Friday, September 21, 2012

Three perfect excuses for a quick evening ride

Motorcycle enthusiasts can come up with any type of excuse to go for a ride. We had three perfect excuses tonight:
  • It's a beautiful early Fall day in Vermont, with warm temperatures, sunshine, and the beginnings of the leaves changing color.
  • We plan to ride tomorrow afternoon, but the weather report isn't looking good:  high winds and torrential downpours.
  • I haven't gone to the grocery store, so dinner is either canned soup or we can eat out.
Even though it was 70 degrees and sunny at 4:45pm when we got on the BMW, we knew it would be dusk before we finished tonight's trip. That means packing the cold weather gear and wearing my Celtic Rider neckwarmer. Of course whenever I put on the neckwarmer, I remember the fun we had this summer in Ireland.

Riding to dinner at Jake's in Londonderry is a familiar trip, which gives me time to pay attention to the small details that I seem to miss when we're in a car. The crisp edge to the air that feels so different from hot and humid weather just two weeks ago. The brown curl to the ferns that line our dirt road. We haven't had our first frost yet, but it's coming, and the plants are already curling up for the winter. The colorful purple, yellow and red mums that our more energetic neighbors already planted. Halloween decorations at Dutton's. Dusty brownish-orange maple leaves that in another week will pop in bright colors and draw hordes of tourists to our mountains.

We sit down for dinner before 5:30, the first ones in the dining room. We don't usually eat dinner this early, but we prefer to get home before it's completely dark to miss the coyotes, deer, bear and moose that prowl the area. After dinner I pull on the cold weather layer I thankfully packed and stay warm behind Mike as we head west over the mountain toward home. The setting sun hung just above the mountains and blinded us for a few seconds each time we crested a hill. I read in today's paper how a woman earlier this week ran into the car in front of her. She didn't see the car until she slammed into it, blaming the sun for momentarily blinding her. We rode in and out of the shadows until finally the sun was completely below the mountains.

We were on the bike for 16 hours our first day on the trip to Missouri this summer, and we've spent 11 days in a row riding in the Alps. Our short ride this evening took less than two hours, including dinner, yet we accumulated memories, enjoyed the cool breeze, and pointed out the signs lining the road for the Peru Fair this weekend. Plus we pulled into the driveway just as our neighbors were turning on their lights. Home before dark.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Mountain summit, hang gliders, and wind turbines

It's a sunny, warm Labor Day and we don't have any set plans. Time for a motorcyle trip!

This summer took us east to New Hampshire, throughout our state of Vermont, and west into New York. We decided to go south into Massachusetts today, with Mt. Greylock, at 3491' the highest mountain in the state, our destination.

Continuing with our philosphy that the journey is more important than the destination, we took the scenic route. It was our first trip on the second leg of the Bennington Bypass, which opened only four days earlier. As we rode along the smooth, new pavement it was hard to believe that it took five years and $72 million to complete the three mile-long highway.

Bennington Bypass

Sunday, September 2, 2012

It's the first Sunday of the month, and time for the BMW Motorcycle Owners of Vermont (MOV) breakfast at Tozier's Restaurant in Bethel. Mike's been to the monthly breakfast several times, but this was my first trip. There were 47 bikes and 50 people in attendance, almost 10% of the club membership. We welcomed five new members plus a couple of fellow BMW riders from Yankee Beemers.

Everyone was upbeat with a lot of laughter, talk about motorcycles and motorycle trips, and the upcoming rally. The club motto: "Live to ride, ride to eat" was upheld in fine fashion with plenty of eggs, bacon, potatoes and pancakes. When folks ride over 100 miles for breakfast, you know it has to combine good food and fun. Pamela, the treasurer, received a tiara with a BMW logo on it from one of the club directors, much to the amusement of everyone present.

After breakfast we continued our ride to Calais where Mike's parents own a summer camp on Curtis Pond. It was another partly sunny end of summer day, with fluffy white clouds scattered across the robin's egg blue sky. Mike knows the best motorcycle roads, and we zoomed along Route 12 into Montpelier.

