Christmas 2011 greetinsgs from Bruce and Marg

Hi everyone,

After 364 sleeps we arrived home in Jindabyne and moved back into our little unit (just for 2 days until we drove to Sydney for Hayes family 2011 Xmas). What an amazing year off work Bruce and I have had! Though it’s not over yet, one more exciting trip to come.

 

Our latest adventure was camping & cycling 3,900 kilometres around Victoria visiting lots of friends and even completing the 7 peaks cycling challenge on our way home. The 7 peaks are: Mt Baw Baw, Lake Mountain, Mt Buller, Mt Buffalo, Mt Hotham from Harrietville, Dinner Plain from Omeo and Falls Creek. Completing all peaks has given us 8 entries into a trip for two to the 2012 Tour de France. Here’s hoping! Finally to make it home to Jindy we had to cycle the steepest, longest hills of the Alpine Way between Khancoban and Thredbo.

During our 8 weeks cycling we have explored the iconic Wonnangatta Station, a rugged cycle adventure into the remote Victorian High Country usually only accessible by 4wds, also cycling as far west as the rugged Grampians and along the spectacular Great Ocean Road. We decided it would be a good opportunity to ride a variety of Rail Trails (cycle trails on disused railways) and so in our travels we cycled the Murray to Mountains, Ballarat to Skipton, Port Fairy to Warrnambool, Craters to Coast (Camperdown to Timboon), Old Beechy (Colac to Beech Forest), Lilydale to Warburton and finally the open section of new Tallarook to Mansfield trail. All were interesting, but the Murray to Mountains was certainly the best track conditions and most spectacular. In between we visited friends in: Eurobin, Bendigo, Daylesford, Melbourne, Alexandria and Mt Beauty/Tawonga including a friend’s 100th birthday party. It was superb to catch up with so many friends, sorry to those we missed, next time.

A quick recount of our year off! New Years Eve 2010 and we boarded a plane to Czech Republic-our goal: to ski 14 Worldloppet cross country ski races in 10 different countries in 10 weekends. An awesome goal but achievable we hoped. We started off strongly: Czech Republic (50km classic),  Austria (50km skate & classic races), Italy (70km Marcialonga), Germany (50km skate and classic races), long flight to Japan (50km Sapporo Marathon our hardest race), Canada (53km classic and skate races). 9 races completed, we were going really well, until in the USA Bruce broke his leg during the 10th race the American Birkebeiner.

 

Bruce’s Worldloppet dreams were over but he decided we would continue so I could have a go at completing my goal. So we then had firsthand experience of the difficulties disabled people face when travelling via public transport, or really just trying to live. Bruce soldiered on and became the support team whilst I skied the races in Poland, Switzerland and Norway.

Due to Bruce’s encouragement (including a kiss at the midpoint of the Swiss marathon) I successfully completed all 14 Worldloppet races thus becoming the first Aussie to be a quadruple gold Worldloppet master. By completing the Japanese marathon both of us became Global Worldloppet skiers as we had skied the Worldloppet race in each of the 15 member nations. The highlights of our skiing included: the many wonderful people we met and shared our trip with-Aussies and lots of other nationalities, skiing the magical powder, finally making it to Japan, enjoying the diverse cultures of the 10 different countries and the spectacular mountain scenery that you can only dream off.

We then had to leave mainland Europe as due to the Schengen Agreement we could only stay for a maximum of 3 months in 6 months. Cycling Switzerland would have to wait for another trip. A cheap flight from Norway to Ireland and Bruce borrowed a bike to find he could ride, even though it was only 3.5 weeks since he had broken his leg. So we bought bikes and headed south from Dublin, as it appeared to be fairly flat. It turned out to be a magical 10 weeks circumnavigating the coastline. We couldn’t believe the amazing coastal scenery. Often the narrow bitumen roads, where often the locals would stop and give way to us, would follow the coast for many, many kilometres. Cycling Ireland was an unexpected pleasure, staying in welcoming bed’n’breakfasts and hostels, catching up with my sister-in-laws family and learning the history of a much invaded country. Even though we experienced firsthand why Ireland is so green it didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for cycling Ireland and recommend it as a wonderful country to visit.

Early June saw us fly home to Oz, to drive straight to Perisher, for our Aussie Winter season managing the Perisher Nordic Shelter (a day visitor facility for cross country skiers). For the next 3.5 months we slept in the same bed which was a real novelty. We used to get up each day around 6am to compile the daily XC trail report, maintain and clean the shelter each evening, as well as organising the trail grooming. We also chose to be available for the 3 XC ski schools and so taught lots of ski lessons as well as leading snowshoeing trips into the hills. It was brilliant to be able to spend Winter at Perisher. Even though the snow disappeared early from the Perisher trails we weren’t deterred, as we began ski touring in the higher mountains until Bruce’s legs weren’t coping so we then turned to cycling.

