Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Some final thoughts and stats...

I think this will probably be my last post for a while to do with America, I got back last Friday and am now settling back in, but at the same time very eager just to get out on my bike again, and already thinking of a tour for next year.  Cuba's quite appealing.

Hot and spectacular Utah
It's been a truly incredible summer, I still can't quite comprehend the enormity of what both myself and Andy have achieved, and don't think I really will do for quite a long time to come.  Cycle touring really is a unique way of travelling, you get to see a large amount of a country at a fairly slow, but steady pace, and you meet so many more locals along the way, which has definitely been the best bit about the trip.  I'm a big believer in it not being where you are, but who you're with, for a lot of things in life, and in America this has been just as true as anywhere else.

Perfect evening cycling, Wyoming.
On the one hand, the USA is one of the least appealing or charming countries to visit, with its vast expanses of nothing and "anywhereville" towns, all with the same uniform fast-food places, motels and gas stations.  But this is what for me makes it such a fascinating spectacle.  Somehow, that lack of charm and individuality creates a breed of people that are so, so friendly and welcoming.  Some of them may not be the most world minded of folk, but that's hardly their fault, just the way their country brings people up as a whole, in my opinion.

Stunning skies, Utah
You have to admire the American Dream, Way of Life, whatever you call it.  It's very hard to define, but if that means building the tallest buildings in New York, or perhaps the most outrageous city in Vegas, in one of the hottest and driest places in the world, or giving all the fat people a free "fat mobile" so they can shop, or letting everyone refill their Coke as much as they want, so be it.  In America, if there's a will, there's a way - what a fantastic outlook on life.  It's just a shame that none of it is in the slightest bit sustainable, but it's only one country in the world.  It just so happens it has a lot of people, and money, and is the most powerful one of them all, for now.  America, what a place.  I'll be back one day I think, see these wonderful people and amazing places again, but maybe with the roar of fossils being burnt in my ear on a Harley, that looks a fun way to travel.

Below are some facts I've compiled on the trip from a few sources, the journal that we wrote along the way, our bike computers, the maps, and generally things that have stuck in our memories.  The map has our rough route on it, the black Xs outline where we stayed.

Total distance travelled - 4,075 miles on Andy's computer / 3,953 miles in the journal.  Using the bigger figure for the averages!

Total number of days - 69, Sunday 11th July to Friday 17th September

Rest days - 9

Average distance per day, including rest days - 59 miles

Average distance per day, excluding rest days - 68 miles

States visited - 13, California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey.  And also Ontario, Canada.

Highest Pass - 9,600ft.  Route 12, Utah.  21st July.

Central Park, New York
9,000ft Passes - 4; 3 in Utah, and 1 in Wyoming

Biggest ascent in a day - 6,000ft.  Escalante to Torrey, Utah.  21st July

National Parks visited - 5, Zion Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Tetons, Yellowstone, Badlands

Century Days (100+ miles) - 2

Longest day - 105 miles, a combination of a very early start and a tailwind.  Trempeleau to Arkdale, Wisconsin.  25th August.

Shortest day - 31 miles due to a constant 15mph headwind.  Brookings, South Dakota to Lake Benton, Minnesota.  19th August.

Earliest start - 5.15am to avoid the heat and be finished before midday.  St. George to Springdale, Utah.  16th July.

Latest start - 1.50pm.  We still did 65 miles, reaching our destination by 7.30pm.  Lancaster to Allentown, Pennsylvania.  15th September.

Latest finish - 10.30pm.  Cold and wet in Tetons, Wyoming after a big 80 mile day.  31st July.

Hottest day - 46oC.  Mesquite, Nevada to St. George, Utah.  15th July.

Coldest day - 12oC.  Cuba to Wellsboro, Pennsylvania.  9th September.

Top speed - 45.4mph

Total time spent riding - 320 hours

Punctures suffered - Dave 3, Andy 6

Days lost to injury or problems - 0, the only slight injury we got was our hands seizing up towards the end due to holding the handlebars all the time!

Subway Footlongs eaten - Dave 43, Andy 42

Total length in metres of Footlongs eaten by us both - 26m

Combined money spent in Subway on footlongs in US$ excluding tax -  $425, not including Cokes or Cookies.

Fellow tourers seen - 20

Grizzly Bears seen - 2, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Number of nights camped - 39, includes 1 night on a park bench and 1 night sleeping on the streets

Number of motel nights - 10, seems a bit excessive in retrospect!  At the start in Nevada we had to stay in motels as it was too hot to sleep.

Free accommodation nights - 22, a combination of Warm Showers people, friends and people who rescued us in one way or another.

Meals eaten off the floor - 2, we each dropped one out of the pan

Best summer ever.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Coast to Coast of the USA by bicycle...done!

