Gibraltar To London

Gibraltar to London Days 16 & 17: Elbeuf to London

Distance: 103 miles

Total Distance: 1323 miles

 

I was so exhausted from my 103-mile day I switched off my alarm and slept in until 9am – 3 hours later than I had become accustomed to.

I packed up my tent for the final time and began the incredibly difficult process of descending the steep slope I’d climbed up the night before. Getting my bags down wasn’t too difficult, but hauling my bike down was something of a challenge. Once everything was safely by the roadside, I reloaded my bike and set off to cover the final 48 miles to the coast.

I was to catch a ferry from Dieppe to Newhaven at 1am that night. I had intentionally booked the latest departure that day to give me as much time as possible to make it here from Gibraltar. There was plenty of time to get there so I was in no hurry at all.

I began another big climb, at the top of which I saw plenty of lovely spots that would have made perfect campsites if only I’d continued for another mile or so – annoying but this is always the way. As I crested the rise I was greeted with a beautiful view of the River Seine below me and the city of Rouen in the distance. Before starting my journey I had had vague hopes of getting to Rouen on a Saturday so I could do my first international parkrun, but today was Sunday and I had missed the boat. I’m not sure I could physically have got here any faster than I had done.

I began a long descent down to the Seine where I was ferried over the water on what I can only describe as a big wobbly raft for cars. Five minutes later I was back on the saddle and pedalling along the river through industrial estates, enjoying some delightful scenery composed of factories, chemical plants and disused railway lines.

On the outskirts of Rouen, the welcome sight of a roadside McDonalds beckoned me. I fuelled myself with coffee and procrastinated here for a while before continuing. P.S. I just want to make it known that McDonalds coffee is better than that of any chain coffee shop you can name. That is objective truth, please don’t message me.

The last big climb of my journey awaited me almost immediately afterwards. It was a short climb but a difficult one, and probably the steepest of my journey so far. I then stayed high for about 20 miles, riding a long and windy road towards the coast. I expected to see the sea long before I actually did, but it was only once I actually began the descent into Dieppe that I saw the sparkling blue water that signalled the end of a continent. The last few miles had seemed to go on forever, but I found a new burst of energy as I rode down towards the ocean, pulled by the siren song of the water.

I headed straight for the sea, dropped my bike on the beach, took my shoes off and sprawled out on the sand. I had done it! Two countries crossed, over 1200 miles done and I was finally on the home stretch. I was elated, feeling that joyful sense of victory already, even though I still had a way to go. I bought myself a celebratory ice cream then sat in the sun for a few hours revelling in my accomplishment with a big delicious beer.

Gibraltar To London

Before getting to the ferry terminal, I grabbed a takeaway pizza which I devoured by the harbour –  I wasn’t going to inflict my smell on any undeserving restaurant diners. I had to wait a long long time in the terminal waiting room. I tried to sleep but the hard plastic chairs made it impossible to get comfortable – a design feature that was probably intentional to stop people like me dirtying them up. There were a few other bikepackers milling around – a couple of people cycling from Paris to London and another guy from the Netherlands who was just aimlessly cycling around Europe. He asked me the best way to cycle to Brighton and I told him I had no idea but probably a safe bet to just follow the coast from the ferry port at Newhaven.

Finally we were called on board the ferry where I immediately made for the comfiest seat I could find and sat slumped forward with my head on my down jacket as a makeshift pillow. Four hours later, with a grand total of zero minutes sleep, the call to disembark came. Groaning and limping I headed below decks to get my bike.

Here I was, back in England. I could almost smell London already. It was 5am and far too dark to set off immediately, plus I wasn’t going to get very far without some fuel in me.

Just my luck! Filling my field of vision were the huge golden arches that could only mean one thing – a McDonalds, right next to the ferry terminal. This would make three McDonalds visits in three days. It was becoming a worrying habit. I may have been imagining it but I was fairly sure I was developing a McSmell, the pungent odours of fat, grease and sadness somehow even overriding the aroma of sweat and dirt that had permeated my skin throughout the last two weeks.

Coffee and breakfast inside me, I set out at 6am with the sky already much lighter.

A mere 55 miles to go to reach my final destination at The Shard in London Bridge. Easy. It was nothing compared to what had come before. I was on the final stretch now, but my energy levels were completely depleted – even with all the caffeine and hash browns flowing through my veins. Just lifting my legs over the bike was a struggle. I had a massive supply of energy gels, chews and bars within easy reach – every pocket on me was stuffed with them. There was no way I’d get to London without being chemically assisted.

I rode north through the beautiful South Downs, the sun rising golden over the hills. I had ridden this route before in the other direction when I cycled from London to Paris earlier this year, so it was fun to recall things and places I had observed then and forgotten.

My route took me through tree-lined country roads with very little traffic to worry about. Leaving the South Downs behind, I passed through East Grinstead where the increase in traffic and noise informed me that I was approaching London.

From the moment I crossed beneath the M25, my ride became increasingly stressful. I was constantly on edge due to dangerous drivers passing way too close and way too fast. Getting into London took forever, and I allowed myself to stop every six miles to take a quick breather and throw another energy chew into my mouth. My lack of sleep was catching up with me and I was really struggling to cover miles. The heavy traffic, the fumes and the large crowds of people on the pavements and running across the roads were a bit of a shock to the system after so long on my own.

I kept looking out for The Shard but with all the buildings and buses around me I didn’t see it until I was a couple of miles away. As it loomed over me, I cycled right up to the building, touched a beam and then headed to London Bridge where I hassled a couple of American tourists to take a celebratory photo of me.

I had made it! I had cycled all the way from Gibraltar to London. A 1200 mile route which, due to various detours and wrong turns, had turned into over 1300. It felt incredible to have succeeded. There had been some real doubts before I set out – and even during my ride – whether I would make it but here I was.

Gibraltar To London Gibraltar To London

Physically, this ride was the hardest thing I have ever done. Even despite having trained extensively for the 14 weeks leading up to it, cycling long distances day after day really takes it out of you. On the mental side of things I didn’t struggle too much. I never really lost motivation or felt like packing it all in. I didn’t see a single drop of rain or get a single puncture. In fact, despite one minor crash, things couldn’t have turned out better.

Would I do a bikepacking trip again? Yes, definitely. Travelling by bike is a great way to get around. You get to see so much more and travel so much faster than when you’re on foot. That said, I would have liked to be able to go a bit slower and enjoy myself and my surroundings more. I do still prefer travelling on foot however, because even though there were times on this trip I felt completely isolated and cut off, it never felt as wild as I would have liked. There were times when I longed for the mountains and the trails. I can say with some certainty that there will be another bikepacking journey on the cards in the not-too-distant future, ideally a lot slower and a lot longer, but I have plenty of things on the adventure calendar to sustain me until then.

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