Early October saw us cycle to Sydney via the coast to visit my sick brother who has now recovered and thanks to modern medicine, is no longer looking like “death warmed up” or a “shuffling skeleton.”  We cycled back to Canberra in time to attend a MS “wellness day” where we learnt lots of interesting information about coping with MS. A week later and Bruce received an “MS Go for Gold” scholarship to return to the USA to have another go at skiing the American Birkebeiner 50km ski marathon where he had broken his leg earlier in 2011. So in a few days time, on New Years Eve, we’ll board a plane for USA via Czech Republic, (as believe it or not a round-the-world ticket is the same price as return to Los Angeles) for one more big adventure to ski 2 Worldloppet ski races before we both return to work on January 27th 2012.

It’s been a superb year full of lots of adventures travelling around the globe, trying to squeeze in so much. One day we might learn to slow down, but probably not. We certainly live in an amazing world with lots of opportunities to follow our dreams, we feel so grateful to have had the chance to follow our hearts and certainly recommend it to everyone to decide what you want to do and then work out a plan to just do it. Hope you have a wonderful 2012 and remember to do what is important for you, what makes your heart sing! Try and cross something off your bucket list. If you are in the Jindabyne area after February we’d love to catch up. 0432 339 241   Love Marg & Bruce

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Ireland Fyve

Hi everyone!

The awesome news is that after 10 weeks Bruce and I are back in Dublin after successfully cycling 3,725 kilometres around most of the coastline of Ireland (with a few inland detours to visit mountains, lakes, valleys and Neolithic tombs etc).  We’ve had brilliant weather to finish – dry, still, sunny days, with a spectacular ride over the treeless Wicklow Mountains to conclude rolling down the hills into Dublin where Jan and Joe gave up a warm welcome with delicious chocolate fudge cake to celebrate our achievements.

DUBLIN WELCOME - BRUCE AND MARG WITH JAN HURLEY

DUBLIN WELCOME - BRUCE AND MARG WITH JAN HURLEY

This trip has been an incredible achievement especially for Bruce who had broken his leg only three and a half weeks before we started cycling and neither of us had cycled for such an extended period or distance before.

We came here to cycle but have got much more than we bargained for.  As with so much travelling the highlights are as much about the fascinating people you meet as well as the interesting places you visit.  Walking our bikes along the seafront in a small town an old man stopped to talk to us and it turns out he had travelled the world in his youth including visiting Australia with the Royal Navy. He commanded a ship in the D-Day landings as well patrolling the Pacific during WW2.  Within a minute another old man stopped us to find out where we had cycled from and ended up congratulating us for cycling so far.  As we cycled along a regional road, in a busy rural area, a lady called out from across the road “Safe journey and good luck”.  Meeting my sister-in-law Stella’s mum and 2 of her sisters was superb, as well as visiting the most beautiful area where Stella grew up on the south-west coastline.  Interacting with the numerous Irish people we met was a great way to learn about how the average person feels about the economic crisis that Ireland is currently in.

Dublin - just arrived after 3725km of cycling

Dublin - just arrived after 3725km of cycling

We certainly have a much better understanding of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland during the 1970’s and learnt a lot about the Irish emigration over the centuries.  We have visited so many ancient abbeys, monasteries and castles we’ve lost count, it’s hard to believe the solid rock structure that were built without any mechanical equipment.  However one of the most dramatic and thought provoking places we visited was Newgrange, an ancient Neolithic creation, built over five thousand years ago. Yes, 3000 years, before the Pyramids!  It is an underground passage tomb built on top of a hill, of stone sides then covered with an earth, which is aligned perfectly to allow a shaft of sunlight through a small opening to penetrate the internal ‘room’ only on the winter solstice for just 17 minutes!  On a nearby hill is another tomb designed perfectly for the summer solstice and on a third hill one aligned for the equinox.  Amazing stuff!  These people lead a subsistence life but were able to build such incredibly exact tombs.  It must have taken generations to plan and build as the sun does not always shine on this particular dates and the specific rocks were sourced from hundreds of kilometres away.  Very long term patience and commitment would have been needed.

Cycle exploring up the Glenda Lough valley

Cycle exploring up the Glenda Lough valley

Even though we mostly cycled the Irish coast with dramatic cliffs, beautiful beaches and kilometres and kilometres of roads right beside the water, we also loved visiting the mountains (hills) where it reminds us of the mountains we love in Australia.  We’ll have to come back to Ireland to “hillwalk” (walk up the treeless mountains and ridges) as there’s certainly a lot of areas with great walks which would have tremendous views.

