A Dream Realized – Walter’s Story

Walter (Middle)

On my first trip to Ireland, my dream was fulfilled when I rented a bike in Westport and
cycled through County Mayo to the Achill Island. The beauty of the hills and small villages
was breathtaking. The next year I learned of Wild Atlantic Cycling’s twelve day ride from
Mizen Head to Malen Head and a new dream was formed.

I knew this would be one of the most challenging efforts of my life since regaining the ability
to walk after polio in my first year of life. But during my adolescence I slowly came to realize
the only thing stopping me from achieving anything in life was my mind, eventually going
from the boy lagging behind on Boy Scout hikes, to the one in the lead and setting the pace.
I’ve continued to challenge myself throughout my life.

Walter (right) …. oh wait … left

Having biked casual from adolescence through adulthood, decades later my son & I
became passionate about cycling. In 2012 we started cycling further, eventually building
endurance for +40 mile rides. I joined several cycling groups, slowly increasing distance and
speed … all the while knowing steep climbs are my achilles. Last year I began cycling 5 to 6
times per week, 50 – 75 miles per day in preparation of Ireland. While Michigan doesn’t have Ireland’s mountains I had my determination and continued improving my fitness.

The day finally arrived, bike disassembled, bags packed, I arrived in Ireland. Meeting Paul
Kennedy, his team, John & Lisa, and the 17 other cyclists was pure elation. Five of us from
the States, three from Ireland and ten from UK, we got along swimmingly from the start.
Edward from Hawaii, David from London and Cormac from Dublin became good friends,
along with Jenny, Julie, Peter and many more.

Being from the States, cycling on the left was a slight adjustment, some roads were narrow,
others wide however potholes appear to have been outlawed, I counted two ! But the
attitude of motorists was an absolute breath of fresh air. Most motorists in the countryside
were incredibly considerate, often pulling off to the side, allowing us to pass unimpeded.
The beauty of the Irish countryside was beyond my expectations … seeing the country from
a bike added a new dimension you cannot achieve from a motor vehicle. As expected
climbing the mountains was challenging, however somehow the scenery and the people
nullified the fatigue and aches disappeared with the cool breezes. Whether cycling up a
mountain, sailing down the backside, pedaling along the sea, past reservoirs, or through
villages, the shear beauty of the country shown bright upon us.

The hotels, restaurants, coffee stops, and especially the Irish folks we met were fantastic!
Whether at breakfast, coffee, lunch stops, pubs or dinner everyone seemed happy to see
and served us with pride. They were certainly well suited for our needs and comfort and we
always felt welcomed, even if they were busy.

Even speaking with locals was a joy when stopping for a casual chat along many routes. But
I’ll admit conversing with locals during one lunch stop was a bit challenging, I needed to
listen closely and decipher the thick accent to properly answer their questions about my
bike and gear, which made it even more of a delight !

During the trip, we occasionally heard “sorry, tomorrow’s weather doesn’t look good” but
somehow we had no rain except the last day when it only rained occasionally. Days were
sometimes cool, warm, cloudy, sunny, mixed but always grand. Many evenings were
glorious enough to allow hikes, swims in the Atlantic or just sitting alfresco enjoying a
Murphy, Guinness or gin & tonic on a veranda, village square or a beer garden.
As often happens on a trip, the final day meant farewells were imminent and some watery
eyed goodbyes were shared while completion medals were cheerfully awarded to all.
On returning to my cycling friends several commented that I had visibly improved speed,
endurance and lost weight, a marvelous side effect of Wild Atlantic Cycling. I’ve related my
Ireland experience to so many, shared photos/videos and answered the most asked
question “would you do it again?” … YES !

Walter Mrotz MizMal 2021

North Coast 500

Overview

Starting this iconic loop in The Capital of the Highlands you’ll cross the river Ness waving adieu to Johnny Foxes (don’t worry you’ll be back for a well deserved pint) and head out west … against the wind of course! We take you this way, because we wouldn’t want to lull you into believing that this, now world famous cycle route, is in any way for the faint-hearted. It is most definitely for those who seek a challenge and are up for tackling some tough climbing in what can be pretty adverse weather conditions; without which however one can’t possibly fully appreciate the unique raw beauty the rugged highlands of Scotland have to offer.

