Sunday, April 3, 2011

Ain't No Mountain High Enough

On Tuesday night, I stayed in a friend's house doing things like going onto the roof and watching The Wedding Crashers, and going to bed at half one. We got woken at half three by his flatmates' friends coming in drunk and loud and generally disturbing the peace. We fell back asleep, and woke at six. We left the apartment shortly before seven and walked to college.

Yes, we walked to college at seven in the morning. We met up with a whole bunch of other people who also went to college extremely early. We were all tired. Some of us were cranky. Mostly people were talking and laughing. We got on a bus. Yes, there was a bus at the college. I don't think I need to spell it out any further than that: we were going on a field trip. Only, you know, it wasn't going to be to a field. The bus left the college at eight in the morning. I was beside the college director. He made awkward small talk for a lot of the journey. It last three and a half hours and I went between being conscious and semi-conscious the entire time, never really falling asleep. We got food and drinks along the way, going through Kildare and Westmeath and Longford and Roscommon and then we were into Mayo and passing through Castlebar, and I thought two things: I've gotten phone calls in the middle of the night from here, and I know a writer on Twitter from here, I wonder if he'll see the bus.

We pulled up at half eleven at the foot of a mountain. Not just any mountain, though. Croagh Patrick, the biggest and most unforgiving mountain in the country. Lunches were distributed, the bathroom was visited, and a quarter to twelve a few of us set off ahead of the group. We began our great ascent into the clouds.

I went the entire way with three of my very good friends. There was a lot of struggling and swearing and forcing people to drink water. But we also talked a lot, laughed a lot, and did this thing called 'bonding'. We had to take a lot of stops, though mostly I just wanted to power through and only stop when I needed a drink. At the same time, I didn't want to try keep up with the people who literally ran for most of it, and I didn't want to go up alone.

One good thing about the climb was the scenery... almost worth it!

The mountain is no easy climb. The first 90% of it involves a steep walk covered with rocks, travelling at an awkward angle and knowing you have to keep up some sort of speed or you won't get to the top quickly enough to get down to the bus before it leaves. When you get towards the end of the climb, it becomes a lot steeper. The climb is harder, but you have the use of your hands at this stage, so you can at least take some of the effort off of your legs. But if you want to stop, you do so almost vertically.

We reached the peak after about two hours and ten minutes with at least fifteen minutes of that time being used for the frequent rests. We weren't the last ones there by any account, which meant we could catch our breath... this translates to waiting in a cloud for the rest of the group to show up. Eventually we were all there, over forty of us - the most that's ever gone from the college - and we had mass. Outside the chapel. In a cloud. Needless to say, we didn't waste time getting into the line out of the cloud and down the mountain once the mass was over.

But this part was equally tricky. Or trickier. Less use of hands at the top, still very steep, and practically sliding down some of the way. The rocks were treacherous, and I'm fairly sure I twisted my ankles into uncomfortable and painful positions about a dozen times each on the way down. Thankfully I was not injured. My toes were in all sorts of pain, mind you, pressed against the inside of my runners for the steepest part of the journey down.

We spilt up into our groups again, based on how fast people could walk, mainly, and we had our laughs and our long chats and we even stopped to take some group pictures. It was windy and we kept hurting ourselves, but it was fun. When we eventually reached the bottom, the first thing I did was wash my hands. The second thing I did was drain half a bottle of water and eat some biscuits and crisps.

By the time the bus got going again, I was asleep. Like, literally passed out. I woke up just as we cross the border into Roscommon and thought, Where the hell did Mayo go? We kept going on, until we reached the wonderful drive-through-quickly county of Longford. We stopped there, against our better nature, to go to McDonalds.

Best. Meal. Ever.

Nothing beats a healthy climb up a dangerous mountain like eating McDonalds. Actually, that's not technically true. Getting a cup of tea afterwards beats the McDonalds.

Best. Tea. Ever.

We got on the bus - and it was dark by this stage - and headed off home. There was a film on - The Hurt Locker - so most people just sat and watched it. Some people didn't shut up and kept talking about other films and, as we got into Dublin, the personal lives and problems of other people, saying things quite loudly that shouldn't have been said at all. Honestly, why would anyone announce that they stopped someone committing suicide and then tell the person who it was they saved? I was baffled and seriously wanted to punch some sense into the guy who was talking. Privacy much? At that point I was glad the trip was almost done so I wouldn't have to put up with all his chatting casually about the deeply personal issues other people had.

As we turned the corner to get to the college, my bus home passed by. I swore. I won't deny that fact. It only comes every half hour. It was a quarter past ten. I grumbled as I got off the bus. But, I was then informed that my dad was in the college grounds ready to drive us home. I was sure, then, that there was a God and He was merciful. It didn't take too long to get home on account of the time. I got straight into the shower. I had a cup of tea. I crashed into bed.

Never again... (I tell myself now...)

1 comment:

Ken Armstrong said...

I believed I felt your presence in Mayo during the week. This explains it. :)

I only ever 'did the reek' once myself but I am very keen to go again. It can become rather an addictive thing.

We have an artist here - Chris Doris - who spent 40 days and nights at the summit. His biggest surprise was the amount of people who used to arrive at the top in the depths of the night.

Good post!