fitness · traveling

Guaranteed fun: Irish dance class in Galway

Image description: a group of women and men posing for a photo outside with water in behind them. Siobhan the dance teacher is in the middle front. The others are my photography tour group and I (the subset who did the Irish dance class).

I just got back from a long-awaited photography tour of Ireland for a couple of weeks and there were so many memorable moments with new friends and beautiful places.

But one stand-out experience that delivered an unexpected blast of sheer joy for all concerned was an Irish dance class in Galway, taught by Siobhan, who used to tour in the US with Riverdance. Her company is called Irish Dance Experience and one member of our small tour group booked it in advance. I signed up on a lark, not having met any of my tour group in person yet and not having a particular interest in Irish dance and not being an especially skilled dancer (though I enjoy dancing nonetheless).

By the time we got to Galway we had been on the photography tour for more than a week, so everyone knew and was comfortable with everyone else. That made a difference because despite Siobhan being an incredibly good teacher and despite us becoming better in just over an hour than we ever thought possible, we were all really going out on a ridiculous limb! We looked hilarious. But we rocked the dance with brooms and did a badass Riverdance finale. (you’ll have to take my word for it)

Anyway, we had an absolute blast and here is Siobhan’s Instagram post about our group:

That’s me in the blue t-shirt swinging with Joey from Texas. The entire group was smiling and laughing almost the whole time. The only other facial expression was perhaps intense concentration (Irish dancing requires counting and coordination). Siobhan said we did great.

There is more video, and watching it makes me laugh every time. But we made a pact that it would never be distributed for public consumption. I’m keeping up my end of the pact.

If you’re ever in Galway I recommend her class. So much fun.

P.s. Galway restaurant recommendation for anyone who appreciates the combination of Michelin stars and lack of pretension. Incredible food including outstanding vegan options. Ard Bia at Nimos:


A Ride by the Sea (Guest Post)

My partner and I drove out to New Brunswick this week to visit his parents. Of course, we brought bikes. He brought one of the touring bikes and I brought my road bike. His parents live in one of the communities that reside on the Miramichi Estuary so there were plenty of opportunities to enjoy spectacular landscape.

On Tuesday, we went to Kouchibouguac National Park. The multi-use path was not good for a road bike so I rented an ancient touring bike and off we went. It’s a gorgeous place with unique ecosystems including dunes and bluffs. We noodled around for about 4 hours including a poutine stop and a stroll out to the beach. If the water was 12 degrees Celsius,  I would be surprised so no swimming. We got competitive on the little hills on the path as bicycling is the only sport I have any chance of beating my partner in a physical pursuit. One thing I can count on with him, he doesn’t let me win so my powering up the hills occasionally slightly ahead of him was very satisfying.

Happy Sweaty People by a Sea Swamp

Since I am still training for the Bike Rally (sponsor me here) I needed to do a longer ride at road bike speed. We just happened to take a little jaunt out to the coast on Wednesday to pick up an obscene amount of lobster and I realized it was both the perfect distance and that it would be a very beautiful ride.

I was up and out on Thursday morning by 6:30am. I had to travel about 10kms along a major highway to get to the road out to the ocean so I wanted it to be as quiet as possible yet after the sun was up. I was nervous about a lot of things but more acutely, I had not seen one single road bike on any road anywhere that I had been in the three days I’d been wandering around the Miramichi. I didn’t know what the traffic would do or whether people would be angry at me for taking up road.

It should surprise no one that the vehicles here behave the same as vehicles anywhere. The giant trucks are the best behaved, giving lots of room and slowing down if it isn’t safe to pass me at a decent distance. The cars don’t hit me but they don’t try too hard to give me a wide berth either. The worst were the pickup trucks. I don’t know what it is about driving a pick up truck that makes folks so ornery. They may slow down but then they pass close and speed up the second you are out of the side mirror, the sound of their engines revving telling you where to go. I make no assumptions about who is in those vehicles, but they have a bad attitude for the most part.

The ride was as beautiful as I’d hoped and I made it to Baie Saint-Anne in record time. It was only when I turned around that I fully acknowledged the tail wind that carried me there. If I had let that into my brain, knowing the trouble I’d have on the way back I may have stopped and turned around.

Fisher Boats and Nets at Low Tide

I pushed hard on the way back. It was a slight uphill also and I was determined not to let my speed go below 20km/h ever. I ended up with my fastest 100km ride ever and I’m pretty happy about that.

Now it’s time for ice cream and bed, the distance cyclist’s true reward.

cycling · traveling

When All Else Fails, Start Over

Riding on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, feeling like a kid again on my cheap cruising bike.
Riding on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, feeling like a kid again on my cheap cruising bike.

I’ve had an amazing experience this week. After feeling demoralized and discouraged about cycling, I’ve actually re-discovered that feeling of “whee!” on my bicycle.

It was a feeling I’d all but lost, as I approached cycling with a “go further, get faster” attitude this summer. Instead of liking it more, I faced the prospect of riding with dread. Basically, I lost the desire to ride my bike.

Thankfully, this didn’t extend to my commuter bike. I’m still enjoying the simplicity of hopping on the hybrid and riding the bike path to work. The hill at the end of the ride has gotten easier and easier to climb. I am pretty sure I’m getting there faster each week that goes by.

