Photo by Jason DeVarennes



Thursday, December 8, 2016

Vermonster - Day 3 - I'm not certain the road I mapped out is really a road

We woke to the sound of silence. This was a good thing. There was no noise from rain or icy sleet on the roof. After checking the morning forecast, it seemed that we might actually get lucky. A milder day was predicted. Of course at this stage, I didn't have a whole lot of faith in weather forecasts, so don't ask me why I trusted this one!

And while we might have a hope of milder weather, it would definitely not be an easier day. Our route planner, SadiB, had plenty of great dirt climbs mapped out for us, with one very special climb, planned for right after lunch, just in case we needed extra help warming up again!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Vermonster - Day 2 - A Day for Badasses

Remember the soundtrack that plays when you are watching a scary film and you find yourself screaming out loud to the foolish person who is about to open the door, "Turn around!  Get back into the house!  Don't you know what's waiting outside?  Do NOT open that door!"

So, now that we've established the mood, let me tell you about Day 2 of our Vermonster ride.

When we left off, our six protagonists had turned in for the night, dreaming of good fortune, believing the worst of the weather was behind them.

Yes, there was snow on the ground, but Day 2 was to be an improvement on Day 1 and Day 1 really hadn't turned out that badly.

(Music from Law and Order - dun, dah, dun)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Vermonster - Training and Day 1

Back in the last century (I love saying that), skiers and cyclists could use the Amtrak Vermonter to travel with their bikes and skis from Washington, D.C. and points north so they could ski and cycle in various spots throughout Vermont. Sadly, after 9/11, the Vermonter removed its baggage car with little fanfare or publicity. I say "with little fanfare," because John and I only discovered the discontinuation of the bike service as we were planning a bike touring trip in Vermont in 2006. We had planned to cycle to Brattleboro and take the train to the northern terminus in St. Albans and then cycle back home to eastern Massachusetts. Unhappily, when I called to book our tickets, I learned we could not take the bikes after all. Don't ask me how removing a baggage car on a train to Vermont prevents terrorism! So instead of a trip covering the length of Vermont, we set out from home and did a round trip bike tour into southern Vermont. Have I mentioned that we did not own a car at the time?

The benefit of a remote start is skipping out on some of the nearby stuff we have ridden a million times already and it allows us to cover more ground farther afield. So, while we were bummed to miss getting into northern Vermont, we took the opportunity to ride areas in the south that we hadn't explored before. And it was an amazing trip. As a bonus, we happened to meet two ladies along the way with whom we have become best friends. We have biked together on numerous weekends ever since and taken a couple of trips overseas together also. So I am quite happy with how that trip turned out, but still hoped that someday bike travel in Vermont with Amtrak would be possible.

We have travelled with our tandem and single bikes on trains throughout Europe with ease. But in the USA -with Amtrak - ease is not the word that comes to mind. We've managed to get our coupled tandem onto the train in Eugene, Oregon, but not without a bit of hassle and warnings that there would be complaints about our lack of box from conductors at journey's end in Portland. We've also used the Downeaster service to get back to Boston from Portland, Maine, but the Downeaster baggage car disappeared earlier this year, and there is still no news on a return date. On the plus side, if you live someplace called Portland, you're in better shape than most!

As you might imagine, we were thrilled recently when roll-on bike service was announced for the Vermonter, which has a stop near our home in Greenfield. Various articles appeared in my news feeds promoting train/bike tourism in Vermont. This was set up as a trial, so we figured we should take advantage ASAP, before the trial might be terminated.

Well, loyal blog readers know that I was off in Ireland all summer, so we only got the chance to try it out this fall.

We'd heard success stories from friends in Vermont who had used the service, so we were optimistic. Then I looked on the Amtrak web site and saw that tandems were not allowed... And that only three bikes in total were allowed per train and there is only one train per day. Also bikes must be hung in a special bike cubby, with the front wheel removed, which sounded unnecessarily complicated. I surmised if we decoupled the tandem and bought two bike tickets that we could just hang each section by a wheel in an individual bike cubby. So we booked our tickets for a weekend away in mid-September. 

We planned to take the train north on Friday afternoon and then cycle back home over the next two days. However, given the mileage and just having two days with limited daylight, we decided to head for Montpelier, rather than going all the way to St. Albans. We could go up to St. Albans on a future trip.

Friday afternoon arrived and we pedalled our lightly loaded tandem the mile and a half over to the station. A short delay meant we had plenty of time to decouple the tandem as we waited on the platform. We were using a frame bag, seat pack and bar bag. We left the frame bag in place and removed the others. The tandem was also equipped with lights and fenders. 

