Friday, 12 July 2013

Colorado, USA - to Winchester, Hampshire, UK

It's been a week since I flew back to London. My travel laptop hit the dreaded black screen of death yesterday, and I nearly faced the unthinkable prospect of writing my last US travel post on a different machine. Thankfully, after letting it cool off in the fridge for a while, I was able to reinstall the OS and it's now running beautifully again. It's important to me that this laptop sees it though to the end.

I celebrated my first week back in the UK by doing something I've never done before - signing on. Or at least, attempting to. I'm greeted by a portly man in a suit and tie at the Jobcentre door. Near the waiting area, a fellow interviewee sits at an empty desk eating sandwiches from a Sainsburys plastic bag. My Personal Advisor, who I've yet to meet, is called Mrs Cahill - I imagine she wouldn't stand for this behaviour. In my view only teachers, school librarians and prison wardens can get away with using honorifics professionally in the 21st Century. I look forward to our meeting so I can judge if this group can extend to Job Centre Advisors.

I sign a contract that stipulates that I must 'actively seek work by doing at least 8 things a week' and 'arrive 10 minutes before Jobcentre appointment'. I also agree to 'Contact the Jobcentre to look for work via the internet'. I have no idea what this actually means, but I thought it best to sign anyway. In fact I signed contracts and agreements left right and centre, which means the whole process is suitably named.

I'm pretty relaxed and optimistic about finding work soon - my CV is in good shape, and I've got a good list of places online to hit for find jobs in my sector (Academic Librarianship). I feel like I'm adjusting well to being back in the UK - the sunny weather is definitely helping. The walk to the Jobcentre for a dole interview must be infinitely better in the sun that doing it in the rain.

I've had one touch of post-travelling blues, a combination of jetlag and re-adapting to being back in normal society. I'd spent the day working through my finances and cleaning out my tent in my parents' garden, and felt groggy and depressed. I wasn't missing the cycling or the States - I was ready to come home when I did. This was more of a minor identify crisis, stemming from me being no longer required to use the same skills I'd developed while away.

Thirsty? No need to ration water or even carry it with you - just turn on the tap at home, and no concerns about water quality or sterilisation. Need a wash? Jump in the shower - no quarters needed for hot water, washing in lakes, or going without. I can choose from about 5 different cafes to visit in Winchester - they all have wifi. Ease and convenience abounds - which of course makes everything less fun.

As I cleaned the underside of my tent's rain fly I noticed something strange. Its colour was changing from a pale, sickly yellowy green back to the deep dark forest green that it was when I bought it. I put some music on as I worked, one of the Doce Pulgadas electro mixes that was regularly on my headphones when cycling.

My mood cleared immediately with the music as I washed away the accumulated sand, dirt and dust. I realised that there was no identity crisis here at all - it wasn't a case of deciding to be either the person I'd become while away, or the person I'd been before. I can carry everything I've learnt about myself forward with me. The resourcefulness, ability to improvise, work ethic, flexibility, confidence and networking skills will help me in whatever work I can get. I'm ready to see my own society and culture with fresh eyes, and explore new parts of the city that I love - London.

I arrived at Heathrow's terminal 5 at around midday on Tuesday the 2nd of July. I proceeded straight to a Costa stand for coffee. I swiped my card for payment and waited for the receipt. Nothing happened. The guy gave me the coffee and I told him the payment hadn't gone through. He gave me a funny look, and put my card in the front of the reader. "You have to put your pin number in", he says. I'd forgotten all about chip and pin machines - I'd been signing for all my card purchases for the last 3 months. The coffee was good and strong, perfect after the long flight. But it was expensive, and no free or cheap refills, and no choice of half and half, hazelnut or French vanilla creamer.

After reassembling the bike outside the main entrance, I began to feel tired. I'd done well in getting my body clock prepared for the time difference from the flight. The UK is 7 hours ahead, so the night before flying I'd gone to bed at 7pm and woke up at 3am on the day of flying. To get off to sleep that early I drank a litre or two of red wine, and getting trashed in the hotel room while watching Seinfeld and Big Bang Theory re-runs.

That was my reward for the day's work - boxing up the bike before flying. I'd gone in to central Boulder in the day and picked a bike box out of a dumpster behind a bike store, with their permission. Disassembly took a while, and I got some funny looks doing it outside my hotel room.

That was my second night in Boulder - I'd rolled in to town the afternoon of the day before, hungover but quietly exuberant to have completed my final USA miles. The hangover was a result of a party I'd gone to in the Rocky Mountain National Park.

My last post left off with me about to cycle out of town for a final night's wild camping. Halfway up the hill out of Estes, I stopped for a quick snack and to check my maps for trails off in to the forest for potential camping spots. A car pulled up, and a guy called Dave started chatting to me. He said he worked for the National Park, and invited me to a party a few miles up the road, where I'd also be able to camp. There would be lots of Rangers and Park people, all into cycling, hiking, rafting and other good fun stuff.

