Finding Zen in Galway

I’ve woken in a little corner of paradise on the edge of Galway. David & Lin have a fantastic place, surrounded by a barely tamed garden filled rhubarb, grape vines, roses, oak trees and hawthorns, and much more. The tension between wildness and order is palpable and beautiful.

I rode here yesterday from Ardfert, after taking a detour down through Dingle. There was a light fog in the hills, not enough to impair vision, but enough to put a chill in the air. By the time I reached Dingle, though, it had burned off, and I had good weather the rest of the day.

Dingle is postcard pretty and filled with your buses. I expect it is the perfect image simultaneously of Ireland as it once was and never has been.

I talked to a fellow from Dallas who commented that the riding gear looked overly warm. I said I’d rather sweat than bleed, and he asked where I was from. He said he’d grown up in Seattle, and although he lives in Texas he runs a motorcycle touring company out of Fresno that focuses on camping in the Sierras. He was waiting for a whale watching tour. When he heard I was going to Galway he suggested I tour the Arran Islands, and told me which tour he thought was best. Also, to visit a castle I forget the name of, which he said is “better than Blarney.” I thanked him for the advice & wished him a good time on the boat.

The road up to Galway was mostly dual carriageway (two lanes in each direction) or motorway (like an interstate). The surrounding countryside was beautiful, in a typical Irish way. It was a long but pleasant ride until the GPS started misnaming roads, which resulted in a couple of detours.

When I arrived here, after filtering through the afternoon rush in Galway, David greeted me like an old friend. It’s great to finally meet him, after hearing so much about him from Adele over the years.

We had dinner and walked around the garden, sat outside and drank cider and talked. His son Davey came out and joined us. He’s a great kid. Full of energy & curiosity, and very smart. (He speaks English, Chinese & Irish. I wonder how many people can say that. Not many, I think.)

We came back into the house, and I borrowed the use of their washer, and David and I sat and talked while Lin played the guzheng, and Davey showed how he catches spiders.

Today we’ll head into town for a while. It’ll be nice to have a day off from the road.

Follow me down to Carlow

Now, breakfast…. Breakfast is not a simple thing to find on a bank holiday Monday morning in Dublin. At least, it wasn’t for me.

I walked from the guesthouse I was staying at in Ringsend to Charlotte’s Quay – only about a 10 minute walk, for those of you who don’t want to Google Map it to find out – where there are a number of places that supposedly specialize in breakfasts. Or at least have coffee and baked goods. On a normal day. But today apparently wasn’t normal, so I ended up waiting for the Spar to open so I could get, at the very least, coffee and some fruit.

Even Spar was late opening its doors today, but I got a coffee to tide me over until someplace more promising opened their doors. None did, or at least, not in a period of time I was willing to wait around for, so I ended up going back in to buy a breakfast sandwich and some bottled water and an apple. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad, either.

Before I reached that point, though, a Jack Russell terrier came to me to get some petting, his owner’s pleas to behave himself falling on selectively deaf ears. I don’t remember the dog’s name, and I won’t try to spell his owner’s name, since it’s Irish, and Irish names are never spelled how they sound. Or vice versa. Depending on whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist. We chatted for a few minutes, mostly about the demanding nature of animals, especially cats (she has one, too, but didn’t have it with her). Then she was off to the bank, and I went to the Spar for my breakfast bun, which I took back to the hotel.

Breakfast done, I packed up the bike and headed south. I’d found the settings for the GPS to keep it from naturally shifting me onto motorways, and the result was a route I couldn’t plot on a map to save my life. So many turns, entrances and exits, roundabouts. So many country roads that turned into single track lanes sprouting grass through the paving, overhung with tree branches or hemmed in by hedgerows. Ireland has some of the best motorcycling roads I’ve ever encountered, and I’m beginning to regret not having a GoPro, since nothing I write can convey the experience accurately. Mind you, when I factor in the hours of video editing I won’t have to do, that regret diminishes greatly.