The conductor was not happy with us and didn't see the humor in our claim of two touring unicycles when telling us that tandems aren't allowed. Surely the reason for this is the length. Since we'd decoupled and paid for two bikes, it seemed reasonable to me to allow these two bike parts. He let us on, but not without major grumbling on his part. 

Once on the train, the first thing we discovered when trying to make use of the bike cubby is that the hooks are tiny, and will not accommodate even mildly fat tires. Ours were 50mm. Don't think of bringing your fat bike or even your mountain bike. It is not going to fit! I don't know what they are thinking. No mountain bikes or fat bikes in Vermont? Really? 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Packing List - Ireland 2016

OK. I am on an airplane, so I finally have some downtime to complete my long awaited packing list for my two month tour in Ireland. If you followed me this past summer on Instagram or the blog, you likely noticed that I was traveling quite light. You might have assumed that I was doing day trips, given the lack of panniers. But I am proud to say that I travelled around with all my gear neatly stored in my Revelate Terrapin Seatbag and my Dill Pickle Gear handlebar bag

John and I started in Dublin together. We rode down to Carlow for his brother's wedding, then continued south to the coast. We headed west for a week before taking the train from Killarney back to Dublin for a concert. We returned the next day and continued to Galway, where John again hopped on a train back to Dublin to fly home. I pressed on alone and made my way up to Donegal before turning back south and more inland to wind my way back to Carlow and then Dublin. 

Here's a map of the area I covered. 


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Coolies - Ireland 2016

My last real riding day had the best weather of the trip. I'd been apologizing everywhere I went for the cool summer, certain that my mere my presence all summer here had caused the less than summer like weather. I assured locals that things would improve on August 19. Luckily for me, awesome conditions arrived days before my scheduled departure.

Our friend Declan knows every small road around and can always be counted on for a great ride. So I asked him to put together a ride for us on Tuesday. He graciously drove down to Dublin to pick me up and we head up north to Dundalk for a loop around the Coolies.



Monday, August 15, 2016

Glendalough to Dublin - Ireland 2016

My final day into Dublin would have me climbing up the Wicklow Gap and then finishing off on the Sally Gap. It was a brilliant crystal clear day for it, with endless views and blue skies. It seems I finally remembered I had a camera and was inspired by the glorious weather.


Sunday, August 14, 2016

Tullow to Glendalough - Ireland 2016

Well enough of those gentle DaveB routes. Time to let SadiB back at it. Although she can't fully take credit as she took most of the route from JohnBs brownstuff 400km, but in reverse.

The route headed south first taking in the climb up to the Nine Stones on the shoulder of Mt Leinster. It then crossed over into County Wexford briefly to tick off another county before climbing over the Shay Elliot with the final descent down into Glendalough.


The tearoom at Huntington Castle fueled me for the climb up to the Nine Stones. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Tullow - Humewood loop - Ireland 2016

As usual one can never trust the forecast. It called for sunshine, but I had a mix of showers and clouds for my short loop out to Humewood.

This was another DaveB route and one designed to give me a break before heading into the Wicklow Mountains tomorrow.

Don't let the lack of photos fool you. The scenery is splendid. 


Friday, August 12, 2016

Tullow Lumpy Loop - Ireland 2016

Today, I decided to take advantage of local knowledge and got my brother in law, Dave, to create a couple of loop routes for me to do in County Carlow. Most of John's extended family live in the area, so we visit here a lot. It is a gorgeous and underrated part of the country. It ha nice rolling hills and lovely views of mountains.

Dave called the route lumpy. I was nervous that DaveB might design routes like SadiB, seeking out roads crossing closely spaced contour lines. But he was very kind and plotted a gentle route with several coffee shop options. It was nice to have an easy day after so many hard ones. And the loop meant I didn't have to carry all my gear.



Thursday, August 11, 2016

Clonmel to Tullow - Ireland 2016

Wow, suddenly time is speeding up. I'm getting close to the end of the trip. It seems like ages ago that I was in Tullow at the wedding of Dave and Siobhan, and now here I am on my way back to Tullow with plans to have dinner with the newlyweds and catch up with family.

This has really been an awesome trip. I've had the chance to explore so many areas, but have really just scratched the surface. I now have a long list of places to come back and explore even more. One of the purposes of the blog is for me to look back and see routes and photos to jog my own memory and provide launching points. I have 10 years worth of tours already planned. I missed so much!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Cahir to Clonmel - Ireland 2016

As I finished my ride yesterday, I rode up to the Swiss Cottage just after the last tour of the day. Knowing the tour was worthwhile, I came back at opening time this morning. The Swiss Cottage was built as the country house for the Butler family a mere two km from their castle in Cahir. It  was designed to be informal and blend with nature. I like the tree trunk columns and thatched roof and different window shapes, but the crooked door and window frames were a bit odd. I was also put off by the idea that they dressed like peasants when they were here, yet had a fleet of servants in the basement attending to their needs. And despite the fact that there were two bedrooms upstairs, Lord and Lady Butler never slept here. They just came out for an occasional sunny afternoon party. I asked if that meant just twice a year!