Beelach na Ba is without doubt one of the hardest ascents you will ever attempt on your bicycle. And it’s not the 25% gradient section or the switchbacks that make this tough: even on the calmest of Scottish summer days the wind will be there. Have we put you off yet? We hope not because only once you have descended the other side of the steepest ascent in Scotland will you reach the unsurpassed beauty of the stunning west coast of Scotland and be able to marvel at the sheer wonder of the sights as you travel up to the Lochinver Pass … and the best is yet to come …

Day One
Inverness to Strathcarron

You’ll head out of the city closely following the River Ness following the Tourist Board marked NC500 route and within 2 miles you’ll cross a humped back bridge to be greeted by your first glimpse of the many stretches of open water you’ll see on this coastal tour with a beautiful open view of the narrowing estuary of the Moray Firth No tour of Scotland is complete without a whiskey whiff and after a 20k warm up we pop in to The Glen Ord Whiskey Distillery at Muir of Ord where you can start with your first flavour of Scotland: Tastings are available without appointment. Don’t go mad however! Tomorrow is a BIG day! For those who would like a full distillery tour this can be arranged in advance and we have taken this into account in support for today’s route but it is necessary to book well in advance. We are happy to transport any purchases AT YOUR OWN RISK (we like Whisky) in the support van. The Bad Girl Bakery is round the corner for anyone keen to have coffee at this stage. Further down the road at 35k The Coffee Bothy is also a handy stopover point right on route Midge Bite Café in Auchnasheen is a last coffee stop before you turn left into the wilderness towards our first overnight stopover point at Strathcarron Hotel.

Day Two
Strathcarron to Inverewe

The notorious Beelach Na Ba climb day! We give you a tiddly hill to warm up on and then you drop your gears … Downhillers paradise then a glorious ride around the headland

Day Three
Inverewe to Ullapool

Now it starts to get real pretty. If you are a photographer beware – today you are likely to make no ground at all if you give in to your photographic tendencies If it has just rained (as it is will to do here from time to time) you’ll hear the all too familiar sound after a while of the gushing torrents of water coming down the roadside banks towards you. Teeming streams and waterfalls adorn the hillsides making a stunning stripey curtain on the sides of
the valley. Try to resist the temptation to stop every five minutes and breathe it all in or you’ll NEVER get there! The beauty of the bike is you can do all of that while still pedalling and remember you can always come back!

Day Four
Ullapool to Durness

The lead up to Lochinver from Inverewe and through the Lochinver Pass will be one of the biggest memories you take home with you from this ride; not just for the relentless undulation (which you will forget about, honest) but the rustic beauty that greets you at every turn.

Day Five
Durness to Thurso

The longest day of the year! Enjoy every minute of it as you make your way across the northernmost coast of mainland Scotland to Caithness, home of the crystal ball. Smoo Cave is your first point of interest today as you leave the Durness area and head east along the coast of the North Atlantic With any luck we’ve got you going in the right direction for the wind. 95% of the time it’s behind you. (No refunds if it’s a 5% day). Sandside Bay is a beautiful beach well worth a paddle if you’re that way inclined. Thurso also has a lovely sandy beach for your pre dinner evening sunset walk – athough at this time
of year that could mean a relatively late night …

Day Six
Thurso to Lairg

This is where we deviate a little from the main NC500 route largely to avoid the very busy A9 and although you miss John O’Groats, trust me, you’ll have had sufficient wind and barren heather by this point to give you a full enough flavour of Scotland without being subjected to the rather long drag just to say you’ve been there! Our route doubles back along the north shore on a slightly different road before turning to follow the main Timber Haulage route south. The scenery you’ll notice changes from the rocky crags and cliff faces of the west to take on a rounder rolling hillside still peppered with heather and broom and a surprising amount of water given how inland you are now: Scotland has an abundance of lochs and lakes carved into the Highlands mainly stemming from its glacial formation.

