Friday, January 13, 2012

Cycling Destinations

image via chris531

For the past several years, I've had a dream cycling destination that I fantasise about incessantly: the Dark Hedges in the North of Ireland. Oh the Dark Hedges! What are they? Well technically, they are just a short stretch of country road near the coast of Couny Antrim. The road is lined with ancient beach trees, and these trees have grown so crooked and twisted that the overhanging branches have intertwined to form a magnificent canopy. Overgrown with moss, the whole thing has an enchanted, mystical look to it. I fell in love with this unseen piece of landscape the first time I saw a photograph of it, immediately imagining myself under the canopy as sunlight streamed through black branches and everything turned hundreds of shades of green. What happens next? I'm not sure, but something magical. Maybe if one is there at just the right time of day, the trees will talk to you, or the faeries will come out. And if you're there at the wrong time of day, you'll be turned into a tree yourself. With a name like Dark Hedges, an element of danger is to be expected.

As I got into cycling, it was only natural that I began to imagine visiting the Dark Hedges by bicycle. I have family in Ireland, and by this time last year I had developed a grandiose plan that involved visiting them, then taking a train north, disembarking once the "scenic parts" began, and cycling along the coast for hundreds of miles - through rolling green hills overlooking treacherous cliffs, and past the Giant's Causeway - until finally, exhausted and covered in road dust, I would arrive at the Dark Hedges and triumphantly cycle through them as their beauty and magic penetrated every fiber of my being.

I know. Some dream of crossing the Pyrenees and I dream of cycling through a cluster of hedges. Well, it's my fantasy!

While I had hoped my pilgrimage to the Dark Hedges would take place last year, obviously that did not happen. The more I began to look into it practically, the more confused I became as to how to arrange it. There was the question of getting my bike over there - which is so expensive and unpleasant, that at first I thought I'd be better off renting or borrowing a bicycle in Ireland. But on closer examination, it turned out that finding a roadbike to rent would actually be quite difficult, and cycling for hundreds of miles on an upright hybrid was not what I had in mind. And while I have friends there who are willing to lend me a bike, they live in the opposite direction from where I'd be heading, so the logistics would not work out. But the final blow that made me postpone planning this trip came when a couple of local acquaintances expressed skepticism about the idea, telling me that the drivers were awful and that all the good cycling was on the west, not the east coast. Hmm. Of course "awful" should be taken with a grain of salt, as they'd never cycled on the roads in the US and their basis for comparison is limited. Still, all of this taken together made me put the brakes on the idea until I could get a better sense of how to plan a trip like this.

Which brings me to a larger point: How does one go about planning a cycling trip to a place they've never been? There are many beautiful locations that are touted as cycling destinations, but the truth is that we do not really know how comfortable we will be with the terrain and road sharing culture until we are there. Having recently read about two cycling couples' experiences in New Zealand has further highlighted this problem. Local randonneurs Pamela and John "Blayley" picked up and moved to New Zealand in 2002, believing (after a great deal of research) that it would be a cyclist's paradise. What they discovered in practice however, was rather different and they ended up moving back to the US just 2 years later. More recently, Russ Roca and Laura Crawford of The Path Less Pedaled embarked on a tour of New Zealand - billed as "The Kiwi Chronicles," documented by the Bicycle Times, and meant to promote new Zealand as a cycling friendly destination. It was therefore a surprise to everyone when several days ago they experienced a road rage incident involving physical violence while cycling single file. The incident has sparked a media frenzy, challenging the portrayal of New Zealand as friendly or safe for bicyclists.

I have a number of acquaintances and colleagues who have gone on trips to their dream cycling destinations, and the feedback has been pretty mixed. Those who go to France and Italy seem to have better experiences overall. This may simply be because those routes are so well traveled that it is possible to do more thorough research and have a better idea of what to expect, and it may also be because both countries have a well developed cycling cultures. While to me, Ireland seems like the perfect place to cycle - with its rolling hills, beautiful scenery and rural roads - I have found comparatively few personal narratives allowing me to gauge what the particular route I am interested in would be like for someone of my skill level, and so I remain conflicted. What is your dream cycling destination, and how would you approach planning a trip to one?

69 comments:

  1. These days I'd probably use twitter, find a like-minded local cyclist in the area, and pick their brains for routes and/or bike hire.

    There are companies that run tours, either accompanied or not, which could help you plan an itinerary, source suitable bikes and book accommodation. Some even carry your bags for you.

    If I may be permitted a small plug for where I live, South West Scotland has the same tiny roads, rolling hills (and constant rain) as Ireland, very polite drivers, and is connected to Ulster via the Stranraer ferry. these people (I have not connection with them at all) might be able to rent you a bike and even plan you an itinerary that combines Scotland and NI - worth a shot? They seem to have a couple of touring bikes available to rent as well. And of course if you were coming through, I would be delighted to show you some of my favourite rides in the area as well.

