Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Dundalk, Ireland

Friends: Ireland was initially refreshingly flat as I stuck to the coastal road heading north out of Dublin to Belfast, 100 miles away. The traffic was extra thick, as I was swallowed up in the evening rush hour after my three hour 15 minute ferry from Wales. There was a bike lane of a sort, as I swept through the heart of the city, but it was a shared lane with buses, and at this hour it was clogged with battalions of the double-deckered monstrosities, forcing me and the few other cyclists out in the gridlock.

It wasn't a bad time to get a feel for Dublin, as the sidewalks were teeming with its inmates on
temporary furlough from their day-time office imprisonments. Some were hot-footing it, as if they were in pursuit, to the nearest dispenser of Guinness, never more than a few doors away. Others looked more dead than alive, lugging an invisible ball and chain. There were quite a few bikes locked to trees and posts without a bike rack to be seen, or hardly a u-luck, just skimpy cables and chains that would have had a New York bike thief salivating.

I stuck to N1 for 20 miles with its off and on bike lane. Despite a four-lane superhighway
paralleling it, there was more traffic than I'd care to ride with and unrelenting commercial and
residential buildings, so I turned inland for some peace and camping possibilities. Though the traffic instantly evaporated and the scenery turned rural and agricultural, the farms were being crowded out by country estates. If I'd been desperate, I could have slipped into one of those under construction, but they were circled by dirt that was more wet than dry. The potato field I eventually settled for was also muddier than I would have preferred and was even muddier in
the morning after a night-time drizzle. I've had rain just about every night since I crossed the Channel but hardly any during the day-time hours.

Mud tracked onto the highway from construction sites and fields has been a peril all through the
British Isles. I thought I was a goner on a steep descent with a grade in the upper-teens beyond my braking power in England near the Welsh border, when I saw mud covering the road at the bottom of the hill I was descending. I was ready to go splat but luckily found a dry track through the middle of it.

My brakes are only at about two-thirds of their strength after I snapped off the left arm of my front v-brake back in France when riding with Craig and had to replace it with a conventional side-pull brake. Craig, riding ahead of me, came to a sudden stop at an intersection in a small village we were passing through When I slammed on my brakes, the boss protruding from
the fork that the brake was attached to broke off. At first I thought I had broken the cable, but unfortunately it was much more serious than that. The boss is part of the frame and couldn't
be soldered back on.

It was 15 miles to the next town with a bike shop but flat most of the way, so having just a rear brake wasn't too hazardous. Two different people we stopped to ask gave us directions to the same Peugeot bike shop. When we reached it at 12:15 it was closed, the proprietor either taking an early lunch or off on vacation. As we peered it, it was hard to tell which. We wandered about the city hoping to find another.

The tourist office luckily was a rare one that didn't close for a lunch break. We learned of three
other shops to try. The nearest was also near a grocery store, so we could do our daily shopping, eat lunch and be there when the bike shop opened after its lunch. The one we chose adjoined a Renault car dealership. It was very well stocked, but it turned out it didn't do repairs. Between Craig's skills and my tools, we figured we could handle the repair ourselves if the shop had a replacement brake. It had two to offer, but one had too short of a reach, and the other too long. But the most helpful proprietor dug out an ancient CLB brake that looked as if it would fit. He had already drilled out the hole in my fork with two different drill bits, as the rear hole had to be slightly bigger than the front one. This brake worked just fine, though we needed to scavenge
an inch or so of housing cable.

The operation took about an hour, as the man helping us hopped back and forth from the phone to check on our progress. He even lent a hand making a final adjustment for the brake. Craig greatly charmed him with his French patter, even testing out a slang expression he had learned from me, that my French friend Yvon had used. He said I was a "crocodile", "an adventurer." The man only wanted five euros, but I gave him a ten and wouldn't take any change. It was great to have taken care of this calamity with such relative ease and expense, but it has reduced my braking power to what it used to be before I acquired this bike a little more than two years and 25,000 miles ago. Once again my wrists turn sore on those long braking descents.

The day of the brake breaking was a day of Craig coming to the rescue of people in distress. A
stopped motorist along the road flagged us down later that day, asking us to call his wife to come rescue him. He was about the only person other than us in all of France without a cell phone. It was ten minutes to a Renault dealership. The man in charge was happy to make the call and offer his tow truck. We had started our day with a woman in a small town in her apron on her bike hailing us as we exited the town cemetery after filling our water bottles and rinsing our bowls and eating utensils. We thought we were in for a reprimand. Craig quickly removed his hat and was prepared to be as polite as possible. She was just wondering if we had seen her husband, who had Parkinson's disease and was on the loose. Craig also was able to direct a couple of guys in a truck to a nearby grocery store in another small town. The French government ought to hire Craig to meander its roads as a service to those in need.

Later, George

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