When you've done something for so long it naturally just becomes part of your life, it's like going to work or walking the dog; we don't tend to think about it and then suddenly something happens and its over, finished and we have to find something else to do.
I didn't sleep much the night before arriving back in England which is hardly surprising considering we were inside a ferry terminal. I don't know how I felt to be honest when it finally came time to take the bikes outside into the cold morning air and as I write now a full week after arriving back its still hard for me to get my head around.
We met another cyclist coincidentally named Paul who was heading back to the UK after travelling up from the south of France on his two wheels. The three of us waited patiently to board the ferry as holiday makers with their caravans passed us by. We were eventually ushered down the gang plank and into the back of the boat where we were told we could leave our bikes. The area really amounted to a small corner where various pieces of junk had been dumped and I hardly thought it was the berth that my bike deserved but at the same time I'm sure there are some health and safety issues regarding the riding of bicycles on boat decks!
Once the bikes were secure we made our way up to upper decks of the boat and found ourselves a comfy place to sit. Both of us were exhausted at this point and tried our very best to get some sleep even if for just a couple of hours. I soon realised this wasn't possible and went about trying to keep myself busy. Tom on the other hand seems to possess the ability to fall asleep wherever.
I was called by BBC Radio Sussex at around ten to eight in the morning as the boat neared Newhaven. Thankfully I knew about this the previous day and was therefore prepared to answer some questions live on air about my trip. They also had my understandably excited mother on the other line which was really nice.
I've said it before and I'll say it again I'm totally blown away by the interest that has been shown in my trip and now in particular the media coverage. I still think of myself of a guy who just rode his bike home but at the end of the day it's great if the story does get out there and most importantly highlight the cause (Parkinsons Disease) which I did this for.
First sight of England
The excitement finally kicked in once the boat docked in Newhaven and we stood waiting patiently with all the other motorists eager to disembark the boat. When we went below deck we had a little scare in the fact that we couldn't locate our bikes. It's much the same feeling as anyone who has ever parked their car in a multi-storey car park; you know it's in there somewhere but on which level and at which end?
It was a massive relief to see that it wasn't raining in England and that the sun was shining. We pushed our bikes back up the gangplank and towards the lady at customs. We were finally back on British soil!
And then of course came the moment we and perhaps more-so I had been waiting for for the last seven months. We rode out of the ferry terminal and towards the small band of family and friends who had come to welcome us home and what a welcome it was.
I suppose it's one of those moments in your life that if you had the chance to bottle it then you would there are too many emotions to describe it; joy, happiness, elation, relief, pride, love and of course our good old friend fatigue.
All of my family was there and my mother even managed to fulfil our requests for bacon sandwiches and a cup of tea!
Still all these days after the event it's hard for me to convey how I felt arriving back. It was amazing to see so many people turn out, so many friends and in addition so many people from the local cycling club some of whom I've never met before who came all that way to ride back with myself and Tom. What a feeling!
There was still the small matter of about 30 miles to ride back to Forest Row and our celebrations would have to wait until we arrived back in the village. I was still very aware of the fact that despite being on home ground I still hadn't fulfilled my dream to ride all the way back.
The merry band of cyclists headed off out of Newhaven following the old red London bus that had taken people down to meet us. Thankfully the motorists at this time of the day didn't seem to mind the fact that they had to follow this large convoy of cyclists and there were I'm pleased to report no tooting of the horns.
Tom and I both immediately had to come to terms with the fact that we now had to ride on the 'right' side of the road which I have to say after all these months being on the other side felt somewhat strange.
I've ridden some amazing scenery over the last seven months but when it comes down to it there is really no place like home and while I maybe a touch biased both Tom and I agreed that the rolling hills and fields which led us out of Newhaven were the most welcome of sights
My journey has been one of self discovery, adventure, surprises, freedom and a real sense of happiness of being out on the bike. Of course there were hard times but arriving home made it al worth while. One of the hardest things I had to face while being away was the death of my father's mother, my grandmother early on in my trip.
It's never easy to lose somebody and sometimes even harder to be so far away and unable to see that person before they passed on. It was therefore important for me to take a short detour on the way back to Forest Row to pay my respects to her grave as I wasn't able to come home for her funeral. I knew she was proud of me but just wished I'd have had the chance to hear her say it in person; but some things in life are just not meant to be.
I'm not a shy person but I do like to as the saying goes 'fly below the radar' as it were and I was naturally somewhat unsure of what to expect once I got into the village; I guess I'm just not the kind of person who likes too much of a fuss.
The village holds a festival every year on this weekend and I believe that it originally started out as a bicycle festival http://www.forestrowfestival.org/?page_id=4 The plan was that myself and the other cyclists who'd come down to Newhaven would all ride together to Wych Cross before being joined by my father for the final two and half miles back into the village.
It was wonderful that Dad was there with his trusty old bike to help me see in the last section of this trip. I keep repeating it over and over again but he was the inspiration for doing this and it was only right that he was there to finish it with me. I
If I'd been blown away by the reception I received at Newhaven it was nothing compared to the amount of people who were waiting for me as I turned off at the local church and headed down to the village green.
