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Bob Moen

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 neighborhood either.)
  • 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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