0 degrees from home

England | Dover - Bournemouth - Bath - Oxford - Cheltenham - Redditch - Theddingworth - Melbourne - Manchester - PENRITH | 22nd May to 11th June | 25,337km

NB: This is more than a bit late. We rolled down the drive to Flora’s Mum’s house on the 11th June 2016 and are posting this in November - real life took over pretty quick. That day marked the end of our ride. We crossed through 27 countries over 572 days and pedaled 25,337km, each! Yeah, there were a couple of necessary trains and the odd desperate hitch hike, but most of it was on two wheels, mostly powered by Snickers. Degrees wise we travelled pretty close to a full 180, half way around the world. From 175° East in Auckland, New Zealand to 3° West in Penrith, England.

As we left Gregoire’s house after a week at Calais’ Jungle migrant camp, we hadn’t processed that we were about to cross into our final country. Through French customs and into the little bit of UK soil pre ferry boarding we had our last passport check. The bloke eyed our ragged documents suspiciously, loitering at the big red deportation stamp over Flora’s Turkmen visa. ‘You’ve been a long way’, he mused, gesturing at our bikes. Eventually satisfied he snapped them shut and handed them back, holding on to them just long enough so that we looked him in the eye. ‘Welcome home’, he grinned. *lump in throat* 

Approaching our little island we both admitted that the white cliffs were not as enormous we’d made out to a lot of people. It was raining steadily and after an unwelcomingly protracted cycle route out of the port a lady in a BMW gave us the finger for being in her way, making Flo move up onto the pavement. ‘You’re not allowed on the pavement’ a local chastised her… good to be home. Headed west along the coast, camping with some friendly kayakers. Through Brighton and onto the Isle of White briefly, beelining for Luke’s sister Soph in Bournemouth a few days later. It was all very busy and very British.

Northwards away from the coast on a zigzag path to visit aunties, uncles, nana, cousins, friends who’d got married and friends who’d got pregnant! Camped in the Peak before enjoying a ferociously hot week back in Manchester where we’d initially planned so much of the trip. The finished line however, was always Penrith. So we hauled our selves up along the north Lancashire canal routes and eventually pitched the tent for a final time just above Kirby Lonsdale, inside Cumbrian territory. Flo’s mum text saying they were having pizza and beer and did we want picking up? Tempting, but not when we’re this close. The wait was worth it for a fantastic home coming. It was a privilege and our delight to be escorted the last 10 miles by a peloton of friends and family, all the faces we’d talked about, imagined being with, when things were tough. It was June 11th 2016, the cat hadn’t forgotten us and England were about to win the euros.

It’s tempting to wax lyrical over lengthy paragraphs of adventure analysis but to be honest, we’d rather try and tell you about just how small that tent was, or how to loose all your money in Turkmenistan over a beer. A very brief note on cost - living (what seemed) frugally was both liberating and challenging but made the trip what it was. As with all aspects of travel, how much you spend and on what is each to their own but from planning to finishing we spent just over £13,000 between the two of us. Take away flights, kit, visa’s etc and our day to day living allowance was well under £10. We’ll finish by confessing that we didn’t see any dragons. The closest we got was Komodo Island in Indonesia but Luke’s ‘personal’ infection put paid to that. Tom wrote our about section just before we left after we’d tried to explain what we hoped the trip would be for us. Since day one we thought he conveyed the simple notion of wanting to know first hand perfectly:

 

"Here Be Dragons. The reason as to why this appeared along the fringes of some Medieval maps is still disputed. Some say it marked places where early explorers found the fossilised remains of large, prehistoric alligators. Others state it was merely some dramatic cartographic flair. Whatever the reason, it denoted uncharted territory – a forewarning to those that would venture forward into the unknown.

Today it’s kind of hard to imagine a world unmapped, though exploration needn’t necessarily be discovering what no one else has. For us, our undertaking remains a giant leap into the unknown. A map will tell you where a place is, but not what it’s like. And that’s what we’d like to know.

Two people, two bicycles and enough bated breath to power a small turbine should our dynamos fail. All that we know is we’re starting in New Zealand, and we’re going to head north west, across the World."

 

HOW MUCH FOR A CROISSANT?!