Irish motorists have clearly (and with good reason) decided that their traffic engineers are not to be trusted. When the posted speed limit on a single track country lane is 80 kmh, you know someone was just pulling numbers out of a hat. Fortunately, no one even tries to come close to achieving that limit, though. That, however, may have as much to do with another trait common among Irish motorists: namely, they routinely drive well under posted speed limits. Not all of them, mind you. I’ve had a number of BMWs and Porsches blow past me like I was parked while riding at the 120 kmh speed limit on the M roads. But then, I’ve done the same to the vast numbers of Toyotas, Skodas and VWs that insist on going 90 on those same roads.

Anyway, today featured especially good riding. And today was all about the riding. About 7 hours of it in total. From Dublin down to Carlow, then on Ardfert, where I’m staying for the night.

Carlow because of the old folk song, which I first heard from James Keelaghan (although he wasn’t the first or last to record it), “Follow Me Up to Carlow”:

Curse and swear, Lord Kildare.
Fiach will do what Fiach will dare.
Now Fitwilliam have a care,
Fallen is your star low.
Up with halberd, out with sword!
On we’ll go, for by the Lord!
Fiach MacHugh has given the word,
“Follow me up to Carlow!”

Well, I didn’t have pitched battles with English collaborators, but I did stop for lunch.

The strange collection of roads between Carlow and Ardfert was, if anything, even more impressive that those in the morning. This really is an amazing place to ride a motorbike.

The Tiger has handled everything the GPS has thrown at it (and me) almost effortlessly. I have very few complaints about the bike at all, but I’m going to share them with you anyway, in descending order of seriousness:

  1. There are too many buttons and toggles and switches, especially on the left side. Every time I go to signal, I end up changing the information display. If I try to engage the cruise control, I end up turning the high beams on. Seriously, Triumph, simplify this stuff.
  2. I’d like another inch or two between the seat and the foot pegs. I already have the bike on its tallest setting.
  3. The stock seat is as good as any I’ve encountered, but I’d have to replace it if I bought a Tiger. I’ve been spoiled by my Russell Day-Long Saddle. I can’t get by with a stock seat anymore.
  4. The Triumph luggage is good but not great. If I bought one, I’d have to get it fit with aftermarket panniers.

Other than that, I really don’t have any complaints about the bike. It’s got a fair amount of torque. It’s zippy as hell. It tips nicely into corners, and feels incredibly well balanced.

Anyway, enough about the bike. For now.

After a four hour tour of the Irish countryside, teeming with cattle and sheep, filled with mansions with palm trees in their yards (that made me laugh), and rundown stone farmhouses on the verge of becoming ruins, I arrived in Ardfert, a pretty little village a stone’s throw from the larger town of Tralee. It has both more pubs and more churches than you would think a small place like this should have. (Mind you, so did Dublin.) The place I ate dinner, Katie Browne’s, was excellent. If you’re ever down this way, I highly recommend it. Most of the customers seemed to know each other, and the staff, quite well.

The plan for tomorrow is to ride down around Dingle, and then up to Galway. I’m looking forward to meeting up with Adele’s old university friend David, and his family. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this beautiful country.

Dirty Old Town

Yesterday was much better.

For one thing, I got enough sleep that I felt well rested, even though I woke in the night shivering from cold and had to pull all the blankets around me. The same room had felt like a sauna earlier, but had cooled to a reasonable temperature by the time I went to bed. Then it kept cooling while I slept, on top of the blankets as I usually don’t need them. This time I did.

I went down for breakfast. It included a ridiculous amount of white toast (dry, butter on the side, in the usual British fashion), one fried egg, some Heinz beans, a sausage, one rasher, two patties of compressed potato, floured and fried, and two slabs of soda bread, orange juice and coffee. I did what I could, but that’s more carbs than anyone should eat for breakfast.

