Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Planning My Dream Trip to Ireland – part 4

With my Ireland Dream Trip deadline coming closer, I now have to start making some decisions.

After a week of researching, I’ve now decided to concentrate on two parts of the country: Cork and Dublin.

I picked these two spots as they were the reasons I wanted to go on the trip in the first place.

The area around Cork and Kenmare is where I dreamed of cycling. I want to see tiny thatched-roofed homes, sheep on the roads and green hills. I want to cycle through places with names like Ballylickey, Glengarriff and Moll’s gap. And if I have time, I want to see the purple mountains.

Doesn’t it sound lovely?

But I also want to walk the streets of Dublin and feel the energy of their capital city. I know I would feel like I missed out if I didn’t at least spend one full day in Dublin checking stuff out.


Then I found it. After days and days of search I found the perfect cycling trip.

It’s three-days long which is exactly what I wanted and located in Kenmare right by the purple mountains. It’s put on by the Park Hotel Kenmare in Kerry. Check out the Park Hotel Kenmare website.

Even the hotel looks dreamy.

Moll's Gap
Unfortunately, it’s for advanced cyclists, which I admit I’m not. While I’m certainly not a beginner and have worked my way up in preparation for this trip to 18 mph, I’m no Lance Armstrong – especially when there’s hills involved.

And there are hills on this trip. Big hills.

• Day one is 60 km where you climb 262 meters to Moll’s Gap.

• Day two is 108 km where you climb 334 meters to The Tunnels. I don’t know what the tunnels are, but they sound cool.

• Day three is another 77 km where you climb the Gap of Dunloe and climb Moll’s Gap again. That day sounds a little painful.

Somewhere in the Gap of Dunloe
I think I could make it through the route if it was just me or a group of beginners, but they do say this route is for advanced riders and I would hate to ruin someone’s vacation because they had to wait for me to catch up.

Also, it sounds like you have to bring your own bike (like true cyclists do) and not rent one from a little shop on the corner.

Sigh…maybe if I email them and see if they have anything for someone at my level.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Conquering the Midnight Century in Davis

For me, it’s not all about sweating it out in the gym. I like to vary my workouts – especially my cardio. So on the weekends I treat myself by running 6 miles in the park or cycling for as long as I can go. But I have never gone 100 miles – and I really REALLY wanted to.

I picked up a Bike Hiker’s guide last week Thursday…and I saw it.

The Midnight Century.

One hundred miles beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday night and going until midnight (or until you were done). The best part? It was mostly flat.

For those that don’t cycle, let me tell you, this is a big deal. I’ve done partial centuries over the last year ranging from 67 miles in the Tour of Napa to 50 miles in the Gold Country ride. The one thing these rides have in common besides incredible scenery is that they have killer hills.

I’m talking crazy big hills where you have ride in the granny gear for miles and it is only sheer determination that keeps you from getting off your bike and pushing it up the hill. Well, determination and a little pride as you don’t want to be the only “walker” on the ride.

Yet, I was worried. I hadn’t ridden 100 miles at once – EVER. What if my legs fell off halfway through? It’s dark at midnight. How would I get back? Would they even see me?

And then the big question: Could I pull this off? It was only two days away so it's not like I could squeeze in a lot of training.

It took just one email to convince me.


Unable to get this out of my head, I decided to email the organizer of the ride just before midnight and sign up. He emailed me back at 5 a.m. His email began with, “I don’t want to rain on your parade…”

I won’t go into the details, but he implied that he didn’t think I up to the ride physically.

That was it. I was doing this ride and I was not going to come in last either.

While I may not be ready for the Tour de France, I wasn’t a slowpoke – especially when it comes to flat cycling.

I immediately bought lights for my bike and a reflective vest. I was going to ride those 100 miles no matter what.


I finished the race in just over 6 hours with at least a couple dozen more people still coming in behind me. I hurt, was freezing from the wind and I looked like crap, but I did all 100 miles.

As I signed out, the organizer smiled. “You made it,” he said. "See you at the Davis Double next spring?"

