Endless Pre-Departure Preparations

Since the last entry on this blog it has been all about preparations for departure. There wasn’t any time for cycling or camping or many of the other things we had planned to do before leaving Dublin. I never realised how much work is involved in moving house and country but having no future address to move into! Banks don’t really like it when you tell them that your forwarding address is ‘a tent somewhere in Europe for the next few months’.

I finally managed to hand in my notice at work (Monika had already been made redundant a few weeks earlier) and so this was really the first point at which I realised that this trip was actually going to happen. Our tenancy notice was also given, utility services cancelled and after a frantic last couple of days packing and placing our items into storage we left our apartment in Dublin.

Our flight wasn’t for another four days, so we booked ourselves into a hostel in Dublin. This would help us get used to life outside our safe apartment. The short cycle from our apartment to the hostel was literally the first time we had cycled anywhere on our fully loaded bikes. We know this wasn’t the best preparation but with both of us having full time jobs and Ireland having year round rubbish weather – there isn’t a lot of opportunities to practice. That short cycle was enough  to tell us that we needed less stuff!! A lot less stuff. We were so wobbly and unsure of ourselves that it was like we had never been on bikes before!

Over the next day or two we managed to remove six or seven kilos of equipment that was previously listed as ‘vital’. We also spend a considerable amount of time repacking our panniers to reduce the weight on the front wheels as much as possible.

Our flight was on 20th September, so by the evening of the 19th, the bikes were packed, the panniers were prepared and we were ready to rock and roll. By this point we were so tired of the planning and organising for the past two months – we both just wanted to get all the stuff on the plane and get there. The next time we would wake up will be the first day of our trip.

Hills, Flies & Miles

We thought it was about time we did some proper distance on our bikes. We had been out on a few occasions but the maximum distance we completed was less than 40km. So, since we will have to cover at least 100km everyday on our bikes whilst on our trip, we thought we better start getting our bodies used to these kinds of kilometers.

I had it all planned out. I knew of a nice spot, in the mountains, where we had been in a car a couple of years ago. So as soon as we got a nice day we would head off into the hills for a good days cycle. I had an Ordnance Survey map of Wicklow, but I didn’t have one of Dublin, so, instead, I had eleven pages of Google Maps printed out, to show us the way out of Dublin and into the mountains of Wicklow.

It all started very promisingly. This, however, was probably because we knew the roads in this particular area. Once you get to a section of a city where you have never been before, everything starts to look very much the same. And what route looks very obvious on a map, doesn’t seem so obvious when you are cycling along, trying to negotiate cars, traffic lights, one way streets and roundabouts. At a safe place, we pulled over and I got out the map to check if we were still heading in the right direction. We were, all good. After a couple more kilometers we came to a T-Junction, which shouldn’t have been there. Mmm. As it turned out, it was only about 150m after the last stop for map checking that it all went wrong. We made the mistake of following the bend of the main road, instead of turning off onto a smaller side street. We ended up lost. Now it’s all well and good having a Google Map of your route, but when you fall off the edge of your Google Map and are now on the plain white paper next to, it’s pretty hard to find your way back!

I led Monika on a merry dance, up the hills, through car parks and down dead ends for 13km before stumbling back onto my map. That is 13km worth of energy that could have been better used for the hills ahead, but at least we were back on the map and could continue along our planned route.

Now you know how you plan a day of cycling, by looking at a flat piece of paper in the comfort of your living room – you trace your finger along the route to make sure there are no motorways or busy roads? If you are really conscientious you might have a quick look at the highest point to see how far you will have to climb. Well that’s what I did. The highest point was about 520m and so I thought that would be a fun challenge. The two things that I ended up learning from this route planning experience were: 1) Always check how close together the contours are together on any climbs and 2) check to see if there are any major down hills between the highpoints of the route.

