Sunday, August 29, 2010

Eastern Lands

Heading East
The miles keep ticking over and we keep heading eastwards, and have now crossed the huge barrier that was Lake Michigan. OK, so we may have cheated by going on the ferry but we didn't fancy cycling through Chicago and Detroit, and it would have pushed us for time. So we're now in Michigan and our fourth and final time zone, Eastern time, woohoo!

  Walmart, with a person on an electric powered buggy
I was thinking the other day that although I often talk about the large number of fatties in America, I haven't talked too much about the food. I think me and Andy have both admitted to ourselves that if we lived here, we'd be considerably fatter than we are. Food is just so cheap and plentiful, at first the portions were a struggle but we're now eating our way through anything America can throw at us. Footlong subway every lunch time, easy, large Pizza Hut pizza, easier, large Dairy Queen ice cream, far too easy. With tea out of our diet, it appears to have been subtly replaced by Coca-Cola, and with refills, it's also very easy to drink a litre or so of that a day, it's like a whole new drug that we're hooked on, and the rest of America aswell.
Of course a lot of Anericans also find these things easy to wolf down too and they're not doing much exercise which is the problem, not even walking as there are barely any pavements to walk on which is very bloody frustrating. I was thinking however that the positive side of this is that if any country can eat its way out of recession, it's this one. I wonder what the economists think to that. Forget the recovery program, just supersize your way out and deal with the consequences later, that's how everything else seems to work here.

The language is something I've never really mentioned either. We may share a common language but that doesn't stop confusions arising. We've actually got quite good with the lingo, "utilizing the rest room" and not the loo or the toilet, but lunchtime at Subway is a constant source of entertainment. When we're choosing our "veggies" we always say "tomatoes" with our British accents, and not tomAtoes as it's said here. This generally leads to a look of sheer bewilderment on the spotty "sandwich artists" face, (Subway tranlations in brackets)

Me- "Can I have tomatoes, please?"
Subway - "ya me leddice?" he'll reply. (You mean lettuce?)
Me - "No, tomatoes."
Subway -"Ar righ, arlives?" (Ah, right, olives>)
Me -"No, tomatoes, please" and we point at the round red things.
Subway - "Ah, tomAdoes, ya guys speak differen, dontcha?" (Ah, tomatoes, you guys speak differently, don't you?)

I just can't bring myself to say it like they do!
Another episode was in Walmart, which was a smaller one than we've become accustomed to. When I asked if there was a deli counter I got a strange computer look from the machine like woman, and was then marched by this employee eager to help to the...Sport section. She had obviously heard "pedi counter", I was too busy laughing to try and tell her I wanted food and not the pedometer that she handed me saying, "There ya go." Very funny.
Andy also got told yesterday, "I love your accent, are you from Belgium?". As an English teacher, these things are all very amusing and it just goes to show that sharing a language only gets you so far in communication with people who are generally idiots or from another place on the planet!

I mentioned last week about the person that drove passed us and called 911, presuming we had bothdropped dead on the spot, without stopping to see if we were OK. Well I've since heard a possible explanation for this outrageous act - fear of being sued. This makes me irate just thinking about it, and come to think of it, we've seen loads of examples like this on TV, generally regarding pharmaceuticul drugs. It goes something like this:
"Have you suffered from a headache in the past 5 years and taken paracetomol? You may be entitled to some compensation."
Now, honestly, what a load of shit. These adverts, whilst maybe not being quite as stupid as that, aren't far off it, and just encourage people to sue the shit out of each other. The UK isn't much better nowadays I suppose, but all this originated here. What a rubbish export, it just makes life so much shitter for everyone else, everyone afraid of being taken to court by a "no win, no fee" lawyer and having their livelihoods ruined if they acted in a slightly incorrect way, in spite of their best efforts or good intentions, all so someone can make a quick buck, I'm no fan.

Kathy from Warm Showers
The last week has definitely been brightened up, and cheapened up too, by the advent of Warm Showers which I mentioned briefly in my last post. It's basically a Couch Surfing network, generally of cycle tourers, and can be a little erratic, but when it works, it's fantastic. Three households have now hosted us for no cost, just offering a bed or tent space for the night together with fine hospitality and friendship, and it really makes the trip much more enjoyable, not least because it's nice to be clean and cooked for! It's fantastic too to meet people who are very enthusiastic about what we're doing and also very friendly. The further East we go I imagine we'll need to be a bit more reliant on it as camping becomes more difficult and occasional motels more expensive. I think it exists all over the world, so if you're thinking of doing a cycle tour, check it out! Thanks to Bob and Kathy, Allan, and Joyce and Roger for putting us up so far.