It turns out Dave had spotted me in town earlier and wanted to invite me then, but didn't have a chance. He'd passed me coming down the hill in his car, saw me at the side of the road, turned his car round and came back to offer the invitation - lucky for me!

I cycled up the rest of the hill and followed Dave's directions towards one of the park's entrance stations. The road to the house was quiet, except for the strains of Stairway to Heaven floating on the breeze. A group of people called me into the party, and I was met by Micah who also lives there. I got a beer and a hotdog and it was fun times from there.

I can't think of a better way to have spent the last night in my tent than this - at a party drinking Sierra Nevada IPA from a keg, chatting to lots of interesting people who had worked in lots of the parks that I'd cycled through. Aaron, for example, who had an excellent beard and gave me some of his tasty home brewed porter. The music was good, 70s rock and roll, funk, soul and psychedelic pop records - vinyl, naturally.

I followed a tipsy group of party-goers - led by Dave, in the dark down to the river to try and see a moose that had been seen around there. The high spirits of the group probably scared it off, but we went for a walk in the morning and saw it then. I cooked some oatmeal on their stove, packed up and made my farewells.

Micah and Dave the morning after the party. Micah in uniform and off to work.
The morning after
The moose!
And so I woke at 3am in Boulder on the day of my flight with the bike already nicely boxed up, and spent the morning forcing everything into an old suit travel bag I'd picked up from a thrift store in Estes Park for $1.50. It was a tight squeeze, but got everything in except the pannier I was carrying on to the plane as hand luggage.

After that I walked into town in the sunshine and got a haircut, then picked up a couple of clean 2nd hand t shirts from a goodwill store for the flight and days in London. A quick shuttle ride to Denver after being picked up from the Hotel in Boulder, and I checked my bike and big bag in at the airpot almost straight away, and went through security with no problems. 

The flight back went smoothly, and I cycled out of Heathrow at about 4pm. I phoned a campsite in Crystal Palace and cycled over there. My phone battery died before I arrived, and I had no London maps on me, so I found my way by following the huge broadcasting tower to the park. I'd arranged to meet my girlfriend Annette for dinner, but couldn't contact her, as there was nowhere to charge my phone. In the meantime she'd found her way to the campsite, and she surprised me by walking up as I was putting my tent up.

We went for a curry and a drink, it was amazing to see her for the first time in months. I got back to my tent and slept for a solid 12 hours. I had no idea what country I was in when I woke up. I'd arranged to meet Annette for lunch, but woke up late with no charge in my phone. I packed my tent up, loaded up, bought an A-Z from a nearby petrol station, and hopped on my bike to cycle to Deptford for our rendezvous. My saddle promptly snapped - meaning I couldn't sit down - I rode there standing up.

After lunch, I brought a new saddle and waited in a pub to meet Annette after work. We had a couple of drinks then I cycled to Battersea to stay with my friend Chris. He'd already planned to take the next day off work to go cycling, and offered to join me in the ride to Winchester. 

We rode out to Brighton on Friday and stayed in Lewes that evening. This was a hard 85 miles with a few punctures on my rear wheel. The humidity took me by surprise, and I was humbled by the East Sussex hills. The next day we followed the coast into Hampshire, and I arrived home after another 80 miles. It was good riding with Chris, and cycling from Heathrow to Winchester was definitely a good plan - a nice way of easing back into things. Another reason for the detour was to put my mileage up to 4000 miles, which is my total for the trip.

I rolled down my parents' drive and they were having a BBQ out the front. We had another family BBQ the next day and I caught up with my sister and her fiancee Paul. It was great to see everyone again, and to finally celebrate finishing the ride for good.

So I'm home, I've signed on, and the job hunt starts in earnest next week - time to move on to the next thing! I've written on this blog how I've been constantly amazed at the hospitality and kindness from the people I met on my trip - but I want to end this by saying thanks to everyone who has sent their encouragement from home. Every single comment, retweet, Facebook like, text message, email and so on helped me along my way - It wouldn't have been half the trip it turned out to be without your support. Thanks and love to you all. 

Does this feel like an appropriate place to put a photo montage set to music? I think so!


  1. Well done big fella, words cannot express what an inspiration you are. Your trip looked beyond amazing and I can only imagine the effect it must have had on you. X

  2. Dude, this is awesome. Your last paragraph brought tears to my eyes... I can relate from my experience hiking the Appalachian Trail. There are good people in this world. It's cool to be able to experience that and share the love. Congrats, again!

  3. Brilliant and weldone!
    any plans to cycle to Portugal?


  4. Just read your blog. Great story and adventure.