We have had many challenges as well – most relate to the super-strong winds and damp weather but this is what one expects when cycle touring.  We decided that the two most common colours in Ireland are: “green and grey” – green hills and grey skies.  We’ve learnt lots of new words like “drumlins” – short steep hills that go straight up requiring you to use your lowest gear to go up and then all the effort is wasted as the downhill is just as steep and requires the use of brakes.

New Grange neolithic structure

New Grange neolithic structure

We loved the stone fences in southern areas of Ireland and the beautiful huge country houses everywhere as the country areas mostly decorated with contrastingly painted quoins on the building corners, and around window & doorways perimeters.   There are collections of five or six houses everywhere resulting in a more densely populated rural landscape compared to Australia.  But everywhere we saw “For Sale” or “To let” signs, some areas have 50% of the houses for sale.  Even though we saw lots of property bargains and great renovators, we restrained ourselves and didn’t purchase any properties as there are currently some 300,000 unoccupied houses so who would rent a property? No-yield, no-way!  There is even talk of government funded demolition of empty new housing “ghost estates”.

Cycling through the Wicklow mountains.

Cycling through the Wicklow mountains.

Many parts of roads in Ireland have fantastic smooth surface, making cycling a dream.  Traffic free cycle paths are much wider than Australia and on-road pathways are well painted in green or red.  Whilst the roads and streets are narrower, the Irish drivers display a more patient and courteous attitude to cyclists, pedestrians and each other.  The use of car horns was extremely rare.  However, double parking and parking in no stopping areas, particularly around schools, seems to be the norm.  The lack of gravel road edges made it difficult to allow vehicles to easily pass us or each other in many locations.  On the other hand ALL minor roads in Ireland are bitumen.  None of those endless gravel roads with potholes, washouts and corrugations we cycle tourers endure in Australia.  The major roads of Ireland have a constant cycling challenge – the protruding metal reflectors along the pavement edge necessitating not only watching the traffic forward and behind (using our bike mirrors) but weaving round these 20 mm high safety devices every 30 metres.  Hitting them particularly in the wet prompted much closer attention to the road pavement.

Wicklow mountain's waterfall

Wicklow mountain's waterfall

The Giant brand hybrid bicycles we used were kitted out with rear racks, front carry basket (easy day pack carrying), and much needed wheel splash guards.  Only three punctures, two new rear tyres and one set of brake blocks were needed to complete adventure.  The pre-used bikes were purchased in a buy-back arrangement from a bike shop in the University of Central Dublin.   We have been very pleased with the performance, reliability, strength and flexibility these bikes displayed during our entire journey.  Surprising little mechanical maintenance was needed to keep them running every day for 10 weeks.   

Bruce has managed extremely well carrying his daily injections for MS.  Carrying the freezer pack and cooler bag has been a bonus as we’ve been able to keep the milk, cheese and vegies cool, as well as his daily injections.

Some of the things we take for granted in Australia but we will really appreciate from now on are: public toilets in most towns, picnic tables and parks, one currency, English road signs with actual distances, street names, motels and hotels in most towns, as well as our blue sky weather.

Lots of people commented “You must be so fit.”  We don’t feel fit, even though we can easily climb the hills with loaded bikes, and we have not developed into shapely sinewy thin cycling legs.  We’re just feeling a little bit tired after 10 weeks continuous cycling everyday.  We’re looking forward to coming back to Australia next week for winter at Perisher looking after the Nordic Shelter and squeezing in lots of cross country skiing.  We’ll have to start training for the Kangaroo Hoppet, Australia’s 42km Worldloppet ski race event at the end of August.

In conclusion we’ve have an amazing adventure over these last 5 months and we know how important it is to decide what you want to do and then work out a way to make it happen. Live your dreams don’t just dream them. Our aim is to make the most of everyday rather than looking back and having regrets.  We hope you all live your dreams too.

Living your dreams together.

Living your dreams together.

Looking forward to catching up sometime in the near future.

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Ireland Fore

Greetings from Northern Ireland, which is part of the British Isles rather than the Republic of Ireland.

We’ve nearly ridden 3 thousand kilometres with about 7 hundred kms and two weeks to go until we reach Dublin, our final Irish destination.

It’s been weird crossing the border into Northern Ireland, as there was no big welcome signs or really anything to inform you that you are entering another country.  Despite this there are lots of critical differences for the traveller such as the speed signs now being in miles per hour, road distances being in miles and of course difference currency – Pounds instead of the Euro.  On our first venture into Northern Ireland we crossed the border in a quiet rural area, stopping in a small town to buy supplies for lunch we found they didn’t have any ATMs or accept credit cards but we could pay in Euros and receive our change in Euros as both currencies were kept in the shop til.

