Ride: Armagh, Northern Ireland to Warrenpoint, Northern Ireland
Terrain: Following the same example as yesterday's journey, we stuck to the main roads and were better off for it. There are two climbs on the way out of Armagh, and although they're fairly big, they're pretty constant and not so steep so it's easy to find your rhythm and grind them out. From Newry onward, it's beautifully flat until your final destination, and you'll whistle into Warrenpoint with a huge smile on your face.
Today was our last inland ride, as we were finally headed back to the coast where the Irish Sea awaited us. We timed our departure from Armagh for just after lunchtime, so as to avoid the worst of this small but busy city's traffic. It didn't really work out that way.
If you've never ridden a tandem, there's a knack to getting one rolling, and it involves a bit of communication and understanding between the two riders. A heavily loaded tandem is a more difficult proposition yet again because it falls over more easily, and you need to give it a shove to get it rolling before clipping in. A loaded tandem on a hill is, frankly, a pain in the backside. It's a battle against time and gravity to build up enough momentum to get in the saddle and start pedalling before it stalls and topples. Once you're rolling, you'd really like to keep it that way. Unfortunately, we were stuck in stop-start traffic all the way up the hill, and it was a tedious cycle of dismounting, shuffling, grunting, heaving, jumping aboard, clipping in, getting rolling, and stopping again.
When we got to the top, we realised what the cause of the traffic jam was: roadworks had narrowed it down to a single lane, so we had to move across a lane. As we were doing so, some inadequate in an 18-wheeler decided he was too important to sit behind us through the couple of hundred metres of road cones, and gunned it from behind us, horn blaring.
The profanities that escaped our lips during that moment would have made any sailor blush. Neil gets really annoyed by this sort of behaviour and gave chase in the hope that the driver would get caught at the lights further along, so that we could have a gentle word in his ear. Over 100 cyclists a year get killed in the UK by hare-brained pricks like this, who won't give up a few seconds of his time to ensure that two fragile, exposed human beings on an aluminium frame can safely get out of his way.
It's the first incident of truly bad driving we've encountered on the whole trip. Cars have been gracious and patient with us, happy to give us the little bit of extra space and time we sometimes need. That's what made the actions of this utter tool all the more disappointing: he's letting everybody else down.
Luckily, the rest of the way was smoother sailing. We stayed on the main A28 highway and rode on the generous shoulder that was present throughout. Nothing major to report, as there wasn't much in the way of scenery other than asphalt, trees, and the odd village here and there. There were, however, two pretty substantial climbs which took a fair while to grind out, although at 3-7%, they weren't steep enough for Neil to declare them "thought-provoking" (Jess remained mum on the subject). On the bright side, the hills were nicely symmetrical, which meant steady descents several kilometres long and big fly-eating grins.
Two hours of riding flew by in a flash, and before too long, we had 35 kilometres under our belts and it was time for a wee breather in Newry. Not for long, though, for Newry has nothing to recommend it. The wind was in our sails now, and we hadn't far to go, so rather than stop for a cuppa we pushed on.
The road from Newry to Warrenpoint is only 6 kilometres long and rolls alongside the Newry River as it makes its way towards Carlingford Lough. It has a beautifully marked bike path with a solid line, meaning no cars are allowed to cross into it for any reason. This meant it was all ours, and we wish we had taken a photograph of the road sign that stated as much.
This was six of the most amazing kilometres we had ridden so far. It was as flat as a pancake, and the wind was behind us for possibly the first time all tour. Across Carlingford Lough lay the Republic of Ireland, and this particular border area was the scene of some rough times during the Troubles. We'll explore those moments more in the next post about Warrenpoint.
For now, the sun shone and created crystal clear reflections on the water. The hills above us were alive with the sounds of birds chirping, and we were happy.