I am not sure I can believe it is the end of the tour and we have now arrived back at home some 141 days after we left in May. We have a few things lined up to do in October before I return to work, but ‘Eurotandemtour’ really ends here.
Wednesday 28th September
This was the day the wheels finally came off. In truth, we were both a bit stiff from our exertions the day before, but we decided we had to make the 40k ride to Brighton to maintain momentum towards Portsmouth.
We had anticipated a climb out of Eastbourne and did a bit of research about the best route to take. The climb to the top of Warren Hill was long and steep and involved quite a lot of pushing. Still, we were rewarded at the top with some spectacular views although we had to take them in in the midst of a hurricane.
I had noted from my (fairly basic) map and Google maps that there was another climb a bit later. This turned into two.
When we descended into the village of East Dean, we realised there was a big climb out. We stopped in the village, mooched around the small farmers market and chatted to some of the locals. We were told about a path that ran through the village and took you to the top of the hill, so we shoved Claud up.
At this point the National Cycle Route 2 is on the A road and we descend into the Cuckmere valley for what we thought was our final climb of the day. The cycle route has an off-road variant at this point, which we took through fields and was pleasant enough, though involved plenty of pushing.
We descended into Seaford and stopped for lunch in a pleasant pub called the ‘Old Boot’. At this point we believed that all major climbing was done and we had a relatively flat, but windy, 20k ride into Brighton.
After about 10k on a decent cycle track, we hit the town of Newhaven. As the path took us around the harbour, it was clear that there was another climb ahead. This one was the worst of the lot; very long, pretty steep and entirely through a housing estate. Even when it entered a rough track at the top it was still going up; you generally know when you have climbed to the highest point in an area when you pass a telecommunications mast!
The descent into Peacehaven was horrible as it was on a very poor rutted track with many dangerous potholes. Even the designated route through the back streets of the town was in the most appalling pot-holed roads. We were both tired at this point, but surely it was now a nice run in to Brighton?
Sadly not. We had not really picked up on the undulating nature of the coast here, so the journey was a succession of climbs and descents, with a very strong head wind. The wind was strong enough to prevent you even freewheeling downhill.
Over lunch, we had made the wise decision to book a decent hotel. We got a deal on a night in the Jury’s Inn on the Waterfront, nice place with pool and steam etc. We were not too interested in the gym, however.
We were asked to wheel Claud across the very smart reception, which was fun, and Claud then gets wheeled into the post room safe and sound.
We are both tired and, as sometimes happens when you have over exerted, had become cold to the core. A swim in a warm pool and a session in the steam room really helped. We busted out normal budget to stay here, but it was a good move.
We find a pub to watch the Celtic Vs City game; a somewhat bizarre match in which City contrive to concede 3 goals but get 3 themselves. They did not play well at all for the first hour, but a point is no bad thing.
We wander back to the hotel and Brighton is clearly coming alive. Not for us though as we are clambering for our bed and some well deserved sleep.
Thursday 29th September, 2016.
Today signified the end of the tour. It didn’t really happen as I had imagined it, no fanfare, no welcome party, no crossing the line with arms outstretched in victory. No, just a quiet conversation in a pub.
If Wednesday was a bit of a disaster, today started in a worse manner. We awoke to strong wind and rain to go with our aching legs. We were just not up for it, something that was confirmed over breakfast when we watched cyclists along the seafront battle the wind.
We elect to stay another night and I do my usual trick of checking the rate on booking.com and seeing if the hotel can better it. Bizarrely they can only quote me a rate that is £25 more than I can get on the App. Even more bizarrely they tell me they cannot change the rate so, standing at the hotel reception, I book the room with booking.com on my phone. Surely they pay significant booking fee to booking.com? Crazy.
The next issue is how to get to Portsmouth. It is too far for us to aim at riding in one day (particularly in this weather) and we really want to get there on Friday as Emily is off from university and we want to see her.
A few options get discussed, including the train for all or part of the way, but Emily provides the answer. She gets us in touch with a ‘Man with a van’ she knows and we arrange for him to pick us all up and transport us with Claud to Portsmouth. Cheating I suppose, but the right call under the circumstances.
We mooched around Brighton, which is a lovely place and bought a few clothes to keep us going until we can get to the washing machine. My strategic purchase was some new underpants. It was time; it was only the stubborn understains that we’re holding my other pairs together.
We retired to a pub nearby to have a chat about the next steps on the tour. We had already booked ourselves into a hotel in Portsmouth until Monday morning to allow us to spend some time with Emily.
We discuss the next steps after that; the options are return home straight from Portsmouth or cycle down to Poole and leave from there. There is an added complication in that Emily has our car, which needs to go back soon anyway. If we leave from Portsmouth we can bring the car back.
My thoughts were that we should cycle to Poole through the New Forest, which would only take a few days. Louise feels we should go straight home from Portsmouth.
