Leaving was always going to be tough. My last week in London was pretty magical. Both Astrid and I loved living with Brenda, Terry, Ben, Charlotte and Rachel. We got thoroughly spoilt and cared for and it was wonderful being in a family home and so fitting to end our time with the very people that brought us to east London in the first place. Not only that, but Ben has recently been employed by the LAS and I worked my last ever shift with him out of Homerton. A perfect ending to my time working in Hackney and for the LAS. The final week was a smattering of lovely social activity which included going to a festival, being taken on a day out in London and finally our farewell party on the marshes on a perfect summers day with all the people we love. Thank you everyone who was part of these wonderful last days.
So the day we were to depart I woke up feeling morose, rather than excited. For many reasons London felt harder to leave than Melbourne had. Probably because I always felt I will move back to Melbourne. I don’t know when I will be back in London. We packed our bikes, had a final breakfast and then said a teary goodbye to everyone. A deep thank you to Brenda, Terry, Ben, Rachel and Charlotte. It’s been absolutely wonderful living with you all.
With Ben leading, we headed to the Greenwich observatory. This is where it had all ended/began almost 3 years ago. We drank Prosecco and looked at the drizzling London skyline. I don’t think I have quite the words to describe exactly what London has meant to me yet but I am so grateful for all the experiences I’ve had and the friends I have made. Those who have touched my soul, you know who you are. Thank you.
We were soon joined by our friends Bec and Hadlee, rocking up on hipster bikes with a can do attitude. Their enthusiasm began to drag me out of my sad state and we all headed down towards the Thames. In a way our final cycle through London was a journey through all the places I held dear; along my beloved canals, passed canal boats, by the climbing gym, through Victoria park, passed Hackney Wick and finally into the Hackney Marshes to collect Doug by the stone circle.
Our group of 6 then retraced our pedal of 2015 along the Lee River to Waltham Abbey. We sat at the very same picnic table we had almost 3 years before and shared lunch (and some of us may have drunk a fair bit of whiskey instead). Then it was a tearful goodbye to Ben and Doug who were headed back to London.
Bec, Hadlee, Astrid and I turned our bikes north and followed the NCN 1 deeper into Essex. England had truly turned on the weather and the grey drizzle of the morning gave way to bright sunshine. There is something exceptional about an English summer day and it was hard not to feel joy. Everything was green and beautiful and the cycling was divine. Through the countryside we rolled, stopping for pints and then dinner at a quaint country pub. Astrid and I were endlessly impressed by Bec and Hadlee who had never done such a long cycle, but took it all in their stride and remained so positive despite probably feeling quite wrecked. After dinner we found a small track that led to a field beside a river where we pitched our tents and enjoyed the sweetness of the summer evening.
The following day dawned hot and sunny and we continued our pedal east through the undulating country roads and lanes. By lunchtime we were all wrecked and lay in the shade by a castle and ate and drank some beers. After a prolonged recovery we were ready for the last 30km to Harwich. Seeing the sea was emotional. This was really the end: and the beginning of a new adventure. A new life.
Harwich itself felt half familiar, as it was the same port we had arrived at in 2015. We found a pub by international port and shared a final meal and a few beers. Bec and Hadlee you are truly rockin. Thank you so much for joining us on this leg of the journey.
After goodbyes we headed to the ferry and Bec and Hadlee to the station. Well, this was it. We cleared immigration and pedalled onto the ferry. Goodbye England. Our life as bicycle travellers was beginning once more.
The ride on the ferry was smooth and luxurious; we had a cabin with a shower and a view out to sea. I fell asleep as we pulled out of Harwich and woke just before we docked at Hook of Holland.
Again, the Hook of Holland was very familiar and after breakfast overlooking the port we pedaled through the sand dunes along the beautifully large bike paths following the signs to Den Haag. At the central station we were reunited with our good friends Frans and Eveline. It was so fantastic to see them! After hugs and coffee we began our cycle east across Holland.
Frans had chosen LF4 (a long distance bike route) and had the maps all downloaded on his GPS so all we had to do was follow that. While we cycled on wide, well marked and very picturesque paths we excitedly chatted and caught up on each other’s lives. Frans and Eveline are how I want to be when I reach their age; energetic, a curiosity for the world with a strong sense of adventure and connection to their community. We talked about everything, stopped for beers in the sun and rolled through the idyllic, very typical Dutch landscape of canals, windmills and cute villages.
