This has been a long time coming and I apologise for that. Scout and I have been adjusting to London life and working out how to finish this journey here on the blog and not just on the road. So here it is – the final 130km of Bulgaria to London and the few days that followed:
After immediately abandoning the British ‘cycle’ paths in Harwich and taking to the tarmac I enjoyed country roads, beautiful open fields, views of the sea and the sun on my face. The morning was fresh and cold and my knee ached a little from my fall – thanks British climate and ageing joints. I’d wrapped up against what I had assumed would be a blustery and rainy English day but to my delight the sun persevered and I had to stop to change into my shorts. There was no opportunity for Scout to run beside the bike but we found some Rugby playing fields to have her first English walk.
Matt, whose home I was staying at, had managed to move some meetings and cycle to meet me at Tiptree (of the Jam fame) on his fancy road bike and together we enjoyed the hills of Essex until the massive one he lives at the top of which rivalled anything in the Schwäbische Alps in Germany and had my heart rate pumping for a good ten minutes of climbing. It felt like acceptable hardship to make up for the gorgeous comfort, love and curry that I received at home with Matt, Moira, their kids and their dog.
Matt and I also sat down and plotted a good route to London using our local knowledge of each end and paying closer attention to the ‘suggested’ roads and so I set off with a mere 64km to the finish line. It was cold but clear and I couldn’t quite contemplate that it was our final day on the road. I didn’t know if I was happy or sad. The last week had been so easy compared to the big weeks previously that I felt like I could just keep on going…what would it mean when we stopped? What awaited us in London? Would Scout even like it there? Would I?
Despite Matt’s and my best efforts my journey into London was the worst day of cycling I’ve had. The cycle paths aren’t big enough. People park on them. They run out. People drive in them. They are full of potholes. They mean nothing. They don’t exist….I hated it. I was constantly on my guard and had to pay attention to everything around me. It’s every man for himself on London roads and cyclists are not just ignored they are, in some cases, actively resented which is a pretty dangerous state of affairs. It was incredibly unpleasant towing a dog and everything else and being passed too closely and cut up by big, fast, solid cars. Nope. No thanks. Not doing that again any time soon. I had felt like getting a lift or a train into London would not sit right with the whole Bulgaria- London adventure but I was seriously questioning my decision.
Of course, I did what I’ve done every time it’s been kind of tough; I kept going. And eventually I got to familiar territory and even stopped by the Chainstore Parkour Gym for a bathroom break before rolling on to the North entrance of the Greenwich foot tunnel, on the other side of which I had friends and family waiting to greet me. The sun peaked out and Scout and I had a little leg stretch while looking out across the river at the finish line, home, family. The end of this journey was five minutes away and I was so very ready to get there. I took off my helmet, tried to smooth out my helmet hair and pushed the bike around to cycle, for the first time, underneath a river. Only, when I got there it turned out the lift wasn’t working. Ha. Ha, ha ha.
I had timed everything perfectly. I was due at 2.30pm and at 2.24pm my descent below the Thames was thwarted by a scrolling NOT IN SERVICE sign. I nearly cried. And then I decided to laugh. I thought about cycling to the Woolwich Ferry and couldn’t quite face the roads and the 40 minutes it would probably take. Then I realised that for the first time…I had help. I wasn’t on my own anymore. I called my brother and he, Emma and a pair of my (many) surrogate parents, Bill and Gaynor, arrived to strip Jeeves of his bits and help carry the entire set up down into the tunnel where it could be reassembled for my under-river journey. It was hilarious and wonderful to have them come and give us a leg up over this final hurdle but while I was waiting for them two cyclists who realised they would also need to carry their (unladen) bikes down the stairs made perfectly sure that I had help on the way and shook my hand and congratulated me on my achievement. I’m pretty certain the kindness of strangers would once again have got me out of trouble, but for some reason relying on the kindness and strength of my big brother at that moment was much more meaningful for me.
The sun rolled out as I emerged at the Cutty Sark, tourists and Saturday fun-havers pointing delightedly at Scout’s peeking face and my heart singing to be on home turf. My brother and I made certain of the final route to the park entrance and I took a few deep breaths and set off again, for the last time. I rolled gently through the gates to cheers and huge banners and for once there was nothing I could do about the tears.
My mother had put my face on cupcakes, my friends had brought flowers and champagne, my flatmate had brought me my trainers (bliss) and people I’ve never met had brought me gifts, congratulations and “welcome home”s. There were three huge K8 and K9 banners (provided out of pure generosity by HelloPrint*). It was glorious. Everybody got a chance to meet Scout and she was on top form. I was so proud of my happy, relaxed girl and, when I thought about it, I was quite proud of myself too…which is a fairly rare occurrence. For the final few kilometres home my family insisted on taking my panniers and for once I accepted the help – my stubbornness finally giving way to the acknowledgement that I’d done what I said I’d do and it wasn’t cheating now. It’s possible I hold myself to slightly too high standards…
And now it’s been almost two weeks since our return and I’ve been struggling to make sense of what I’ve achieved and why. It’s safe to say I wanted to sleep for a week but puppies don’t really understand that, and that there has been an element of ‘coming down’ from the high of finishing and raising so much money for Street Hearts. I think I’ve already forgotten the heady feelings of pride and accomplishment. Individual encounters are blurring into part of the ‘I once cycled from Bulgaria to London’ whole. Scout’s not very good at reminiscing.
So, before I forget: it was approximately 2,549km, 44 days, 5 nights in a hotel, 8 nights in a house, 4 punctures, 5 jars of peanut butter, 30 bags of Orijen Tundra dog food, innumerable coffees and pretzels, five thunderstorms, 36 river crossings, 8 countries, about 55 kilos of stuff, and 44 mornings of waking up with a purpose, a goal, a job to do.
I am proud of what I’ve done. But I think it’s a little like childbirth in that I have to think really hard to remember how difficult it was…the thought of getting back on a touring bike doesn’t fill me with dread. I know I’m a stubborn old thing sometimes and just put my head down and get on with things, and being on my own for so long has meant that there was no-one who was significantly absent from my days, or my arms. Plus, I had Scout. I’m under no illusion that without her it would have been physically much easier, (approx 30 kilos easier) but mentally far harder and lonelier and I don’t think I’d be much interested in being any lonelier. I do a lot of travelling on my own, but it’s not really through choice. It’s simply because I won’t let anything keep me from adventures and new experiences. If you want to go out there and do something but you’re waiting for someone to join you, you might miss out on some really awesome stuff. Phones will keep you in touch with family and friends and you’ll see them soon enough, you’ll probably make some new ones too.
Start slowly. You don’t have to cycle tour on your own with a dog unsupported for six weeks in foreign countries for your first adventure. It’s probably not a recommended entry level trip. Start with a week, a weekend. Join an organised trip with support and guides and new friends. Book guest houses along the way. Do what you need to feel safe and strong but if you’ve ever thought ‘that’s something I’d like to do’, about anything, then you really owe it to yourself to do it.
To everyone who has supported me, financially or just by reading this blog and commenting or sending messages of goodwill, you were as much a part of this journey as Scout and I were. There are so many four-legged lives that will be changed by this money, and undoubtedly a few two-legged lives as well. Dogs can do that, you know. I’m pretty sure this one is going to change mine. I’m already planning our next adventure. I think it’s going to involve a Canoe so Scout better get practicing the doggy paddle and I better get used to the idea of wet dog in the tent again….
Thank you everyone, now go be awesome.
K8 and K9
*Please go to Hello Print for all your banner and printing needs – they are ace.