One thing is true; returning to England has been hideously expensive and we have just about burnt our allocated budget for the trip. Not only does Louise not fancy the cycling, based on the experience of the last few days, but feels that it would cost too much to stay in the UK for a longer period. This is undoubtedly true, England has been perhaps three times as expensive compared to some of our earlier travels. Neither of us can say this is particularly good value.
I admit I would have liked to carry on, but I would cycle all the way to Lands End given the chance! I don’t really want to go home, but accept that this is the point that it should all end.
The reality that the trip is nearly over hits me hard so I do the natural thing; get rather pissed on ‘Edinburgh Castle’ real ale.
Friday 30th September
We wake to clear sunny skies, though the wind remains formidable. I feel the weather is mocking me ‘ah ha! you could be cycling in this!’. But the decision is made. Regardless, we have the man and his van picking us up later to take us to Pompey.
I feel a bit flat this morning. OK, I deservedly have a bit of a hangover, but the thought of going home early next week does little to energise me.
In truth, we have a few things to look forward over the weekend and have a huge number of things to do at home before I start work early in November. We also have a trip to Manchester to look forward to later in the month.
Our man arrives and we load Claud into the back of the huge removal van for the hour and a half drive to Portsmouth. Emily calls us when we are 10 minutes away, she is at the hotel already, too exited to wait at home any longer.
It is great to see her after so long. We find a pub for lunch and later wander around Gunwharf Quays.
I try a suit on and realise the extent of my weight gain; I am certainly the largest I have ever been and this is going to take some shifting when I get home.
I am certainly going to have to get back on my road bike when I get back!
Saturday 1st October
A quiet day in Pompey, a bit of shopping and not much else.
I go to watch the football at Fratton Park, which I really enjoy. I walk to the ground and enjoy a beer in the excellent lounge they have there and chat to a few other supporters. Portsmouth’s demise has been as complete as it can be; they are now in the bottom tier of English football having graced the Premiership and won the FA Cup a few short years ago.
The impressive 17,000 crowd sadly saw Pompey go down 2-1 to Doncaster in a game played in the glorious Autumn sunshine. In truth, having gone 2-0 down in the first half an hour, Portsmouth had enough chances to draw level and even win the game, but it was not to be.
Sunday 2nd October
We drive to Southampton to see our good friend Jayne and her son Toby.
We sit chatting and watching the footy. The City game is on and they implode against Spurs, losing 2-0. City were poor right from the start and it is disappointing way for us to lose our 100% league record.
Emily drove us to and from Portsmouth and we turn it into a motorway driving lesson; as she has never driven on one before. She does very well, however we are taking the car back home tomorrow.
In the evening, we go for some food in Southsea in a bar call ‘Belle Isle’ we have been here before and we’re looking forward to it. The food was good but the evening was spoilt somewhat by the bar refusing to serve Emily as she had no ID on her.
She is 22 and has looked over-18 since she was 15! I recognise that bars have the right to ask anyone 25 and below for ID, but I just think this constant risk aversion has gone bonkers.
I think what annoyed me the most is the lack of any kind of pragmatism; we had a copy of her ID on our phone and I explained I was her father and how old she was. They would not accept either, so I am obviously a liar. Sure, Emily should have had her ID with her and rules are rules I guess, but we won’t be rushing back.
It got under my skin enough to write a hasty review on trip-advisor when I got back to the hotel. Probably not the right thing to do, it will probably get rejected anyway.
Monday 3rd October
So the day has arrived. We are booked on the all day ‘Condor Clipper’ ferry to Jersey.
We are bringing the car back, which means I have to cycle Claud on my own from the hotel and Louise and Emily bring the car.
The cycle across Portsmouth is not so bad, mainly on cycle tracks, but I do get some odd looks from the commuter cyclists.
The trip is long and boring, but at least the weather is calm and the ferry is decent.
After the obligatory stop in Guernsey, we arrive at St Helier Harbour, where we started on the 16th May.
Our logistical problem of a car and a tandem and only two people is resolved by leaving Claud behind in a safe bike rack at my former work.
It is great to see Katie and Josh again, but we are a bit knackered after a long day, so retire early. Lots of things to sort tomorrow, including going through 5 months mail, trying to get the car started and picking Claud up.
There will be time for some reflection and perhaps one final blog posting to sum this up. However, we have achieved many of the things that we set out to. Sure, purists would perhaps point to less actual cycling than advertised, but we never pretended we were going to cycle the whole way.
We have seen places we wanted to see and have a million memories that will stay with us for the rest of our lives. We also now both have the opportunity to change our lives through new jobs and a new perspective on life itself.
I am not sure we could have asked for any more.
Our final stats are:
Distance cycled: 2,661km
Trains caught: 14
Tram lines avoided: 0
Different beds slept in: 72
Countries visited: 12
Hospitals visited: 1
Bike shops visited: 6
New bike tyres: 2
Number of big tanks seen: 36
Number of different beers sampled: 2,874