France | St Ours - Sault - Salavas - Portes - Arlanc - Troyes - Epernay - Lille - Calais | 24th April to 21st May | 24,021km

From the first pain au chocolat dipped into an enormous bowl coffee we immensely enjoyed remembering France’s customs, the change noticeable immediately after arriving from Italy. The physical and cultural challenge of the tour had been winding down since we left the Balkans, but we were happy to embrace the new challenge of finding a reasonable boulangerie each morning. Luke knows enough French to express genuine provençal outrage at the proposed €1,40 croissants for sale in the ski towns we passed through on our way to lower altitude. Bagged some small cols on the way to meet Hugo, who we last saw in Hong Kong, in Sault before riding together along the gorges de la Nesque, a stunning balcony road with views of Mont Ventoux. Crossed the Rhone and staying for a fews days in the Ardeche at his family place being schooled on how the chill out south of France style.

We’d been looking forward to France as it was a chance to stay with people we knew and as such the route planned itself. Pedalled across to stay with our friends parents who had moved to the Cevennes to take on a mammoth house restoration job. The result was one of the nicest places we’ve ever stayed. Eventually turned north through the massif central towards le Puy, finding much more acceptably priced croissants and staying with Nat’s (as in Louis and Nat, who we met in Almaty) family. Touchingly, it felt like the whole village was waiting for us and what news we had of them. Best cheese and leek tart we’ve tasted and a takeaway bottle of vinaigrette, as they were shocked that we were travelling without any!

Dried out from a drenching in the centre of Medieval Troyes before entering Burgundy and the french canal system. Spent two afternoons under bridges in very British drizzle, embracing the last feelings of living outdoors. Treated ourselves to not the second but the third cheapest bottle of brut in Epernay, capital of the champagne region and sat drinking it defiantly in the rain, Flo pleased to have found some (British import) salt and vinegar crisps. A bloke questioned us pretty thoroughly on how we felt about the ‘le Brexit’, reminding us that we are out of touch with what’s happening back home. After le Brexit, most want to know who on earth Leicester City are.

Gave our bikes a final beating though the trouée d'Arenberg on our way to Lille, where Luke had lived for a year. Stayed with the super chilled brothers of Thomas, who we’d met briefly the day after Flo’s birthday in Sary Tash, on his way to China. Lille was the first place that felt familiar, an odd feeling, and as such very homely as we were taken out for a Belgian beer with Nico and Yvan, part of the MS world tour team we last saw in Sydney. Led out of the city by a small peloton we took a brief excursion into Belgium to eat a bowl of mayonnaise with a few frites on top before heading to the French coast. We're used to this kind of 'chance' now but it never ceases to amaze us - we met Gregiore through a highly recommended warmshowers host Francois who took us out of the rain in Saint-Omer. Gregiore's family kindly offered put us up for the week as we rode in and out of Calais to volunteer at the refugee camp there. Being in 'The Jungle' was very thought provoking and not something we’re able to put into words yet. Unexpectedly though we were able to find what was probably some of the most authentic curry in northern Europe at the camp’s small Pakistani cafe, one thing off the list of 'Foods we're looking forward to'. All too quickly, our return tickets were booked after 555 days on the road. Revised 'Foods we're looking forward to' list: 1) Ale 2) Scotch Egg (Luke) 3) Percy Pigs (…Also Luke). In Calais we were 2 degrees East, Penrith is 3 degree west. 5 degrees from home.

The Italian Job

Slovenia, Italy + France | Ljubljana - Schio - Peschiera del Garda - Bruno - Verduno - St Ours | 14th to 23rd April 2016 | 22,424km

Day 486 99km ridden | 5h04 riding time

Left Ljubljana after a huge storm, as is customary when we’ve just cleaned the bikes, both of which are tired but should see us home! Travelling lighter after ditching winter gear in the Slovenian sunshine, a bit too enthusiastically we would later find out. Aware we’ve done Slovenia a bit of a photographical injustice, but you’ll have to believe us when we say we had a final fantastic day riding through the wooded hills to the south west of the capital, arriving into the Italian town of Gorica that evening. 

Day 487 132km 5h55

Easily averaging over 20kph for first time in ages, joining together the rough list of towns we have scribbled down, there's a warren of back roads now so no point planning a turn by turn route. Looking for bread at 1.05pm we're reminded that Italian shops are closed from 1-3pm and hunger paddies were had. Headed towards the only high ground in sight to pitch the tent by a secluded bench and within range of an open wifi network, euro wild camping standards! 

