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Thoughts and thanks III - FINAL !

Firstly thanks to Mark O. who in effect was my technical advisor. The man has cycled more km than Chris Froome. He is also one of those guys grasping every breath of life with both hands and cherishing it to its fullest. Whats more he is a truly inspirational and a seriously likeable man. Like me he now supports the Geelong Cats. DON'T YOU MARK !

To Kay O. who introduced me to her brothers travels and put me in contact with him. She also happens to be the greatest EA (Executive Assistant) a manager would ever want. Like her brother she is an admirable and totally grounded human being. One of those people that you cannot help but be happy around. She also cooks a mean pulled pork, can stitch a quilt blindfolded, and dinner at hers and Chris K. (fiancee) along with her parents on night 1 was a great way to start the trip.

Sara S. and Bob S. - for their wise words about travelling across France and all things associated with it. Also for joining me for breakfast on day 2 at ''Cafe Velo'' in Tunbridge Wells. Just lovely human beings. Oh, and parents of Mark S. aka The Broken One.

Gareth W. - A neighbor from the street who was my cycling partner day 3 through to the end of day 8. When they sought a definition for the the word ''gentleman'' they created Gareth. A more considerate, gentle, thoughtful,caring, understanding,diplomatic, intelligent, engaging, man you are going to be hard pressed to find. Combine all of the aforementioned with his insatiable appetite to read maps and to impart upon you his encyclopedic knowledge of all things nature and French then you have the perfect riding companion across France. Gareth, I was privileged to ride with you and my thanks for everything you contributed to the enjoyment of my journey is immeasurable.

Mark S. aka The Broken One. Not most patient man in the world but certainly loyal to a cause. You can be sure that if he says he is going to do it, he will. Even if it means breaking his body. '' I don't think I have had to ever dig so deep before'' as he rode on one leg into Pontarlier in a howling gale in 4 degrees C weather was a quote that will remain etched into my memory for many years to come. The visual was pretty impressively sad too. Mark's pragmatic outlook on all things life related and his ability to condense a thought into 5 words or less before verbalising it are impressive attributes. You'd be hard pressed to find a more inquisitive person or someone who wants to continually add to his knowledge in the manner that Mark does. These all make him very very good company and I know pay back will be harsh when we next ski together. God forbid I even utter a word of pain. He also happens to like the occasional Arturo Fuente Opus X and drop of Redemption whiskey. Those two facts alone make him a good man. Sir, it was a pleasure, nee a privilege riding with you and likewise for having you as a friend.

Scott G. - Now here's a man wanting to grasp life with both hands. He is the sort of person who probably wished he had three hands or more. Someone forgot to tell him there is only 60 minutes in an hour. Scott's enthusiasm and larger than life laugh is infectious. A fellow Aussie (although a Queenslander we wont hold it against him) Scott has a desire to do things yesterday so he can do more things today. Pre-planning isn't a strength. He will jump at any reasonable idea that involves being outside and/or is physically challenging, then think about the logistics later. His ''can do'' attitude is remarkable, and sometimes slowing him down to draw breath can be a challenge. Regardless, it is exciting. His is the mindset that he wont think twice about jumping into a car and then drive a round trip of over 880 miles (1,350 km) to do a 2.5 day bike ride with a mate. His two quotes of the ride '' We could be in more trouble than the early settlers'' ..and.. '' I am all over that like yellow on couscous'' were golden ones. Scott, '' yer a rippa mate'' and having you as a friend makes life far more interesting and enjoyable.

Commune of Fosdinovo - My heartfelt thanks to everyone who made the effort to welcome me at the end of the ride. Cycling up the cobblestone roadway to multiple banners and then a buffet of food and drink was truly emotional and something I will cherish for many years to come. As I stated on the day, its the people of this commune that make it so special. OK , the views are pretty stunning too. Grazie mille.

To all donors - To everyone who donated to the three causes I had chosen I THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart. In addition to the monies raised, the messages of support also made the ride easier. I know in this day and age of frugality that giving over hard earned money is a difficult choice, so regardless of the amount given, the very gesture of your generosity and act of giving is simply quite staggering. At this juncture we have raised close to £ 4,300 which is an enormous amount and with a week or so to go before the donation window closes I am optimistic we will get to the original target of £5,000. The charities chosen have been done so because they are close to my heart and I know that they will be incredibly grateful for your contributions. Again - THANK YOU and THANK YOU.

and...

Wifey aka Kathryn S-R. - Words alone cannot do justice to the thanks and appreciation I owe this wonderful woman. From the very outset she has allowed me to indulge in the idea of this ride. Initially disbelieving, she became my biggest supporter in making sure the fantasy came to fruition once it was apparent I was serious about doing it. Tenacious, loyal and determined she also jumped at the opportunity to be logistics manager when it came to organizing accommodation which was always an ''interesting'' surprise at the end of the day. ''Hotel Particular' in Arras was a high point! Additionally KSR was my technical assistant in regards to the daily blog I kept. No amount of time that was needed to edit and post my blog was ever too much. All of this whilst she continues to study and develop her burgeoning career as an Interior Designer made her efforts all that more impressive. We all need a quality wingman (woman) in our lives and I cannot but think I got lucky and stumbled across the best of the best. Kathryn - THANK YOU THANK YOU. x

SO WHAT NEXT?

I definitely have to finish the Via Francigena route to the Vatican. Given it's ''only'' 400 km away that makes it an ''easy'' 4-5 day ride through Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio. If any one out there wants to join me you are more than welcome. Your nearest airport would be Pisa and for you from there to Rome its ''only'' 320km through some stunning Italian countryside. I will be doing it within the next month or holding off until the Autumn. The offer is a serious one. If you are interested let me know. Beyond that there is Europe to discover and riding from Italy through Slovenia down to Albania holds an attraction. Of course there is always Australia and cycling the 20,000 + km ''home''. Now that's a serious possibility.

Finally....

Below are the top 3 photo's from the trip based on the number of ''likes'' they received on Instagram. Enjoy.

#1...taken on the long stretches between Verres and Vercelli where the roads were unrelentingly flat, straight and long

# 2...shortly after leaving Vercelli I came across this field emblazoned in red poppies. It was simply stunning.

#3...I had been warned about the Jura Mountains (French side on the border with Switzerland) by the wise one who is Sara S. On the day I climbed them it was damp, cold and misty and nought a car or other human soul did I see for most of it. This picture encapsulates all of that.

My favorite 3.. in addition to the above...

#1

Rapeseed fields came to be the defining view for 2 of the 3 weeks I was on the road. Their brightness lent a certain joy to the ride. Everyday.

#2

This photo epitomises to me everything about the ride. The unpredictability of it all, and the unbridled joy of seeing a lot of different views everyday and discovering new things about the UK , France, Italy and myself. Above all it came to represent life on the road for 3 weeks. Love it , live it , lick it !

#3

The composition, the scenery , the colors, the background, the foreground, just simply a lovely photo despite the tragedy that had previously unfolded.

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