Dineke dropped me at a service station on the motorway between Sassenheim and Den Haag, and I waited about 90 minutes before getting picked up by Martin, Who’d just started a marine salvage business. He took me to a service station near Rotterdam, and I was walking to the exit when a car pulled up and offered me a ride. This was Vosie, whose name I hope I’m spelling correctly,who’d recently opened a fish restaurant and cafe in Antwerp; he gave me a bottle of water and a pastry, and took me just over the border into Belgium. We passed the service station where Mike and Leah had picked me up on my way into Amsterdam just a few days before, and he dropped me off at the next one, about 10km down the road.
On reflection, this was a bad decision on my part- this was a smaller service station, and there were no junctions between it and the last one. I got to the exit, and waited. After ten minutes, I started freaking out. Why had I come to this place, why hadn’t I stoped at the previous one? Should I cross the road and hitch back up to it? Would I ever get out of here? After 20 minutes, I had a ride to Dover.
Needless to say, I could not believe my good luck. This was Gregor, a Polish truck driver. We pulled off, got stuck in traffic jam, and I couldn’t have been happier.
After travelling through the industrial wasteland that surrounds the ferryports of Calais, and being depressed by the sheer number of immigrants in lay-bys and camps, trying to make it to the UK, we arrived at passport control. I’m not sure what happened next, because it was all in Polish, but Gregor somehow got me listed as a backup driver. This meant that when we got on board, I got a free meal in the driver’s canteen.
I asked around on the ferry for anyone who was heading to London, but no one was, or their cars were full. I went to the stairs to the vehicle deck to wait, still holding my sign for London, but no one approached. I got down to the vehicle deck when the doors were opened, and waited by Gregor’s truck. Suddenly, there was a shout, and some people beckoned me over.
“You’re going to London?“ they said
“Yes, could I have a ride?“
“Yes, if you can show us the way.“
Back in England, I turned on the data on my phone, and found us a route. I got them to take me to Sutton, so I could get a bus to Bryony and Phil’s, and then wrote down the directions from there to where they were going in Chelsea. I hope they made it ok!
I spent that night with Bryony and Phil, and the next day as well. Phil gave me Roundcat, who’s become my mascot, and walked me to the station in Carshalton. After that, I caught a bunch of trains and tubes out to Gunnersbury, at the beginning of the M4, and waited 20 seconds for a ride to Bristol. The final day (I hoped) couldn’t have got off to a better start, or so I thought until I tried to get a ride out of Leigh Delamere services for the M5. From there, it was a punishing 6 rides to Exeter, stopping at literally all but one of the service stations on the M5, before finally getting a ride to Plymouth. All of these rides were wonderful, and I wish I’d written more about them, but being back in England meant being able to chat, and so I didn’t take nearly so many notes.
During the last few days of the trip, I started thinking all the stupid end of trip stuff, all What Has This Trip Taught Me and such. I’d come a long way since the stress and anxiety of the first few days, on the way down through France, but it still comes back to me when I’m in a bad spot. In a good spot, I’ll happily wait for 6 hours, but in a bad spot, I’ll be freaking out after ten minutes. The main cause of stress on this trip was when I imposed time limits on myself, when I wanted to be somewhere at a certain time, and then was bummed out by not making it. Then there was the elation of reaching a destination, tempered by the anxiety of leaving it. A lot of the hard parts of this trip would have been made easier by having company; that said, I’ve done a great many things in my life where I wished I had someone to share them with, and I don’t think this was one of them. Sure, the long waits and anxiety of leaving would have been a lot easier with company, but the connections that I made, and the experiences I had, would have been diluted, I think. That’s not to say that I’ll always travel alone, just that I’m really glad I did the first time.
I totally intended to bring you the final statistics here, but I can’t work them out exactly. Roughly:
Total distance (whole trip) 4400km (2735miles)
Total wait time: 42 hours
Total time: 22 days