The first section of the hills wasn’t too bad at all. The road was quiet and was lined with nice big, leafy trees and it was a sunny day. I was quite enjoying it. Now, I wasn’t rocketing up the hill by any means, but I was in no hurry, so I put the bike into the lowest gear and just pedalled onwards and upwards. Monika on the other hand, started to struggle a little bit. She didn’t like the hills, and couldn’t understand why someone had built a hilly road. Why didn’t they build the road around the hills? she asked no-one in particular. I asked if she wanted a break and the reply was: ‘Lets try and do 7km more to make it to 30km. We made it one more kilometre.

Over the next couple of hours we made it to our first ‘top’ of the morning. The view was great, the sun was out, but unfortunately the flies wouldn’t let us enjoy it. They weren’t biting flies or anything, they were just plain annoying. They would land on you, walk around, take off again and have a poke around in your ear, before it and its extended family would fly round and round your face. It was, however, nice to stop and look around and know that you had accomplished something while most of the rest of the city’s population were still in bed nursing a hangover.

Is there anything worse for a cyclist than the up-down-up scenario? I mean, you spend over two hours slogging up a hill, then you get to blast down the other side at 50kph for five minutes, knowing all the time that you have another hill in front of you that will take you another two hours to climb? Well this is what happened. We went charging on down the other side of the hill that had just taken us all morning to get up! It was great fun to feel the wind whizzing by and seeing the flies falling far behind, but that only lasted five minutes. Once again we were at the bottom of a very steep hill. This hill is notorious. It’s called the Sally Gap. It’s the road that gets mentioned regularly on winter traffic reports informing listeners ‘the Sally Gap has been closed due to treacherous conditions’. It’s the second highest paved road in Ireland.

At the bottom of the hill that would take us up the Sally Gap, there was a three-way junction. One road would take us back the way we came, one went towards the Sally Gap and the third road sign said ‘Enniskerry’ (the shortest way back home). We stopped here to consider our options. I asked Monika if she wanted to continue or wanted to turn left and head back to Dublin. She hmmm’d and haaaa’d for a while, looked up at the steep hill in front and looked at the road towards home – downhill – before eventually deciding that we should carry on with the planned route. I was pleasantly surprised by this. I had expected her to say she had had enough and wanted to go home. At this point, even a 30km cycle back home seemed like a lot!

In the back of my mind though, I didn’t think we would make it to the top and was waiting for the moment when we would be turning around and coming back down that very same hill.

For what seemed like forever, we pedalled on, eating up the tarmac one wheel revolution at a time. We were being passed by 100’s of cyclists. Every single cyclist that past us that morning, was wearing painfully tight looking lycra, sporting the sponsors of his or her local bike club. Every bike, bar none, looked like you could pick it up and snap it over your knee. Our bikes must have looked like they doubled up as bulldozers, compared to theirs. Not even one of them had a rucksack or a camera. They just had drink bottles filled with vividly brightly coloured juice and a couple of energy bars poking of their pockets on the back of their shirts.

Normally when we go out into the hills, we always come across inappropriately equipped people. Whether they are hiking up a mountain in their jeans or someone else in heels trying to push a pram across a marsh, there is always someone. On this day, we were those people – in their eyes. We had panniers, we had handlebar bags, we had cameras (yes, plural), we had books and lunch, complete with a flask of hot coffee!

After a lot of effort and perseverance, we made it to the Sally Gap and from there it was a short downhill to our lunchtime destination of Lough Tay. This was the place we had visited in the car a couple of years ago. It’s a lovely little lake completely surrounded by mountains on all sides. When the sun is out, the lake is a gorgeous bright blue, but not today. The clouds had come over and turned it murky grey, but we didn’t care. I have never looked forward to a ham and cheese sandwich so much in all of my life. In the middle of lunch I looked down to get my second sandwich and it was gone. I had already munched it down in my eagerness to feed.

During lunch, I had managed to convince myself that we were closer to home than not and that it was all down hill from here. As it turned out, we were not and it was not. We were at the exact halfway point in our journey. 45km to go.

