Tuesday, 7 January 2014

135. The End (as we know it)

Setting off from Staffordshire, I crossed into Wales about 40 km later and was 100 metres into the last country of the trip, trying to pronounce the new language appearing on road signs in my head when I had one of the closest calls on the trip to-date. A young woman who was stopped at a side-road junction that joined the main road I was riding along, suddenly decided it was time to cross, completely oblivious to my high visibility presence which was blocking her view of the road behind me. Missing my front wheel by inches, I skidded to a stop and yelled in disbelief at the fast disappearing car whilst a fellow cyclist passing by came over to see what the fuss was about.

My last night before reaching Ireland I spent with a lovely Irish family, Mary and Dermot, who had settled in the north Welsh hills nearly 30 years ago. With retirement approaching they had undertaken some long bicycle trips (including the Trans-America trail last year) and Mary and her friend Helen were setting off from Istanbul in a couple of months time and following the Danube back to western Europe. The following morning the dire weather conditions could be heard battering the house outside and I set off with the hail stripping my left cheek as the southwesterly storm blasted across the Snowdonia national park. On a lighter bike I might have struggled to beat the crosswind all the way to Holyhead but with 50 kg of bicycle and gear beneath me, Rocinante weighed us down like and anchor and only occasionally veered off when gusts hit over 100 kph. 

The evening ferry ride to Dublin was one of the roughest I've experienced, with bottles flying off the shop shelves whilst many of the youngest passengers filled up sick bags. I arrived into a somewhat calmer Dublin port at 10:30 p.m. and made my over to Dun Laoghaire where I had been very kindly put up by Roland and Annette, old family friends and perhaps my most doggedly determined readers of this blog.

Leaving the ice time to melt the following morning, I headed off around midday and climbed up around the Sugar Loaf hill and headed south towards Roundwood. The browns and blacks of a snow-capped Djouce mountain gazed down from the west. Saturday hill walkers gathered in the Roundwood pubs as I passed through the village and onto the last home stretch, helped along by a tailwind as I turned east. In the winter twilight, after almost 2000 days since riding away in July 2008 and having navigated our way through 63 countries, I returned with Rocinante up our driveway and rang the door bell.

Thank you to all those who have helped make this journey possible, family and friends and all the wonderful people we've met along the road. Big thank you also to my ever determined cycling partner and wonderful friend, Ellie, as we forged our relationship on the high mountains, long deserts and everything in between over the past three years. And, of course, thanks to all those who have donated to the Peter McVerry Trust and if anyone wishes to make a donation they can do so via at my fundraising webpage  on the MyCharity website.

Annagolan, Ireland
Pedalled: 84,780 km

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

134. Wet n' Wild - across middle England on mince pies and tea...

After a week of wonderful excess with Ellie's family in Norwich and then weather-induced delays and finally a tearful farewell as Ellie waved me off last Saturday, I was pedalling solo, the first time since central China two years ago when Ellie fractured her arm in Tokyo and got a medical leave of absence for four months. I retraced our route across East Anglia, this time into a strong headwind as I passed through Thetford Forest again, weighed down with Christmas leftovers and enough Christmas cake to see me across the remaining two countries. A hollow, lonely feeling with no familiar partner in my rear view mirror was gradually replaced by the job at hand, and I pushed hard into the oncoming wind that wished me into the North Sea. I arrived at Mildenhall in the mid afternoon, once again passing the bastions of American military might in rural England on the two nearby air force bases. I spent a lovely, military-themed evening with John, a warmshowers host and his friend, when we sat for hours by the fireside over the war strategy game - Axis and Allies, which I began to get the hang of as the game entered its sixth hour.

The morning saw frosty roads as I set forth full of fried eggs, bacon and sausages. Another day of clear blue skies and cold headwind as I pushed on across the Fens and over the Wealds. The days all full of reflection and anticipation as The End trundles ever closer at warp speeds approaching ten miles per hour. Gradually the large fields shrunk and the land began to undulate and the trees once again provided shelter from the wind as I headed further into England. My host that evening was Tom Allen, a veteran bicycle tourer who found his wife, wrote a book and made a film (Janapar) all as a result of going for a little bicycle ride six years ago. I spent a wonderful evening with Tom, his wife Tenny and Tom's family and it was wonderful to be able to reflect on the past, present and future with someone who has already been there. I said goodbye to Tom twenty kilometres up the road the next morning, after he escorted me through another damp and dreary morning.

After a long, soggy, undulating day on the backroads of the Midlands, skirting Leicester to the south and Birmingham to the north, I finished up after 149 km with a warm and raucous family dinner in the quaint countryside near Stafford where I spent a wonderful evening catching up with my long lost cousins and family - last seen thirty years ago when I demanded to be driven faster and faster through a field in one of cousin's zebra-patterned Land Rovers. A brief evening off became a couple of days and it has been wonderful catching up and meeting with my family here, feeding horses, celebrating the New Year and watching the wind and rain from inside a window pane. 

Tomorrow morning I set off for the last two days across northern Wales and Snowdonia national park to Anglesey island.

Here's to a very healthy and happy 365 days to come...

Croxton, England
Pedalled: 84,420 km

I'm hoping of course to raise a little more capital for the Peter McVerry Trust in their excellent work for young homeless people in Dublin and if you wish to make any donations you can do so at my fundraising webpage  on the MyCharity website.