You betcha!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Planning my Dream Trip to Ireland - part 3

The reason I wanted to cycle around Ireland is because it is a cycling-lover’s dream. You can cycle the coast, the hills, the farmlands and through the villages. There’s only one problem – I won’t be able to do it all by bike in three days.

Yes, I have been training.  I've been cycling every weekend since May and can easily do 60 to 80 miles a day if there aren't that many big hills.  I thought this was a good amount of distance to cover, but when doing my research, I quickly learned Ireland is a lot bigger than I thought.

For some reason, I thought it was small like Prince Edward Island or Vancouver Island or even Hawaii.  But it's not.  It's big. In fact, driving from Dublin to Cork is over 3 hours – never mind cycling all that way.

This trip was getting harder by the minute. So ignoring the distance issue, I figured I’d research the best cycling areas and then narrow down my options.

Here’s what I learned:

1) Coastal Bike Tour from Dublin – The company Dublin by Bike has a great coast tour that is 14 km and goes by the Medieval village of Dalkey. Dalkey has seven castles and everyone says I need to see at least one castle when visiting the country. The tour sounds lovely and it's a one day guided tour. Website: http://www.dublinbybike.ie/index.php/coastal-bike-tour-of-dublin-south-coast-ireland/

2) Cycling Safaris – Cycling Safari also has a similar guided tour from Dublin to Dalkey, but with them I could also rent a bike and go off on my own and bike farther. The 14 km route the other trip had sounded kind of short. Plus, what is cool about Cycling Safaris is that I could leave the bike in Dalkey and take the train back if I got too tired to cycle home. Website: http://www.cyclingsafaris.com/index.php?q=day-tours-and-around-dublin

3) Limerick area – I want to see more of Ireland than just Dublin so decided to branch out my search. I learned that the company "Ireland by Bike" in Limerick has a 3-day self guided trip or I could rent a bike by day. Not sure about Limerick though. I really wanted to see the coastline a bit. Website: http://www.irelandbybike.com/Short-Cycling-Breaks/

4) The Antrim Glens and Causeway Coast – But there are even more options. I found a weekend cycling trip through Irish Cycle Tours, but my plane schedule won’t have me there in time as I land Sunday afternoon. But at least there is a chance I could rent a bike and go on my own trip in the area. Website: http://www.irishcycletours.com/the-antrim-glens-a-causeway-coast

5) Ireland’s Northwest Trail – Then there’s the Northwest trail. This is a 326 km circular cycle route that goes through scenic landscapes and along quiet country roads. The website says I’ll also see the Atlantic Ocean in areas and pass through some towns. All I need to do is rent a bike. Sounds adorable. Website: http://www.northwest-trail.com/default.aspx

6) Cork City-Beara-Gougane Barra Cycling Route -- This cycling route starts in the Mardyke, off the Western Road in Cork City, and goes for 94 km (58 miles) so it’s totally doable in a day. If I decide to go on this route, I’ll cycle along quiet country roads and through a bunch of villages. Website: http://www.discoverireland.ie/Activities-Adventure/the-cork-city-gougane-barra-beara-cycle-route/9745

So basically, I have a lot of options. Going to plot them out on a map tonight and narrow them down. Plus, I've still got to find some picturesque places to stay.

Whew! The plan is back on!!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Planning My Dream Trip to Ireland – part 2

Still working on my next bucket list adventure.

Sleeping on it didn’t really give me a solution to my Ireland Dream Trip, but it did give me courage.

Here's what I've come up with -- instead of booking the cycling part of the trip with a tour, I’m now going to create my own trip that fits within my time and money boundaries.

Yup, that's right..I will be going solo on my Going Solo adventure.  No tour guides. No schedules. Just me and a rented bike.

All I need is a portable GPS to strap onto my bike (or me) to make sure I don't get lost along the way.

And that's the part that scares me a bit. The getting lost part.

If you've ever traveled (or even hung out with me), you know I have absolutely no sense of direction.  It's a big flaw when you love to travel as much as I do, but over the years I've kind of accepted being lost and don't panic or stress about it. 

