8.28.2015

A Perfect Shitestorm

Joe got up after three and a half snooze cycles of his girlfriend's smart phone alarm, pulled on the previous day's shorts and t-shirt, which were draped on the grips of the seldom-if-ever-used stair stepper machine, slipped his feet into his dilapidated, fleece lined camouflage slippers, and ambled downstairs the the kitchen.

He filled his large mug with the day old coffee from the half full pot in the fridge and stuck it in the microwave to reheat for four minutes as he gathered breakfast fixings - yellow pepper, potatoes, some kind of yellow squash he didn't know the name of, and a small slice of a jalapeno pepper. These he cut up with a knife and put in a small bowl.

He searched for an appropriate frying pan in the cupboard under the counter beside the fridge until he found one for which there was an appropriately sized lid, placed it on the large front burner of the stove, and turned the burner knob to high. He poured some avocado oil into the pan from the brown glass bottle beside the stove and put the lid on the pan.

As it heated up, he got the carton of CSA eggs out of the fridge along with the half gallon jug of unsweetened soy milk. The latter he poured into the reheated coffee and as he returned the soy milk to the fridge, he grabbed three ice cubes from the freezer, with which to further cool the coffee. He added the ice cubes to the mug and stirred it with a fork before drinking the coffee in several large gulps. He took the mug to the sink and rinsed it out a couple times, then set it on the counter near the coffee machine.

He dumped the bowl of cut veggies into the fry pan and it immediately began to sizzle in the hot oil. He stirred the veggies with a spatula and added some herbs from the spice cabinet - garlic powder, black pepper, curry powder, ginger, and some salt. He reset the lid on the pan, then cracked four eggs into the bowl and wisked them with a fork until they were well blended.

By this time the veggies were cooking vigorously and Joe turned on the vent fan on the stove. He stirred the veggies again with the spatula and then added the whipped eggs to the pan, which began to bubble around the edges. He turned the heat on the stove down to low and re-covered it.

He walked over to the sink and rinsed the spatula off. As he stepped away from the sink, he noticed a puddle of water in the floor in front of the sink.

Did I spill something? Joe asked himself. I don't remember spilling anything. A sense of dread began to develop in Joe's gut as he opened the doors of the cupboard beneath the sink. The bottom of the cupboard was filled with water, between the many bottles of cleaners and soap Joe's girlfriend stored there. He could see drops of water coming from the underside of the garbage disposal.

Not good, Joe said softly to himself.

Joe set the spatula down next to the stove and went back upstairs to his girlfriend's room.

"Sweetie?" he said to the fetal positioned form under the covers in the bed. She did not respond, so he repeated the pet name. The form rolled over and his girlfriend's face appeared, staring at him groggily.

"What's up?" Deborah asked.

Joe sat on the edge of the bed.

"How are you doing?" Joe asked.

"Good," Deborah replied.

"Not for long," Joe said. "I have some bad news."

8.27.2015

A Bike Ride is in Order

After work tonight, I am going to ride my bike over to the Nautigal Pub to watch a music set by a buddy's band, called THE CHANGE. Mostly, I am doing this to get a bike ride in, but also to see a bit of the band's performance since I have not seen them before. Deborah might bike with me if she is feeling it. If not, she will probably drive my car and meet me there. Or she may not go at all, and that's OK. Like I said, I have no idea how good this group is. It might not be her thing. But really it is more about the bike ride there, for me.

Irish Beer

My bike trip to Ireland last week with TEAM CRAZY BIRD, essentially culminated with us attending Day 1 of the Doolin Craft Beer and Roots Festival in Doolin IE on Friday night, an enjoyable event made all the more rewarding because some of us on the team completed a 10 mile hike along the Cliffs of Moher late that afternoon.

Several craft beer manufacturers, all from western Ireland, offered samples of their beers to fest attendees. It was €10 to get in. They gave us a pint glass to drink craft beer from, which was ours to keep. The vendors offered sample tastes of their beers for free and then you could get a half pint for €3 or a full pint for €5. My strategy was to sample two or three of the beers offered by each vendor and then get a pint of the one I liked best. In the course of the night, I only managed to hit three vendors, because the team was on a timetable to catch our minivan back to Galway (the price you pay for a designated driver).

I'd like to be able to tell you what Irish craft beers I liked best, but I can't...mostly because I don't remember and I didn't write it down, but also because in all honesty, I liked all the ones I tried. If you are in western Ireland, definitely try some of the craft beers there.

From what the Irish liaisons to our bike team told us, Ireland had not had much of a craft beer market up until about the past five years. Responding to the growing craft beer demand worldwide, Guinness started making a craft beer (or perhaps craft-style beer, since it appeared to be mass produced much like their staple, Guinness stout) called Hop House 13. It was a good and flavorful beer, I thought. I did not find it overly hoppy as its name would indicate, but it had bold flavor.

I have never had much of a taste for Guinness stout, but the Hop House 13 was totally different and great tasting.

Some of the craft beers I saw in Ireland were marketed as "hand crafted," and I kept trying to visualize the awkwardness of brew masters handling the beer. Better terms could probably have been found.

Unsubscribe

I am on an email unsubscibe marathon, attempting to clean up my Yahoo inbox. Every time I get an unwanted email, I scroll down and find the "Unsubscribe" hyperlink hidden in the tiny-fonted small print at the bottom. I click through to the unsubscribe page and finalize the process, if it isn't automatic.

