We were up bright and early, making sure to leave enough time to enjoy our full Ulster fry, which by this point had become a mandatory start to the day. Compared to yesterday's iffy weather, this was looking pretty good – the sun was shining, the sky was clear, and we were delighted at the prospect of a cloudless day's ride. Toasting to our good fortune, we clinked our tea cups and tucked into our potato farls.
The Ulster American Folk Park is an open-air museum which focuses on the history of Ulster migration to America in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Out of all immigration occurring in the United States during that time, it was this particular breed of Irish that adapted most quickly and prominently into society, as seen by the three first-generation U.S. presidents (who were all of Ulster origin) and 13 overall who could trace their roots back to here.
Leaving Derry was pleasant enough, as all we had to do was go down the hill that we had struggled up two days prior. From there, we were on the main A5 road for several relatively flat kilometres, and were already moving along nicely.
It is a proven fact that both of us will fall sick at least once throughout the course of a cycling trip.
For Jess, her time was now. As she woke up to the sound of rain, she was painfully aware that everything in her body hurt and she needed some medication, fast. But what we both craved more than anything was sleep. So after a lovely breakfast by Pat, we crawled back upstairs and hung out for a bit, relaxing and talking about how we wanted to spend our first rest day.
We were absolutely destroyed when we arrived at the doorstep of the Phoenix Bed and Breakfast.
It was 5:30 PM and the sun was on the wane. Having crossed the Foyle and ascended the other side of its valley, our final climb of the day was done. We were starting to snap at each other over mundane things like "breathing too loudly" and "not braking hard enough". As in Burma, that's when we knew that we needed to get off the bike and rest.
It appears that we've reached some sort of truce with Mother Nature. In exchange for several days of straight pish, grinding through the blustering winds and rain, the weather gods smile upon us and bestow we cycling mortals with a single charitable day of sunshine.
"Welcome to Portrush", the sign proclaimed ahead of us.
With a huge sigh of relief, we trundled into town. Finally, this wet, cold, Northern Irish day was done. All we had to do now was find our B&B, which appeared to be very straightforward, as all we needed to do was stay on the main road and then turn off onto a side street near the beach.
May we present Exhibit A: The Reality:
By the time we had gone to bed after our day in Ballycastle, the winds were still wailing and howling outside. It had gotten to the point where even the locals looked worried, and if things didn't improve in the morning, we were seriously considering staying an extra day here to let it pass.
When you've just been through the wringer after a day of mountains and wind, what's the only thing that can revive you?
Good old fish and chips, of course!
"So where are youse* for today?" Peter asked as he served up two plates of delicious Ulster fryness in front of us.
"Ballycastle", we mumbled through full mouths.
When we opened our eyes the next day, the first thing we heard was the stillness.
There was no rain, no clouds, no dampness. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, and...wait a minute. Where did all these cyclists come from?
"I thought I was going to get a call saying 'Not today'."
So said our smiling B&B proprietor, Peter Monroe as we rode up the driveway, soggy and bedraggled.
"Who us? Nah," we responded between clattering teeth.
Unlike when we planned our route through Burma, we knew going into this trip that there really was only one path forward. Whilst the lakes of Berlin at least provide us with some water to stare out at, it isn't the same as sitting by the ocean and watching the waves crash against the shore, and we've missed that experience.
It's pretty much safe to say that we have not prepared for this trip at all.
This summer has been a complete whirlwind, what with a wriggly new puppy to care for, various business trips every week that barely sees one of us at home, and a move to a new flat to contend with.
Turns out that taking your newly minted bike on the tour in a country with no bike shops isn't the smartest idea in the world. So for our next trip, we'll be taking things a bit closer to home by spending two weeks cycling around the beauty that is Northern Ireland in September.
The day before we left Burma, we woke up in the pitch dark and headed out in the early morning to catch one final sunrise.
This wasn't the easiest thing to do due to the lack of street lights. We had also disconnected our own lights to divert dynamo power to our USB charger, so we were riding by starlight and the dim headlamp of the odd passing motorbike. Romantic, but hairy.
It was well after 5 PM when we passed through the main city borders of Bagan.
We could scarcely believe it ourselves when the gates loomed ahead of us. It didn't seem possible that the last two and a half weeks, from the moment we left Berlin, arrived in Mae Sot, rode across the border into Burma, and went over and up through the country, were over.