Late night into Falmouth. Driving winds & rain. Phone wet & dead. May need a day to dry out body, soul and contents of panniers! #beaconbike
— Edward Peppitt (@thebeaconbike) June 2, 2015
However much I was ready to throw in the towel in the morning, it was clear that friends, family and supporters were doing what they could to keep me in the saddle. Back at home, Emily was busy contacting everyone she could think of, pleading with them to send me words of encouragement. I wasn’t able to receive calls or texts, but an early morning audit established that my laptop was undamaged, so I could still receive emails and access my social media accounts.
Whatever decision I made about my next steps, it was patently obvious that I was going nowhere today. Judy, who owns the hostel, offered to wash and dry my clothes, save for the pair of cotton shorts and t-shirt that I was wearing. She was also able to put me up for a second night and, as long as she had no new bookings, she was happy for me to keep for myself the triple dormitory room I was staying in.
With my clothing sorted, it was time to establish what other damage yesterday’s rain had caused. Two of my guidebooks were a write-off, one of which I could wring out like a towel. Notes relating to client work I had planned to finish en route were also destroyed. The cheapest laptop that I had found in PC World in Portsmouth, which I had been using only to back up photographs, was working perfectly. I hadn’t expected that. It would need to step up to a more prominent role from now on. Kindles and cameras were all stored in waterproof cases, and were also undamaged. My panniers, wash bag, first aid kit, charging cables and stationery were all drying out in front of Judy’s kitchen Aga. The phone was down there, too, encased in a bowl of rice – although it was evident to me that it had made its last call.
When I had arrived late the previous night, the downstairs dormitory had been full, but this morning there was only one other resident. He had long hair, with beard, tattoos and weathered skin that had clearly spent a lot of its life outdoors. I found him a little intimidating at first, one of those perpetual travellers who seem to stroll effortlessly through life, no matter what it throws at them. He was also impossible to age, and I had no idea whether he was thirty or sixty. He was probably somewhere in between.
As I so often do, I rushed to judge him, and he turned out to be enormously good company. His name was Nigel, and he had recently returned from Portugal, where he had spent several years working with boats. He fell out with his employer, came home, and was now checking out a number of alternative employment opportunities. There was a chance of boat repair work here in Falmouth, but if this didn’t come off then there were other opportunities to pursue in Swindon, as well as over on the Essex coast. He was in no hurry to decide.
Having briefly witnessed my mental state last night, he was also keen to help me out this morning. Having decided that my brakes were looking ropey, he got some tools out, stripped them down and rebuilt them. When he was done, they were as responsive as on the very first morning.
He walked with me down into town, where I committed to a second, pricey mobile phone contract, the only way I could think of to replace my iPhone without spending all the money I had left. As if to cement the extent to which I misjudged Nigel, on the walk back he asked if I’d like to stop for a beer, and admitted he was a bit lonely. He had a strange, though endearing habit of changing a single syllable in lots of his words. He suggested we start at Witherspoons, and once two pints were ordered, he asked me what I thought of Jody. I thought he was playing some sort of word game at first, and tried to join in, but I quickly realised that it was just Nigel. Or Nagel?
Back at home I would go out of my way to avoid a Wetherspoons pub, but I was in the minority, clearly, because most of Falmouth seemed to be there. There is an art to ordering food and drink in a Wetherspoons, and Nigel was quick to teach me how to do it. The starting point, I discovered, has nothing whatever to do with what you might actually like to eat or drink. Instead, you start with a calendar, because there is a different set of deals for each day of the week. So steak, on a Tuesday, is the cheapest option on the menu. On every other day, it would be beyond my meagre means. It’s curry on a Thursday, and fish on a Friday.
Next up, you need to think very carefully and make a comprehensive list of anything, everything, that you might conceivably want to order at some point in the evening. The more you order in one go, the cheaper it all seems to get. It’s jolly complicated, but I managed to order a pint of Doom Bar, a glass of house red, a Hunter’s Chicken with chips and coleslaw, and a cup of coffee, with change from £8.
We started to head back to the hostel mid evening, but only got as far as the Chain Locker, a lovely old pub on the waterfront, where I was in more familiar territory with a couple of pints of Proper Job. Nigel seemed genuinely unbothered about his next steps, and it wouldn’t have surprised me if he was still in Falmouth this time next year, weighing up his options. We were from different worlds, but the conversation flowed greedily.
Back at the hostel, all my belongings were clean and dry, along with the panniers to put them in. When I switched on my new phone, having restored an online backup, I was met with nearly a hundred texts, emails, messages and notifications from friends, family and supporters imploring me to keep going. Emily’s efforts had clearly paid off. I didn’t really have a choice now, did I?