The realities and practicalities of arriving home were starting to sink in once we were off the boat in Kent. Jobs to be found, a place to live long term, credit cards needed sorted, we had a new car to pick up, needed insurance for that, sort licence addresses, sort out electoral records, sort out our wedding reception… we started making lists of all of the everything we could think of to do and tried to do as much as possible while still on the road so that we didn’t feel totally overwhelmed once we finally stepped off the bike for the final time in Glasgow, just a few days away. Perhaps we should have just ridden the last few days in peace, but all of those tasks had been weighing on our minds for weeks now; I had started looking for a job in January by contacting legal recruiters while we were still in Australia. No, it really couldn’t be ignored. Quebec’s grand chateau and cobbled streets had brought memories of Europe to mind and with those, the looming sensation that the end of the trip really was close at hand. It was a feeling that grew with every turn of the pedals that had brought us north over the Alps, through Flander’s fields and would now take us home.
Helen’s dad collected us from the ferry terminal in Dover and tool us back to Deal. Her family had arranged a welcome home event in the local pub for the Sunday night and we wanted to make it safely there. We stayed a few nights in Deal and spent some time with Rose, Ian and Jon, and stopped in with Helen’s Grandma, Ethel a while (we were especially glad to see her again). Helen’s parents kindly took us shopping for some ‘normal’ clothes too, another reminder that our ‘normal’ was soon to abruptly end.
While in Belgium I had been invited to a couple of job interviews, one by Skype and one in person, but both in positions in Edinburgh. For the in-person interview I had arranged to travel up from London to Edinburgh, stay overnight with my brother, present at the interview and travel back to London to get back on the bikes again and finish the journey. Fortunately I had been able to retrieve my wedding suit which had been in storage with Rose and Ian in Kent so I could at least be properly dressed. After a hectic 48 hours, including a second telephone interview, we were waving cheerio to Meg and Sami, our friends in London who we had stayed with, and now aiming for Birmingham.
The ride out of London was surprisingly straightforward, though we were treated to some of the best and very worst of the UK’s cycling infrastructure. Helen had noticed that there was a canal path that more or less joined London with Birmingham so we attempted to ride that for the next two days. We made it about 20 kilometres before abandoning the idea. The path was narrow and made of deep, large flint gravel chips that were practically unrideable so we found ourselves much happier following the roads over the Chilterns. Over the last few weeks we had been getting increasingly anxious about UK drivers and their contempt for cyclists, though we found the reality to be quite different. For the most part the drivers were respectful and gave us plenty of space, though we tried to keep ourselves to the back roads as much as possible. The little lanes crossing the English countryside had another benefit besides their tranquility: the high hedges kept us sheltered from the worst of the wind so we kept making our way merrily towards Birmingham, generally ignoring any signed bike routes.
On the morning that we rode from Solihull towards Birmingham, I had a call from the recruiter - a job offer! The chance to start building our lives again was now back on the table. Our original plan had been to ride from Birmingham to Angelsey, take the ferry to Dublin and ride to the north of Northern Ireland before taking another boat to the west coast of Scotland and riding home. But now with this job offer in hand we had more administration to do, and it needed to be done quickly. We decided instead on a different route home. We really had wanted to do a tour of all of the British Isles but now there really was no time. If we stopped to do all of the paperwork I now had to do we wouldn’t have time to complete the distance. If I waited till we got home to do the paperwork, my start date would have to be delayed. We made the decision to ride to Helen’s uncle Glenn and his wife Leslie’s house near Blackpool where I could settle in for a day or two, wait for all the documents I needed, get them turned around and get going again. After it was all done, we just had a few days’ ride through the Lake District and Southern Scotland before arriving home.
We enjoyed the ride north. Through the lakes we rode via Kendal, then followed the A6 over Shap Fell and on to Carlisle. We spent the morning tackling Shap with two other riders, Martin and his brother in law who were riding LEJOG, as Helen had done a few years earlier. Martin was a former soldier who had fallen on hard times, but had recovered from his drug addiction and was now making a new life for himself. I felt very proud for him as we reached the top of Shap and we all rode to the pub a few towns over where Martin and his brother in law had lunch before setting off again for Lockerbie. We were stopping in Carlisle that day so let them ride off ahead. Martin – if you’re reading this, get in touch! Let us know how you did.
Helen had said that she found the ride from Carlisle to Glasgow boring the last time she did it, but I can’t say I did. As we climbed up into the hills again we had two fighter jets fly overhead at just a few hundred feet above us, making an ear tearing noise that roared up the valley. It was a reminder of the time in Nevada where we experienced the very same thing while staying in the near ghost town of Austin. The noise then was so great that we burst out of our motel room to see just how low the fighters had been but they were obviously long gone across the desert. Instead we stayed outside and inspected the motel windows for damage. Seemingly the last time it happened the sonic boom was so great that a number of them had shattered in their frames, which I can easily believe.
Our last day had come. We spent the previous night in the service station hotel enjoying a bottle of wine that we had picked up along the way, reminiscing over all that had happened over the last year and a half. How naïve we were when we set off, how our plans had been forced to chance throughout, if we had any regrets, if we would do anything differently… all moot points really. I felt as if, over the course of all of this, we were at the same time capable of unfettered free will but at the same time utterly fatalistic; a philosophy we had condensed into simply telling ourselves that whatever happens “it’ll be fine”. As we rode into Glasgow passed more and more parts of our old lives. Helen had mentioned in the morning that she would like to drop into her old lab at the hospital to say hello to her colleagues, but as we got closer that idea lost its appeal. Surely we couldn’t do all of this only to take one giant leap back to where we’d been so unhappy before. For similar reasons I didn’t want to visit any of my past. We rode straight past the street I used to live on, and avoided my old place of work. We’ll face those things soon enough, but today wasn’t the day. Instead we chose to make one final stop on our way to see our friends and family who would be waiting at the finish line. My old school friend Gav’s wife had had a baby, Arthur, who she was at home with and who wasn’t going to make it to see us home. He had been conceived and born while we had been out on our big adventure. We stopped with them, very briefly, to say our first hellos, and it seemed strangely fitting.
A few minutes later, we were there, rolling our tires and tired minds and tired bodies back to the very place we’d begun, 30,000 kilometers, 505 days, a lifetime, previously. Greeted by our family and a few friends, we were home.