After completing the tour, I rolled back into town and picked up some snacks for the day. This was a good choice as I had a hard day, with lots of climbing and strong headwinds and minimal services. 

I had a favorable wind for a while, but given the almost loop nature of my ride, I knew I'd face less favorable ones for the second half. When I took the turn for Mahon Falls I realized I would be climbing, but had no idea I was about to do the 4th most difficult climb of the whole trip. A very stiff headwind and extended sections of 20% gradient made for a tough ride up to the falls. But I seem to be well trained now and made it up and over. The boardwalk out to the falls was packed with school kids, so I passed on getting a closer view.

The descent into Clonmel made up for the antagonizing headwind and soon I was at my B&B. 


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Cahir - The Vee - Ireland 2016

Last night after checking into my B&B and getting cleaned up, I wandered around Cahir enjoying the great light before dinner. When mapping out my route for the day, I decided I would tour the castle before my ride. KThen I'd finish off with a tour of the Swiss Cottage. I'm not usually one to do the guided tours, but both places were nicely preserved and the only way to see the inside was on a tour. In addition to these local attractions, My hostess at the B&B also mentioned cycling over the Vee. I found the Vee on the maps and plotted a route that approached it from the south.

The castle tour was very interesting. I learned all the ways one could die trying to attack a castle like this!



Monday, August 8, 2016

Tipperary to Cahir - Ireland 2016

John teased me when I told him my plans for the next few days. Each day I'd end up only 15 to 20 miles from where I started but would cover 60 or 70 miles getting there. We had several days like this on our first tour together in Ireland. At the time I jokingly made some coments about his poor navigation skills when upon reaching our destination, I saw distance signs clearly indicating we had taken the roundabout route. John should be pleased now that he's had such a great influence on me.

Leaving Tipperary town, my plan was to ride through the Glen of Aherlow and then head west along one of the regional cycle routes out to Kilmallock for lunch before turning back east aiming for Cahir. 

Cahir was an amazing find with a very well preserved castle and the nicely restored Swiss Cottage and great coffee and nice restaurants and a lovely walking path and several interesting churches.  I liked this town so much that I decided to stay for two nights. I really lucked out and found a fabulous B&B that had been modeled after the Swiss Cottage. My hostess there shared loads of local knowledge and gave me a few tips for things to see that only a local would know! This was my favorite B&B of the trip. 


Sunday, August 7, 2016

Killaloe to Tipperary - Ireland 2016

Looking at the OSM Cycle maps I noticed lots of routes in County Tipperary, so I decided to aim for Tipperary town with plans to explore this area more. It happens that there are lots of very touristy towns in the county, but Tipperary town isn't one of them! In retrospect I should have aimed for Cashel or Cahir, but I did have a very nice host at the B&B who invited me in for tea and much good craic. Hours after going in for tea, I headed out and again, despite thinking I'd get a few blog posts done due to my early arrival, I barely managed one! Now there is nothing wrong with that. It's been great exploring and meeting and talking to people. I've found that I end up in far more conversations because I am traveling alone. Don't get me wrong. I love touring with John, but when you are with someone, you may not be as likely to strike up conversations with others.


Saturday, August 6, 2016

Claregalway to Killaloe - Ireland 2016

I've mentioned my routing strategy a few times.  I use ridewithgps and the OSM Cycle maps. The OSM maps are great because the busy roads are clearly marked and one can put together an amazing and quiet route simply by connecting the white roads or lanes. With no real local knowledge I've been able to put together great routes. I've had exactly one dead end, where the map showed a through road. I've found a couple of gravel and dirt roads, and some roads that local cyclists don't even know. I had quite a few times in Donegal where I was certain I had just turned into someone's driveway, but the road was indeed a through road.

Well, my luck didn't run out, but I did find a few gravel and rocky forest roads on this day. It was the only time I really thought about issues of traveling alone. If I crash on this descent, no one will ever find my bones! So I picked my way down a couple of gnarly rocky trails. (John was tracking me with the Wahoo live track feature and find my iPhone, so he could at least tell emergency services where to start the search for bones.)

Despite the rough surfaces, this was one of my best days. And one worthy of my Honey Allroads bike. So if you are looking at my routes on ridewithgps and thinking of following my tracks, just bring fat tires and disk brakes for this one. And food. There are NO services. Fortunately I'd stopped at that great restaurant in Athenry and stocked up withn muffins for the day.