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    1. I lived in England in my 20s (where many of my friends cycled but I didn't!), and would visit various parts of Scottland on occasion for the weekend. It is beautiful, I love the weather and the scenery, and I would certainly like to visit again, on a bike. But I prefer staying put for 2 weeks or so and not combining multiple countries or plane trips in one go, so it would have to be a separate trip.

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  2. No specific destination, especially one where I may have preconceived notions or expectations, but what I read from others is it's all about the 'journey'. Those unexpected experiences and people one meets along the way. A friend and artist took a bike around the world reveling at each new experience, and pausing to paint or draw and record. Incredible!! But CrazyGuyOnABike is a good resource for research. Also GoingSlowly is a detailed chronicle of a couple who may have started their adventure in Ireland and then pedaled around the globe and they have some of the best photographs I've seen on the web!

    I hope you get a chance to experience your dream ride though :) Sound awesome.

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  3. So, how about another Mercian? Seriously. They do this with cars. Why not try to do it with bicycles? Perhaps it could be arranged for a small add-on cost. Arrange for a factory pickup. Ride it around the UK for a while, hopping on the train/ferry for further destinations. Drop it back at the factory for shipment home when you're ready. Having your own bike set up just the way you want it would make the ride even more enjoyable. Besides, it makes a great excuse for a new bike. ;)

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    1. Ha. I would love, love to visit the Mercian factory actually. Maybe on my way to visit townmouse's part of Scotland... Clearly I need a travel budget.

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  4. I have no experience with this, but from what I've read, it seems as though many cyclists who take trips to France and Italy are following routes that are important to the culture of those countries - not just to cyclists. The journey seems like a sort of pilgrimage, rather than just a vacation, so maybe cyclists experience a little more respect. I have no first hand knowledge - this is just my impression from reading blogs. Anyway, having a native guide seems to be the key to a successful trip. All the more reason why you should plan a cycling pilgrimage to the Northwest! I can't offhand think of a view quite like the Dark Hedges, but we have some pretty amazing trees and mountains.

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  5. Me and my friend just set off from London following a Sustrans route across England and Wales.

    We had the idea in out minds for a long time, but in the end just packed up panniers and went. On hardtail MTBs. We had targets for each day worked out, but not much else besides follow the signs.

    Just go! You can always just get a train if something doesn't work out.

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    1. I've been trying to figure out whether Ireland and Northern Ireland allow bikes on trains without restrictions. Otherwise, I would most certainly not be able to get a train if something doesn't work out.

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  6. Funny, just last night I was reading about cycling around Norway. Those fjords, the landscape! And the challenge of all those hills... apparently it's not very flat, to say the least! Wonder if anyone on this blog has done it?

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    1. Yep. Not very flat indeed. Not many paved roads either, but lots of gravel paths and worse. Travelling there requires a sturdy bike, preferably with 26 inch wheels -- also because the Norwegian shops only seem to have those in stock.

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  7. Surprise! It seems that there are jerks down under too; they just have summer during the wrong time of the year. To quote Spaceballs, "I knew it: I'm surrounded by a$$hole$!"

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  8. Right. Let us know when the pair of you are coming over and we'll arrange how to make this happen. I know a couple of nice restaurants and pubs worth visiting along the way... the wife, (a native Floridian) and I are very gracious hosts.

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  9. The Mercian Shop is in Derby (so's the factory). I lived as a child up there (Im now based below London) and go back frequently.

    If you want someone to buy lunch and shiw you around I'd be pleased to do so

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    1. Thanks. I've never been to Derby. Why oh why was I not interested in cycling when I lived in England! Oh the days I could have had cycling through the meadows!

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  10. Replies
    1. That could potentially solve everything, if it/I can handle the hills. Why does every idea I have somehow involve more bikes? Wish someone could rent me a Brompton for this purpose.

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  11. 1: Don't fly the middle finger in a land whose care culture you know nothing about.

    You could ask your readers...oh wait, you are.

    Or you could google dark hedges and ask these guys: http://www.google.com/imgres?um=1&hl=en&safe=off&sa=N&biw=948&bih=453&tbm=isch&tbnid=UxkyjA3P9rub4M:&imgrefurl=http://www.irishcycling.com/publish/news/art_5922.shtml&docid=Qy10SljZBOVqWM&imgurl=http://www.irishcycling.com/publish/uploads/dark_hedges_cycling.jpg&w=450&h=301&ei=GZEQT_XqMIqwiQKCwNCyDQ&zoom=1&iact=hc&vpx=449&vpy=176&dur=5338&hovh=184&hovw=275&tx=160&ty=157&sig=106429412370799112770&page=12&tbnh=100&tbnw=138&start=137&ndsp=14&ved=1t:429,r:11,s:137

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  12. My first European cycling trip was to Ireland in 1995. I will never forget that trip. Absolutely wonderful! It has all the beauty and mystery you've read about or heard about. Much of the riding was on the West coast. The road surfaces are not very smooth so bring 32mm+ if you can. Weather-wise I was lucky to have one short shower during my 10 days there. The B & B's were a real bargain. In 1995 it was an extremely homogeneous population (IMO). I'm told recently that has changed tremendously. Just go

    England has many, many of the narrow roads that you mention in your post. Also, lots of small villages seldom more than a few miles apart. Highly recommended.