Montpelier, the smallest state capitol at just under 8000 people, is a mixture of stately government buildings including the capitol with a gleaming gold dome, and off-beat, funky stores. We ate lunch at Bagitos, an eclectic cafe that serves bagels, burritos, and tacos along with live music, a shelf full of children's books, and local artwork on the walls. Locally-sourced ingredients included kale, eggs, bacon, tempeh and beef. The quirky atmosphere both inside and out added to the fun.

The road from Montpelier to Calais winds through farmland and forests and up and down hills until we turn off at Curtis Pond onto the narrow dirt road that leads to the Ryan's camp. The R1200 GS handles both bumpy pavement and dirt/gravel roads with ease.

dirt road into the Ryan's camp

Curtis Pond

A "truck" built out of rocks and filled with flowers near Curtis Pond

Sticking to our goal of traveling different roads whenever possible, we rode south toward home on Route 2 and then on Route 100B along the Mad River, continuing south on scenic Route 100. It wouldn't be a summer day on the motorcycle without a stop for ice cream, and the maple/black raspberry twist dipped in chocolate didn't disappoint.

Route 100 took us into Rochester where we turned west to go over the Brandon Gap. Gap roads in Vermont wind up and over mountain passes, and the Brandon Gap is a favorite for both human-powered bikes and motorcycles. With a 9% grade on the east and a 12% grade on the west, the views as the paved road crests the mountain are amazing.

Brandon Gap looking east

Brandon Gap looking west

Once in Brandon we turned south on Route 7, riding through the valley with the Green Mountains to the west and the Taconics to the east. Late afternoon shadows spilled over the road, reminding us that summer is almost over and the cooler temperatures of autumn are on their way.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

New BMW R1200 GS on familiar Vermont roads

the new BMW R1200 GS in Warren, VT

Mike was hooked: after riding a BMW R1200 GS last year on the ROADRunner 5 Country Tour and last month in Ireland with Celtic Rider he decided it was time to replace our F800 GS with a more powerful 2012 model. Mike has been on the new bike a few times, and this weekend was our first opportunity to try it out together.

Mike of course knows all the differences in the engine, specs, handling, etc.:  all the techy stuff that I know nothing about. The only difference I truly notice is that I sit up higher and the side bags are positioned a bit lower. As long as Mike is happy with the motorcycle, I'm content simply to ride along behind him taking in the scenery and pointing out ice cream stands that demand we stop.

Our loose plan today was to ride north on scenic Vermont Route 100, winding our way to Stowe and eventually circling back south toward home. Route 100 is a beautiful ride any time of the year as the road winds along the eastern side of the Green Mountains passing through farmland and small towns. This time last year Hurricane Irene slammed into our state causing massive flooding that destroyed bridges, roads, houses, and farms. The smooth new pavement repaired most of the damage, but we're awed by the still visible signs of the immense power of the water.

We enjoyed little traffic and open roads during the early part of the ride, but the closer we came to Stowe, the more traffic we encountered. The backdrop of Mt. Mansfield, Vermont's highest mountain at 4395', the old center part of Stowe, and the stores lining the Mountain Road make it a favorite tourist destination.

Our true goal in Stowe was to drive the Notch road, the narrow, twisty mountain pass road that goes over Mt. Mansfield connecting Stowe to Jeffersonville, home of Smuggler's Notch ski area. The Notch road isn't plowed in the winter, trucks are forbidden, and every so often motor homes get stuck because they're too long to navigate the tight corners. The road narrows to one lane, with trees and mountain rocks closing in on both sides. I hung on tight to Mike as I twisted around to look in every direction.

Mike has a great sense of direction in Vermont since he grew up here and either for work or fun has driven most of the roads. We headed in a southeasterly direction, confident that eventually we'd find both ice cream and Vermont Route 14 north of Montpelier, one of Mike's favorite motorycle roads. Luckily we stumbled across an ice cream stand with 64 flavors, where we chatted with a friendly couple from Essex Junction riding a 1978 Honda Gold Wing.

