The Sneem 50 mile JFK Challenge, begins in the small village of Sneem, located on the Ring of Kerry, in far southwest of Ireland, but draws walkers from around the country. I was the lone American this year, and it was a true honor to be asked to be the starter. (The photo is just before the start at 5am.) Holding the flag and representing the US was a very stirring moment.
I was there because I had walked the original 50-mile challenge in 1963, and the 50th anniversary was too tempting…too symmetrical…to pass up. I was originally drawn to the Freewalkers’ reenactment of the Bobby Kennedy February 9th walk on the C&O Canal towpath, but I wimped out because of the weather.
I needed to atone for that, and what better place than Ireland? It was a beautiful walk through the Irish countryside with wonderful people and terrific support from many volunteers. It was not however, an easy stroll. There were a number of 3-5 mile up-hills, mostly in the first 35 miles. The long steep climb out of the Blackwater Valley, between miles 30 and 35 up along N71 to Mol’s Gap, was by far the toughest. That for me was the make or break point. The next 15 miles were mostly downhill, and comparatively easy. The weather was cool, with a bit of a drizzle. Perfect.
I walked across the finish line at 10pm, 17 hours after the start, to flags waving and horns blowing. It was an hour quicker than my first walk at age 20.
This is definitely a walk to consider. If the Irish countryside, wonderful people and great organization & support aren’t enough of a draw, there is the traditional barbeque at Danny O’Shea’s pub the next afternoon for all walkers and support people. It alone is worth the trip.