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  13. *Rule #1:
    *car culture

    100% fail rate w/blogger now.

    Please no threaded comments, too hard to keep track of.

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  14. What do you hope to accomplish during this trip besides seeing the Dark Hedges? That might determine the best route and the right bike. I lived in Ireland for some time and I am somewhat familiar with the area, not sure I'd advise to ride a Brompton.

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    1. Good point. Mainly I plan to photograph the heck out of the Dark Hedges with at least 2 cameras (DSLR and medium format film), which means carrying those cameras, and lenses, and film on the bike, as well as 1 change of clothes and a rain jacket. There are other sights in the same general region that I want to photograph, so I can see myself staying there for up to a week in some inexpensive hostel or B&B. As far as route, I would be taking the train from near Dublin (and would leave my stuff back there, so I would not be lugging all of my belongings on the bike with me). Not sure how far North I should remain on the train - all the way to Belfast? past Belfast? or is it feasible to get off earlier and find a scenic cycling route to North Antrim?

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    2. Not really the best way to do this; if this is a trip you are seriously contemplating, drop me an email and I can give you some pointers to save headaches when you get here.

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  15. Alaska. Cycling Cruise. They haul you up the mountain in a truck and you bomb back down the hill to the ship and pig out on the buffet to compensate for the 100 calories you burned. What's not to like about the cruise ship and if the cycling is TOO elemental, you can always go watch whales or hunks break off glaciers, or even slink off to the casino.

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  16. Hi Velouria

    Derby is home to Rolls Royce aero engines, the start of the industrial revolution and other similar ilk. Therefore its reasonably industrial - tho there are pretty parts. Derbyshire (the county) is stunning though and ypu may want to go walking there.

    Also dont forget Wales or the Lake District!

    A minor ambition of mine is to cycle the South Downs path which goes across the White Cliffs of Dover. A 100 miles (approx 3 days) mostly off road path that people recommend highly - maybe this year..

    I take your point about not cycling whilst in England - but now you can do it properly.

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  17. I actually bought a Ritchey Break-Away Cyclocross just to be able to travel more easily with a bike and not have to bother with rentals. I have not tried this service myself but you might want to check it out.
    http://www.raleigh.ie/_rentABike/rentABike.asp
    This forum could probably also help you out.
    http://www.boards.ie/vbulletin/forumdisplay.php?f=410

    #1 place I'd like to go is Japan in the countryside, going south to north most likely, biking all the way if I had time or cheating using the train partway otherwise. Planningwise I'd first check for seasonal weather patterns to determine when not to go. Cyclones, heatwaves etc are just not my thing when biking, this would also give me an idea of what clothes I should bring. I'd always bring at least some warmer clothes for mountains etc. Waterproof bags are good. If I was bringing my own bike I'd prepare some spare parts and tools for easily fixable problems. Most importantly a pump and extra tubes, extra chain and chain tool, also a sturdy lock. If I was bringing my own bike I'd try to arrange a direct flight (less chance bagage loss) and make sure with the airline that my bike would not be a problem. I'd still check out one or two bike rental places for the worst case scenario. Then I'd probably hit some travelforums to find some good hotels (I often use booking.com for this, sort according to reviews) and restaurants that I would want to visit, as well as general locations.
    Having access to a GPS with decent maps makes a huge difference even around Stockholm where I live. Therefore I'd try to accuire some good maps of the area I'd want to visit, preferably with the small roads marked. I'd probably look around in GPS or traveling forums to see which maps to get. Normal paper maps are always an alternative. I'd then plan some alternative routes between each destination.
    However in many ways it's not going to be much more complicated to bike in another developed country with reasonable infrastructure and traffic laws than it is to bike here. Things will work out. A lot of plans are going to be abandoned anyhow. Most important part is getting there, having access to a decent bike, money to spend and some place to sleep when night comes.

    Apart from Japan, this summer or fall I am likely going to Lake Garda, either by Bergamo or Verona, and then going on daytrips from different locations around the lake. To the north I'd have mountains and to the south flats.
    This winter I am going to either Gran Canaria, or if I go later in March, either Cyprus or Mallorca. Especially Mallorca is very popular for biking among roadbikers. Both locations offer both mountains and flats. All locations offer great food which is important. For next winter I have more or less decided on Teneriffa and biking up and down Teide. I'm just not strong enough to appreciate it this winter though.