The talk among the other guests, mostly older, was about “parades”. It’s marching season in the North. I didn’t participate in that conversation, but said good morning, agreed it was looking to be another warm day, and read the news from home on my phone. Mostly just the latest outrage by or from or about the Cheeto-coloured moron who is running America into the ground, and trying to take the rest of us with him. I tired of that pretty quickly, too.

After that, I loaded up the bike, paid the hotel bill, and set off for Dublin.

Thankfully, I’d figured out the settings a bit better on the GPS, and finding my way out of Lisburn was less problematic than finding my way around it had been the previous day. Soon I was on the A1 pointing south. I rode past places I’d been the previous day when I’d got turned around and took the wrong exit from a roundabout. Passed the point where I’d seen a car with its front end completely engulfed in flames, the driver standing about 50 or so yards away, looking completely unimpressed.

After an hour or so, I saw a sign for an observation point, and another for a “natural wonder”, and I pulled off the highway to investigate. I mistakenly assumed the “outlook” would look out at the natural wonder, for which I never did see another sign, but it did not. When I reached it, I wondered why they’d put up a sign. Mainly it looked at the farmland below, bisected as it was by the highway I’d exited from. It was a pretty enough view, but not really worth the trouble of reaching it.

The route to get to the observation point, however, was worth every minute. It was a twisting, turning, route through narrow country lanes, often no more than one vehicle wide, rutted with potholes, and with grass growing through the asphalt in places. The Tiger ate it up, it’s three cylinder engine whirring happily through it all. It really is an excellent bike.

The GPS said to continue in the same direction to get back to the highway, so that’s what I did. For the next half hour or so, the Tiger and I wound our way through rural lanes, past cows grazing, dogs barking, a horse shying away to the roadside as I moved past as quietly as a motorcycle can, joggers, walkers, a ruined castle, a “chapel” that would have been a cathedral in Canada, a shrine for a saint. Eventually, I came out into a town and noticed the speed limit was posted in kilometres. I’d crossed the border and not even known it. I don’t think the “hard Brexiters” understand the complexity of the problem the Irish border is going to be for them. For that matter, I expect only the Irish really appreciate it, and those in the North voted against Brexit, while those in the Republic had no say.

The town became a small city, with a polytechnic university, and a technology park, and whatnot. I followed the GPS’s lead through it, and it eventually deposited me on the M1. I’d initially planned to avoid M roads, but after an hour or so of rural lanes, I was fine with it. So was the Tiger, which was more than happy with a 120 speed limit. Even with stopping to pay the one euro toll at the toll booth, I was still in Dublin about an hour after getting on the M1.

My first impression of Dublin is that is cleaner and more modernized than songs and movies would have you believe. The city is busy, buzzing, and very cosmopolitan. Old and new architecture blend together without making either look out of place. History is on display everywhere, in place names and monuments, but without seeming pushy or exclusive in its intent. Most blocks seem to have at least one pub, sometimes several.

When I pulled up to my accommodation in Ringsend, which has a pub on the main floor, I thought I’d made a horrible blunder. It looked a bit run down, there was once again no desk to check in at, and this time no indication of where to check in. I asked in the pub, and they directed me to the off-license attached to them.

In fact, once I managed to check in (and pay for the room in advance), it turned out be just fine. Plain, not very large, but bigger than the previous night’s B&B, and with a much nicer bathroom (although the shower is still slightly smaller than a phone booth). Cheaper than the previous place, too, although there’s no breakfast here. I’ll have to see what’s open in this area on a bank holiday Monday morning when I’m done this post.

After I’d showered and changed, I set off to look for a 3 Mobile shop to get a SIM card. I had looked on Google Maps while connected to the hotel Wifi, and saw there was one on Grafton Street, near the statue of Phil Lynott, the founder of Thin Lizzy, and possibly Ireland’s first real rock star. It was only about a half hour to walk there, so I did, and found the place fairly easily.

