Well – after years of daydreaming and nine months of full-on preparation, the wheels on The Long Way Home Project have finally started to turn. We pedalled off from Trafalgar Square early on a Sunday morning – nervous, excited, hungover (courtesy of Rod and Loz!) and pretty emotional to be underway at last.
Cycling past some of London’s grand old landmarks all largely deserted in the early morning was a fantastic way to begin.The euphoria continued until we reached the foot tunnel under the Thames river to Greenwich, and realised the lift was out of service. We eyed the staircase spiralling down into the gloom, and then our bikes with laden BOB trailers…… oh bugger! We eventually staggered up the other side and collapsed in the park by the Cutty Sark sailing clipper to recover.
We’d been in London for ten days. After expecting our bikes to be used mainly as coat racks it was a surprise to find that London has an amazing network of cycle paths and routes. Greater London now has a population of around 18 million (add a couple of million more and you’ve got all of Australia – scary stuff). A sunny Easter Sunday in London’s Richmond Park attracted the kind of crowd I’d normally associate with an AFL Grand Final between Carlton and Collingwood, but there was nothing particular on.
Everyone is very nice though – just stopping to consult a map attracted a steady flow of passers-by offering assistance. It’s okay we think, we’re Australian, don’t need any help, ….. we have a proud history of exploration (forgetting momentarily that many Australian explorers are best known for dying after failing to find their way home).
Following the National Cycle Network to Dover had its moments. Cycling along bridleways and through tiny villages past crumbling old churches with lopsided gravestones smothered in daffodils and bluebells was magic. Everyone we spoke to seemed to have a brother, sister, son or daughter living in Australia. It’s weird to be on the other side of the world and have someone say their daughter lives in Malvern and works at the Sandringham Yacht Club.
On the downside was the tendency of the Cycle Route to take you past sewerage treatment plants, graffitti splattered, litter encrusted slums and decaying industrial areas. The Poms are also quite determined that no vehicle will encroach on their cycle tracks, having installed a comprehensive system of gates which involve having to stop and manhandle bike and trailer through, often three or four times within a few hundred metres. Being used to Australian style navigation (ie: only the one road), we struggled somewhat with the complexities of the route, often having to backtrack after losing the trail. Things improved once we learnt to anticipate route signs being spun around or ripped off altogether.
Before long we found ourselves on the ferry to Calais. I left England with a runny nose and a strong sense of gratitude to my ancestors for their sense of adventure in heading off across the world before ‘Neighbours’ and Bondi made it fashionable to do so.