Sleeping like tramps in Ludington
3,000 miles have now passed since we set off seven weeks ago on a scorching day in California, seems a long time ago, and we're just a day or so from heading into Canada.  I'm not sure how different it'll feel but it'll be a change of scenery and attitudes I imagine, if nothing else. Subway will still be as prominent as ever which is all we need really. We don't even need campsites anymore, we actually took to sleeping on streets in Ludington. With a thermarest it's surprisingly comfy, shame on us.

Friday, August 27, 2010

More Photos!

Rest day in the library again and 2 minutes until closing so here are...


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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mid-West Monotony and Madness

This week's post comes from Wisconsin, in the heart of America's mid-west. It's also known as America's "bread basket" as a lot of food is grown and produced in this area, but as 300 million people live in this country, and a lot of them eat more than the average amount of food, it makes this "bread basket" a bloody big one, and so it takes a long time to get through it!

Notable events of the last week do not really include much to do with the landscape, as all we've really seen are corn fields and flour mills, and the occasional hill. Small town America is also pretty dull with regards to what's there, the usual fast food places and not a lot else, apart from antique stores funnily enough, some towns with a few hundred people in have 2 or 3 of them! We have however discovered the wonders of Dairy Queen ice cream parlours, and also had a return of "Hospitality Friday," as Andy and myself christened it whilst we were in Utah.
With camping options looking limited in the small town of Sleepy Eye and the Friday night closing in, we thought we'd head to a bar to mull our options over a cold beer. Well we bought our first round and from that moment on, we barely had to take our wallets out. People kept coming upto us, obviously recognising the loaded up bikes outside and 2 hairy creatures sat at the bar, they'd put 2 and 2 together, we'd tell them what we're doing and then the offer of a beer couldn't be turned down! A guy called Troy then offered to let us camp in his garden, where we met some of the town's local talent, who invited us to the next bar down the road. The pattern continued, with more beers and even a quadruple shot of Tequila. I woke up in the tent fully clothed at 9am on Saturday morning, not really remembering much of what had gone on.

That night itself was very noteworthy, but Saturday afternoon's happenings were even stranger. Being very hungover we quickly realised our planned 90 mile day wasn't going to materialise, so were taking things rather leisurely, which included a 30 minute or so nap at lunch. We set off again, and a few miles down the road a police car and ambulance pulled up next to us to ask if we were OK and if we'd been by the side of the road earlier. We said we were fine, the guy looked a bit pissed off, and then they drove off. It then dawned on us that a passing car had obviously seen us by the road, not bothered to check if we were OK, but call 911 instead, probably saying, "There appears to be 2 dead cyclists on the side of the road.". I mean, thanks for calling the emergency services to check, but you could have just stopped to ask if we were OK, or maybe think that these 2 dead cyclists have both managed to park their bikes very well considering they've both dropped dead on the spot! Very funny really as it all was because we were hungover, I just hope that ambulance hadn't been diverted from a real emergency.

We've also pretty much left all remnants of tourist activity, Minnesota was all very agricultural, as is Wisconsin really. This means we're encountering less RVs, (basically caravans), and this is a very good thing, as the people that generally drive these things do so, for want of a better phrase, like dickheads. In England when people get old and become a hazard for the majority of road users, I like the way we offer pensioners free bus passes, or encourage them to take the train for cheap so they can still get around. In America, not only would this not be possible as the public transport network is more or less non existent due to the car being king and the size if the place, but the complete opposite happens. It's great that they can travel around and see the country but they're all encouraged to buy these monstrously sized RV things, which are literally the size of commercial coaches in some cases, as in, they could fit 56 people in them but instead there is normally a retired American couple inside.
So, you have people whose senses have seen better days, who already probably can't hear the traffic around them, or see it for that matter, or barely even manoeuvre a milk float, driving something that is about 50 foot long. Oh, and they are usually towing a 4 wheel drive SUV behind for good measure for when their coach doesn't fit through the drive-thru. What a bunch of morons. You might sense that I nearly got killed by one of these blundering idiots and their mobile building the other day as I cycled along about 1m off the road, which meant the RV was probably about 90cm off it. It was probably an RV driver that called 911 yesterday too.
I don't know if these people have to pass a test to drive such ridiculous vehicles, but I presume not as they'd all fail, and then this country would have less people to buy endless amounts of cheap gasoline to help prop up the economy!

