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Day twenty one: From a beautifully ordinary day to a joyfully happy reunion

Waking up in England for the first time in over a week felt like a true homecoming and as I set off on the final quarter of my adventure I was acutely aware that it was almost over. In one sense such milestone moments do drive you on to keep going and finish the course, but there was also a tinge of sadness attached to the realisation. Of course, I wanted to get to the end and be able to look back on the accomplishment with a sense of achievement (and a little bit of pride), but I also knew I would miss its daily challenges. For so long the pain, the excitement, the victories and the wonderful views set before me each new day had been my companions and I knew it wouldn’t be the same without them.

But what was really spurring me on was the fact that after two long weeks apart, today was the day that I would finally be reunited with Penny and the children and even better, now that the school holidays had started they would be accompanying me the whole way to the end.  What better inspiration did I need?

Becoming the fisherman’s friend…

As if to remind me of the value of the moment, rather than lingering on the past or the future for too long, Newbiggin-by-the-Sea treated me to a wonderful sunrise as I set off on my the first cycle of the day. These were certainly busier roads than I had enjoyed during most of my time in Scotland and the ‘head down’ approach had to be reeled in a little. So it was lovely to arrive at the sandy beach of Whitley Bay and get back into the water for a 2km swim. Then, at Tynemouth, it was time for the kayak to make my way around the head of the river and down towards South Shields.

As I ventured out into the sea I was delighted to meet fellow kayakers out on the flat, calm sunny waves. Whereas I was a journeyman traveller just passing by, these guys were professionals, up early and already working. They were fishermen out catching herring and it was fun to talk to them about their work (what a life!) and tell them all about my adventure. I left my new Geordie fisherman friends behind with mutual good wishes shared and a feeling of kinship that I still recall every time it is kippers for breakfast.

Perfect timing on the long road ahead

It was back on the bike after landing the kayak, and getting ready for what would be the single longest cycle ride of the entire adventure. I was looking at around 135km with an interesting bridge to look forward to and a meet up with family in Staithes.  What I didn’t realise at the time was just how fortuitous my bridge timing would turn out to be.

So, I set off via Whitburn, to Sunderland, through Seaham, along the charming Durham Heritage Coastline, whizzing through Hartlepool at lightning speed and then following the River Tees inland at Middlesbrough towards its famous transporter bridge. The longest of its type in the world, and quite a sight to behold, it really is one of those feats of engineering that needs to be seen to be appreciated. And I arrived on the very day it re-opened…

It turns out that, after being awarded £2.6m of lottery funding for a refurb, the bridge had been closed since August 2013 and had just started working (for foot passengers only) on the day I arrived in July 2015. What are the chances?

It is a funny thing that although I can remember most elements of my journey, over those four weeks, in full colour, with pinpoint clarity, the only thing I remember about that journey was the bridge. Sometimes in life and in business you go through times when everything is just going well. Nothing of note is occurring, good fortune and timeliness give you their favour and there are no dramas in sight. My advice would be to enjoy them, lift up your head and take in the view, do positive things, keep the momentum going and drive yourself forward to your destination while the distractions and obstacles are giving you a break.

A joyful reunion…but a sad farewell…

As we approached Staithes where I knew Nigel and Steph, Penny’s Aunt and Uncle, were waiting the sense of anticipation was growing…..It was just wonderful to be cycling along a long and hilly road to suddenly spot Nigel step out to take some great photos as Tim and I rode by.  I knew that Penny, Jamie and Annabelle were waiting for me at the campsite just outside Scarborough and it really spurred Tim and I on along the Cinder Trail, a wonderful disused railway route; complete with abandoned platforms, empty buildings and the echo of yesteryear. This route, beautifully and hauntingly serene, took us all the way from Whitby to Scarborough.  Tim’s help, humour and encouragement over the previous few days had been priceless, so it was lovely to have his company  and I would be sad to say goodbye to him as he headed off home in the morning.

The welcome that I received from the children that day is something that will stay with me forever….the excitement emanating from a 7 and 4 year old was nearly too overwhelming, but you don’t know just how good it was to give them a cuddle after such a long time apart; and to see the ever supportive Penny made every long, tiring step on the journey so far totally worth it.

We had booked Tony into a hotel in Scarborough that evening and myself and the family decamped to a B&B….what a surreal end to the day, tucking the children up in bed, reading them a story and then falling into a deep sleep in the luxury of a proper bed.