Friday, July 12, 2013

Journey Interrupted - and in the face of terrible sadness the universe seems to move with purpose

When Kathleen and I left on this journey we knew that it would be a time of insight, learning, and growth. How little did we realize it would happen so soon and with such power. We have spent an incredible first few months spending time in Mexico, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, and Germany. The time in Mexico was to roadtrip down to La Paz to collect my boat and gear after my two month kayak journey and was basically cleaning up the loose ends of my trip. Our time in Iceland was basically a multi-day layover with Icelandair. The first part of the trip where we truly felt we were "in" World Tour was when we got to Ireland. Kathleen's 'Egan' side of the family live there and she had not seen these relatives since being a young teenager. Ever since we left Ireland she has told me (and I have agreed) how meaningful that experience felt. We spent quality time with her Dad's two brothers (Aidan and Colm) and Aidan's family. We toured Dublin to see the house where they grew up, where Kathleen's Dad (Joe) went to school, and where he used to play championship level cricket. We were able to get to know the brothers better. To talk, laugh, sing, recite poetry, drink beer and wine, eat good food, and reintegrate as a family. It was done with joy and light hearts. Kathleen told me multiple times how good it felt to have reestablished a relationship with these family members (including Aunt Eileen and her cousin Sarah) and that now she felt this relationship stood on its own, irrespective of her father. She also told me how much she thought that our visit probably meant to her Dad, which in turn meant a lot to her. To see the Facebook and Blog pictures of us being with his family and exploring the streets of his youth we knew would make him smile.

We continued on to Norway to reestablish a friendship with an old high school friend of mine from Vermont and to meet a cousin of Kathleen's in Sweden that also had not been seen in too many years. In Germany we were able to spend time with Kathleen's mothers side of the family. To see her Omama (grandmother), to visit with Aunt Andrea, and to establish a deeper relationship with her cousins Anna and Sebastian. Andrea has visited Seattle but the cousins had not seen each other since being much younger. It was here that we received the horrible news that Kathleen's father has Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer, that he had rapidly decompensated on the 4th of July, and that we needed to come home right away.

Kathleen understandably has her moments of deep sadness. But she has been able to draw strength from our experiences up to now and the realization that the Universe works with special reason and purpose. She feels that it was no accident that we started World Tour when we did and not next year when it might have made more sense financially, that we chose to go to Europe to see family first instead of last, that we were available when we needed to be contacted and not deep in the backcountry or in some remote country, and that most importantly she was able to spend time getting to know her Dad's brothers better and to gain a deeper understanding of where he came from in a happy celebratory way instead of a sad reminiscing sort of way.

Tour is not over for us. We will be in Seattle for the interim. Kathleen needs to be there for her Dad, to support her Mom and sister Caroline, and be with the family. I need to be with Kathleen. We will be back on the road as soon as the time is right. In the meantime, any thoughts, prayers, or positive vibrations that can be sent in the direction of Joe, Kathleen, and their entire family would be much appreciated.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Scratching the surface of Scandinavia

     Kathleen and I have always wanted to go to Scandinavia.  We are both drawn to big mountains and I especially have a calling for arctic environments.  We were somewhat nervous about going there as it has a (deserved) reputation for being very expensive.  Oslo is listed as one of the top 10 most expensive cities in the world.  Living off a tight budget for the next two years makes us reluctant to spend a lot, especially since this is the first couple of months of our trip.  We don't want to have to come home early because we have exceeded our allowance.  However, since we had some friends and family in Norway and Sweden and an invitation for places to stay we thought that we should take this opportunity while we could. 
     Jorunn was a foreign exchange student in my high school in Stowe, Vermont in 1984/1985.  We reestablished contact on Facebook several years ago and have often commented on each others activities but have not seen each other in 28 years. 
My old and new friend Jorunn

When she heard about our trip she invited us to come visit.  I thought that this was pretty brave to invite basically a stranger to come visit for a week.  The visit was a smashing success in my opinion.
Jumping for joy as we ran the trails north of Oslo

Jorunn is married and has two absolutely adorable little girls, Aleksandra and Maria.  We were fortunate enough to be there for Maria's 7th birthday and share some birthday cake.  Jorunn and her husband Egil introduced us to several types of traditional Norwegian meals.  Salmon, reindeer, and a Norwegian porridge were the highlights.  Egil is the Director of the National Archives in Oslo and was able to take us on a private tour of the Norwegian Parliament building. 
Plenary Chamber of Norwegian Parliment

