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The mountains are calling and I must go, and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.

- John Muir


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Adventure Travel

Jun 18, 2018

A Road Trip Up Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

The below story is written by Dakota Arkin Cafourek, A published writer and editor who is dedicated to a love of travel, storytelling, and the arts.

The Outdoor Journal, has published 3 of Dakota’s stories, and you can find links to each one at the bottom of this page.

*This article was previously published in Passion Passport.

The western Irish coast is glorious. With its music, fresh seafood, and lively landscapes, it is a place where celtic routes are heralded, where the soft and lyrical Irish language echoes from old men in tweed suits sipping tea, and where the Gaelic heritage is preserved through history.

Along this western coast lies Ireland’s famed scenic coastal route, the Wild Atlantic Way. It stretches from the country’s southernmost area along the Haven Coast onwards to the Northern Headlands, where the North Atlantic crashes at the feet of some of Europe’s tallest cliffs. A wedding invitation was cause for my winter visit to this island across the Atlantic, and thereby I left with a love for Ireland.

Doolin

Our journey up the Wild Atlantic Way begins in the coastal town of Doolin. Situated at the edge of the Cliffs of Moher and Burren National Park, Doolin is a small village, spectacularly set among cliffs that descend toward the shoreline. Doolin’s dominant thoroughfare is less a main street than a winding, narrow road dotted with bed and breakfasts, pubs, and a handful of shops with incredible views.

Famed as a music destination, Doolin offers several pubs where musicians take a table — instead of a stage — and sit around in a beautiful procession of flutes, guitars, violins, and the like, playing traditional Irish music all night. Listeners proceed with their pints, unquieted by the performance as though it’s the most natural thing — to see folks from very young to very old finding a tune together — and yet, in Ireland, it is.

Morning arrives with new weather.. The blue skies have moved north, as will my husband and I — he pilots our Dacia as we make our way across the moonlike topography of the Burren and past the famed Burren Smokehouse.

Occasionally, in the small towns we pass, we stop for a quick, cozy lunch of soup and brown soda bread.

“How are tings?”

“Oh good, tanks god.

“Godbless.”

This is the interaction we overhear again and again along Ireland’s west coast: a sweet humility and older way of speaking, comparable perhaps to the French spoken by the Quebecois.

Galway

Galway greets us in a bath of afternoon sunlight. The landscape is rugged, comprised of a beautiful green and sandy coastline on the edge of Galway Bay. River Corrib runs through the city, but is easily crossed by several pedestrian bridges.

Galway is small enough to be walkable, yet still robust with activity. Settlements date back to the Middle Ages, when the port city thrived as an international trade center, and like much of Ireland, the city suffered centuries of famine, war, and siege. But today, it is a vibrant cultural center and foodie destination. Many of its buildings offer windswept exteriors that appear unkempt, but hide world-class culinary and design destinations behind their doors, at once innovative and understated.

In the summer months, Galway’s boat yards swarm with activity, and the white-sand beaches just beyond the town center, which are accessible by bike path, lure swimmers and sunbathers alike. But now, in December, Christmas fills the air.

Heading northward, we explore deeper into Gaelic territory. RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, the Irish-language radio station headquartered in County Galway, plays traditional Irish music and delivers news in the airy, sing-song mother tongue of Ireland.

At Bunowen Pier, we stop at the Connemara Smokehouse for a package of Gravadlax (smoked salmon marinated in sugar, salt, dill, and Irish whiskey), which comes with its own dill mustard sauce. We savor the smoked salmon with creme fraiche, mustard sauce, and grain bread from Dublin’s Avoca. It doesn’t taste like any lox I’ve had before; it has a fine texture and is incredibly gentle in flavor.

Onward, we continue along the undeveloped landscape and stop at Kylemore Abbey — which was built as a castle residence for a wealthy family in 1868 but has housed Benedictine nuns since 1920. Set among beautiful hills, forests, and a river that runs into the Atlantic, the area is rich with opportunities for adventures by foot, bike, or horse.

Further along the route, the Tavern Bar and Restaurant serves a late, warm lunch. The Tavern might not have the most unique name, but it’s easily recognized by its pink exterior on R335 past Murrisk. We sip delicious Achill Beer and sample local oysters — possibly the best I’ve ever had. They’re Pacific oysters raised in nearby Murrisk — larger in size, but capturing an exquisite taste of the North Atlantic’s salty flavor. The pairing is brilliant.

Westport

The town of Westport in County Mayo is a splendid village built along the Carrowbeg River.

Quintessentially Georgian, it was designed in 1780 as a living space for workers and tenants of a nearby stately home of Earl-Lord-Viscount John Browne. Today, the historic Browne family Westport House is a museum and adventure park open to the public that overlooks Clew Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, Achill Island, Clare Island, and Croagh Patrick Mountain.