Me and Andy have also been fairly shocked by the American TV we see every now and again, generally when we treat ourselves to a motel once a week. There's the "Weather Channel" which should be called "Scare the shit out of you TV", honestly the amount of programs they show which make The Exorcist look tame...death by hurricane, death by lightning, death by freak God. This week is "Hurricane Week", which again involves showing endless shows about hurricanes all over the world, now I completely understand that people need to be aware of these things, but this is just scare mongering. I'm surprised I've not yet seen "Atomic Bomb Related Weather Week."
And then there's Fox News, which I'm not sure deserves capital letters in its name. Someone once told me that this Murdoch run channel is the only source of news for a third of Americans. That is a scary thought. It speaks to people like they're idiots, which they may well be I suppose, but worse than that, basically just tells people what to think with the most outrageously opinionated presenters just shouting guests down live on TV. If you think Sky News is bad (also Murdoch owned), watch this. Thank our lucky stars we have the BBC back home.

I suppose this point of the trip was inevitable where you get frustrated with certain aspects of the culture and daily goings on in a country, and you could be forgiven for thinking that we're not enjoying ourselves, which thankfully couldn't be further from the truth. The Minnesota landscape may have been a bit drab but we're now doing longer days, we broke our "100 miles in a day" duck last week and have since done 105 miles in a day. This means we're getting some idyllic evening sunsets, and as we cycle off into the east with our outstretched shadows in front of us, there isn't another thing in the world I'd rather be doing, or another place I'd rather be. After crossing the mighty Mississippi river, we stayed with Bob and Kathy from the Warm Showers network for bicycle tourers, a bit like Couch Surfing, and experiencing genuine friendliness and hospitality from people like them makes things such as not shaving for a month and only doing laundry once a week worthwhile. This really is the best way to see a country such as the US in my opinion, allowing us to meet wonderful people and see beautiful places, and it all makes the prospect of going home in just over a month to all the worries of normal life rather daunting in a way.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Half Way Point...

This blog comes at rather a momentous point in the trip, and is being typed in a typically strange location, the toilet block at Murdo campsite, South Dakota. We have now been on the road for exactly 5 weeks, which is half way in terms of timing, and also half way in terms of distance, as we've passed a few psychological barriers, the 2,000 mile mark, the big mountains and today the next time zone, so we're now in Central time as opposed to Mountain time!

I suppose it's quite good to reflect on the trip upto now in a few ways. The continuing changing landscape and climate has meant we're never really sure what to expect on the road. You can generally guarantee 2 things on American roads; one is roadkill every few miles, anything ranging from a squirrel, a snake or even a deer! The other is blown out tyres, thankfully none of ours so far! The past week has also intoduced us to the grasshopper! Eastern Wyoming and South Dakota are teeming with them by the sides of the roads, very nice at first with them jumping in and out of the spokes as we cycle, occasionally hitching a lift on the bike, but rather annoyingly nipping at our legs constantly as we go! The grasshopper is definitely lacking a bit in brain power though, as they appear to like just sitting in the road, cars come and squish them all, so we're regularly squishing all the dead ones some more, grasshoppers definitely lacking a bit of evolutionary survival experience it seems.

Another feature of the trip has and will always be the people we meet along the way, there's a small but steady stream of fellow tourers on their own various routes across the States, or on bigger things. During the last week we've met Katy from Seattle, who's heading to Chicago on her own, a very brave thing to do. There's also been Brent from Atlanta who quit his job and is travelling all over the States, and also Edoardo from Switzerland who's nearing the end of a 2 year tour around the whole world!
What is very nice is that even with these small "communities" of people word of mouth spreads about us, people, where to stay, what to do etc, so much so that as we rolled into a campsite yesterday we heard, "You must be the 2 Brits!". This got me wondering as to how myself and Andy are described, maybe the 2 guys that are travelling super lightweight with gear, everyone else has much more stuff than us, we met a fellow English tourer, Sam, who started off with a pannier full of just books! Or maybe we're known as the guys who like to get trashed every now and again in various bars, or possibly even the tourers that did barely any planning and have no idea about their route. Bearing in mind my preparation for this trip involved booking flights, buying panniers and one 40 mile ride in the Peak District, it is a miracle that we've ended up travelling with America's prevailing winds behind us! We're flying across the Mid-West! Anyway, as I've said before, the people are a much more vital component to the enjoyability of this sort of trip, much more so than any National Park or pretty picture, and it's definitely ringing true.

