May 23, 2017


Hawthorne bushes blooming along the coast, Giant's Causeway Coastal Route, Northern Ireland
We set out along the Giant's Causeway Coastal route, pausing along the way to admire the beach and views of the chalk cliffs at White Park Bay.

Beach and chalk cliffs, facing west, White Park Bay, Northern Ireland
What's not to like about views of the sea? I do love the mountains, but if I had to choose just one, it would be the sea.

Basalt outcroppings, facing east, White Park Bay, Northern Ireland
We had our morning tea at a waterside park in Ballycastle.

Bicycles encircling a picnic table, Ballycastle, Northern Ireland
On this cloudy day, we had the place to ourselves.

Sculpture of soaring birds, Ballycastle, Northern Ireland
When our guides joined us at the lunch table yesterday, they remarked that we seemed awfully quiet. “That's because we just reviewed the description of tomorrow's ride. Toughest cycling road in Ireland!” it says. They looked at each other.

The Torr Road. It started out gently enough.

Rollnig along the Torr Road, Northern Ireland
They're always scenic, these climbs. I declined the offer to ride in the van. It was cloudy, but not raining; and the steep section (16% grade) was short. I walked, until it leveled out a bit. Luka Bloom's lyrics played in my head:
Ah go on, get up on your bike.
The switchback ahead was steep, but I'd get there faster if I pedaled.

And if I pedaled, would I make it? My legs were as balky as yesterday. I dug deep.

The van was parked above. “It's clear, you can go wide!” shouted our guide.

Instead of walking, with great determination, I pedaled. I powered up one steep bit, at last!

I was, of course, off the back again. Fragments of Irish fiddle tunes (the soundtrack during Sunday's long drive) played in my head, and helped me keep turning the pedals. [Note to self: listen to more of those.]

View of the North Atlantic along the Torr Road, Northern Ireland
One benefit of climbing slowly is all the time you have to admire the view. And here, there were plenty of views to admire.

I drew closer to some cyclists who had stopped ahead; close enough to see that they were not part of our group.

“Are you the lady from California?” one asked. (Evidently they've met the rest of our group.)

“Near San José,” I replied. One of them pointed at his arm warmers: San Jose Bike Club. And then, things got really surprising. He noticed my club jersey ... he was wearing a different one. We are members of the same bike club. What are the odds, that we happen to be on the same remote road in Northern Ireland, on the same day, at the same time? It's been years since we've crossed paths on a ride in the Bay Area, as he's a much stronger rider than I am.

pep and Rick meet on the Torr Road, Northern Ireland
Just as I was getting back on the bike, our guide circled back to find me. With a little more climbing ahead, he gallantly offered to take my handlebar bag. “People pay money to shed that much weight from the bike.” I handed it over. “I'll try to keep up on the descent,” he joked. (My reputation has been solidly established.)

We were on the clock again today, as we had to catch the ferry that would take us to our fifth and final country, Scotland.

Rocky beach near Milton, Scotland
To reach our destination for tonight, Wigtown, we cycled 20 miles across a peninsula. Along the way, right next to the road, was the Torhouse Stone Circle.

Granite boulders of the Torhouse Stone Circle, near Wigtown, Scotland
Whenever I visit an ancient historic site by bicycle, I can't help but wonder what its people would make of us and our machines. And wonder at the labor (and the thought) that went into the creation of this monument, during a time when it would seem a luxury to do anything more than the work needed simply to survive.

Stone walls and green fields under a deep gray sky, before dusk, Wigtown, Scotland
Our longest day, so far: 52 miles, with 3,350 feet of climbing.

Black and white cat perched on stone windowsill, Wigtown, Scotland
Yet, I was not eager for this day to end.

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