Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Aylesbury (England)

I had a great time with Auston, Sam and Tom, they had made me very welcome. My three different locations for accommodation in New York had worked out very well, a nice diverse selection of people too. I left at 10am, I had some time to kill before the flight home, still enough time to meet some incredible people. I cycled back to Manhattan, I wanted to cycle over the Manhattan Bridge, but it doing so I cycled over something very undesirable and picked up 2 punctures from sharp bits of metal sticking in the rear tyre, I was glad I had time to spare. I was in Chinatown so stopped off at a diner for lunch. As I went to use the bathroom a man from a table I passed asked “Is that your bike out there”. I stood there talking for a while, then suggested I come and join them at their table, it would be easier to talk. Ben Hom and his son Matthew were full of admiration for what I had done. I found it hard to understand why when it was me that was in full admiration for what Ben had done. Ben is a fire fighter based at a station around the corner and had offered me accommodation. He was amongst many fire fighters that responded to the 9/11 attacks on New York, he kept telling me that it had been a terrible day. I have little doubt that it was, but thanks to his courage he had pulled out 3 people from the rubble. I can’t begin to imagine the satisfaction of saving other people’s lives. For 2 ½ months they worked on the clear up operation but of the 50 men based at his station there are now only 6 remaining from that dreadful day. Ben even paid for my meal, it should have been me paying for his. I rode out through Brooklyn to JFK Airport, the road surface was terrible. I punctured again but didn’t bother to repair or check for more metal, I went straight for the spare tyre.

I flew home via Iceland and Reykjavik Airport. There is nothing particularly special or different about airports around the world, but I found the adverts fascinating. In the US it was all the latest electronic gadgets, here the competition was for the warmest knitted socks, hats and jumpers, all in styles you would never be seen dead wearing at home. I checked out the postcards, I was heading home but from the little I had seen at this airport it made me want to explore the place, they certainly had something different to offer.

I arrived back at Heathrow on time and was pleased to see my sister Cathy waiting for me, armed with food and coffee, all very welcome as I had been too tight to buy any food on the flights. Like the rest of the journey of the last 3 years time slipped by unnoticed, it was soon time to move on. I was heading towards London for my final night on the road. I had one last person to visit that seemed very appropriate, a very fitting end to my travels. Way back, almost 2 years ago somebody called Jacs posted a comment on my blog, she had enjoyed reading it and had been in the Phnom Penh, Cambodia, at the same time as I had been there. She commented again from Thailand, we had been waiting at the same place in Bangkok to see the Queen who had been at one of the temples near where we were both staying. After that I sent her an email. During the time when Aoiffe was ill and in hospital she wrote me another email. I was amazed at what she had written, here was somebody who understood exactly how I felt, knew exactly what I was going through and I found it very comforting. We started to exchange emails regularly, we have been ever since, we have talked on the phone too. Jackie ended her travels and returned home to Glasgow, then ended up working in central London where she has been for over a year. So a few miles of cycling along the A4 brought me to her flat. From the moment I had read that comforting email I had wanted to meet her and her I was knocking on her front door. It was wonderful to see her at long last, she always called me her ‘long lost travelling partner I have never met’ and to me it was like meeting an old friend, I felt I knew her already. We walked around to a local pub full of character where I had a pint of London Pride and I can tell you it went down very well. With her iphone Jackie booked a half price meal at a Moroccan restaurant which the GPS on the iphone guided us to. I would seem that in 3 years technology has passed me by a little!