Mike often accuses me of falling asleep on the bike, and today he was right. The combination of warm sun, comfortable motorcycle, smooth roads and a stomach full of triple berry ice cream made me nod off periodically as we rode along the White River and back through Rutland to home.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Off the bike on a trek through the Wicklow Mountains

While we absolutely adore riding the BMW motorcycle, we also like to get off the bike and see the country in a different way. After finishing our 5-day motorcycle tour with Celtic Rider we started a 4-day walk through the Wicklow Way, a mountainous area just south of Dublin.

Read about our walking trip at and follow our progress over the next three days.

bridge over the River Dargle; the stones ARE the walking path

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Riding full circle in Ireland

The last day of a trip on the motorcycle is always bittersweet. One sad part is leaving our new friends, Kelly and Rob. We've enjoyed riding with them, sharing new experiences, exclaiming over yet another gorgeous view, and recapping the day's adventures over dinner. They're continuing south for three more days on the motorcycle, while we're headed back to Dublin to start our 4-day hiking trip in the Wicklow Way.

Rob and Kelly on Achill Island

Our trip today took us from Westport on the western side of Ireland back to Dublin on the eastern shore of Ireland. We rode about 160 miles across the width of Ireland, and saw the countryside change from the mountains and sheep of the west coast, to rolling farmland and cows in the middle, to suburban and urban centers as we neared Dublin.

We notice our surroundings more acutely when we travel by motorcycle, taking in the different smells of the farms and homes burning coal for heat, the loud mixture of sounds as we rode through congested and narrow streets in larger market towns, the brush of the hedges and bushes on our left knees as we snuggle close to the edge of the road when we meet a truck or tractor coming the opposite direction on one of the twisting and narrow county lanes, the smiles and waves from both school children and adults leaning on fences as we ride by.

Along the way we drove through Roscommon, and stopped to see the castle, built in 1269 by the Normans.

Unlike other castles we've driven by this week, Roscommon Castle is open for free to the public. We wandered around the imposing stone ruins, imagining what it must have been like to live here during the 400 years it was an important stronghold.

Traveling further east we came to Athlone, a busy town of 21,000 filled with people walking the narrow sidewalks and dodging  streams of traffic on the old city streets. Athlone is located on the River Shannon, at 224 miles Ireland's longest river.

 I always imagined the River Shannon as a wide, winding, slow-moving river with lush green fields on either side. My imagination was correct, and I wished we had more time to take a river cruise and explore more of this area.

In our quest to stay off major highways, we zig-zagged our way into the urban sprawl around Dublin, staying on less-traveled side roads and finally entering into one business park after another. We reached Celtic Rider mid-afternoon just as the drizzling rain ended and the sun came out

Both Paul, the owner of Celtic Rider, and Noel, the friendly gentleman who transported us to and from Dublin, asked us our favorite parts of the trip. There are so many favorites, we couldn't pick just one. Each day brought to life places we'd read about and now were able to experience first-hand, new and unplanned discoveries, and encounters with the lovely Irish people.

Noel, Paul and Mike at the end of our trip

Back in Dublin, we wandered the streets surrounded by throngs of people including 8000 costumed as zombies.  They're part of a quest to break the Guinness World Record for the most zombies in one location plus raise money for two Irish charities. Just one more surreal experience in a week full of the unexpected on our trip in Ireland.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Exploring County Mayo

You may not think 'beaches' when you dream of Ireland, but today we rode to one of the most beautiful beaches we've ever seen. Achill Island, connected to the rest of County Mayo by a short bridge, is home to five gorgeous beaches complete with smooth sand, green mountain backdrops, and pounding surf.

We don't often get off the bike and walk around, but the beaches called to us today. We couldn't resist walking on the sand and peeking over the side of the cliffs that plunge down to the Atlantic.

We stopped first at Keel Beach, where surfers played in the waves and two boys used kites to power their beach cruiser across the sand.

We then rode a short distance up a steep, winding, narrow road that led to Keem Beach, bookended by the cliffs of Benmore to the west and Croaghaun mountain to the east. The sheep cling to the steep cliffs or nonchalantly walk down the middle of the road. This is their country, and they walk where they please. The golf course has fences around the greens to keep the sheep away, but they freely wander around the rest of the course.

