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New Friends

by Tara

When we emerged from our tent this morning, we found that our caravaning neighbors had brought a tray with a pot full of hot tea and four mugs—two for us, and two for Nic and Oanh. How lovely! Tea in hand, we packed up camp, hung out with our new cycle touring friends, and prepared breakfast. It was so much fun to be around young, like-minded people, and they reminded us very much of various friends back home. As I cooked eggs for breakfast burritos, we chatted with them about routes, travel, gear, and life in general.

We said goodbye, wished them luck, and cycled off towards Oxford. Nic told Tyler about a road they had taken yesterday that lead them through a forest carpeted with thousands of English bluebells. We followed their route and were astounded by what we found—bluebells as far as you could see, the air heavenly from their scent. After climbing a couple fences to take photos and smell the flowers, we biked on along small country roads.

Tara + Blue Bell Forest Tara + Blue Bell Forest Blue Bells

Today was beautiful and as we didn't have to arrive in Oxford at a certain time, we decided we would take back roads most of the way. We cycled through quaint little villages, some with stone houses, others with thatched-roof cottages. Flowers in bloom everywhere and friendly horses by the side of the road meant lots of leisurely stops to take photos.

Tree Tunnel Thatch Roof Rose & Spiderweb Tara Feeding a Horse

A highlight of the morning was biking past a gypsy camp by the side of the road, complete with caravans, a grey-haired lady in a colorful skirt, a random tethered pony chewing grass by the side of the road, and a weird circusy-looking contraption that said "knife sharpening" in gold letters on its side. Though the terrain was mostly flat, there were a few monster hills that rose out of nowhere, and Tyler taught me how to stand up on my bike while pedalling to make hill-climbing easier.

At night while I've been reading Lord of the Rings, Tyler has been reading Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe, which provides him with plenty of mental fodder—new concepts to think about, theories to question, and ideas to debate. For a good two hours today, Tyler talked non-stop about general and special relativity, quantum mechanics, and his objections with string theory.

After the monologue (which I had intermittently interrupted with things like "that's great, honey, but how about you watch where you're biking so you don't get run over!?") we had a really fascinating conversation about physics, particles, and the supposed nature of the universe, and it sure did take my mind off of pedaling.

With only about fifteen miles left for the day, we hopped on an A-road and "kicked it down," cycling fast until we arrived in Oxford. It's amazing how biking a little faster makes the miles fly by! We both loved riding through Oxford, as it is definitely cycle-friendly. Excellent bike lanes, loads of bikes parked everywhere (and not locked up)—a bicyclist's heaven!

A couple miles out of town we arrived at Richard and Liz Gaskell's house. Since we've been planning our trip we have exchanged numerous emails with Richard about our oven, and when he found we would be biking through Oxford, he kindly offered to put us up for a night or two!

Richard, Liz, and their daughter Rowena (and her boyfriend, also named Richard) are avid campers, Scout leaders, travelers, and have even been on some cycle tours. They are incredibly chatty and made us feel at home right away. A few minutes after we arrived Rowena brought out a raisin cake that she had made for us (sort of as an experiment for her!). Their house was full of books and projects and general evidence of a full, well-lived, hobby-filled life. Unfortunately there was nowhere for us to sleep, but we were not a bit dismayed, for their backyard ("garden") would provide us plenty of room to pitch our tent.

When we mentioned camping, Liz said she had a better idea, "The house next door—nobody is living in it at the moment…" leaving just enough pause to make us think she was recommending that we be squatters. She continued on to explain that the house had been lived in by an old man who just moved into a nursing home. They were taking care of the plants and making it look like someone was living there. They also had a key to the place, and had asked the elderly man's daughter if we could stay in it. The woman had said yes, so it was a completely legitimate place to stay! We moved our panniers over to our new, fully furnished home(!!), freshened up a bit, then headed back to the Gaskell's house.

We all (except for Liz who was tired after a day of leading girl scout craft projects) drove to the river Thames and walked along it to see the lochs for the canal. Richard explained to us the history of the canal boats, and told us about J. M Barrie (author of Peter Pan) whose adopted son had drowned in the canal. We also learned that Lewis Carrol had spent quite a bit of time along the river.

River Thames College Boat River Thames Rich & Rowena

When we were done with our walk, we ordered massive amounts of food from a Chinese take-out place and drove to pick it up. It seemed like it would be way too much food, but after we brought it home and sat down together, we quickly proved we could finish it!

Over dinner we talked about everything from canal-restoration to Norwegian folk dancing to musical clefs to steam locomotives. After much food and conversation we said goodnight to our hosts and retired to our very own home for the night. We made ourselves really deep, hot baths, and went to bed in a large comfy bed. Yet another wildly successful day :)