    I wouldn't worry about road rage, there are nutjobs everywhere. The benign but just not so careful drivers are much more numerous.
    However I would make sure I could get decent care without getting ruined on my trip. You'd be wise to do likewise. I'd also wear a helmet if I were you, people driving on the wrong side of the road and unfamiliar roads create greater risk, and also for insurance reasons.

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  18. Technically (for now anyway) Northern Ireland and Scotland are still in the same country, and there's a ferry between the two, so it would be more of an extended tour than a multi-country trip - but I know what you mean about liking to stay in one place. Me too.

    Regarding trains, there may be some information here for Northern Ireland (although there aren't that many trains compared with the rest of the UK). In general, outside peak hours you're usually allowed to take your bike on the train, some of the longer distance services want you to book first though. Not sure about the Republic's trains.

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  19. Our philosophy has been "where do we want to go? Who/what do we want to see". The worst driving I've seen is from my next door but one neighbour who nearly ran over my kids, then a hammer incident coming home from school, then
    some idiots in Arizona who threw coke cans at us. Idiots are everywhere, as are considerate and well meaning people.

    I remember two incidents in Arizona. First we were riding out of Phoenix into the desert and a car pulled up next to us. It was our second day in the US and all of our fears jumped out, they guy was going to kill us, rob us, etc. Eventually, he pulled over and shouted out of his window for us to stop and chat. He lived locally and wanted to know f we were OK, had a place to stay, needed food water etc that he could go and get, that he was a tandem rider and didn't recognise ours. All in all couldn't offer to do anything more for us if we wanted. On the same trip, in the desert we were passed by several groups of Hells Angels who shouted all sorts of things at us as they went past. It turns out that mostly they were also asking if we were OK, needed water etc.

    I've ridden in UK, France, Spain, Netherlands Germany and Belgium and never had any issues with car drivers.

    With bikes on trains, I expect Ireland and NI to be similar to the UK. Officially there are limits on the services that carry bikes and on the number of bikes carried. In practice, it depends on the guard/conductor on the train. Last year three of us rode up to Scotland and planned a train trip back. In theory the train only carried two bikes so we were a bit apprehensive about getting the third on. When it arrived there where already about 6 unbooked bikes on and we just stuffed ours on where we could. One stop down the line two more fully loaded tourers pulled their bikes on.

    The uncertainty is part of the adventure. I would really recommend Crazyguyonabike as a resource. You can see my entries for IoM under user id TimD.

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  20. It's not as easy as it used to be, but you can still takes bikes on trains in both the Republic and Northern Ireland:

    http://www.railusers.ie/passenger_info/bikes.php
    http://www.irishrail.ie/your_journey/bicycle_information.asp
    http://www.translink.co.uk/Footer/Visitors/Publications-and-Maps/Bike-It-with-Translink-/

    Generally, the humans in train stations are much more accommodating than the on-line rules might lead you to believe though.

    Where you get off the train depends more on time available than anything else. Given what you want to do, taking it all the way to Belfast makes sense. From there, you could head out the Antrim coast road or through the Glens of Antrim, both of which are gorgeous.

    It may be more densely populated and hence busier on the east coast of Ireland than on the west, but there is still a plethora of delightful, tiny roads awaiting your discovery!

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    1. Thanks Bicycle Boy : )

      What would you say the coast road is like compared to, say, Rt 2A or Rt 4 in Lexington and thereabouts?

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    2. Hi Velouria,

      As Malachi intimated, the coast road is much quieter than either of those roads. It's not really on the way to anywhere and anyone on the road wants to be there, if you will. In terms of width, it might be more akin to Rte. 225, but again, much quieter and with gorgeous scenery.

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  21. I live in northern Ireland, in Belfast. If you want to go to the Dark Hedges, you can take your bike on the train to Larne, then cycle the glorious coast road north. You can see Scotland from there. Don't heed nonsense that says drivers are worse in the east than in the west. I have often cycled that route. Most of it is flat. As for getting a good road bike, I don't hire bikes here, so I can't be sure, but I suggest you contact Bike Dock on bikedock.com and talk to the owner Derek Armstrong, who can advise you on what stock he has for rent.
    An alternative route for you would be to take the train to Coleraine, from Belfast. The whole stretch of coastline from Coleraine to Larne is, some would say, the most beautiful stretch of coastline in the whole of Ireland, perhaps whole of Europe. I have written a little about cycling some of this route - The Torr Road - on my blog myowntwowheels.com. The important thing is not to dismiss this country as particularly difficult or odd - it is a modern European country that can meet all your needs.

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  22. You're on the right track, I think! My best cycling experience was in West Cork and Kerry, specifically the Ring of Beara area. It's a long, very rural coastal route that's too narrow for the tour buses. It's also more wooded and hilly than much of Ireland, giving a very varied terrain. Though I must admit, your route sounds amazing.

