Boo – Santander – Colden Common

I’d arrived in Boo on the Saturday, and my ferry wasn’t until the Monday. That meant I had Sunday, my birthday, as a day off. Jesus invited me on a road trip to Madrid, which was tempting, but it would have been 4 hours each way to spend the afternoon there. Aitziber, Jesus’s partner, was going on a girls day-out – impressive as she was 9 months pregnant and due to give birth anytime.

I spent the day with Uvi, who took me out to visit the beach as well as restaurants for beers and seafood. His passion is working with leather, and he told me about his plans to travel using it. His idea now is to travel in Latin America with his tools, and then buy leather on the way. With that he’ll be able to make small things, like bracelets that are so easy to do, good profit and fast to move.

On the Monday, Jesus and Aitziber were going to the hospital to find out how everything was going with the baby so they give me a lift most of the way to Santander as it was piddling it down and getting to the ferry drenched didn’t seem so fun. Jesus let me keep the clothes he’d lent me, so I had some more warm weather gear for my ride home, lucky me!

I got to the ferry a couple of hours before it set sail, and so got to sit around at the café until I was waved over as the sole cyclist to board. I had been forced to make a reservation for a seat as it was an overnight ferry, but I brought my sleeping pad and mat on board as there was no way a reclinable chair was going to be more comfortable. I found a place next to a sofa, electrical outlet and in range of the free wifi and stayed there for nearly the whole crossing.

I met lots of older English people who were on the way back from spending the winter somewhere where you see the sun for more than 20 minutes a day, and so heard a wide range of stories. From a guy who bought a plot of land that had some olive trees and now owns an olive farm that he had just spent the last month harvesting more than 2000kg of olives by himself, to couples who live in small Spanish villages without being able to speak much of the language.

The crossing didn’t start off that smooth, and got even worse during the night with things rolling around and me getting a headache from watching things on my laptop. Thankfully I had no problems sleeping on my pad, and got a good 8 hours sleep – important given it was a 24 hour crossing. Not long after waking up a couple called Sue and Dave came up to me and asked me how I was doing. We spoke for a couple of minutes and they explained how they had seen me checking in, and sleeping during the night and that now they were going off for breakfast and I could feel free to use their cabin for an hour to clean myself up and relax. I of course accepted their offer, and was shown to their cabin where there was a spare towel hung up and I was told to make myself at home.

I hadn’t brought any spare clothes with me, they were on the bike, but it was good to have a shower and the beds in the cabins were actually quite comfortable. An hour later, Sue and Dave turned up with a cup of tea and a tray of food for me and we nattered away for about an hour about my trip, their life down in Spain and their family back home. I mentioned that I was going home for my Granny’s 80th and they, like about 20 other people, told me I had to pass on their birthday greetings. Lovely people.

The ferry arrived about an hour late, due to the bad weather the night before, but it was only about 30km from Portsmouth up to the house of Joe Riley, a friend of mine from back in Korea. The ride was pretty easy, other than one part when I forgot what side of the road I was supposed to be on. I had stopped to get money out of a cash machine and then pulled out of the small road onto the main one to see a lorry rolling towards me. Thankfully it was going pretty slowly so I could get across to the other side without being squashed.

Joe and his family were lovely, and both he and his dad Andy took me out for a bit of sightseeing to see the nearby Winchester. It’s got a UNESCO cathedral, but it costs £7.50 to get in ($12) so I skipped that idea. That does allow you to go in as many time as you like in a year, but it just seems so wrong to me. Joe’s a good tour guide, so pointed out interesting things from 5-600 years ago in British history and then took me to a couple of pubs for some British beer – which was good but so expensive! Buying a round at £4 for a pint for someone who usually spends little more than that in a day just felt wrong.

Joe’s a fan of the pubs, and also of running. When he was in Korea he did 4 marathons in 4 days, a feat he repeated last year, and this April he is going to do 5 marathons in 5 days (16th-20th of April) to raise money for Cardiac Risk in the Young. You can support him on his JustGiving page http://www.justgiving.com/5in5jr as it’s a wonderful cause.

Colden Common – Oxford

Joe’s union was on strike and so he had the day off. If I’d had a less busy schedule I’d have hung about, but as it was it was onwards to Oxford to see my cousin. Thankfully I had my first crumpets in a good while and the amount of butter on them meant I’d have enough energy to get most of the way to Oxford.