If there is no unsubscribe option, or it is too hard to find in the email, or the hyperlink doesn't work, I mark the email domain as spam and report it as such.

I think most unsubscribe requests are ignored though, based on the fact that I continue to get emails from the sites I tried to unsubscribe from. But I keep trying. If I try to unsubscribe three or four times and still keep getting unwanted emails from the site, then I use the mark as spam approach described above.

It seems like an insurmountable task unsubscribing from the huge number of sites on whose email lists I reside. But I will chip away at it.

Welsh

I have an old Mac G3 computer (beige) that probably belongs in the Smithsonian, since it is such a primitive relic. The only reason I keep it around is because it has one piece of useful software I still use, the Rosetta Stone Welsh language learning application. While computer technology changes rapidly, human languages don't, so this software is still useful for learning Welsh, and the Rosetta Stone approach works well (teaching a second language using the same mental processes that children learn a first language, with no cumbersome translation step). Conversely, when the hell am I ever going to need to speak Welsh? Even in Wales they speak English, as well as Welsh.

I am aware of the low practicality of learning Welsh. On the other hand, Rosetta Stone at one time thought Welsh was a worthy language to invest in for their arsenal of languages (this software is currently unavailable, so this is another reason to hang onto the software I currently have and the heavy lump of metal and plastic I need to use it). So there must have been some valid reason for people to learn Welsh, at least within the last 15 years or so.

For me it is a rather individualistic reason. Welsh is probably the most esoteric language anyone could learn outside of perhaps Latin (although Rosetta Stone still offers Latin, even though they discontinued Welsh). Even Gaelic is more used and well known than Welsh (I can't really back that up, except that I was recently in Ireland, where Irish Gaelic is still used). As an American, I am pitifully monolingual (English) and I want to remedy that, but not by learning one of the common second languages (Spanish, French, or German). No, Welsh is where it is at for me.

Who knows, maybe I will work for a company that has offices in Wales someday and this second language will look great on my resume.

I am clearly playing the long game there.

Facing the Face

I am facing my Facebook addiction head on (pun sort of intended).

I login in the morning to see if there is anything useful there (there isn't) and then log off and ignore it for the rest of the day.

Eventually, I will ignore it completely. I really only need Facebook to find out about events my "friends" are attending, and to post events of my own, like when one of my bands performs for example, or Bernie Sanders is coming to town. Sometimes I will post a genius blog post (unlike this one) that I think my "friends" might want to read.

I don't even need Facebook proper to use Facebook Messenger to communicate with "friends."

The fact that I had to write a blog post about Facebook addiction though is indicative of how pervasive Facebook had become in my otherwise idiocy- and angst-free life.

8.26.2015

I Am Not a Big Fan of Crowds

I had a fun trip in Ireland last week. I most enjoyed the rural countryside and smaller towns. I didn’t like Dublin all that much, because it was dirty and way too crowded. I don’t like crowds. I like to be able to walk in one direction for a while without crashing into someone. In the smaller towns we visited, I was a lot more comfortable with the thinner population.

The only exception to my dislike for crowds is when they are present at one of my band’s shows. I like crowds then. But in those instances, I am usually separate from the crowd, on stage performing. I get anxiety when I have to leave the stage and join said crowd. So, the solution to this is obvious. I need to rock-n-roll all night without stopping until the venue closes and everyone leaves.

Fitness in Increments

In some ways, I am lucky that I now live about 1.6 miles from work. One of the lifestyle objectives I have been targeting for some time now is driving my car a lot less. It’s good for the environment and also for my temperament. I’ll be honest with you, I do not like driving and I do not like other peoples’ driving, especially in Madison WI, which has some of the worst drivers I have ever seen (though that could be an artifact of the fact that I drive here more often than other places).

But I digress.

Another lifestyle objective that I pursue on and off is trying to run more. I am currently ON. Running is not my favorite thing to do, but it is a fantastic form of aerobic exercise. All the serious runners I know are in great shape, lean and full of energy. I can’t say for sure the direction of cause and effect is that running makes people more lean and vibrant. It’s possible lean and vibrant people just like to run more than everyone else. But I am hypothesizing it is the former, running leads to lean vibrancy.

When I run, I like to try to make it 5 kilometers, or roughly 3.2 miles. The problem is that my left hip joint does not like this distance at all and it sometimes gets acutely inflamed in protest. However, I discovered that I don’t get hip inflammation if I run half that distance, which just so happens to be 1.6 miles, exactly the distance I now live from work (coincidence or cosmic confluence?). Thus, I can get a 5k run accomplished in a day if I do half of it as my morning commute and the other half as my evening commute, without the inflammation (I have tested this to make sure). The 8.5 hours or so spent at work seems to be ample time to recover from any mild inflammation in that joint that comes from the morning run. It should be noted that I also try to run at a comfortable medium pace, especially for the run home. It’s not a race.

I can also bike commute to work, and living as close to work as I do now, biking is an excellent transportation option in lieu of driving, or if I do not have time to run. However, biking is not a very useful fitness option, because I barely break a sweat over that short distance. I used to live 7.5 miles from work, which was a nice distance for bike commuting (~15 miles per day round trip) and took about 35 minutes one way. Biking is my preferred mode of both exercise and transport, but it is not quite as potent of a fitness workout as running, as far as heart rate and endorphins (runner’s high). Plus, the current round trip 3.2 mile commute to work via running is at most 40 minutes, versus the 70 minutes or so needed to bike commute from where I used to live.

