Creswick to London » Reaching the finish line

Reaching the finish line

Written by Jess Dan. Posted in UK

It is a strange feeling to finish something so slowly. We have had months saying “we’re right near the end now”. Months. We saw our first sign to London marking the distance to go when we had just 21 miles left to cycle. We crept into London getting lost in suburbia. We take in the final moments. The first red double decker goes by and we smile, close now. Two motorbikes have a minor crash at the lights. People on the footpath stop walking and point at our panniers as we go by. Commuting cyclists with some place to be race past. A lady swings a punch at a man through the window of a van at another set of lights. We take it all in. We have ten more minutes of life on a bike.

Over the past weeks our pieces of technology have finally packed it in and gone to a better place. Too stingy to buy a map for the 130 kilometre trip from Dover ferry port to London we find ourselves asking locals for directions, mixed with fishing out the beat up laptop from the back of a pannier and scouring screenshots of a google map taken the night before. After miraculously locating London after 170 kilometres riding we asked a fella in suburbia if we had the right road, he then asked where we were headed to which we replied “London”. With what we guessed to be twenty kilometers to go, he replied “phwoar, it’s a long way from here”. We smiled to each other. It was the same unrelenting reaction we had received all trip.

Our terrible navigation system hit an even further setback when we actually did arrive in the CBD and realised we had no idea where the London Eye was! You might think after a year of riding to the London Eye we might have checked out its location. Asking a local solved the problem very quickly and we soon saw a piece of the ferris wheel emerging from past the buildings. We had arrived. More concerned that I was about to lose the road trip game of “horse” we had been playing since Australia, I quickly scanned for a horse float to no avail. And with that we had arrived at our destination. Packed with other tourists and immediately with our bulky bikes we found ourselves very much in the way of the system designed for the man to suck the money from the tourists. We marvelled more at the prospect of a beer at the end of a long journey than the construction itself. So after a few mandatory photos in the way of the crowds we retreated to a cafe and treated ourself to a rare drink, watching the sun slowly move past the city on it’s way back to Australia.

As so always happens at the end of a trip, it felt like we had barely been away for any substantial amount of time. Recollections of each country were still vivid and flicked through my mind now. I had played down in my head what we had accomplished as soon as we had taken the train in China. But flipping back slowly through my mind of how hopeless we had felt struggling to push our bikes up a 10 percent grade for five hours in Laos. Of how far we had to go to the summit of a mountain in Kyrgyzstan. Of running out of water in the outback, squeezed into a midday sliver of shade from a billboard. Food and water poisoning in our transition from the west in Timor-Leste. Memories of eating fertilised duck egg in Vietnam. Of communicating our journey by performing a cycling motion with my hands to explain that we had cycled to where we stood from Australia. Watching people try to find their country on our map. Attempting to ask for food, water, the toilet, a place to sleep or directions without a common language.

We have blended back into the west over the past three months. Noticing significant changes from Turkey as squat toilets faded out, western diet arrived, the people were fatter, the people were wealthier, the people spoke some English. Europe held for us a pretty flat track for cycling, relatively easy and safe camping, and the chance of spoken communication with locals. To arrive in England was too easy. We camped on the beach, against the advice of a man from the next town “Dover has a problem with some of the immigrants hanging around”. From people making throat slitting gestures in Turkey, to people miming that thieves would gas us and steal our things in the night in Indonesia, we figured that we would be ok sleeping on a beach in bloody Dover! And… we were right. Lots of people are afraid of that which lurks in the dark. Arriving in England felt a lot like just being home in Australia. A cold, wet and even more expensive version of Australia. But we could see things from a different perspective now. We blended right in and no one cared to ask what we were doing for the first time on our trip. Nothing in the newspaper was newsworthy but we sat on the beach and read it just the same. “Teenagers are more sensible now than ten years ago”. “Traffic congestion caused by locals attempting to adopt dogs”. “Local cricket team beats cricket team from down the road”. “Don’t pluck your eyebrows, full eyebrows are in fashion”. Seems like we haven’t missed much but there are some things that are just so different here from other parts of the world that we have visited. Commuters clog the highways, compared to people working in the back field. Bikes left at home – many families in the world don’t even own a motorbike to get around. Fat men out running – fat men, weird. Running for exercise, weird. Women drive to the gym. School students wear a suit and tie. Soccer practice is now on astro turf. The goals have nets. Players don’t need to dodge cow poop. It’s the little things that are just so different.

