this a while longer.

For Connemara, I choose “vast” and “rugged” without question.

Anyway, so the way the Adventure Centre works is that you sign up for any of an assortment of outdoor activities, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. We were there for a day and a half, so we had time for three activities. Nearly all of these activities involve getting wet, getting muddy, climbing and/or jumping from things that are really high up, or some combination of the above. As I’ve already discussed, heights, and specifically exposed heights, are NOT my thing. Water and dirt are less problematic, but since it was October on the west coast of Ireland and was beginning to get genuinely cold (and was absurdly and apparently abnormally windy on that particular weekend), I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about those either.

That left three things about which I was enthusiastic: hill walking (which as far as I can tell is just an awkward way to say hiking), archery, and clay pigeon shooting.

Well, hill walking didn’t happen, because I signed up for a combined archery/shooting session first because I was determined not to miss out, but then it turned out that that was a possibility Saturday morning and afternoon and Sunday morning, whereas hill walking only showed up on the sign-up board on Saturday morning. (We signed up for things one at a time, so I could not have seen this until it was too late.) That left me with a dilemma on Saturday afternoon, and an even bigger one on Sunday morning. For the first, I was forced to resort to zip lining. Oh lord. And for the second, “ringo,” which is apparently what the Irish call tubing. Not lazy river tubing, either. Dragged-behind-a-speedboat-hanging-on-for-dear-life tubing. So much for not getting wet. In summer, I think it would have been really fun. As it was, cold and grey and me with a cold and kind of done with the whole weekend at that point anyway, I really really really wanted to not wind up in the water (which everyone else did at some point). I was successful in that on my first turn, and refused to take my second so as not to take any chances.

Fun fact: When firing a shotgun, you sight with one eye—the eye that’s on the same side of your body as the gun. For most people, this is presumably not a problem because their dominant eyes and dominant hands are on the same side. It does, however, become a problem if you’re, say, unambiguously right-handed but basically half blind in your right eye.

Translation: I have to shoot left-handed. I’m not sure why I didn’t foresee this, but I didn’t. And it took me a while to convince the guy in charge that no, really, I physically cannot close my left eye independently of my right eye. My body is too smart/thoroughly adapted for that. And since chances are I wouldn’t see the stupid pigeons if I managed it, anyway, there’s not much point.*

Now, since I’d never held a gun before, there’s probably an argument to be made that it would have felt awkward no matter what. I’m inclined to think it would have been far less awkward if it hadn’t gone against every instinct I have. I can imagine holding it right-handed and I’m reasonably confident I could translate that into reality with minimal strangeness. Left-handed, everything seems backwards. I literally had to think about every move I made.

Of course, the other problem was that I had assumed “clay pigeon shooting” would involve stationary objects, maybe lined up on a fence or something. In fact, the clay pigeons are launched into the air, and you’re supposed to hit them in flight. Yeah, right. I got 1 out of 25.

Archery went much better. The targets are closer, and more importantly, they don’t move. And nobody ever taught me to shoot a bow with one eye closed; I do it right-handed and use both eyes, and that seems to work just fine. (Then again, that’s how I throw darts, too, and I have zero skill at that.) I’m tempted to go shooting again at some point and try that the same way and just see what happens. If I still embarrass myself, well, I like archery better anyway.

After the fun of the morning, the zip line was decidedly not how I would have chosen to spend my afternoon if I’d really felt I had a choice. However, everything else was equally or even more out of the question (unless I just signed up for archery and clay pigeon shooting again, and don’t think I didn’t consider it). I figured, I don’t have to DO anything to go zip lining; I just have to hang there in my harness and survive, and it’ll be over quickly. So I went. I was one of the last to go, so I got to dread it for probably a good forty minutes or so of watching other people fly past over my head. Then I discovered the second thing of the day that I should have foreseen but didn’t, namely, that you don’t just get launched from the top of the hill. You have to climb up a sketchy wooden tower first, and stand there for an agonizing five or ten minutes while they hook up all the ropes and explain how to let yourself down when it’s over. By “climb,” I don’t mean a ladder; I mean there’s a series of what looked like enormous staples in one of the corner posts, and it’s a little like rock climbing, except your harness isn’t attached to anything yet. And by “stand there,” I mean on a crate. Yes. Let’s take someone who shakes and cries in high places and not only stand them on the edge of a twenty-foot drop knowing they’ll have to step off it any minute, but bump them up an extra foot and ask them to balance on a much smaller surface. Did I mention that it was absurdly, abnormally windy that day? Fun times.

Oh well. At least it was indeed over quickly once the standing around part was finished.

In a nutshell: Adventure Weekend could have been more fun… but it also could have been a lot less fun. I was glad I went, even if I fail at shooting clay pigeons and the weather was too dismal for me to enjoy being on the water. The second IFSA-Butler trip is coming up two weeks from now: Thanksgiving weekend (presumably so the Americans don’t spend that weekend sitting around feeling sorry for themselves while their families are all together across the ocean) in Northern Ireland. We’re going to spend all of Thanksgiving Day on a bus, probably in the rain, and they are going to try to give us a Thanksgiving dinner when we arrive in Belfast. Cute, but I’m curious to see the Irish take on an American holiday feast. If nothing else, it’s bound to be better than my sister’s Thanksgiving in Hawaii four years ago when the caterers apparently didn’t believe in vegetarians.

* Before anyone starts feeling smug: sure, I could have if I’d been wearing my glasses, but even with glasses I still can’t close just my left eye, so it’s a moot point.

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