Stephen’s Day Adventure

Today is St. Stephen’s Day here in Ireland, which is also known as Boxing Day in the UK and December 26 to us normal folk from America. The thing that frustrates me about spending the holidays in Ireland is the lack of what I like to call “comfort space”.Comfort space is a state of mind, more than a place, reserved for the holidays. It’s the feeling you get when you’ve watched two DVD’s and you’re about to choose a third, and there’s no pressure to be doing something else. It’s when you can sit around a messy dinner table and talk and laugh and not worry about how or when the dishes need to be cleared, and the most pressing issue on your mind is where you’re going to lay your stuffed, weak body for a long, undisturbed nap.Comfort space is no work if you don’t want it, no conversation if you don’t feel like talking. It’s getting to choose the channel, wearing your pajamas all day, eating sweets and treats with no guilt, and planning out your day with no one to tell you what they’d rather be doing, or worse: what they’d rather you were doing.This year, a friend invited me to go for a hike in Wicklow on Stephens’ Day. The idea of spending a few hours walking the hills around Glendalough sounded like a perfect way to get a bit of comfort space. Plus, it didn’t involve copious amounts of pointless drinking, that other thing about the holidays here that gets on my nerves.The morning started with a drive from Kildare up to the flat near Sandymount so I could pick up a few things I’d need for the walk. The usually busy highway and city streets were deserted, and Dublin actually looked warm and inviting, not congested and chaotic. Radio blaring, I sped at around 85 mph on the M7/N7, a road notorious for heavy traffic.When I arrived at the flat, I spent about 45 minutes preparing lunch, putting on warm clothes, packing a change of clothes, and just making myself busy. It’s nice to go back to an empty house after a few days away. Even though no one had been inside since we left before Christmas, the place had a fresh, new feel to it.So here’s where things went a bit pear-shaped. I got into the car to head down to Wicklow, and an all-too-familiar smell of burning fossil fuels hit me as the engine warmed up. The oil pressure light was on, and I knew there was trouble. The car had an oil leak a few weeks back, but that had seemingly been dealt with.I opened the hood (yes, I call it a hood; babies wear bonnets) and had a peak, and sure enough, there was oil leaking from the oil filter. Another slow leak, I thought, just like the last time. Nothing’s changed! Then I had a closer look and realized that this was much worse. moved the car over one parking space and revealed a steaming brown lake of spent motor oil. Unlike the last time when the engine was kind enough to spread it’s juices slowly over the Dublin roads, our car had decided to “hold it in until it got home”, at which point it dumped all the oil right there in the parking lot. How thoughtful of it!Car = Undriveable. Matt = Screwed. You see, there’s no trains on Stephens’ Day, so there was no chance of going down the coast and getting a lift from there. However, my friend hadn’t left for Wicklow yet, so he was kind enough to head into town a bit and pick me up. What a guy! I left the oily mess at home and headed out to Glendalough as planned. Not the most environmentally friendly decision, I know.Walking in GlendaloughThe walk was lovely. It was a slightly overcast day, but the clouds were high and the temperature mild. Six of us made the trip, and we probably covered about 5 miles as we traversed the two ridges on either side of the Upper Lake and the Glenealo River. We started on the Spinc Loop, but instead of finishing on the Miners Road along the Upper Lake, we slogged up through rocks and muck towards Camaderry, and then walked back down from there to the parking lot at the Upper Lake.So in the end, and despite some early struggles, I managed to get a bit of that comfort space I was seeking. I’m a big fan of the Stephen’s Day walk, too. It’s always been a day of rest, recovery, and relaxation, but there’s nothing wrong with getting a little exercise, a little fresh air, and a little bit muddy when you’re just looking for a little space of your own.

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