So we arrive to the Eye and we remember the people that have made this trip so special for us. To all those who have hosted us along the way, Brett and Sarah in Port Pirie and Dan and Kirsty down the road in Port Augusta, Laurel and Cal in Alice Springs, to Rob and Amanda who we met many times leapfrogging them in their car along the Stuart Highway all those months ago, to Andrew, Kate and Isaac in Katherine for hosting and taking us flying over the gorge, to Joe in Darwin, to KG and Luke and Korin and Luke who all hosted us for our two weeks in the NT while we tried unsuccessfully to find a boat to take us to Indonesia before flying out, to our hosts in East Timor including John who stopped giving his friend a mo hawk haircut to come and talk with us and then invite us in to stay with his family, and in Indonesia, particularly 12 year old Vanessa and her family for practicing their english with us late into the night (and teaching us how to take an Indonesian Manday shower – we were smelly), and to Herman, Nilly and Okky at Hotel Aneka Baru in Jatibaru who had us stay for free and took us to christmas mass, to Ervi in Dompu for the Harley ride and cake shopping on Jess’ birthday, to Alex in Singapore for hosting us and helping us navigate the Mustafa shopping complex, to Ben in KL for driving us around on errands, Martin in KL, especially for the hang over he gave us before riding out, to wonderful Aeoy in Bangkok and to Kerry for storing all of our gear then hosting us when we got back from India, to the excellent champion Ninjas team of the Bangkok hat and to TD extraordinaire Tri Le for inviting us along to play at the tournament, to Abhi for the excellent idea and legwork to get us over to Chennai and then Manix, Chiai, Sumedha, Liz, Swathi, Bajji, CT and the whole crew in Chennai once we over there (we can’t wait to come back to live in Chennai from January). To Ekk and the crew at the house in Chiang Mai, to Ruben for hosting in Vientiane and Saeng for inviting us to her party, to Rachel for having us stay in her hotel on the river in Vang Vieng for a week (!), Hung for hosting us in Hanoi, Dax in Shanghai as well as the excellent and organised Sarz for dealing with the chinese train system for us, John and Nina for hosting us and storing our gear in Almaty while we went visa hunting in Astana, to Teresa Lin for hosting us for over two weeks while we really battled to secure the Iran visa – that was a tough time in our trip Teresa, you’re a champ – thanks to the rest of the Astana crew for making us feel so welcome and to Khapirat for cooking the meal of the trip, the horse dish Beshbamark, what a way to send us off, to Aynura and Altynay of Bishkek for finding us on the internet and making a highlight of our trip at Lake Issykul, to the Kyrgyz family that let me sleep at their cafe all day when I was too sick to move, then driving me to the pharmacy, to the Lemonade stand family in Uzbek (names not to be mentioned online) who made us feel like rockstars – inviting us in to stay on a hot day then showing us a night on the country town, to Korgat from Georgia and his family as well as Rema, translator extraordinaire from down the road who made my birthday very special with a supra party and amazing Georgian hospitality, the men of the service stations of Turkey thanks for the camp spots, free chai and free meals, to Mike and Mel, Lucy, Oscar and Lilly for hosting us for a week in Istanbul – thanks for letting us relax, we were exhausted! Our friends at Sziget festival in Budapest for inviting us along, To Christina, Walter and Maria of Austria for a couple of places to sleep and a home cooked breakfast – spoilt, to Sabine in Cologne for hosting us and Judith for giving us a bike tour around town, to Dajo and Coco in Lille – so good to see you both again and thank you for the fine Belgian and French foods and now to Phoebe in London who currently has us. I hope I haven’t forgotten too many people, we have been truly blessed to have so many people go out of their way to look after us. On every occasion we have arrived stinky and with dirty clothes and we were always welcomed. There are so many good people in the world. To all of you THANK YOU. This would not be possible with out the thousands of leg ups we have received along the way.

A special thank you to Ewan who spent his three week holidays riding with us in Georgia and Turkey, when the plan had gone out the window when we weren’t granted the Iranian visa. Ewan is a great friend and he was able to give us a few creature comforts during out stay. Thanks buddy.

To Matt Hill, or Timill, as he is better known. An amazing young man who has helped us by building a complete website with donation button should you feel like you might want to contribute to the work of Ultimate Peace in the Middle East. Timill has also helped with posts to the social media sites and other tidbits when things weren’t going quite right at different points in the trip. Thanks Timill!

I also have to say a massive thank you to another friend behind the scenes who made this adventure possible for me. When I had the idea to go on this crazy bike ride to see the world, I was living in Sydney working as an Ultimate Frisbee Development Officer. It was just after I had run in the Mount Everest Marathon of 2011 with Kieran Moloney, or Sizz, a housemate of mine when we had both lived and studied in Ballarat. Sizz is living in Brisbane and we were very much in touch again after the marathon. I had the idea to do the bike ride and tossed up a few ideas, which nearly saw me as an officer in the army reserves for a little extra cash, or taking a sports job I had been offered in the NT, but ultimately it led to me making the massive decision to quit my dream job as Ultimate Frisbee Development Officer with the crew at UFNSW and move to Brisbane where Sizz not only found me a job with his solar company but also had me stay in the spare room (otherwise known as a sunroom…) of his house for over a year virtually rent free to allow me to work the big hours required to save, gather the equipment needed and make this trip happen. Friends like that don’t come by too often, I’m very lucky to call Sizz a friend and to have him offer me that help when I needed it. A few beers are owed on this account! This would have remained a dream without you buddy. Thanks Sizz.

A massive thanks must also go to both Jess’ and my families who have helped with support along the way, sending us off from Creswick and sending things out to us further down the road. Also congratulations again to my Dad who cycled out the first week with us to Murray Bridge, a journey of over 500km, no mean feat! We are very lucky to have such supportive families, thank you all.

I must say a massive congratulations to Jess for taking on the trip and seeing it through. We met soon after I had moved to Brisbane and again, soon after that Jess had decided she would like to come along for the adventure too. Only an occasional cycle commuter, and having just two trips outside of Australia under her belt she was rightfully a little nervous before we left. After a couple of months of cycling she was definitely proving her worth, before disaster struck with a serious accident in Darwin that required stitches to her face. Recovering from that, a month later she had another bingle, this time with a truck (!) in Indonesia and required a couple of stitches in her arm. Travelling like this can be a bit unpredictable. What would happen next? To her credit she battled on and has stuck it out right through to the finish line. A courageous effort! Well done, love you Jess.

There are so many more people that have helped in many different ways and we really appreciate it all! Thank you.

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Comments (1)

  • Melva Mitchell


    Congratulations on your courage, stamina and especially the appreciation that shows up in Jess’ story above. Very well done to you both. Makes me feel very proud of young Aussies but also to the parents who gave you what it takes. Well done Jess and Daniel.


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