And so it’s finished. The full cycling adventure has come full circle and we have reached the end of the road. On the 11th of July we arrived back in Trafalgar Square after almost 21,000km of pedalling. Apologies for the delay in this final blogpost – things have been a little crazy since we got back what with Jess’s brother’s wedding, finding new jobs etc and we didn’t want to short-change you with a rushed blogpost.
Now that things have settled down a little bit, here is the story of our final 2 weeks on the bikes.
From Panama City we flew to Ireland and rebuilt the bikes in the seaside city of Galway. We then spent 3 days cycling to Dublin. Ireland certainly delivered; its roads were pretty, its monasteries and castles suitably mystical and its Guinness delicious. On our second night we went to a pub and were treated to a local music session and lock in. There were a few rain clouds but mainly accompanied by fantastic rainbows – unfortunately no leprechauns or pots of golds were spotted. In Dublin we met 2 Irish friends, James and Dermot, and the next day Dermot came with us on the ferry to Wales.
Trim Castle, County Meath
Luker’s Bar, Shannonbridge
Waiting for us in Wales was one extremely nervous Father Wynter Bee. Having courageously (or, as Granny argued, foolishly) agreed to cycle the length of the country with us, he made up for a distinct lack of training by purchasing the entire contents of the local bike shop.
All the gear and…quite a lot of terror.
Nick was in charge of route planning and began outlining the day’s proposed route at breakfast. Given Nick’s well known disdain for planning things ahead of time, Dad was reasonably impressed. That all changed however when Dad realised Nick was making it up then and there with the help of the tablecloth (which had a map of Wales on it).
“Ummmm…” he murmured as Nick traced out a vague route, “I think that spot you’re pointing to is actually a bit of jam…not a town…”
Mum had given us strict instructions to bring Dad back in one piece which was slightly daunting, especially as Dad himself didn’t fill us with confidence…
“When I have a massive heart attack, just go on with the wedding. Just go on without me…”
Slightly more nervous than before, we set off nevertheless and were soon enjoying some beautiful Welsh countryside. And of course the rain. Which didn’t stop. All day. It was pretty sopping and in fact, so wet that our tracker drowned. It hasn’t worked since which is why the route map says we are still in Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, when in fact we are actually now somewhere much more pronounceable.
The beautiful, slightly damp Welsh countryside
Dad used his clip-in pedals for the first time that day. For those of you who aren’t bike nerds, clip-ins mean your shoes are attached to the pedals. When you stop you have to remember to clip out or you won’t have a leg to put down to stop yourself falling over. It can be surprisingly easy to forget and that day was punctuated with several episodes of this:
“Woah, Arggh, woah….oh bugger!” followed by a crashing sound and then Dad’s chuckles as he struggled to stand back up.
We had planned on camping that night but our enthusiasm waned as the rain drops pelted down harder and harder. Nick and Dermot scouted out a hotel and, after the very wet 100km and a hillier day than expected, we agreed that this was a necessity. The cosy hotel revived us and the next morning we set off to cross over the Snowdonia National Park. Emma (aka the Duracell bunny) had come to join us and as always her extreme enthusiasm helped to make us feel more energised. The sun came out as we climbed up the mountain roads and Dad even started to enjoy himself.
Sunshine in Snowdonia
We cycled almost 90 miles that day and reached Shrewsbury where Jeremy, Emma’s husband greeted us with a tasty roast chicken dinner.
The next day we headed over the Malvern hills. We had told Dad that the day before (through Snowdonia) would be the hilliest of them all. Unfortunately we were wrong and this day was. After a morning of relentless climbs and descents, we came to a particularly large hill and Dad found he was all out of puff. He decided to catch the local steam train and meet us at Ashton-Under-Hill, our destination for the evening. Later that night he uttered a sentiment which is shared by most cyclists:
“I do like cycling you know, just not the uphill bit.”
At the top of one of the hills
As the afternoon wore on we tore up and down the cycle paths, racing the setting sun to make it before night fall. At about 9pm we met Dad in Ashton-Under-Hill, on a high but totally spent. This exhaustion manifested itself the next morning as we dragged our weary bones out of the comfy beds. We rubbed our bleary eyes and focused on breakfast. After a minute Dermot spoke:
“Please could I have another cup? I seem to have poured salt into my coffee.”
Breakfast rejuvenated our energy levels and soon we were back on the road. Dad had looked completely wiped the night before and, wary of my mother’s wrath, I agreed to his sensible plan of taking another train to Oxford. He pedalled off to the train station whilst we headed off into the hills.
It was a fantastic day. The Cotswolds proved a little more mellow than than the Malverns and we had a wonderful day cycling on quiet country roads through villages made of buttery yellow stone, with views which stretched on and on over the patchwork fields. Grubby, knackered and very content we stopped about 10 miles from Oxford for a cream tea. I gave Dad a call to find out how he was getting on.
“Oh splendid, splendid Jess. I have had a cracking day. Felt rather good on the bike this morning so I decided to cycle to Oxford instead of taking the train. Just checking into the room now. See you slow coaches in a bit.”
It turned out that the cheeky bugger had beaten us to Oxford all on his own! We arrived in Oxford a little later, to find one very happy, very chuffed Dad. Glancing up I noticed that his scalp now looked a little different. Now…he resembled…a sort of badger…
“Gees Dad! What have you done?! Mum is going to kill me!” I cried.
This is what happens if you wear a cycle helmet and no sun-screen. Luckily it had sort of faded a bit by the time of the wedding.
Nick’s father, Chris, and his brother, Mike, joined us in Oxford and the next day we all cycled to their house near Amersham. Mike had borrowed his mum’s electric bike and sailed past all of us on the up hills, until a spate of punctures slowed his progress. We worked steadily to repair his tyres whilst Mike encouraged from the side lines:
“Not exactly formula one is it bro?”
Nick’s Mum treated us all to a feast that night and the next day was the final cycling day into London. More friends joined and we had a real pelaton going as we pedalled along the canals and into Trafalgar Square. Despite the many crowds (turns out Trafalgar Square on a sunny Saturday in London is a terrible meeting place – who knew?) we found everyone who had come to meet us and were soon celebrating with champagne and big grins.
It was worth all the long hard cycling days in Panama to make the flight in order to be home in time to see this lovely couple get married.
Despite all the miles on shitty roads, with potholes and big rumbling trucks, I still have the cycle love. Nick, however, feels slightly differently. When attending a recent job interview, the interview panel asked him this question:
“If we offer you this job, how do we know you won’t leave in 6 months to cycle around the world again?”
“Are you kidding?!” he said “I’m not even going to cycle to work.”
Haha, come on buddy. I’ll give you a month’s respite and then we can start planning again…There is still South America to see…Just kidding mums, just kidding…
We are thrilled that almost £13,000 has been raised for the charities and thank you so so much to all of you who have generously donated (the donations page will be open until the end of this month if you would still like to donate). A humungous thank you must also go to our parents. A lot of people have said this since we got back:
“I really enjoyed reading your blog but I was so glad that I wasn’t either of your mothers.”
So thank you parents! We know that we have definitely put you through the wringer at times and we are very grateful.
And finally, thank you so much to all of you guys that have read the blog and supported us along the way. We absolutely could not have done it without you. There have been some pretty tough moments on this trip, when we doubted what we were doing and why we were doing it but the encouragement from you guys has always kept us going. So thank you!
Jess & Nick