In Ireland, we rented a car. Her name was Reilly, she was a little blue Ford, and I absolutely adored her.
I did not, however, adore driving in Ireland.
The roads are tiny and windy. They’re usually one lane roads – but whereas in America, that means one way each direction, in Ireland, it means one lane. One lane, period, for both cars going in opposite directions. When you encounter another car, you have to pull off onto the shoulder to pass each other. This usually meant I’d pull off and slow way down, while the other driver would pull slightly off and speed up. Exciting, especially when you take into account the shoulders. The “shoulders” were usually comprised of bushes, small cliffs, the occasional big cliff, stone walls, and moats. Very rarely was there an actual shoulder one could actually pull off onto. At one point, Pace said, “That sound you hear? Those are the BUSHES hitting the MY WINDOW!”
And that doesn’t even take into account the occasional sheep, donkey, horse, or human you might find hanging out in the road.
The general speed limit is 100kph (60mph). Friends, let me tell you, I never went above 80kph – and usually, I averaged about 40kph. I have no idea how anyone in their right minds can drive 100kph on the roads I was on – but I think the answer is: most Irish drivers are completely insane.
Most American drivers are completely insane, but at least we have bigger lanes and divided highways on which to flaunt our insanity.
All this insanity on these itty bitty twisty windy roads – and I was driving on the left side of the road on the right side of the car, shifting with my left hand.
Funny thing about that. 18 years of driving really impresses upon you the importance of leaving room on your passenger side, because half of the car is on that side.
And it’s nigh impossible to suddenly switch that in your brain when the passenger side suddenly switches to the other side of the car.
This produced a lot of frantic yelps and pleas for me to move to the right from Pace, poor girl. “Too far left! Too far left!” became her mantra.
After three days of driving like this, I was finally getting the hang of it and Pace’s cries were becoming less frequent.
And then the ice came.
I knew we were only two hours, at most, from home in Galway. I wanted to go home badly. I wanted to spend New Year’s Eve with our friend and her friends in a safe warm pub drinking Guinness. I was incredibly attached to these plans, and equally attached to not spending the night trapped in Lisdoonvarna. So, I tried to drive us out despite my fear. But the main road was closed! I hit two icy patches before I could turn down the alternate route, and it was so dark I could barely see 50 feet in front of the car. I pulled off the road and started sobbing, hysterical. I can’t drive on the ice.
I’m from Texas, ya’ll. And while I don’t act like a Texan or look like a Texan or own a horse or even a pair of cowboy boots, I learned to drive on our always warm, never icy roads. If it ices here, the whole state shuts down. One flake of snow and people stay home from work for weeks. And here I was in Ireland, surrounded by serious ice, not the little piddly ice slicks we may occasionally have in Texas.
I lost my shit, I am not ashamed to say. I wept and shook and begged Pace to let us stay in Lisdoonvarna and pleaded with the universe to save me and probably made a whole lot of immediately-forgotten promises to a God I never talk to anyway before Pace nearly slapped me and we turned around. (Pace couldn’t take over – she can’t drive a stick.) I kept saying, “I cannot do this!”
I have twice ever driven on ice – and twice I’ve slid and gotten into an accident. I was so tense on the way back into town, I could barely breathe. I was terrified and barely made it to a parking spot, and as soon as I turned the car off, I was in hysterics again.
I was utterly terrified.
So, we spent the night iced in a tiny town in very rural Ireland. We met every resident in Lisdoonvarna, and only two of them liked us. We were Strangers here (and stranger than their usual brand of strangers, to boot!). One pub lied to us about not having food, another lied about not having a room. We went from place to place, seeking food and shelter, and were turned away multiple times. Finally, we found a lovely place with a lovely pub that gave us a lovely room and fed us lovely food and gave us lovely Guinness, and we went back to our room and Pace was asleep before midnight.
Yeah, happy new year. Ha!
The next morning, I woke after a delightfully restful sleep to a bright sunny day. Cold and icy, yes, but sunny with clear blue sky as far as I could see. We had a big healthy breakfast. We packed our things and got back in the car.
I took a deep breath and hit the road.
I drove through the most treacherous ice I’ve ever seen. I slid all over the road many times. I had to pull off to let someone pass me, twice – and I had to back up 100 feet once to let a tractor get by! I was tense, barely breathing, but I drove in the ice for two hours.
Finally, the roads cleared, and I was able to breathe and go faster than 10kph.
But I’d done it. I did it, I drove on the ice.
I faced my fear and got through it.
The key was doing it on my terms. I knew it was too dangerous to try in the dark. I got triggered when I slid the first time, so I was nearly panicking – another reason to stop. But the next day, in the bright sun, well-rested and fed and feeling adventurous, I did it.
And that’s the key to facing fears: do it on your own terms. Make sure your bottom-level needs are met so they don’t distract or make things worse. Breathe a lot. Bring a friend, someone to support (or slap) you, someone to get your back so you can take care of the rest. Turn back if you feel like that’s the right thing to do in the moment.
And, most importantly, follow your heart.