But this week I really started over. I’m on vacation in Nevada and Arizona, headed to Burning Man, and I bought a cheap cruiser bike. It’s got no gears and no handbrakes. There’s a cute little woven basket on the front.

It’s stylish and simple. And I love it. The other day I took it for a stunning ride along the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Renald and I slogged along on our $100 bicycles, up hills, down hills. We stopped at at least six different look-out points where we locked our bikes to the supplied racks so we could walk the paths to views so magnificent they seem unreal.  It was the perfect way to see the Canyon.

I had my bottle of water and a packed lunch stuffed into the little basket. And at the end of the day, when we were worn out from the sites and the climbs and the relentless sunshine, and feeling cautious of the approaching grey skies that might bring rain, we put our bikes on the front rack of a bus and it drove us back the 15 or so km to our parked vehicle.

What a brilliant day.

And that came one day after our bicycle adventure on the Las Vegas Strip, where we found a 24 hour restaurant serving an early-morning breakfast. After that the valets at Caesar’s Palace were so taken with our cruisers that they checked them for us and wheeled them into their storage room for safe keeping while we went inside to check out enormous aquarium behind the front desk.

What I’ve discovered is that I actually LOVE riding! It makes me feel free and fast and light and like I’m flying. If I can capture that feeling on a clunky cruiser, maybe I can find it when I’m riding my road bike.

I’m a firm believer in the idea that sometimes, doing less is more likely to get me where I need to go than trying to do more.

So for the rest of this vacation I’m going to enjoy my $100 cruiser. And when I get home, here’s hoping that I can sustain the joy when I get back on the road bike.

I’ve got another Olympic distance triathlon coming up on September 14 and I so desperately want to like the bike leg! But since I need to leave my cruiser in Nevada, the road bike will have to do.

fitness · traveling

Fitness Tourism Keeps It Fresh

I’ve got some travel lined up over the summer, starting with just over a week in and around Zurich, Switzerland. I confess that I had some concerns going into this because I’m in a great routine with my workouts at the moment. Precision Nutrition’s Lean Eating Program is working for me.

But I don’t want to slide into old obsessions, where vacations–which I am very fortunate to have–become scary and dreaded because of the impact they might have on my routine. That’s both ungrateful and harmful (the way any obsession that interferes with the capacity to enjoy other good things in life is harmful).

So rather than give into that, I’ve taken a different approach. My vacation strategy this time is to explore fitness options that aren’t available to me at home. That could be something as simple as a new running route (for example, running in Zurich is not available to me at home) or as novel as checking out the fitness park (called the “vitaparcours“) down the road from my aunt’s house.

My aunt lives in Jona, a charming area near Rapperswil on the shores of Lake Zurich. Her street is up on hill with a gorgeous view of the lake. The walking and running opportunities around here are outstanding, especially if you want to do some hill training.

Yesterday, she told me about this Vitaparcours. I’d just arrived earlier and wasn’t up to a full-on workout, but we ventured out in the rain so she could show me where to go. The route to the fitness park takes a country lane along a ridge overlooking town and the lake, sloping down on the other side to farmland where a few sheep graze in a lush green pasture. We passed by some stylish houses in both contemporary and traditional designs, a restaurant with outdoor seating that looks out over the lake with the Alps in the distance, and then down a steep slope to the road.

The entrance to the fitness park is about 2 kilometres from the house, at the edge of the woods. There are fifteen stations, clearly marked and numbered, each with some equipment and a sign (in German) explaining what to do. Like this:

There’s also what they call a “Finnish trail,” which is basically a soft bark trail through the woods. We strolled along that for a bit too, and my aunt translated the instructions for a fitness test that you could do there if you wanted to.

All of this got me excited to give this park a try as soon as I could (though not yesterday because not only was I exhausted, but also it poured rain throughout the day and evening, with only very short breaks of clear weather).

This morning my aunt’s partner dropped me off at the Vitaparcours on his way to the grocery store. It was perfect weather for a run through the forest.

I had my Garmin to tell me distance and time, just so I knew how long I’d been gone, not because I actually cared about time today. I’ve been reading Summit Seeker by ultra-runner Vanessa Runs, and she makes trail running sound so fabulous and captivating. I adopted her suggestion of having a willingness to stop and take in the surroundings. What a good decision because the setting is idyllic. You run mostly in the woods, across a bridge over a river, uphill at the beginning, then downhill after that.

It’s a relatively short loop (2.9K) with a station every 150 metres or so. They have pull up bars, rings, stumps for doing step ups, beams to test your balance on, and lots of other activities. I was more interested in running and stopping to take photos than in doing any of the activities, though I did all of the stretching and made a heartfelt but failed attempt to do an unassisted pull-up.

I encountered very few people — a woman who was pole-walking, a couple of teenaged girls out for a run, and towards the end of my time in the woods, some school kids who looked like they were doing some sort of nature exercise or orientation assignment.

When I got to the end of the trail, I kept going, back out to the road and up the long climb to the residential enclave my aunt lives in. I ran past the restaurant and the grazing sheep, along the ridge and through the narrow lane, back past the exquisite rock gardens with lush greenery abloom with spring flowers, to the house.

In all, I covered less than 5K, but somehow being in a new setting with novel surroundings made it the most memorable less-than-5K I’ve ever run.


On tomorrow’s fitness tourism agenda: Alpa Mare.