They also lent us a car so that we could drive north and visit some of the mountainous regions.  We went to Jotunheimen National Park which was one of the most scenic spots I have ever been to.  It easily compared to any national park in the US.  The closest similarity might be to pictures I have seen of the Brooks Range in Alaska.
View deeper into Jotunheimen National Park, Norway
Rainbow was beautiful but a sign of deteriorating weather

Moving through this landscape was true adventure running.  A combination of running, hiking, and some rock scrambling inbetween. 
This wasn't even the steep spot

This visit was just a tease of what lies even further north.  Someday we will be back.
     We next went to Sweden.  We spent the first two days in Stockholm.  What seemed funny was that after being in Oslo the prices in Stockholm seemed cheap (even though things were still very expensive).  A bag of gummi bears was $3 instead of $5 for example.  It was a summer weekend in Stockholm with nice weather so everyone was out and about.  There was a sailing regatta going on so the harbor was full of fancy racing sailboats and there was a big expo associated with it. 
Djurgarden Park, Stockholm

RedBull was setting up  for their "Flugtag" competitition where people launch off a 30 foot ramp over water in homemade flying machines (most of them don't fly).  The outdoor cafes were full of both locals and tourists.  There was also an antique car show so the streets were full of tricked out old American cars from the 50s, 60s, and 70s revving their engines and laying strips at the stop lights with squealing smoking tires. 
     After getting our urban fix we rented a car so that we could get up to the High Coast and enjoy a little nature.  This is a UNESCO World Heritage site where the land is now rising from where it was previously weighed down by glaciers.  In the last 9500 years the land has risen 935 feet.  There are many small islands and bays here and would be an excellent place to explore with a kayak.  We spent a couple of days running here exploring the hills and coastlines. 
Rotsidans Naturreservat, High Coast, Sweden
Skuleskogens National Park, High Coast, Sweden

From there we went to the island of Yxlan where Kathleen's cousin Michael has a house.  They had not seen each other since they were young teenagers.  We met Michael there and were introduced to some of the Swedish traditional appetizers (a variety of different types of herring) and had a great night hanging out.  The islands around his house in the Stockholm archipelago also appear to have wonderful kayaking potential, especially with the Swedish law of Allmannsratten ("Every Man's Right") where you are allowed to camp anywhere (public or private) in the country for one night as long as it is not in someones yard or cultivated area.  You are allowed to pick flowers, mushrooms, and berries but hunting is not allowed.
Our last "Allmannsratten" campsite in Sweden

This law goes back to the Middle Ages but with it comes the responsibility to "Do not disturb, Do not destroy".  Basically leave no trace.  A great concept that would never fly in the US with everyone being so uptight about their private property.  You would end up with a shotgun in your face. 
     Both our time in Norway and Sweden felt too short and it was.  The visit did allow us to get a quick feel for these countries.  We know that someday if the opportunity would present itself again then we would like to be able to go even deeper into the backcountry.  The far north sounds amazing.
Now it is off to Germany for a few weeks to visit Kathleen's Mom's side of the family.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

FidEgan's Fastpacks - Episode 3 - Norwegian Nirvana

John and I are currently on a 2 year trip where we are pursuing our passion of trail running through the various landscapes and environments of the world. As we pass through each country we want to post our top pick for a trail run that we did. This does not mean that this is the best trail to run in that country. It just means that it was our favorite that we did. We are both using Ultraspire Fastpacks to carry our gear, hence the name of the column. We had less than 10 days in both Norway and Sweden (far too short of a time) so this run covers our visit to Scandinavia.  We really wish we had more time to go even further north then we did because the adventure potential in both Norway and Sweden is impressive.  John has also been obsessing over the sea kayaking possibilities. 