There was nothing to do, but keep going. There were no buses going to come past and pick up cyclists that had bitten off more than they could chew, we had no tent to pitch and wait until tomorrow – plus all the ham and cheese sandwiches were gone! We had to get home!

The way back was certainly easier than the way there. Lots of downhills and some uphills, but nothing as severe as the ones we had just come up. The funniest moment of the day came when we arrived at another junction. I pulled out my map to make sure we were going in the right direction. We wanted to go to a mountain village called Enniskerry. It was unfortunate that I had just pulled out the map, when a friendly guy in a van pulled up and said ‘Are you lost?’, to which I replied ‘No, I’m just making sure that we are going the right way’. But he was a friendly guy and I didn’t want to make him feel like he had wasted his time by asking us if we needed help (after all, we could really have been in peril!), so I added on ‘Is this the way to Enniskerry?’ while pointing a thumb over my head behind me. He very politely said ‘Yep, all the way’. I put my map away, got back on my bike and it was then that I looked behind me for the first time. And there, not anymore than a metre behind me, was a giant road sign and arrow saying ‘Enniskerry 14km’. When you are driving along the roads, road signs don’t look especially large, but standing next to them, they are big enough to blot out the sun! Oh boy did I feel silly. It was like standing in a bakery asking if they knew of anywhere I can buy bread. But hey, I will probably never see him again and he can go home and tell his kids about the moron he met today.

From there, it was more or less flat with a few nice descents. Maybe the only thing that was keeping us going, was the thought of a nice big Milano’s pizza and some ice cream when we got back! So, finally after leaving the house at 7am, we arrived back at 5pm.

I looked up this route on the internet when I came back and according to the Irish Veterans Cycling Association, the Sally Gap climb is classed as Grade 1 climb – the toughest hills are marked as Grade 1 – and the fact that we did it with virtually zero training and tank-like bikes, shows that we may actually make it to the end of our trip!

Upon reflection, I think we both agree that it was a successful day in the saddle. Although, we weren’t fully loaded or didn’t cover a particularly huge distance in terms of what will be required for our trip, we had fun (didn’t we Monika?) and more importantly, we are ready to go again. We are planning an overnight trip this weekend to a beach in Wicklow, where we will get to try out our tent for the first time as well as trying a drag around a heavier load. I wonder how that will go…

Statistics from our various cycling trips (big and small) can be viewed here.

A Gentle Sunday Morning Cycle…

We managed to get our bikes out for a good long run for the first time yesterday. We went to Howth, which is a little harbour town a few kilometres north of where we live in Dublin.

The cycle there was great. It was a nice sunny day, not too busy and no wind – at least that’s what we thought!

When we got to Howth, we didn’t just come turn around and go back. We decided that we would take a trip up to ‘The Summit’. ‘The Summit’ isn’t anything terribly exciting – it’s just a hill – a long hill – from which you have a nice view of the Irish Sea. It was a little bit of struggle for Monika, but once she got into a rhythm, she made short work of the 170m climb.

The descent was fantastic fun. I put it into top gear, really leaned on the pedals and chased the cars all the way down the hill. This turned out to be a silly idea that would come back to bite me later.

On our way back, along the same route as we had arrived, we discovered why it was such a pleasant ride into Howth. We had the wind behind us. Now, of course we were cycling into the wind. It’s funny how the wind was there all along, but we didn’t even notice it and now it felt like it was a mini gale force wind. I was even looking at the trees expecting to see them being uprooted and crashing down around me, but there was none of that. The sun was shining and the ‘mini gale force wind’ was nothing more than a gentle sea breeze. I was struggling. My legs were on fire and they felt like they were ready to burst. Monika even overtook me and sailed off into the distance.

I was puffing and panting like an 83 year old coal miner with emphysema. Eventually Monika looked back and after realising that I was a mere speck on the horizon, she slowed down enough to let me catch up and to ask me ‘Why so slow?’ Anyone who knows us, knows that I am not the slow one, so it came as a bit of a shock to see how much I was suffering.

Eventually after what felt like hours, we made it home. So what was our total distance? 200km? 100km? Nope! 40km. 40km is all that it took to break me – actually it was more like 30km. I was chasing the imaginary ice cream that was dangling in front of my face for the last 10km.

When we got home, I shuffled around a bit trying to get the feeling back into my legs, before deciding that we needed snacks. We went off to the shops and spend €20 on 3 tubs of ice cream, 6 ice creams on sticks, 2 frozen pizzas, a big bag of oven chips and a bag of jelly donuts. I was pretty sure we hadn’t earned it – but that didn’t matter. I spent the next four hours half comatose on the couch. Monika didn’t seem too affected at all! She was buzzing around the kitchen making cakes and dinner, while it was an effort for me to even move my eyeball.

Now imagine us being on our trip. 40km isn’t exactly a huge distance when you are talking about cycling around the world, but if someone had come and told me that I had to cycle another 60 or 70km before it was ok to stop, I would have laughed, then cried, then sat down and refused to go anywhere. There would be no comfy couch to lie down on, or shops to buy ice cream or frozen pizzas. Instead, we will have to build our tent, use our stove to cook something (which we would probably have had everyday for the last three weeks) and go to our sleeping bags tired and unwashed.

The world seems very big at the moment…

The Bikes Have Arrived!

The bikes have arrived! They arrived over two weeks ago on top of Geoff’s parents’ car in what can only be described as MASSIVE boxes! Seriously, they are 174 x 22 x 112 cm and probably weigh a tonne and that is with no bikes inside. The bikes on their own weigh around 17 kgs each , so it was a serious operation to bring them the 100 miles to Dublin and get them to our 6th floor apartment, not to mention unpacking them, during which an accidental stabbing incident occurred resulting in some blood, not just sweat, being shed.

The bicycles straight out of the boxes were blue, not the promised yellow. But that was down to the fact that they were so amazingly well wrapped, in some bright blue sponge, for their England-Northern Ireland-Republic of Ireland journey. It won’t be so easy for them from now on…

Upon ordering the bikes, one of the things we had the option of customizing were the saddles. We had been told that people find the Brooks leather saddle to be either amazingly comfortable or not at all. Hmm well, so far to us, they look like plastic, feel like plastic and sound like plastic when knocked on. Apparently you need to break them into the shape of your backside before they start to feel good. That remains to be seen…

So after a few rainy days and few more evenings of watching Euro 2012 we finally got a chance to hop on our new steeds and have a first go. It was my first time trying toe clips. Everyone had been telling me that they are hard to get used to, so I was well prepared for some undignified falls or other disasters. Well there were no falls or disasters, although I did manage to get a bruise (but those I get all the time anyway). Apparently I have no previous habit of getting off the bike to hinder using toe clips. But I just think I was born with it…

On the first day we really have just cycled up and down the Dublin quays to get used to them. A few kilometres and our bums already knew all about it. And that’s all it took for Geoff to change his mind about padded shorts! I think the next day he ordered us a pair each.

The next ride to Pigeon House Lighthouse was bit longer. Although we didn’t manage to stay away from rain, we did stay away from bumpy roads. No reason to torture our backsides just yet.  And then more rainy days followed, then few more Euro 12 games and then some blog work and the next time bikes were out, was to take some pictures that could be shown on our blog.  Not too much riding on this outing, since the helmets stayed at home (Mr. Safety’s rules).

We have a few more trips planned; just waiting for some fair weather weekend…

Awaiting the Bikes

We have finally decided to crack on with ordering the bikes. After a few emails back and forth and sending on the measurements, we got a disappointing reply. No frame for me. And not for another 2-3 months plus building time. Apparently my frame is quite a popular size!  With the summer coming and trip date closing in, I was really hoping to get our steeds in as quickly as possible to start getting used to them. Then a few days later, we received another setback. The 2-3 months delay is on an optimistic side, not allowing for shipment, customs or other possible delays.

What do we do?

We did not want to consider different bikes. These are THE bikes. But if we wait for the frames to arrive, our planned departure date might come and go and we still wouldn’t know when the  bikes would be with us. On top of that we’d have no idea when to end our apartment lease and hand in the notices at work. No good. But there is an option. It would hurt our pockets but take the burden of anxiety away – the store had an S&S couplings frame, in stock, in my size. These S&S couplings allow the bike to be broken in half and packed much smaller for transportation – but unfortunately also add a large chunk to the cost of the bike. But if we go with this option we should have the bikes by the end of May.

So the decision was made.

The specs were sent off, deposit paid and little label on our frames changed from reserved to being built. Both of them will be yellow, although originally Geoff wanted a black frame. I even have a name for my new bike. Since a cute yellow bear was the subject of my thesis (as weird as it might sound, that’s what philology students are up to) there could be no better name than Winnie for my new yellow friend. Geoff, as a big fan of Simpsons, decided to name his after the appropriately coloured character Homer. Hope this unlikely duo will get along just as well as we do!

So now we just have to wait…

Preparations

The last few weeks have felt a little bit like Christmas. Packages containing items for our trip are constantly arriving at our apartment. Virtually everyday, upon checking the postbox, I have been finding a little note, from the postman saying that there is a package to be collected at the concierge office. As soon as I get through the door I have to open them all, there and then.

 

Geoff always laughs at me because I have to open packages straight away – even if I know that the package contains something as exciting as spare batteries… I just do not like unopened boxes!

Unfortunately most of the stuff is just that boring – water bottles, batteries, bungee cords, socks etc.

But there are also fun things like our new tent, shoes, camera lens and Geoff’s favourites – tools! But the gear is a completely different topic and there will be lots more about it shortly. Maybe I’ll even get Geoff to contribute something on the subject.

Then there was the blog. Not too many people, I must say, include ‘starting a blog’ as a process on its own. There is an easy way and a hard(er) way to start blogging. With the simple option, you can jump straight into one of the templates, sign up for an account and start posting right away.

Since I’ve spent the last year or so reading other travellers blogs, I know what sort of features and layouts I like. I already had a pretty clear idea of how I wanted the blog to look. To achieve my ideal blog and layout, it turned out I needed many plugins! Plugins for the calendar, plugins for the map, plugins for just about everything you see on this blog! So instead of an easy ready-to-blog option, we went for a self hosted, highly customizable version on which we ended up spending hours and hours before it started to come together. As of now, it’s still very much a work in progress! All I can say is, hopefully I will feel like writing posts and updating the blog, after all the initial effort we invested in it.

First Chapter

They say writing the first words is always the hardest. I had been meaning to start blogging soon after we built our site, but for one reason or another, I’ve always found excuses. So, the only entries so far have been a page called Who’s on Saddles?, some pictures of previous travels, a half-built map of our planned route, but not too many words.

True, it’s meant to be a travelling blog and at the moment we are rather stationary, with still a few months left before we commence our journey. But since not a single day passes without us planning something and thinking about this trip, I figured I might as well share some of those thoughts with…ermm right, with whom? I am well aware that it will be a monologue for a good while, but I guess this is the paradox of blogging – nobody will read if you don’t write. So here I am. I used to love writing but somehow ended up working with spreadsheets and numbers. And now the words in my head are also in a different language…all very strange for me.

So what made me finally start blogging? A movie! I watched Julie & Julia over the weekend – in case you have never heard of it, it’s a film set over dual time periods, one is following Julia Child, in the 1950’s, trying to get her first cookery book published and the second time period follows a woman called Julie fed up with her career, in 2002, so she decides to write a daily blog sharing her experiences of cooking her way through Julia Child’s book – starting at Page One. It was during this film that I realised that writing this blog might actually be fun. (I probably wouldn’t mind doing a similar experiment to the one in the movie, although I’d rather concentrate on baking…)

Anyway…whether there will be someone following or not, I shall give it a try.