Like all scenic bike routes (NCN!!), the LF4 doesn’t exactly take the most direct route and by the time we rolled into the campsite at Utrecht we were all exhausted and it was well passed 9pm. Luck was on our side though, the campsite was gorgeous and they had a BBQ (including vegan chicken!) going and a bar open. Although the BBQ was somewhat over priced as we had turned up late they gave us our beers for free. Frans and I saw this as a challenge as to how many beers we could consume before close (Frans and I are obviously very similar!).
We were greeted by rain the next day and it took us ages to get going as coffee and cake needed to be consumed in the picturesque centre of Utrecht. The landscape now changed from canals to a more forested one and it was a delight to cycle through. Not only that, the manner in which cycle travel is completely normalised in this country and seen as a legitimate form of transport (not a novelty) is so utterly refreshing. I only despair slightly that every country cannot be like this. I mean surely in this day and age of environmental destruction, obesity and disconnection this (cycling) is part of the solution?
Our delightful day of pedalling came to an end in Arhnem where we celebrated with an Indonesian feast and quite a few beers. Bidding Frans and Eveline farewell was hard. I feel we will see them again but I just don’t know when. Too many goodbyes this week! We do however feel so lucky that they came and joined us for this part of our journey.
From our forest camp on the outskirts of Arhnem we now headed north and west, aiming for big days to ensure we would reach Denmark and our ferry onwards to Iceland in time. These things however don’t often go to plan and that day one of the most crazy and random things occurred; as Astrid and I pedalled out of Deventer having just finished lunch, someone called out my name. I stopped and turned around and was greeted by Jorinda who I had not seen for more than 20 years! She had been an exchange student in my school when I was 15 and other than being FB friends we had not had contact since then. Incidentally I had thought about her that morning, knowing she lived in Holland but no idea where. What are the chances we would cross paths right at that moment?! The world is a wonderful and mysterious place, but having experienced many seemingly random events, especially when traveling I was surprised but also not. Jorinda and her husband Pieter had been on their way to drink some beers but they quickly invited us to their home as it was closer. At that point we were still saying we needed to leave after a quick drink.
However, once settled in their sunny backyard drinking a Dutch beer it took Astrid and I about half an hour to decide that surely we could somehow make up the kilometres…We decided to stay and had a delightful evening of catching up on the last 20 years, BBQing, beers, then a pedal to a brewery, more beers, more pedalling, more beers and then finally at some point we made it to bed. What a super brilliant night. Thank you universe.
We pulled our hungover arses out of bed the next day and gingerly set about getting ready for the day. Fuelled by coffee and breakfast we headed out into the bright sunshine and turned our bikes towards Germany and the 100km we needed to do. It was a day where cycling felt a bit like a chore (still a good chore) and I plugged my music in (old school British techno is sometimes needed) and we just pedalled. By the evening we crossed the border (an unassuming, unmarked road in the countryside) but being Sunday no shops were open in rural Germany. Luckily we found a small pub to drink a radler (shandy) and eat a plate of fried potatoes. By the time we reached the outskirts of Meppen we were both shattered and barely functioning. Added to that we found ourselves in a weird oil field. I must say, I’ve camped in many strange places but that’s the first time I’ve slept next to an oil pump.
We left early before the workers arrived and ate breakfast by the river in Meppen. The ride across northern Germany was one of long days. Our alarm would go off early although it would take us increasingly pathetic amounts of time to finally rise as we got more fatigued. Porridge and coffee (tea for Astrid) would fuel us until our first bretzel stop. That was followed by our first Lidl stop where we would then consume huge amounts of bread and hummus in a park, or the picturesque centre of an old city. Another 30km and another stop, usually our afternoon stop we treated ourselves to a radler in the sun. Our day finished around 8pm when we would find a forest or park to camp in, make dinner, drink a 40 cent beer and fall into bed. Of course I like to go slow, explore places and take my time, but there is also something satisfying and joyous about the rituals of a long and purpose driven day. Each evening we would find ourselves a little chunk closer to the Danish border and our goal seemed more achievable.
I really enjoyed the pedal through northern Germany. The big industrial rivers that cut through the landscape, the farmland, forests, cute villages and lovely cities. There were always cheap supermarkets, cheap beers and communication (for me) was easy and for once I didn’t have to feel like the guilty English speaker who makes no effort to learn another language (although ironically I didn’t actually make any effort when I learnt German). That and the ease of wild camping always makes Germany feel a little like home to me. By the time we reached Flensburg on the Danish border we were both feeling pretty excited about the next country. Neither of us had ever been to Denmark before and knew very little about the place. We drank our last cheap German beer in the square in Flensburg while watching an ambulance attend some drunken chaps nearby. It was so familiar I felt like we hadn’t left Hackney.
It was time to head for Denmark.