Route: Portsmouth – London, Lap of Honour around Scotland
Days Riding: 3 + 15
Trip Duration: 1 year 2 months 14 days
Distance ridden: 215 km (Portsmouth – London) + 343 km (Scotland)
Total Distance: 16, 861 km
So here we reach the end of our journey. 1 year, 2 months and 14 days. 16,861 km peddled across 21 countries with some 20 punctures. Tears came to Tim’s eyes as he emailed his parents at the ferry terminal in Caen, expressing his gratitude for the support Rob and Julie have given us on our trip. Het was similarly teary. We sat on the ferry from Caen to Portsmouth, feeling at once overwhelmed with emotion, but also strangely empty. It was nearly over. The destination that had kept us going for so long was finally (and almost literally) in sight.
Emotions aside, we joked as the ferry approached England and the sky slowly greyed over and rain began to fall as a slow, soaking drizzle. Typical English weather, we mused. The ferry docked and we trundled off on the tandem and headed in the direction of arrivals, hoping that we would find Het’s mum, Sarah, and aunt Bim, who had planned to meet us and ride with us to London. Feeling somewhat foolish for not having agreed on an exact place to meet, we rolled out of the car park wondering how we would find them, when a figure in a fluorescent jacket started jumping up and down, waving madly. Our faces lit up with smiles as Sarah and Bim approached us, like two figures out of a dream. In the glorious surrounds of a ferry terminal traffic gateway we hugged, laughed and felt bleary eyed. Sarah loved the surprise of the tandem adding to the excitement of the whole situation!
Wired with exhaustion from our 216km marathon the previous day, a cheap 5 hours sleep the night before and being charged with the emotions of having made it to England, it seemed only natural to head for the nearest pub for lunch. Hearty food, warm, flat traditional English ale and lots of excited talk took us into the mid afternoon, when we realised we actually had 50km to ride to our destination for the day! Better get cracking.
Sarah and Bim filled up our panniers with their clothes to weigh us down for fear that we’d be zooming ahead of them. Het’s energy levels are certainly inspired from her mother, who along with Bim, are two of the most energetic 50-somethings we know. They kept a pace with us whilst maintaining full conversation – Sarah had evidently kept her fitness from her cycle touring days in her 20s.
It felt strange to be in a country where we spoke the same language as the locals. Small interactions like paying the publican for lunch were seamless, no extra energy required to make yourself understood, no body language needed to bolster the meaning of your message. Additionally, no extra effort required to hear the messages being communicated to you – which on one occasion we lamented. Two road cyclists heading at break neck speed down the hill we merry four were climbing up, Bim blissfully riding in the middle of the road narrating a story. “Get out of the BLOODY WAY!” the MAMIL yelled (For those who haven’t heard this term before, MAMIL is an acronym for Middle-Aged Men In Lycra). We all burst out laughing and wished him a happy ride!
Our first evening was spent in the village Avington with an old school friend of Het’s mother, also named Sarah. Her father bought the house at Avington when he moved to England from the British West Indies after their independence. Looking to buy a village cottage, the real estate agent also informed him that the old convent was going for the same price, as houses of this size were considered liabilities and financially unfeasible to upkeep. He bought the big house and made it his life project to restore it to the impeccable state its in today. It seemed fitting to have our first night in England, and the first night out of the tent for good, sleeping in a four-poster bed in a 900 year old mansion.
Day two in England saw us ride through beautiful little villages around Hampshire and Berkshire. Het navigated on the back of the tandem, finally (we joked) finding a way to make herself useful on this steed. Typical winding English roads, up over little crests and down into brick and wooden beamed villages, blackberries lining the way, heavy with fruit. Crondall was our half way point, where The Plume of Feathers, a quintessential village pub, awaited us. This time opting for cider, we sat outside in the sun, enjoying the beauty of those rare sunny summer days.
Sunningdale was our home for the evening, where Het’s great aunt and uncle live. She spent four months living there on her gap year, when she worked for a term at their grandchildren’s primary school. Getting to work was one of the first times she used a bicycle to commute. Slightly bragging about this to Tim as we passed the school, she suggested it was probably a 10km ride each way. Cycle computers don’t lie. One kilometer, then two, and we were almost in Sunningdale.
“They live on the other side of town, I swear, it was definitely 6km at least!”
