Wednesday 23 September 2015

Dublin - Squeak, Rattle and Hum

Trip Ends
Start: April, 2015 in Lisbon, Portugal
End: September, 2015, in Dublin, Ireland
Distance Cycled: 4,444 km
Longest Day: 104 km

We rode into Dublin with a squeak and a rattle. 

Now that's not a good sign. A squeak, creak, rattle or hum emanating from a bike usually means something is amiss, and if it's not fixed it usually gets worse - a wheel bearing gives way, a pedal falls off, or who knows ..... ?

So for several days we have been trying to eliminate these noises.

The creak was straight forward. At Rostrevor, on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, we met a long distance cyclist who knew a thing or two about Brooks' leather saddles.

I was complaining that mine had resumed troubling me, to the point where I had a blister on my backside. He looked at it (the saddle, not my bum) and stroked it in such a gentle manner you knew he was a genuine Brooks' man with a deep seated love of the world's best known touring saddle.

"It needs to be tensioned," he pronounced, telling me something I already knew but had been reluctant to do. It's such an opposite - to make a saddle that's hurting, firmer than it already is.

"Look at it on the left there. It's got a real dip in it. Mine used to be like that."

I waited until he was gone, then took out my Brooks' spanner, took a deep breath and did as he suggested. I tightened the hell out of the saddle.

We left Ireland in much the same weather as when we arrived - two months earlier.

The next day we set off cycling and within moments the squeak we had become accustomed to, was joined by a creak.

Finding the cause of these noises is a process of elimination. The first step is to stop pedalling. If the noise stops, the chances are the problem is somewhere in the chain, sprockets, pedals or gears. 

Or try standing up, so there is no weight on the saddle. No creak, the problem is the saddle. Easy as ...

So that was the creak identified just like that. But how to fix it? Slacken the tension, against the advice of our fellow cyclist, to return it to the way it was? Or leave it alone. My backside didn't feel so sore, so I chose the latter.

The creak persisted, but at least we knew the reason. The squeak was still a puzzle. It was on the top of the stroke of the left pedals.

We repeated the elimination process. We both stopped pedalling. The squeak stopped. We both took our left foot off the pedal and just pedalled on the right. The squeak continued but wasn't so bad. 

We arrived in Dublin without finding the cause and allowed ourselves the distraction of the city's sights.

On a cycle path to the ferry taking us from Dublin, Ireland, to Holyhead, Wales. It had been a while since we had come across obstacles like this - designed to keep out motorbikes and cars but also pretty good at blocking tandems. We had to jettison all the luggage on the back of the bike so we could lift it through the barrier. Then repack everything and repeat the process at the next barrier.

On our last day we pedalled from our campsite along 15 km of flat cycle path to the ferry port. It was an easy ride with very little pressure on the pedals. There was the now regular creak from the saddle, but no squeak. Gone, just like that. Was it the flat terrain, or had something just come right of its own accord (unlikely)? The mystery awaits our return to New Zealand and a more thorough investigation.

Our last night under canvas for a while. Holyhead, Wales. 

Transition Time

It was with a sense of relief we woke the other morning and realised we did not have to go cycling. Ever - if we don't want to.

At the same time, we felt an odd sense of loss. Without the riding, something was missing from our lives - all was not as it should be.

To make matters worse, we packed up our tent for the last time and made our way to London and a very comfortable AirBnB bedroom. There we bounced off the walls, finding it somehow constraining after the fabric softness of the tent and the open spaces of a campground.

We also managed to get ourselves and our clothes perfectly clean - another small shock after months of struggling to get the dirt out from underneath our fingernails and occasionally using coin-in-the-slot washing machines. Not that we are complaining. It's nice to feel pampered and sheltered, but it is an odd feeling.

Suddenly we are having to adjust back to the old routine. Here we are with daughter, Merran, and her boyfriend Karam, at an outdoor cafe in Fayence, south of France. Suddenly, no bike, no tent, clean and dry.

