#CoachJeff Returns for 6th Annual #MADDSFC event #RunningBarefoot:

Sunday, June 2, 2018 marked the 6th annual MADD Strides For Change event in Port Credit, Ontario, Canada. If you recall, I served as the co-race director for the first 5 years of the event until moving to London, Ontario last September. I decided to return for ‘old times’ sake and support the event by actually participating. It is a cause close to my heart…thus, it was worth the trip in for the morning.

Patti and I arrived bright and early – immediately, I literally ‘ran into’ my good friends – CEO of MADD, Andy Murie, his wife, Joan and their son, Alex (who just happened to WIN the 5 kilometre run component of the event – no, it was NOT fixed!!!).The setting once again was in J.C. Saddington park along the shores of Lake Ontario. The route was changed slightly due to major construction in the central part of Port Credit. I actually prefer the new route!! As usual, the MADD team and volunteers did a phenomenal job in putting together all components. From the unique MADD signage,to the professional start/finish banner,to the MADD SFC mascot,and the food and beverage stations, it was first class all the way.Arriving a tad early, I had a chance to view the volunteers and full-time MADD staff in action mode. They set up each booth in record time, including all of the sponsors’ tables and silent auction items.

For any group thinking of a fund-raising event, they would be wise to study the MADD model. It is quite simply world calibre. It was also a time to re-connect with a few of my longtime running pals from the Southdown Striders. I do not see them often any more let alone have a chance to run with them from the Clarkson Tim Horton’s! Thus, this was a special opportunity. In the photos below, you will see the legend, Roger Fisher (foreground), flanked by ‘young’ Rick (full beard) and ‘old’ Rick (my other bro’!) andour other legend, Helga, Roger’s partner and one of the bravest souls on the planet.Of course, there HAD to be at least TWO barefoot runners in the field. You know I would be one of them – the other being ‘young’ Rick. He poses in the photo below pre-race between ‘old’ Rick and another Southdown Strider, John. ‘Young’ Rick makes a point of running barefoot at the MADD event year simply to make me proud!!! Seriously, he runs strong and fast without injury barefoot – he finished 7th overall with no speed work preparation. He told me afterwards that his feet felt great as did he!! I know he will NEVER be a full-on convert to running barefoot BUT he certainly is good at it. By the way, I cruised the 5 kilometres with my ‘bro’, ‘old’ Rick – not only did my feet feel good but so did my soul. I had forgotten how much I missed running with my best friend after 30 years of doing so 5 days per week!!

Patti’s good friend and fellow vestibular balance-challenged friend, Karen, showed up to have a visit with us. Patti and Karen stay in regular contact, exchanging progress reports and offering support when most needed on their journey. It was great to see Karen again – she is an inspiration and positive role model.The Master of Ceremonies was Janice Golding, an on-air personality at CTV. She provided a high energy running commentary of the features for the event. This was her third time serving the cause!! One such component was introducing a young man from Saskatchewan who witnessed his mother and grandmother killed by a drunk driver whilst they were coming back from a family wedding. He was in the car behind and had to put a blanket over his mother’s body as she was pronounced dead. You will notice him in the photo below addressing the event attendees. Afterhis heart-wrenching speech, he led a group of family members of victims of drunk drivers in the ceremonial start of the event. Even though this was a solemn moment where you could hear a pin drop, the young lad told me afterwards that this was all a part of the healing process. He said “I will never be the same person I was before the incident BUT, through the assistance of MADD Canada and a strong support network of friends, I WILL carry on!”.Another powerful moment for me was the viewing of the victims’ wall – a memorial testament to victims of drunk drivers. It is a stark reminder of the senseless act of violence that destroys the lives of so many Canadians every year!I had a chance to tour the school education multi-media traveling van that teaches school aged youth about the ravages of drunk driving. It is one of the best laid-out presentations that I have witnessed and, from what I was told, the best at getting the message across to our next generation of drivers. Harrison (in the second photo below) runs the programme – he is one special human being!!

