I have been building up to this trip for so long now that when Monday rolled around I was itching to get on the road. Having enjoyed an excellent week of leaving drinks, meals, presents and donuts plus being a bridesmaid for one of my best friends excitement levels were high.
For the first couple of days through England I was to be joined by two good friends, Rachel ‘small but mighty’ Dean and Liv ‘cycled the three peaks so I’m a machine’ Blok.
We all had visions of a blissful couple of days, sun shining as we cycled through the beautiful garden of England, stopping for picture postcard picnics and pints in sun-drenched beer gardens. Safe to say the reality was quite different to what we had imagined.
The day got off to a great start, we were staying with Katie in Balham who had cooked a pie for dinner the night before with a side dish of extra pastry, ideal. Her boyfriend Tom, who had run a 100 mile race that weekend, somehow managed to cook us a fry up before we left. How he managed to even get out of bed never mind cook up a storm after running for 28 hours is beyond me. Thank you again Tom and Katie for an excellent send off.
By 8.30 we were ready to go, bikes loaded and Tom poised with the camera ready to capture this seminal moment. And then this happened…
I haven’t fallen off my bike in years then set off for Athens and can’t even make it to the end of the drive! Luckily only my pride was hurt and once we had pulled ourselves together after huge fits of laughter we were on our way.
We quickly made it onto Londons cycle super highway and were revelling in how easy cycling in London seemed. Then I heard the dreaded hissss that all cyclists dread. I had a flat tyre. After only half an hour of cycling. How was this possible with my almost cm thick tyres?! Turned out in my bid the previous day to avoid punctures I had over inflated my tyre and the inner tube had become caught between the tyre and the wheel. Schoolboy error. So in the midst of London rush hour I changed my first flat.
Eventually, much later than planned, we met up with Blok, had the obligatory photo with London bridge and we were off! Weaving through the throngs of tourists in Greenwich, past the Cutty Sark and the O2 and out along the Thames. We passed through so many areas of East London which were devoid of tourists and really offered a different perspective on the city.
And then Bloks troubles began. Being an uber triathlete Bloks bike ‘The Beast’ had more of a racing setup with ultra thin tyres which were not cut out for many of the gravel paths which we encountered. An hour or two in she got her first puncture.
All together she got 5 punctures! And despite stocking up in Wilkos halfway through the day, used up all of our spare inner tubes. By 6pm we were outside of Rochester with no working inner tubes left and a tyre that was ripped to pieces. The Beast was looking pretty sorry for itself, stubbornly refusing to go any further. This called for an emergency trip to Halfords, and Rita and I flew off, trying to cycle the 10km into Rochester to get a new tyre before it closed. Whilst I was gone Deano and Blok made painful progress with a slow puncture, having to stop every 300m to pump up the tyre.
Two hours later we were reunited and The Beast was given an upgrade to make her road worthy again. By this point it was getting dark and we were pretty damp. With no campsites nearby and little opportunity for wild camping we approached a local farm. After knocking on various doors we were greeted by a rather ferocious looking eastern European lady. Not fancying our chances we asked if there was anywhere to camp. In an incredible display of hospitality she let us camp in her garden, use her toilet and offered us tea. What a result! After putting up our tents we cycled down to the local curry house to toast our earlier misfortune and how lucky we had been in the end.
Day 2 dawned in all its overcast glory. We enjoyed a morning cycling through the nature reserve adjacent to the Thames estuary. However soon enough the rains started and got heavier and heavier until all our clothes were soaked through. We couldn’t face taking any photos at this point so you will just have to imagine. Because the mornings route had been so windy we had to stick to a main road to get to Canterbury in reasonable time. Huge lorries flew past showering us in tidal waves of water as we battled with the soaking bushes blocking the path.
Fortunately as we rolled into Canterbury around 2pm the rain had stopped and we ate lunch outside the cathedral. Here we were joined by the fourth member of our party, an old friend of Bloks from uni, Helen. She had been planning on cycling with us to Dover that afternoon but when we discovered she lived 10 miles outside of Folkestone and could offer us a bed for the night we just couldn’t resist the opportunity to stay in a warm, dry bed!
Amazingly it stayed dry as we cycled leisurely to Helens farm through the beautiful Kent Downs, stopping for a cider on route. Here we were treated to a great dinner and copious cups of tea. In return we tried to help with the farm animals but were pretty unsuccessful in rounding up the mischievous Cockrel, which despite our best flapping still managed to evade capture.
Once again we had been shown so much kindness and what we thought was going to be a wet night under canvas turned out to be a lovely fun evening in a cosy farmhouse.
I am now in Folkstone ready to board the Channel Tunnel to Calais this afternoon. After the dire weather of the last few days I am pretty ready to leave this rather damp island and looking forward to the warmer temperatures of the continent. The first few days have certainly been more eventful than I was expecting but fortunately I had some legendary people to share it with. Athens seems pretty far away right now but there have been so many adventure and unusual experiences in the first two days in the UK that lord knows what the next 90 days have in store!