So now that I live 1.6 miles from work, I am motivated to run my commute a lot more often, achieving both my goals of running more and driving less. If my hypothesis is correct, I should also become leaner and more vibrant.

Ornery

One thing I don’t much like doing is shopping for new prescription glasses frames.

The anxiety this brings me comes from many sources.

First, there are too many frames to choose from. It’s overwhelming.

Then when you narrow it down to a few that look good, you have to balance fit against cost.

I recently had my eyes examined and my prescription changed only slightly. I could have gotten by with my current frames and lenses, but since my insurance covered a pair of new frames, I went for it.

After I got my prescription from my eye doctor, I took it to CostCo, where I was able to get frames and lenses at about have the cost of what they would have been through my eye doctor’s office. That allowed me to add a pair of prescription sunglasses and still come in a little under what I would have paid if I had gotten my prescription filled at my doctor’s office.

So even though eyeglasses shopping makes me ornery, I am glad it didn’t cost me an arm and a leg.

Face

I have not been on the Face (Facebook) for more than a full day now. As expected, the negative impact of this on my life has been somewhere between zero and epsilon (defined as a number only slightly larger than zero).

I am not sure the positive impacts are all that much larger on the short term, but over time I think they will grow.

8.25.2015

The Importance of Date Night

Monday is my firm date night with my GF, Deborah. That's not to say we can't have dates other nights, just that Monday is a sacrosanct date night. If we get busy with other things the rest of the week, we know we always have Monday Date Night guaranteed for our own one on one time.

If for some reason we have to cancel a Monday date night for something important that can't be rescheduled, then we have to make it up on another night. So there is some flexibility built into this. For example, I was in Ireland all last week, from Saturday through the following Sunday. Deborah didn't go on this trip. So in addition to tonight's Monday Date Night, we need to add another date night this week.

Fortuitously, I have an eye doctor's appointment in Lake Mills WI on Tuesday night this week. The plan is for Deborah to come with me to the eye appointment and then we go out somewhere in Lake Mills afterwards, perhaps the Blue Moon or Carp's Landing.

As for tonight's date night, we will probably chill at home (literally...it's chilly out), grill out, and watch some TV. Date night doesn't have to be an elaborate affair, it just has to be dedicated together time, without interruption. I firmly believe the healthiest relationships are those that incorporate some theme and variation on a date night.

The BIKE WITHOUT MELINDA Weekend is Nigh

Labor Day weekend is coming up and that means my fun bike riding and party weekend up at my parents' cabin in Shell Lake WI is nigh.

I have been hosting this small, social, outdoorsy, quasi-bike riding event annually since 1999.

What is it, you ask?

Basically, it's a social, bike themed vacation at our lakeside cabin in the North Woods. I say "bike themed" because some of us ride our bikes from Shell Lake to Stone Lake on Sunday, stopping at various locales for "refreshments" along the way. However, biking is, on paper, optional. There will be car transport to the rest and lunch stops, respectively, and this also serves as the SAG wagon for bikers who don't want to bike the full round trip (~23 miles one way, or 46 miles round trip).

We all arrive at the cabin on Saturday and chillax, grill, engage in water sports, drink beer, fish etc.
Then the biker types get up on Sunday morning and hit the road, stopping for breakfast at the Roost greasy spoon diner (a healthier breakfast option is available at the cabin...pre-ride) and a couple watering holes en route to Stone Lake.

Everyone congregates in Stone Lake for lunch around 1 PM, by whatever mode of transport they like. A support car with a bike rack is available for those bikers who don't want to bike the return trip.
It's back to the cabin in the afternoon (additional rest stops possible) for more lakeside fun and much merriment.

On Monday, we help my folks tidy up the cabin (the price of admission for this holiday event) and everyone heads home at their own pace.

Interested in joining the fun? Let me know and I will give you more details.

Note: This is limited to 8 people. Sleeping bags and pillows are required due to limited bed space at the cabin. Camping in the yard is an option with a signed black bear attack waiver.

P.S. This ride used to be called BIKE WITH MELINDA, but she hasn't attended for years, so note the modification of the title.

8.24.2015

Back to the Real World

It is my first full day back in Wisconsin after a pretty fun week biking in Ireland. Upon my return, I feel refreshed and rejuvenated and I have some new ideas for making some modifications to my lifestyle.

I like being able to get away from my life and travel in a different setting for a week or two. It helps me to re-evaluate things for some reason, and gives me a more objective perspective on my life.

One thing really enjoyed while I was in Ireland was the lack of any mainstream media coverage of American politics, or anything at all. Since I was there biking with my bike team, TEAM CRAZY BIRD, we were mostly out biking and enjoying our vacations, with no exposure to radio, TV, newspapers, etc. It was refreshing and I started to realize that mainstream media in America is responsible for a considerable portion of my baseline stress and anxiety levels. I actually think this is by design. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but corporate mainstream media and their advertising overlords thrive on viewer fear and anxiety. There is even a phrase for this: DISASTER CAPITALISM. Mainstream media and advertising figured out that consumer fear is correlated with consumer behavior (voting certain ways, buying certain things, obeying certain authorities), often irrational behavior, but still predictable. And predictability is good for sales.