    Also, I flew both ways with my bike in a standard cardboard bike box. It was an extra $50 each way and they bent a cable hanger coming back (separate on the bottom bracket of an '84 Trek), but otherwise not a bad experience. Go for it!

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  23. You know you only have to get here and a bike would be no problem. I might even find you a Mercian to ride.

    Chris S
    chris531

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  24. Thanks so much everyone for the generous invitations and suggestions. I will think about this some more and will certainly get in touch.

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  25. Hah, Shawn does all our planning. Left to my own devices, I'd probably just buy a cycling guidebook and/or Adventure Cycling maps and follow them to the letter.

    I do want to bicycle Iceland's Ring Road, or at least parts of it. My family drove it (and camped every night) when I was eleven. It took us a week. Biking it might be a crazy idea though; the landscape is harsh as hell and there's always going to be a stiff wind. Even in the summer the weather can be awful.

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  26. "What is your dream cycling destination..."

    Home.

    (I planned it that way)

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    1. That is wonderful and I would love that to be the case some day. Maybe when we move to Maine.

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  27. Get S & S couplers. You can bring your favorite bike & put it thru as luggage. Worst case scenario, they charge you for an extra bag. Easier to manage your bike when you're not riding if it's in a suitcase than in a box. And cheeper than buying one there.

    Have a great time if you go. I'm jealous - I have relatives in County Donegal that I've never met.

    Maryk
    Philly, PA

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  28. Did a month of cycling in Ireland in '06, loved it. The drivers are great, the smaller the road the better they get. Even trucks will wait to pass you. Very hilly. The motorways are terrible. B&B's everywhere so you can always find a place to stay (I was there in off season). Best part of my trip was out on the road, stopping to wander through some field to photograph ancient stones or coastal cliffs. Had two panniers - one for cloths and one for camera gear. Had a hole develop in a tire way out on a coastal area. Only option was a grocery store with auto parts. The clerk did not have a tire, but he knew a guy who lived three miles out of town who sold bike parts. The guy's wife drove in and sold me the tire in front of the store. Classic Ireland. They have a reliable intercity buss system on Greyhound style busses. They will take your bike for an extra 10 Euros ('06). I highly recommend a trip and today's Ireland will appreciate your dollars.

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  29. WHERE dips the rocky highland
    Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
    There lies a leafy island
    Where flapping herons wake
    The drowsy water rats;
    There we've hid our faery vats,
    Full of berrys And of reddest stolen cherries.

    Come away, O human child!
    To the waters and the wild
    With a faery, hand in hand,
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

    Where the wave of moonlight glosses
    The dim gray sands with light,
    Far off by furthest Rosses
    We foot it all the night,
    Weaving olden dances
    Mingling hands and mingling glances
    Till the moon has taken flight;
    To and fro we leap
    And chase the frothy bubbles,
    While the world is full of troubles
    And anxious in its sleep.

    Come away, O human child!
    To the waters and the wild
    With a faery, hand in hand,
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

    Where the wandering water gushes
    From the hills above Glen-Car,
    In pools among the rushes
    That scarce could bathe a star,
    We seek for slumbering trout
    And whispering in their ears
    Give them unquiet dreams;
    Leaning softly out
    From ferns that drop their tears
    Over the young streams.

    Come away, O human child!
    To the waters and the wild
    With a faery, hand in hand,
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

    Away with us he's going, The solemn-eyed:
    He'll hear no more the lowing
    Of the calves on the warm hillside
    Or the kettle on the hob
    Sing peace into his breast,
    Or see the brown mice bob
    Round and round the oatmeal chest.

    For he comes, the human child,
    To the waters and the wild
    With a faery, hand in hand,
    For the world's more full of weeping than he can understand.

    "The Stolen Child"
    W.B. Yeats

    My cycling dream is also Ireland - I want to map a route and follow the poem. No clue if it's actually practical, but hey, it's my dream. Some day, right?

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  30. I've not used this outfit but know someone who toured the whole of Ireland using their self-supported service. They handle details you could do yourself with a lot more effort. The value is you get to concentrate on the ride and destination and not worry about logistics.

    http://irondonkey.com/self-guided-tours.php

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  31. My dream cycling destination? Repack, 1976. Sadly there are no time machines...

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  32. Velouria - in September 2001, a friend and I went on a trip to Ireland. We packaged up our bikes, and shipped them over with us. We flew into Cork, and took our bike boxes in a taxi to our first hotel and put them together there. Although we had an overall route in mind, we planned our trip day to day, reserving the morning for the evening location. We had panniers and were completely self supported. The Irish folks all expressed disbelief we were biking these roads (which were in fact south and west coast), but honestly I felt just fine on them. It was a lovely vacation (except we flew back on Sept. 11th which is a different story!) The post Sept. 11th world may be much more difficult to negotiate a bike on a plane, but it really was a lovely trip, one of my favorites, and I've taken many fancy "supported" bike trips!

