2020 reviewed – Gratitude changes everything

Rachel’s Irish Adventures’ review of the year

A different perspective on 2020

Looking back on 2020 most of us will agree that the year went different than expected. The global health & economic crisis changed everyone’s plan and deeply impacted our lifestyle. As a small Irish tour company ‘Rachel’s Irish Adventures’ was hit hard by the pandemic. Our season was almost fully booked with tailor-made tours for overseas clients. Only 5 days before the arrival of our first guests Ireland went into lockdown. For the rest of the season nothing went as previously planned.

During this time of sudden changes, uncertainty and fear, we made it our personal daily challenge to keep up the positive mindset by being actively grateful.

We practiced yoga, tried to be mindful and did lots of breathing and journaling. One of the results is this little wrap up of 2020 in a personal gratitude-blog.

Gratitude changes everything

January

We are grateful for our moving office

During the Irish winter Rachel’s Irish Adventures takes a break to recharge the batteries, explore away from home and to plan new adventures for our clients. The beginning of the new year marks the start of our “hot phase”. Thankfully, we can do the planning of our Ireland tours from almost anywhere.

We spent January 2020 in Ching Mai. In our ‘moving office’ we worked hard on finalising tour itineraries and organising everything for the season kick off in March. Chiang Mai made it easy for us to balance work and play.

The cool mornings were dedicated to extensive cycling & running sessions up and around the nearby hills. The local cycling & trail running community was welcoming and it was easy to find buddies to go out for a spin.
Luckily, young locals love a good coffee in a chilled atmosphere just as much as we do. To escape the heat of the day we set up office in many different trendy coffee spots. Sampling delicious coffee creations while planning out adventures for our clients.
The evenings we spend exploring the markets and street food stalls in the old town or treating ourselves to the best Thai massages in the world.

Chiang Mai turned out to be the ideal January base for Rachel’s Irish Adventures. Perfect to enjoy the outdoors and a vibrant combination of the traditional and modern sides of Thailand.

Rachel and Iszy planing cusomised Ireland tours while enjoying a cold & hot coffees
Enjoying hot & cool coffees while planning Rachel's Irish Adventures
Seefood on a streetfood stall in Chiang Mai
Exploring Chiang Mai street food cuisine
Rachel on the top of a mountain with a local Chiang Mai cyclist
Always on the lookout for local cycling buddies

February

We are grateful for new friends and sweet island life

What is there not to love about Koh Lanta. This Thai-island in the Andaman sea is a laid-back piece of heaven. Endless white sandy beaches, mango maracuja shakes and lots of sunshine. There could not have been a better last stop for our winter journey. On casual Fridays we moved our office to a beach hut and switched the coffee for chilled coconuts.

When we spotted a flyer promoting a “12 day Handstand workshop” we though it must be a sign. We started our winter travel in November 2019 with a life changing yoga experience in India. Now we would finish by putting up the feet, challenging the balance and changing the perspective. All at the same time.

Because of this random decision to ‘try something new’, we met Sam & Raquel aka the Yogaslakers. Inspirational individuals with a fun lifestyle and upbeat attitude. We keep practicing to balance on hands. It is difficult, wobbly and takes us out of the comfort zone. The perfect thing to do if you feel stuck in a certain perspective and therefore a great asset for 2020.

Iszy and Rachel working on trailor-made Ireland tours in a beach hut in Thailand
Moving office casual Friday
Iszy and Rachel in a handstand
#12daysofhandstands
The yogaslackers
The Yogaslackers Raquel & Sam

March

We are grateful for all the lucky timing

Our season usually kicks off around St. Patricks day. Therefore, our office moves back to Ireland at the beginning of March. On the way back home from South-East-Asia, we stopped over in Austria. We visited Iszy’s family and enjoyed a little taste of snow and winter sports. Thankfully, we could return to Ireland healthy and before any travel restrictions were put in place. Still unaware of the extend of the global crisis, I got to enjoy the wild conditions of the ‘Gaelforce Mountain Run’ and to meet good friends in Connemara. Only a few days later we had to cancel our first tour of the season on truly short notice.