Anyway, I wax philosophical. The point is, I feel much better and less stressed when I am shielded from mainstream media messages. So I have decided to disenfranchise mainstream media even more so than I had in the past.

A consequence of this is that I need to stay off of the Facebook. That so-called "social" media application is where I often get a lot of mainstream media information, when it is shared by my Facebook "friends." At the end of the day, to use a phrase I actually hate (but it works here), it's all a bunch of BS. In reality, I am not all that interested in what my "friends" post on Facebook. I just think I am when I see their posts. Whether I like or dislike a post is completely irrelevant. It's THEIR POST! So why do I waste so much time looking at those posts and commenting? I don't know. But I do know not having exposure to those media links will in no way affect my life, and might even make it better.

I hypothesize I will have lower anxiety and also waste far less time clicking on useless random memes, which only serve to infuriate me most of the time. Staying off "the Face" will be a test of this thesis. I plan to only use Facebook once a week or less, and then only if necessary, say, if I want to post a clever or well written blog post (this one is neither!).

That's not to say I intend to remain uninformed, just that I will not get my information from the mainstream media, which is not very informative anyway. The diarrhea that spews from Donald Trump's mouth, for example, is completely of no usefulness to anyone. It's entertainment, not even infotainment, because it lacks any informative content.

The mainstream media no longer even attempt to do proper news analysis or investigative journalism anymore, so they are just filters for whatever lunacy politicians care to spout, taken at face value.

The only real news analysis being conducted these days comes in the form of satire, such as John Stewart and John Oliver.

So, I just wanted to let you all know that you won't be seeing me as much on the Face. Some of you are probably actually glad to hear that, and that's cool.

Ciao.

8.23.2015

The Bud's of Killarney

The Bud's of Killarney is a place called Tatler Jack, a little off the beaten path, but not by much. They have a large variety of food, Irish and otherwise, at a reasonable price. The bar has a great selection of local beers too and the atmosphere is nice. Even though the restaurant was full, they let us eat at the short, small bar tables. I have developed an eye for places like this over the years and I grant my readers this knowledge so they can maximize their value when they travel. So if you are ever in Killarney IE looking for modestly priced food and drink...Tatler Jack is your place.

We also discovered that Tatler Jack was an after hours pub, so TEAM CRAZY BIRD finished out the night there after other places called last call at 11:30 PM. We learned of this from a local when we were at O'Connors Pub earlier in the night (which closed at 11:30).

Side note: Bars in Ireland call last call by dimming the lights, opposite of what bars in the States do.

McKenzie's Full Breakfast

Monday morning in Killarney IE finds the bulk of TEAM CRAZY BIRD at McKenzie's Cafe eating breakfast. I ordered the traditional Irish full breakfast and ate the black pudding quickly, before giving too much thought to what's in it. It's high protein fare, which I like for biking. Sausage, bacon, an egg, tomatoes, and toast.

We are doing a 22 km ride today on rented bikes. While that doesn't seem like much, you must keep in mind this is TEAM CRAZY BIRD (pub stops) and we will be stopping to see tourist attractions as well.

There is some talk of upping the distance to 40 km.

After I finished breakfast, I ordered a mocha coffee to go, at which point the store proprietor informed me she had just taken a veggie and egg frittata out of the oven and it looked divine. How could I resist? After all...it was more protein for biking.

Farewell Ireland

As I sit in the Dublin airport after a week long bicycling trip through Ireland with my bike team, TEAM CRAZY BIRD, I am starting to feel a bit of dread about returning to the USA. One of the things I notice when traveling to Europe and other parts of the world is how intolerant the people are of societal nonsense.

It was refreshing to not see or hear Donald Trump even once while I trekked around Ireland. Of course, we were too busy biking, hitting pubs, and having fun to watch any TV.

I don't even miss not seeing Bernie Sanders, the only reasonable and grown up American presidential candidate, on the telly.

I really wish the USA could up their game as a society and send the charlatan corporatist politicians packing. But anti intellectualism has a firm foothold in the USA, so it is not surprising that the people get a lot of anti intellectual politicians.

Dublin Our Fun - COGBRAI Day 6 (Non-Biking)

I almost missed the bus from Galway to Dublin IE this morning because I went to the wrong bus station, a block away from and out of sight of the right bus station. But I made it with a couple minutes to spare.

I sat next to a group of annoying Spaniards who chit chatted a great deal. The chit chat wasn't that annoying but the kid sitting right next to me kept taking selfies of himself for some reason. He must've taken 50 selfies. I put my neck pillow on, earplugs in, and closed my eyes to try to block it all out, but before too long, the Spanish kid beside me nudged me and dangled his phone charger in front of me while pointing to the floor below the bus window near my feet.

"What do you need?" I asked. I finally deciphered that he wanted to plug in and charge his smart phone, presumably because he had used up so much battery taking selfies. Not wanting a phone cord across my lap, I indicated in universal sign language that we should trade seats, which we did. But it turned out there was no outlet next to my prior window seat. He ended up using a backup battery the girl sitting in front of us had. He left me in peace after that.

When we arrived in Dublin, it was a bit of a hike to the Russell Court Hotel, where we were staying, from the bus station, pulling our suitcases behind us. Dublin streets are narrow and overcrowded, but we pounded it out.

