Paddling the Nile
The first ever paddle down the Blue Nile from source to sea. 5,000km through wild rapids, war zones, crocodile and hippo infested waters, disease, terrorists, guns, arrests; the works...
Newly married amongst the neon glow and dumpling vendors as we bumble our way trying to figure out the world's most populous nation at this exciting time in it's history...
The Great Canadian Bike Trek
23 years old and naive, I set off in the middle of Canada's barbaric winter perched on a woolskin seat-cover peddling solo from one side of Canada to the other...
There wouldn't be many who have spent time on the misty isle without succumbing to its magic; the sociability of its inhabitants with their tall tales and enchanting music, its astoundingly interesting history and the widespread passion for the pint, but even with its myriad of charms and delights, two years was about enough before I left the thriving wee grassy knoll clinging to edge of Europe, in search of a new land.
The summer and autumn that had just passed were the most wonderful of my seasons in Ireland; I had a much better understanding and appreciation for its trinkets in the closing 6-months that encapsulated everything from music to marathons to malibu's.
Riding on the back of a favourable musical debut, I had joined the ranks of Eoghan, Tahlia, Veronica and Karl the bursty bassist, in a band to perform the original compositions of Eoghan Gallagher and take the Dublin rock scene by storm. Although I was obviously out of place performing alongside some exceptionally talented musicians, I devotedly attended practice every Saturday morning in the Temple Bar Music Centre and some nights after work. Eoghan's passion for his music was contagious and the whole experience was delightfully memorable. But just a few weeks out from our first scheduled gig in Whelans off Georgia Street, our drummer Connor, in typical rockstar fashion, pulled out of the gig citing a lack of time to make the commitment required and we were drumless. I guess that's rock and roll, but it was good while it lasted.
I was not destined to be a musician and enjoyed taking a spectator's approach to the lively music scene, catching a good few performances, the most notable being Grada, a traditional Irish band on the verge of big things, New Zealand diva Dame Kiri Te Kanawa on the spectacular grounds of a castle in Co. Meath, Tragically Hip (huge in Canada but unheard everywhere else, regardless it was trip down memory lane from my days in Canada) and the Source Festival in Kilkenny including the likes of Paul Simon, Van the man Morrison, the Fun Loving Criminals and about 200 soggy sandwiches . By far the most outlandish of the performances was the Smash Hits extravaganza, a medley of performances by all the tacky pop bands of the day, full of young screaming slappers wearing very little, and our crew, all full of an odd concoction of Guinness and milk devised by a strange individual from Limerick claiming to be related to one of the singers in Atomic Kitten.
The buzz of summer saw a good few months out and about including a few trips to my adored local The Hideout, meeting some characters, the most notable being Tahlia's friend Stu, a kiwi living in Australia on holiday in Ireland with an infectious enthusiasm for pints and bacon-double cheeseburgers. Things were kept entertaining by Kirsty Harkins and her long-distance love affair with a Swiss boy who ironed his undies, DFS and a neurologically imbalanced girl from Christchurch with nice lips.
But with the excess of the summer months, I needed something to see me back on track. It was Ian Collins who lured me into running the Dublin Marathon again, something we had discussed during the days of song sheets and tap dancing on the way to musical rehearsals the prior winter. I knew Ian would be a pleasure to train with, and as he had never run a 42-ker and I was keen to share in the satisfaction as he crossed the line for the first time. I was relatively fit from the 12km runs to work most mornings and was keen break the 3:10 mark so off kicked the campaign of numerous laps of Phoenix Park while poor Mr. Collins tirelessly listened as I harped on about a young lady and my dream of paddling down the Nile. Having a good foundation to work from, training was trouble free for me, and for the most part Ian as well, although unfortunately there was a time when he substituted clinging apparel for boxers leaving a lot of room for things to move around, leading to a painfully raw knob and a strange limp after running for two hours with his hand down his pants holding it.
Ian had a tighter fit on the day and in perfect conditions, we both had the run of our lives. I had fallen uncomfortably behind schedule after the first 6 miles and was just waking up to the possibility of a poor time round the track when a tall slim blonde from Devon came trotting past me like an angel. For the next 18-miles we ran together, pushing one-another to our limits, and I crossed the line much quicker than I had ever done before in 3:06:08, still not a world record, but not too bad for a guy who is built more for rugby than running. On top of the world after the marathon, I had a brief stint on TV3, red-faced and sweaty giving my verdict on the run, not forgetting to pay tribute to the marathon angel from England.
Although I was knuckling down on my weekends trying to train for marathons, plan the Nile trip and learn Arabic, I still managed a few trips away; a marvelous break down in Kerry with Ian showing off his homeland, a charming trip to the North taking in Belfast, Antrim, The Giant's Causeway and Derry (some of my favourite parts of the Emerald Isle) with the local knowledge of Eavann, and a last minute excursion to Donegal with Declan (a friendly Northern bloke with a Scottish sounding accent) to chance surfing in the coldest waters on the planet. Even with a wetsuit, I was cold like I've never been cold before, my face was so frozen that I could not express the fun I was having with a smile and my feet remained blue for hours after leaving the water.
With my departure date set for early January, I couldn't have asked for a better note to leave Ireland on, after riding the many dos of the festive season, the predictably fantastic GAA All Stars including a night at the excessively tacky presidental suite and a successful foozball competition that I had organized to give something back to the game that had given me so much, topped off by the farewell gift of my very own fooz table from the kind folk at Vodafone Ireland, a symbol of the overwhelming generosity of the Irish and my fond memories of the place. The Guinness from hereon in is a dirty syrupy mix that tastes like burnt vegemite.