Thursday, October 24, 2013

An Adventure with Paddy

Slieve League
The weather was warm. The skies the kind of blue you want to see in another's eyes, and the North Channel as calm as Chuck Norris facing a group of thugs.

Summer weather on the Nuala Star
Unusual for anytime on the year in North Ireland, but on this late afternoon in June of 2013 the skipper, Paddy Byrne, admitted it was a strange omen.

"Why just yesterday I had a boat full of German tourists, probably ten in all, and it rained like heaven had a leak. Been raining pretty steady now until you two showed up."

A good omen? Perhaps.

Paddy was the Captain and owner of the Nuala Star, a 36 foot motor boat out of Teelin Harbor in Donegal Bay. It so happened that his was the only tour boat at the time taking tourists to see the Sliabh Liag Cliffs, the highest in Europe at 1972 feet above sea level.

Paddy was definitely a salty sailor with over twenty years sailing the high seas around the world. Could not be in better hands that with this wonderfully entertaining man and experienced skipper.

J and L had decided to see Slieve League (English transliteration of Sliabh Liag) but worried we would be just one couple among many. To our delight no one had signed onto the six in the evening sailing and it was only J and L and Paddy.

Cruising out of the harbor by the small Irish town of Donegal was surrealistic, with little houses dotting the green rounded hills off the bay reminded us of the Irish films which in part had been the driving force for our visit to the island.  That the fact that we are both Irish and this was after all the mother land.

With the sea breeze, the temperature took a dip south as we puttered north in Paddy's boat to gawk and say things like: "I can't believe what we're seeing."  "Isn't that beautiful?" "Why is there a stone watch tower up there?"

J and L Researching and Exploring on the Nuala Star

We listened enraptured to Paddy's brogue as he told of this and that of the ancient and recent history of the cliffs and surrounding lands.

With cliffs towering above, we were amazed and hugged each other (Laureen and John, not Paddy -- though that would come later) in the jubilation we were again having a private tour to see a wonder of the world. The last was in Bolivia on the Island of the Sun, where we had a private audience with a Shaman and drank from the Fountain of Youth.

Photos were taken, questions were asked and questions were answered.

Suddenly the Nuala Star headed into the wind and the engines came to a full stop. J and L looked at each other when Paddy headed below deck.

North Channel Courage

"This is my swimming spot - gotta take a swim," came the brogue from down the steps.

Paddy really did not mean it since he did not how to swim , as we soon discovered. He usually, in his words, hung on the back of the boat and floated.

"Thank God I don't have a bathing suit," J said to L.

Our Captain, Paddy Byrne, and Dr. John
"I heard that," Paddy said and suddenly a pair of men's swimming trunks were thrown onto the aft deck (the back of the boat for you land lubbers).

J looked down at the trunks. "Not a good sign."

"What are you going to do?" Came L's response.

"Get cold and have a great memory."

The water was cold, dark and spooky.

Paddy kicked his feet by the rear boarding ladder while J shivered and breast stroked away from the boat and into the chilling waters of the North Channel.

It was cold - very cold.

Looking out on an Irish summer afternoon.
L was busy taking photos when Paddy said: "I'm done." and climbed on board.

There were still thirty yards between J and the boat and he wished the Captain would stay just a bit longer until he got even with the bouncing and bucking motor boat.

Cap'n Paddy
"But I'm still out here and there could be monsters down in these cold waters," J huffed while swimming rather quickly.

"Ah, that be the myths," Paddy grinned while toweling himself off.

No monsters but ten minutes of warming up within the salon, J appreciated the dry surroundings.

There were hugs and smiles all around after the unexpected dive into the waters (this is where J and Paddy shared a quick man-hug).

"Not many blokes ever take a swim with me."

I looked at the muscular man at the wheel of the boat. "You challenged me."

"If you had said no, I dare not go into that cold black water by meself."

"Should have said that earlier," J responded.
End of a perfect adventure

The rest of the early evening was more than delightful as we cruised slowly back to the docks.

A picture perfect day with a new found friend who had not been afraid to dive into something new and unique.

Could this be the Irish creed? It was certainly a good omen.

For further information:
Contact Cap'n Paddy at:

or check the website at:
Sliabh League Boat Tours

or Chartering the Nuala Star

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Road Less Traveled

Why taking the road less traveled is worth it

Visibility Measured in Feet
 On September 21st J and L decided to head north out of the small town of Trona after visiting the Trona Pinnacles and drive to Panamint Springs on the way to Highway 395. Little did we know that the Trona-Wildrose Road was closed about fifteen miles north of the town due to massive flooding on July 22nd and July 28th respectively. Coming upon a road closure sign post with large dirt berms blockading the roadway showed the county of Inyo meant business on keeping the 150 to 200 vehicles which used the road each day.

Being researchers and explorers we simply slipped the Toyota FJ into four-wheel drive and pulled into the sandy desert bypassing the blockades. We were on a mission to get to Panamint Springs through the Panamint Valley and weren’t about to backtrack to Trona just because of some supposed washed out highway. The team does caution others to perhaps not follow our lead but with years of experience in the desert we try to be prepared for any conditions which we may encounter. Those preparations have paid off time and again as we leave the comfort of the pavement and head into the hinterlands.

 What J and L quickly saw ahead of them was a Hollywood version of a highway caught right after an end of the world film.

Where's the shoulder?
Hunks of asphalt missing, road cave-ins on either side of the roadway, buckled surfaces threatening the very existence of our powerful war horse, and the strangest sensation was there were no other vehicles to be seen. For nearly twenty miles we drove through this land of devastation without seeing another human or any sign of life for that matter. To even deepen the feeling of traveling through an apocalyptic period was the miles wide and thousand foot high sand storm directly to our east. The twirling and blowing dark sand seemed to follow us menacingly as we drove carefully and very slowly northward. But, again, being who we are we finally turned the FJ into the very desert that gave existence to the sandstorm so we could get better photographs.

The wind and fine sand were pounding us as we exited the vehicle and started snapping and filming.
It was awesome.

View from the Top

After a few minutes of being sandblasted it was time to retake our position inside the vehicle and finish the journey we had started an hour earlier. With visibility nearly zero at times we finally drove around the north barriers and entered onto State Route 190 and turned west toward Panamint Springs. 

A cold beer for J and a Coke for L at the Panamint Springs Resort was the perfect ending for an adventurous and exciting, though sometimes worrisome, travel through Panamint Valley. 

Tourists  at the resort were busy snapping photographs of the tall blowing sandstorms to the east and making comments like: “They look so dangerous.” “Look how they tower above the landscape for miles and miles.” “You would not catch me out there in the midst of it.”

Haboob - Arabic for blasting/drafting - first named in the Sudan

Oh, what they had missed by not traveling the road less traveled.

Looking east from Panamint Springs toward Death Valley

On a side note – according to the Inyo Register the cost to prepare the Trona-Wildrose road will be in the millions and the time to prepare it is undetermined due to the severity of the thunderstorms which wreaked havoc through-out many of the roads in Death Valley and surroundings desert locales. 

As always, stay careful and be prepared for the unexpected.