Day Seven
Lairg to Inverness

As you travel south from Lairg (all downhill of course) you’ll follow the line of the valley of the many rivers that flow between the lochs. The Black Isle circuit out to Cromar provides a fitting end to your Highland tour summarising many of the main Scottish Industries : Tourism, Whiskey, Fishing and out to sea you’ll see the Rigs resonant of the decaying Oil industry that has contributed greatly to the growth of the East Coast economy and the resultant boom in tourism as those who travelled here for work wrote home of its beauty … Johnny Foxes will be open when you get in tonight.

Join us for a celebratory tipple!

Preparing for your Cycling Adventure

2021 is looking like the year for adventure! Humankind has been rocked to the core with the affects of Covid-19. But we’re a hardy breed and as things improve we are seeing more and more people wanting to grab life by the Short and Curlies and make 2021 a year that really counts. So if you’re heading off on a cycling adventure, it’s easy to let the excitement take over, burst out of the blocks on arrival and return home exhausted! Try these tips to ensure you are prepared for your dream cycling holiday. Whether you booked on one of our tours for ‘Avid’ cyclists or one for ‘Active’ cyclists you’ll be better off for it! Oh, and if you aren’t sure what type of rider you are you can find out here.

Build up the miles

By building up the miles in your legs you’ll enjoy your trip more and be able to get a greater benefit from your days in the saddle. Most of us are too busy (or not motivated enough!) to be generally cycling back to back, long days. But do what you can. Fit things around your work day or whatever you normally get up to. Simply extending your weekend rides in the lead up will help your body in its readiness for what’s coming and psychologically you’ll feel more prepared. If you can set aside a little extra saddle time for one or two double-days it’ll put you in great shape. Remember it’s a holiday and not a race. Wild Atlantic Cycle tours are generally laid back. There is no pressure to cycle quickly (Have a look at who we are and what makes our company tick for reassurance!), but the distances may be more than what you’re used to. Feeling in shape will make the whole experience more enjoyable! And if it’s our Ireland End-to-End, you’ll want to save some energy for the demanding après cycle Guinness.

Prepare your Bike

Some people love tinkering. If you’re like me you just want to ride your bike! However, neglecting that noisy pedal or not trusting your tyres or brakes isn’t the best idea! Your bike is going to see more wear on your days away than normal. The demands of long climbs and descents mean that you really want your gears and brakes to be in good working order – so replacing brake pads and cables before you leave is a good idea.

Saddle comfort

Long days make it important to have a seat that you know is bum friendly over endurance rides (make sure you test it in advance). Good quality cycling shorts are a necessity and a great use of your budget. Don’t skimp on these. Many people swear by chamois cream too.

Take kit for assorted weathers

Whether you’re on one of our Spain tours, in the Highlands of Scotland or cycling the Ireland End-to-End along the Wild Atlantic Way, conditions may vary. Your core temperature will fluctuate on the climbs versus on the descents. Important items to consider, then, are removable layers – arm warmers, leg warmers, packable jackets, gilets and a base layer that can wick sweat away on the climb so it doesn’t cool on your skin on descents. Our Seville to Valencia tour includes some short tunnel sections so we recommend a decent set of lights for your comfort and safety. A good idea for wet or misty days as well.

Nutrition

Perhaps our top tip – on longer rides you need to fuel correctly! Keep the tanks topped up by drinking and eating along the way. Don’t wait for coffee or lunch stop. If you usually use energy drink, bars, gels or recovery drinks, then take these with you, or replenish your stock on the way. The hotels we use on our tours provide great breakfasts and most have lovely cozy restaurants and bars where you can relax and refuel at the end of the day. I mean that’s half the fun isn’t it? Try to avoid getting carried away and eating foods that you know won’t make for better bike riding the next day. On our West Ireland tours and Northern Ireland Revolution tour we suggest you consume no more than 10 pints of Guinness in each 24 hour period (that’s a joke by-the-way!). If you’re on our North Coast 500 tour in Scotland, don’t let the famously smooth Scotch Whiskey become your Achilles’ heel!

Most of all …. enjoy your preparation! The fun is in the journey.

You know it’s out there, so get on your bike and ride it!