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  33. Well, as you know, I did a cycling trip in Ireland, on a route I'd never ridden, in a part of the country I'd never visited. I did that trip with a bunch of high school kids, on terrible rented upright bikes, for hundreds of miles ;). We had a blast.

    How'd I plan it? Well, first off, I'm really, really into planning things. I did tons of research: did the maps show roads there that weren't motorways? What was the elevation profile? Did something look like an enormous hill on a topo map? Had other cyclists been through there at some point? Could I piece together their routes? Were there places to stay at reasonable intervals? Places to eat? Etc. I used an itinerary I found on the internet as a starting point, and worked with what I wanted from there. Finally, I posted something on Bike Forums, and one of the gentlemen there did a long conference call with me and my coworker, talking about routes he had taken and which roads worked. We didn't follow his exact route, but we did okay.

    I think the main thing to do is to plan thoroughly, and then be prepared to roll with what you find. We changed routes slightly when necessary, took back roads, stopped when we wanted to and generally just winged it whenever we had to. Things were fine. The drivers were insane, the roads were tiny, and I rode like I owned the place and everyone was patient and polite. These folks are used to waiting for sheep, for heaven's sake.

    I plan trips each year for up to 20 people, most of them teenagers, to places I've never been. I start this a year ahead of time, do tons of research, learn as much as I can, take lots of advice, buy tickets before I go, print out all the bus routes and times and train schedules and museum hours, use common sense... and then I just go.

    What helps most, in the end, is to do the work before you get there. I plan EVERYTHING down to the second, as if I am running a military operation. Then I remember that I can always change my plans later if I need to, and am prepared to improvise. It's a lot easier to do this when it's just you and a hubby, of course, than when you are responsible for dozens of people. When I travel with my son or a friend, I am much more loose in my planning, but I still plan. I imagine all the worst-case scenarios (how will we get from here to there if a bike breaks?) and try to come up with a plan for each one, and then I assume I won't need to do it. But the point is: I've considered what could happen. Then I get a plastic folder and fill it with each day's full itinerary, printed maps, receipts for tickets I've already bought, directions to places, hints, tips, reservations, etc. held together with bulldog clips, then I throw each day away as I go.

    Gosh, that's a lot. Email me if you need help. But I say: just go do it. Probably no one will beat you up (that's far more likely to happen in Boston than in Ireland, I would think), you will have a wonderful time, and you won't regret it. Or you could stay here and bike the Minuteman again, you know? :P

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  34. Long-time reader of your excellent site, and also an Irishman living in continental Europe planning a cycle trip in the West of Ireland. From what I can gather, it is relatively easy to take your bike on Aer Lingus. This from their site:

    Aer Lingus will carry bicycles and tandem bicycles as checked baggage: A maximum of 1 Bicycle per person. For flights between Ireland and North America bicycles are part of the free allowance, normal excess baggage rates apply if the passenger carries excess to the free allowance.

    Hope that's of some help.

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  35. That's a gorgeous picture. Very Tolkienesque

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  36. I brought a bike to the US last summer to tour around Vt. I had my LBS box it for the way there - $30, worked great. For the way back I bought a purpose built bag for which I ended up needing to disassemble both wheels, handlebars, pedals and maybe a few other bits. I didn't secure the handlebars properly and they scratched up my top tube a bit. And I stripped my left crank trying to put the pedals back on. Bottom line - the LBS/box method was a lot cheaper and easier for me.

    And Vt is every bit as beautiful as they say. And has a lot of hills.

    Ireland is beautiful too. Cold and rainy a lot of the time, though. Have a great trip.

    Jay

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  37. County Antrim is not as quiet traffic wise as most parts of the island, but is is still very tranquil.

    I've cycled there a few times and the roads in the countryside are often deserted.

    Taking a bike on a plane is quite easy.

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  38. I've been to Larne and due southwards from there. It was magnificent! We brought our own bikes as it was part of a longer tour. What you need to realize is that the population of Ireland is less dense than Boston, but I'm sure that comes as no surprise. Riding and touring is all about the adventure. Get yourself over there with proper clothing, rent or borrow a bike, don't obsess about the stuff your can't control. Touring is about the adventure and the little things along the way. Open yourself up to possibilities and be flexible.

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  39. Taking a bicycle to UK is taking coals to Newcastle.

    Why not plan a trip to coincide with one of the major cycle jumbles and then ride away?

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  40. There is not world enough or time to cycle through all my dreams, but I one trip I am determined to realize is to cycle El Camino de Santiago de Compostela.

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  41. I agree with you about not wanting to rent a bike. Every time I've rented a bike it's been poorly set up and not the best quality ever. Considering you'll spend so much time riding I think it would impact your enjoyment a considerable amount.