At 9:00 a.m. sharp, we started off from the Saddington Park en masse – runners, walkers and those pushing kids in strollers. This is more of an event than a race even though there are medals for first, second and third place!! The big thing is participating, raising funds and awareness for a fantastic cause and enjoying of the best organized events in the country!!There were volunteers all along the route to keep everyone on course and safe. I have always said that MADD has the most dedicated and outstanding volunteers – bar none!!! At the end of the day, though,it was the 400+ participants who made the day a resounding success. There were many families partaking which I thought added a wonderful dimension that you do not often find at high level races.I want to acknowledge my good friend and the CEO of MADD, Andy Murie, who was front and centre throughout the morning and beyond (he is facing the camera in the photo below). He puts 100% into everything he does but especially the Strides For Change day. He knows how important it is at increasing awareness, generating media coverage and attracting more Canadians to the importance of ENDING Drunk and Drug driving.Here’s to you, Andy, and here’s to making a positive difference in the lives of all Canadians.

coach Jeff

 

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#CoachJeff Back #RunningBarefoot and #Swimming in #MedwayForest and CreekAfter Brutal Winter:

I do not need to remind most Canadians that the winter of 2017-18 was particularly brutal – even by our standards. Long, bitterly cold stretches (in the -30 Celsius range) combined with an seemingly endless supply of snow and harsh winds left most of us LONGING for spring. Well, the spring of 2018 never truly materialized as we went from -3 Celsius and snow in late April and early May to 27 Celsius and humid by mid May…except in Gander, Newfoundland where our far eastern colleagues were hammered by a ‘winter’ storm that left 30 centimetres (over 1 foot!) of SNOW on the ground. Even though I ran barefoot throughout much of the winter, it was only in short bursts on forgiving terrain. The conditions were simply too dangerous.

Thus, when Saturday morning, May 26 broke with 22 Celsius temperatures and a moderately high humidity reading, I was overjoyed to be able to run into the Medway Heritage Forest in shorts, t-shirt AND barefoot!!! Note in the photo below the type of surface I was on barefoot.It is the toughest bt far for me to run on with any kind of pace. The plethora of sharp, small stones on a rough, chewed-up base literally rip into the soles of my feet. I do adapt BUT only after a few 100 metres…not for the weak-of-heart barefooters!!I decided to take my iPad with me and catalogue not only my run and swim but also the damage done to the forest during the winter onslaught. Entering the Forest, there are always challenges to we barefoot runners. It requires full-on concentration to avoid blowing out the toes on fences, roots, boulders and the like. I love the focus required to run in conditions like this!The number of huge, old trees torn out of Mother Earth by the gale-force winter winters, heavy snow and layers of ice and laid bare on the floor of the forest caused me to pause. You will notice the

 

devastation in the series of photos above. The root base of one giant tree was literally ripped out of the earth whilst numerous others simply collapsed against their neighbours. The amazing thing to me is Nature’s way of healing itself,regenerating and reproducing in perfect balance…especially if we humans stay the hell out of the way!! There were still pathways in place that lead from the main trails to the creek – unencumbered  routes to the waters of the Medway!!As I continued on my run deeper into the forest, I came across what I call the Valley of Death IV (numbers I-3 being the Valley Inn hill on the Around The Bay road race route, the 3-tiered monster in the middle of the Niagara Escarpment/Terra Cotta and the Mississauga Road south hill just past Dundas Street!) Note the severity of the erosion from the top to the creek (photo below) – it has receded at least 20 centimetres over the past winter. Of course, I can never resist hanging precariously barefoot over the edge – never to go over YET, thank God! Heading back from the Valley of Death II, I cannot help but be impressed with Nature’s way of maintaining the balance of the forest. Looking back to the Valley, you can see how the creek flows gently along the Valley, allowing the silt and sand to build back up and maintain the integrity of the trails. Beautiful to behold!!!The rapids that exist in the creek at various junctures also serve to preserve the Valley’s integrity. They provide a natural cleansing process that also helps prevent flooding in areas of high water flow. I also LOVE the sound – especially on a quiet early Saturday morning when there is nary a soul in the vicinity. I then come across my ‘swimming pool’ – an area of the creek that is actually over my head!Just before venturing in for my swim, a woman came walking along the path led by her 2 dogs. I took note of this since she was the only human being I saw during my 60 minutes on the trails. Crazy but true!! I think most Londoners get a late start on Saturdays – the forest MUST have been jammed with hikers, runners etc. later in the day. It would be a travesty not to venture into this mini paradise.Of course I HAD to interrupt my barefoot run with a swim in the Medway Creek. This was the first time since last fall that I could actually do ‘lengths’ instead of just a few strokes and then jumping out. It was refreshing and invigorating without being bone-chilling!!