Geoff Bates rode our 12-Day Ireland End-to-End Tour in July 2019…turns out he writes as good as he talks! Many thanks Geoff – delighted you enjoyed the ride and thanks for taking the time to write about it!

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Take 25 riders from as far apart as Melbourne, Manchester, Boston, Buffalo, Bungay and Bridport introduce them briefly at the Airport Hotel in Cork, sort out their myriad equipment requirements with patience and laughter, feed them, bus them to Mizen Head the following day, point them North and send them on their way.

Sounds like a hoot!

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Remember, you have no idea how this crew will gel and what range of cycling abilities are represented across the group

But that’s what PKool and Brian the Vane are for – so fear not fortunate traveller because you are just about to embark on one of the rides of your life!

And so it turned out …

The daily tracks were designed to allow as many reduced traffic routes as possible, hugging the coastline, turning inland to isolated valleys, soaring over the ridges and taking in the spectacular, soft beauty of the West of Ireland – where everybody’s ancestors hail from – forget that stuff about the Rift Valley the Olduvai Gorge and Lake Turkana!

You can ride the Black Valley, the Gap of Dunloe, the Shannon, Lough Corrib and Killary Fjord, Lough Mask and the Burren, the Sligo wetlands, Croagh Patrick and the Donegal moorlands, each with contrasting but magnificent scenery. Even better, every day after 50 miles or so, you arrive at an excellent hotel for rest, recreation and sustenance, in or out, including Irish Stew, Colcannon, Champ, Boiled bacon and cabbage, Boxty, Soda bread, Barmbrack, and every variety of orthopod, mollusc and crustacean you could name. Accompanied if so inclined, by copious quantities of the Nation’s finest Guinness or Murphy’s. A good many of the restaurants have most excellent wine lists, but over-indulgence may come back to haunt you

Or … you could indulge away and just have half a day in the van citing an ingrowing toenail or some such to elicit sympathy, nobody minds, nobody judges and you can’t do better than your best eh ….

On-the-road brew stops and picnic lunches are a welcome daily sight usually after 15/20 and 30/40 miles depending on terrain and are consistently well catered, sometimes too well, as an image of cream filled, jam topped, zero cal, doughnuts comes to mind

Your humble correspondent has ridden over 15,000 cycle touring miles on 3 continents in the past 4 years and can honestly recommend Wild Atlantic Cycling as being in the top 10% of those companies patronised, all of which were pretty good

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Many thanks Paul, Brian and Julie – I’ll be back next year for the Northern edition.

You know it’s out there, so get on your bike and ride it!

MizMal City Highlight: KILLARNEY

Rolling into Killarney—after cycling our way through the Black Valley and the stunning Gap of Dunloe — is a special treat. Sightseeing options abound in this “Town in the Park”.

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Built in the 15th century, Ross Castle is located on the shores of Lough Leane and will give you a glimpse of the famous lakes of Killarney National Park. Knowledgeable tour guides love to share tales of the past, making this a truly enjoyable place to visit.

St. Mary’s Cathedral is also open daily for visitors.

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Muckross House & Gardens is another must see historical site. Set on Muckross Lake, acres of gardens surround this 19th century Victorian mansion, which was visited by Queen Victoria in 1861.

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If you’re not in the mood for history or landscaping, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! You’ve plenty of opportunities to shop ‘til you drop at the Killarney Outlet Centre or downtown along bustling High Street and New Street. Killarney is one of Ireland’s premiere tourist destinations and its shopping districts do not disappoint!

Whether we’ve been shopping, sightseeing, or eating at any of the great pubs along High Street . . . we always end our night a little farther down the road, with a pint or two at the Killarney Grand. This award winning Irish Trad pub offers up nightly live sessions. There’s no cover before 11:00PM and the place fills up quickly, so grab a seat if you can find one, and settle in for some of the best music you’ll hear in all of Ireland.

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Our stay in Killarney is always a ton of fun! The locals are warm and inviting, and we love the energy of this vibrant little town.


Thanks to Jennifer from Travel-Cycle-Write for helping with the blog!