After inserting the SIM card, I found the statue, and then set off to look for a quiet place for lunch. That’s more easily said than done. Nearly every pub near Grafton street was overflowing with people. I wandered through the side streets, and came out near the Temple Bar area, where I found a relatively sleepy bar in the Bloom Hotel. I ordered a pot of mussels and a pint of O’Hara’s Irish Pale Ale. It was fantastic. At least a pound of mussels in wine and butter, and soda bread on the side. The O’Hara’s tasted very much like a second one, and left the pub feeling happy, which is how one should always leave a pub.

I wandered down the quayside, past some tall ships in town for a regatta, and waited for my good friend Scott to ping me. He had arrived in Dublin that morning, and wisely chose to have a short nap before venturing out for dinner. We eventually met up near the O’Connell monument, and went to fetch him a SIM card from 3 as well. (Canadian cell phone companies could learn from those here. For 20 euros I get ‘all you can eat’ – i.e., unlimited – data in Ireland and 6GB in the UK. At home I pay $80/month for 8GB that I share with my wife.)

The Grafton Street pubs were still buzzing, and if anything were even busier at six than they had been at two, so we went back to the VAT Lounge at the Bloom Hotel. Busy places are hard on people, like Scott, who wear hearing aids. We had Guinness and bangers & mash, and only left when the live music began.

On the recommendation of a friend who used to live in Dublin, we went looking for Grogan’s, a literary pub, and found it on a side street near Grafton. It may well have been the busiest pub we encountered, with people spilling into the streets on all sides. Scott pointed out that was likely because it was the Sunday evening of a bank holiday weekend. I’ll try Grogan’s again when I’m back here at the end of my journey. Hopefully, it will be a little less busy on a Tuesday.

We ended up in a quieter place advertising 100 Irish whiskies. We sat at the bar and had another Guinness each, and then called it a night. I think Scott was fading, as you’d expect after a long flight. He caught a bus near the Liffey to take him back to his hotel. I walked back to mine, which was closer, but still a decent hike.

All in all, it was an excellent day. If I were planning the trip from scratch, I’d have stayed here another day or two before setting off. But I’m happy I’ll be returning in a couple of weeks’ time.

Now… Breakfast.

Now it’s real

That was a long day to start with.

I woke up a little before six on Friday morning in Vancouver, made coffee, eventually got Adele up for work, had breakfast. Made some final packing decisions, and then waited for our good friend Valerie to fetch me to the airport, ridiculously early, so I could wait some more. Actually, it wasn’t so bad. I had enough time to eat lunch before boarding, browse a little in the shops (a whole lot of overpriced crap, mostly), and listen to some music. They started boarding nearly an hour before take off.

I lucked out and got the section of three seats I was sitting in to myself. Actually, I inadvertently sat in the wrong seat, but it worked out for everyone, the plane being only about half full. Because, really, who in their right mind flies Air Canada if they don’t have to? When I booked the flight, I had planned to ship my bike. You get a better rate from AC if you fly yourself with them, as well as your bike. It would have been worth it. But since then, I decided to rent a bike in Ireland. I wish I’d made that decision sooner.

Having three seats to myself was a good thing. I could stretch out by contorting myself just a little, and was even able to lie across them, curled up like a cooked shrimp, and doze in brief, restless fits and starts between the episodic “fasten your seatbelt for turbulence” announcements. Sadly, the entertainment options were desperately limited, and the film I downloaded from Netflix for offline use wouldn’t play.

The flight left on time at 3:20 p.m., local time. They served “dinner” at about 5 p.m. – microwaved chicken in a bland tomato sauce with watery cooked quinoa, a still-frozen roll, hard butter pat included to test the mettle of the plastic knife, some kind of unappetizing salad thing, which I didn’t bother to taste, and a brownie, which it would be nearly impossible to ruin. I ate as much as I could, and wondered why they served food on flights that made you wish you were in the hospital instead. A few hours later they came and asked if we’d like something to drink, and then a couple hours after that, while I was dozing, they left a yogurt, but no spoon. Just before landing they came to pick up garbage, which in my case included the unopened yogurt.