In March 2020 things went nuts to an extend that we could never have imagined. Despite it all we are grateful for how things worked out for us. We made it back home healthy instead of getting stranded or stuck like so many other travellers. We got to see our family and friends before travel restrictions would make any reunion difficult. The first tour of the year got cancelled but at least before the trip started and not half-way through. Everyone could stay safe and healthy at home.

Rachel and Iszy enjoying the sun on their last day in Thailand
Enjoying our last day in Thailand
Rachel and Iszy on the Austrian slopes
A little stop over in the Austrian mountains
Wild weather in Connemara during the Gaelforce Mountain Run 2020
Wild weather in Connemara during the Gaelforce Mountain Run 2020

April

We are grateful for the Irish sunshine & a global community

In April Ireland went into full lockdown. Non-essential movement was now restricted to a radius of 2km from home. Physical interaction with others was to be reduced to a minimum.

At this point we only started to accept that this year would be hugely different to what we have expected. Instead of traveling to Lesotho for the Adventure Race Expedition Africa, we started to work on rescheduling our tour calendar. All our tailor-made tours and the ‘Women’s Trail Running Retreat’ needed to be moved towards the end of the season or postponed until 2021. But what next? We felt we had to stay busy. Use this time to our advantage. The mind was wandering in 1000 different directions while reality was imposing restriction after restriction.

April 2020 felt like a dark time in many ways, but I remember two things brightening up the mood.

For once, the Irish weather lightened the burden by treating us to one of the driest and sunniest periods I can remember. It is not easy to feel all your personal and business plans fall apart. Thankfully, we found a spot behind the house that traps the sun. It brought us light, warmth and helped us calm down the waves of future-fear. It helped us to live in the moment, enjoy the present and let the future be whatever may come.

The other light in the dark was our community. If with friends living nearby or half-way around the globe, April was a time of reconnection. We enjoyed online yoga classes with friends from our Yoga Teacher Training in India and video “conferences” with buddies all over the world. Physically distancing but socially close.

A sunny spot behind Brigown B&B, home base of Rachel's Irish Adventures and Bikes2Rent
Our sun trap. Stretching the toes, studying German & bike maintenance
Rachel Nolan enjoying a sunny lunch on the patio of Brigown B&B
Sunny lunch on the patio
A screen shot of a zoom online yoga class
Online yoga class with Drishti Yoga International

May

We are grateful for the simple things in life

May came and time started flying. At the beginning of the lockdown time was slowly creeping by. April left us wondering when this will ever end. We packed every day with self-imposed work assignments and joined every zoom-yoga or workout class we could find. Language skills were improved in excessive daily study sessions and lots of healthy baking was done.

May was over before we realised it. The general situation was like in April, but we had mostly stopped the worrying. It became easier to accept that the future was unpredictable. That acceptance lessened the feeling of having to use every minute of the day productively.

We kept our laptops closed and the to-do lists short. Our days started to be more about little random adventures. Some days we strolled upward the River Moy which, despite growing up here, I had never done before. Picnic lunches, balancing on a slackline and large 99s became an integral part of the day. We kayaked to Barta island to say hello to the seals and sometimes we just spent the whole day reading on the patio. We are eternally grateful for the privilege of being able to enjoy simple things without existential fears.

Iszy balancing on a Slackline in Ireland
Slackline training in the park
Rachel and Iszy kayaking on the River Moy
Exploring with the kayak
Iszy eating a large 99 ice cream in Ballina
The large 99 with a flake - Iszy discovered Irish ice cream.

June

We are grateful for being able to create a focus

One thing 2020 made me realise all over again is that having a focus & objectives help be to be happy. When I was a child, I had a strong focus on team sports. Football helped me to channel my energy into something positive and rewarding. Sport helped me to build up my confidence and showed me how ‘putting in the effort’ would lead to contentment.

After a month of ‘living for the day’ I was ready for a gentle goal. Due to the uncertain nature of these times, I decided against creating work related objectives. Instead, I choose a personal challenge with a strong potential of not being affected by the pandemic. I decided to cycle the TransAtlanticWay 2020. Even though I couldn’t be 100% confident that the race would go ahead, I had decided that I would follow the route as part of the event or do it on my own steam – so in any case it would pay off to put in the training.

