The Last Post
We hit the river Loire last Saturday at a town called Digoin and followed the sweeping paths alongside its banks for three days before we finally parted company.
The river turns majestically to the west towards Nantes before splaying into the Atlantic Ocean. For me, I continued homeward bound to the north west towards Caen. The Loire was a great guide for me and a refreshing change of scenery as opposed to the mundanity of busy roads and traffic. The wildlife is immense and I quite often had to give way to geese, deer, otters and goats along its paths.
Camping along its banks for three nights was a big turning point for me emotionally. I will always remember sitting in the sun on the river bank overlooking the town of Nevers, if there is such a thing as Nirvana then I must have been nearly at that state.
Hot water bottle
As well as daytime cycling I have done three late cycles, cycling well into the darkness of the night. These were not all planned, but sudden hills slowed my progress.
I decided to continue to do the planned mileage of at least 50 miles a day to keep to schedule and was able to get Lotte on the bike a bit more being away from the traffic, heat and fast downhill stretches. She continues to amaze me and really does the adage of "mans best friend" justice.
My final few days cycling have probably been the toughest yet, not just the constant and relentless cycling, but with brisk northerly winds slowing me and keeping the temperatures down to below 6 degrees both for the cycling and sleeping in the tents at night (although Lotte does make a great hot water bottle and I am sure she thinks the same of me).
Today we finally reached the end of our French journey, cycling the final 33 miles to the ferry port of Caen. It was quite an emotional experience for all of us as it seems such a long time ago that we set off from England, arriving into Starigrad on the Island of Hvar in Croatia.
I have cycled almost continuously on a daily basis with just a handful of days off for recuperation. Although it's been tough for me, Lotte and Charlie, we are cycling towards the safety and comfort of family and friends at home with our target ever getting nearer. It made me think of all the soldiers who would have been battling in the other direction 70 years ago. Getting further from their families each day with no fixed agenda or end in sight and the strong possibility of never returning to their loved ones at all.
Riding past the war memorials over the last couple of days was evidence of this and very moving to say the least. I dedicated my cycle into Caen to all the fallen heroes of the Normandy beaches who never got the opportunity to get to their finish line. We planted seeds along the tops of the beaches and at the Pegasus bridge, which was so violently fought for by the parachute regiment at the commencement of the D Day landings. So humbling to think so many gave their lives 70 years ago so that I could cross it as a free man to cycle back home today! We should always remember them and what they did, as it really does affect the very way we lead our life today.
My final day I would like to take the opportunity to make Sunday's cycle to Alton the chance to thank everyone for all of their continued support. The donations have been immense and I know that we will easily break £10,000 for the fantastic charities that Emma had supported in the past as well as CRUSE my chosen charity.
From every Facebook and Twitter message, to the help, support and best wishes on route, it has really spurred us on and kept us going.
A special thanks to the two Sarahs and Zoe who have been my digital cheerleaders throughout and not forgetting the lovely Ruth who designed all of my artwork and logos for the trip. THANK YOU!
I hope to meet everyone at the finish line and please introduce yourself to me, Charlie and Lotte as we really have been reading every last comment and donation you make. Also Lotte is obviously keen to meet some of her fan club!
So it goes without saying that my last day of cycling is dedicated to the memory of my beautiful wife Emma - my love and my inspiration for the trip. I feel that she has been alongside Lotte and I the whole way, laughing at our mishaps and mistakes, guiding us through the traffic of the cities and leading us through the narrow mountain passes.
From the beautiful butterflies, wild flowers and bees along the rivers to the birdsong in the morning. I know that she was with us all the way. Thank you Emma x
Farewell for now and I leave you with a picture that I could not look at for at least a year following Emma's death. My CRUSE councillor Marion told me (even though she has never seen the picture) that when I was able to look at all my old pictures of Emma and not get too upset, I will be on the way to some sense or normality (in bereavement terms).
I still shed a tear when I look at this picture as It was such a difficult and final moment in all of our lives. Emma adored Lotte, just as I adore her today. I sneaked Lotte through the hospital and into Emma's room (although the ward sister knew already) so that Emma could say goodbye. This was Emma's and Lotte's final farewell before Emma passed away a few days later. I still shed tears, but hopefully my tears of sadness will one day turn to tears of happiness and loving memories.
Today I will be cycling with Charlie, Dermot and Lucy on the Tandem and Lotte will be riding with me once we are clear of the busy roads. Simon, a colleague from work, and Marion will be riding alongside me for my journey, as she has done so for the last year or so following Emma's death.
Thank you once again and hopefully see you at the finish line outside Unique Chique in Alton. See you all on the finish line!