As I sit writing now in a suburb of South London, I wonder if I simply dreamed the last three years of my life. Did I really cycle all the way around the world? Now I’ve returned to ‘normality’ it seems odd to think that my journey really happened. Odder still is to gaze at a map of the world and track my slow, exhausting route round the planet. Yet if I do stop for a moment and begin to recall the journey, perhaps recognizing a place name on the map, my mind is quickly flooded with glut of memories. Vivid recollections are conjured of incredible people, amazing places and great experiences. Memories so rich, they will remain with me forever and instantly bring a smile to my face and a glow of pride.
Immediately after saying goodbye to Emily, close to the northern end of the Alps in France, it began to rain. I looked up solemnly at the 1,500 meter ascent, embraced by grey cloud, which lay between me and Italy. It was worth the struggle though and a second meaty ascent of 2,000 meters the following day. This took me over to Volleges in Switzerland where I spent a weekend relaxing with friends: Constance and Florence. They looked after me amazingly, feeding me and showing me around. Florence even stuffed my panniers with several bricks of Swiss chocolate before I left.
With the Alps behind me in the next two weeks I would cross Switzerland, follow the Rhine through Germany then continue north to Amsterdam. After a couple of days riding across Switzerland I met Adrian and Anthony, two French cycle tourers. Anthony had a couple of broken spokes and we got chatting while they inspected the damage. Adrian asked: ‘would I like to sleep with them?’ Assuming he had made a simple error in his English and was not lusting after me I happily agreed. Later we found a wonderful camp spot by the river Sarine in Fribourg, a medieval town.
In Germany I plotted a route through the Black Forest. On the outward journey these were the first hills Andy and I tackled. At that time I remember struggling greatly with the climbs but returning the second time they felt negligible, my body and mind hardened by three years of touring.
A week pedaling beside the Rhine passed in a blur. I barely even stopped to take my camera out. This is unusual for me as I love to taking photos. I think with all the major challenges now completed and just a flat ride back to London I was finally focused on the finishing line. I stayed with friends in Amsterdam and explored the city. I have never been anywhere more bike friendly.
Andy met me in Brugge for the final four days of cycling. It was strange to see him again after more than 18 months but we had great fun trading stories over beers. We took the ferry from Calais back to Dover and I couldn’t help feeling nostalgic, reminiscing over three years’ worth of adventures. I had to laugh when I recalled a story about my late grandmother. She only left the U.K. once in her life – a day trip to France – and seeing the white cliffs of Dover on her return she broke into tears. Hoping I would repeat this Andy was dismayed that I managed to remain phlegmatic.
Surreal doesn’t begin to describe the final miles into London. My mind was flooded with memories from the last three years. The highs, the lows, the people I met and the things I had seen and done. I was struggling to process it all when we reached London Bridge. I was shocked by how different the skyline of London looked – it was another reminder of how long I have been gone. A couple of friends met us with champagne in Trafalgar Square. We celebrated, laughed and drank late into the night.
Three weeks has passed since then and I have had great fun catching up with old friends. As I attempt to re-build my life I feel sad that such an important and significant chapter is now over. However I feel extremely privileged to have had such an extra-ordinary experience. I will spend the rest of my life re-living and re-telling the stories but I can promise you this, it won’t be my last adventure.