Merran and Karam

Mike and Judy

Dinner out - Fayence

And lunch as well.

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.

Wednesday 2 September 2015

A Knight to Remember

Current Location: Belfast, Northern Ireland
Total Distance on Tandem (May 2012 - present): 23,087 km
Equipment Status: Tent wearing out, rear tyre falling apart, air mattress delaminating.
Good Fortune: Judy pooped on by bird (again). 

Sometimes the planets align themselves, or as Judy the Stoker says, "it's all pigs in space stuff. Who would believe it could happen?"

Van Morrison - or Sir Van since his recent knighthood - was playing in Cyprus Ave, Belfast, the street he immortalised in song, and the street just up the hill from where he lived as a child. It was his 70th birthday and this was a kind of homecoming. And there in a crowd of around 1,500 fans were the two of us.

70th birthday performance in his home patch, Cyprus Ave, Belfast.

Van has been the soundtrack to our lives together for well over 20 years. For a year leading up to our arrival in Ireland we checked his dates and venues, hoping that somehow we could be in the right place at the right time. But the vagaries of cycling make it almost impossible to guarantee our movements, and in the end we tossed the idea in the too hard pannier.

Until yesterday morning. A story in the Belfast Telegraph outlined preparations for two Mystic Of The East concerts by the man himself later in the day. Tickets all sold, said the story.

On stage, and my point and shoot camera is being pushed to its technical limits.

We took ourselves off to the Titanic Belfast experience and spent three hours enjoying this huge and relatively new attraction in the city - all you could ever want to know about the world's most famous ship.

By the time we stumbled out, the afternoon was getting on. It was well after 4 when we walked into the Tourist Office to pick up a booklet outlining the Van Morrison Trail in his old neighbourhood. For us, it was going to be the booby prize for not getting to the concert.

Judy outside 125 Hyndford St - the two-up two-down red brick terraced house where Van was born and lived in his early childhood. His father was an electrician who worked at the Harland and Wolff shipyard which decades earlier had built the Titanic.

"I'm traumatised," I told the man behind the counter. "All the way from New Zealand and we miss out on Van the Man."

"The number 4 bus leaves from over there," he said pointing. "And I heard a rumour there may be a few tickets left for the second performance. Give it a go."

We did, and that's how 20 minutes later we found ourselves negotiating with two separate people for two tickets.

The small bridge shown here is in a spot called the Hollow, which gets a mention in the song Brown Eyed Girl. 

Problem One: We did not have the £50 cash each wanted.
Problem Two: The nearest ATM machine was several hundred metres away. 

While Judy engaged in our life stories to entertain our two hawkers, I broke into a jog. At the Tesco, there was no ATM. A checkout operator said there was one further up the street at the Spar. I resumed jogging. The Spar. No ATM. Inside. Ask at the checkout. Yes there is. Go out the door, turn right. Try again. Yes, there it is. Hope it works. They must be wondering where I am. Money comes out. £20 notes. Blast. £50 to each person. Quick look in wallet. I have a £10 note. Hope Judy has another. 

Elmgrove Primary School where Van spent seven years.

Sprinting now. Stupid backpack bouncing up and down. Money rolled up in my hand. Don't drop it. Dodge cars across busy road. There they are. Oh, no. The man has gone. No, no, here he is trying to catch me up. He must have come looking for me. We pay them both. Shake hands. All smiles.

Relax. Walk down Cyprus Avenue. Buy coffee. Stand in crowd. 5.57 pm. Three minutes later he is on stage and playing.

Approaching the Hollow - the area is getting a tidy up and new planting, but it is hard to ignore the power pylon which gets a mention in a couple of Van's songs. 

A cycleway runs along the route of the old Belfast and County Down Railway - which is referenced in at least three songs, Evening Train, Cyprus Avenue and On Hyndford Street.

St Donard's Church where Van's parents were married on Christmas Day 1941.