Prior to Leaving

A new journey. A new journal.

Bike Centennial maps of the Northern National Parks lay spread out on the dining room table. Thin pencil lines document possible routes over mountain passes and around busy highways, through Montana and Wyoming, taking in Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton National Parks. The Tetons are where my soul hangs out when retreating from day-to-day minutia.

The information we receive about pedaling through Yellowstone is discouraging. As they pass by, RVs with their extended right hand mirrors viciously attack unaware cyclists. The deep potholes dictate a dangerous path between traffic and precipitous drops along the mountain roads.

Out of the blue one afternoon I suggest Ireland or even a return to Scotland, specifically to the west coast and Highlands. Ireland had never been on my list as a "must see," but Scotland, as delightful as it was last year, was just last year. With no further discussion, we agree:


Training. Training. Training - since May, with five pound bricks slung low in each of my four panniers, removed only during century rides. A weekend trip to Bodega Bay with the Backroads Bike Touring company is a pleasurable addition to my training schedule.

Up and down Old La Honda Road and it's average 7% grade for a 1,200' climb. I think about creating a book of comments that Rufus, my 10" brown disheveled touring teddy bear, generates:

"Like your bear."
"He's not pedaling."
"You have a bear behind."
"Your bear needs a helmet."
"Does he know he's on a tandem?"
"It's spooky always following your bear."

Trying out camping gear is my annual rite of summer. First, "how to reduce the 1.5 pounds of ThermaRest mattress to something lighter and equally comfortable." Tracy's RidgeRest is certainly lighter by nearly a pound. But could something that thin protect of my bony hips, knees and shoulders? A night on the wood floor in my bedroom convinces me that it can be. I get nearly fanatical about weight when cycling and carrying my world in four small bags hanging off my bicycle.

We can't possible have any more rain in Ireland than we had in Scotland, and nothing packed on that trip got so much as a drop of unintentional water. So, reduce cycling weight even more -- replace the nearly four pound synthetic sleeping bag with a two pound goose down bag. A down bag should be safe to take. Squiggle in.

"Does it fit?"
"How much does it weigh?"
"How much does it cost?"

L.L. Bean wins my business with the best price for the lowest weight and excellent quality.

Patch up my handlebar bag from the ravages of century rides. Give Jack advice about camping gear and touring training.

I read everything I can about bike touring in Ireland, even unsuccessfully trying to immerse myself in James Joyce's "Ulysses." Eric Newby's book "Round Ireland in Low Gear" finds a place in my pannier.

With the horror stories passed around about flying TWA, I begin the process to assure that our bikes can go with us, untariffed. Part of our flight is domestic, and when I inquire of TWA about our bikes to Shannon, I am told that "...of course you'll be expected to pay the $45 extra baggage fee." I am incredulous and annoyed, knowing that for international travel, bikes travel as a piece of checked luggage -- free. A few calls to TWA's international office in Los Angeles, after interminable minutes on "hold," straights out the problem. At my request a notation is inserted into the computer to remind the ticket agent that these bikes fly free. During this merry-go-round of calls, both to TWA and Aer Lingus, the carrier from New York to Shannon, I learn that "the carrier over the Atlantic is the carrier in control" and sets the rules for luggage.

With my notes from last year's tour, I sort through clothing and biking items, revising last year's packing list. Hopefully it will be an improvement.

"Don't take the Thermomax jersey."
"Take a stove and fuel bottle."
"Pack personal items in ziplock bags instead of the nylon kit bag."
"Don't take wool hat and wool socks."
"Do take a few more bike tools."

What a fiasco with the bike boxes we obtain from our favorite bike store. New bikes are shipped in these, broken down into smithereens for capable mechanics to reassemble. Jack and I take larger boxes, available for a price through the airlines. Tracy sticks with the smaller box, virtually dismantling completely his bicycle. It is an unpleasant task to witness. Jack and I, on the other hand, merely remove our pedals, turn our handle bars, and drop the bike in. Voila! Ready to fly. (Of course that's the easy part. Then one must reinforce the box from the inside, and protect the derailleur and other damageable parts.)

I buy a few travel books, excising those sections which apply to our trip so that I can bring them along, but at less weight than the full book. Frommer's, Frodor's and Let's Go all go under the knife. Oops! Frommer's is a library book!

At last the training is over. My summer has been consumed by "getting in shape for the hills of Ireland," and I became exceedingly tired of training rides. I didn't think August would ever arrive!

SFO, at last.

TWA ticket agent Eric doesn't want to deal with us and our bikes, rearranging papers and ticket stubs, trying to look busy. "My supervisor will have to check you in." It doesn't work. But Eric is good natured about it. With quick explanations and a suggestion to check the computer, we are able to avoid an argument and the extra $45 domestic baggage charge for our bicycles. Those frustrating minutes on "hold" with TWA were valuable after all.

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Last modified: July 4, 2007