After 401 days cycling 23,500km through 23 countries, we are home. It feels great. Really great! We have both comfortably settled back in to the lives that we enjoyed before we decided to bugger off on our bikes, slowly reintegrating ourselves into the lives of friends and family whom we 'selfishly' abandoned! The prospect of work is still on the back-burner for a wee while but that hurdle will be broached in the next few weeks.
After completing the first day of cycling from Heathrow to Basingstoke, our unbridled excitement levels had been infected by an element of doubt and apprehension. The scenery was as grey and drab as the sky and the people who we encountered seemed to be missing the happiness gene. This quickly sapped our enthusiasm and joy and we concentrated on cycling west as quickly as possible! It soon became apparent that there is a direct correlation between distance from London and friendliness of people. By the time we'd hit Dorset, country folk began to approach us and we enjoyed some thoroughly nice chats with our West-country kinsmen! The scenery too became wonderful...daffodils announcing spring along with little bleating lambs, rolling hills, quaint villages...we 'do' countryside very well here in England!
We had decided to take the A30 all the way to Exeter and, whilst the traffic was still heavy compared with many other countries, drivers were very respectful when overtaking. We never felt vulnerable, even in the dense holiday traffic that we picked up once we'd merged with the notoriously busy A303. Road quality was however questionable, at times reminiscent of Eastern Europe.
We didn't camp in the UK. We didn't really want to. Once we'd arrived at Heathrow we both felt that the trip was over and in many ways we simply wanted to get home as quickly as possible. Had the train line at Dawlish not been closed, it would have been very tempting to jump on a train. That said, cycling gave us a different perspective on a route that we are both very familiar with from the inside of a car. We noticed things that had passed us by on previous journeys and the weather was pretty much perfect for cycling!
Flights went well. Being a total plane geek I was in my element throughout the entire experience! Air New Zealand took us from Auckland to Shangahai and Virgin Atlantic flew us home. We had to pay £100 each to take Dorothy and Clara on Air New Zealand, but they flew for free with Virgin. Arriving at Shanghai was entertaining. Those of us transiting were shepherded over to the relevant counter to have tickets and passports checked, whilst other members of staff busily ran around, seemingly unsure what to do with us...surely this straightforward process happens here on a daily basis?! They finally decided to make us complete an immigration form, and join the hoards of travellers entering China. We then were taken directly to departures where we passed through passport control and left China just 10 minutes after arriving! It was frustrating for those who weren't familiar with the banality of Chinese beaurocracy, but Ash and I found it endearing and funny and just 'went with the flow'. Plus, we got two extra stamps in our passports!
While in the departure terminal we took the opportunity to eat one last authentic Chinese meal before heading home...the food in British Chinese takeaways is nothing like the food we've experienced in China...it was wonderful and provided us with a simple and tasty reminder of a country that, despite at times driving us to the edge of madness, was equally one of the most fascinating, delicious and surprising.
Getting to our hotel at Heathrow proved to be a bit more awkward than we'd expected! My bike box had been damaged during the flight and apparently you can't take an unsealed bike box on the hotel link bus. I'm not sure why...perhaps someone might suffer a freak accident resulting in a nasty and fatal paper cut from the 'oh-so-dangerous' cardboard?! It might have been helpful if the two bus company employees waiting at the bus stop with us (for at least 15 minutes) had the foresight to point this fact out in advance of the bus arriving, rather than waiting until we started to board before saying "oh, you won't be able to take that on there like that."
When the second bus arrived we flagged it down, but the not-so-considerate driver decided to continue to the second bus stop some 50-100m further down the road. Not ideal when you have 2 bulky bike boxes and 2 bags weighing close to 23kg to run with! When boarding the bus we were quickly warned that we'd have to store our bikes off the floor as they would cause an obstruction to people wanting to get off the bus. After 24 hours in a plane plus some 12 hours in airports I remained surprisingly calm (if a little terse) and explained that, if someone needed to get past the bikes, then we'd be more than happy to simply pick them up and move them...it's a little something called common sense. No one was going to get injured or die (the box was now resealed and therefore paper-cut proof).
There was a certain sense of irony that the bus driver's erratic and aggressive driving was of far greater a threat to our continued existence.
Suffice to say everyone survived and lived happily ever after.
Love and hugs. X