My ‘new’ neighbours still think I am certifiably insane for going into water that NONE of them even think of venturing into! However, I am used to the sentiment after so many years of swimmimg in Lake Ontario!! To my way of thinking, it would be a sacrilege NOT to take full advantage of such an idyllic setting virtually in one’s backyard. I feel truly blessed to be able to do so DAILY!!

On many occasions, I hear the ‘tat, tat, tat’ of a woodpecker busy hammering away in an electrial wire pope or a rotting tree. Generally, I can hear it but cannot see it. On this morning, however, I heard AND saw my feathery friend as I was running out of the forest.If you look closely at the photo above, you can see Woody perched at the top of the pole ready to peck away at the insects inside. It was a perfect ending to a perfect jaunt into the Medway Heritage Forest and Creek. Here’s to all of you getting to experience a similar setting if you are not already doing so!!!

coach Jeff

 

#CoachJeff Back to #InverhuronBeach – Where it all Began!

The Victoria Day weekend in May has traditionally been the ‘official opening’ of our cottage at Inverhuron Beach, Tiverton, Ontario, Canada on the shores of Lake Huron (facing due west which allows us to view the third best sunsets on the PLANET!).This Victoria Day weekend was no exception. We ventured up on Saturday morning to tackle all of the ‘work detail’ chores – this ensures a smooth transition to the summer holiday season. To fully appreciate how special Inverhuron Beach is to me and my family, please note:

* my grandparents and great uncles and aunts came to the beach by horse and buggy back in the early 1900s from local area towns such as Chesley and Pinkerton

* I was christened in the waters of Lake Huron with the mini ‘bathtub’ located in the ledge 100 metres from shore serving as the baptismal font (the water is higher than normal – thus, the ledge in the photo below is buried under the waves)* we are now on the 5th generation of family members vacationing at Inverhuron – there can be as many as 130 of us present at any one time (especially the Canada Day weekend during the Campbell Clan Open festivities!!). The Canadian flag always flies proudly at our family cottages.This summer is of special significance as we just completed a major renovation to our 90 year old family cottage. As you will notice form the photos below, this was a rather major undertaking. I include a series of exterior shots – this was where the majority of the work occurred even though we did have both bathrooms fully overhauled. It is a huge improvement that will give us many more years of enjoyment at our favourite place to visit and bond with immediate and extended family.

Even though post-renovation clean-up was the order of the weekend, there still was time to visit with some of my 100+ relatives who call Inverhuron either home or holiday paradise – along with 2 of my 3 siblings and their families. You will notice my brother, Arn, and his wife Peggy in the foreground of the photo below chatting with my cousin, Jim, and his wife, Diane. Arn and Peg had biked down from their place whilst Jimmy & Di made the LONG walk (of about 400 metres!) from their home/cottage.