Where:  Jotunheimen Nasjonal Park, Norway.  This run took us from the campground at Maurvangen to the trailhead at Gjenesheim, over Besseggen Mountain to Memurubu, and then back along Gjende Lake.
(Google Images)

Facilities/Trailhead:  Jotunheimen National Park is about a 5 to 6 hour drive north from Oslo on good roads.  There are speed cameras everywhere so be careful about the speed limit.  There is a camping site at the park entrance at Maurvangen.  The trailhead is at Gjendesheim where there is a staffed lodge.  A boat travels several times a day to the halfway point at Memurubu (and also travels to the far west end of the lake Gjendebu) for people that want to explore deeper into the mountains.  There are no real stores near here so stock up on supplies at Fagernes on the way there. 

Fees:  The cost to park at the trailhead is 100 Krone ($16).  There is another parking site at the entrance to the park about a mile away that is 60 Krone (~$10).  We were camped a couple of 100 meters from that lot so we just ran from our campsite.  This added a mile to the beginning and end of our run.  You can run the road for this or there is a wet single track that parallels the road.  For people that only want to do half of the loop the cost of the boat one way to (or from) Memurubu is 85 Krone ($13.60).

Terrain/Trials:  This was a true adventure run through some very rugged terrain.  Lots of people do this hike so you won't have the trail to yourself but if injured it would take some time (and probably a helicopter) to rescue you.  Be prepared for weather.  It was sunny when we started and pouring rain at the end. Part of this was runnable trail, parts had to be hiked (steep or very uneven rocks), and there is a section of Class 3 to Class 4 rock scrambling. 

Distance:  The distance from Gjendesheim to Memurubu over Besseggen is 17km (10 1/2 miles).  The return trip along the lake is about 15km (~9 miles).  Running from the campsite at Maurvangen added another mile at both the beginning and end. 

Description:  We ran the trail that paralleled the road to get from the camp ground to the trailhead at Gjendesheim.  All this really did was get our feet wet right at the start.  Next time we probably would run the road which is what we did on the way back.  The trailhead leaves from the parking lot at Gjendesheim. 


We didn't realize that at the time and started up the trail just east of it.  Once we realized our mistake we had to bushwack cross country to get to where we were supposed to be. This added 45 min and another mile or two to our adventure.


Once on the trail it climbs steeply up the mountain.  In one section there is a chain attached to the rocks to help people along a steep catwalk. 

Ascending the mountain

Most day hikers take the boat out and then hike back so we met a lot of people coming down the mountain due to our late start.  Once on the ridgeline the views start getting better and better.  To the west are tall glaciated peaks and a sea of snow.  To the east are lower mountains but the views are expansive since treeline is much lower than this entire area. 
Ridgeline running

Multiple lakes, rivers, and waterfalls are visible in all directions with the most impressive being the two large lakes on either side of the mountain. 
Expansive views
Rainbow - beautiful but weather was deteriorating

Gjende was on our left and has a distinct green color from the glacial silt while the lake to the right called Bessvatnet is a brilliant blue. 
Sometimes you had to just stop and stare

The route drops very steeply from the summit of Besseggen to the ridge in between the lakes.  This is the rock scrambling section and lasts for probably 1/3 mile.  Most people climb up this but we were going down it (slowly).  It is only one person wide in some spots with steep drop-offs on either side. 
Looking back at 3rd class ridgeline
Only small patches of snow at end of June

The rest of the ridge has a more rolling nature to it and is more runnable.  This eventually winds down to Memurubu where there is another lodge or you can also camp there.  It looked like a great spot to spend a few days relaxing and exploring the nearby valleys and peaks.
Memerubu Lodge

 The return trail follows the lake shore so has much less up and down.  It is narrow and not heavily traveled but was easy to follow. 
Lakeside trail

Halfway back it started to rain heavily on us so we were pretty wet and ready to be done by the time we got back to the pavement.

Other fun facts:  There is a race held that runs from Memurubu over the mountain to Gjendesheim.  The record is 1 hr, 16 min, 48 sec that was set in 1963 by a local Norwegian.  No one has been able to beat the record since then.  The woman's record was also set in 1963 at 1 hr 39 min 47 sec.  Those times are unfathomable to us!  It is also impressive in this day and age when records like this stand for 50 years. 
A boat that takes you deep into the mountains via the lake to an isolated lodge/town reminded us a lot of Lake Chelan and Stehekin for anyone that has explored that part of Washington State. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Ireland - Rediscovering Kathleen's Homeland

        After spending a week in Iceland on our "layover", we moved on to our first real destination - the Emerald Island of Ireland. Since she doesn't have an accent most people don't realize that Kathleen did not become a US citizen until 2000. Her Dad is Irish and her Mom is German so she actually was an Irish national before then. However she was born and mostly raised in Germany so actually had not been to Ireland since a young teenager. This trip was a long overdue chance to see Aunts, Uncles, and cousins to explore and discover her "native" land.

