Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Trip of a Lifetime

It was my birthday a couple of weeks ago and my new thing is to go away or try something new on that day (month...whatever). Last year, I went backpacking in England by myself as one of my top two trips of a lifetime. This year, I went back to England, but also added France in the mix making this the other trip in my top two trips of a lifetime. I not only got to roadtrip with a great guy (and surprisingly didn't have to kill him when he was wrong about the toll ticket...again), but I was able to see the D-Day beaches in Normandy, France. In fact, that's the reason we took the long drive from England to Segur Le Chateau just so I can be at the spots where soldiers landed many many years ago during the second world war. It was a powerful and moving experience.

But this is a blog about my exercise and I did manage to do some. In fact, I did a great deal of walking. London alone covered most of the walking that I have done in a year on a normal basis. However, I did manage to do some more. I kayaked on my birthday in France and I hiked in England when we got back. And that's what I will chronicle here...with pictures.

What do YOU want to do for you birthday? Kayak

Brantom, France was by far my favorite French town that we saw. It was such a beautifully picturesque town with a river wrapping around the center, perfect for a birthday kayak.

How could you not want to kayak here?
Poor Jim, because I know he's tall and doesn't really like kayaks. Plus, his brother didn't really sell him on the whole kayaking thing (he thought canoes were better). But Jim put on a smile and did it for me, because it was my birthday. So, even when he fell immediately in to the water when the very strong French woman pushed the kayak with him it, he still put on a smile trying not to fall again. He was also not happy to hear about the rapids (which now he calls The Great Water Terror), but he still did it. At first, I gave him the camera since my past includes dropping the camera in to the canal never to be seen again. But when I saw Jim struggling to even keep balance on the kayak, I knew it would be hard for him to get the camera out at all for pictures. So, I got the camera from him and wrapped it around my neck.

The kayaks were weird. They weren't like the ones I was used to and I almost fell in when she pushed me, too. They were like little plastic boats with a hole cutout that even I felt unstable getting in to it. Also, whenever I stopped, the current basically turned me 360 degrees everytime.

This is what I thought we were getting.
Jim and I in our first shot together on the water. The water on the lens caused this effect, but really shows Jim's disdain.
We immediately hit one rapid and I was alittle intimidated until I made it. The tourists clapped for me when I was done and then I waited for Jim (he didn't fall in...yay!). It quickly reminded me of floating the river in San Marcos, TX, in a tube next to another tube full of beer tied to you. So, I felt comfortable. Jim didn't.

These were the first rapids.
We were covered in shade by these beautiful trees.
Then, we hit the second rapid where we actually had to get out of our kayaks and climb up to continue. A group of people watched us intently to see what and how we would do it. Again, we survived.

Jim getting out of the kayak to go up the little rapid so that we can continue on the river.
This is what we had to climb up; as you can see, my kayak has turned.

He's concentrating so hard.

Isn't this a beautiful overhanging tree? Don't mind the thumb in the corner; another side effect from turning.
These ducks were going straight for Jim, but then turned their attention to me when they realized he didn't have food.

We rounded back to the first rapid and then turned right for our third one, the big one. This was the one that Jim referred to as The Great Water Terror. So, I went first and saw the drop. It was a good, steep drop that made me nervous. When I hit the bottom without falling, I woohoo'd. Jim says that I did it out of relief.
This was the big one and Jim got lots of air!
Look at that smile. I enlarged the picture so that you could see it. 
After our survival (water included), we rowed on down the river. A man mentioned to us that we were in for a treat and it got us worried that maybe we did pick the wrong path to meet the lady. I kept looking at my paper map, which was almost mush due to the water. Finally, we hit the last rapid and it looked even bigger than the last one. However, it was wider, easier and so much fun. My wahoo was definitely for happy times. We were still unsure if we were on the right river until we saw her waiting, the French woman who just forced Jim in to the water (his words). The bus driver for another group was talking to Jim about his quick fall in the water...poor thing. Not only did we get a great workout on my birthday, but we also have a great story and experience.

Rowing down a path of beautiful blindness.
See, he's starting to get in to it.

Jim and I totally survived and ready for our next adventure. Apparently, he's taking me to the widow maker race course in England to try racing his car. Revenge? Nah.
After this trip, I've realized why I love kayaking so much. It offers something different each time I'm out there whether it's seeing manatees or rowing into the middle of the bay with boats coming at you, or surviving the rapids of death (awesome rapids). And that my friends is what experience is all about.

Later on in the day, we went to the Unesco World Heritage sight called Lascaux II. The tour was all in French, but we didn't care. Lascaux II is the world's largest cave paintings, a replication of Lascaux I (damaged), and still pretty darn cool to see. When we got back home, we went to Auberge de la Mandrie in Pompadour, France for a wonderful French meal with a very animated chef who doesn't like it when you don't finish all of your dessert. All in all, it was a wonderful birthday and I couldn't have asked for anything more or better. Thanks to Maggie, Mark, and Jim for such a great day.

Montignac, France is another picturesque town that I wished we had more time to explore. Lascaux II was located just above it in the hills.

This is a great picture of Jim and I. Notice I'm wearing the quintessential French striped shirt...only not black in white.
Maggie, Mark, Jim, and I in Brantom, France the day before our kayaking trip.

Relaxing Day of Hiking

On my last day in England, Jim and I headed to a small town called Knaresborough in Yorkshire. We wanted a close hike that wasn't too strenuous. Jim had never been to this town and I was sold with Pilgrim's caves and beer.

It was Jim's turn to take pictures. Naturally, he took pictures of me. I'm having a beer and a nice lunch before we start our hike.

