Sunday, July 14, 2013

Final leg..Hamburg to Roscoff, Plymouth to London. Tears and happiness

It is rather odd writing this from London at the same desk I started the blog, 2 and a bit years ago.

The last few days on the ship into Hamburg really began to test one. The anticipation of getting off and with bits of Europe appearing on the horizon teasing us...first Portugal, then Spain, France, Brighton in the UK fleetingly on the port side, through into the North Sea which seems to be covered in wind farms nowadays, the low countries, and then finally the mouth of the River Elbe connecting us to Hamburg. Here there was lifting of spirits, as many of the ship's crew were getting off  to go home for a few weeks before their next spell aboard. The passengers could not wait to get off, so coming into Hamburg was very exciting...particularly when the ship practically goes through the center of the city. It was after 10 in the evening by the time we docked so it was the next day that we disembarked. Sniffer dogs did their best, and friendly customs did their jobs with a smile.
Thomas, Steve, Angie and Hubert in the engine room. Yes at long last, after hundreds of requests, we managed to see the engine room. Alas the bridge was asking too much for our Italian masters, but we were thankful to have been granted an audience in the bowls of the ship.

Awful snap....but it was amazing coming into central Hamburg in a 220 meter cargo ship
As usual farewells only heightened the emotions at the excitement of the next part of the trip, and hugs and waves saw us all going on our respective ways. Thomas's wife had come all the way over from Switzerland to surprise him at the dock side, welcoming him home after 2 years on the road.

Thus started a rather amazing 3 week ride back to London.

My immediate problem was no GPS CD with the European map had got scratched, and nothing was going to make it work. I knew Hamburg a bit and managed to find Gunterstrasse, the home of very good friends and colleagues of some 20 years standing.
Jochen, Corinna, Alex and Jessine at dinner. Dining with the Heins is always a fun and sumptuous affair, and this time we went to a fabulous place which was easily the snazziest restaurant I had been to in 2 years....a wonderful nearly welcome home.
 A late start the next day, after some business chats etc, and a ruthless abuse of their wifi to download the European can get great maps for all the world to put in your garmin GPS from here and it is a free / donate site.

All I had to do was a hundred miles to Julia's house. I had met her and her then b/f Christian in the Galapagos, and we had stayed loosely in touch, and it was perfect that it was on my way to Roscoff.

Julia kindly warming up the saddle before a 8 hour ride to Mons

I had left from Plymouth 2 years before, and it sort of made sense to try and return to the land of my fathers at the same port Batty and I had left from, which meant about a 800 mile ride across Germany, Belgium, Holland and to Roscoff in France. I was fully in home mode and just wanted to see this thing through. This rather focused mood had Batty bypassing the battlegrounds of Waterloo and Somme, which would have normally been a place to stop and pay respects at, keeping to the motorways for as much efficiency as possible. Funnily enough the great fears that had plagued the beginning of the trip,  French lorries blowing me around as they over took, no longer worried me....either they all read about my fears and gave more room, or 2 years on the road has de-sensitised me. To hell with expense and not a campsite was troubled, Ibis and F1 hotel chains were called upon.
The last night on foreign soil and I had a celebratory dinner for 1. A glass of Champagne, a plate of Fruits de Mare, and a bottle of Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie in beautiful Roscoff

With France and the world behind me....I am told that 'selfies' are all the rage and vanity has nothing to do with it... the last 5 hours on a ship.

As we came into Plymouth and approached the dock, the amazing sight of one's family behind the bars of the visitor center at the port, placards welcoming Batty home. I did not say at the time but tears were flowing shamelessly as I saw a much missed family for the first time. Probably the most emotional moments of the whole trip.
with Belinda and Kate

 Elspeth with her proud uncle
 There was quite a carry on at the port...and then after at my sister Kate's home where great foods and fizz were conjured for many hours of catch up. 

A week passed of beautiful Devon sunshine, staying with everyone in the family and then with friends as the re-integration process started. It was the softest of landings and a joyful one.

Goddaughter Romilly and her brother Tom
Goddaughter Sophie
 On the way between my sister's and brother's house, about 20 miles, I so nearly came a cropper. Pulling out of a Dartmoor high hedged lane onto a main road, the road was clear to turn left with a couple of cars coming on the other side. I started pulling out and flash, there was a car in front of my wheel, going full tilt as it over took the other. Soooooo close. That had me all of a jitter for the rest of the day. The thought of having a very serious, if not fatal accident at this stage of the trip was too ironic.