The hotel manager on duty let us check into our rooms, even though it was only half past noon ("half 12" in Irish), so we were able to ditch our luggage and freshen up a bit before heading down the street to a place called Neon for a late lunch at 2 PM. There we were joined by some Irish colleagues of TEAM CRAZY BIRD, Fergal and Declan. Neon is a curry and noodles place. I had a yellow chicken curry with noodles (rice was the other option), which was delicious, and washed it down with an Irish microbrewed IPA of some type.

The Russell Court Hotel is a run down and kind of seedy place with a night club (discotech) in back. The staff are pleasant but aloof and you sense there is a surliness beneath the facade. Dublin in general is a rather run down city.

After lunch, the team broke into small groups that each went their separate ways. Jason and I took a quick power nap back at the hotel, which is when we discovered how noisy the trams going past our room's windows were.

"I was wondering why they had complimentary earplugs in the bathroom," I commented.

"We will definitely need them tonight," Jason said. "There's a party in the nightclub tonight that goes till 7 AM."

After the sleepless power nap, Jason led me to some shops near the hotel where we picked up some souvenirs. Shopping done, we hit a pub called McDaid's for a pint and watched some of the hurling world series on their telly. Hurling is the sport of Ireland, a cross between hockey, lacrosse, baseball, and soccer.

We had bangers and mash at Bruxelles across the street from McDaid's, and then dropped our shopping bags off at the hotel before regrouping with the team at 9 PM at a pub called Against the Grain. A standard night of pints and pub crawling ensued, though I drank conservatively to save Euros for the trip to the airport in the morning. Pub number two was called O'Donovan's, on the other side of St. Stephen's Green, the Central Park of Dublin. O'Donovan's was interesting. It was essentially two bars on opposite sides of an alley that had been partially covered over to make a quasi-outdoor beer garden area. It wasn't outdoorsy enough though because the cigarette smoke was sickening. A couple people in our group were fighting colds and the smoke did not help, but they powered through it.

It had started raining fairly heavily while we were at O'Donovan's, so we cabbed it to the third pub, Hogan's on Fade St. By this point I was adhering to a policy of only drinking when a beer was bought for me. I had sampled most of the standard pub beers already previously in the week and I have never acquired much of a taste for Guinness.

Jason and I left the party after Hogan's Pub on Fade Street, to at least get some sleep before Sunday's morning departure. Though we could have walked back to the hotel, it was still raining, so we took a taxi and got out at Bobo's, a fast food eatery around the block from the hotel. A couple of decent burgers rounded out our night.

With earplugs, the street noise and nightclubbing didn't keep us up.

Visitors to Dublin seem to have a great time, but the residents there seem a bit unhappy to me. They never seem to smile and most have a resigned look in their eyes, like they have checked out on life. I suppose this is true of most big cities, where there are so many people and so much bureaucracy that you are pretty much a nobody. Dublin is probably my least favorite place that we visited on this trip. I am not a big fan of crowds and noise and dirt. When Jason and I went shopping, the street was horribly congested with pedstrians, making it hard to move freely in any given direction and I felt claustrophobic. Dublin is not a good place for introverts.

Conversely, there was good street music and art in Dublin. When I put €5 in a busker's guitar case, he protested (but accepted it), and that was perplexing to me. Isn't the whole idea of busking to earn a few bucks? Otherwise go play at home.

My favorite place that we visited in Ireland was Doolin, a small rural town on the southwest coast near the Cliffs of Moher, notwithstanding some of the hurdles there, like not being able to bike on Wednesday and the van breaking down on Friday. We got to hike 10 miles along the scenic cliffs and hit the Doolin Craft Beer Fest afterwards on Friday, one of the few times on the trip that the weather cooperated with us.

Overall, a fun trip to Ireland. I can't say I loved Ireland as much as other people say they do when they visit. Outside of Dublin, the people were very nice and the scenery was phenomenal. The food and beer were good. About half the accommodations were superb and half were crappy. I wish the Irish would embrace paper towels in their bathrooms because the air hand dryers are the worst. I like that establishments let anyone use their bathroom, but the cost of this hospitality is rather crude bathrooms that aren't very clean. The Irish have a strong libertarian sensibility, though the infrastructure is heavily socialist, and the end result is that people let things go a bit and are fast and loose on conventions.

It was great to be traveling with the fun group of people on TEAM CRAZY BIRD and I greatly appreciated the joint cooperation to make it a fun and hassle free travel experience. Thanks Team!

8.22.2015

COGBRAI Day 5 - Toolin' ta Doolin

Today was the last biking day of the CRAZY-BIRDS  ONE-TIME GREAT BIKE RIDE AROUND IRELAND (COGBRAI).

I got to sleep in a bit this morning, because we didn't need to roll out of here until 11:30 AM for biking. Unlike the previous night, I actually slept decently well.

My phone alarm went off at 9:30 AM. I pulled on the shorts I have been wearing most evenings and dug a clean T-shirt out of my suitcase.

"What are you thinking about for breakfast?" I asked team captain and my travel roommate Jason, who had also risen when my alarm sounded.

"I'd like to find something close," Jason answered.

"What are you looking for?" piped in teammate Brian, who had been eavesdropping from the hallway of the rental apartment in Galway.

"Eggs," I replied. "Lots and lots of eggs. I need protein."

About 10 AM, we left the apartment in search of grub and came upon a little outdoor cafe a couple blocks from the hotel that had a number of eggy options. Jason and I ordered omelettes with the works, which came with toast and coffee included (€10 with tip).