Another significant difference between Northern Ireland and the Republic has been the different religions being now in a predominant protestant/Church of Ireland part of Ireland rather than Catholic.  Historically Derry (called Londonderry by the British) , where we visited a few days ago, was a centre of many disputes between the two religions including “Bloody Sunday” in 1972.  Our visit involved some very informative and educational background of the turbulent history of the area leading to the current environment of a workable and constructive peace.

It seems the Catholics had been treated unfairly by the protestant law makers for Northern Ireland, with little civil rights or job opportunities which lead to significant unrest and massive protest marches, ultimately resulting in “Bloody Sunday” in 1972 when 28 unarmed people were shot by the British Army, with 14 dying. Ireland has certainly had a turbulent history of being occupied and taken over by many different nationalities. In modern day Ireland, it seems most Irish just want to live in peace alongside their neighbour regardless of religion.  Though we experienced first hand the different feelings of security when walking down the street in Enniskillen a largish town in Northern Ireland where a police officer with a loaded machine gun, finger on the trigger stood in shadows whilst his comrades flagged down vehicles. It remains unbeknown to us what the circumstances were.

Derry has managed to fully retain the city walls built in the 1600’s  to protect the garrison from warring chiefs.  We walked along the top of the walls which extend for about a mile in a rectangle within the CBD.

We’ve spent about 8 days cycling through Donegal County in the far north-west of the Irish Republic. It’s known as the most remote and wild county of the republic. The coastline is certainly very spectacular with white sandy beaches interspersed with huge cliffs crashing down to the sea.  Adding to the ruggedness was the weather- wet, windy days with rare sparkles of sunshine, this apparently is the norm in Ireland and we now understand why the Irish have been telling us for the last 7 weeks “you’ve had such good weather” because according to their usual weather we have had, though compared to Jindabyne weather where dry is the norm and it hardly ever rains we haven’t really thought the weather was that good.  So we’ve experienced first-hand why it’s so, so green here.  Though I have to admit the rain really just comes in short light showers of ten minutes or so and you usually get to dry out between showers.  If you don’t like the weather just wait 10 minutes and it’ll be different.  It hasn’t dampened out enthusiasm but we’ve shortened our cycling distances some days to accommodate the conditions even though it hasn’t really been cold mostly round 15 degrees but the last few days down to 12 degrees. The temperature doesn’t change much during the day with the range being less than two degrees. We celebrate when we have shadows as that means the sun is shining even for a brief minute or two.

We’ve also had some fabulous tail winds where we easily fly along and cover the distance effortlessly but then of course we’ve also had some strong headwinds.  Most of the time though, the roads twist and turn so much so the wind is not always on your back or front.  However one particular late afternoon cycling through Glenveagh National Park, we had 20 kms to go into a very strong wind, we very very slowly climbed up to a pass, taking it in turns to be at the front through magnificent treeless mountains surrounded by wet bog. The wind was so strong we had to continue to strongly peddle downhill after the long arduous climb to the pass. Fortunately most days the wind has been kind to us.

Glenveagh NP was a particular highlight for us as it was an unexpected delight. We entered the National park via a dirt track which we hadn’t known whether it would actually go though or not.  In the morning we had a fast uphill run over a pass, then dropped off the main road onto an unsignposted track to descend in light rain showers to a huge lake surrounded by huge treeless mountains with numerous waterfalls(because of the rain) cascading off the steep rocky cliffs.  We followed the lake for some 8 kms and then came to a castle and hordes of noisy schoolgirls who had entered the National Park through the traditional entry point. This is the last place you would expect to find a castle as on Irish standards it is quite remote and high in the mountains. The castle had been built in the 1850’s as a hunting lodge by a rich landowner who had just evicted poor tenant farmers from their land after the potato famine. There were hectares of beautiful exotic gardens to complement the castle which has retained many of the original decorations from the 1800’s.

Climbing Mt Errigal, shaped like a pointy volcano, in Glenveagh NP was a real highlight. After climbing steeply for an hour in heavy mist and through bog and rock scree the clouds parted just in time for superb coastal and mountain views.

For accommodation we’ve usually been averaging staying in hostels for 4 or 5 nights a week and then Bed and Breakfasts the other nights when no hostels were nearby.  We really like the mixture of accommodation.  At the hostels we can cook our own food and meet other travellers and then interact with the real Irish people and eat out when staying at the B&Bs.  Cycling through the far west though we had a couple of days where we’ve had difficulty finding any sort of accommodation even in towns of a few thousand people and had to cycle on a further 10 or 20 or 30 kilometres.  Most the way around Ireland there has been bed and breakfasts every couple of kilometres in most towns, villages and in rural areas, but in Donegal the tourist season doesn’t really get going until June, it’s a bit like the Australian ski season, short and sharp.

