Nearly a week has passed since I arrived home. The effects of ‘jet lag’ are pretty much gone, and the residual lethargy & dopiness are inherent in who I am. Time to fulfil my promise of some concluding remarks to round off this narrative.
The single most asked question since I have been back has been what the highlight of the journey was. Surprisingly for a 71 day trip, it is actually quite an easy answer: The Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb wins hands-down. This would have been a spectacular experience no matter what, but thanks to Carl’s advice/guidance, to do it at the time I did – brilliant sunlight while climbing, stunning sunset at the top, and breathtaking cityscape in twilight on the way down – made it so much more. The second entry on the list is also easy to pick out; the flight with Colin over the Oregon coast – unforgettable for several reasons. I think the third moment picks itself quite easily too; feeding the wallabies with Sean at Sinclair’s Gully in the Adelaide Hills.
Interesting to note, given the prominent role beer has had on this trip, that none of the Top Three involve alcohol (whilst Sean was very generous with his fine wines, that came later…). Beer consumption was indeed prodigious at times – much of my memory of Auckland is something of a blur, for example. Good to spend time with Dave and Dan there though. There was only one night where I would say that consumption was to excess, and that was the Saturday night in The Wheaty which will forever be known for the Brooklyn Black Ops (don’t ask; it’s a beer which doesn’t exist!). Carl’s declared aim of convincing me that Aussie beer is much more than the global laughing stock that is its stereotype, was quickly and easily achieved. Partly thanks to the Melbourne Beer Week and Good Beer Wheaty events, I was able to enjoy the cream of the Aussie craft beer scene, supplemented by New Zealand’s excellent brewers. In the end, I found most American craft beer somewhat bland and same-ish in comparison. A good session at the Derby Beer Festival on my return, with a Townes Speedwell Bitter as an opener, quickly convinced me that British Real Ale is still my overall preference though.
Those of you who have had a conversation with me since my return will have already heard this, as it is a realisation I have shared freely: Whilst I don’t regret one moment of the trip (well, maybe my hotel choice in Charlotte!) the benefit of hindsight has led me to the conclusion that in the hypothetical event I had my time over, I would do it a little differently. The Air New Zealand flight from Auckland to Los Angeles actually continued on to Heathrow after refuelling. I think I might have been better off staying aboard to come home – having achieved the ’round the world’ distinction – and then done the USA Coast-to-Coast trip as a separate adventure. That would have several benefits – not least as the time needed would likely have allowed Kay to have come along, and the two of us doing that trip would have been a completely different (and better) dynamic. Toward the end I felt a little ‘punch drunk’ – so many new experiences and sights, and the call of home became louder the closer I got.
All of that is by-the-by as there is no turning the clock back, and I am extremely pleased with the way the itinerary I went for all worked out. Even the bits that went a little awry (the Amtrak Coast Starlight, being perhaps the most prominent example) actually worked out to my benefit (I’ve still not heard anything about compensation for my “inconvenience” though). Yes, it was a bit frustrating at times, but I still can’t get past the fact I got to ride over a very ‘rare’ and jaw-dropping section of railway, and in brilliant sunshine. The second, unplanned, night on the train wasn’t really to my detriment as Marriott didn’t charge me for that night’s accommodation, so I guess I broke even on the deal.
Several people have expressed mild surprise that I was so taken by the rural beauty and wildlife, suggesting I am more of a city loving soul. In some respects that is true, I am happiest when within sight of a Starbucks or a pub (even happier when inside, of course) but even I ‘get’ the splendour of nature. Chappers still won’t accept that me plodding a few miles on city streets or climbing a volcano rivals his perambulations – and actually I wouldn’t want to challenge him.
I returned to a mountain of mail and the usual domestic niceties to take care of. Chappers, and my neighbours Bill & Rachel, had kindly kept an eye on my house, so all was well there. In fact Bill had gone above & beyond and kindly mowed my lawn front & back, so that was one less chore – which would have been a challenge, otherwise. I arrived back to find Britain in the middle of an uncharacteristically sunny & warm summer – though It’ll take some going to rival the extreme heat of Saturday in Austin…
Final words: Truly a once-in-a-lifetime trip. I count my blessings that circumstances allowed me to undertake it and that nothing went wrong. Most of all though; I’m glad to be back.