June 1st marked the start of my cycling training schedule and for the first time ever I decided to enlist the help of a coach to prepare for this event. My Canada based coach Jen Segger  helped me to do out a 3-month woman specific program to prepare me for this ultra-endurance cycle.

The decision to focus on the TransAtlanticWay as a personal challenge, and to implement a woman specific training schedule made it onto my all-time list of good decisions. I am entirely grateful for being able to set this focus.

Rachel training on the turbo in the shed during the lockdown
Indoor-cycling session on the turbo
A flooded road. Rachel training on the bike during a storm
Cycling training in the Irish summer
Road bikes on the side of a rural road, a lake and mountains in the background on a sunny day in County Mayo Ireland
The Irish summer on its best behaviour

July

We are grateful for the tastes of Ireland

I grew up with a renowned Irish chef for a mother but still I can not remember a time that was as “foody” as 2020. Marjorie is a typical Irish Mammy that just never stops baking. Even though we would not eat out much before, the pandemic’s restriction motivated us to expand our cooking skills. One delicious cake after another popped out of my Mam’s oven. Iszy continuously developed vegan versions of traditional Irish & Austrian dishes while I tried out many different porridge bread recipes.

We, more than ever took the time to source our fruit and veg locally and to shop at ‘Wild Rocket’ – Ballina’s fair food and eco store. A weekly highlight was the fresh lettuce and herbs basket from Belleek castle’s own garden and Mam eventually also expanded her herb garden to grow more of her own organic veggies. Throughout the summer we savoured our take-away coffee in stunning locations, circling between our favourite coffee dealers and ‘social distance’ -picnics became a regular lunch activity.

It is safe to say 2020 turned out to be the year of home-made and local treats and we are grateful to be surrounded by so many delicious suppliers.

A basket filled with organic greens in front of Belleek castle
Healthy take away from Belleek Castle's gardens
A lemon drizzle cake from Marjorie's kitchen
Treats from Marjorie's kitchen
Our favourite coffee vans in and around Ballina
Some of our favourite coffee spots

August

We are grateful for the bicycle

The year of 2020 turned out to be the year of the bicycle. The Irish seemed to have fallen in love with cycling and most bike shops were sold out by the start of summer. I was training on the bike more than ever and Rachel’s Irish Adventures little sidekick ‘Bikes2Rent’ promised to become this year’s leading light.

Cycling along the spectacular west coast always makes me happy and it was amazing to see how many Irish residents felt the same. Luckily, we had decided to upgrade ‘Bikes2Rent’ fleet just the year before. When the travel restrictions lifted and the hotels opened, we could finally welcome visitors in the west of Ireland again. It was great to see families from all over Ireland coming out west to explore. We had good craic renting the bikes and bringing the natives out to discover a different site of their island.

Even though our little bike rental service could hardly make up for the loss of overseas business, it was great to meet more locals and help them explore their own home country.

A group from Dublin on a private cycling tour along the Wild Atlantic Way with Rachel's Irish Adventures
A private cycling tour along Donegal's Wild Atlantic Way
Bikes2Rent, Bike rental, Bike hire Ballina
Staycation in Ireland. Local families exploring Mayo on two wheels with Bikes2Rent
Pól Ó Conghaile and Rachel in front of
Discovering the Monasteries of the Moy with travel writer Pól Ó Conghaile

September

We are grateful to cycle like a girl

2020 brought a lot of lessons. One epiphany was to embrace being a woman in sport rather than perceiving my ‘missing maleness’ as a disadvantage that can hardly be overcome. It all started with taking on a female coach and following a woman specific training plan. I researched more about women specific fuelling and became more aware of what my body needs in comparison to what most general (therefore male specific) nutrition research would suggest.

In 2020 I was the first cyclist to finish the TransAtlanticWay. I cycled over 2100km in 5 days, did things in my own way and it worked.

I am grateful to be a woman with the privilege to embrace being a woman in sport.