Joe’s dad is a cyclist too and planned me a route up to Oxford, which included a pilgrimage more to my style, but unfortunately after taking a bike path which had the shell of Santiago on a sign I took a couple of wrong turns and ended up going the other way. I’ll have to get back down that way to go to Watership Down, one of my favourite books when I was a kid. I had UK biking maps for my GPS and having lost Andy’s route set it going along them. It kinda worked, but the flooding that the UK had suffered during the winter was definitely visible and meant that a lot of the bridleways and off-road cycle routes that my GPS sent me on ended up being push-fests.

The big jump north from northern Spain had meant another fall in temperature, and my feet were definitely feeling it. Thankfully they were the only thing that was, but cold feet is not a fun thing to ride with. I tried more socks, but they didn’t help too much. I need to work out a solution to that, because while I’ll be in Rio in June and July, that’ll be winter, and definitely not beach weather. From there it’ll probably not be too much warmer for a good while, and if I’m going down to Patagonia that’ll be cold, and if not then it’s on to 3-4000m+ in the Andes… which will be a darn sight colder.

My cousin Samantha (Sam) lives in Oxford with her boyfriend Matt and they’d been kind enough to tell me I could stay when I’d contacted them just a few days earlier on Facebook. I arrived to a toasty flat and the sight of Matt busy cooking a quite lovely fish pie topped with a quite ridiculous amount of cheese. I’d seen Sam & Matt at my mum’s birthday the previous September, but only got to speak to them a bit as I was catching up with lots of other people too, so it was great to have an evening with just the two of them.

Oxford – Sandbach

I’ve spent enough time in the UK to know that the stretch between my house and Birmingham isn’t really that exciting. Just south of Birmingham isn’t either. It was with that, and my icy feet from the day before in mind when I booked a train from Rugby to Crewe. I would get to go to a place I’d never been in Rugby, avoid cycling through the 2nd largest city in England and also get home a day earlier.

I was up just after 6 so got to say goodbye to Matt before he left at 6:30 for his commute to work. Getting up early to go riding is one thing, to do it to go to work is another and I’m not convinced I’d be as good at it. Being up so early meant I had a relaxed morning and also got to chat with Sam more before we both left just before 8am. I’d been told that I could leave whenever, but this way was easier, and gave me time for a problem to occur and still get to the train I’d reserved. The cheapest ticket would be a bit slower, involve a change and only be valid on that one train.

It was fun riding through Oxford, other than I forgot that I had disconnected my rear brake the day before to test something and so had to slam my front brakes on. That’d be fine, except they were letting out a very high pitch squeal that when surrounded by other cyclists on their way to work, school or the shops wasn’t the best.

I was blessed with a bit of almost-sun for the first few hours, but that wasn’t to last and on my way to Rugby I got hit by 3 individual hail storms. The final one being just outside Rugby with a bit of lightning thrown in. One bolt of lightning came down at the same time as the thunder, and a tree on the other side of the road got hit. I would have stopped to take a picture, but I was mainly focusing on getting to Rugby because I was in pain due to my lack of a helmet. That’s not because I’d had a crash, no, the one time I wished I’d had a helmet on this trip was because I was in a hailstorm. Hopefully it stays that way.

I got to Rugby about an hour before my train, which gave me time to get dried off and changed before the train. Puddles developed under my bike while I was in the toilets, and I seemed to get an understandable glare from the cleaning lady. I pushed my bike up to platform 3 and waited for the train, which of course arrived at platform 1 as we were told in a platform change announcement 60 seconds before it arrived leading to me and everyone else running downstairs and back up the next set… well thankfully the lifts are huge and I just used them.

The first train didn’t have any specific bike space, so I just took up a door. I tied it to a post and moved it on the odd station when the doors opened on that side. I had to change at Birmingham and that one did have bike space, but it’s shared with wheelchairs and so with three wheelchairs on the train there was no space again. I took up another door, and spent the train ride home watching TV on my laptop.

From Crewe it was just a 7km ride home, and I was faster on my bike than any of the cars as Crewe was rammed. That included my mum’s car, as she’d come to meet me. She hadn’t confirmed that she’d be there, so I just set off without waiting. Thankfully she spotted me going the other way and so did a u-turn to catch up with me. We threw my bags in the car and I made the last few km back to the house with just the bike. So easy!