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!