Thurs 19th Sept.
LONDON. The last day.
I stayed with Mark and Lorna in the morning talking about news, politics, cycling, english-ness and Mark’s cycle to Japan with his eighteen year-old son, who was now at uni in Bristol. We got quite into our discussion and had several cups of tea. People on the trip always assumed that I wanted tea but I didn’t really miss that much. But now I was back I was glad to have it.
I planned at leaving around 10am but when I did it was more like 2pm which was good as the gap to London was about 62miles (90km) and it would be dark by eight. There was no alternative, so I would be getting there tonight, it was just at one time that was the question.
I stopped at a Morrsion’s supermarket in Faversham and relished with delight at all the bizarre things we sell in this country that always seemed so normal. One section of the fridge was devoted to pasties and scotch eggs. Things I had forgotten existed until now. I bought Scotch eggs purely for the novelty and ate half the pack outside the supermarket. I got speaking to a lady outside the supermarket as she noticed the different flags on the back pannier. She spoke to me about her experience of the mountains in Slovenia and how much she loved that part of the world. English people weren’t a close-knit as I remember. She gave me directions on how best to get to London from there which I did my best to honour, but ended up forgetting and taking the GPS.
There was a cycle lane that went all the way to London she knew about but wasn’t sure where it was. She seemed sceptical that I would get there today. I was beginning to grow sceptical too.
Riding on the A roads was as bad as I expected. The were horrible, offered no space for cyclists and the roads were badly maintained as was the pavements. I forgot how much of a dump Britain looked like at times. There was also a musty smell of petrol in a lot of the towns, a layer of grime that settled in to the DNA of the country and everyone seemed to accept. There was a lot of negative things that I was quick to pick up on with coming home, but I still saw how beautiful the countryside was and how lucky we were to live in such a nice place. George Orwell often wrote about the rolling hills of the english countryside, now I realised that this was the identity of England that will be here in years to come, especially in an increasingly digital age.
I went through Gillingham, which despite it’s pretty name didn’t bear many delights and I kept going. I was progressing but not as quickly as I’d hoped. I knew I’d definitely be getting in after dark.
After a few more hours I gave in and took a quick break and ate some of the treats to keep me going. I stopped next to a field with horses and some of them came over to investigate me and the bike, giving the handle bars a good sniff. I wanted to feed them, but only had chocolate, so thought I better not.
With more persistence, then next hill I rolled over, I got a full view of London. The city spread out for miles with a flurry of 21st architecture and skyscrapers in the centre, Canary Wharf just in front. The sun was setting just behind the city in a pinkish orange hue. The view didn’t last for long as I rolled down the hill, but I was glad I got to see the city that’s home to so much and so many from this perspective.
I knew it would take a bit longer to penetrate into towards the centre. I went through the suburbs for another two hours before I started to make an impact. Often I thought I was in areas just outside Walthamstow when really I was still miles out.
At one point I sped up to get through a yellow light and decided to keep the pace up for a sprint, managing to knock it up to a much higher gear and get up to about 35kph on flat, running purely on the excitement of being back, seeing my friends and then my family soon after. I’d never been that quick on flat on the trip and was able to keep it going and overtake a hefty lump of traffic, congealed on the outskirts of the english metropolis.
No I was getting close, I got to a roundabout that went into a tunnel under the Thames that I couldn’t access. Instead I would have to take a ferry across the river for free. I rolled on went to the front and waited for the lengthy procedure for the ferry to take of and coast to the other side of the Thames. It was no dark and the ferry deck was illuminated by bright beneath a big sign that ‘MAYOR OF LONDON’ in a totalitarian manner.
Once I was on the other side, I knew exactly where I was, among east London’s docks. I got into Stratford, then Bow and then north. The longer I was cycling, the closer I was getting to more areas that I cycled around when I lived here. It was like getting a stronger connection with my senses and the areas I knew.
I could barely contain my excitement when rolled past the Big Yellow Storage facility on the edge of Hackney Wick. I was finally at my destination. My chequered flag was the bar I used to work in, up until I left where I had arranged to meet a few close friends, before a bigger come back party that was taking place tomorrow night.
I sped through the industrial, warehouse laden terrain and cut into the car park. I got to the front door of the bar and here it was, the moment that I had fantasized about every time I was climbing up a mountain, or stuck in an ugly spot of weather. Every time I was bored out of my mind from cycling through the same countryside for hours and hours or whenever I felt lonely in the tent. I dreamt about being back here, in part of a community of friends that I love, having drinks, laughing and joking, relaxing after a hard days work. Everything. I’d probably envisioned this moment about forty times and waited months for it.
Elaine was the first to spot me outside. I should’ve given her a hug and have her welcome me back, but I was so overcome with emotion and energy that I shot inside and was greeted by my friend, ex-boss and fellow cyclist Ade and Tom who was one of the founders of the bar.
They both gave me a huge welcome back and supplied me with plenty of beer, not that I needed much anymore. I saw other people I used to work with but a lot of the staff had changed in the five months I was away.
An old friend from a previous job worked there to, another Tom. He gave me a warm welcome and said he’d hold a lock-in for me after hours so we could catch up and get drunk.
It was all finally over and I was home.