A measly 3.5km clocked and we had arrived at the driveway. Obviously her cycling fitness had improved significantly since then, and what clearly felt like a much longer ride at the time, was a mere warm up these days.
Het’s grandmother, Sally, and aunt Caroline were there to greet us with champagne in hand. It was great for Tim to finally meet Sally, who gave us the impetus to ride to England. Back in Iran, an amazing friend we made, Vahid, had left such an impression on us, and represented so much of the generosity we had received, that Het gave him her bike. Sally generously bought Het a new one, sending it over there with Het’s parents when they came to meet us in Tehran. It was because of this transaction that we decided to ride all the way to England. A Soma Saga bicycle, named Sally, was united with its benefactress and three generations (daughter, mother and grandmother) were together.
Third day on the road with Bim and Sarah, we were headed for Westminster Bridge, which we somewhat briefly decided would be the finishing line of our 16,861 km adventure. We rode through the Windsor Great Park, past the castle and all its tourists, stopping for an icecream, again in the blissful sunshine, before battling the dense roads of outer London. Thankfully, we managed to stick mostly to canal tow-paths, following the Google Maps cycle layer, that flawless navigation tool… unmarked styles and sets of stairs are clearly part and parcel of the average Englishman’s cycling trials as Google included them in our route into the capital city. Clearly they’re still working on the “vintage steel framed tandem bike weighing 25kg” layer…
As the sun dipped low we approached the chaos that is cycling in London in peak hour. Tim’s concentration levels were at an all time high, and Het tried to remain calm in her position of complete abandon on the back. Bim and Sarah reminisced on life in London when they were younger, as we cycled through Fulham, Kensington and Hyde Park.
In another surreal moment, we stood on the pavement under the houses of parliament, Big Ben towering above us as tourists bustled by, one of them even stopping to take a photo of our funny shaped bicycle! Laura and her boyfriend Ryan, great friends from home, had come to meet us on the bridge, sharing in this momentous occasion. We hugged, teared up, and let the world pass us by for a time that seemed hard to measure.
We made it. Couldn’t have done it without you. You were what got me through the tough times. What a thing to share.
A Scottish Lap of Honour
Finish line crossed, there was a party awaiting us that weekend, at Bim and Patrick’s house in Hertfordshire. 60 members of Het’s family descended from all over the country, and we felt a little overwhelmed at being in such a crowd after over a year of solitude! Yet it was a wonderful thing to be surrounded by familiar faces, many of whom had followed us on the journey via the blog. One of the overarching themes of the trip was the importance of family that unites people all over the world, so it was great to be welcomed off the road by loving family members.
After a few days enjoying Het’s English family, we took a train up to Scotland to meet Tim’s best mate Harry, who had flown over to spend a few weeks riding around the Scottish highlands in what we called our ‘lap of honour.’ We rode from Inverness to the Isle of Skye, along to Fort William under Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Scotland, and then down to Glasgow. It was the perfect way to begin to digest the journey we had been on for the past year.
There were lots of incredibly fun and stupid moments, the king of which probably involved pushing our loaded bikes for 12 kilometres along a boggy, rocky hiking trail in the pouring rain with an 80km/hr wind at our backs. Het’s mood gradually darkened, and the low point was reached when she dropped her bike and sheared off her right brake lever, thanks to a badly placed rock. After the required amount of quiet time, we eventually saw the irony that the most serious injury the bicycles had sustained through the whole trip was in a highly developed country right at the end of the tour. Riding with Haz was also great as we were able to once again share our passion of the outdoors, for living simply and naturally, for stargazing and for going slowly.
And with the end of the riding in Scotland, we felt the road slowly dissipate, as we gently realized that our nomadic way of living was, for the time being, coming to an end. There are so many things that life on the road gave to us. So many lessons it imparted to us, sometimes forceful, sometimes gentle, but always constant. Distilling these learnings into a piece of prose will take time, and so we leave you this last note on the goings on of the road. The pedaling has ended, but we still strongly feel the impact of what we’ve been through. We will come back at some point with a message from the calm place of reflection with meditations on what has been, unquestionably, the most intense and most rewarding year of our lives.
For now, thank you for reading, for being a part of our journey and supporting us. We feel deeply grateful for all that we have experienced.
Love, Tim and Het.