      After a night of sleeping on some benches in Gatwick Airport in London we took the short flight to Dublin with Ryan Air.

Our beds in Gatwick Airport

We had been warned about how hardnose Ryan Air can be about their rules but we had done our homework and had no problems with bag weights or sizes. Uncle Aidan picked us up at the airport and brought us to where we would be staying while in Dublin. Maura runs a bed and breakfast in outer Dublin but over the years has become a very good friend of the Egan's so it felt much more like staying at a friends house then at an "establishment". Her son Brendon was there also for the first couple of days. We had several delicious meals made by Aunt Eilleen and cousin Sarah while being entertained with poetry and song from Uncles Colm and Aidan. It was quite entertaining to hang out with the brothers. We just wished Kathleen's dad Joe was there to finish out the trio.

The Egan clan

     The first week was spent exploring Dublin and the surrounding areas. Maura and Brendon took us on a drive into the nearby countryside and showed us a Neolithic tomb that also is a solar calender called Newgrange.

Newgrange Passage Tomb

Uncle Aidan went over the top with playing tour guide. We were taken to where Kathleen's Dad grew up and went to school in Dublin. We also were taken to the Leinster cricket club to see the Wall of Fame. Turns out that Kathleen's Dad was on the National Championship Cricket team for several years during the early 1950's.

One of the several plaques with Joe Egan

 We were told that nowadays he could have made millions as an athlete but back then it was still an amateur sport. Amazingly enough, while we were there we ran into one of his teammates, Gerry Duffy who is famous in Ireland.

      Another highlight while we were in Dublin was when Maura's daughter Michelle took us to the Taste of Dublin. We were able to sample a variety of amazing delicious foods from restaurants that we would never have been able to afford to go to otherwise. There was also a large variety of wines and beers which we also love. An 80's music cover band called "Spring Break" played for the crowd and was a big hit. They looked like an Irish version of The Village People and a little girl got up on stage with them to dance and stole the show.

"Spring Break"

The second week we rented a car and toured more of the island. The roads are often only as wide as 1 1/2 cars with lots of blind curves. Between that and driving on the left side of the road it was a little nerve wracking but we survived without getting run off or running anyone off the road. We spent two days in Kilkenny at Brendon's house and then spent the rest of the week camping and exploring predominately the southwestern corner of the country where there are a series of mountainous peninsulas that jut out into the Atlantic ocean.
Kilkenny Castle

This is one of the most rugged areas of Ireland and the type of terrain we most enjoy. Ireland has a number of walking paths which make great trails for running. We did a long point to point run on the Wicklow Way near Dublin which Uncle Aidan drove us to the start for.
Lough Tay along the Wicklow Way
Djouce Mountain on the Wicklow Way

We also did a neat run on the Beara Way where you had to take a small cable car over the ocean to get to an island.
Cable car to Dursey Island

Signal Tower on Dursey Island
Dursey Head, Dursey Island

We also explored part of the Kerry Way and Killarney National Park.
Ross Castle, Killarney
Killarney National Park
Sheep in Macgillycuddy's Reeks
View west from Macgillycuddy's Reeks
Lunch break

     The last day of the road trip we went further north and climbed Ireland's holy mountain called Croagh Patrick where St Patrick is said to have fasted and prayed on the summit for 40 days and nights. There is a church at the summit. And a pub at the base. I found it great to go into a bar where 98% of the people are drinking Guiness, though I do prefer Murphy's Stout when they had it.

St Patrick at base of Croagh Patrick

The highlight of the week for me was getting to see Kathleen reestablish a meaningful relationship with her family after too many years. The Irish people were an absolute delight. Everyone was super friendly and helpful. They truly seem to enjoy Americans there and almost everyone has a relative somewhere in the US. The Irish kept telling us how expensive it was there but we found the prices to be fairly comparable to Seattle. If you are looking for a beautiful land to explore with friendly people (that speak English) then we highly recommend Ireland.

Sunset over Kilkenny