Do my pigtails look cute? I think so.
England doesn't get many days without a cloud in the sky and the warmth to match. Consequently, everyone had the same idea as we did; however, maybe not everyone went hiking. You could row (Jim said no immediately) down the Nidd River or eat ice cream on the side looking at the beautiful scenery or you could hike. We chose to hike, but we did manage to sit on the bench for a bit to just take in what we were seeing. In the process, we got to watch this cute little kid try to hang out with us, while his dad was trying to get him to leave.

We headed first to the Knaresborough castle on top of the cliff. Within 6 steps, Jim said, "I'm tired." I responded with, "Me too." Those steps were steep and they only got worse. However, when you see a very pregnant woman (later on, we saw 2) making it up there, it only motivates you to keep on going without complaint. There was a lookout point halfway up that showed the town. We stopped to drink some water, stretch, and relax. Eventually, we made it up to the top and saw some really cool ravens trained by this lady dressed in chain mail. This town is so medievil. And after looking at the castle, I realized that this was my first English castle to visit that was actually a castle.

The first lookout point with a spectacular view of the River Nidd.
I wonder why he took this picture.
Just look at that view.
Looking back at knaresborough.
Finally, we made it to the top to see the Knaresborough Castle.

The train going over the River Nidd.

At the top overlooking Knaresborough.
The ravens of Knareborough Castle. He is attached to a line, because of his aggression here lately. 

And it's due to the new guy...the one on the right just staring.

And Jim wonders why I call England medievil.
The beautiful River Nidd.

War Memorial for WW1 and WWII.
After looking at the war memorial, we walked back down and headed towards the caves. We wanted to see this other memorial, but it was closed. I thought that this one path would take us up there, but all it did was take us to another footpath and wore us out.

Jim thought this was hilarious.

Yes, Jim, I do think that this path will take us to a back way to see the memorial that is closed.

OMG! I survived. I don't know how. My legs at this point are jelly.
So, we walked back down and kept going on the road surrounded by houses until we finally hit the St. Robert's cave. He was a monk that basically went to live in this cave as a hermit. Pilgrims flocked from all over to get spiritual advice or healed from him. It literally was a hole in the ground. In fact, Jim mentioned that our theme for my trip was a hole in the ground. Almost everything we saw incorporated a hole in the ground, such as the caves, this pilgrim cave, the gunner placements around the beaches, Winston Churchill War Room, etc. It was still cool to see that a monk made this cave his home and pilgrim's trekked many miles to see him for spirtual advice.

St. Robert's Cave, which did have more walls than what we see today.

Be careful Jim. Anything could get ya in there.

The insides of St. Robert's Cave.
We had the decision to go back the way we came or continue on the other side for a different path. I'm so glad we chose the latter. This was by far the coolest part of the hike. I really learned about footpaths and how crazy they are just next to people's houses. This was the most shaded part of our hike and forthe first time ever, I smelled wild garlic. I never saw actual garlic cloves, but the smell was all over. I thought that maybe someone was just straight grilling garlic until Jim said something. Wow! The smell was intoxicating, every vampire's nightmare. It made me want to rush out and plant garlic.

Taking a break for a photo op.

Crossing this little bridge. High smells of garlic around this area. Yum!
No, Jim, you can't eat the baby lambs right now.

They even have signs for your footpath direction. It's just amazing to me how they are right next to people's houses.

Loved the smell of these flowers. What are they?
Finally, we made it to one of the bars on the list. I needed the bathroom and a beer. I wanted to see the Old Mother Shipton's Cave where this Yorkshire witch prophesized about events to come, such as the bridge falling 3 times (it's fallen twice already). However, the cave was closed for the day. So, I was quite happy outside enjoying my beer and the atmosphere (black labs everywhere) at the Dropping Well (original name). That was such a great little place. After a beer, we headed back to the car. The little medievil town was closing down for the night and there weren't many people around. The hustle and bustle was gone; the ice cream shops were closing. So, Jim and I got in the car and picked up some fish and chips in his village. It was a perfect end to my last day and I was sad that even had to end at all.

If you are ever in Knaresborough, go to the Dropping Well.
Below are some pictures from my trip.

Since this is an exercise blog, I thought I would add this picture. The guy is competing in the Special Olympics and the lady will be carrying the torch for some of the time. 

Tockwith Beer Festival and all its glorious taps.

This picture was taking in front of the Bayeux Tapestry Museum and just reminds me of France. 

The start of my eclair chocolat downfall and why I came back heavier. I felt like Aubrey in European Vacation everytime I went in to a Patisserie (or really at any French dinner we had).
Pegasus Bridge where the British troops landed.

Arromanches (Gold Beach) where the British landed. This is a remnant of the Mulberry Harbour used during D-Day that is still on the beach. You can see other pieces out on in the ocean.

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial overlooking Omaha Beach.

There are over 9,000 American soldiers buried here.

The dead soldiers get a wonderful view of Omaha Beach, which lies below the cemetery.

Looking out of our bedroom at Brive la Gaillarde Vacation Farmhouse, Segur Le Chateau, France.


  1. Thank you for your comment on my post and great blog yourself! I can't believe you were this close to me - I'm only about an hour away from YOrkshire. Next time tell me when you come here! Good luck with your training.

  2. Great stuff - email me at petraduguid at gmail dot com and we'll go for a run when you're here!I'll be dead slow as i will have done my half iron 2 days prior but no matter - and we can have a beer afterwards!

  3. What an unforgettable trip! I haven't hit these spots, so it's great to have this post as a guide. I love all the photos, too!


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