Sunday 6 September 2015

Slower and Slower

Day's Ride: 94km
Tyres: Rear has failed after 7,000 km; front is marginal
Bum Status: Mike, blister left buttock; Judy, 9 out of 10
What We Like: Cycle routes in and out of Belfast
Current Location: Rostrevor, Co. Down, Northern Ireland

0930: We say our farewells at Lagan Hostel, Belfast after a chaotic, warm and welcome four days. We are worried about the rear tyre which could disintegrate at any moment, or might not. Just in case, we have bought a spare. We figure we have 80 km to cycle today to Armagh.

Farewell at our backpacker hostel in Belfast - chaotic, welcoming. Judy with Yolanda, Fixit Person on Reception.

0935: I try to turn right into a four lane road. A car stops for me and I attempt to pedal us into the path of another car. "A miss is as good as a mile," I tell Judy the Stoker, but she has heard that line too often. Not impressed.
1000: Judy senses a regular bump, bump, bump from the rear wheel. We stop. The tyre has developed a bulge where the inner tube is bursting through. The tyre is stuffed. We have done 5 km.

Inner tube showing through the rear tyre, which has lasted for 7,000 km.

1005: We start unloading our panniers, tent etc from the bike and tip it upside down. We switch the front tyre to the rear, and keep the rear as a final backup if things become absolutely desperate. The new, lightweight mountain bike tyre goes on the front where there is less weight. We are stopped in a quiet spot on NCN9 - a bike trail formed on the Lagan River Towpath. Time is slipping by but neither of us is concerned.

Tyre trouble on the Lagan River Towpath, a few km out of Belfast.

1100: Back on the towpath, we have covered 10 km when we come to a canal lock, the original lock keeper's cottage and next to it a coffee shop. "Is it too early for coffee?" asks Judy. We are both cold and decide to stop.
1110: The cafe is busy and I lose time standing in the wrong queue. It takes an age for the coffee and scones to arrive.
1120: Three elderly women join us at our table. I offer one of them my barstool, and I stand.
1130: We begin a routine conversation with the women. The usual questions related to cycling. They are very nice. We tell them about our good fortune getting to see Van Morrison in Belfast. The story takes some telling, we are both still buzzing with the excitement of it. The women come from East Belfast, almost neighbours of Van in his childhood. Time ticks by. We don't care (very) much.
1200: At last we are out the door and cycling again. Cold. Front tyre seems to be coping with the weight. Both tyres have 55 psi pressure. The front one can't take too much more without the risk of bursting. Somewhere along the way, we realise I have fitted it the wrong way and it is revolving in the wrong direction. Decide to ignore that.

Studying a display board which shows NCN9 linking Belfast to Portadown.

1230: Still on towpath. Stop at sign that shows we can stay on cycle path NCN9 all the way to Portadown. Debate whether to do that, or follow a road route outlined in our cycling guide book. Decide on the former, but we have lost more time debating the best course of action.
1245: Resume riding. Cold, rain threatening.
1315: Pass through Lisburn. We don't stop except where the cycle path crosses streets and we are forced to give way to traffic. At last making a little progress.

Most of the route was well signposted although the occasional sign was missing. On those occasions GPS George came into his own.

1330: We are struggling against a strengthening headwind. "It's right on the snotter," says Judy deliberately misusing one of her favourite nautical terms.
1410: We have done a mere 31 km, but on the outskirts of Moira we decide it is time for lunch. At a bakery we each have a sausage roll and a filled roll (mine has traffic light in it, which is chicken and orange, red and green peppers). I add a cream filled sweet pastry. It has two grapes and a strawberry on top which help convince me it's healthy. And tea for two, please.

Lining up the food at the Moira Bakery. The business cards on the right include one for someone calling herself an "Independent Presenter". Maybe she does makeup. On the card is an eye with a caption that reads "with 3D fibre lashes."

1440: We finish eating but are trapped by people wanting to talk. One of them visited New Zealand in 1978 and has fond memories of visiting Rotorua's mud pools. Another has a brother who does something at a grain mill in Ashburton. The day is slipping by very quickly now. We are getting anxious about the time.
1505: Riding again. We are still on NCN9 - but now it knows nothing about straight lines. It twists and turns and we cross the M1 motorway six times.

We cross the M1 motorway six times.

1640: Portadown at last. By my calculations we have only 15 km to go. It turns out I have it very wrong.
1700: We are out of Portadown and on the Newry Canal Towpath. It's very exposed and the wind buffets us. We stop so Judy can ring the hostel in Armagh to confirm we are still coming. GPS George tells us to make a U-turn.  He is having a mental breakdown. We ignore him.
1705: We have just resumed riding when we come to a footbridge over the canal. We dismount and give way to a couple coming the other way. They want to chat. A doctor they know and his two sons went to live in New Zealand. Auckland. Do we know them? It would be impolite at this point to tell them Auckland has 1.5m people. We want to go. We are tired and hungry and it is getting late. Do we know that Sam McCready, the world famous rose cultivator, came from just up the road? The couple tell us they once went to Australia. Yesterday was their 50th wedding anniversary. To mark the occasion they are going on a cruise in China. I can sense Judy is about to revolt behind me. We finally get clear. My feet are freezing, Judy tells me but in much stronger language.

Emerging from an underpass - meaningless (to us) graffiti makes a change from Belfast's murals reflecting on The Troubles.

1730-1920: We lose all sense of time. We are now following NCN91 as it leads us up and down dale. Rabbits, a squirrel, horses entertain us. We have to push up four of the hills. Part way up one, we pause for breath. Hungry. We begin calling the sheep - fancying a good Irish stew for dinner. "Here Chop, here Lamb Chop, here Chop, Chop. How about Mint Sauce? Here Mint Sauce. Come over here Lamb Shanks". We are going mad, and the attempts at humour are getting strained. Farm roads get smaller and smaller, grass in the middle, broken surfaces. How's the front tyre holding up? Darkness falling more quickly now. Tail light is on but we don't have a head lamp. Doesn't matter, no cars anyway.
1920: We burst out onto the busy A28. Our cycle route crosses it, but we make an instant decision to turn right and join the traffic heading west in a straight line to Armagh. 3 km to go.

Our main reason for cycling to Armagh, Co. Armagh, was to visit the mother of one of Judy's oldest friends. Here is Mrs Nora McCabe, aged 80 and sharp as a knife, after a leisurely lunch at the Moody Boar Restaurant in the old Palace Stables.

1935: We spot a small Spar supermarket. I stand guard on the bike. In no time Judy emerges with 800gm of readymade chicken curry, instant rice, bread rolls, cheese spread and a large block of fruit and nut chocolate.
1945: We are giving George a chance to take us to the hostel. He leads us into a car park, across a street and onto a steep pedestrian walkway. We struggle to push the bike.
2000: Reach the hostel. Put the Beast in his own room off reception. Odometer says 94 km, not the anticipated 80. Nice man gives me a free bottle of beer. Sorry, no wine.
2030: Dinner underway - eat the lot.
2130: Showers. We have the six bed dormitory to ourselves.
2230: Bed. Like that rear tyre, we are stuffed. But we have both cheered up. Just another day at work in the Ireland office.

Footnote: The next day we learn the lock keeper's cafe where we stopped for coffee was at the centre of a scandal that became known as Irisgate. It involved the 59-year-old wife of Northern Ireland's First Minister, her teenage lover and loans she procured to help him finance the cafe's start-up. Her name is Iris Robinson - imagine the headline writers taking their inspiration from the movie, The Graduate.

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