Several outdoor sporting stores line the town’s main streets, along with a Foxford Woolen Mills store, which carries beautiful Irish-made goods, as well as scarves and throws. We sit for a Yellow Spot whiskey at the the Old Grainstore, a delightful, wood-paneled pub with a coal fireplace. We then dine at An Port Mór, a restaurant featuring fresh catches from Clew Bay and Connemara, where a chef makes playful twists on the fresh ingredients local to Ireland’s western coast. We’re able to snag a hotel room at the Wyatt at the last-minute — a place that boasts a lively downstairs pub and is located on the octagonal square at the center of Westport, aptly named the “Octagon.”

Sligo

Taking a slight detour from the Wild Atlantic Way, we head toward Sligo and cross into Northern Ireland — not to be confused with the northern Republic of Ireland. A brief interlude across the border for a bite to eat means a change in currency (euros to pounds) and speed-limit measurements  (kilometers to miles) — though our Romanian-manufactured rental car only lists the latter.

As we approach Sligo, the landscape breathes. It’s dusk when we finally reach the ridges of Copes Mountain toward the Glasshouse Hotel, where we’ll be staying. The dramatic, steep cliffs look down on Glencar Lough below. The Atlantic pushes clouds inward off the coast, and floating billows conceal and unveil the landscape in a dance. In Ireland, it seems to never be completely cloudy or completely clear.

Located at the foot of the mountains, between Garavogue River and the estuary leading to Sligo Bay, Sligo is filled with natural beauty — the very force that has lured writers, hikers, and surfers to the county for generations.

Among the literary greats drawn to Sligo’s unique terrain was Nobel Laureate, W.B. Yeats. The Anglo-Irish poet, credited with driving the Irish Literary Revival of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, spent his childhood holidays in County Sligo. Interestingly, the literary revival is also associated with Irish nationalism, the country’s renewed interest in its Gaelic heritage after centuries of invasion.

Donegal

While I’m the furthest thing from an expert in deciphering Irish accents, I can tell you that the ones heard in Donegal are the loveliest. With a cadence much like a song, there are few things more charming.

Alas, Christmas is upon us in the wild landscape of Donegal, the northernmost stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way. The bar at the Lough Eske hotel is crowded with guests who sit and enjoy the music of guitar players and vocalists Paddy Malone and Ryan McCloskey, the latter of whom played in the Irish band, Little Hours. Cheerful and friendly, the musicians take requests throughout the night and engage in witty banter with the most arresting of Ireland’s accents.

Our trip up Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way comes to an end as we sip spirits made locally in Sliabh Liag, joining in with Paddy, Ryan, and the entire room to sing The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York.”

And the bells are ringing out / For Christmas Day.

Dakota Arkin Cafourek is a published writer and editor. Dedicated to a love of travel, storytelling, and the arts, she serves cultural institutions in New York City and East Hampton, NY.

The Outdoor Journal has published more of Dakota’s work, such as Living Small: A Road Trip Across America and Idyll in the Highland Mountains.

You can find more of Dakota’s work on her website (iamdakota.me) or follow her adventures on Instagram.

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Travel

Sep 19, 2018

The Top 5 Whitewater Kayaking Destinations in North America

The five whitewater kayaking destinations in North America, that every paddler should have on their list.

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WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

As a member of the U.S. Freestyle Kayak Team, I have been fortunate to paddle rivers all over the world. I have paddled in Europe, Africa, South America, New Zealand, and all over North America. Some of my favorite paddling destinations have been the White Nile River in Uganda, and the Kaituna River in New Zealand. If you get a chance to visit either of those places (especially before the White Nile is dammed next month), I highly recommend it. However, if you are on a budget and can’t afford flights out of North America, or if you live elsewhere and are planning your first paddling trip to North America, here are five destinations that should be on your list!

OTTAWA RIVER, ONTARIO

Big waves, warm water, low consequence.

Brooke Hess kayaks Minibus Wave. High water on the Ottawa. Photo: Andrea Polgar.

Whether you are a beginner, an elite freestyle kayaker, or just looking to run some big volume whitewater and surf some fun waves, you can always find something fun to do on the Ottawa.

Spring melt on the Ottawa provides massive rapids and big waves. Buseater and Coliseum rapids are perfect for elite freestyle kayakers looking to step up their game and test themselves in big water. And with the Gatineau and Rouge Rivers close by, there is plenty to choose from in terms of both river running and freestyle. Be aware though, spring in Ontario and Quebec is cold, and the whitewater isn’t easy. Only go at this time of year if you are 100% confident you won’t swim. And, in case mistakes happen (which they do… we are only human), make sure your drysuit is in good shape and you are fit enough to hold on if you are getting beatdown!

In case cold water, icy banks, and big volume grade 5 rapids aren’t your idea of a perfect kayaking vacation, just wait until summer! August on the Ottawa is the perfect combination of exciting (yet low-consequence) whitewater, big surf waves, small surf waves, warm water, and good weather. Imagine surfing on the world-famous Garburator Wave in a t-shirt, then paddling 50 meters downstream to a perfect sandy beach for a mid-day picnic with your friends, and capping off the day with a beautiful river run straight to your campsite!

