For my Sunday morning ride this week I decided to wing it and head out without much of a route planned.
I only had a vague notion of the direction that I’d like to head: when I was starting back into cycling last year a favourite evening spin was to head to Parkgate via Doagh and then back home through Templepatrick and along the A6, so I thought it might be fun to compare cycling that route now, with a year’s further training under my (ever loosening) belt, compared to back then. So, to Doagh it was.
The fine weather from Saturday had gone away, leaving a fairly chilly, windy and damp spring Sunday morning for my ride. I started on the Ballycraigy Road and then on to the Ballypalady Road . I like Ballypalady in the outbound direction as it’s quiet, rural and largely downhill to the extent that you can hit 30mph with only a little bit of extra effort. It’s not quite so much fun in the other direction.
From Doagh I took my standard route along the Burn Road to the village of Parkgate, encountering another couple of cyclists heading in the other direction in full wet gear. I know it was a bit damp, but the rain was intermittent drizzle at worst so I can’t help but feel full waterproofs were a bit of overkill! On to through Parkgate and I resist the urge to turn for Conor and Kells but head straight on to Dunadry. The crossing on to the Ballybentragh Road is the first “chicken out” point of this route where I can easily turn for home, and last year it often marked the furthest extent of my rides. But I’m feeling fine and press on for Dunadry.
Arriving there a few miles later, I come to the next chicken point where I can cut back to the A6 and head for Templepatrick and home. Only once last year did I head out further than this, but again I’ve still got plenty of energy so I press on to the end of the road and link up with the Seven Mile Straight, a rural A road linking Belfast and Antrim. I’m now beyond the furthest point I reached last year.
The Seven Mile Straight is exactly as it sounds; seven miles of straight, well maintained A-road that’s not too heavy with traffic at that time on a Sunday morning. It’s not the Seven Mile Straight And Flat though, and features a couple of mile-plus, 2-3% gradient climbs with a couple of shorter, sharper shocks thrown in for good measure.
I come to the end of the Straight and reach the Ballyutoag Road that runs across the top of Cave Hill. I’m getting tired now from all the climbing and the weather is turning for the worse, with some proper rain threatening to start, but I’ve driven this road numerous times and it’s one of my favourites so I dig deep and press on up the hill. It’s worth it; the rain dies away as I reach the highest point and I’m treated to some misty morning views over Belfast city. Blasting down the twisty city side of Ballyutoag is always fun too.
But now the monster. The Upper Hightown Road. A mile or so of 10-15% gradient snaking it’s way to the top of Cave Hill again. I think the last time I cycled up this stretch of tarmac I was about fifteen years younger, so I was pleasantly surprised at the relative ease with which it was dispatched. I must also say thanks to the passing driver who tooted encouragement as I ground away on the granny ring. At least, I’m pretty sure it was encouragement.
With struggle comes reward, and my reward was the following downhill part of the Upper Hightown. It’s long, sweeping curve, good visibility and lack of traffic lends itself well to on-the-drops maximum efforts. 41mph was my maximum effort here, a new personal best.
Unfortunately, at about that point of maximum effort, my Nokia 6210 Navigator phone and GPS device decided to free itself from my back pocket and become more closely acquainted with the Upper Hightown tarmac. By the time I got slowed down and turned around, I was at the bottom of the hill and had to climb all the way back up again, very slowly, scanning the road and verges for the wreckage of my handset. It took thirty minutes of grubbing around in the long grass before I spotted the first part of the phone. Luckily, the remaining pieces weren’t too far away and were picked up soon after.
The battery seemed to have taken most of the impact and is misshapen to the point that I can’t reassemble the phone properly, but, even though the keypad is faulty, at least it powered up and is more or less still functional. They design them strong in Finland, it seems. I’m not sure what state I’d be in if I hit the tarmac at over 40mph!
After the long, slow search I’d cooled down and was actually starting to get quite cold, so I ended the ride and turned for home back down into Glengormley and Carnmoney beyond.
30 miles on the clock, with over 1700ft of climbing over that distance. You can view a more detailed, interactive map on BikeHike or follow the GPS track on Nokia Sports Tracker. Notice how the Sports Tracker map ends abruptly!
Not a bad morning’s ride for winging it, now I just need to fix my phone.