Because I am not very good at saying ‘no’, I agreed to be part of a festival Parkour Performance team the weekend before I left for Bulgaria. Which meant those last minute trial packs, practicing with all the gear on the bike etc, all those things you’re definitely supposed to do…I didn’t. Oops. What I did do is spend the weekend alternately throwing myself onto a stunt air bag, swinging and jumping around a scaffolding set up and getting soaked through and cowering in a tent. Honestly, the first night it just chucked it down, which you’ll know if you were at any one of the tens of British festivals in the last weekend of July. After a vaguely warm meal I lay on a deflating air bed, that grassy, rubbery, damp-sock smell of wet tents pervading my nostrils and thought….5 weeks. Oh my god. 5 weeks.
With the last of my phone battery I ordered a lightweight tarpaulin I can use to rig up an additional shelter if I am indeed assaulted by hideous bouts of rain (again, Amazon Prime, god damn you for being so convenient. Pay your taxes, yo.) and then tried to enjoy myself and forget about all the things I still hadn’t got done. I arrived home about 2am on Monday morning and the next 24 hours were spent bike packing and padding, shopping for the last minute things (tea, food for Bob while I’m away, and a tool bag – my new favourite insult), clearing my room so my lovely friend can stay in it and an unexpected gathering of the Lamb flock from its various corners of the U.K. My brother showed up, mum cooked my ‘last meal’ and my Dad surprised me by coming down from Sheffield to join us – I was sleep deprived and definitely cried when I saw him at the door. It was slowly making the entire thing a whole lot more real and a whole lot more serious – I’ve never had a full family send off before!
With the bike box taped up and slid perfectly into the boot of my mum’s car my brother and dad departed and mum looked up how to track my phone while I’m away…we downloaded an app. As long as she doesn’t request a GPS update every 30 mins and it doesn’t drain my battery I guess there’s no harm in letting her track me. She’s survived this long without it though. It prompted discussions of letting me go to school in Swaziland on my own at 16 when mobiles were barely a thing and how she’s always known she couldn’t hold me back from doing the things I want to do, even if they cause her worry. She’s really pleased that Emma and I will be cycling the first five days together with support from Anthony in the van. But she still filled me in on the new I’ve been kidnapped but can’t talk openly code. The old one used to be asking after whichever dog wasn’t actually alive anymore, i.e. ‘Give Jessie a hug,’ ‘I hope Elsea’s feeling better,’ etc. I guess Willow gets to be kidnap code now too… Despite her natural, motherly concerns, (no, pepper spray is illegal, mum, you can’t buy some for me) she promises me that her proper gift will be that she’s not going to worry. I love that.
We got about three hours’ sleep and set off in darkness to Gatwick. Swift, tear-defying goodbyes at the drop off point and then a slightly anxious wait as the oversize baggage guy told me the bike was two kilos overweight and I would need to unpack. ‘But..but…I don’t have any tape, I’ve checked my other bag, the heavy stuff in there is tools and I won’t get them through security. It can’t be that heavy, I can lift it! I weighed it at home!’ Nothing doing. I looked at the box, loath to do a bad job of packing it back up, only just about confident that everything was safe and secure. ‘Is there anything else I can do?’ Apparently if I could get confirmation from the loaders that a 34kg bike box was acceptable to them, there’d be no issue. Cue talking to a couple of really lovely, helpful, understanding, friendly lead agents from easyjet who were already pretty run off their feet with 50 malfunctioning airport equivalents of ‘self service checkouts’. In the end one lady had to go to the office to call the mobile of one of the loaders to warn about a heavy item and she rushed off to do that ‘What’s the time? Right, I’ve got 5 mins to get you cleared through here, don’t worry, we can do this!’ hi-vis vest disappearing among swathes of people and suitcases. Honestly, that kind of optimism and cheery manner at 4.30 in the morning. That lady was golden, give her a bonus, easyjet! Oversized baggage guy was eventually convinced that the loaders were happy and they must have been because as I boarded the plane, there was Jeeves, proudly standing upright (thank god) on the tarmac, ready to be loaded. Winning.
An hour or so waiting for an ATC slot meant a cheeky visit to the flight deck (yes, it is probably meant more for kids but they didn’t specify and I got there first). ‘I’m coming home by bike! With a dog!’ – I sounded about eight anyway. The pilot wished me luck and I let the real kids get their kicks – I’m not a monster.
I arrived at Varna airport to a disconcertingly hot, sunny, day – holiday makers around me ready to swim and tan, me wondering how fast I’d have to pedal to create a cooling wind… Jeeves came out lying on his side and with a few gouges in the cardboard but relatively unscathed I think and Emma and Anthony were there to meet me. We wasted no time in getting the new magnetic signs on the van – Street Hearts ones for them to use on the sides and back and one for K8 and K9 with the awesome new logo my brother made for me. Looking hella professional and like I know what I’m doing. I wonder when the fact that that is not true will come out…
On the drive back we had to stop and pick up a starving blonde girl dog in a lay-by. She’s called Penelope Pitstop in honour of my mother who drove me to the airport and paid for our seaside lunch as a thank you and good-luck to Emma and Anthony. We didn’t arrive at Street Hearts until about 8 o’clock where I was met by, you guessed it, tens of dogs, one of them quite special. There’s only loads of stuff to do before we leave on Thursday morning and I’ve already realised I’m missing a GoPro cable and have no inner tubes for the trailer….the dogs are awake. So am I. Here’s to a productive day.