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Ecstasy England

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Still filled with warm fuzzies from an epic adventure in Wales I took an evening train from Swansea, Wales to Bristol, England as the sun was setting and casting warm hues of yellow and orange on the buildings and trees of the last kilometers of Wales. Just as the sun disappeared it was quickly replaced by thick clouds that soon dumped huge doses of rain as I crossed the border into England. Gotta love that UK weather!

Like Wales, England was already shaping up to be a most untraditional Peace Pedalers adventure. For one, I was being hosted by a man named Paul and his girlfriend Jo who were introduced to me by my good friend Mette from Copenhagen, Denmark. This is nothing new, but what is new is the fact that Mette has never personally met Paul or Jo since they are really cyber friends who met online through a website called Life Journals. Paul had received an email from Mette asking if he would mind hosting me when I came in from Wales and Paul took a leap of faith to open his home up to strangers for the first time in his life. What made it even more interesting is the fact that my dear friend and fellow Aquarian globetrotter Emma who I first met in Zimbabwe was going to be joining the couch surfing expedition as well.

My first interaction with an Englishman was an elderly chap named Raymond who got off at the same stop in Bristol with me. He could tell I was a bit confused by the fact that I did not see my host Paul at the station as we had planned. He filled me in on the fact that there are two Bristol stations and perhaps Paul was waiting at the other station. The quick call to Paul confirmed this fact so my mission was to get to the other Bristol station somehow. Raymond was a total champ and went into action searching out the train, finding an elevator to lug myself and my gear to the other tracks and even helping me move my kit from one end of the station to the other.

The helpful English hands continued as I had just a minute to get all my kit on the next train and I had three people all helping me toss my gear onto the train. Upon arrival at the next station I had two more sets helping hands all making my entry into Bristol so so sweet. I finally met the smiling Paul and we went into action building up the tandem for our 6 mile ride to his house. But we got one more dose of friendliness when a bystander of the bike building process and I struck up a conversation and he gave me a cold beer for Paul and I to share while we built up the bike. England was off to a great start.

Paul had never been on a tandem before but admitted that he loved to ride and was ready to pedal away. Paul is a big guy with legs the size of tree trunks so I immediately felt his power as we boogied down the dark, wet streets of Bristol. It was Friday night and I promised Emma we would celebrate our reuniting with some champagne so we hit the local market for some beverages and were soon hammering up the endless hill up to Paul’s place. Paul was recovering from surgery and had been off the bike for a while so he was huffing and puffing pretty hard as he gave all he had, which was more than I expected from a guy supposedly out of shape. We were flying!

We finally made it to Paul and Jo’s place and I got a warm, welcome hug from Emma. The last time we saw each other was in San Francisco in 2007 so it was great to see her. We went to work finding a home for all the gear and settled into our weekend home. We started the evening with a meal of Chinese food and toasted with champagne to new friendship we were building from nothing more than an email request to host me from Copenhagen, Denmark. Thanks Mette!

Although it was clear that Jo and Paul were out of their comfort zone a bit hosting us, it was also evident that there were positive connections between us all. It was one of the “meant to be” kinda connections that, although they are a bit uncomfortable at the start, you know will only get better as time passes. Rather than hit the town that night we opted to relax, watch some hilarious comedy, giggle, sip champagne, share and bond in their basement hideaway which became our home for the weekend. By the end of our first night Jo and Paul had warmed up to us and we were all grateful for the experience.

The next day the sun came out in full force and it was a perfect day for a ride along the bike path from Bristol to Bath, about a 20 mile ride. Emma and I hopped on the tandem, Paul took his own bike and Jo decided to stay home for the day. The bike path is a former railway line and was lined with rich green trees and bushes and loaded with people out walking, skating and riding. The ride was divine and was another great opportunity to catch up with Emma and build our friendship with Paul.