One hostel we stayed at was an old monastery where in the rooms were the old libraries from monastery days, in the shared bathroom candles were lit, a peat fire was burning in the ancient fireplace and there was pipped music, it was very quirky, but this was also where we had our most enjoyable breakfast as all the travellers from various countries and hostel owner just seemed to connect.

Most of the B&Bs are small family operations and many have had absolutely glorious views over surrounding rural hills or even water views, it’s been a pleasure enjoying their wonderful houses.

Thanks for all the birthday wishes at the end of April.  I spent a very enjoyable day cycling some 60kms then walking around the shops in Clifden a tourist town a bit similar to Beechworth, then we had dinner at a restaurant where live traditional Irish music was being played, it even started at 6.30pm where in most pubs the traditional music starts at 10pm.

As I write this dispatch we are sitting by the window of a dramatically located hostel at Malin Head, the northern most point in Ireland.  Out the bay window, less than 50 metres away from us, we are entertained by huge waves crashing down on the rocky shore.  Two days ago an Italian lady photographed Baskin sharks from the same windows.  It’s such a brilliant place we decided to stay an extra day here.  We wandered the cliffs and explored the beaches some which were full of beautiful coloured stones which when polished retain the glossy colours similar to being wet.

We are thoroughly enjoying the long days of light-one of the advantages of being so far north it gets light before 5.30am and is still light until after 10pm, this might be one of the reasons that little seems to happen before 10am.

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Ireland Tree

Hi all!

Hope you had a relaxing and safe Easter.  Bruce and I spent Easter on the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland.  Irish friends Jan and Joe, from Dublin were already planning to visit the Aran Islands and we just happened to be in the area so met up with them for an especially enjoyable 4 days of easy cycling, wonderful cliff walks

Aran Islands - Inishmore Island - Dun Aonghasa - Round Fort on a Cliff

Aran Islands - Inishmore Island - Dun Aonghasa - Round Fort on a Cliff

, dinners out and lots of relaxing, socialising and superb Irish music. It was great to be off the mainland, missing the busier roads for the Easter holidays and have a well earnt break in our cycle trip.

We have successfully cycled some 1500km around southern Ireland in the last 4 weeks – literally halfway around the coast of Ireland. So our plan is to try and cycle the northern half of Ireland in the next 5 weeks before returning to Australia in early June for the opening of the ski season.

The highlights of our cycle are endless with loads of historic buildings especially churches and abbeys built thousands of years ago (not 200 years as in Australia)

Aran Islands Inishmore Island - Rainwater collecting and storage stone device and lighthouse buildings

Aran Islands Inishmore Island - Rainwater collecting and storage stone device and lighthouse buildings

, patient and respectful motorists, beautiful coastal scenery with roads following the coast for kilometre after kilometre and friendly encounters with Irish people who all have a relative or friend in Australia.

Yesterday we cycled around Ireland’s only fjord and if that wasn’t spectacular enough, the scenery only got better with treeless mountains and wide valleys  just like near Kiandra in the Snowy Mountains, abutting huge freshwater lakes with the coast only a couple of kilometres away.

Today Bruce went geocaching whilst I climbed the “Irish holy mountain”- Croagh Patrick, which rises 764 metres straight out of the ocean.  The mountain named after St Patrick, where he spent 40 days fasting and banished snakes from Ireland in 441AD. (He must of sent them to Australia!)  A hundred thousand ‘pilgrims’ climb the mountain every year which is hard to believe as it is a difficult steep rocky track full of loose boulders. The ascent is hard on the breathing and the feet, but the descent is even trickier because of all the loose rocks on the steep track.  It’s not a wilderness climb as there were at least 600 other people on the mountain and when I reached the summit, mass in the mountain top church was in progress. An amazing experience!

We keep thinking we’ve seen the best view but every day we seem to be rewarded with even more beautiful places to picnic and admire.

I am going to let the photos tell the rest of the story……………………… oh yeah, and green everywhere with lots of happy sheep and cattle.

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Ireland Too – the leg has improved greatly

Hi everyone!

How time flies! We’ve already been cycling in Ireland for more than 2 weeks.  Bruce is powering along getting stronger every day – his physio is working really well.  Cycling is the best thing to heal a broken leg.  He’s even starting to occasionally stand up on the pedals on the steeper uphills and walking more confidently even coming walking with me some afternoons after cycling. He’s starting to looking for  geocaches again as well.