Rachel Nolan cycling along the Wild Atlantic Way during the TransAtlanticWay cycling event
Cycling from Derry to Kinsale along the Wild Atlantic Way
Rachel Nolan winner of the TransAtlanticWay 2020
The TransAtlanticWay 2020
A photo of Stacy Sims' book Roar
A book tip for women specific training

October

We are grateful for a healthy body

More than ever 2020 made me realise how precious our health is and how important it is to treat the body like a temple. I feel grateful and privileged to inhabit a healthy body and therefore trying to take good care of the body has become a part of my lifestyle.

In June, when I decided to train for the TransAtlanticWay, I also made the decision to not compromise my health on the way. I built up the training’s intensity slowly, tried to fuel correctly and get enough sleep before the event. The weeks after the TransAtlanticWay, especially the month of October, therefore became all about rest & recovery.

I believe in an active approach to recovery. Thanks to luck and a good training plan I crossed the finish line in Kinsale with no injuries and only a few minor niggles. Ultra-distance races that stretch over several days demand a lot from the body. It is important to prepare, but even more important to help the body recover after. The day after the TransAtlanticWay I started the active recovery phase with a daily stretching session. Especially the hip flexors and the neck need it after so much time on the saddle. Even though I felt like eating absolutely everything I came across I tried to stick with healthy options. I went for short, relaxed runs from day 3 after the event. All that helped me recover the body faster and to get over the ‘post-race blues’. By the start of October, I was back in the saddle for sociable spins and the body felt completely fine. I continued throughout October at an easy pace. Even though I already felt the itch to fit in harder sessions, I stuck with enjoying the outdoors and gently moving the body.

Rachel stretching after cycling
Lizard: An all time favourite with many variations. Here I'm stretching hip flexors and quads with a little twist for spine and neck flexibility.
Rachel stretching after cycling
Knee to ear : A variation of plough pose to stretch the arms, neck, shoulders and spine.
Rachel stretching after cycling
Pigeon: A great hip opener, groin extender and stretch for hip flexor, thighs and glutes. In this variation with additional quad stretch.

November

We are grateful to have found yoga

We spent November 2019 in India to do a Yoga Teacher Training Course. Even though we both had a little yoga experience we had never tapped into the philosophical depths of yoga before. Little did we realise how much we would soon appreciate this new experience. Yoga became a big part of our Covid19 coping strategy throughout the year.

The month of November 2020 brought back many good memories and we decided to declare it once more the month of yoga. We were more mindful about our daily practice and brought the focus back on meditation and breathing. As a treat for the mind, we finally read books that were on the list for a while and shared our thoughts about them with each other.

It is incredible how fast the effects of a mindful practice can be felt in your daily life. The month of yoga brought us a lot of calmness and contentment. Exactly what we needed to balance ourselves as the days got colder and shorter.

Photo of the business casual yogi book
Our favourite book of the year 2020
Graduation celebration of our Yoga Teacher Trainings Course in 2019
Graduation celebration of our Yoga Teacher Training Course in 2019
Rachel in tree pose in front of sunset
Good memories of yoga on the beach

December

We are grateful for every opportunity to reflect

With the end of a year coming up, December is a natural opportunity to reflect on the past, present and future.

Ever since my school days I use a journal to organise my schedule and mind better. Primarily it helps me to keep track of appointments and I enjoy writing & ticking off to-do-lists.

Furthermore, journaling helps me organise the business that sometimes takes over my mind. I always note down new ideas and all the madness that goes on between the ears. This way I can give them a space, maybe later come back to them, but mainly it helps me to keep the focus where it should be at the moment.

For a few years I have also occasionally kept a form of gratitude journal. 2020 was one of those occasions. A gratitude journal is a diary of things that you appreciate or feel thankful for. A lot of psychological studies suggest that making gratefulness a habit increases your overall happiness. Well, Iszy and I tested it again this year and found it works for us 😉

2020 now comes to an end and my journal helps me to reflect on what happened and to set objectives for the year ahead. December for me has always been a good time for self-reflection. I enjoy analysing my intentions and values. It helps me to become more conscious of what I really want and what I need to make it happen.

As a side effect of ‘December as my month of reflection’ this blog originated as a conclusion of our 2020 gratitude journals.

We hope you enjoyed this little wrap up of the year and we are excited for what 2021 brings for Rachel’s Irish Adventures and for all of us personally!

Looking forward to seeing you in the West of Ireland (or somewhere around the world)!

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