One of the qwerks of UK motoring law after a trip like vegibike, is the crime of riding on the road with no MOT....let alone tax disk. Insurance was easy to arrange over the net, so at least that was covered. So the best I could do was book an MOT with Henry, Batty's creator. It was about 100 + miles away, and there is a sort of 'grey' area that allows you to drive a vehicle to a testing station. This was just a scenic route.

For 2 days Henry laboured on Batty and out came a bike that went better than ever. A very fine mechanic and a great friend to me.

Batty with 2 younger models from Henry's workshop.
 Here is Henry's report that he wrote up on the excellent British Bulleteers Forum:

Repairs required and carried out,

Rear brake non existent, new brake shoes back plate springs,
Rear wheel bearings loose in hub, new hub fitted.
Front disc brakes not working, strip clean and replace.
New front tyre and tube. The tube in tyre must have come from a lorry as it was huge and as thick as the outer tyre, Harry says this was a South American special.
Steering head bearings replaced, as there was only a quarter of a turn of the handle bars before it all locked up
Engine removed for repairs to throttle linkage which had all worn away so only allowing half engine speed, So he had travelled the last 5000 miles at 43mph or less.
Gearbox removed as there was a hole worn in the outer case where a bolt had come loose and worn through. Case was welded up . On stripping down the gearbox, all internals were in 1st class condition with only slight wear on the main shaft bearing (both bearings replaced) New seals and gaskets, new gearchange springs , refill with grease and back into frame.
Engine replaced, alignment checked, primary drive rebuilt , run and checked ok,
Engine revs checked and found to be able to rev to 3800 rpm with a final adjustment to 3550 rpm.
Reweld rear mudguard carrier which had broken next to a previous repair.
Repairs to wiring as there was a broken earth wire to rear lights,
Then off for an MOT 1/2 later a glum faced Harry returned with a failure ticket, Headlight pattern was not correct. not sure if this was the lens or some South American headlight bulb which was fitted in the darkest Brazilian jungle, so a new lens and bulb, back for retest, on return a smiling gleefull Harry came in with a thumbs up,

I cannot recommend a bike from Henry enough...amazing commuter bikes with a lot of style, weekend pottering about...or for just  popping around the world. PricePart Motorcycles.

For last 120 miles back to London, Batty went better than at any time in the last 49,000 miles, and she was even more of a joy to ride than ever. It was raining, and the M4 was heavy with trucks and commuters. London seemed hardly to have changed, and it was only crossing Battersea Bridge where the Dyson Building for the Royal Collage of Art had lost all the scaffolding etc, that anything new struck me. 

Turning up in front of the house was a bit weird. It was 7.30 in the evening, Sally my flatmate, was out. It was wet and dull, and it felt as if I had just popped around the corner for a pint of milk. The house was pretty much exactly the same as I left it thanks to Paddy and then Sally's care.
This is a bit of a cheat reenactment of the returning moment, done the next day and taken by Jacqui my wonderful neighbour, who had done so much to keep the house in order and go through my mail, keeping things straight...a very special lady

Squeezing Batty in. Home after 2 great years. This was not reenacted.
Unpacking the bike, took a couple of minutes as usual, and then there was this sort of silence, both actual and in my head that lasted and hour or so. I guess it is a sort of shock, disbelief, and wonder at being back in one piece etc. Unlocking the small bedroom that I had decamped to a couple of months before leaving, so the other rooms could be let, was perhaps the strangest of all. It had been the room that so much of the trip had played out in my imagination, the excitement and fears. Sometimes I remembered sleeplessly thinking that I would meet my end on this trip, and what a fool I was to be even thinking about it. Other times thinking I would fall in love somewhere and not come home for that reason. Nothing like that was to happen, and all the wonderful discovery and fun that other sleepless nights conjured is how the 2 years played out.

A London pub gathering was organised by Alex a week or so after the return, and more kissing of much missed girl pals and man-hugging of dear friends happened that special night.

This blog needs to come to an end soon.  On the ship crossing the Atlantic, I mentioned writing a whole lot of thoughts and feelings, which will be posted in due course. The home coming few months seem to be as critical a part of the trip as any other. I am loving it...seeing everyone of course, but also the pleasure in returning to a life much enjoyed, but perhaps just knocked a degree or 2 in the happy, relaxed and enriched direction.
The blog has been a mostly liked discipline and occasionally disliked, but I am glad it has been kept fairly up to date, and recorded some of the highlights of the trip. In a few years from now it will remind me that such a journey did happen, and I was lucky enough to have been on it.