    I'm planning my first cycle trip in May. Luckily I don't have to fly my bike to my destination. I'm touring the Outer Hebrides so it's an overnight train from London to Glasgow; a 3 hour train from Glasgow to the coast, and then a 5 hour hour ferry to the islands. A lot to plan and organise but I enjoy that aspect too and have planned out all of my days so I can determine which hostels I'll be staying in; when to buy food etc.

    Good luck planning a trip if you do. I can't wait!

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  42. The Dark Hedges does sound like an amazing place to bike through, but I will say that I have read in several sources that biking in Ireland is a scary prospect and some people I know from Ireland say it is not very safe. The drivers a bit crazy, fast and not keen on sharing the road-and the roads themselves sketchy.
    i have been told that biking in Europe is wonderful overall. I like the idea of biking in Hawaii, but a very experienced cyclist friend went with that in mind and found it so unsafe that he ended up renting a car!
    How much does it cost to fly with a bike? In Canada, some of the airlines do not charge for bikes. It shouldn't cost that much! People should not have to resort to shipping their bikes by ocean freight just to have their bikes they can use properly on their trip.

    I'd like to bike somewhere that has no cars.

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  43. I've been to most of my dream cycling destinations - been kind of lucky that way, I guess.

    as for planning I think I must be the odd one out here - I play it by ear. One of the chief joys of cycling is the opportunity it gives you for spontaneity and improvisation. I once cycled from Sussex to Istanbul without to much as buying a map before i left, and picking my way there by guess and by golly. Arrived six weeks later have explored Europe - in the old classical sense of exploration.

    As for Ireland - it's a nice place to ride. If you do it in summer, and I assume you will, you will find the road fairly busy and the B&Bs fairly full, especially on the eastern side. Just the way it is. I have cycling a great deal throughout Britain and Ireland and while Ireland has its appeal, for me Wales and Orkney come as near as I have ever seen or experienced to the kind of lyrical cycling idyll one might hope for or imagine on a trip to Britain.

    Having cycled all over the world, on every continent (yup, including Antarctica) those two places are my ideals - I'd go back to either one in a heartbeat, and living in Sussex as I do, I'm lucky to have the opportunities.

    Roff Smith

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  44. I have never heard of the dark hedges before, and now I want to go too! I look forward to reading Lovely Bicycle on tour.

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  45. Id love to cycle around the dilapidated buildings of Detroit...

    Not sure if its safe though..!?

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  46. Let me try and put cycling in Northern Ireland into some context. The population is 1.5 million. In the last year 57 people were killed in road traffic accidents. Two of them were cyclists. Both of the cyclists died in Belfast, one of them out training at 6 am when there was virtually no traffic - a tragic accident - awful - but not in any way indicative of normal day time dangers in traffic.
    While this is awful, I suggest you try and compare it with the stats for your own area and see if Ireland is safer than where you live and cycle today.
    Americans I have met have had difficulty grasping the scale. Some come on a bicycle and think Ireland is a little island that they can traverse in a day. Others think that the distance between towns may be hundreds of miles, when it never is. The Dark Hedges are about 65 miles from Belfast. The main road there is the Antrim Coast Road. The part between Belfast and Larne, is largely suburban; the real beauty of that route opens up north of Larne. That coastal road is narrow and winding and it can be a bit unnerving, but traffic is light and hundreds of cyclists use it every year. The last 15 miles before Ballycastle is so hilly that even cars are advised to avoid it, though I have cycled it, pushing part of the way and it is spectacular on a bright day. There is an alternative route towards Ballycastle on a steady incline for about 5 miles and then a glorious downhill rode for another 5 miles.
    The entire coast of Ireland is about 1,000 miles, depending on whether you stick to the little coast roads around inlets and loughs, or cut some of the peninsulas, so it is a feasible trip for a few weeks. I have done much of it with a tent and camped on beaches between staying in hostels and camp sites. Since this is the country I am from and love I am naturally inclined to talk up its glories but a lot of cyclists tour Ireland and think it one of the best places in the world to see on a bike.
    There is a British charity called Sustrans which campaigns for SUStainable TRANSport and publishes maps of cycling routes that can take you for miles into narrow country roads where you will see little if any traffic.
    And as a big fan of this site, I would love to meet you if you come and join you for a jaunt.

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  47. You can use my touring-equipped Brompton for your trip if that would work for you. Have sent you an email.

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  48. Your description of how you imagine you ride would be like in the Dark Hedges reminds me of some kind of storybook tale.... so beware the lady that offers you an apple, and don't go wandering into someone's house in the forest.

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  49. Kyklos - Wales is simply beautiful. There is a wonderful well-marked cycle route through the country called Lôn Las Cymru. It runs north-south, 250-odd miles from Chepstow in the south to Holyhead in the north, along incredible pretty lanes through country that literally - literally - was the inspiration for the word 'picturesque'. It is fairly challenging, it must be said, for Wales is very rugged and this particular route goes through the Brecon Beacons, Cambridge Mountains and Snowdonia but the scenery is amazing and all those hill climbs reward you with a stunning view - coming over Gospel Pass, in the Brecon Beacons, is unforgettable. I did this route over a long weekend in September, staying in B&Bs and travelling light and would have to rate it as the most enjoyable bike trek I've ever done - and I've done a lot.

