Best of the Best

I’ve been in Whangarei for a couple of weeks now, off the bike, and trying to sort out my life. I’ve been going through the boxes of stuff I left here, somewhat amazed at the amount of stuff I had – although I can see that it will only increase if I get settled somewhere. After being so weight-conscious for so long, it’s a bit of a change to own more than one shirt, and to wear (shock) jeans. But I still need to avoid accumulating crap, as I’m still moving around, and I won’t settle in one place until I sort out a job. On that front, I have at least made a start – should get something sorted out there in the not too distant future.

I’m still thinking about my time on the road, and missing it, but for now I thought I’d list a few of my personal highlights

  • Best Country: China. I knew that if I didn’t like China, it would severely hamper my overall feeling for this trip. I spent more than twice as much time in China as any other country. Of course, it’s so vast, that each province feels like a new country, but still, it was a long time without crossing borders. It was all plain sailing, with at times severe pollution, and delightful cultural practices like coughing up an internal organ each morning, but it was a fantastic, intense, occasionally overwhelming cultural experience.
  • Best climb: Ala Bel pass in Kyrgyzstan. Climbing up 2000m in one day, up a narrow valley, starting off in lush bush areas, climbing to Alpine pastures with herds of horses, and people living in yurts (felt tents), finally making it over the top very late in the day. Coming down the other side, it opened out to a broad valley, absolute postcard scenery. Honourable mention to the Tuu Ashu pass the following day – 1000m up an open mountainside, through a long tunnel, and down a series of hairpins, racing down a narrow valley.
  • Friendliest people: Iranians. Sometimes overly so – they are so keen to help you, they will try and help you out when you don’t even want or need any help. Don’t believe anything you see on the news about Iran. Their government might be mad, but they wouldn’t be the only country to have mad leaders, but nice people…America
  • Best country for cycling in: Close one here, could be Laos or Germany. Germany rates highly for its bike paths everywhere, high quality bike gear widely available, beer gardens conveniently located every few kilometres, and great people. You didn’t need to explain why you were riding around the world – they just understood. Laos was great for the sealed roads with no traffic, exceptionally friendly children, and for being so laid back. After being constantly hassled to buy things in other countries, there was something refreshing about having to wake up the sleeping staff, to try and round up another beer.
  • Best town that few tourists see: Plenty of candidates here, but Beihai is the winner. I felt it was somewhere I could happily come back to, and live in for a while. This is the town where I spent Christmas. We stopped just to look at a bike shop, and ended up getting invited to the Christmas party. If you ever do visit Beihai, go to McDonalds on Friday night, to help out with informal English lessons.
  • Best beer: Belgium, for just about any beer style you could ever want, and more than a few you’ve never even thought of. Even the hostel I stayed at had a menu of different beer options. China rates a mention for the exceptionally low price, but I can’t say too much for the quality.

Maybe I’ll add a few lowlights later – or just continue to think positively about the whole experience.

Thanks for the comments people have left – it’s nice to know that people enjoyed reading my blog over the last year and a bit, and have supported and encouraged me along the way. Photos of Australia are now sorted out. At some point I’ll put some shots into Flick or similar, to make it a bit easier to view them.

This is the end, my Friend

So it is done. I am home. 29,511km, 471 days, 25 countries, 2 special administrative regions, twice my weight in Snickers bars, too much dodgy Russian vodka and cheap Chinese beer, and I don’t know how many punctures when running Chinese tyres. Thankfully no serious crashes along the way, so I have made it pretty much safe and sound. Of course there is a possibility that I am carrying some obscure parasite or bacteria – perhaps a trip to the Travel Doctor is required – but I am feeling remarkably well. Plenty of exercise and fresh air must do the trick.

The last leg wasn’t the easiest I’ve ever done, but it was one of the most beautiful. I was in no real hurry, and so split it up over three days. I started out with an easy leg up to Waiwera, via Auckland’s North Shore. On the ferry to Devonport, I met a couple going out for a morning ride. 30 years ago they had travelled extensively, and talked about the problems they had found when they tried to settle down in New Zealand again. I think it must have been much harder then, when fewer people travelled, and it was difficult/expensive to keep in touch with people around the world. That’s not to say that things have changed that much though – the front page of Friday’s New Zealand Herald had a large article and photo about someone being assaulted by a hedgehog. There’s something reassuring about that being seen as the biggest story of the day in New Zealand.

Traffic wasn’t too bad along the East Coast Road, at least until Silverdale. Auckland is sometimes under-rated, but it was looking rather spectacular under a cool, clear late autumn sky. You can look out across the Hauraki Gulf, while riding through some of the greenest suburbs I’ve seen for a long time. No sign of drought here. I did really feel I was back in NZ when I ate my lunch sitting under a pohutakawa tree, beside a long sandy beach. Up and over the hill to Waiwera, where I spent several hours soaking in the hot pools. I went on all the slides and tubes, but it’s just not quite so much fun when you’re by yourself. No matter though.

Being Queen’s Birthday weekend, the road was pretty busy the next day, and slow going up a few tough climbs, with narrow/non-existent shoulders and too many cars. My parents met me at Wellsford, to provide some vehicle support. Pulling in to a nice river-side picnic area, and having picnic baskets full of food presented does take away from my hard man image a bit, I must admit. It did make life pretty easy, which was good since I had two punctures, within 15 km – one in each tyre! Considering I didn’t have any external punctures in all of Australia, this was a bit odd, and annoying. South of Wellsford, I turned off towards Mangawhai, and the riding improved dramatically. This is more like it, riding through green fields, with little traffic, on good roads. Much easier going to Mangawhai Heads, my last stop. I stayed at one of the most expensive places I’ve stayed in, and ate one of the most expensive meals of the trip, but it was all worth it. It was a little bit strange to think about it being my last night on the road, last time to find a hotel, last time to unpack the bags, last time to find food and a beer, last time…but we know that’s only for a while.

I had an extended support crew for my last day. My parents met me, and so did Suzie and her sister. Suzie was there the day I left London, so she saw me both start and finish. I was taking it fairly easy, with only around 60 km to cover. Dad joined me for the last leg into town, but we weren’t able to go straight home. After starting at a major landmark, the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, I had to finish at another – the Kensington Tavern. Soon after that we were rolling up the driveway, and home, to…I’m not sure…the next stage in my life anyway.

For now it’s just a matter of trying to get myself organised, and go through what’s left of my gear, and see what I left behind here. I probably won’t even want half the stuff I left here, although it was nice to pull on a pair of denim jeans, for the first time in over a year. I’m going to have to get a job sooner or later too, although for now I’m just enjoying taking it easy, and catching up with friends and relatives. And yes, I will get my photos sorted out shortly. Working on dialup at home makes it tough though!

In some ways it’s a little difficult to describe my feelings on completing this trip. Perhaps I need to think about it a bit over the next few weeks, to gain a little perspective. I shall post more over the coming weeks, a few summary posts, that sort of thing. For now, I just want to say thanks to all those who’ve supported me in some way along the road. Those who I met, and in some way enlivened the trip, and those who’ve been in touch, read the blog, and sent messages of encouragement – it really does mean a lot to me. Thank you.