We continued to explore County Mayo, riding through periodic showers into busy Castlebar where the one-way streets through the old downtown area are barely wide enough for one car.

This fields in this part of Ireland are marked with beautiful, tall, limestone walls that criss-cross the countryside. An old, derelict stone church surrounded by some of these stone walls caught our eye.

A man drove up as we were walking around, and we started talking. When we asked him why the walls in all of the fields are made of stone, he said they have a lot of it around. Indeed!

The intermittent rain turned into a downpour, leaving large puddles of water in the roads. The oncoming drivers pulled over and let us drive slowly through the water. Once again the Irish are friendly and welcoming. As we took small, rural roads back to the B & B in Westport, the rain stopped and the sun started to come out behind the clouds. We crested a hill, and looked out over the green valleys and the Atlantic in the distance. The end of another glorious day on the motorcycle in Ireland.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Water everywhere we look

Sunshine greeted us this morning as we left  Donegal and headed toward Westport in County Mayo, Ireland's third largest county. County Mayo is located on the western edge of Ireland, directly on the Atlantic Ocean. The location means bright green meadows, rocky mountains, cliffs towering over the sea, brisk winds, and lots of seafood in the local restaurants.

We took a delightfully twisty route from Donegal toward Sligo, a short distance as the crow flies but we spent almost two hours riding on curving, narrow,  hedge-lined roads.

As we turned west, the landscape changed to vast meadows, few trees, and sheep everywhere we turned. Because of the lack of trees for firewood, the people living here learned to use turf, cut from the bogs that cover the landscape, for fuel. Turf cutting still goes on today, as we saw almost everywhere we traveled yesterday and today.

We stopped at Ceide Fields, the site of Stone Age foundations, walls, and tombs built of stone and dating from over 5000 years ago. Oddly enough, this site was discovered in the 1930's by a man cutting turf in his fields. Ceide Fields is located directly next to cliffs soaring 1214 feet over the Atlantic. 

The wind was so strong today that gusts periodically pushed me backwards as walked along the cliffs. Mike had to lean the bike into the wind to keep us upright as we drove along the coast.

windblown along the Atlantic
We continued riding west along the coast, heading toward the tip of the Mullet Peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic on a narrow spit of land with a lighthouse at the end. On our way, we got turned around and as we stopped to look at our map, a man came out of his house and offered his help. He not only gave us directions, he also gave us a tourist map much more detailed than ours. In much of Ireland the road signs are in both English and Irish. On the Mullet Peninsula everything is in Irish only, making it more difficult for us to navigate the roads, but adding to the adventure. Belmullet becomes "Béal an Mhuirthead", Ballycastle  "Baile an Chaistil", and Blacksod, the town at the very tip of the peninsula, is "Cuan an Fhóid Duibh". Don't ask me about the pronunciation!

the Gulf Stream makes the climate here warm enough for palm trees

The lighthouse at the point of the peninsula was built in 1864 out of local granite. A plaque on the side of the lighthouse reads that the D-Day forecast was sent from here on June 4th, 1944.

We rode back through the peninsula and then turned southeast toward Westport and our B & B for the next two nights. We stopped for gas in nearby Newport, a gorgeous town with breathtaking views of the 365 islands that are scattered throughout Clew Bay. The man who came out to help us asked, as usual, where we are from. When Mike told him the Northeast, he asked for more specifics, and it turns out he's skied in Killington and Sugarbush in Vermont, plus driven throughout New Hampshire and Maine. Vermont, he assured us, is his favorite place in the States.

Each evening over dinner we talk about the day's trip, the friendly and helpful people we've met, the beautiful and often unplanned places we've visited, and how the next day simply won't be as wonderful. We're always proved wrong, because the next day always manages to surprise us in unexpected ways. Our travels on the motorcycle are more about the journey than the destination, and this trip is no exception.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A better than excellent day on the motorcycle

"This ride is better than excellent!" exclaimed Rob as we stopped for a short break after zooming down narrow roads that wound around tight corners that went on and on, something like a child learning to write the letter 'S' and not knowing when to stop drawing curves.

