The first time I went to Ireland I landed on the 4th of July a couple months after graduating college. A bleary eyed and jetlagged zombie, I walked my way through Irish customs and out to my Nissan Versa right hand drive left hand stick shift rental. Turning the key in the ignition the radio crackled to life with the local Galway radio station playing Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA… my first trip to a new continent and both everything felt familiar, yet nothing was the same. Sixteen years later and I’d say that impression holds true each of the many times I’ve used my passport since.
At 22 years old, I’d yet to write a word about gear, travel, or watches like this Victorinox Journey 1884 Automatic. The concept of EDC was years away from emerging from enthusiast forums. Even still, looking back, my tendencies were clear. I spent the months leading up to my six week European backpacking trip reading (physical books) and travel blogs, scouring each not only for tips for the trip itself, but the gear to make such a trip a time of thrive vs survive. I acquired the right big and small backpacks, filtering water bottles for locales of questionable water quality, an international cell phone, and, embarrassingly, a money belt to stash my travelers checks.
That trip taught me a lot on so many fronts. From that summer of 2006 until March of 2020 I was on a plane every few months at most. At times I’d been on a plane every other week for work, fun, or a combination of the two. My gear quiver elevated and focused, my Tool/Kit sharpened and kept ready. Alternative configurations known well depending on what a trip called for. Often a bag semi-packed, ready for imminent planned or impromptu travel. And then it stopped. For two weeks, for a couple months, then a year, and two… until two and a half years had passed.
When a family member invited my partner and I to join them on a trip to Ireland they’d delayed a year due to Omicron, it was a no-brainer. I was ready to get back traveling and Ireland was always a favorite trip of mine. For my partner it was a country always on her list, and yet easily put off till later because of how “easy” it is to get there from Boston. For me, it was also a great chance to dust off some of my preferred travel gear, shake down some new tools, and get myself back in the habit.
The red-eye over was every bit as bad as I remember. Is it possible that airplane seats have become even less comfortable in the past 2.5 years? They’re only marginally improved by the truly blackout curtain level performance of the Manta sleep mask I’ve become addicted to. Combined with the construction grade earplugs I always travel with I got a welcome bit of sensory deprivation to squeeze a few hours sleep out of the overnight flight. Customs was thankfully smooth, landing in Shannon. Technically I may have had an outstanding speeding ticket from my ‘06 trip on the outskirts of Dublin. But the customs agent flips open my Pioneer Carry passport case, grants me a new stamp in my book, and welcomes me to the Republic of Ireland without incident. I call it a win.
It’s colder than expected when we begin our drive up the west coast from the airport. I’ve begrudgingly set the time five hours ahead on the Victorinox Journey 1884 Automatic I’ve brought for the week, still feeling a bit cheated out of my night’s sleep. Cruising into the seaside town of Doolin my grouchiness abates as we take in our first doses of Ireland. Streams run off emerald green fields over the edge of black stone cliffs, and in the distance the Cliffs of Mohr and the Aran Islands are both visible. I mark myself clearly as a tourist, slinging both my Sony A7RIII and my Nocs binoculars around my neck to both see and remember. A nap in the parking lot revitalizes enough to continue onwards to Connemara. The day blurs past in rain, hedgerows, narrow lanes, and the mantra “Look right, keep left.”
We arrived at our hq for the week after dark, a renovated Irish schoolhouse outside of the seaside town of Roundstone. I had not slept that hard in years, the combination of extreme tiredness and nothing “I have to do” upon waking. When I roll over and check the Journey for the time, I’m shocked to find I’ve slept for nearly 12 hours. Meandering into the living room, the view is straight out into the Atlantic. A combination of black rock, that green grass that only Ireland seems to have, brickish red kelp, and blue water that plays off the ever changing moods of the sky. The tidal blue is reminiscent of the Victorinox’s hyper legible wavy blue dial. Looking out to the islands in the distance, it’s clear that bringing the Nocs was already a good decision.
