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Having had a few months off at home, with a week away in Ireland about the only cycling that was done, I decided to start nice and easily through the UK. That failed on the first day, in a perfect example of how I still make stupid mistakes even with all my experience. I’d put on a new chain just before going to Ireland, and then when I got back the bike just went into the garage. I barely looked at the thing until just before I was planning to head out again, when I realised the chain had acquired a rather disturbing shade of orange. This, and realising that Gaz still had my chain tool + tyre boot, meant I delayed my departure a day as I ordered a new chain + tool from Amazon (Gaz having recently moved was unable to find the chain tool).

I had been planning on replacing the chain, but Gaz came over and we sat around drinking in the unseasonably warm spring weather instead. I decided I’d take the chain with me, and put it on if it became necessary sometime down the line. Having been delayed a day, and with a ferry already booked, I took a train to Derby to make up for the day I had lost. Things were going well as I rode down bike paths and small country roads, but it felt a little harder than it should have. After about 35km, I stopped at good old McDonalds to use the Wi-Fi and found a message from Cherry, a fellow British cycle tourist that had been in the Americas. We had been in touch, but failed to meet up during our time there, even though we rode across Uyuni at the same time. I’d mentioned on Facebook my plan to ride south, and so she’d invited me to her parent’s place in Peterborough. It hadn’t been on my route, I’d just been planning on wild camping in a random field on the way to Cambridge, but looking at the map it seemed doable, although a little long for the first day on the bike. I told her I’d be there by 8, and pushed on.

Even having packed a bunch of food, I wasn’t really eating, and I got the unpleasant treacle-cycling feeling in my legs. That one where the ride is far harder than it should be. I unclipped my back brakes, in case they were rubbing, ate some snacks and kept going, but it didn’t seem to do much. There were only two things I could think of, either my hub needed oil (quite probable considering I don’t remember doing it since Uruguay,) or it was the chain. Not having a syringe to change the oil, I decided to put on my new chain and so pulled over in a village. It took the best part of 90 minutes, as I made so many basic errors from taking out the wrong parts, to shortening it too much and had the pain of trying to replace a pin I’d taken out. In my garage, after breakfast, it would have been easy. Sat there hungry on that village green, it really wasn’t. I got a few locals asking me if I had the required parts, and letting me know they’d be on the allotment if I needed something, but eventually it got sorted out.

It could have been the rest, or a placebo, but the bike seemed to roll much better as I pushed on. My legs got a little sore, and parts of me really wandered what I was doing – especially when around dusk I got my daily protein requirement from a swarm of manic midges that seemed to want to live in my eyes or mouth. There were a couple of pretty little towns that I’d have liked to stop in, but onwards it was until I got to Cherry’s place in Peterborough at 9pm. She’s an incredibly bubbly person and after the requisite shower & jacket potato we nattered the night away. A rewarding end to a hard day.

The rest of the trip south was done at a much more relaxed pace, as I made my way first to Cambridge (that I’d never visited even though C went to uni there) where a Polish couple put me up, and then to Sudbury where Paul gave me his house after talking for a couple of hours even though he had to head away for a few days. The roads were generally peaceful, the UK having a good number of country roads that can be taken which are generally not that heavily trafficked – although the ones near where I live seem to be an exception. It’s also helped by cycling taking off recently, apparently helped in part by our success at the Olympics and Tour de France.

There was one night where I didn’t have a place to stay, and so camped. Paul had said I could stay at his place, but with needing to make it the 50km to Harwich by 8:15 I’d have had to have been on the road by 4:30 to make sure I got there. That seemed far too early and so a lazy day was instead called for. I tried asking the firemen in the town of Manning tree, but they are ‘retained’ which basically means on call. The station is generally empty, but those on call have to work/live within 4 minutes of the station, which in Manningtree was little more than a building and a car park. I explained what I was doing, and although they couldn’t put me up given the lack of tent space, they assured me there were plenty of fields to use on the back road to Harwich. They were of course, being firemen, telling the truth and I found a nice little forest to pass the night in. I didn’t get the best night’s sleep, but that was mainly because I put my tent on a bit of a slope but was too lazy to move it. It didn’t matter too much and the next morning was up around 6, meaning I got to the port with time to dry the morning dew off my tent out before boarding the ferry, successfully having made my way through the first step of this European leg.

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