One of my other cousins, Jane, who owns the lakefront cottage at the base of our hillside cottage, entertained me for TOO long a chat (with me doing most of the CHATTING!) after a strenuous 4 hours of cottage clean-up. I always enjoy my time with Jane – she is full of interesting information and generous to a fault. It just so happened that her youngest son, Jimmy, and his relatively new girlfriend, Emma (an environmental scientist) were also in attendance for the weekend. I do not often get a chance to chat with Jimmy and I had never met Emma BUT they were both in good form. We had a rather animated visit during which I got to know many details about their meeting, first date and Emma’s first trip to Inverhuron – the greatest place on earth!!!

Within my immediate family, younger sister, Diana,  and her family were also in attendance. We gathered for various breaks from the work detail to enjoy the sun and idyllic setting around the cottage. Seen in the photo below is my wife, Patti, my niece, Marley, her 11/2 year old daughter, Adelaide ( a barefoot convert already!!), younger brother, Arn (again) and his wife, Peggy. Adelaide LOVES to be barefoot and shows promise as a future full-on barefoot runner. I can tell you that she is balanced and moves with confidence in all settings. She is taking after her older cousin, Esme (now age 4, almost always barefoot and a going concern!!).Damn hard NOT to relax in such a peaceful setting…! After the deaths of our parents – Helen and Arn – we came up with the name ‘HELARNY’ for the cottage (look closely in the top right hand corner of the divider on the far left of the photo below. You will see the HELARNY name in blue paint). We erected the sign and placed it on one of the many dividers that provide privacy on our property. This was the place where our parents’ love for each other grew into a 59 year marriage – a special union that we honour every day. Missed but NEVER forgotten…!!Of course, we also have the proverbial water sports items that are now out of storage and ready for launching in the ever unpredictable waters of Lake Huron. We enjoy many hours every summer canoeing, kayaking, swimming, riding waves and so on – ever mindful of the overpowering rip tides that will sweep you under in a heartbeat. Over the many decades, we have learned to respect Lake Huron and how to navigate its tricky currents and propensity for 4-6 foot waves that can develop in a nanosecond. That NEVER stops me from jumping into the frigid waters (temperature: 2 Celsius as the ice had just left the bay 10 days earlier!). Call it a family tradition to at least get in the water every 24th of May and Thanksgiving to start and finish the summer season with flair. I always get in at some point (as you can see in the photos below taken by my sister, Diana)

and am often joined by a number of my family. There may have been some who DID go in during the weekend BUT I did not see them. I even had a chance to go on a 10 kilometre run first thing Sunday morning with my good friend, David Howes. We hammered through the major hill climbs of the country roads along what we call the B-Line – our first run together since Patti and I moved to London! It was great to be back running with my ‘old’ pal – barefoot for me of course!!! It was a perfect ending to a wonderful weekend. In closing, I MUST leave you with another shot of a breath-taking sunset (there are NO other types at Inverhuron Beach!!).

coach Jeff

#CastleWard, #Strangford, #Silent Valley, #MorneWall, #Portaneevey – Farewell to #NorthernIreland:

As I mentioned in last week’s blog post, this would be the fourth and FINAL post on our Northern Ireland once-in-a-lifetime trip. Further, I did say justice could NOT be served in only 3 posts…thus, here I go with #4.

The final phase of our tour was every bit as breath-taking as the first 3 phases. In reality, I could have spent another week touring the country…MAYBE that will happen on another occasion. We used our beautiful accommodation on the ocean in Dundurn as the base for out-trips to the sites listed in the title above.

We ventured to Castle Ward – a National Trust site where our daughter, Kati, was stationed for a few months last summer (see photo below of the entrance to the Castle).One of Kati’s former associates gave us a personal tour of the Castle, including an introduction to some of the animals onsite – all appropriately named. Mervin the Donkey was a personal favourite.

We walked the trail from the castle about 1.5 kilometres to the ocean where we happened to catch low tide. I took advantage of this to run along the ocean floor toward a pack of lounging seals. You can see from the photos below not only the stark beauty but how close we were able to get to the seals – one of the MANY highlights of the trip!

