Biking from Canterbury to Belfast
Bob Moen's Tour de U.K. 1999
Sunday, June 6, 1999 - Final Dispatch #6
Greetings from Belfasst
Tour de 99 is complete! It ended on a high note when today I had fast, enjoyable 53-mile ride into Belfast. Finally, I found a level road! Over the past three weeks I've ridden 780 miles without any physical problems or mechanical breakdowns--not even a flat tire. So while I'm completely exhausted, I must say that this has been a very successful and enjoyable tour for me. Just for the record, my average room cost including breakfast has been $45.
Since I last reported from Derry I've seen a lot of
great scenery, small villages and big hills as I
followed the coastline around Northern Ireland.
You may remember that it was raining in Derry when I
wrote my last dispatch. As I had expected it cleared
up so I began my ride northward, rocketed-onward by a
great tailwind. I was having so much fun that I
failed to notice that a pretty severe rain and
hailstorm was also being rocketed northward right
behind me. Unfortunately for oblivious Bob, it soon
caught me. I had about 30-seconds to find cover
before all hell broke lose. I was able to find
semi-shelter under a treehouse in someone's backyard
but I got soaked anyway because I failed to have the
foresight to store my rain jacket Unzipped. In my
panic to unzip my jacket I unzipped the hood, so even
after I got the jacket on all the water from the hood
ran down my back. The long-and-short of it is, I
threw in the towel, rode back to Derry against that
turn-coat tailwind which was a now miserable wet
headwind, then took the train to Port Rush.
Portrush wins my award for the most miserable town in
Ireland. It is a resort town, full of threadbare
B&Bs, seedy bars and teenage video game arcades. The
best part of the evening was that I got to watch a kid
hot-rod his dad's farm tractor around town. Man,
could he turn donuts on that wet pavement. He came
near flipping it near where I was standing behind a
heavy duty traffic barrier. I had sought cover when I
realized that the law of physics-farm tractor going
40MPH meets 90-degree corner-might not be on his side.
I must say that seeing a Massi-Ferguson coming
sideways at you is pretty awe-inspiring.
Yesterday, I took a tour of the Bushmill distillery.
There they give out shots of their single malt,
10-year-old whiskey at the end of the tour, compared
to Jack Daniels' which only gives out lemonade. I
learned-only because they repeated it
over-and-over-that Irish whiskey is distilled three
times, compared to twice for Scottish whiskey (scotch)
and once for American bourbon.
I also visited the Giant's Causeway, something that
I've wanted to do for years. For otherwordliness, the
Causeway can't be beaten. Made up of 37,000
polygon--hexagons being the most common shape--basalt
columns. The Causeway is a result of a massive
subterranean explosion, some 60-million years ago. I
and about a hundred other people-all focused on our
feet--walked them like stairs and stepping stones.
According to Irish legend the Causeway was built by a
rather large Ulster warrior Fin McCool (Fionn Mac
Cumhaill) or so he could visit the woman of his heart
who lived in Scotland where the Causeway resurfaces.
I also rode (and walked) the most dramatic coastal
road I have ever seen, from Ballycastle to Cushenden,
where 1000-foot tall ridges meet the sea. I don't know
which was most amazing: the views or its sharp curves
and steep gradients.
Today I rode the beautifully smooth, level coast road
through the Glens of Antrim. At the head of each of
the nine Glens lies a neat seaside village. The Glens
too are cases of tall ridges meeting the sea. I
understand that they were so isolated that
historically they are more closely associated with
Scotland, fifteen or so miles across the sea, than
with the rest of Ireland.
I also got to show my stuff to some fellow bikers.
They were a couple of young Irish racers that were
working-off hangovers from last night's celebration
following a 72-mile race. For about 5-miles we rode
and talked. I was sure that they were impressed by
the way the old man was hanging with them at 22MPH,
until we reached their pre-arranged hit-it-hard point
at which time they exploded away from me.
It made me feel good that they appreciated what a
great bike I tour on. Its built for both speed and
comfort. The speed comes from the racing-frame
geometry, narrow rock-hard tires and high quality
Campy components. The comfort comes from the flexible
titanium frame and the stretched-out wheelbase. I've
met many other bike tourers and to the person they
seem to be brain-dead to the idea of expending the
least amount of energy as possible. Most of them ride
over loaded mountain bikes with big tires. Youth may
be on their side, but I'll get there first.
Finally, in closing let me point out the differences
I've noticed between the Republic of Ireland (Southern
Ireland) and Northern Ireland. Here is my list: How
do you know when you're in Northern Ireland?
A Van Morrison CD is playing when you leave a
restaurant and he, the Belfast Cowboy, is also playing
as you walk into the bar next door.
Trees exceed 15 feet in height.
Farm fields are bigger.
They actually have fire stations and fire hydrants.
The roads are wider and uniformly good, but they are
built below grade so have many of the hated drain
grates every 20 or 30 yards.
Security cameras are mounted on lampposts.
There is less litter and clutter.
An occasional gray armored truck manned by guys in
army helmets cruises the streets and hastily built
watch towers, surrounded by barbed wire, dot the
city-scape. (I mean, couldn't the British be a bit
more discreet. I wouldn't want this in my
Some houses are made of brick.
Time to sign off. I hope you've enjoyed my adventure.
I'm already planning next year's route.
1998 Tour-de-UK Dispatches
Dispatch #1: Day 2 - Truro, Cornwall, England
Dispatch #2: Day 4 - Exeter, Devon, England
Dispatch #3: Day 8 - Cardiff, Wales
Dispatch #4: Day 11 - Galway City, Ireland
Dispatch #5: Day 17 - Belfast, N. Ireland
Dispatch #6: Day 26 - Edinburgh, Scotland
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