PHOTO BLOG: Through The Black Valley and The Gap of Dunloe

On day one of our 7-day tour and day two of our 12-day, we step back in time as we cycle through the Black Valley, so named for being one of the last areas of Ireland to be connected to electricity and telephone lines.

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Delightful descents and long uninterrupted stretches along the River Gearhameen make you wish you never had to go back into town.

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The scenery through the Gap of Dunloe will be unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

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Photos can’t do justice to this narrow mountain pass that separates the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks Mountains from the Purple Mountain Group.

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We’ll share the one lane road with old-fashioned pony and trap carriages and cycle down through the five lakes lined by gorgeous old stone walls.

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Of course a stop at the Wishing Bridge to make wishes will be in order.

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All this on our way into Killarney, one of the most entertaining cities along the tour. Stay tuned for our Killarney City Highlight blog coming up next!

Cycling Is Great, But How Else Can I Prepare?

Our training tips have focused on cycling to improve your fitness. However, there are a host of other things that you could be doing if you can make the time!

Tighten up on your diet. Easier said than done, but worth the effort. You will actually notice a difference if you shed even just five kilos, especially on the climbs!

If you have time to spend off the bike, then it’s good to work on Core Strengthening. There are all sorts of exercises that will help. A Google search is a great place to start. Mix it up with Kettle Bells. They are very versatile – great for core work and cheap to buy too. Build in some ‘planks’ and some ‘crunches’ and you’ll be flyin’!

If that still leaves you with time and motivation, then work on muscle development. Squats and lunges will strengthen the glutes, which are often ignored yet absolutely necessary for cycling. Take the stairs two at a time. And don’t forget to focus on upper body – a long day in the saddle will work your back and arms just as well as your legs!

Rest. Training places your body under stress. Resting allows it to adapt and repair. The increase in exercise will make you tired, and while this is also a sign you’re pushing yourself and getting fitter, you must listen to your body. If you need to back off, it will tell you. Best to listen before it starts to shout.

Most of all, don’t push yourself so hard that you risk injury and practise a positive mindset in everything. Like all things in life don’t underestimate the impact of a positive outlook on the body. Have fun!

British Cycling has a number of great guides and videos that will help you get to grips with off-the-bike training and strengthening:

Training off the Bike

Strength Routines for Cyclists

MizMal City Highlight: Galway

While it would be nearly impossible to pick any one city as the best along our MizMal route, we have to admit that Galway is one of our favorites. Set to be 2020’s European Capital of Culture, Galway is situated along the River Corrib where it enters the North Atlantic Ocean via beautiful Galway Bay.

After making our way through the Burren, we cycle into Galway on Day 3 of our seven-day tour and on Day 6 of our twelve-day tour. With a few days of peaceful countryside behind us, this lively city switches up the pace.

Participants love the accommodations at Nox Hotel, and the three hundred year-old Eyre Square. You can grab a cappuccino at one of the many cafés lining the park and plop down in the grass to soak in the buzzy vibe of downtown.

Galway Cathedral, Spanish Arch, and the Long Walk are all within walking distance of the hotel. And the Latin Quarter never disappoints. This neighborhood comes alive at night with a parade of street performers and lively restaurants spilling out into the lane. Head down Shop Street to Quay Lane for some of the best food, shopping, and entertainment in town.

Once you’ve settled in and had a nice walk around, you’ll be sure to find your Wild Atlantic Cycling team at The Quay’s Bar & Restaurant. We love them for their high quality traditional Irish and contemporary music and a pint or two of Guinness after a long day’s ride. Or possibly Tig Coilis – known as the country pub in the middle of the city which promises to give you an experience, as well as the finest pint in the city!

Galway is definitely a city we look forward to returning to!

Training Tips For The Leisure Cyclist

Feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of averaging 50-85 miles a day for 7-12 days in a row? Fear not! We’ve got you covered with some training tips to make sure you’re as fit as you can be before you cross the START line at Mizen Head.


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Before you begin, take note of how you’re feeling in terms of strength and cardiovascular fitness. Training is most effective when you track your progress and slowly but steadily increase your load over time. This allows your body to adapt each time you step it up. Make your rides challenging and push yourself, but also keep in mind that rest and recovery are equally important.