Once again, I took advantage of the setting to plunge into the frigid ocean waters. As you can see below, I did NOT get very far – my attire was not quite appropriate for a full-on ‘dip’!!!From there, we traveled to Strangford, the hometown of Kati’s boyfriend, Paul. The ocean-side town of around 500 is absolutely storybook perfect. After spending a few hours here, we understood why Paul might NEVER want to leave – it’s that beautiful. The Lobster Pot is a local and tourist

treasure – fresh lobster daily from the ocean floor!! The 4 of us had a delicious lunch before saying goodbye to Paul and heading off to the Silent Valley (indeed, it IS SILENT!!!). Kati wanted us toexperience one of Northern Ireland’s least known treasures where we could wander at our leisure with virtually no tourist ‘clutter’. Thank God she did – we had a wonderful time in the Silent Valley. It took us to the Mourne Wall

and panoramic views of the mountains and fields that create the Silent Valley scenario. Kati posed on one of the ‘ladders’ leading from one side of the wall to the other (see photo below). These were used by the sheep farmers to keep tabs on their flocks back in the day (as in the early 1900s!).

We ended our final day of touring in Portaneevey, another ocean-side town with breath-taking views of the countryside.

The ‘sundial’ in the photo below actually served as a type of tourist guide to the location of many Northern Ireland vistas that tourists would like to visit. I had never seen anything like this – what a great idea to assist those traveling without guides!On our second last day of the trip, Kati took us to the train station in Belfast for the 2 hour trip back to Dublin where we would hop on a plane for home. Needless to say, this was a tear-filled farewell to our beautiful, special daughter. My guess is it was much harder on her ‘old’ parents – after all, Kati has found her paradise where she is at peace and profoundly happy. Her mom and dad, on the other hand, must carry on with their only child thousands of miles and one ocean apart! I didn’t think I’d ever say this but thank GOD for social media. It at least keeps Kati relatively in our lives.

During the train trip, I FINALLY caught site of a rugby pitch…no game going on but at least I saw the pitch!! Having played competitively for decades, I wanted to at least see ONE pitch before departing the ‘Green Island’ – it was along the ocean-side to boot!!!Once in Dublin, we had one overnight in a grossly over-priced riverside hotel where I had the opportunity to ‘assist’ one of the seaman hauling in the line of a fishing trawler!! Wow – that was tough sledding!!!Our final morning was spent walking along the riverside before breakfast and our trip to the Dublin airport. Even though we are not big fans of Dublin, this was a fantastic final vista to top off the trip.Wouldn’t you know it?? Our Aer Lingus airplane had a mural on its side of a few members of Ireland’s National rugby team…probably due to the facts that the airline sponsors the team AND it is the current Six Nations champion (no small feat!). This was a fitting end to one of the best holidays over our 32 years together. There were far too many highlights to list but the one that stands out the most will always remain:

* Patti’s ability to navigate the trip despite the odds so that we could spent 10 quality days with Kati in her ‘adopted’ home country

No amount of money, fame nor possessions can EVER make up for that!!!

Slainte to Northern Ireland…

coach Jeff

In the next blog post, I venture back to the place of my baptism – Inverhuron Beach! Do NOT miss this.

 

On the South-East Coast of #NorthernIreland – #Dundrum and #St.Patrick:

The final leg of our Northern Ireland tour took us to the south-east region with our base being Dundrum – a quaint, ocean-side town of a few thousand. Our accommodation overlooked the ocean with a panoramic view of the neighbouring mountains, the high and low tides (note the progressions from low to mid to high tide in the photos below), spectacular sunrises AND sunsets (we were located perfectly to catch BOTH!) and walking distance to Dundrum Castle (see photo below). All in all, this was a perfect spot for us to tour AND for me to run barefoot!!!

I took advantage of the setting to do my barefoot runs on the ocean floor at low and mid tide (which is ALWAYS a good thing when in ocean settings!!). Even I would have trouble at high tide.