We got back to the apartment at 11 AM, with ample time to change into our bike clothes and prep for departure to today's biking location.

As today was the last day of biking on our Ireland trip, I wore my new TEAM CRAZY BIRD biking shorts and my remaining clean TCB jersey (broken zipper). I packed a backpack with a change of clean clothes in anticipation of arriving in Doolin IE at the end of our day's ride for the Doolin Craft Beer Fest, and also some hiking boots for a proposed and possible 7 km hike from the Cliffs of Moher to Doolin after riding bikes.

We started biking in some small town that might have been called Karran IE and immediately rode up a steep hill and down an even steeper one that had me white knuckled, clutching the brakes on a wet road barely wide enough for a single car. Eventually the inclines and widths of the roads improved and we started riding along the coast toward Doolin IE, stopping at a couple in between towns.

We stopped for lunch on the far side of Fanore IE and per TCB protocol, plans changed slightly. In order to hike the Cliffs of Moher to Doolin, we could not also finish out the bike ride to Doolin from Fanore. So we loaded the bikes on the trailer in Fanore and drove in the rental minivan to Doolin, dropped off the bikes and trailer, and then had the minivan take us to a drop off point just south of the Cliffs of Moher visitor center, to avoid paying the €3 fee charged by the visitor center charlatans to enter the trail there.

Unbeknownst to us though, this entrance just south of the visitor's center was fully 6+ kilometers south of the visitor's center. That added over an hour to our proposed hike, but we got to hike past Hag's Head, the only landmark I had actually read anything about in the Lonely Planet Ireland guide book someone (teammate Randall I think) had. Team captain Jason was worried this extra distance might overly foreshorten our drinking at the Doolin Craft Beer Fest, but teammate Trent and I (the cooler heads) prevailed. Our logic was sound. We could drink craft beer any time...but hiking the western Ireland coastline would be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

This reasoning proved true.

Jason got worried the extra mileage would cause us to miss the craft beer fest, since we were on a deadline to meet the minivan driver, and he tried to bail when we reached the Cliffs of Moher visitor center, attempting to find a bus to Doolin. But none were to be had, so we pressed on. Wisely.

It was a fun run/walk. Great scenery. In addition to the cliffs and caves and North Atlantic surf, we saw a pod of dolphins in the bay near Doolin (truth be told, the sun reflecting off the water was in my eyes, so I could not see them, but Trent saw them and I believe him). The picture taking was the main obstacle to making good progress, but Jason decided to keep a constant pace and he was our pace keeper. So when we lagged behind, we had to jog a bit to catch up. I was wise to have brought a clean, dry shirt, because the one I was wearing got soaked pretty quick from exertion. By the same token, the southwest wind off the North Atlantic was quite brisk, when it wasn't blocked by bluffs. So over the course of our ~15 km hike, I went from fully jacketed with hoodie up to completely shirtless. I changed shirts when we got done.

In any event, all the trades worked out. We had an awesome hike and made it to the Doolin Craft Beer fest in ample time to enjoy some western Irish craft beers before we got picked up at 10 PM (10:30 Irish time) by the minivan to go back to Galway.

About half way back, the drive shaft dropped out of the vehicle and we hung out on the side of a dark, rural Irish roadway for about 45 minutes until a replacement vehicle came to our rescue. Some on the team considered hoofing it to a nearby town to look for a pub while we waited but by the time everyone had finished discussing the pros and cons of that plan, the bus had arrived. Probably good.

Back in Galway, we hit a pub near our rental apartment to round out our last night in Galway.

8.20.2015

COGBRAI Day 4 - Someplace North of Galway IE

9 AM

I haven't a clue where we are biking today, but team captain Jason said it is someplace north of Galway IE. On paper, we are going to bike about 40 miles but with TEAM CRAZY BIRD...who knows? It is also supposed to rain on and off all day, which makes me want to use the Irish colloquialism "gobshite," even though that is probably out of context.

I slept horribly last night. Bad insomnia with no apparent cause. This is unusual for me, as I usually sleep quite well. I got up at 8 AM in hopes of securing coffee, at a minimum, and optimally some breakfast. I brewed some instant coffee available in the rental apartment kitchenette.

At 8:30, teammate Amy stopped by our room and she and I went in search of quick eats. As impatient as I was due to lack of sleep, I grabbed a breakfast sandwich at the first place I saw, a fast food joint called Supermac's, which I assume is the Irish equivalent of McDonalds. Amy went farther afield and found some miniature oranges and yogurt. I bummed an orange from her later on the rental bus, so at least I got some fruit.

We had to meet the bus at 9 in front of the apartment building to shuttle to the starting location for biking. Everything went to plan in that regard because Jason told everyone the bus was leaving promptly at 9:15 AM, when in reality it was leaving at 9:30-ish. So our notoriously tardy teammates were ready about 9:25. Close enough.

10 AM

Mostly unloading bikes at the ride start (still unknown), ablutions, and pumping tires outside of some kind of country hotel. There is a noisy well drilling rig operating in the parking lot. Loud.

11 AM to 6 PM

Biking was fairly pleasant at first. We biked relatively traffic free country roads and ended up in Cong IE, where we had lunch and pints of Irish ale, after a brief stop at Castle Ashford to check it out. The castle looks cool and made for a good TEAM CRAZY BIRD picture, but it is actually now just a ritzy hotel associated with a golf course (blech!).