It was totally amazing to see so many people lining the street all waving flags and shouting messages of congratulations, my words here simply cannot convey just what I felt at this moment.
Before I had any time to collect my thoughts I was led into the centre of the village green and interviewed about what it finally felt like to be home. Someone, I can't remember who handed me a pint of Sussex's finest ale and I was encouraged to pose for photos taking a sip. I think looking back now I'd have much preferred a nice pint of cold water.
It was then simply a case of shaking hand after hand and accepting the best wishes of so many people who had come to welcome me home. To say the moment was overwhelming is quite an understatement, it meant a lot to me and I cannot thank everyone enough.
I knew there was going to be some sort of welcoming party so in anticipation of this I wrote a small speech as I'd been told I'd be expected to give one, as it turns out this wasn't the case so instead of wasting those words here they are; I think they also get across what I was thinking on my arrival quite well.
Well I should start out today by first of all thanking everyone for turning up today to welcome me back home and a very special thanks to all those who made it down to Newhaven to ride back with me today. In addition a special thanks should go to my best friend Tom who came to meet me back in Prague on the 5th of September and ridden with me solidly since then. I should also say thanks to Tom to reintroducing me to ‘good’ food because as he said when we met I looked like a bag of bones.
As many of you know I’ve kept track of my trip via my blog and to be honest writing comes far easier to me than speaking. It’s also at this very moment quite difficult for me to process that this has finally come to end but the overriding feeling is of joy and elation to be back home back where I belong.
I’m a simple guy who thanks to my faith, perseverance and determination to fulfil my dream made it back here today. For all you dreamers out there and especially young people such as my nieces Mia and Isabella I urge you
Don’t just dream your dreams
And Achieve them.
Today marks the end of my trip 208 days since I left China on March the 7th. It’s been the adventure of a life time and one which I will never forget.
I would particularly like to thank all those people who sent me messages of support whilst on my way. They always served to give me a little extra kick and made me realize I wasn’t alone, that was of great comfort to me especially when times were hard.
And of course there were hard times, how can I ever forget the 6 punctures I got on day one due to a small piece of glass and trying to fix this on the side of the road as the rain came down.. Then there was pushing my bike through sand for hours in the desert when the road I was on disappeared. Riding in all conditions extreme heat, wind, rain, storms and even snow. Then of course there was the infamous occasions when wolves passed by my tent in Kazakhstan! So many stories just like this.
But the bad times were far outweighed by the good times. The freedom, the sometimes vast open spaces around me, stunning mountains and at times incredible scenery all made it worth while. But perhaps most of all course how could I forget the people I met along the way?
If this trip has taught me one thing it is that the world is a good place populated by good people. Sure we may read the papers and watch the news which more often that not focus on the negative stories in the world but this trip was made by the people I met along the way. Strangers who showed me kindness, generosity and hospitality beyond my wildest dreams.
I would like to think that my trip has inspired many of you to get out on your bikes and to perhaps undertake adventures of your own.
The final thing I have to say is that I did this really for two reasons the first was to prove to myself that I could do it. I suppose even as I planned this trip there was that small corner of my mind, that dark little space that said I couldn’t but it’s about silencing these doubts, believing in yourself and having the conviction to keep going forward. Eventually you WILL make it.
I’ve learned that the things I thought I needed in life I don’t. For example I’ve learned to live under bridges, in forests, behind sand dunes…..in fact you name it I’ve probably slept there. I’m not saying I want to do this on a regular basis but it certainly makes me not take things like a warm bed and hot shower for granted any more. I hope it has changed my perspective on life and made me less materialistic.
And of course I did this trip for my Dad and for all the sufferers and carers of people with Parksinsons as a mark of respect for the way that they conduct themselves through the daily struggles this disease brings.
If you are looking for a hero or inspiration then don’t look at me instead I ask you to look to them and other people who fight and struggle with all number of other diseases and refuse to yield. They are the true inspiration for us they are the true heros.
So once again thank you all for coming out today, for supporting me and for the generous donations you have made towards Parkinsons. I’m sure over the coming weeks I may see some of you around the village and perhaps on your bikes, I very much hope so. Look out for the final blogs and of course if you have any questions you’d like to ask I’d be more than happy to answer them.
Eventually I was able to slip away from the village green and head back home, back to a hot shower, back to clean pressed clothes and most importantly back to home cooked Shepherds Pie.
I seem to have been writing this last entry to my blog for a long time now and the simple fact of the matter is I'm not sure how to finish it. Is this the end or simply a new beginning? Since being back I've been inundated with requests, well wishes and the obvious question 'So.....what are you going to do now?' The simple answer to this question is I'm not sure, it's all about processing what I've experienced for the last seven months and going from there but rest assured I'll be keeping busy and of course getting out and about on my bike.
So thank you to all those people who've shared my journey by following this blog and keep checking back here from time to time there may well be some other entries in the future, it's very much a case of watch this space!