We landed in Dublin around 8 a.m., local time, and I was deplaned, through customs, and bags in hand before 9. There was a shop in the airport that sold SIM cards, but they didn’t have the one I was looking for, so I kept the phone in airplane mode to avoid roaming fees, and set off to find a bus to Lisburn. This apparently doesn’t exist, and I ended up on a bus to Belfast, which stopped at a place where I could get another bus to Lisburn. (It also, incidentally, stopped about 3 miles from Lisburn, but I didn’t know it at the time.)

I gave up on avoiding roaming fees so I could find the bike rental shop using Google Maps. I don’t think I’ll regret the $10, even though Google placed me one street over from where I needed to be. (Something to do with the postal code, apparently.)

I got to Phillip McCallen Motorcycles, in an industrial park on the edge of Lisburn, around 1 p.m. I still hadn’t eaten anything since the crappy dinner on the plane. I figured, I’d get things sorted at the bike shop, then go find something to eat & maybe pick up a SIM card.

The bike was ready to go when I arrived. A beautiful, new (less than 1200 miles on it) Triumph Tiger 800. (I’ll post pictures later. I was too tired to even think about taking any yesterday.) The luggage and gear were in the back of the shop. After paperwork and payment were sorted, I took my things to the back and started the process of fitting my stuff into the cases. This took a fair bit of time, because no matter how lightly you think you’ve packed, motorcycle cases have strict limits and odd dimensions, and you may find it difficult to fit everything as-is. I did end up leaving my duffle bag at the shop, but pretty much everything else was able to be squeezed into place.

They gave me a quick run-through of the bike’s features, and a brief demo of the GPS, and suggested I might want to take a few spins around the block to get used to the bike. Once I was all geared up, and the bike loaded, I headed off to a shop they told me would have SIM Cards. They did, but still not what I was looking for, and more expensive than the ones in the Dublin airport. I decided I’d wait another day and pick up the SIM card in Dublin instead.

By this time – it was about 3 p.m., and I’d been up for most of the past 25 hours – I decided the best thing would be to check into my hotel, shower, go get something to eat, and then pass out for a while. Easier said that done.

Although we’d programmed the hotel into the GPS at the bike shop, the device was set to just kind of point to where you want to be, rather than providing a route to follow. This was a pain in the ass, since I never really knew when to turn, or in which direction. I eventually made it here, without straying onto the wrong side of the road more than once, and without getting killed in a roundabout.

By the time I unloaded the bike and hauled everything up to my room, I was a tired, sweaty mess. I showered, dried myself off with the sandpaper-like towels (have they never heard of fabric softener?), got dressed and walked the just-under-a-mile to the “second oldest pub in Norther Ireland”. The Speckled Hen – “voted Best Pub 2017” – was a fairly nondescript place, with decent food, better beer, and lousy service, accompanied by hard Ulster accents, which bear little resemblance to those heard in the Republic. After eating my fish & chips and drinking one Irish Pale Ale (just tasted like IPA to me), I nearly fell asleep at the table waiting for the bill.

I came back to the hotel and passed out for a few hours. Then stayed up a few more. Then went back to sleep to get myself on a local footing re time. Now, here I am. It’s quarter past seven. I’m waiting for the dining room to open for breakfast (a one hour window, from 8 to 9), and I’ll be on my way back down to Dublin after that. I’ve familiarized myself better with the GPS, and I think I have the route to my hotel ready to go. But if not, hey, there’s a reason it’s called an adventure.

Getting set

Last full day at home before I fly away for the better part of June. I am mostly packed. I have a few last wee things to pick up, lunch with a friend, and my last bass lesson until fall. Then, one last night in my own bed, and tomorrow I’m off.

It still only feels half real. Well, may 2/3 real now, having looked at my bank balance. Whatever. It’s only money, and worth nothing until you use it.

I’m looking forward to waking up each morning and saying, “Where to next?” And then watching the answer unfold through the day.

I’m looking forward to meeting new people, discovering new places, finding out more about myself along the way.

