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...
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.