We arrived in sun bathed town of Bath about 2PM and the pubs were literally loaded with loyal rugby fans drinking up for 4PM kickoff of the premier league game between Bath and Gloucester. The town of Bath is marvelous with spectacular architecture, nice natural spaces and a great feel. We chatted up a bunch of rugby fans while enjoying some local brew and I shared with Emma and Paul my desire to go to the game. I love the game of rugby and played for several years so I really was dying to catch a premier league game, especially on such a sunny day in Bath, England!

Emma also likes rugby and wanted to go. The bad news was that tickets were going for about 80 dollars each and neither of us wanted to go THAT bad. Emma and I decided we would simply find free tickets somehow, a statement that almost made Paul laugh. “No way are you going to find free tickets. This is premier league rugby and a classic match”, Paul warned us. But Emma and I, both incurable optimists, knew better and were off on a mission to find those free tickets.

We took a ride over to the field as the fans lined up, did a bit of filming along the river and then perfect opportunity presented itself. A guy was scalping tickets outside the stadium just a few minutes before kickoff. I approached the guy and gave him my request for free tickets which, of course, he laughed at. I told him about the Peace Pedalers adventures and our quest for free tickets and after just five more minutes of failed attempts to sell his his two extra tickets the game kicked off. This chap named Nathan then walked over to us and gave us the tickets, for free. Paul almost fell over in shock and never heard of anything like this happening. But Emma and I just knew it was going to happen celebrated like little kids, dancing around and giggling with our tickets in our hands!

Paul had to head home to get ready for his band’s gig that night so Emma and I brought over a rack of beer to Nathan and his friends who were all celebrating the stag party of Nathan himself. They all even had paper masks of Nathan’s face and it was a classic site. We were all so happy to be in each other’s company, outside enjoying the sunshine, world class rugby, breathtaking views, new friends, tons of laughs, hilarious spectators in all sorts of costumes, cold beer with big positive vibes thriving.

Even though Bath lost the game it was a great day to be alive. Emma and I had a pleasant tandem ride back to Paul and Jo’s place with epic views of the mountains, rivers and plenty of locals sharing the sunshine and car free riding on the Bristol-Bath cycling route. We made it back in time to get showered up and ready to hit the town with Jo to enjoy a night of music brought to us by none other than our host Paul and his band at an epic venue called “The Fleece”, which is one of Bristol’s most famous locations for live music.

That Saturday night in Bristol was unforgettable. Paul and the band put on a performance that had the entire room dancing all night. Emma and I danced non-stop, Jo was rocking the front row and smiles did not leave any of our faces the entire evening. It was the perfect ending to a glorious Saturday in Bristol!

The next morning Paul was so excited to share a bit of English culture and take us out to a traditional “Sunday Roast” lunch at this father’s pub just outside Bristol. After the daily ritual of our regular “Muesli Party” we were off. The weather was again very pleasant with mild temperatures, no rain and plenty of doses of bright sunshine. The pub was located in a charming old town right by a gentle river, under a huge bridge and surrounded by pristine nature with tables outside to suck it all in.

The Sunday Roast was divine with a massive plate of meats, potatoes, veggies and gravy. And we washed it all down by the famous cloudy, potent cider that was slowly making our crew quite giggly. We spent the rest of the afternoon with full bellies, mildly buzzed brains and with all sorts of entertainment including a classic motorcycle rally bringing funny two wheeled fanatics from all over England right to the pub. All the while the relationships between us all were growing closer and closer and none of us wanted it to end.

Monday morning was our planned departure since Paul was meant to head back to work and Emma and I had planned to head south to meet up with some friends we connected with down in Gambia, West Africa. But Paul and Jo both wanted to do some more riding and none of us were in a hurry to end the fun and connection between us. So Paul took a day off work, Emma got to cranking out some work at the house and we all found a way to take care of “business” while keeping our magical foursome of fun in tact.

I got to enjoy another ride with Paul into Bristol with the cameras running and a powerful rolling dialogue. I then met up with Jo who then hoped on the bike for her go on the tandem and, although Jo did not want to do a full filming session, I was able to capture some of her thoughts on the helmet camera in stealth mode. We told her about it later and it was not a bother at all, as long as she didn’t know it was happening. That night we celebrated our last dinner together with a big curry feast and cuddling up watching a movie on Paul’s big screen projector gig. By this time we were all feeling like family and so satisfied with the entire experience.

The moment finally came for Emma and I to make our way to Southampton to visit our friends Rich and Jo who we met in the Gambia and have a nice ride in the New Forest Park. Emma and I had an amazing ride in the beautiful forest and ran the cameras to capture the heart and mind of Emma. Emma did great on the camera and we got some wonderful footage. From there it was off to celebrate not only the reuniting with Rich and Jo, but also their wedding anniversary! Once again, champagne was brought out, another awesome home cooked meal enjoyed and great conversations until the wee hours of the night.

This evening was going to be the last for Emma and I since my plan was to ride with at least two and possibly three English guest riders who I had been in contact with already. All three riders were in this south eastern region of England and I hoped to ride east with them and hit the road the next day. But as I was trying to lay out the final plans with my guest riders I ended up getting emails and sms messages from them all having to cancel their plans to ride due to work commitments. At first I was quite let down and sad, but then I remembered that indeed everything happens for a reason and I surrendered to the next adventure to be.

Emma cooked up a traditional English breakfast the next morning at Jo and Rich’s place and we looked at my options based on these cancellations. One option would be to say goodbye to Emma and start pedaling solo east and hope to meet some cool English folks along the way. But based on the fact that well-planned English riders were canceling I did not feel all that optimistic about getting a spontaneous rider to leave their job and family with a total stranger.

The other option Emma proposed would be for her to cancel virtually all her work commitments and invite me to join her up to London where she had a brief restaurant evaluation to do and then could take the rest of the week off for more riding, camping and fun together. So this new plan was quite enticing, as it involved more adventures with divine times with Emma, a yummy meal at her restaurant and a pimpin’ free stay at her company’s hotel too! Also, I would be able to meet up with another friend of mine for dinner in London who I met in Mozambique and Swaziland. So just like that, we were off to London!

The meal marvelous and it was great to watch Emma go about her business of evaluating this restaurant in stealth mode. We were not allowed to actually announce we were evaluating it but we were. From there we made our way through the crazy London traffic to the hotel where we showered up and headed off to meet my friend Jackie for drinks. I had not seen Jackie since 2006 and it was great to reconnect and check out London. We called it an early night since the next day we were off to Harwich for some more riding and camping.

Emma finished her final evaluation and we were off to Harwich where I would get my ferry the next day to Holland. This was by far the most time I have spent in a car on my Peace Pedalers expedition, but we were having fun and the time to talk, share and build our friendship was just as good in the car as it would be on the bike. We made it to Harwich in time to take a nice afternoon ride along the coast as the sun was slowly setting, visit the swans by the lake and explore the cool town of Harwich.

We found the only campsite in Harwich, which was actually a pub with a big chunk of grass behind it and called it home for the night. We hit the town for some grub and a cold beer before hitting the tent relatively early to get some rest for my long ferry to Holland the next day.

That Friday morning was a sad one as once again I had to say goodbye to one of my most dear friends. For a full week we shared the adventures of the unknown together in England in a state of total bliss. It was extremely hard to say goodbye and many tears flowed. I pedaled off from the campsite to the port in a mixed state of gratitude and sadness and fortunately Emma pulled beside me one more time for a last farewell before entering the ferry gates.

I want to thank Paul and Jo for their gracious hospitality and opening up so much to Emma and me—we will never forget you two! Rich and Jo, thanks for sharing your home and anniversary celebration with us—it was so great to see you both again. And Emma, for being such a fun and meaningful partner in crime during my entire adventure in England, making so many generous changes in your schedule and making me feel so very special. I will be forever grateful for my experiences in England!

Oh, and one final message to the British folks out there. Don’t take life too seriously and watch out for becoming a slave to your jobs like so many Americans. Work to live, don’t live to work. I feel inspired to send this message after spending over three weeks in Scotland, Wales and England.

Live Big. Give Big. Love Big.

Jamie :)

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