We rode 200 miles today, traveling along the Atlantic Ocean and discovering hidden beaches,

riding into the mountains and onto the cliffs of Slieve League with their 300 meter drop down into the Atlantic,

discovering incredibly rich and delicious Irish ice cream (forest berry and honey creme flavors - Ben and Jerry's, watch out!) at the top of the cliffs,

driving along the barren, hair-pin turns of the Glengesh Pass in an area where sheep and goats grazed on the sides of the impossibly steep hills as well as right next to the road,

and back to the B & B thrilled with the countryside, friendly and helpful people we met along the way, new friends, and the wonderfully fun motorcycle riding. Tomorrow we head south along the Atlantic coast to Westport. We're ready!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Irish motorycle adventure begins

wet two-lane road (really!) in County Kildare

The wonderful guys from Celtic Rider arranged taxi service between our hotel in Dublin and their shop outside the city. Mike took our BMW R1200 GS on an orientation ride while I packed up everything we need for five days on the bike. The two side cases and the tail case hold only the essentials, and it's amazing what I can learn to do without for five days.

It was raining when we left Celtic Rider for today's destination:  the Ardlenagh View B & B in Donegal in the northwestern part of Ireland. Along the six-hour ride, I made a list of all the terms I knew for rain:

  • drizzle
  • shower
  • light rain
  • downpour
  • torrential rain
  • mist
  • monsoon
We experienced all of these except for the monsoon, which is a fairly typical day in Ireland. The wet weather didn't stop us from enjoying the lush green grass in the meadows, flowers, and hedgerows towering along the roadside so high we couldn't see over them.

Mike in front of the stone walls and hedgerows that line many Irish roads

Mike set the GPS to avoid highways, which meant we traveled on roads barely wide enough for two cars, even narrower roads that comfortably allow one car to drive down the middle, and roads with grass gowing in the middle of the road, similar to many Vermont driveways but much narrower. These paved roads look like a bicycle path at home, and imagine the fun we have riding down these twisty lanes lined with hedgerows, trees and stone walls that block Mike's view of oncoming traffic.  Meeting a speeding car heading the opposite direction on a blind corner is not for the faint of heart! Mike's orientation instructor said that when the British ran Ireland, they took centuries-old wagon roads and dumped macadam into the ruts without any additional improvements, which evidently includes paving over the grass. When asked why they don't simply widen the roads, he said that would be solving the problem, and the Irish aren't good at that. It turns out that these narrow, winding roads are our favorites.

We arrived at our B & B home for the next two nights ready to change out of our wet raingear and head to dinner. Rob and Kelly, a couple from Canada, are on the 8-day Celtic Rider tour, which means we share the same itinerary for our first four days. Tony, the owner of the B & B, drove us into Donegal for dinner and highly recommended we attend the Slice of Ireland dinner and show at the Central Hotel. What an evening! Traditional Irish ballads mixed with drinking songs,  five musicians playing the guitar, accordion, fiddle, Uillean pipe, Irish harp, and bodhran (Irish drum); a guest performance from the Milwaukee Irish Fest choir who happened to be in the audience, two incredible Irish dancers from Riverdance, the 6 and 8 year old sons of one of the musicians who started the show with a ballad, and a local comedy duo rounded out the show. Everyone, the musicians and dancers included, was having so much fun the show continued longer than usual.

It was an incredible introduction to our Irish motorcycle tour and we're looking forward to more adventure tomorrow.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Celts, Vikings, Anglo-Saxons and the Irish

It's going to be a great day when the bus driver sings "Molly Malone", Dublin's unofficial anthem:

In Dublin's fair city,
Where the girls are so pretty,
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone,
As she wheeled her wheel-barrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!"
"Alive, alive, oh,
Alive, alive, oh",
Crying "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh".
After singing, he went on to tell us that Molly is fondly known as "the tart with the cart," "the dish with the fish", or the "trollop with the scallop" alluding to her daytime profession selling fish and her nighttime profession as a prostitute. We're learning that the Irish love a good joke and have a great sense of humor.