    As for Orkney - it is just special, a magical landscape. I've been there half a dozen times and will no doubt go back many more times yet. The little lanes, and prehistoric stone monuments and the haunting windswept heath up there make it a fabulous place to explore on a bicycle. I've been out to all the outlying islands, but Mainland - the largest - is my favourite, especially western Mainland. I absolutely love it, and will be doing a post on it in my own blog fairly soon.

    Roff Smith

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  50. I've never cycled in Ireland, but I did tour the country rather extensively, by car or motor cycle. From that perspective, I would say that cyclotourists shoud be fine.
    Lots of narrow and twisting roads, which may be a hazard for cyclists. But irish drivers had always been courteous and the pace is generaly moderate.
    Of course, that's a hilly country, and the rain can be an issue. But you knew that already.
    And, as others said : Friendly people, good beer, B&Bs (with shitty breakfast) everywhere and awesome scenery.

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  51. Maybe if one is there at just the right time of day, the trees will talk to you, or the faeries will come out.
    This is one of the best posts I have read in a while.
    I enjoyed the silliness presented in such a straight forward manner.
    Mixing detailed critique in one post and faeries in the next.

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  52. I noticed in an earlier reply that Chris531 said he might find you a Mercian to ride while you are in N.I. I can tell you that Chris is a great guy, an avid cyclist and a serious bike collector with a particular interest in Mercians. If your route should extend into County Derry or Donegal I could meet up and give you a lift back to Chris' place to return the bike.

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  53. I did a 9-day cycling tour of the Burren and Connemara in the summer of 2010 and had a blast. Most of the time there was very little traffic, and drivers were quite courteous. I did a self-guided tour with Iron Donkey with whom I was quite satisfied. I posted a CrazyGuy journal about it. My 2011 tour in the Netherlands was also a lot of fun, though it was more about the towns and villages than the landscape. That was a self-guided tour organized by Tulip Cycles.

    Based on my experiences, I'd recommend working with a reputable tour organizer for your first trip in a new country. They know the roads and can recommend interesting and relatively quiet routes, they know which campgrounds, B&B's, and hotels are friendly to cyclists, and they can provide support in an emergency. CrazyGuy is also a useful resource. You can also check out WarmShowers.org for hosts; an area with lots of Warm Showers hosts is probably good for cycling, and most hosts would be happy to share their tips even if you don't plan to stay with them.

    I've also done a reasonable amount of cycling in Oxfordshire, which has some great back roads, and in Île-de-France (the region around Paris). I'm planning a tour somewhere in southern France for this spring (maybe the Cevennes), using guidebooks from Lonely Planet and Petit Futé, and a B&B guide from Le Routard. I'm not planning to go with a tour company this time, because planning the trip is part of the fun, and I know France well and speak French.

    Like you, I dislike renting a bike, and I spend enough time overseas that I decided to get a folder. I tried a Bike Friday Tikit, which was OK but not quite what I wanted, so I replaced it with a New World Tourist (also from Bike Friday). I couldn't be happier with it. A Brompton would be a lot faster to pack and unpack, but the NWT rides like a regular bike. Packed into its suitcase, it's just another bag; these days I have to pay an extra bag fee to bring it, but that's still less than renting a bike for a week.

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  54. you might want to rethink your dark hedges visit... :'(

    http://www.ballymoneytimes.co.uk/news/local/the_dark_hedges_fence_is_a_huge_desecration_1_3075422

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  55. I went to NZ without a bike. I found a small bike shop, but they didn't rent bicycles. So I bought a bike and rack from them with the understanding that they would buy the bike back from me. We agreed that his buyback price would be based upon the returned condition. I tied my soft luggage to the rack and handle bars and rode off for 6 weeks of beautiful cycling. I took good care of it and the shop owner bought it back as agreed. It was a good method, but bring your favorite saddle!

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  56. Sounds very enchanting! I had never heard of it before! New Zealand is on my list - have heard such great things about cycling there, especially the south island. I think you are quite right about Europe - it is so well set up - I have been back to Mallorca 5 times - it is a cyclists paradise! It is so well set up, we always rent our bikes and get good quality road bikes. No sense trying to bring our bikes from Canada when it is so easy to rent. We just bring our own peddles and saddles and ride to our hearts content! Pop on over for some routes - I am still updating and will soon be adding map my ride maps, but really, the roads are so amazing in Mallorca - you will have no trouble at all. Here is a link to the Mallorca series (hope you find it helpful). http://traveldestinationbucketlist.com/category/mallorca/

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