SLAVE RIVER, NORTHWEST TERRITORIES 

Like the Ottawa, but bigger.

Leif Anderson going big on Rockem’ Sockem Wave, Slave River. Photo: Natalie Anderson

Located in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, the Slave River is not often listed as a world-class paddling destination due to the amount of driving required to get there. But don’t let this deter you, the Slave River is epic!

The river is three kilometers wide, hosting four different sets of rapids. Due to the massive width of the river, each set of rapids has multiple (more than 5) different channels. Each channel within a set of rapids is the length of a full-day river run. This means, (if I did my math correct), there are at least twenty different river runs to explore on the Slave River. All within ten minutes driving distance of each other. And this number doesn’t even include the smaller side channels, or runs where you combine multiple different channels in one run! This allows any paddler, no matter their skill level, numerous options to choose from. There are grade 1 floats, perfect for canoeists. There are grade 2 options, perfect for beginner kayakers. There are grade 3 rapids with world-class surf waves. And there are grade 4 and 5 rapids that have the potential to intimidate even the world’s most elite kayakers. In addition to the amazing river running, the Slave River offers epic surf waves for anyone from beginner to elite freestyle kayakers.

WHITE SALMON, WASHINGTON

If you love beautiful places.

Darr Soli paddles the Little White Salmon River. Photo: Leif Anderson.

If you are a whitewater kayaker of any sort, I am sure you have heard of the Little White Salmon River. It is a classic grade 5 creek that professional kayakers travel from all over the world to paddle. It is also potentially the most videoed section of whitewater in the world. I have never paddled the Little White Salmon River, but I have seen so much GoPro footage of it on the internet, I am pretty sure I know most of the lines.

What I bet you don’t know, is that in White Salmon, Washington, where the Little White Salmon River is located, there are also numerous other grade 2, 3, and 4 rivers. In fact, the White Salmon River alone has a grade 2 stretch, a grade 3 stretch, a grade 4 stretch, and a grade 5 stretch. Whether you are a beginner kayaker, an intermediate kayaker, an advanced kayaker, or a professional kayaker, there are multiple beautiful, moss-covered, basalt-laden rivers for any skill level in and around White Salmon.

IDAHO

Wilderness, hot springs, big water.

The Lochsa River, designated as a National Wild and Scenic River, flows through the Clearwater National Forest. U.S. Forest Service Northern Region photo.

I don’t have the words to describe how wonderful Idaho is. I grew up two hours from the Lochsa River, spending weekends camping in the woods without cell service. It was my first ever taste of big water and I was hooked from the very start. If you like big water river runs in remote locations without cell service, Idaho is where you should go. If you like multi-day kayak trips through remote wilderness, with sandy beach campsites and hot springs, Idaho is your place. Basically, if you like whitewater and are not a complete weirdo, you will love Idaho.

You have the Selway River, the Lochsa River, the Clearwater River, the South Fork Payette, the North Fork Payette, the Middle Fork Salmon, the Main Salmon, the South Salmon… I could go on. So many remote rivers with beautiful surroundings, I don’t even think I need to say more.

SKOOKUMCHUCK, BRITISH COLUMBIA

Starfish, seals, sea lions, salty water.

Emily Lussin kayaking at her home wave, Skookumchuck. Photo: Brooke Hess.

Skookumchuck is different. It is unlike any other kayaking destination. Skookumchuck is located on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, in the Sechelt Inlet. Yes, Inlet… not river. Skookumchuck is a tidal rapid, formed by the tides as ocean water moves in and out of the Inlet over a rock shelf. The salty water flows over the rock shelf and forms a picture-perfect, glassy, green surf wave. If there was a contest for smoothest kayaking wave in the world, Skook would win.

Despite how epic the kayaking wave is at Skook, I don’t think that is what makes the place so special. To access the wave, you hike four kilometers through a dense rainforest, with green moss and vines hanging everywhere. It feels as if you are hiking through a magic forest with fairies and unicorns. Something you would see in a Disney movie. Sitting in the eddy waiting for your turn on the wave, you will be mesmerized by the purple and orange starfish scattered all over the rocks. Not to mention the sea urchins, barnacles, sea anemones, and seals everywhere!

On my most recent Skook trip, I watched two sea lions play in the whirlpools behind the wave for thirty minutes. I then proceeded to make excuses for why I didn’t want to get back in my kayak until the sea lions were gone (I was scared)… but nonetheless it was one of the best days of kayaking I have ever had. I have even heard of people seeing whales breaching on the other side of the Inlet while someone is kayaking on the wave. The entire setting of Skookumchuck is magical. Even if you consider yourself more of a river runner than a freestyle kayaker, a trip to Skook should still be on your list.

 

Cover Photo: Leif Anderson.

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