As I said, we're now, according to America's timezone, officially out of the mountains! It feels a bit strange, by no means on the home stretch but our biggest obstacles are now behind us, no more 9,000 ft passes! The last week's biggest obstacles have been bikers however. The Sturgis festival was in full swing, and this meant everyday we have had our ears constantly blasted by Harleys tearing passed us all day. All super friendly people though, one biker today even shouted as he passed us, "You guys are the real bikers!". It was a lovely compliment and I felt very proud in a way, considering it came from a real biker in my eyes.

We should be out of South Dakota in a few days, we'll be crossing the Missouri, one of the biggest rivers, and then into Minnesota. Flat flat flat. That probably means a few more nights getting drunk to keep us entertained. We've actually managed to hook our travel speakers to Andy's bike, he has a dynamo that he can charge whilst cycling. This means we're now riding with music blaring out and is a welcome distraction from constant day dreaming and roadkill counting. If you want to feel like you're cycling along with us, our song of the trip is probably Usher's OMG, love it! We're also both reading Bill Bryson's excellent book about travelling the States, The Lost Continent, very amusing.

I think that'll do for now, if I pass by a library and have a spare moment I'll try and sort pictures out again, they're proving very popular on facebook. Also, if anyone knows anyone high up in Subway, can you tell them about us! We think we'd be fantastic marketing material for them, and it coukd save us lots of money as we're having lunch there most days.

Friday, August 13, 2010


I've been in a library in Rapid City, South Dakota, on our day off uploading pics, and I've got 5 minutes until it shuts! I would like to go through the posts and edit the blogs with them, but don't have time! So here is a link to the pics on facebook, that anyone can see, I think. These are all the pictures off my first memory card, I've got about 100 more but will upload them in a few weeks, or when I next get the chance.
P.S. Just about half way now, 1,900 miles done, 2,000 to go!

Here they are, Photos! Also, keep the sponsorship coming on Justgiving!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Wild West!

We're in the Wild West, yeeha cowboy! After most of the last week being spent in Yellowstone, which is beautiful but very expensive and rather like a big safari park, it's quite sad but in a way reassuring to be back on our Subway lunches and breakfasts in Walmart car parks!

Yellowstone is probably the US's premier national park, being the first ever one in the world (established in 1872) and it certainly felt like an important place. Impressive aspects were things such as the excellent ranger talks held nightly at each campsite on a whole range of topics to do with wildlife, conservation and history of the park, all given by very knowledgeable and enthusiastic rangers. It's obviously a privilege being located at Yellowstone and they all take huge pride in their jobs. It did however feel rather tame, despite it having lots of grizzlies! As I said, it's just a big Safari park, people drive round in their huge RVs and SUVs, stopping to take pictures everywhere with little kids all saying, "Mom, it's so cute, can we get one?", about a big grizzly bear or 1 ton bison! The park is also heavily designed around driving, and is also very expensive, which although a shame, is to be expected. All the main "sites" are layed out in the same way, with a limited and pricey shop for food nearby, obviously most people just bulk buy at a supermarket before entering the park, unfortunaty our bikes didn't allow that. Overall as a park, very pretty but lacking in charm compared to British parks with their country pubs and distinctive villages.

We have been having a few experiences with the sense of humour over here. I've always heard how Americans don't take to sarcasm as we do back home, and I have to say, it's true. On our rest day in Yellowstone we hired a rowing boat out on the lake, all very serene to begin with, but after we'd gone several miles away, we noticed the huge storm clouds approaching. Sure enough the storm was massive, chucking hailstones at us almost an inch in size. Meanwhile all the cars on the adjacent road ducked under trees for cover and were signalling to the two stupid English guys (us) in the middle of the lake to check we were OK, we responded by holding our beer up. We braved it out, got back to the hire place and when the guy asked if we we'd been OK in the monsoon, to which we replied we'd been holding our "help" sign up that they gave us for 2 hours and were shocked nobody had come. It flew completely over his head and he probably feared for his job for a few moments before he saw the empty beer cans all over the boat.