Look at your calendar and count back 12 to 16 weeks from your MizMal Tour start date. This is the optimal time period for when you should start training on a regular basis. At first, simply fit your training into your regular riding habits whatever they may be. Can you add a few more miles at the end of a ride or squeeze in a few more hills during? Build it up gradually.

You can vary your training rides between these three types:

1. The Long Ride

Weekend warrior? Great! Do your long ride once a week on the weekend.

Retired with all the free time in the world? High five! Do your long ride any ol’ day of the week.

Really it doesn’t matter when you do it, you just have to commit to getting it done once a week. Go ahead and groan, but recognize how important it is to build your stamina.

So what constitutes a long ride?

Excellent question! Start with 2-3 hours of riding and see where you’re at for distance. The next week tack on another 5-10 miles. Keep adding miles until you build yourself up to 85 miles if you are training for the Seven Day event [Insert link] and 45 miles if training for the Twelve Day event [Insert link].

Do these rides at a steady pace with moderate effort – somewhere between where you can hold a conversation and the point at which you can only manage shorter sentences. Also find a cycling buddy or two. Riding with others will help you maintain a steady pace, ride stronger, and have more fun!

2. The Steady Ride

This shorter weekday spin can be done a few times a week and will help you beef up your mileage and get you used to riding faster, for increasingly longer periods of time. Start with an hour long ride, and increase by 15 minutes each week until two weeks before the event, when you’ll start to taper. Since these are shorter than The Long Ride, you’ll want to move at a slightly faster pace. This type of training is one of the most effective in building endurance fitness.

3. The Speed Ride

A weekly speed ride will increase your lactate threshold, i.e. the point at which your muscles start screaming to stop. Over time this will help you ride faster without it hurting. Start with a 30-minute fast ride at a pace that is slightly difficult to keep. Build up over the course of a few weeks to an hour and a half in 15-minute increments. Then taper down by 15 minutes in each of the two weeks before the event.

Spinning (static cycling) is a good way to build speed and cardiac endurance. Spinning is the cycling equivalent of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), a series of short, maximal efforts of 30-90 seconds, interspersed with brief rest periods of roughly double that time. Cycle as fast as you can for 30 seconds, rest for 60 seconds. Cycle as fast as you can for 45 seconds, rest for 90 seconds, and so on.

Here’s a possible rotation schedule to get you started:

  • Sunday – The Long Ride

  • Monday – Rest

  • Tuesday – The Steady Ride

  • Wednesday – Rest

  • Thursday – The Speed Ride

  • Friday – The Steady Ride

  • Saturday – Rest

Pro tip: Life gets in the way. Let it! Train, rest, relax, repeat. Try not to get so focused on training that you forget to have fun with friends and family.

Am I Fit Enough To Ride MizMal Without Keeling Over?

People often ask us how fit you need to be to ride our MizMal tour. It’s a hard question to answer but we’ll do our best!

First things first: no one here is aspiring to athlete status. We’re not professional racers. More often than not, successful MizMal-ers are leisure weekend cyclists.

Everyone is different. Factors such as general health conditions, injuries, and available training time will affect your overall experience. However if you can ride 50-70 miles once or twice at the weekend, with a few months of focused training you’ll be ready for the MizMal Seven Day tour. If you think a more relaxed pace is for you, we’ve got the more laid-back Twelve Day Tour as an option.

There’s something in the salty sea air once you hit the road down south at Mizen Head. Your adrenaline will kick in and keep you pedalling with the promise of magical landscapes and budding new friendships waiting around every corner. Our MizMal-ers cycle at their own pace and we are there to support if you need us. So long as you’re a capable cyclist looking forward to a bit of a challenge, you’ll be amazing and definitely cross the finish line without keeling over!

With all that said, it’s very important to stay as injury free as possible. Regardless of your current regimen (or lack there of), you’ll want to put in some training time before your tour is set to begin. At the end of the day you need to feel comfortable and strong. Check out our next post with some training tips to get you prepared for one of the most memorable trips you’ll ever take!

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