During lunch it started to rain. So Leg 2 of the ride after lunch was an entirely different experience altogether from the morning ride (Leg 1). We road through a valley between some scenic hills that were channeling a stiff headwind right at us, in addition to the fairly heavy rain. I was prepared for such conditions, but it was a brutal challenge none the less and fell into the "this sucks" category.

In addition, the rental bike I was riding developed a warped back wheel and I had to switch the bike out for a different one. Luckily there were extras on the trailer attached to the bus. Side note: When I changed out my bike, we discovered that someone or something had damaged several of the bikes on the rack. Several of them had bent rims as if extreme force had been applied to them laterally. We think a vandal is to blame but it may have been struck by something while it was parked. Our new driver Phillip is sure nothing swiped the trailer while he was navigating the treacherously narrow Irish roadways. So no one knows.

New bike notwithstanding, the wind and rain still challenged me and a fairly long hill was added to the brutal mix. Eventually though, we got to change directions and had a tailwind for the final stretch into Leenane IE. The rain let up as well. Most of us, myself included, had packed dry clothes in the van pre-ride, which we changed into in the Leenane Hotel bathrooms (pronounced "bah troom" in Irish) before retiring to the Leenane Hotel Pub for pints and banter.

The hotels and gas stations here don't seem to mind non-customers using their bathrooms. The Irish are very non-douchy that way. By the same token, most bathrooms are crappy. Water taps are outdated and the hand dryers rarely work.

I had a beef burger with cheese (i.e., an Irish cheeseburger) to tide me over until dinner in Galway in the evening, between which and Leenane lies a rather tedious drive on said roads of great treacherousness.

7 PM

Bus ride. Uneventful but for a quick beer run and extreme tardiness returning to Galway. Irish bus drivers are almost as wildly optimistic about how long it takes to get places and do things as is our teammate Trent.

When teammate Jason 2 fell asleep on the bus, Trent tried some shenanigans on him. See pics below.

8 to 10 PM

TEAM CRAZY BIRD got back to our rental apartment about 8:10 PM and we all showered as fast as we could to try to make it to McDonagh's, a fish and chips joint that Amy had heard served the best fish and chips, before they closed at 9 PM. Turns out they closed at 11 PM, so we hustled unnecessarily. But it was still decent fish and chips. McDonagh's would qualify as a Bud's of Galway - low cost, lots of food.

After fish dinner, we walked up the car free main drag and retired to the infamous Murphy's Bar for some pints.

There a plan was (re)hatched to possibly hike from the Cliffs of Moher to Doolin IE tomorrow evening (7 km by foot). Trent had proposed this yesterday but there hadn't been time. There may well not be time tomorrow night either, since we plan to bike during the day and hike in the evening. TCB has this bad habit of stopping at too many pubs while we bike and while that is certainly fun, it really hurts out time.

8.19.2015

Less is Moher - Dingle to Galway (COGBRAI Day 3?)

11 AM

I think it is Day 3 of the CRAZY-BIRD ONE-TIME GREAT BIKE RIDE AROUND IRELAND (COGBRAI). I lose track of time when I am on vacation, but that seems about right.

I woke up in a tiny room at the Barr Na Sraide Bed n Breakfast in Dingle IE, a little before 9 AM. I had my phone alarm set for 8:30 but it failed to go off for some reason. My roommate Jason's alarm did go off about 8:50. He did not feel like going to breakfast at the B&B, but I did. I think he drank a protein shake (blech!).

I had a full Irish breakfast in the fast paced dining room, where you did not want to be underfoot of the wait staff or you might get knocked on your duff. In addition to the standard Irish breakfast fare - sausage, bacon, egg, tomato, mushrooms, black and white "pudding," and toast - they had an all you can eat fruit and yogurt bar. I filled up on pineapple, grapefruit, and yogurt (for probiotics) to keep me going for a few hours. I drank an ample amount of coffee as well.

The plan devised by the team the night before was to meet at reception at 10 AM to check out. A few of my teammates were on time. The rest trickled in over the next 30 minutes. In any event, we loaded the rented bus with our gear and hit the narrow Irish roadways, with Joe the bus driver (who I saw at breakfast) at the helm, about 11 AM.

As I write this, we are en route from Dingle IE to the Cliffs of Moher where, weather permitting, we will start biking. The plan is to ride to and maybe through Ballyvaughn (sp?) IE. Stay tuned.

12 PM

We made a bathroom stop in some small town, during which Trent's small bottle of Jameson Irish whiskey somehow became uncapped and spilled all over the floor of the rental bus.

"I thought I wedged it really well between the seats," Trent protested.

So now the bus smells like Jame-o, and Trent is out of booze, all because capping the bottle was too much trouble.

I bought a coffee at the gas station we stopped at to pee, and looked for allergy meds to help kick back this mild cold I have, but the woman working there told me allergy meds are controlled medicines in Ireland, only available at pharmacies. So I will have to look for some later.

1 PM

I like doing these hourly updates, though I don't know if I'll be able to keep it up once we start biking. But right now we are still on the bus. We hit a construction zone that slowed us down briefly. On the move again now, but at this rate we won't have a lot of time for biking.

No new updates since we are still on the bus heading for somewhere. There may have been a change in the starting location for biking, based on some tidbits of conversation I picked up on coming from the back of the rental bus.

I have my neck pillow and dozed off a little, notwithstanding the coffee I got at that last gas station.

