In our quest to get around the world without flying a cruise liner home was the only realistic option. It was a gross extravagance in contrast to our vagabond lifestyle on the road but given that we were only going one way, the 7 day Atlantic crossing in the cheapest room available wasn’t wildly more expensive than flying home. Besides, we had earned some luxury on the last leg of our journey.
As we slipped our moorings on a sunny afternoon we sipped champagne amongst the crowds on the upper decks and watched the slowly receding view of New York harbour, the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn docks. We passed under the Verrazzano Bridge and as Long Island receded into the distance we cruised out into the Atlantic Ocean.
It was gluttony on the high seas. Passengers gorged themselves senseless at all-you-can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner plus high tea in the afternoon and at least one restaurant was open for self serve 24 hours a day. It’s not uncommon for people to diet for their holidays in order to look good but we met people who had dieted just so they could eat more on their cruise. Our solution was the cycle machines in the gym, though I kept riding them in the hardest setting and by the end of the week they were nearly all broken. We woke the next day to find ourselves in a thick fog that would not clear until we reached the English channel, which must have been a blow for those passengers who had paid a fortune for a balcony view, especially those located near the ship’s foghorn. In the few spare moments between meals we went to the planetarium and cinema and I competed in the daily golf simulator competitions. The evening entertainment was aimed at a slightly older audience and we spent our time hanging out in plush lounges with our dinner table companions, Warren and Yvonne, travel agents on a free cruise. Luxury, relaxation and eating were the themes and excitement was low on the agenda so it was something of a highlight that after 4 days we slowed to a crawl to find the four man crew of the Artemis in the fog. Bobbing around in their tiny vessel they were on their way to breaking the world record for rowing across the Atlantic.
As the fog cleared and the sunlight glittered on the sea the distant outline of the Isles of Scilly came into view on the horizon, our first sighting of Blighty in over 2 years. I had mixed emotions about going home, I was really looking forwards to seeing friends and family after so long, and to chips with salt n vinegar and a pint of Guinness, I was sad that our amazing adventure was coming to an end and a little apprehensive about rejoining the rat race during a recession without a home, a job or money.
Bleary eyed we stumbled out onto the deck on a typically grey English morning to the unglamorous surroundings of Southampton docks. We wheeled the bikes through the old age pensioners and towards the exit and we were completely surprised to see my emotional parents waving a “welcome home” banner at us. I was so taken aback that I forgot to give them all our unnecessary gear and after we had said goodbye I cycled off towards Portsmouth with a warm glow in my heart. It was a short days ride but it still rained on us. As the lines of cars whizzed past we cycled over a tidal creek with shopping trolley and car tyres poking out of the mud – things had not changed very much.
We stayed the night with my friend Rosemarie and her boyfriend Pete before continuing east through a rainswept Chichester and then along the sunny coast. In Brighton Tracey’s friend Iain kindly let us stay at his flat for a few days while we reintegrated back into society and ate fish & chips. The chalk hills of the South Downs seemed to have shrunk in our absence and we rode over the top of them without breaking sweat. We wended our way north on lovely country lanes through The Weald and under the flight path for Gatwick airport. My friend Andrew in Reigate showed us his new chickens, cooked us a b-b-q in the rain and plied us with drinks and the next morning even though he looked rather hungover he kindly rode ahead of us to show us the backroads to the top of the North Downs.
We weaved in and out of the slow moving south London traffic on the new bright blue Cycle Superhighway which took us through Tooting and then Balham. It felt strange to be riding my old commute to work through Clapham, past the place where Tracey got knocked off one morning and past my old flat in Oval. We cycled onto Waterloo Bridge over the River Thames 800 days after we had cycled over it in the other direction. We had just met Peter, a cyclist and Sun photographer on his day off and he took some nice photos of us as we popped a bottle of champagne and drank it out of our camping mugs. A passer-by asked if we had done something special, “yes” I replied, “we have just cycled around the world”.