I’m going to miss my wife, just as I did last month when she was traveling through Europe with her daughter. In a different way, and to a lesser degree, I’m going to miss my cat, even if she is a needy asshole a lot of the time.

But these absences will be brief, measurable in days & weeks. That their presence bookends my journey is a sign of immeasurable good fortune.

I am incredibly lucky to have the life I have, and to be able to walk (or fly & ride) away from it for a time. Most people are not nearly so fortunate. Some may have more money, but few can really claim to be richer.

One more thing I’m looking forward to: meeting up with an old friend in Dublin, at the beginning of both our separate journeys.

Anyway, enough. For now. I’ll write more later. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Wherever that takes me.

So close

Five more nights in my own bed before I hit the road – or more correctly, the skies first and then the roads in Ireland. Just a few more days to tie up loose ends at work, visit with friends & family in town, & spend as much time as possible with Adele.

I’m nervously excited, a little anxious but mostly filled with anticipation. I’ve never traveled alone except for work. I’ve never driven or ridden on the left side of the road – well, not on purpose, anyway.

My bags are mostly packed. A few last minute decisions will be made, but I’ve got most everything I’ll need ready to go. Maps, iPad, rain gear (hopefully this will go unused), first aid kit (ditto), riding gloves…. It’s a long list. I won’t bore you with all the details.

Not to say everything has gone off without a hitch. I lost my bank card, and a replacement won’t be delivered until I’m overseas. This means carrying more cash than I’d ideally like to, although I hope to rely on credit cards for most things.

When I arrive in Dublin, I’ll get a European SIM card to use while there, which should save me about $100 on data charges.

The forecast is looking like good motorcycle weather. Dry, warm (not hot), and mostly sunny. Of course, that can change quickly, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

If anyone has recommendations for pubs in Dublin and Belfast, I’d love to hear them. Same goes for the Highlands, England from Yorkshire to Bath, and the coast of Wales, although I don’t know precisely where I’ll be stopping or when after the first few days in Ireland.

What it is

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

– T.S. Eliot

It is often easier to say what a thing isn’t than it is to say what it is. Case in point, my upcoming trip.

When people hear that you’re going to be travelling around Ireland and Scotland – or at least, when they hear I will be – they tend to assume: whisky tour. Now, while it is entirely probable that some whisky will be consumed, that is not the point of the journey. Indeed, if my plan were to try to hit as many distilleries as possible in the relatively short time available, I would a) not be making this trip on a motorbike, and b) would have planned more time in Scotland, and less everywhere else I’ll be. And that is even granting that the place I’ll be in most is Scotland.

If I were planning a whisky tour, I would be including many places I likely won’t get to: Islay, first and foremost, since several of my favourite malts come from there, as well as Jura, the Orkneys, and several other points on the map of Scotland. Now, I will be stopping in Oban, where it is a very good bet I’ll tour the distillery, and hope to visit The Glenmorangie, The Glenrothes, and possibly one or two others, as well. But they are roadside attractions, not destinations as such.

The trip is also not primarily about motorcycling, although I will be doing a lot of it. About 5,000 km of it, give or take. I like travelling by motorcycle. I prefer it to flying, driving, taking trains, or just about any other way you can think of to get places. But it simply my preferred mode of transportation, and not the journey itself.

So what is this trip, exactly? I’ve been asking myself that, since I can see it puzzles people when I say, “yeah, there will be whisky, but it’s not why I’m going,” or, “yeah, it’ll be cool to ride a Triumph around the Highlands, but the riding’s only a part of it.” And if I say both these things to someone, they tend to change the subject. (Which, admittedly, they may have wanted to do anyway. Oh, you’re going to Britain? Cool, I guess. Where do you want to have lunch?)

Now, unlike many Canadians, I am not really that wound up about where my ancestors are from. I’m interested enough in family history, but I don’t feel any visceral (or imagined) connection to my so-called heritage. I don’t think of myself as Irish, although a good number of my mother’s family came from places like Cork and Londonderry, if you go back far enough. Others came from Wales (god knows where) and Scotland (Edinburgh, I’m told). On my father’s side, the family mythology has them from Scotland, although our family name hails from Northumberland. Still, with relatively porous borders, anything is possibly. His mother’s maiden name was Berry, so I expect that family were English (although, I’d love to believe I was cousins with Chuck). But I also don’t think of myself as Welsh, Scots or English.

I’ll be riding through places that, quite likely, my forebears decided it was best to leave. That’s kind of interesting, I think, but I’m more interested in meeting people who have stayed, especially in small villages and towns. It’ll be interesting to talk to people I’ve yet to meet, and who I may never see again after I leave.

Even this, though, isn’t really a full explanation, if such a thing exists. My initial plan was to ride around the European continent for a few weeks with a friend of mine who is on a much longer adventure, take in a concert in Poland, and then come home. Somewhere along the way, my plan changed.

The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do this by myself. I’ve always travelled with someone else before. I’ve never made any kind of extended journey completely on my own. That’s exciting to me, if slightly frightening, too. At first, I thought of doing just part of the trip on my own, but the more I looked into it, the more I wanted my adventure to be just mine. Not something tacked on to someone else’s journey.

Eventually, I decided to travel in Ireland and the UK for two main reasons: first, there’s a good chance of encountering English, no matter how strange it may sound at first to my ear, wherever I go; and second, after this year, the journey may not be so easy to complete. The border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland may harden. And that hardening may not simply be a matter of checkpoints.

Of course, the real purpose of this journey is something I won’t really be able to put into words for several months yet. The road hasn’t even begun yet, so how can I say where it will lead?

The plan so far…

Flights booked. Bike booked. Accommodations booked for 90 per cent of the trip. Routes (roughly) mapped out.

I’ll be starting my trip in Ireland, skirting the perimeter of the island for the most part, and spending most of my time in the south. After picking the bike up near Belfast, I’ll spend a couple of nights in Dublin, giving myself some time to get used to everything being on the wrong side of the road. I’ll ride to my first accommodations, just outside of Tralee, before swinging up along the coast to Galway, where I’ll spend another couple of nights. Then I’ll be off up the coast again before ireland route

swinging east through Sligo to Belfast.

From Belfast I’ll catch a ferry over to Scotland, and ride to Dumbarton, where I’ll spend the night before heading to Oban. This will likely be the first of several stops involving a distillery tour, although I’m not planning to hit every distillery that I encounter, and haven’t included stops where many of my favoHighland route pt 1urite distillers are located (e.g., Islay). From Oban, I’ll make my way to Skye, and then up the west coast of the Highlands. I’ll decide when I reach it whether or not to ride the Bealach na Ba, or the alternate, slightly less dodgy route to Shieldaig on my way to Ullapool. From there, I’ll skirt along the coast first northward then eastward to John o’ Groats, the most northerly part of Scottish mainland.

I’ll spend the night in Wick, then head down the east coast of the Highlands to Craigellachie, conveniently located near four (at least) distilleries. From there, it’s down to Stirling on my way to Edinburgh, where I’ll meet up with a friend and former colleague.

From Edinburgh, I’ll head south along the coast into England, through Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Scarborough, and stopping in York. I am told some of the best motorcycling roads in England are to be found in Yorkshire, so I’m looking forward to those. From there, Highland route pt 2I’ll angle southwest towards Bath, where I’ll stop for the night before heading to Wales.

In Wales, I’ll ride through Cardiff to Swansea, on the south coast, former home of Dylan Thomas, where I’ll stop for the night. The next day I’ll ride up the coast to Snowdonia National Park, and spend the night in Colwyn Bay, on the north coast of Wales.

From Wales, I’ll head through the lake district back to Scotland, stopping in Moffat. I’m told it’s a beautiful town, by a good friend of mine who just happens to be named Moffat. I’m sure there’s no bias in her appraisal of the town. The next morning I’ll ride back to the ferry, and return the bike to the dealership in Belfast. A shEngland & Wales routeort bus ride will have me back in Dublin for another two nights before I board the flight for home.