The run to Dundrum Castle was particularly challenging – all uphill from our place over roughed-up asphalt!! Reaching the top tower was tough BUT it left me fully activated.

We ventured out from the Dundrum ‘base camp’ to a number of world-famous sites, using Kati’s knowledge of the area to go where few tourists get to go. Two of my favourite stops were St. Patrick’s cathedral and monument. Dating back to the 400s A.D., the area is steeped in history that is difficult for those of us from North America to comprehend. It was like going back to my ancient History classes!

The 2 kilometre straight uphill hike to reach St. Patrick’s monument was almost surreal. There was a calm in the air even though the going was tough. My mind stayed in the moment – time seemed to stop…strange but true. Reading about Patrick on the engraved stone (see photo below) and viewing Jesus dying on the cross (see photo below) with Mary at His feetset the spiritual tone for cresting at the base of St. Patrick – his statue looking out over most of the south-east segment of Northern Ireland!!

Kati and I hiked to the top – and barely said a word. There was no need! The setting spoke for itself. After THAT, we needed to decompress – back to our rental unit and some R & R!! For me to sit and read a book, hell must freeze over!!! Well, I guess it did on this evening (see photo below).On the other hand, if I had NOT been relaxing, the beautiful DOUBLE sunset featured in the photo below would have passed me by. I have never seen a DOUBLE – least of all over an ocean shoreline!!

As if THAT was not enough, a group of long oars-persons launched at the base of our unit for an evening training session as the tide came in. It was amazing how well they negotiated the current, cold winds and rain whilst maintaining a brisk pace far out to sea and back.The next day, we ventured to the world famous Dark Hedges in Ballymoney, County Down. The Game of Thrones followers will recognize this – certain episodes have been filmed here. The path is a series of twisted beech tree branches that form a natural archway / canopy. It does not seem like much of anything special – until you venture along the path. The silence is almost deafening!! Excuse the ‘coffins’ on my feet in the photo below. Patti and Kati are NOT huge fans of me going barefoot in semi-public areas. At least I had my barefoot-science inserts in place!!

After leaving the Dark Hedges, we stopped along the seashore where I simply HAD to venture into the surf yet again. It was the perfect finish to another perfect Northern Ireland day!!!

I know this was SUPPOSED TO BE my third and final post on our Northern Ireland adventure. There was simply TOO much to condense into 3 blogs. Thus, by popular demand (as in my popular demand!!), there will be a forth and FINAL (honestly) blog next week that will cover the last 2 days of our tour. Believe me, it will be as awesome as the first three!!

coach Jeff

 

#Cushenden #NorthernIreland Next Phase of the #Coach’s Tour:

After 3 days in and around Belfast, the three of us headed to the north-east coast area of Northern Ireland – specifically, Cushenden! As you can see in the photo below, the setting for our stay-overwas beyond spectacular. We were tucked in a bay on the North Sea with Scotland visible in the distance (see photos above and below). Does it get much better than that??? Not in my humble opinion.The beach opposite our AirBNB was perfect for barefoot running and ocean swimming at high tide.

The harbour curled along the shoreline creating an almost mystical environment (see photo below) that took my breath away. Nothing but total relaxation with Patti, Kati and Kati’s boyfriend, Paul – and our most pleasant Irish ‘friends’!!With this as our new home base, we ventured out to the famous rope bridge about 10 kilometres from Cushenden. I am only moderately comfortable with heights – walking across a narrow, wobbly rope bridge suspended 30 metres  above the pounding surf of the North Sea and stretching from one rocky ledge to another basically took me out of my comfort zone. Needless to say, I was NOT going to dive into the sea from THERE!!!

The following series of shots follows us along the coastal path over the bridge and back – another breath-taking scene!

