As you’ll probably have gathered from my brief post last Friday, the long line of red blobs on the map of the world has finally become a loop.
Or, put another way, I’m no longer circumnavigating.
Last Friday was just over two years since I began (above), including the time off after the accident in Thailand. I can’t quite believe I was that chubby…
Still, after 480 days actually on the road for the round-the-world ride (and considerably thinner), I rolled back into Kent, then Greater London, then Greenwich, and finally back to the viewpoint next to the Royal Observatory where the whole thing started.
It was a pretty relaxed final leg in the end.
Splitting the ride from Calais to London into three days gave me plenty of time to dawdle, and get used to the idea of finishing the trip. Although I’m pretty sure that even now, after a few more days and a surprisingly large number of intoxicating beverages, it still hasn’t properly sunk in.
From central Calais, it was just a couple of kilometres to the port. And then another couple around the miles of high security fencing. Through the French exit checks, then the UK entry checks, then the ferry check-in. I was (at least bureaucratically) back in the UK before I got on the ship.
A millpond-flat crossing to Dover, a long wait for all the motorised vehicles to clear the ferry before I was allowed off, and I hit English tarmac for the first time in ages.
Turns out the roads are still rubbish. Though not quite as bad as Belgium, as I now know…
Apart from the port, there wasn’t a lot to keep me in Dover, so it was up the hill and into the country lanes towards Canterbury, my first overnight stop back on home soil. Tiny country lanes, as you can see above. But full of cyclists; I was running along a National Cycle Network route, and there was a large London-to-Paris group heading the other way.
Nice though it was to be constantly saying ‘hello’ to dozens of other adventurous cyclists, it was also a slightly sobering reminder that, while they were just starting their adventure, I was very close to finishing mine.
When I wasn’t nodding and grinning at the other bikers, I was trying to keep a reasonably straight line through the lanes. The tiny roads caught me out twice. Not by getting me lost, but by allowing me to head off on the wrong side of the road after map checks. Given that I’ve spent most of my life walking, driving and cycling in this country, that’s pretty much unforgivable. But I guess it was just taking a little while to readjust; the last time I’d been expected to ride on the left was in India…
Canterbury was a nice last urban stop before the metropolis. A bit like York, which is probably better known to many tourists, it’s an ancient cathedral city, with narrow lanes and city walls. It helped that the weather was (by UK standards) spectacular. And that it’s not exactly difficult to find a good pub for the first decent cider in a while.
After Canterbury, it was the old pilgrim trail to London on Thursday. Following pretty much along the line taken by Chaucer’s pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales. At least until the distinctly less-than-medieval M25 motorway came into sight, marking the visible start of London’s massive gravitational field.
And all that was left the next morning was the suburbs. Only about 20 miles, but back into the urban traffic madness of the capital. It took me past the end of the entirely unremarkable street where I used to live in Bromley (above). Where the journey really started (or, at least, the idea for it was born). I still find it a bit odd that just selling a tiny flat on that road bought me the time (and the bikes and kit) that I needed to get around the globe. It’s a bit of a shame that I haven’t got another one to sell in order to keep going…
A cup of coffee, and then it was just a mile of parkland and driveway to the end of the road. And the mandatory approach to finishing something like this (thanks to LG for both the champagne and the photo):
If I seem to be concentrating very hard on spraying the champers, I can assure you it was nothing compared to the concentration required to remain upright by the early hours of Saturday. And I think that waking up with a brutal headache probably masked the mixed feelings produced by finishing the ride. They’re just starting to crystallise now.
I’m very happy to have made it, of course. And to be able, finally, to think of myself as a ‘proper’ round-the-world cyclist. It’s great to be catching up with family and friends (and having drunk arguments with some of them!). And to be able to look back with a degree of satisfaction on those deserts, high mountains, tropical forests, lakes and coastlines which have provided such a spectacular backdrop for my life in the last couple of years.
I’m also happy that (apart from occasional lingering aches and pains, and a funny-shaped shoulder) I’ve not caused myself any permanent damage on the way around. And I’m immensely grateful to the people I met all over the world who, without exception, chose free lodging, free food and water, and roadside rescues instead of robbery, theft, or hitting me with their cars.
But there’s definitely sadness too. No more heading off to see new things and ride new roads every day. And a slight sense of dislocation.
My life for the last two years has been pretty simple. Get up, ride, eat, sleep, and then do it all again. Now, of course, there are things which need sorting out. I’ve got a blank sheet of paper, which will need filling in. I’ll need money, and all that tedious sort of stuff, which it’s been so nice to escape for a while. Where am I going to live? What am I going to do with myself? None of this has received a great deal of my attention of late.
The road ahead may not always be a literal road like the one above. Although I’m pretty sure that it will be again (and hopefully on a bike) before too long. The feet are already itchy.
But the Unknown will always be there. Around the Corner. I just need to work out how I’m going to keep on finding it…