Shouting from my shed

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On the Road

Finishing my breakfast, waving goodbye, pedalling up the hill round the corner and out of sight for 3
years was very odd indeed. My first cry helped. My round the planet bike ride had begun.

After Day 1 I was exhausted and the face-punch of reality had kicked in. There was no glamour at all
and this was going to be very hard work, in every way imaginable. By London I was very, very depressed
and felt an almost unbearable reluctance to leave England. But I had the horrible feeling that I had no
option, that I was trapped. By Dover the sheer scale of what I had got myself into was absolutely
terrifying me. The delayed, rain-sodden ferry and 7am lager-swillers made the au revoir to England
somewhat less than satisfactory.

In France I was wet, lonely and cried a lot. But finally the sun came out, I settled into a relaxed pace,
took up sketching and coffee drinking with reckless abandon and things began to look up. A rainy
morning merited a lie-in: a huge duvet sleeping bag, pistachio nuts for breakfast and the sports pages
from the newspaper (albeit last Saturday’s). And I claim this to be tough!

In sunshine I rode through quiet cornfields on aimless country roads: the killing fields of World War 1. Soldiers are admirably remembered in immaculate cemeteries. One highlighted the madness perfectly: row upon row upon row of Allied soldiers’ graves, lying in the same cemetery alongside similar numbers of Germans.

Mum had given me a handful of Belgian coins before I left home. So I embarked on a 16 mile detour
to Belgium, mouth watering at the prospect of burgers and gluttony. The first shop across the border
sorted out the out-of-date, obsolete coins, handed me a can of Coke and 3 small chocolate bars and
packed me off back towards France.
Luxembourg was nice. And small. I met Chris there, a fellow cyclist and we pedalled East together. The
company is great, his demon speed uphill is not. A garage owner became my new hero when he gave us
free rein on his cappuccino machine and sent us on our way with a new map, a bottle of beer and a very
large sausage.

One rainy morning someone vaguely mentioned to me something about a plane crashing into New
York’s Twin Towers [September 11th 2001]. What incredible happenings I am unaware of in my weird
little world, yet this may have huge repercussions later on my journey. Time will tell.

The beautiful Romantische Strasse stood out in the rain; the village of Rottingen boasted no fewer
than 27 different sundials. If only they had some sunshine! And now, replete from the astonishing
hospitality of Biggy and Guy T (a former pupil of my school) I turn towards a gentle meander down the
Danube towards Turkey, Iran and Pakistan. The calm before the storm.

***

Budapest (27 September 2001)

Thanks for all the very amusing emails. They are greatly appreciated. Here’s a very quick summary of
my progress, followed by a longer piece about cycling down the Danube and my viewpoint of the
terrorist situation from how I have seen it out on the road.

Regensburg to Budapest

Down the Danube to Budapest was perfect cycling. I honestly cannot imagine a more perfect stretch
on my entire journey. The only downside was scores of fellow cyclists- middle-aged Germans in purple
shellsuits and indecent lycra. Hardly conducive to me thinking of myself as a tough adventurer!
Chris and I arrived in Vienna Sunday morning. Everything was closed and the rain was wild. Unable
to buy food we headed straight back out of town. Is my mental picture of Vienna as a deserted, wet, grey
collection of motorway flyovers a unique one? Our hunger drove us through hideous rain across the
border into Slovakia. We camped under a motorway bridge. Soldiers with AK-47s caught us but took pity
in the pouring rain. We dried out and enjoyed Slovakia and Bratislava. A cross-country shortcut then saw
us pop up on a dam guarded by armed police. They seemed rather surprised to have been ‘left-flanked’ by
two English cyclists but eventually pointed us in the right direction.
And so into Hungary and Budapest. Massive plates of food, probably some spectacular sights too.
Earnest calculations as to whether I can make the England cricket Test match in India on December
10th… But, before that, my journey is now seriously jeopardised by the terrorist situation. There are
several options for me to consider; through Iran and Pakistan, north through Russia or turn right for
Africa… Something will turn up.

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