Day 488 102km 5h01

Saturday club cyclists. Ciao! Forza! Pinarello’s, Campagnolo, immaculate club kits and tanned legs, especially for April. Stopped mid afternoon in the cobbled piazza of an unassuming quintessentially Italian town. Wisteria hangs everywhere and smells like holiday. Bellissimo! Gelato, for free? Because the owner is a cyclist? Mama mia! Pass under some big pink banners indicating we’re on the 2016 Giro d’Italia route. Stealth camped by a river with the now expected picnic table. Buona Notte.

Day 489 127km 7h10

Two hours of grinding up the passo Plan delle Fugazze before descending into another classic herebedragons mega destination viewed in the drizzle. Caught up in the all Italian, Lake Garda, James Bond, lake side gallery road atmosphere we pelted along the bit where the opening scene to Quantum of Solace was filmed. An Aston Martin ended up in the lake at some point apparently. Must NOT splurge two days budget on pizza/gelato/tickets to gardaland.

Day 490 Nulla

Spend a day chilling with Warmshowers host Andrea who hosts cyclist in his little part of Italy because he was on the receiving end of similar hospitality when he toured in the US (in an Italian national team skin-suit) a few years ago - the brilliance of the warmshowers concept. Treated to aperitivo with spritz that evening - though Luke really needs a straight jacket to 'apero' reasonably. Achingly simple dinner with an obscenely large block of parmesan.

Day 491 130km 5h28

Waited out enormous morning thunderstorm before hitting the Italian flat lands. Warned it was an industrial area but we could take you to worse ones in the UK! Camped off the side of euroroute style bike path. Shifting now to make a rendezvous with our french friend Hugo in the south of France.

Day 492 110km 4h45

The food culture is phenomenal but where are the breakfasts in Italy? A tiny brioche and an espresso seems the norm before starting aperitvo sometime in the early afternoon! Don’t even get Flo started on why Europe doesn’t do salt and vinegar crisps. When searching for a pre camp water top up we began talking, or signing, with Marco. After deciding that there was no water to be found in his village and nowhere to wild camp in Italy, he insisted that we should pitch our tent in his garden. As he heaved open the huge wooden gates we'd been standing outside, it turned out that his 'garden' was that of the village castello, which he was caretaker of. Nice backdrop for the tent!

Day 493 70km 3h30

Pedalled into the rolling hills not far from the Mediterranean coast. A landscape of vast vineyards, typical hill top villages and the odd but distinctive smell of industrially roasted hazelnuts meant we had found Alba. The town is the home of Nutella with which Luke has a turbulent relationship. Set on world domination the marketing gurus at Ferrero needed to explain that they had a nut spread, that came from Italy. Nut-ella. Genius. In need of a shower we called Fulvio on the advice of the MS world tour french boys we'd ridden with in Australia. Having hosted them over a year ago Fulvio took us in too for a exceptional evening of adventure stories and culinary education. He introduced to the slow food movement, which was established in this region in 1986 in successful opposition to the invasion of McDonalds. 

Day 494 85km 4h45

Heading towards Cuneo with the intention of getting to the base of colle della Maddalena, our way into France, and putting right the fact that we'd been in Italy a week and hadn't eaten any pizza. We had wondered whether you could get bad pizza in Italy and as we ended up sat at some plastic tables outside 'Euro Pizza', we feared the worst. We needn’t have worried. Final Italian wild camp surrounded by wild garlic and chestnut trees.

Day 495 69km 4h44

At 1996m the Colle della Maddalena is one of the only options for crossing the Alps in spring - not the most interesting but kept open all year round. Aspirations to cross the gigantic colle dell'Agnello had been checked as it remains closed until late May. Happily it's possible to follow a crumbling old military road that parallels the main one for most of the ascent. A final Italian flourish as a beaming shop keeper in the last village gave us a bag of biscuits. STOP being so nice Italy. Ode to Fausto Coppi on the way up.

Winter hangs on up in the Haute Alps. Greying snow and a biting wind fought with us as we inched towards the FRANCIA sign, sending marmottes scampering. It is said that due to it's lesser height, this was the probable crossing point for Hannibal and his elephant army. Goats cling to the sheer cliff sides in which concrete fortifications remain embedded. France, our 27th and penultimate country. Sweep downwards passing a sign to a tiny village called St Ours, perched high above us, glad we're not headed there. Stop to call Joel, another friend of the MS world tour boys.

Us - Bonjour, vous habitez ou exactement?

Joel - Un petit village qui s'appelle St Ours.

Us - Merde.