In 2006 I didn’t drink coffee. In fact, I didn’t start drinking coffee till I was 30. It complicates the morning a bit more now, but my partner isn’t going anywhere without a cup herself, so I’ve gone in on craft coffee fully. Traveling makes it a bit harder, but I brought my Miir Pourigami™ travel pour over kit, a pickup over the last few years that I’d yet to use. In conjunction with a Yeti Rambler and thermos top, it proves an ideal tool for brewing excellent coffee anywhere. I brought preground coffee from home, with the intent of finding other locally roasted coffee to try along the way.
The cold weather joined forces with the rain that Ireland is so well known for. I’m glad to have brought my Topo Designs rain jacket and plenty of wool socks, but I’m rusty and forgot to pack a beanie for my closely buzzed head, having brought only a baseball cap from my brother’s birthday party. Not an error I’d normally make when traveling frequently. When we head to Clifden, a larger town another 15 minutes past Roundstone, I check a bunch of different shops searching for a wool beanie made in Ireland…yet also not too itchy. The third shop is the charm and I get a nice new hat knit in Donegal to add to my collection. I stumble on a local coffee shop and roaster, 12 Pins, while on my hat search and acquire a bag of Cuban coffee to try in the Pourigami.
What stuns me most about the Connemara region is how mountainous it is. With the ocean literally at your back you can look inland and see mountains nearly anywhere in the region. It’s a very different piece of Ireland than I was expecting. Most days find us hiking one or more peaks around the west coast. The hikes are certainly shorter and lower than most US hiking, but it’s still very exposed as trees are in short supply here. Views are immediate upon gaining some altitude and wind gusts can be dangerous at times. Many of the hikes also have Neolithic burial sites on them ranging from small to huge passage Cairns using complex siting to align with equinoxes. It’s humbling to walk amongst history this old. The packable summit pack from Mystery Ranch comes in handy each day for these shorter excursions…only downside is a full Nalgene doesn’t fit so well in it so my partner has to carry it in her backpack…much to her annoyance.
After a few days in Connemara we take a side trip farther north to Sligo. It’s an Irish surfing hot spot, and I’d considered bringing my mat surfing gear, and the 200m WR of the Victorinox on the blue rubber dive strap would have easily handled some surf sessions. But, the forecast was big, and the wind howling onshore, so I saved the steep baggage fees and resigned to mind surf swell along the way. On our way to Sligo we take the long way and find ourselves all the way out in Belmullet at the Erris Loop Walk all alone. We walk along the cliff side trail as rain storms dance over us and then out to sea. Islands come in and out of focus and prove frustratingly elusive to capture either with my Sony or on TriX400 with my Contax T2 that I always take on trips. The swell visibly builds along the coast and for a few minutes I wish I had my surfing gear, but the feeling passes and I’m happy we can be there in that moment taking in the Irish fall bereft of crowds. Late in the evening we make it to our hotel. It’s cozy, and the fish & chips is amongst the best I’ve ever had. I hang my Peak Design backpack in the closet with a HeroClip to keep the room tidier and pass out dreaming of accidentally driving in the wrong lane.
Finally, a week into our Irish travels, I get to get into the water. If and when I find flow, it’s usually in/on/around water, and staring out the window of the rental schoolhouse or the rental car for a week at the Atlantic in various states of invite has been a tease. We wander down to a local beach as the tide ebbs out and small islands become part of land to be walked out to. I ensure the crown on the Victorinox is properly screwed down and wade in as my compatriots wait on shore, confused yet supportive of my desire to swim in mid 50 degree water on a mid 50 degree day. I set the bezel to time a good soak in the cool water. Enough time to force me to embrace the cold and manage my breathing, but not so much time as to be shivering for hours to come. Lying back I float and feel the tide pulling me slowly out deeper. I want to keep floating, but there’s more yet to see. I wander in out of the water and grab my towel, but mostly let the wind dry me off.
Looking around the sandy tidal flats I’m struck by the feeling of nostalgia for something that hasn’t yet ended. The drive to see more places while trying to see the moment I’m in more deeply. The irony being, you never truly remember any trip, any place, any experience, in full. You remember slices and pieces that can at times unlock other slices of memories buried even more deeply. An imperfect amalgam of the experience you had. Next trip I know I will yet again pack imperfectly, because like the trips they serve, a travel Tool/Kit is never quite finished, you never fully arrive, reality isn’t the same as expectation. If reality always met expectations life would be boring indeed.