Ireland is amazing!  42 shades of green!  Green! Green ! …. Green pastures everywhere!  In all  directions everywhere we looked in the first 10 days there were green hills with plump happy sheep and cows grazing on lush green grass;

Ireland - Sheep with ocean views

Ireland - Sheep with ocean views

the permanent grey sky being the exception of course.  How lucky are these animals to have such incredible sea views to look at all day long and more grass than they could possibly ever eat.  Much different to the Australian Monaro sheep and cows who are lucky to have a few blades of brown grass to eat, rarely is it green, but lots of rocks to chew instead. That’s the rugged nature of the Monaro in the foothills of Australia’s highest mountains.

The scenery is constantly changing here in Ireland.  Much of the first 10 days or so down the east coast was long sandy/rocky beaches interspersed with small coastal towns many used as Dubliners weekend entertainment/holiday spots with numerous deserted caravan parks full of portable housing without a single tree. N ow we’ve travelled further west there are less mobile home parks but lots of ghost estates – new housing estates built in better economic times and now sit virtually empty.  

Ireland - Waterville - Ghost Estate

Ireland - Waterville - Ghost Estate

Ireland has been hit hard by the Global Financial Crisis and currently has an unemployment level of approximately 14%.  There are many properties for sale but everywhere we have noticed huge multi-storey country houses which we Australians can only ever dream about owning.  The country areas are very well populated much more so than Australia as the farms are very small and the land has been subdivided into very small parcels.  This makes it a cyclist’s paradise as there are thousands of kilometres of small backcountry roads winding their way between small villages and larger towns which seem to occur every 15-20 kilometres.

We cycled down the Irish east coast from Dublin and when we ran out of land we headed west following the coast where possible.  We’ve cycled to the most south-westerly point on the Irish mainland – Mizen Head

The furthest south-western point of Ireland at Mizen Head with Marg

The furthest south-western point of Ireland at Mizen Head with Marg

and enjoyed the informative displays at the old signal station, also the Queenstown Museum in Cobh (pronounced “Cove”) had a most interesting display of the history  of shipping including Irish emigration.  Ireland’s population was over 8 million people in the 1840’s but because of the effects of the potato famine with people dying and many emigrating the population decreased to around 4.5 million people in the early 1900’s. Cobh was the last port of call for the ill-fated Titanic built in Belfast, Northern Ireland and Cobh was also the town where the survivors of the 1915 Lusitania shipping disaster were brought. Approximately 1200 people died, out of 1900 on-board the Lusitania when a German U-boat torpedoed it just off the Irish coast during WW1.

In Waterford we participated in the Waterford Crystal Tour which was very, very interesting.  it’s a real work of art.  It was amazing to see how the intricate detail is made and how complicated the procedure of making a decorated crystal wine goblet is, let alone the 2 metre high grandfather clock on display. We will certainly appreciate how delicate crystal work is now.

We have had so many other highlights it’s hard to record them all but I’ll name a few: green rolling hills in every directions, lovely beaches, rugged rocky coastline, small friendly villages and towns, polite, caring drivers who wait until it is safe to overtake us on the narrow roads, luxurious and affordable bed and breakfasts with water views from the bed.

There is one reason that Ireland is so greeeeeeen, yes it rains a lot, but actually we’ve been pretty lucky so far, lots of heavy mist which might last all day, but most of rain has occurred at night. It’s often grey and threatening with ominous clouds but the fronts have moved through quickly though it’s been great having a goretex jacket as there’s been some very blustery days too. The weather is a bit like Melbourne sunny one minute then light drizzle for a few minutes but really we’ve been really lucky and have even been rewarded with some beautiful sunny days and a few superb tail winds after 4 days of headwinds.

Yesterday we had a brilliant day visiting, my sister-in-law Stella’s mum (Bridie) and two of Stella’s sisters. Stella’s mum lives in the most amazing location, high on very green hill overlooking St Finans Bay. As we arrived the mist lifted and the views out Bridie’s windows are absolutely tremendous. There just happened to be an Irish dancing afternoon in the nearby tiny village which we went too.

Irish dancing in main street of The Glen in Ireland

Irish dancing in main street of The Glen in Ireland

We’ve seen thatched roof houses, quiet harbours, magnificent churches and abbeys, decaying castles and fortresses, vertical stone circles, multi-lingual road signage (Gaelic and English), history everywhere ( thousands of years of history in all directions).  There might be a town of 2000 residents but it has a massive decorated cathedral and then the next town has an even more elaborate cathedral.  We visited Ardmore which is apparently where St Declan converted the locals to Christianity back around 350AD before St Patrick even came to Ireland. We enjoyed the magnificent views and sunshine at Old Head and the short sharp hills with spectacular coastal views around Ardgroom on the Beara Penisula, so many magnificent places to visit we feel so lucky to have the opportunity to cycle around Ireland. Cycling Ireland is a dream come true.  Well worth considering a motoring or cycling holiday here.