It's just that I've never been lost on a bike in a foreign country.

But I refuse to let fear bring me down.  I can do this.  I can read a map. I can work a GPS system. I can leave bread crumbs and drop them on the road if I have to -- although that didn't work so well for Hanzel and Gretal.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Planning My Dream Trip to Ireland - part 1

Ireland has been on my list of places to see for years and I decided last year, that 2011 would be the time to do it.

I must admit, it's always easier saying you're going to do something a year from now than actually doing it.  This trip is one of them -- because so far it hasn’t been easy. Money, time and coordination have all come into play.


So what's the plan?  Well, my dream Going Solo Ireland trip seems simple enough - to me at least. I fly to Ireland, spend a few days cycling across the country and then maybe one or two day in Dublin checking out stuff and relaxing in a nice hotel that looks like a castle. I'm assuming one exists. I don't actually have one in mind.

In my little dream world, I was thinking I would cycle through the Irish countryside through a bunch of little villages and maybe past some sheep (I love sheep). If I had time, taking in a whiskey tasting might be nice (I have a problem digesting beer) and maybe I would check out one very Irish tourist attraction.

Doesn't that sound simple? Turns out this was easier said than done.

When researching the cycling part of the trip last week, I realized Ireland must be bigger than I thought. First of all, the cycling tours I found are generally 6 to 8 days long and even cycling all that time, they didn’t cover the whole country – only a small portion.

Then there was the money part.

Not including the airfare, the cycling trips I came acrosss costed around $4,000 to $6,500 per person – but single travelers like me would have to pay an additional $700 to $1000 depending on the trip. Don’t even get me going on this additional fee thing. It drives me nuts when solo travelers have to pay more. It's not like they are going to give me two breakfasts or two massages at the end of the day. But whatever.

It was then I knew I was going to have to get creative with this trip if I wanted it to work out.

Not only do I not have that much money to spend (my budget – including airfare is $2,000 to $2,500), but I don't have 8 vacation days to spend in Ireland.

With my job, I only get 10 days a year and was planning to spend 5 of them in Ireland. I had already used one of them for my NPC competition in June and am using another two for the Fort Lauderdale Cup competition in October.

I also didn’t want to cycle for 6 to 8 days straight. I know this sounds lame, but I’m on vacation. I want to come back feeling refreshed. So my dream trip included biking for 3 or 4 days and then spending a day sight-seeing, shopping or relaxing.


So now I’m frustrated and going to bed in hopes that a solution will hit me in the morning.

I’m still shocked at how expensive the tours are. I could get a vacation getaway to Hawaii for a lot less, but that would mean I'm giving up on the dream -- and you know I'm not a quitter when it comes to making my dreams come true.

Hoping to feel more positive about this in the morning.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Driving up the California Coast

I’ve wanted to drive the old Highway 101 down California since I moved here last year. But here’s the problem -- it takes forever and I never really have a whole day just to drive. I always seem to have someplace to go.

On my last trip to San Diego, I decided to suck it up and take the time.

I got up early – really early. Yes, I was on the road by 4:30 a.m. and watched the sun come up over the hills.

It was lovely.

Getting up that early also helped me avoid the crazy LA beach traffic for at least a few hours.

I was able to cruise through Del Mar and Laguna Beach with just me and the surfers on the road. It was relaxing and I saw a part of California you never get to see if you take the I-5.

I was able to see why people move to the Los Angeles area. The coastal area is actually really nice. It has a completely different vibe than the city does. It’s laid back, and if you can get beyond the tourist shops, it’s quaint.

But that all changes by 10 a.m. Because that’s when the traffic starts and the relaxation ends.

Those black things are surfers.

From that time until I hit San Francisco nearly 16 hours later, it was bumper to bumper and not much fun. 

It was still nice to see the ocean around every winding turn though.

Maybe next time I’ll start in San Francisco and drive north towards Seattle see if the traffic is any better.