2 - 4 PM

Still en route to some destination for biking, we stopped for a late lunch at a place called Durty Nelly's in Bunratty Castle (where there is an actual castle). I got the fresh grilled hake (rhymes with rake), on special, and had a pint of Smithwick's ("Smiddicks") IPA.

Now we are in the bus again...seems like this bus ride will never end and I am pretty sure bike riding is not going to happen. Disappointing but a day off from biking isn't the end of the world, as long as we see some cool sights. Bus ride is getting obnoxiously long though.

4 PM

Goddam effing bus...

5 PM

Grrr...

6 PM

We ditched the bike trailer in some small town near the Cliffs of Moher, so as to make better speed toward said cliffs and not need to haul the trailer up all the winding roads. The cliffs were impressive and almost worth not biking today, though I am still remarkably disappointed by that and the fact that we couldn't even hike the coastal footpath to Doolin IE...another of Trent's wildly optimistic, albeit good, ideas. Unfortunately, it would have taken at least two hours to hike it and put us way behind schedule. But I would have enjoyed that since we didn't get to bike. (Note: We did get to entertain Trent's hiking notion on Friday. See the post entitled "Toolin' ta Doolin".)

7 PM

More bussing. We are en route to Galway where we will stay tonight. I'd rather be hiking the coastal footpath to Doolin, but so it goes.

8 PM

Fecking bus.

9 PM

Galway IE at last. Our bus driver Joe left us after drop off and will be replaced by a new driver tomorrow. HAIL TO THE BUS DRIVER. Chilling a bit before we hit the town. I guess it is a college town, akin to Madison WI? Stay tuned.

10 PM etc.

Galway hosts took us down to the main drag for pizza dinner and beer. Galway is a college town with a similar vibe to Madison. We walked down a street much like State Street in Madison. I had the best beer thus far in Ireland. It was a rye IPA, but I can't remember the brand. I should have written it down. I will probably see it again since we are in Galway for most of the remainder of this trip.

Not much else to report. Had I known today was going to be a "rest" day from biking, I would have tried harder at resting. But tomorrow should be a good biking day. Ciao.

Dingle Loop

TEAM CRAZY BIRD scrambled this morning to be out of our rental apartment in Killarney IE by 10 AM. Thanks to teammate Trent's good but wildly optimistic intentions in making us all homemade breakfast, we didn't vacate until 11. Our bus driver, Joe, however, arrived at 10 and we fed him some breakfast while he waited for our disorganized team to get ready.

Joe was an easy going person when it came to TCB shenanigans, although we were fairly well behaved today.

The bus, pulling a trailer full of rented bikes, drove us from Killarney to Dingle on the frighteningly narrow Irish roadways. I occasionally had to close my eyes and breathe deeply when an oncoming large tour bus would hurtle towards us, a bit over the center line. Bus driving in Ireland is not a job I would ever want. But Joe knew what he was doing and we made it to Dingle safely, after a brief detour to Kerry IE Airport to pick up teammate Kevin Eike, who had been horribly delayed and rerouted in his travels, thanks to American Airlines and their failed business model of canceling non-full flights. Sorry for the run on sentence.

Dingle is a small rural town on the westernmost part of Ireland (and indeed Europe). We biked a loop that, on paper, started and ended in Dingle. Being this was TCB though, we didn't make it the whole way and bus driver Joe retrieved us at a pub called Murphy's (the infamous!) in some nearby town, Ballyferriter IE, I think...I can never remember small towns I pass through on bike rides unless I write them down. This was actually good though, because had we finished the loop we would have had to pedal uphill in a serious headwind and cold rain (claimed Jason). Up until the last pub stop, it had been a tailwind with not many hills. In fact, the wind was so strong it actually literally blew us up some of the smaller hills. At one point when we briefly turned into the wind, it nearly stopped us in our tracks and it was chilly, coming off the North Atlantic Ocean and all.

The scenery was beautiful. Cliffs everywhere. Fog on the hillside. Actually, the fog was caused by the cold sea breeze pushing up onto the steeply sloped land. As it hit the warmer, moister air over land, water vapor condensed as fog. This was best visualized when we saw some islands off the coast. You could literally see the fog clouds trailing out like smoke from the upwind end of the islands as the wind slammed into the sloping cliffs and rocketed up the sides. It is hard to explain, but it was cool.

We stopped a lot, for both scenery and pubs, which is part of why we failed to complete the loop. The other part was the delay caused by the Kerry Airport detour.

Just about 200 meters before that last pub, in Ballyferriter (I think), team captain Jason had a fairly significant wipeout on his bike when he hit a raised curb at high speed. He was right in front of me and I saw it all unfold in slow motion. He properly rolled when he fell to avoid serious injury but he got a decent road rash and was shaken up. That is also part of why we stopped when we did, but so was the cold rain that pushed in while we played Left, Right, Center at Murphy's before getting picked up (I won €15!).

We didn't end up getting back to Dingle in the van until after 9 PM and we had to hustle to find food before all the restaurants closed. We ended up eating at a place called the Canteen. I had a hake filet that was quite good. Price wise, it was no Bud's of Dingle, but the portion size satisfied.

After dinner, most of the team went out to party at more pubs, but Jason and I retired to our shared room because he was tired and shaken up by his crash. I also wanted to have some time for a blog post, but I also feel a cold coming on and want to rest.