So far we’ve cycled some 900 kilometres from Dublin-Wexford via the East coast-Kilmore Quay-Waterford-Tramore-Dungarvan-Ardmore-Youghal (pronounced Yawl), Cobh, Kinsale-Old Head, Timoleague-Skibbereen-Mizen Head-Bantry-Castletownbere-Gursey cable car(mainland to Gursey Island is linked by an old 6 person cable car)-Amazing coastal cycling to Eyries(rivals Great Ocean Road)-Kenmare-Waterville (Charlie Chaplin town)-St Finan’s Bay-Valentia Island-Cahersiveen.

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Ireland Won …let’s go cycling

Hi everyone !!!!

Well, the absolutely awesome news is that Bruce has thrown away his crutches and cast, and has started physiotherapy (ie bike riding).  Yep!  Just 3½ weeks after breaking his ankle Bruce is successfully riding a bike with little pain.  In fact riding is much easier than walking, so we aren’t doing much walking but have started our cycling adventure around Ireland.  I know it’s hard to believe, it’s like a miracle has occurred.

But this is what happened………

The day after the final Worldloppet ski race in Lillehammer, Norway we caught a train to Oslo and went to stay with Sarah Beney, an Aussie who has married Rune, a Norwegian and they now have 3 wonderful children  Fredrik, Lilly and Freya who kept us entertained playing Monster Snap.   After a final ski in farmland just down the road from Sarah’s house in suburban Oslo, we sorted our gear and left our ski equipment at Sarah’s.  A final walk through snow and ice, as Oslo countryside is still completely covered in the white stuff, we caught the bus to the airport before flying to Ireland with just daypacks on our Ryan Air budget flights for $100 each.

Our Irish Worldloppet skier friend Jan picked us up at Dublin Airport, with Bruce managing the long airport walk much faster than ever before on his crutches. S till we were the last passengers out of the terminal.  We stayed with Jan and hubby Joe for 3 nights in their suburban terrace house which is what most people in Dublin live in.  Every street seems to have rows of similar two storey houses mostly co-joined.  They have a real character about them.

On our first day in Dublin we visited the city with Jan and Bruce decided to have a go walking around without crutches and wearing his walking boots.  After that success Bruce had a go on Jan’s bike and was surprised to discover he could easily ride a bike.  There were big celebrations that night!  So the next day we purchased bikes on a buyback scheme where the bike shop will buy the bikes back for at least half the price we paid once we finish using them.  It should work out much cheaper than hiring. The 15kms ride from the bike shop back to Jan and Joe’s house was great test for Bruce’s ankle.

Bruce throws away the leg cast and crutches

Bruce throws away the leg cast and crutches

So on just our third morning in Dublin, we set off on our around Ireland cycling adventure at a much slower pace than usual.  We headed to the coast and are following the coast south of Dublin because it appears to be much flatter than some other areas of Ireland.  We are gradually increasing the distances as Bruce feels more and more capable.  So far we travelled 15km the first day, 25km the second(Bray), 35 km the third day (Wicklow), 51km the fourth (Courtown) and 54kms today (Wexford). We have visited some lovely coastal towns that aren’t on the usual tourist trail. We’ve had fine dry weather everyday with the sun appearing for most of the days.  But the sensational thing which is usually unheard of in cycling is that we’ve had light tail winds for four out of the five days which has really helped our progress.

We are really enjoying the slow relaxed pace after the last 11 weeks  of full-on pace with so many deadlines to meet, buses, trains and planes to catch, ski races to participate in and of course Bruce’s broken ankle.  We’ve been staying in a mixture of B’n’Bs, hotels and a hostel tonight.  We have had extremely relaxed starts as most of the accommodation offer breakfast but not until 8 or 8.30am, so we’ve even enjoyed some sleep-ins too and then indulged on delicious cooked breakfasts.

Therefore we are thoroughly enjoying cycling around Ireland and are looking forward to continuing for the next 2 months.

Bruce and Marg on Ferry on southern Ireland

Bruce and Marg on Ferry on southern Ireland

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Norway – Classic 54km 19 March 2011

Hello from Norway!

Yesterday I successfully completed the goal of 14 Worldloppet ski races and had my final ski until we are back in Australia in June.

It was great to be back skiing in Norway as the skiing above Lillehammer, where the 1994 Winter Olympics were held, reminds me of the terrain around the Bogong High Plains and even parts of the Snowy Mountains- there’s rolling hills above the tree line with views in all directions.  Most of the other ski areas we’ve skied at has either been in valleys looking up at the mountains or in wooded/trees areas.