So, as I started off by saying, we're in the wild west! It's just like all the Clint Eastwood films, no shooting upto now however. The weather definitely lives upto the wild name, the other day we were fortunate to outrun a storm by being breezed along by a 25mph tailwind that it was generating. Today, we basically had the opposite, so a very easy 83 miles yesterday and a very arduous 71 today. These storms are something else however, it's like Independence Day meeting Armageddon, it all goes black as hell and we've seen some incredible lightning strikes.

In Cody, Rodeo Capital of the World, we decided to go to! Very entertaining. We also discovered why there are big groups of bikers everywhere on Harley Davidsons, they're all heading for the Sturgis Festival in South Dakota. A million people are expected this year, which should make camping interesting. Looks an incredible way to travel though and they all look the same with their bandanas, leathers, tatoos, shades and handlebar moustaches, and as we've become used to, very friendly! We've got a few offers from bikers to stay with them when we pass through their town or city further down the line, couldn't ask for more at all.

So we'll be leaving Wyoming tomorrow and heading to near all the bikers and Mt. Rushmore (mountain with the Presidents heads engraved into it) It'll be incredinbly busy so we could end up camping in a park like we did a few days ago. We woke up and realised that we'd pitched our tent next to a tramp, after having to move it at 3am due to it being on top of a sprinkler that came on for nighttime watering. We think we'll then stay north ad opposed to going south through the corn belt, it could get a bit boring we think, so we may even end up going to Canada for a few days. Hopefully I'll use a library computer to upload some pics too over the next few days!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Navigation, Hospitality and Yogi Bear

I'm writing this in a laundry room, of all places, in the Tetons National Park, in between Jackson and Yellowstone. This room seems like a weird Internet cafe with lots of washing machines, a very strange place.

We've had a shorter day cycling today after a few very big days since Salt Lake City, we did nearly 300 miles in 4 days with a lot of climbing involved, that we were generally unaware of before, which is one of the reasons for this post. Andy's iPhone had been our main method of navegation, until his water bottle killed it last Thursday, and since then our already ad-hoc navigational techniques have become even more basic. American road maps are quite frankly crap for cycle touring, generally in a far too bigger scale with no detail of any relief or amenities whatsoever, which to be honest makes them useless for every usage, not like OS maps back home with every single pub marked on. For us this means we basically have to guess our distances, look at the shape of the road and the boldness of the text used to sort of plan our way through rural America and it is here where we tend to come unstuck!
We've now had a few days where we look at the map at 4pm, think that must be about 20 miles max, and then cycle round the corner to find a road distance sign with our planned destination and generally a distance next to it of roughly double what we thought. "Oh fuck," normally comes to mind straight away, followed by thinking do we have enough water, and then a massive hill upto around 8,000 ft. We do it, finish in the town and if that was in Utah and on a Sunday, everything apart from Fast food chains is shut! We did meet an American tourer who had all these specialist cycle maps with topographic views, services in each town etc, but we both think that that will put more mental challenges in front of us, and also, where's the fun and adventure in that?!

Where we are now is big bear country, so all the campsites have special bear bins and advice everwhere, which generally runs along the lines of don't feed the bears, makes you think what some people must do. All very beautiful though and we'll have some rest days in Yellowstone to visit the various hot springs, waterfalls and expensive and showerless campsites on offer. A big place though, one guy told me today it was a "milion square miles, or acre, I ain't sure.". Fairly sure it was the latter as we weren't talking about the Pacific Ocean.

The fine American hospitality has continued. We stayed in the guest house of a New York family's ranch on Friday, and they even let us ride their quad bikes up the hill behind the place the next morning, in the middle of a thunderstorm however. Jim, a lovely guy from San Francisco has just taken us out for dinner too after striking up a conversation outside the laundrette, so many lovely people everywhere. In a way, the people we meet make our trip much more enjoyable than the places we visit, all very entertaining characters and genuinely friendly people. As goes the phrase, God bless America!