Arising early to catch our train out of Retford, eight miles away, our biking was virtually over. The end of the trip loomed. It had been an excellent trip.
We broke camp at 7:30. Two hours to pedal eight miles. We did not want to miss that train! We could have walked our bikes in time. I checked my muscles to assess the effect of yesterday's 80 mile ride. Miraculously, nothing twinged nor ached. It was hilly routes which affected my knees and quads, not level roads.
Traveling back out of the park to the main road, sunlight marbled through the mist hovering over the meadows. An "English Forest" thatch house sat along the meadow, back from the lane. This scene epitomized my classic impression of "merry olde England" with Robin Hood, Maid Marian, and Friar Tuck lurking behind large leafy trees in the morning mist.
As we biked, I was most impressed with how well marked the road were. They were different from the U.S. in that once you were on a route, e.g. B6143, signs didn't reconfirm it. You were assured at the next intersection. The route markings also gave information as to what major route the current road was headed toward, a nice touch for route planning.
At the railroad station I ceremonially removed my cycling shoes and stowed them in my pannier. The cycling was over. Deep within I felt an overwhelming sense of loss.
We settled our bikes into the guard van and found seats in the stiflingly hot standard class car - the air conditioner was broken! An Aussie co-ed studying at Oxford bitterly complained about the poor public service in Britain. "Britain is not a service oriented economy. You pay more and get less than in America," she stormed. The first class cars were cool, so Tracy and I wandered forward as if we belonged. Earl oblivious to it all, his nose buried in Jack Keroac's On The Road remained in the sweltering heat.
Our train rolled toward London, passing over small hills that hadn't been part of yesterday's ride. The picturesque landscape looked softly English. The sun beat down viciously.
At King's Cross Station we retrieved our bikes from the guard van. Walking through London to Victoria Station, I refused to cycle so that I could gawk and stare and stop, things I couldn't do while navigating unfamiliar streets with heavy traffic whizzing by.
Walking by the University of London, we struggled for a narrow path of sidewalk, intermingling with hoards of university students dressed in the requisite Drama Department Black. The imposing gray stone British Museum sprawled across many blocks. I'm not sure which entrance we saw; I don't believe it was the front. We stopped and snapped pictures at Big Ben, taking turns standing at the base of the grand clock. It was an easy way to time our visit - 2p.m. The Horse Guards were on our right. We saw Parliament, and a part of Scotland Yard which looked unimpressive from our sidewalk viewpoint. A boring place for James Bond to hang out. Tourists were rampant, occasionally shoving and pushing along, but rarely bumping us. By appearances they were from all over the world. We guided our bikes by Westminster Abbey and the Theater District (West End), to our goal - Victoria Station.
Tracy left us and bicycled to the Holland Park King George VII Youth Hostel in Kensington. Earl and I detoured by train to Gatwick airport in order to box up our bikes and leave them until our Tuesday flight home. I had called Continental Airlines from the railway station confirming that we could bring our bikes to the airport and box them up for travel. However, I was given bad information. Continental neglected to mention that they closed up their counter and baggage area after the last flight at 2 p.m. After considerable hassle in the angry heat, we dumped our unboxed bikes at the "left luggage" storage area. Hot and cranky, I wanted to be anywhere but the airport.
We trained and "tubed" to our hostel to meet Tracy, register, and eat dinner. We had left him at 4 p.m. and arrived back at the hostel at 6 p.m. Tracy sat outside waiting, book in hand. Still annoyed, I showered and settled in. This was nice hostel with pleasant large rooms and excellent facilities. The location was superb!
We located an Indian restaurant for dinner. Curried and tasty, the food was excellent but the service was inept and surly. One order was wrong; Earl was overcharged for his ale; and although they said they would be pleased to give us separate checks, we were given one check and told to figure it up ourselves. I must say, they trusted us to do it correctly, because none of the totals were verified when we paid.
From dinner we strolled toward the hostel through Holland Park where we stopped for a double dip vanilla ice cream cone with two Cadbury flake cookies, a "Double 99," at a small snack counter next to a patio filled with older adolescents. The Cadbury cookies were tasty but the cone seemed filled with a strange custard/filled-cream concoction rather than real ice cream.
At 9 p.m. it was light enough to enjoy the park's scenery and shrubbery. We found beautiful gardens encircled with mounds of blooming English lavender, their tall indigo spikes stabbing upward from their gray-green leaf support. The enticing lavender aroma drifted pervasively on the warm summer breezes. Peacocks screamed "Help!" from overhead; one perched ten feet above us on a fence post watching us watch him. Lop-eared rabbits lay around the drip lines of bushes and trees watching the twilight develop, unperturbed by small children lunging toward their ears.