Malcolm and I skied with other friend Aussie John Plaice and American Brian Bennett,  each day catching the bus up high above Lillehammer to ski some of the 330km of groomed trails and at the end of the day would ski the 12km return trail to Lillehammer.  Once the skiing finished we then had the hardest part of the day negotiating the very icy footpaths along the 2km back to our accommodation.

Because of the ice it was tricky for Bruce to get out much but we did manage a shopping trip so he now has new skis and ski boots in case we can’t manage to find an affordable way of getting his skis and boots back from America in time for the start of the Aussie ski season.  Despite being in Norway and nearly everything being very very expensive there were some end of season sales of ski gear, at  much cheaper prices than Australia.  The day before the race we woke to fresh snowfalls and big flakes of snow falling which fortunately covered the ice.  So Bruce managed to walk with crutches on now snowy roads as we had to change from the hostel which was extremely well located above the train station to a luxury traditional style B & B on the lakeside 2 kms from the town centre.   It was a real contrast in accommodations.  Bruce is also walking short distances inside without crutches.  He visited the local doctor to have his leg checked out and found good value in the $24 doctor fee. Amazing value considering getting a take away pizza is $40 and a bus trip 1km is $6.

My 16 year old classic skis had developed a bulge near one of the ski tips so at the last minute concern for whether my ski would break or not in the race, I decided to wear Bruce’s new skis which have a new special ‘nanogirp’ coating requiring at least 30kms to wear them in, so for the first  40km or 50km of the yesterday’s  race the skis were slow.  But the last few kilometres, the downhill section, I had good glide.

The Norwegian marathon ski race, the ‘Birkebeinerrennet’ has the reputation of being the toughest race.  It is a 54 kilometre traverse across the mountains simulating a traditional story of how baby Prince Hakon was carried across the mountains hundreds of years ago by freedom fighters to save his life from invading troops.

The course starts in Rena in a valley and then for 14kms the trail climbs, I was so hot I had to stop and take my thermal off and skied the rest of the race in just a bra and light wind top and one thin layer of ski tights.  On the reaching the top of the first climb you break out of the trees on top of the rolling hills with magnificent views for seemingly hundreds of kilometres.  A short 1km descent is followed by another climb, then another short descent and another climb and on and on until Sjusjøen where the final 12km descent to Lillehammer begins. B y then the track was totally destroyed as 16 thousand people skiing over the same bit of snow really chops it up.  A few days earlier the steepest downhill hills were a joy to fly down but not in the race they were a survival test, trying to stay right between the channels of deep sugar snow and out of the way of the more skillful Norwegians who were hurtling down the hill at breakneck speed.   I just skied on hoping they stayed away from me and didn’t take me out.  I was very pleased to reach the bottom of the steepest sections still upright and with my body and Bruce’s skis intact. The last few kilometres my skis (Bruce’s skis) were running well and I even managed to overtake a few people who were obviously more tired than me.  This certainly was one of the toughest races for me, taking me 5 hours and 45 minutes to complete the 54kms.  Fortunately we had brilliant weather and the wave start meant skiers were more spread out than last week’s Swiss race.

Despite the Norwegian race being one of the hardest  and most remote, it is will also stick in my memory as one of the most memorable. It was the amazing number of spectators lining the track for  kilometre after kilometre, even though the nearest road was afar. Many had skied in with dogs, children, BBQ and beer. It was a party atmosphere with people yelling “Heiai, Heiai “(sounded like higher! Higher!) to encourage you to ski faster and harder. Incredible cheering and when they worked out I was an Aussie, the cheering was louder and more enthusiastic. It certainly helped me to keep on skiing. Some spectators also gave out chocolate, coke, bananas and oranges, so food was aplenty as there was also the well stocked race food and drink stations.

Today we head to Oslo via train and say goodbye to Malcolm who heads home to Eurobin, Victoria. We’ve certainly had a good couple of months travelling and skiing together.  In Oslo we are leaving our ski gear with Sarah Beney, an Aussie, then we are flying to Dublin, Ireland tomorrow, a change of our plans.  Only recently we learnt that because Australians are only allowed to spend 90days in a 180 day period in the Schenegen area of Europe so our initial plan of ski touring in Norway and cycling in Switzerland/ Austria/ Germany would have meant an overstay in our 90 days.  Applying for a visa is very difficult so we have decided to leave the Schenegan area and have booked a cheap flight to Ireland.  Once Bruce’s ankle heals we’ll commence cycle touring slowly.

Posted in Worldloppet Ski Races 2011 | 1 Comment