Trinity College

We walked to Trinity College, founded in 1592 and home to the Book of Kells in the beautiful Old Library. Neither Mike or I like to wait in line, but we made an exception today.

The Old Library's Long Room is home to over 200,000 of its oldest books, with several on display in glass cases and the rest housed in stacks on two different floors. The bookshelves reach so high narrow ladders are necessary to access the tallestest shelves.

The main event in the Library is the Book of Kells, an ornately illustrated book containing the four New Testament Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - handwritten on vellum in Latin by Celtic monks in the 9th century. Before we could view the actual book, we walked through an informative exhibit that explained how the monks painstakingly wrote the book using quill and ink and illustrated  it with vivid, beautiful colors that make up intricate designs. Photos of the book can't compare to the intensity of the colors in real-life, but they give an idea of the detail and time that went into this book.

We walked out of the quiet, dark Old Library into bright sunshine - something of a surprise in Dublin, where rain and showers are more common than sunshine, but welcome nonetheless. We took the CitySightseeing Dublin yellow line tour today, which included the Molly Malone song and other interesting tidbits:  the Natural History Museum is known locally as "The Dead Zoo", the statue of local politician and proponent of Irish sovreignty Daniel O'Connell is filled with dozens of holes from gunfire during the 1916 uprising, the 398' tall Spire installed for the 1988 Dublin Millenium is known as "the stiffy on the Liffey" and the ships filled with Irish emigrants to America in the 1800's were called "coffin ships" because of the horrible conditions on board.

the Spire on O'Connell Street

Dublin is home to two famous churches, and we spent time in each. Christ Church Cathedral was originally built in 1030, but has been rebuilt several times into a combination of Romanesque and early Gothic architecture.

We descended into the Crypt below the Cathedral, the oldest surviving structure in Dublin. It feels like a cave lined with rough stones that also make up the curved celing and the heavy pillars that carry the weight of the entire Cathedral above. The Irish sense of humor continues with a giftshop aptly named "The Foxy Friars" and a cafe called simply "The Crypt".

As we came back up the winding stone staircase from the Crypt into the Cathedral, we saw a crowd of children and young teens gathering near the altar. We sat down as they started to sing, and were treated to a lovely acapella concert by the Voices of Eve 'N Angels choir from northern California. We learned that the Cathedral has a centuries-old tradition of high-quality music, and that tradition continued as the children's voices echoed through the building.

After a quick lunch we visited the Dublinia exhibit next to the Christ Church Cathedral to learn about the Celts, Vikings, and Anglo-Saxons who shaped the early history of Dublin.

early Celtic figure

Vikings first visited Dublin around 820, and built a permanent settlement in 824.  Olaf the White of Norway was the first king of Dublin, and the surname "McAuliffe", which means 'son of Olaf' stems from his rule. More Irish humor:  a realistic-looking Dublin resident from the 900's sitting in his outhouse, audibly moaning, grunting, and farting was part of the exhibit.

The Anglo-Saxons invaded Ireland and transformed Dublin into an important medieval city. I learned that merchants and their families ate their meal using a pewter plate, their apprentice used a square wooden trench that gave rise to the phrase 'a good square meal', and their servants used a large slice of brown bread as a plate for the rest of their meal. The servants then gave the used piece of bread to the poor - nothing went to waste.

Our last stop for the day was St. Patrick's Cathedral, built on the site where St. Patrick supposedly baptized the first Christians in Ireland in the early 400's. A small, wooden church was first built here, and the present cathedral was built in the 13th century.

Jonathon Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels which was published in 1726 and holder of the post of Dean of the Cathedral, is one of the many famous and important people buried here.

We had a rare, sunny day with no rain and we enjoyed every bit of it. Tomorrow we pick up the motorcycle and head northwest to Donegal for the start of a 4-day motorcycle trip with Celtic Rider. We're ready to get on the road and explore Ireland!