Day 13 - (September 3rd, 2014)
My flight from Shannon to Stansted was early in the morning so I parked the rental car in a designated lot and dropped the keys in a safe box. Considering Jason and I had this beautiful hatchback for over a week at only 13 euros per day, I was a little worried about getting the bill in the mail with a ton of hidden fees. However, as we had found to be the case so many times throughout Ireland, people are there to help and do not wish to screw anyone over. Total bill for the car was only $175!
With the car out of the way, I proceeded to get ready to be royally screwed when I tried to check my bags on Ryan Air. I was warned of their policies (much like Spirit in the US) where they charged for everything, including checking in if you don’t do it online. WORD TO THE WISE ALWAYS CHECK IN ONLINE WITH RYAN AIR AS THEY CAN CHARGE OVER $100 IF YOU DO IT AT THE GATE.
Luckily, I had checked in online and already paid for my two bags (which were over double the cost of my 20 euro flight) and was good to go. After saying hi to my friends at the airport who helped me when my bags were lost, I boarded the plane ready for the next adventure.
Once I landed at Stansted, I immediately realized why no one flew in there. Unless you have your own car, it is near impossible to get into London. I had already made up my mind to ride my bike, but the only way to get to the FedEx office 1 mile away was to take a cab with a minimum fare of 25 euros from the only cab company in the whole airport. What a racket!
Once at FedEx, I methodically put together Bertha as I knew I would not be taking her apart again until at least Denmark. Surprisingly, it took me an hour as I even super-glued some ball bearings into the headset and seat-post screw holes so that any would-be thieves would think twice about stealing parts off my baby.
Finally together, she looked beautiful, albeit heavy with everything I needed for the trip bundled up on her. I sent off the bike bag, along with a few items I decided I didn’t need inside, to my cousin Kim in Aarhus, Denmark. I figured FedEx was the cheapest and most accessible way, but it was still nearly $160!
The first leg of the 50-mile trip did not go very well. Without a SIM card in England, I had to load the map in the airport on my phone to get to the nearest Vodafone retailer 7 miles away before I could head due south to London. Call me a pansy, but I just did not feel safe riding without a phone to use in the case of an emergency. One of the two promises I made with my mom, the other being to not ride at night if I could avoid it.
Immediately I got lost trying to find Vodafone. To make matters worse, I found out real soon that I was carrying a few too many pounds over the rear tire. At the first slight bump I blew my first tube and damaged the sidewall of my rear tire. Luckily I had spares, but not a good way to start.
Once my new SIM card was in I started feeling better and picked up speed on my way through the canal system that would eventually lead me to London. I had scoped out this route via Google Maps and had done street-views all along the canal system to make sure the roads were good enough. However, seeing them on a screen and riding along them are two different things entirely.
These paths along the canal were more like bumpy mountain bike single-track than road. The further away from London the worse they were and the first 20+ miles were miserable. Further, I went through another 2 tubes along the way, leaving myself with only a patch-kit for protection the rest of the way to London.
Thankfully, the paths slowly turned into roads and I was able to meander my way into London only a few hours late for dinner with Zach, Aly, and a few other Princeton friends. My hotel was small, but was situated right next to Notting Hill and central to everything. Content, I took a quick shower and met up with my friends in Chelsea.
To say I needed a drink was an understatement. Those first 50 miles were not easy, but I had a few days in London to recover and had an amazing first night/mini Princeton reunion with Aly, Zach, Marie, Louisa, Casey, Hesh, and Phil: