Phase Two Ends

Day 158: Southampton England, Sunday September 24th

The gang gathered at the Docks Cafe for breakfast. It was nice enough to eat outside. We headed back to the playground, but spotted an open Charity Shop on the way. Here Deb found perfect black shoes and a sparkly blouse. We celebrated with fun on the swings.

Will and I went to the Sea City Museum, which has an excellent Titanic exhibition, as well as a lot of really great model ships. The ladies caught up to us in the museum’s gallery of old-time arcade amusements. Harriet had her palm read by a machine that seemed to know her.

Sadly, this last event of our tour had to come to an end, as they had to catch their train back to London. We said our goodbyes, and Harriet was generous with hugs.

We still needed one important thing: bags. Without some kind of carriers we could never manage all our gear in one trip. We will not have the bikes with us when we board (supposedly), so unlike the cruise over, we can’t just strap things back onto our wheels. In a gigantic supermarket we began our search, while also picking up some things for dinner, but the lines were outrageous. The place was mad. We bailed out.

Deb wondered if a “Pound Store” would have what we need. Sure enough, the first one we checked had some woven plastic bags that would do the trick. We bought four.

Back in Woolston we picked up food at a much saner Co-op. On the walk home, there were two horses tied up outside the local pub.

Now we’re wrapping things up. Tomorrow, we check out at 11, ride into downtown Southampton where we plan to wait an hour over a craft beer at a brewpub called the Dancing Man. Boarding begins at noon, but we learned at the Florida end that everybody wants to get on right away. Hopefully the terminal will be nice and calm if we wait until about 2 pm.

Distance: 0


Brand New Kicks

Day 157: Southampton England, Saturday September 23rd

Our alarm was set to get us going fairly early today, for we wanted to get through some Charity Shops before Will and Susanne arrived from London. First store, first score: Deb got a little handbag, just big enough to hold her camera and phone.

We made note of some potential stuff in the other stores in Woolston, but there was nothing perfect, so we resolved to come back Monday morning if we found nothing better.

We walked over the big Itchen Bridge and into Southampton proper, then explored for awhile, basically at random. We did stumble across a few more Charity Shops, and Deb found a cardigan. At a second-hand place called the Beatnik Emporium Deb purchased desperately needed replacement sneakers. At another place I found a good sweater (and that’s me done).

It was sunny, even hot in the sun, and we soaked up some rays while waiting for Will, Susanne and Harriet to arrive at their hotel. Harriet, now almost four, was shy around us at first, but not for long. What a sweetheart!

We walked to the Platform Tavern for lunch, then explored the old town, catching up the whole time. Will has been purchasing some mysterious, wonderful old negatives, and had brought some of the most fascinating prints. Deb was enthralled by them, and they discussed copyright law, preservation, and archival research.

We explored the town some more and stopped at a cafe. While the rest of us finished up, Susanne and Harriet took a ride on a ferris wheel on the High Street. Later, Harriet guided us around a nice playground.

Dinner was at a good Mexican place (Deb and I didn’t know you could get good Mexican in the UK, and we’d been craving it). The hitherto tireless Harriet finally ran out of gas, and Susanne took her back to the hotel. Will, Deb and I hit the Titanic pub. It wasn’t tacky, it was actually a nice place.

The break from routine (eating at odd times, etc.) triggered one of Deb’s nasty migraines, but it was getting late anyway. We agreed to meet for breakfast, and returned to the house of pug. We had to step over Buffy the cat to get to our room.

Distance: 0



Day 156: Portsmouth to Southampton England, Friday September 22nd

The last real ride. The road gods smiled on us and granted our wish: sunny weather on our last day of serious riding.

Our pod-people hosts were in their kitchen when we went down to make tea and toast. We got a, “Good morning” then, “We’re off, have a good day.” And they were gone. Kenco watched us get ready and saw us to the door.

We rode cycle route 22 north out of the city, but discovered that it had been rerouted away from the water’s edge. We switched to route 236 in Cosham, which took us to Fareham. This was all suburban, with no real green breaks, but much of it was on separated cycle paths. Next the 224 took us south, back to the Solent. All this effort (about 3.5 hours of riding) and we found we could see the Spinnaker building at Portsmouth harbour again. It was unfortunate, but the short way, along route 2, involved a stupidly expensive ferry, and we were in no hurry on this day.

Now we were on route 2 again, the cycle route we were on all along the south coast. This time we headed west. The “Lee-on-the-Solent” section was very nice. We stopped at a small monument dedicated to the Canadian soldiers of D-Day.

Actually, the route was very nice all the way to Warsash, giving us a little bit of everything (almost). There was gravel, there was river-side, there were country roads, etc. In Warsash we found (with some difficulty) the tiny pier where an on-demand ferry took us to Hamble. It was the cutest little pink ferry boat, and we were the only passangers for our crossing. £3.50 for both of us and our bikes.

The route remained very good all the way to Woolston, the neighbourhood in Southampton where we had booked our last UK Airbnb. Once again, we were greeted by a pug: Xander. Paul, our host, gave us the standard tour, then said, “I’ll leave you to it.” Oh well. I did mention the pug, right? There’s also a cat named Buffy. Paul likes the same TV shows as us, apparently.

Woolston is a bit run down, but in a way that proved good for us, because there are lots of Charity Shops. There are some things we hope to purchase before the cruise to New York. There’s also a couple of grocery stores.

We did a big load of laundry in Paul’s machine. We’re still not clear on why driers are so rare here, but there was a drying rack in our room.



Staggeringly Good

Day 155: Newport to Portsmouth England, Thursday September 21th

Our island getaway was over. We said goodbye to Brenda and Mr. Cleese and took the rail trail (cycle route 22) north and east to the Fishbourne ferry. It was simple, as we had followed this exact path the day before, only this time we had all our gear.

A wind turbine factory on the Medina river

There were a few small hills before we found the dock, but nothing too difficult. We arrived with plenty of time to catch the noon ferry. As Deb went into the office to get us tickets I talked to the only other cycle tourist waiting to board. He was from Portsmouth, just out for a few days on the island. I liked that when he noted my rather unorthodox riding gear (kitty bins, sandals, etc) he didn’t react with amusement, or bemusement, instead he told us we made him feel like a fraud.

They let us riders board first, and we simply leaned our bikes against the closed ramp at the other end of the boat. Getting on first also meant we snagged a sweet table in the lounge with a great view.

The crossing was smooth and there were plenty of sailboats to look at, as well as the other (faster and more expensive ferries) going to and from Ryde. It took less than an hour to reach Portsmouth, where we disembarked first, but stopped to figure out where to go next.

We took a quick turn around the harbour to see the HMS Warrior (1860), Britain’s first iron-hulled, armoured battleship.

Trying to reach our Airbnb was a bit of a chore. Without a handlebar mount for the phone (did I mention that mine failed and ended up in the dustbin?) we had to stop repeatedly to check our location. It started to rain lightly, which didn’t help, but we did arrive before getting too wet.

Our hosts weren’t home, but we had instructions on how to get in. We were greeted by their proxy: a pug named Kenco. I have admired pugs for a long time, because their faces, and the noises they make, make me laugh. This was the first pug I have actually met and interacted with, and I was not disappointed. What a sweet, goofy, fun dog. It followed us around as we moved our bags, and it loved the attention we gave it.

Our hosts came home before we were even done dripping on their carpets. We met them very briefly, got quick instructions on the shower, and barely saw them again. We’ve had similar Airbnb hosts, but these guys were particularly puzzling. In my head I flipped the script: an English couple shows up to stay in my house on heavily loaded bicycles – I think I’m going to be curious about them. Their dog was, anyway.

They went out, leaving us with Kenco and their little pool table that was missing one ball. That pool table serves as a good metaphor for their whole house. It looked impressive at first glance, but when we looked closer there was something off. The bathroom was all modern designer, with a freaking TV in the wall over the tub, but the big shower head was caked in scale, the fan vent was completely clogged with fuzz, and the mirror over the sink was dirty. The couple were young, and our theory was that neither one had ever had to do anything for themselves before getting married and moving into their own house, so it was slowly degenerating. PlusI always wonder about people who have no printed reading material anywhere in their home. Like they’re pod-people or aliens pretending to be humans.

Discussing our Airbnb hosts and their homes was a favourite pastime for us on this trip.

When we went out Deb acted as map girl and tour guide, and took me on an interesting walk though the neighbourhoods and a really interesting old graveyard, and finally to an industrial area where we arrived at the real destination: the Staggeringly Good Brewery. Not just a great name, also excellent beer and all with dinosaur-themed names and labels, which instantly endeared them to me. StaggerSaurus, anyone? How about a ThaiRannoCitrus? They were playing good music too.

There also happened to be a gigantic grocery store in the neighbourhood, so that was where we went next. Back at the Airbnb we heated up our pies and played with the dog some more. Our hosts were in their backyard hot tub. It was weird.

Distance: 15 km (plus ferry)


Joy Ride

Day 154: Newport to Newport (loop) England, Wednesday September 20th

What’s better than a ride without the camping gear? A ride with just the essentials. Staying two nights in Newport meant we had a day to ride some of the island that we hadn’t visited yet.

The first section took us along the Medina river, heading north, then east on quiet roads towards the Fishbourne ferry that we will take to Portsmouth tomorrow. It was a very pleasant ride, but Appa lost a bolt holding the front rack to the fork. We couldn’t find it, but Deb jury-rigged it using an ivy vine. Jungle repair! This was good enough to keep the rack from making an awful clattering noise as I rode.

It got quite hilly as we worked our way over to Nettlestone, but it smoothed out some after we turned south.

When we had worked our way back to the Red Squirrel trail again we took it north for a few kilometres, then up onto gravel roads to get to the quaint village of Godshill. We met a cycletourer on a fully loaded bike and he helped us with directions. He was camping around the island, which made us feel a little like wusses.

In Godshill we went to the Model Village. This completed a sort-of triumvirate of miniature tourist attractions for us: Miniature Wonderland in Hamburg, Legoland in Denmark, and now this.

It opened in 1952 when a Mr. Dam built a model of the Isle of Wight town, Shanklin, in the Old Vicarage gardens. It’s been expanded since then by a family that first purchased the site in the late 60s. My favourite thing about this Model village was that it had the model village in it, complete with tiny tourists looking at the buildings.

We retraced our steps to the Red Squirrel Trail and rode back to Newport where we couldn’t resist going back to the Hogshead. This time the special was “pie and a pint” and the game was Manchester United vs Burton Albion. It was a hopeless cause for Burton, a team who plays in a stadium that holds less than seven thousand people. Soccer is weird.

Distance: 50 km


The Needles

Day 153: Freshwater to Newport England, Tuesday September 19th

Our Airbnb came with an amazing breakfast. We had omelettes and beans, fried tomatoes and toast. Our host served and stuck around to chat while we ate. A couple of the Springer Spaniels hung around too. Before we left we had some fun playing with the dogs.

Taking our host’s advice we rode to Totland Bay on the island’s west coast before leaving the area. We locked up the bikes and walked the path along the shore. It was mostly sunny and we got decent views of the Needles: three chalk islands that rise out of the sea.

Our ride for the day was mostly on the section of the coastal route we rode when we got off the Yarmouth ferry. We did have a nice rail trail for the first couple of miles to Yarmouth that we hadn’t been on yet. Just as we arrived at the edge of Yarmouth and joined the familiar coastal route road, we ran into a couple also out touring on bikes but going in the other direction. We talked for a minute, exchanging tips on what to see and where to ride. They had just visited an alpaca farm, and noted that the animals like to spit. We passed on that one.

With less gear weighing us down, and knowing what was coming, we found the hilly section before Cowes to be much less difficult on our second try. We stopped just before the waterfront ride going into Cowes and had half pints of ale at a pub with a view of the Solent.

After Cowes we were back at the beginning of the Red Squirrel Trail. Again, a very pleasant rail trail ride to Newport where we were reunited with our camping gear. Our host Brenda and her husband helped us get all our stuff upstairs, and there we met the famous Mr. Cleese: a super sweet and handsome feline.

Our room was great and the shower was intense. It was also affordable enough that we felt we could hit a pub for dinner.

At the Hogshead they had a burger and pint deal, and even better, the cask ales were on sale for a festival. We took our time and watched some cricket (and made some progress towards understanding what was going on) and then most of the Leicester City vs Liverpool FC game. Leicester won.

Distance: 35 km


Coastal Route

Day 152: Sandown to Freshwater England, Monday September 18th

I was so happy that Brenda in Newport let us leave some of our heavy stuff behind after seeing what this day had in store for us.

The Coast Route around the Isle of Wight has some hilly sections, and the section we did today had the biggest of all. In fact, we briefly considered going back up the Red Squirrel trail (a flat rail trail) and cutting west on roads through the middle of the island. I’m happy we didn’t.

We started out beside the sea riding on a beautiful flat trail between Sandown and Shanklin.

Then we had to climb up inland, and we got a little turned around. It worked out well though, because we accidently ended up at a grocery store, and we needed lunch supplies anyway.

Next was the Sunshine Trail, another rail trail, and eventually some roads. We saw some more classic cars cruising around.

After a quick lunch stop we tackled the biggest hill, from Niton to way about Blackgang. It turned out to be a long slog, but the gradient wasn’t too steep. We were treated to a nice long descent as a reward as well.

Even better, when we got back close to sea level we found ourselves at the Wight Mouse Inn, where we had half pints of ale in the sunshine.

Deb had a pamphlet on the route, so we knew there was another climb in our near future. We had a good ride on quite farm roads for awhile, then the route dropped us back on the Military Road, which is an A road (busy) close to the coast. We stopped at the Brook Chine to admire the view, and to prepare ourselves mentally for the big, big hills we could see ahead.

We conquered them, no problem, then cruised down into the pretty town of Freshwater. Google had some trouble figuring out where our Airbnb was, but we got that sorted fairly quickly. Our hosts had three English Springer Spaniels, all well-behaved and friendly. It was a really nice place too, with a truly fantastic shower (boiling hot and with enough pressure to strip paint).

We strolled around the neighbourhood, but returned pretty early, worn out.

These plastic balls of greenery (occasionally purple) are very popular in the UK. We saw them everywhere.

Distance: 46 km


Garlic Beer

Day 151: Cowes to Sandown England, Sunday September 17th

Eggs for breakfast!

Cycle route 23 is also called the Red Squirrel Trail, but we didn’t see any. Deb’s theory is that too many people walk their dogs there. It is a very nice rail trail, and we took it from Cowes to Newport in the morning.

We had booked a place in Newport for Tuesday and Wednesday night, and Deb had the brilliant idea to ask if we could leave some gear there, as we were passing through today. Our host, Brenda, and her husband said it would be no problem. We left all our camping stuff, and more. I ended up with nothing except my handlebar bag on the front of my bike, and slightly lighter kitty bins too.

After unloading, we got back on the Red Squirrel Trail. It’s worth mentioning that red squirrels are native to the UK and our North American grey squirrels have invaded and bullied them out of much of their habitat. The Isle of Wight has managed to remain grey squirrel free, and is quite proud of their red squirrel population. Again, we didn’t see any this afternoon.

Another thing they’re proud of is their garlic. We went to a big touristy garlic farm, mostly because we’d heard they made garlic beer (!) and because it was only a short ride off the cycle route. It was an interesting place, with dozens of sauces available to taste, lots of information about garlic (I had no idea how many different varieties there are) and yes, garlic beer. We bought a bottle and Deb picked up some “black garlic” to take home.

We reached Sandown in the mid-afternoon. I expected it to be much like Weymouth: an old-timey English beach resort town. Well, it is and it isn’t. Both Deb and I agreed that Sandown felt like low-rent Weymouth. It was a bit rundown, with many closed shops and hotels. Everything felt just a little shabby. It is a nice beach.

Our Airbnb fit with the feel of the town. It was a big old place that felt like it had been a boarding house. Our host, Ann, had just sold the place and was downsizing. She had two cats, one of which, Sheba, was very affectionate.

The pier is dominated by a huge amusement arcade/casino. Sad people were walking around playing gambling games. There were kids in there too. I find it strange that children are allowed around these things. There were rooms for 18+, because the bets were bigger, but toddlers can waste their money on Star Wars “fruit machines”.

One more stop for a treat. Ah, jam doughnuts, how we will miss you. 50p for five, and no, the ones at home are not as good. Just the fact that we can eat them all the time without gaining weight has made this part of the trip worth it.

The garlic beer was pretty good.

Distance: 27 km



Day 150: Cowes England, Saturday September 16th

Sunny morning. We walked through Cowes and peaked into the very nice charity shops.

The walk along the waterfront is very long and very pretty. We strolled, looking at the boats and reading the historical plaques and whatnot. Turns out Winston Churchill’s parents got engaged in a house on the Solent.

Our timing was good. By the time we’d worked our way back into town it had just started to rain. We went into a tiny pub and had a cask ale. When the rain had stopped, we walked back up to our Airbnb.

Distance: 0


On the Wight Side

Day 149: Brockenhurst to Cowes England, Friday September 15th

We had a chat with Kathryn, our host, in the morning. She was getting ready to take five dogs out for a walk.

Instead of following the (unmarked) national cycle route 2, we decided to head south the 10 km to Lymington, and take that ferry to the Isle of Wight. This meant more riding on the island.

The ride to Lymington wasn’t bad, but the town itself had too many aggressive drivers for me. We went straight to the ferry docks and purchased tickets.

It’s a forty minute crossing, and it was so smooth that we didn’t even have to tie off our bikes. We took seats in the lounge and watched the boats as we crossed the Solent.

There’s going to be  a classic car show on the island, so there were a lot of really cool vehicles with us on the ferry. When we arrived in Yarmouth, we stood with our bikes and watched them all go by, chatting with a ferry worker who turned out to be a big Rush fan.

Yarmouth is a pretty little place. We found a grocers and picked up some lunch.

The coastal cycle route is well marked, and they even have the signs with the colours reversed to show the clockwise vs anticlockwise directions.

It started out fairly easy, and very nice. Quiet roads, countryside, and some views of the water. When we got close to Cowes it started to rain, it became busier, and a lot hillier. It smoothed out at the coast, and we enjoyed the ride into town. To get to our Airbnb we had to go back inland, and steeply uphill, but the shower passed so we didn’t mind doing a little pushing.

We were Janette’s first guests, but she’s a grandmother and a nurse – and so very good at making people comfortable. She and her cute granddaughter Millie gave us the house tour. We were even invited to join her for dinner, and of course we said yes.

Deb and I walked back into town. We bought a bottle of wine and a chocolate cake, and when we came out of the store it was spitting rain. We decided to save exploring for tomorrow.

Janette had made a delicious shepherd’s pie. Home cooked food!