Tues 17th Sept.
I’m going, going, back, back to Calais, Calais.
The hosts I stayed with had a big dog and two baby girls. I didn’t meet the girls last night as they were in bed, but certainly heard them before meeting them in the morning.
I sat having breakfast with Tom and talking about his cycle experiences with his wife before they had children in Asia. We also talked about the incredible reliability of Schwalbe tyres. I mentioned I hadn’t had any punctures on the one Schwalbes during the trip (only on the replacement) and he said likewise, they maybe had one from months in Asia. The feats of German engineering.
The family left me to go about their day with the cleaner so I had time to pack and prepare my route for Calais. It was straightforward. Down the coast into France and keep going until I’m there. In case I did mess up, I would again be on the GPS maps once in France.
I was a few miles from France at Tom’s house and was there just after 8am. It was remarkable how similar it felt to England rather than France. Obviously the English channel damned any coast it came into contact with.
I’d found out a few days ago that I could’ve actually gone back to England from Dunkirk, which would’ve saved my some cycling and some money. But having come into Calais, it wouldn’t have felt right to go out of Dunkirk when I was so close. Pushing on those extra few miles to go back from Calais would’ve made the full loop and complete the trip in some finite way.
I made one stop in France at a bakery and picked up a pain du chocolat and some pastry named after Africa (or Afrique as it was). I’m not sure what the link was, but is was dense, stodgy and delicious. Sadly back in France bakeries didn’t serve coffee like the did in Germany. The country that has it all.
Back on the bike and I gunned it to Calais not stopping to look at anything, running on pure adrenaline and excitement. The last thing in the world I wanted to do now was be one iota late for this ferry back. I’d get there in good time, make sure I was at the right gate and board the ferry with time to kill.
I had things I wanted to do in France before coming back. There were things and nik naks I thought that would make funny gifts for friends. But as soon as I was in Calais I saw the port and made my way through the maze of roads that got me through border control the third passport check of the trip. I told the guy that checked my passport that his was the first english accent I’d heard in months and that I was relieved to be going back.
I barely had time to say goodbye to France, Europe. And the trip there which had come to an end, signified by my stepping on the ferry. Once I was on board it was a strange feeling. The interior was exactly the same as the ferry I’d got into France and in a way, now I was back in this carbon copy of a ship, it felt like it all hadn’t happened. It had been a flash and now I was sailing towards England. Some cruel glimpse of what I wanted to do and now I was heading home.
The skin on my face was still warm and slightly red from the wind of the coast from cycling that morning. I got a coffee on board and started to think about everything I’d seen and experienced from the last five months. How glad I was that I had the guts to stick it out and not come home early as I thought about doing at times and that I pushed myself to get out to Budapest, seeing more countries and places I never thought I’d see on this trip.
I studied the people on the boat, french, mostly english, german and students all coming to England for a number of different reasons. Visits, coming home, maybe visiting universities or for work. Old people, young, families not talking to each other.
I started thinking about coming back to England. More to be done, although now I was on the ferry, that was the biggest concern over. I knew that cycling in England wasn’t as pleasant nor road users as considerate as they were in Europe. The roads weren’t as spacious and I’d probably have to use a few A roads that were horrible for cycling. I had to get to Cambridge tonight, then I’d be in London tomorrow as planned.
With that We were near the white cliffs and coming into England already. I think the ferry set off about forty minutes ago.
I went out to where the cars were docked when we were allowed and went to the bike and started getting it ready. A Scouser and his mate were on motorbikes. The started talking to me and asked where I’d been, what I’d done and where I was going now. They’d been down to Italy to see a motocross event and now were heading home. Just a long weekend. The wished me luck before getting ushered out to the platform by the guys with authority signalling. They asked me to wait as I was a hazard around all these cars and lorries, and then got me through when they were ready. Just in that snippet of conversation I had with the two motorbiking Scousers, it gave me a huge sense of comfort that I was home and that my fellow countrymen were interested in what I was doing at that the wished me luck.
It may sound benign, but it was exactly the welcome home I needed and inspired to push off down the ramp and get to Cambridge.
Dover’s a strange place. I thought about stopping for the fish ‘n’ chips I didn’t get in Etaples at the start of the trip but didn’t have the time. I stopped in the town centre for one last hit of on the go wi-fi from my best fiend, McDonald’s.
Going through the town centre was incredible. Being surrounded by english speaking people and english accents. For the last five months, I’d always been in a country where I didn’t know the language, I now I was back where everyone sounded like me, it was very strange. It felt like being on an film-set for a Charles Dickens film adaptation. Some kids had cockney accents which added to the novelty and brought me great comfort. It was amazing how I’d left to get a break from England and get hands on experience of other countries and now I was back I got so much comfort from being able to communicate and be understood. It made me think of what it must be like for people migrating and the difficulty in not being able to express yourself in their language for years until you master it, even then it’s rarely the same. You might not pick up the cultural saying and catchphrases that country uses on a day-to-day basis. Especially in England.
Cycling through England was incredible. I saw it with a completely fresh set of eyes. The green countryside, the trees. I had become so swamped by the country when I lived here that I found it hard to see beauty in the everyday. Now I’d been away appreciated all the little things that never noticed normally from being here. I hoped to keep hold of these feelings for as long as possible.
I put Cambridge in the GPS and set sail. On the way I went back through Kit’s hometown. The first person to put me up on the trip. His mum asked for a postcard before I left and although I bought one specifically for her, I never sent. Now I was passing through I thought I’d deliver it, but she wasn’t in. I quickly wrote it out on the back of the bike and delivered it. A later found out that I only missed her by minutes.
It took a bit of a push to get to Cambridge through the english hills, but I got there before dark and went straight to Mark and Lorna’s house last host of the trip.
I couldn’t have wished for better hosts. They were remarkably english and polite and took me in without haste, but apologised as they had booked a meal out with some friends and had to leave soon. Mark showed me where everything was and said to help myself to any food.
They shot out, I made a cup of tea and had a bath as I was instructed to by Lorna, as a luxury to signify the near-end of the trip. I ate dinner, listened to more podcasts for entertainment and had an early night. Tomorrow I would finally be back in London.