 

I was so pumped after traversing the rope bridge that I ran the 3 kilometres uphill to the car park area! After this somewhat harrowing experience, we traveled further north-west along the coast, stopping at a beautiful coastal town (Ballycastle) close to the Rathlin Island ferry. We did not have time to get to the island – that’s for our NEXT trip.

I did, however, take a photo (see below) of a crazy Irishman (Ciaran McGinn) who swam the 61/2 mile channel across the Irish Sea to the island – and I thought I was crazy!!!After that, we continued down the coast to The Giant’s Causeway (a World Heritage site – you will see why in the photos below). This was one of my favourite parts of the tour – pictures do not pay it justice BUT I guarantee you, the setting takes your breath away.

The temptation to climb down the unique rock formations into the sea was overwhelming. Left to my own devices, I would have most CERTAINLY gone in. The combination of security guards and my family ensured that I would stay on terra firma. That did NOT stop me, however, from climbing UP the side of a few mountain slopes for better views of the sea. I was somewhat satiated BUT still longed to swim in the frigid, wild sea!!! That would come later.

 

Climbing where there are no pathways is a passion of mine. Call it insanity but, to my way of thinking, the path less traveled is ALWAYS more interesting!!!

Leaving the Causeway was not easy. I could easily have stayed there for the full day. However, we had other spots to visit and a limited time to do so. Thus, our official guide, Kati, bundled us into the car and off to our final stop of a long and wonderful day – Dunluce Castle! The centuries-old fortressis now a National Trust treasure maintained year-round by the Trust. As with most Northern Irish castles, forts and cathedrals, it is on the rugged coastline with panoramic views of the sea and ocean.

Needless to say, all of us slept well after such an active, inspiring day. This is my kind of world – yes, the cities have their allure BUT I come to life in the wilds of any country I visit. I have no explanation as to why – I only know that once outside the main centres, any form of negative stress disappears. I go into a type of inner calm where my spirit is free to roam at will (well, maybe NOT at will – unless I am on my own!). Those of you who have experienced this will know what I mean…those who have not, I can only hope that you do at some point!!

coach Jeff

PS – stay tuned for my 3rd and final blog (next Thursday) on our Northern Ireland trip – to the south-east coast…Dundrum!!! You will NOT want to miss it!!!

 

#CoachJeff #Running#Barefoot in #Belfast, #NorthernIreland:

Our daughter, Kati, moved to Northern Ireland (NI) almost 2 years ago to work, live and travel. Not having seen her in over 8 months, my wife, Patti and I organized a 10 day trip to the ‘Green Coast’ with Kati’s able assistance (she works for an Eco-tour company called Mahlatini based in Belfast). I have decided to do a 2 or 3 part blog on our trip to give you a better sense of not just the country but some of the history (of course, I will include some of my barefoot running and ocean ‘dips’). As you could gather, this was a long awaited visit that proved to be emotional to say the least.

We landed in Dublin just as the sun rose over the airport and Kati picked us up for the drive to Belfast (could you IMAGINE me trying to drive on the opposite side of the car and road???).

One of our first stops was Kati’s residence on the outskirts of Belfast, about a 10 minute walk for her to work. It’s a quaint spot in quiet neighbourhood and close to all amenities.From there, we visited the village of Downpatrick where Kati’s former employer (she was an au pere for 1 year to their daughter, Erin) owns a local Gastro Pub called The ANISEED Lounge. It was a joyful reunion full of laughs and stories.

As we attempted to leave the town and head to Erin’s home in the country, we were delayed due to the running of a local 5 and 10 kilometre run (the gals suggested I jump out and do the race barefoot to shock the locals BUT I resisted the urge!!). I could not help but chuckle at the site of the town’s finest busy controlling the traffic in front of Paddy Kelly’s Pub no less and me thinking about running barefoot. Many of you know I have been stopped many times by the police in various locals for running barefoot – they always thinking something TERRIBLE has happened to me. I can only imagine what NI’s finest would do to me!!