By the time I woke up the following morning at 10:45 it seemed my plans to be away by 10am at the latest weren’t looking that good. I really wanted to finish in daylight, but by the time I finally departed London at 1pm things were by no mean certain. Jackie had given me a cycle map of the area which was really useful. I rode along the Thames Path for a while before switching to the Grand Union Canal. That could have taken me all the way to Aylesbury but my intention was to try and keep to it to Uxbridge. There were a number of gates obstructing the path with ’hoops’ for cycles to pass through, but after the 5th, all of which were right at the waters edge, I decide to use the roads. Each hoop was a struggle with a loaded bike and as they were right next to the water I had visions of ending up in the canal. Time was pushing on, I didn’t even know how far I had to cycle, but I could finally relax when I saw a signpost saying ’Aylesbury 23’. I rode past an office block, it filled me with dread, how could I possibly work at such a place, work 9-5, 5 days a week, I was mighty glad to only be passing the place. I passed through Wendover with plenty of time to spare, I savoured the last few miles. I arrived at Aoiffe’s house with plenty of daylight to spare. The strangest thing about my arrival back was that it didn’t feel strange, it didn’t even feel a long time since I had been here. I sat and talked to Aoiffe and Naomi as I would have done if I had only been away for a couple of weeks, but I guess I have to thank the internet and cheap phone calls for that.

The following day Cathy had arranged a gathering at my father’s house (photo). It was great to see everybody again, but nothing felt strange, everybody looked the same, for some reason I expected them to all look a little different. A lovely spread of food was laid on and in true cyclist fashion I am sure I ate the most. Over the next few weeks I will have a little tour and visit them all individually, but it was so good to be altogether, probably the first time in about 20 years!

I heard a little of 5 Live Radio, just a few seconds. I couldn’t listen too it, it made me feel terrible, it reminded me of my long commute to work. Last night I had a rough night, I lay there awake thinking about being back at home. I had always thought I would feel elated, I don’t, not at all. In New York I was asked the interesting question ’What has been your biggest challenge in life’. After mulling over it for the best part of a day I decided that setting out on this journey was my biggest challenge, not the journey itself, just the setting out, making the decision to leave everything behind and set off. I also said at the same time that I suspect that my biggest challenge in life lies ahead of me and last night would seem to confirm that I may be proved right.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) I set off to ride back to my home in Combe, only a short ride of about 50km, but that will take me to my journey’s end.


aoiffe said...

You mention the airport adverts for knitted socks that you wouldn't be seen dead in - and the first gift you are given when you are back in blighty - knitted socks! Ha!

John Harwood said...

Yeah, socks I would never be seen dead in too! They did feel very comfortble though, first time in weeks I haven't worn 'crispy' socks.

dad said...

I know exactly how you feel now it's all over,because I experienced the same feeling when I came out of the Navy all those years ago to settle back in "civvy street" as we used to call it.
No more challenges, no excitement, no more looking at just the sea and the stars at night. It was suddenly dull and tame and I couldn't share it with anyone. It took me several monthsa to sttle down. So good luck in whatever lies ahead for you as it won't be easy.

caff said...

I love Dad's positive contribution!! Returning to home life may have it's challenges but hey ho you are well set up with your new Mally-made snazzy socks so now anything is possible! You may not want to be seen dead in your new socks but you look dead cool in them! :-)

Garry Broad said...

[Bring up the blog yet again, "I wonder where he is now"?]
"Blimey! He's home!"
Welcome back John.
Many congratulations on the trip.
And what a trip that was.
Internally, you could well be dining out on that for the rest of your days.

Ms. Frances Morantes said...

I am so,so Happy for you!Be Happy ,Rest And be Proud of Yourself You Did it.CONGRATS!A FRIEND in America.Ms. Frances Lozano Morantes

Tony said...

Fantastic, John. Congratulations. And good fortune here too.

Tico Torres said...

John! Congrats my friend! It has been great fun reading your blog since we met in Arizona and 'twas such a pleasure hanging out in Philly with you as you were ending your ride through the states.

Tonight I raise my glass to you

Cheers, my bicycle brotha


Anonymous said...


Ms. Frances Morantes said...

Hello John,Just a few lines to see how are adapting to your return home life?Hope you are doing fine.You have been on my mind lately.You are a real Hero in my books.I just don't know and probably never will,what drives anyone that is smart and has a home drive all over creations and deprives himself of all his family and friends for such a long time as you did?ok I'll be quite and just go on in life not ever really knowing the answers to all of the above.I will Pray for you and I hope that in our short lifes we still do have,one day our lifes will cross again.Until then Good Luck and Be Happy.Your Friend from San Antonio Texas.