Four hundred and sixteen days and eight thousand one hundred and thirteen miles later...
So to get the final trip facts out of the way before feelings: I eventually left Berlin on Tuesday 29th April after a few days of running all over the city trying to find suitable parts to rebuild my rear wheel which had cracked somewhere between Bangkok and Berlin. Thanks to that delay I spent a full 2 weeks in the city, hopefully not the last of my time there - I love it.
From Berlin I jumped back on my bike again for what, by now, was the first time in 4 months (yes, this was a bike trip). Thankfully everything, metal and muscle, worked as well as it had before though in terms of the latter just a little more sluggishly. I rode through the centre of the city from the East, along Karl Marx Allee and Unter den Linden, under Brandenburg Gate and out through Tiergarten to the West. I was following the Europaradweg R1 which, incredibly, stretches 3,500km from St Petersburg in Russia to Boulogne-sur-Mer in France, mostly on bike paths and away from traffic. After 60, 70 and 80 mile days on this I decided its winding gravelly nature wouldn't get me home as soon as I wanted - the 3 nights wild camping in the forest being harassed by wild boar made me realise I was over the adventure for now, my mind and body accustomed to more (relatively) luxurious living. I fast-forwarded on the roads for a couple of days of solid south-westerly winds, consistently riding in the same direction as the 100s of wind turbines were facing, seemingly generating at full capacity. I was happy to be back on my bike and enjoying the freedom, but happy to be heading home.
I'd set myself a goal of reaching Bruges to see the start of Belgium's version of the Superbowl, the Tour of Flanders, but with the roads and headwinds I'd have arrived about 5 days too late so I jumped on the train in the west of Germany to skip there for the big day. Bruges is a lovely city, apart from all the tourists, and what with the race and a Scout jamboree it was packed. I was up at 6am to catch all of the pre-race excitement and get my close-up photos of the pros, saw the start and spent the afternoon with a Duvel watching the race unfold on TV in a local bar. Come the finish, feeling slightly drunk (Duvel is 8% beer and I am a lightweight) I rode out of the city for 30 miles to find somewhere to camp, thankfully sans boar.
From Germany (my last new country) back to the Netherlands, Belgium and France, I headed for Dieppe and the ferry back to Newhaven, headwinds persisting and huge HGV traffic on small country roads reminiscent of Vietnam (no beeping though). The riding in northern Europe was as uninspiring as on my journey south and breaks to buy stuff from patisseries and then breaks to eat stuff bought from patisseries occupied most of my day, which following the changing of the clocks were long ones, not really being able to set up camp until dusk set in at 8pm. Then I'd cook pasta, and sleep.
Even over the last few days I continued meeting lovely, friendly people - to name just a few, the sweet German-Turkish girl leaving Berlin (I'm sorry I forgot your name! Let me know how it all goes planning for Australia), the disabled lady on the hand bike who rode with me till I got back on track on Germany, David in week 3 of his trip to Russia and Skandinavia and Ian on his first day on the mainland on his way to Hong Kong and around the world (I was pleased to feel no envy whatsoever!) Mariusz (?!) the very excited Polish truck driver in the ferry terminal and the friendly police at the UK border who were half interested and half intelligence gathering on my time in Iran. Forget the cycling, the people really have been the central part of this trip.
With the feeling of adventure gone (in me, and in the fact that riding in Europe is a bit simpler than riding in Turkey, Iran or India) I was very happy to find myself cresting the hills of the South Downs on a beautiful sunny spring day and knowing that home was just around the corner.
So that's a brief summing up of the last of the cycling on this part of Riding East - over the next few weeks I'll add a few posts with thoughts and moments and highlights of the past 14 months, and what is to come for the future.