We finally made it out of down and into the beautiful Irish countryside. It quickly became obvious how our daughter had fallen in love with the paradise that is Northern Ireland. As Kati whipped along the narrow roads heading to Erin’s home, our first ‘challenge’ presented itself in the form of a blown out tire on the rental car. Ouch!!!As is normally the case with things that appear TERRIBLE, they are NEVER that bad. I got the chance to ‘bond’ with my new BAAAA friends in the farmer’s field near where our ‘tyre’ blew out (see below),met some of the locals (specifically, my new ‘best friend’, Claire!!) who treated us to coffee and apple ‘squares’ along with the history of the area as we waited for the ‘tyre’ repair person. The lad who did the change of tyre for us happened to be from New Zealand but had family who were born in Northern Ireland. Thus, citizenship for him – just a wonderful young lad! Kati took me down to a neighbouring farm whilst we were waiting where the young lad who lives there (Ryan) makes cookie-candy combo treats and leaves them for purchase in a box at the end of the driveway. He has Down’s Syndrome and dedicates any monies raised to a different charity every month. No matter where you travel in the world, there are always special people doing special things for others – with little to no recognition.Four hours later, we were back on the road to Erin’s country home – a wonderful spot surrounded by lush fields and highlands. I even got a chance to meet the ‘mighty’ Murphy – Erin’s dog and one of Kati’s favourite 4-legged buddies who also quickly became a ‘buddy’ of mine!!Then it was back to Belfast where we checked into our downtown AirB&B in St. Anne’s Square – aspectacular setting in the heart of the city. We then did the traditional ‘hop on – hop off’ bus tour of some of the city’s more famous sites. These included a viewing of one of the oldest pubs in NI (TheCrown Pub), the Titanic Monument and garden (the ‘mighty’ ship was built in Belfast – more on that in a later blog post) in the photo below,the Belfast City Hall (over 200 years old!) – a spectacular piece of architecture as noted below and the

other Queen’s University with about 150 extra years of history on Canada’s version of Queen’s University. The main entrance sported the famous sculpture of the ‘thinker’ – Galileo.  Usually when I strike THAT pose, it means I don’t have a clue what’s going on!! Our final stop of the day was at the oldest and most notorious prison in NI – Crumlin Road Gaol (Jail). It housed all types of ‘criminals’ over it’s 100s of years, including women and children as young as 8!! It was one of the most frightening places I have ever visited – and I have been inside most of Canada’s prisons (as a guest only!!!). Our guide got me to push a so-called floor buffing device – in reality, it weighed close to 200 pounds and was used as a form of punishment. I was able to move it for about 50 metres before almost collapsing. These were brutal times!!! I included a picture of the ‘Troubles’ monument (see photo below) due to the fact that the tension between Catholics and Protestants in NI is still real and intense. Further to that, the feelings of many in NI toward the British are reflected in the sign below – prominently displayed at a busy intersection. I cannot imagine living in a country so beautiful yet so full of hatred and suffering.On our way out of town, we saw a runner (not barefoot) clad in a wild outfit carrying what appeared to be his worldly belongings with a giant sign strapped onto his back. We discovered he was one of many who run through Belfast trying to raise money for worthy causes. Good on him!!!Kati then took us to an old castle ruin on the Northern Atlantic coast where I finally felt the sea air and the sheer magnitude of NI’s history and natural beauty. Downhill Demesne is named appropriately asthe edge of the area plunges onto the beaches far below…treacherous, to say the least. We had a chance to sit and relax on a wooden bench at the base of an old tree on the site before I got to literally ‘hang’over the original stone wall. Believe me, I was tempted to climb down to the ocean and go for a swim BUT cooler family heads prevailed!!! Sometimes I wonder how long I would survive left to my own devices. This was to be the start of experiencing some of the world’s most amazing natural sites over the coming 9 days. We were totally exhausted but exhilarated – ready for the next phase of our trip!!

More to come in next week’s blog!!!

coach Jeff