Thursday, September 1st
My final day of the trip was comprised of a few early morning hours on the ferry in the midst of the English channel, and 10 short miles from the dock at Portsmouth Harbour to my parents house and their kitchen table in Emsworth.
I’m writing this four or five days after that day, on a train to London. I’ve spent the intervening time clearing out a bedroom which was essentially a museum of my 20s. Some stuff was sold at a car boot sale, several large cardboard boxes are now in the back room at a local charity shop, and three bin bags are full.
I tried to clear as much as I could, and probably have at least half what I did before, keeping only what I saw as truly useful or things which ‘sparked joy’. But after living with only what I could carry on a bike for 5 months, and only what I could carry in a small suitcase or backpack for the 7 months before that, it still feels like i’m drowning in stuff.
As an exercise in restraint i’m travelling up to London, and then for a few days in Berlin, with a very little backpack. There’s an embarrassingly dumb lyric I have in my head: ‘the less you own the more freedom you have it’, and though it reads like the kind of clichéd philosophy you’d see drawn on the wall next to a urinal or in a shitty font over an Instagram of a sunset, it feels accurate right now. Now i’m back, a year after I left, I would like to be able to live with a little less stuff, and with a little more purpose – that’s how life is when you ride a bike, and how it should probably be off it too, if you can help it.
As for the last few hours of the trip, I have vivid memories of being on the deck of the boat just before sunrise.
I’d slept on and off, curled up and stretched out in a chair in the lounge area. Amber curtains drawn over the windows. Rows of tan coloured seats facing forward. It was like a cinema without the screen. the lights dipped at around 11. Muffled groans came from deep within the boat somewhere, and I gave up on the idea of sleep at around 5am.
The sky was a frozen blue colour and the air was cold enough to make me shiver. A few sleepless people hung around waiting for the cafeteria to open and savour the taste of one last true French croissant.
When it did open, I bought a coffee and went outside again. The sky had turned pink, reflected on the small wavelets on the calm sea. It was warmer now and I stayed there until the sun rose and we began a slow approach to dock.
I walked around the empty damp deck looking back in the direction of France though it had long since disappeared from view and with it slightly mixed feelings about the past week of cycling. At least in that time I had been able to adjust my thinking, from initially dreading this return, to now actually looking forward to it.
More people emerged on deck as the boat slowed and we entered the harbour. Two crew in orange jackets scrubbed the deck as the sun rose at the front of the boat. The familiar shape of the spinnaker tower appeared on the right. A few small boats were heading out to fish. A calm and mostly ordinary Thursday morning for most people.
I went back inside the boat when the time came, wheeled my bike off exchanging tired small talk with another cyclist, showed my passport to a man in a booth and began the to cycle back.
It feels a little redundant to describe the last bit in much detail since it’s so familiar to me. Everything was the same but smaller now. I get the same feeling whenever I walk past my old school, it’s just a matter of perspective.
But before I had much time to dwell on it I was coming up the driveway to my parents house, leaning my bike against the fence, then drinking a cup of tea and eating beans on toast in the kitchen. There will be plenty of time for reflection in the future.
My bike now hangs on the wall in the bedroom which i’ve spent the last few days cleaning out. It’s now assumed the role of a trophy or souvenir, kind of like a very large and oily fridge magnet.
I like to look at it now and then and remind myself how far it’s been.