If anyone has any advice – things that must be seen, things to avoid, to watch out for, and so forth, please leave comments. Over the next couple of months, as I get closer to June, I’ll talk more about the bike I’ll be riding, what I plan to pack, that kind of thing. If you’re really curious about any aspect of the planning, let me know.

If you made similar trips and want to point me to your blog, your YouTube video, or whatever, feel free to leave that in comments, too.

 

Calculated risk aversion

While waiting for Air Canada to publish their 2018 rates for shipping motorbikes around the globe (well, to Europe, anyway), I decided to do some additional checking about just how much it would cost to rent a nice new bike, rather than shipping mine. It turns out, as I expected, it costs more. But – there’s always a but – not so much more as I had thought.

This is mainly due to what’s included in the price of the rental (pretty much everything I could want), and what I’d have to pay for in addition to shipping costs to send my bike over with me (things like import fees and insurance, as well as servicing my bike, and most likely putting new tires on it).

For a mere £2,355, I can have a nice, new Triumph Tiger 800, with cases, helmet, jacket, jeans, gloves and boots, pre-programmed GPS, comprehensive insurance, roadside assistance and unlimited mileage. That’s about $1,000 more than shipping my sixteen-year-old bike, including the dangerous goods insurance required for the shipping. But that $1,000 would have a hard time covering new tires, servicing and insurance. And I still wouldn’t have roadside assistance, or as they call it in the UK, ‘breakdown cover’.

It might sound strange coming from someone who rides a motorcycle, but I’m fairly risk averse. At least, when the calculations associated with that risk make me so. I don’t expect I would break down on my bike, but I could. It’s old, things fail. I know this all too well. And when things fail on an aging BMW, the cost can be depressing.

Now, I also don’t expect to break down riding a nice (relatively) new Triumph Tiger, but if I do, it’s nice to know that someone else will be picking up the cost.

This also takes a lot of the complication out of my trip preparations. I don’t have to fill out a lot of paperwork, clear a motorcycle through customs, arrange to be at the airport the day before the bike flies (which would be the day before I do). I just get myself to the airport, fly to Dublin, catch a bus to the rental shop and start the fun. At the end I just do that in reverse.

Renting the bike also removes a lot of uncertainty and risk associated with cost. My budget can be more defined, and this makes planning a lot easier. And easy is good.

Of course, if I were going to be riding for longer than I am, bringing my bike would be a no-brainer. Just as a shorter trip would have removed that option from consideration. As it is, this looks like the Goldilocks solution to my question.

L

The calendar flipped and I hit a zero on my personal odometer. But it’s just a number. If I use Roman numerals, it looks smaller than the number that preceded it, at least in terms of characters used: L.

To mark the year, my wife suggested I do a long road trip in Europe, and I agreed that would be a great idea. (Yes, she is the best. Back off, she’s taken!)

After several weeks of planning, I’ve got the rough outlines of the trip in shape. I’ll fly my bike into and out of Dublin. I’ll ride down through Co. Cork, and up the west coast of Ireland – the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ – then across to Belfast. From there I’ll catch a ferry to Scotland, ride the ‘North Coast 500’ route around the northern Highlands, then down through England to Wales, where I’ll catch another ferry back to Ireland for the flight home. All told, it will be just under four weeks.

As noted, it’s a rough outline. For the most part I haven’t decided where I’ll stop or stay. My plan is to stick mostly to smaller places, outside of the larger cities (with a few exceptions), and to keep my riding time down to four or five hours a day (rather than the eight to twelve that have been my habit on past road trips), so that I can spend more time in places. It will all be new to me, as I won’t be stopping anyplace I’ve been before. It’ll be an adventure.

I plan to write about it all here. I’ll include photos, and (if I decide to acquire a GoPro, or something like it) maybe some videos, too.

If you have tips, recommendations, warnings, feel free to leave them in the comments.

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