I am struggling to do the maths in my head, but by 2.00 am I think I have been awake for close to 40 hours. There is a lot of addition or possibly subtraction for time zones but one thing is beyond doubt, I am so tired I could burst into tears right now. The frustration of it all is that I can not sleep despite being very very tired. I am warm, dry, comfortable enough even though my head is touching one side of the caravan and my feet the other. It feels strange sleeping in something the size of people fridges where we had been a few hours ago. There is the sound of rain hitting the roof, which is second only to waves rolling onto a beach for sending you off into the land of sweet dreams. But still I am wide awake.
I am rubbish at jet lag. Our pal George Berwick has ridden over 750,000 Km on his bike during a lifetime devoted to pedalling the roads of Britain. He has a number of records for long-distance events to his name from his younger days. He is slower now, but still does the odd 24 hour race. The Merseyside 24 is one of his favourites in a sort of ‘ love hate ‘ sort of way. ” The thing takes a year off your life every time you do it! ” is the way he sums up the event. George has done it for every one of the last 40 years.
I feel the same about flying across the Atlantic. One way is supposed to be worse than the other. I am not sure if it is West to East or the other way round, and to me they are both horrid and humiliating beyond words if you are not a billionaire and can turn left at the top of the stairs you are in for a bad time.
Thanks to Tom and Kathryn ( both now upgraded from Gold to Platinum Membership of Team Sportswool ), in Baltimore we got ourselves to Dulles Airport in good time. Thanks to Sir Richard Branson – everyone’s favourite megalomaniac billionaire, the bikes were waved through with not a moment’s hesitation from the ground staff. Virgin Atlantic retain their slot as our number 1 bike carriers of choice on the trans Atlantic route if the bikes get there in one piece.
Seven hours later we are back in the UK and all our kit is here with us. Which is exactly when we realise just how heavy it all is. You can carry two bike bags at a time. One goes on the left shoulder and the other the right, and then you try to walk. You are not going to get far like this. Which is when we realise that getting between here in Heathrow and Euston train station in the rush hour with 2 bike bags is suicidal. The ticket guy confirms it ” I would sell you a tube ticket but you are going to hate me soon enough. Take a taxi “.
We only just manage to drag the bags to the taxi rank without bursting into tears. Into the London traffic we go in the back of a cab. London has gone cycling crazy since we left and most of them have a death wish. There are bikes everywhere and they all take risks with their lives that I would call unacceptable, and I am not their mother. It must be afternoon before they come down from the adrenalin rush of getting to the office alive.
The train is packed. We are using another part of Richards Empire – Virgin Trains. The nice crew people tell us we can put the bags in the bike spaces which is great. This is at the front of the train which is about half a mile away, which is not so good. The nice lad offers to help and then regrets it the moment he feels the weight of one of our parcels – ” What’s in this thing? “. I am not sure he understands when we tell him – everything you need for three and a half years on the road.
We are on the train North to our friends Tink and Jez who are living in Staffordshire. For me this is a home-coming to the county of my birth. I think I should recognise things as I get near – not a hope. Everything has changed, been pedestrianised or tarted up for the multinational chains. Jez is at the station to greet us and somehow all the bags and the three of us fit in the car.
We are back in the UK. Unfortunately our brains are still back across the Atlantic in Baltimore. Slowly, over the next three or four days, the bikes get put back together. They both look fine and eventually it stops raining long enough to take them out for a ‘ will anything fall off ‘ test. Stoke-on-Trent is for industry, what Africa is for civilisation. It all started here or very near here. It was brutal work, hard long days of graft at trades that all cut short your life for little reward beyond knowing you were the best in the world. Many of the buildings are still smoke blackened from the coal fires of the industrial revolution. Since it stopped turning here many are derelict. There was craft and skills that lead the world where now there are charity shops and cheap booze. The plan is to ride North to where I live now. We are going East a bit to cover roads we have never explored. We start on Monday, a Bank Holiday, a National day off. The weather forecast is appalling; so wish us luck.