A 280-mile solo hike across Ireland.

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Excerpt - Dangerous Country Roads

This was the first time I had ever hitched alone and I must admit to being a little apprehensive. Also, I never realised how tiring it could be just standing there with your thumb sticking out. With each passing car that thumb slowly started to wilt. Half an hour passed and no one had stopped, so I decided that I would walk along as I hitched. At least that way I would be making some progress. Innishannon was only ten kilometres away and at worst I could walk all the way. Although, I had serious reservations about my fitness level allowing me to do this. I'm certainly not averse to walking, I do it quite often. But normally I'm not carrying such a heavy weight on my back in the process. Even so, I figured it better than standing around waiting for a lift that may never come, and so trotted off along the road.

Around the corner the road narrowed somewhat. This made it slightly difficult to hitch, especially when big trucks would come hurtling around the corner. I didn't dare stick out my thumb for fear of losing it. Because of this the drivers didn't think I was hitching and would just wave at me as they passed. I did manage to thumb the cars that passed. None of them stopped though. However one did pull in to a parking bay further down the road.

I refrained from running down after them, in case they hadn't actually stopped for me. It could have been quite embarrassing for all of us had I jumped into their car only to find they had just stopped to read a map. In the distance I could see a woman get out and take a photo. This confirmed my suspicion. But as I got closer I could see the driver beckoning me over with a wave of his hand.

'How far you goin?' came a distinctly American voice, as I arrived at the window.

I explained my situation and they both agreed to take me there. He made room in the boot for my backpack and then room in the back for me. They certainly had plenty of luggage.

Nervous Don and his wife were on holiday from Maine. I call him Nervous Don because Don was his name, obviously, and he was as nervous as hell when it came to driving on these tiny country roads. I didn't blame him really because after being used to the wide highways of America, the narrow, twisting lanes of County Cork must have come as quite a culture shock. Being on the other side of the road probably didn't help matters much either. Don was so tense behind that wheel that I suspected you would be unable to pull a needle out of his arse with a four-wheel drive.

They wanted to get to the Beara Peninsula in West Cork. As Don drove cautiously along the road I took the map and helped them out with directions. Their plan was to take the coastal road that, advantageously for me, went through Clonakilty.

'Well it looks like you'll get a lift all the way!' said Mrs Don.

If we ever make it there. They were completely lost.

'We can't seem to find the turn off for this coastal road,' explained Mrs Don.

I looked at their map. 'I think you've passed it,' I said. 'You need to turn around.'

So Don nervously turned the car around in the narrow road and headed back the way we had come.

Unfortunately though, it soon began to look as though they had passed the turn off for that road way back before even meeting me. We followed the road back to where I was picked up and still there was no sign of the coastal road. I suspected that we just needed to go back to Kinsale and cross the river. However they weren't so optimistic, and so they both decided to continue on the way they had been going and take the inland road to the Beara Peninsula, much to my disappointment. I consulted the map and saw that their new route would take us through Bandon, a town further along the Bus Éireann route. I suggested they drop me off there. The further I could get the better. I noticed that the distances on the road signs were given in both kilometres and miles. From what I could work out, the old white signs were in miles while the modern green ones were in kilometres. Could cause confusion.

One thing I was to discover in West Cork - and something Don and his wife were about to never forget for as long as they live - was the fact that all traffic, no matter what size, uses these country roads. As we approached a sharp turn a huge industrial dumper truck suddenly came hurtling around the corner and veered down upon us, taking up most of the road. Don impulsively swung the car into the hedge as his wife screamed, 'Oh my god!' The truck zoomed on past and Don crept cautiously forward again, possibly in need of fresh underwear.

We made it safely to Bandon and they dropped me by the side of the road. I thanked them for the lift and bade them both farewell, wishing them luck; I figured they'd need it. Somehow I suspected that pin would be even more difficult to pull out now

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