Arrival, Washington Bridge!
So, the moment arrived.  At about 5pm last Friday afternoon and after 4,075 miles in just under 10 weeks of cycling, numerous 9,000 plus foot passes, 45 degree days in the desert, 100 plus mile days, grizzly bear filled campsites etc etc...we rolled over the George Washington Bridge and entered Manhattan, New York, the final stop of this monstrous tour.  It was a momentous feeling being greeted by the Manhattan skyline with the sun shining again, knowing that we've crossed the third (or fourth, depending on what you read) biggest country in the world, just about all by our own two legs.  More or less as the script was written I suppose.

I said last week how we were glad to be finishing on the East Coast, as opposed to the West.  The same goes for New York too, ending in LA would be a bit of a let down I think.  This is my first time in New York, but it definitely lives up to the hype, the city that "never sleeps" feels so different to the rest of America, but yet underlines so many of the original American ideals which make this country so "great."  If you were trying to invent a city with diversity, originality, attitude, and the general hussle and bussle which all big cities have, New York would probably be it.  This place also has a fair amount of history, even by European standards, and is in a pretty spectacular location, and all these factors combine to make the "Big Apple" what it is - a better finishing point that LA, but a bitch to cycle into!

Enjoying New York
We did the trip from Lancaster in 3 days, which included a stay over at Heather and Gregg's in Allentown, who were friends of Willa from Pennsylvania, and also a stay in a motel about 50 miles from New York.  Thank God we stayed in a motel aswell.  We'd heard about storms being forecast for Thursday afternoon, and seeing as we got just about as wet as we have done at any time on the entire trip, they definitely arrived.  For us however it was just rain, but in New York, particularly Brooklyn where we're now staying, there were severe winds, and even a reported tornado, which has left parts of this neighbourhood with trees scattered everywhere and roofs ripped off.  I think cycling into that may have been a bit awkward.  Luckily though, the skies cleared for cycling into the city, and we've had fantastic autumn days ever since.  We more or less immediately bought some normal clothes after arriving, and so have been able to blend into society and enjoy the delights of this city with Andy's friends, who came over from London, and Lauren who lives in Brooklyn, great fun.

I think I've covered a lot of topics in this blog to do with America, cultural, political, social and environmental things.  They're all just my observations really, not out to offend in any way.  Apart from seeing a country, doing a trip like this lets you meet more people and pick up on more of the domestic and worldwide topics that spark interest.  I'd have liked to have mentioned more about the healthcare system here, which thankfully hasn't been used by us, but creates huge divides of opinion with people all over the US.  The same with guns, education, religion, and even fairly menial things like tipping, all very interesting topics that I've just never got round to writing about, so for that reason, I'm considering putting everything together and writing about the whole trip, in the form of...a book!  Mine and Andy's journal notes are pretty comprehensive, so I'll have a bash at it and see what is churned out, it'd be a good personal memory, if nothing else.

Manhattan Skyline, the bikes, and us.
When I'm back in England on Friday I'll put the last few weeks of photos up, aswell as making a post with a lot of relevant facts about the trip, which maybe boring as shit for some of you, but very interesting to those with (or without) a cycling interest!  It's been an absolutely incredible trip, definitely the most memorable summer of my life, probably Andy's too.  It's already rather strange looking back on it, not really been able to comprehend what we've done in a way, but there's already a niggling thing inside me urging me to do something else (money and time permitting!)....so, any ideas for the next challenge?!

P.S. Here's the link to the photos. and if you'd like to sponsor me for doing it, you still can do!  All money goes directly to Muscular Dystrophy, so a very worthy cause and all donations are very much appreciated.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Home Straight...

With less than 200 miles to go until we reach our final destination, New York, I think it's fair to say that we're well and truly on the home straight...so this should be the last blog until then.

Niagara vineyards
After our week long jaunt over the border, we re-entered the US last Tuesday, but not before visiting a few Canadian vineyards for some wine sampling and purchasing, and of course visiting the mighty Niagara Falls.  Instead of being lured into the many money extracting commerical ventures on offer next to the falls to all the gauping tourists, we chose to drink a bottle of wine that had been purchased at an earlier vineyard.   A fine vantage point to sip down a splendid bottle of wine, albeit in paper cups from Tim Horton's, (Canada's answer to Starbucks) what a wonderful afternoon in the sun that was.   I've since learnt it's illegal to drink in public in Canada
which makes it even more wonderful in my eyes.  The falls themselves are not as high as most people think, being around 50m high, but that doesn't detract from the spectacle of an incredible amount of water pouring over the edge every second, generating huge mist clouds and a relentless rumble of thunder.

Maiden of the Mist, Niagara Falls
I mentioned the deteriorating weather in the last blog, and how autumn was obviously on the horizon.  Well, I can definitely confirm that autumn has now arrived.  In the last week we've had more cold days than warm days, and more rain than sun, which is a bit shit to cycle in.  The temperature dropped to a balmy 12oC last Thursday and wearing all our clothes on the bike makes us realise how far we've come in time and distance since those days 2 months ago in Nevada and Utah when we couldn't cycle past midday due to the oppressive heat.  As Andy has lost a considerable amount of his clothing along the way, he has had to buy some rather interesting new leggings from Walmart.  New York state and Pennsylvania now have a leopard amongst their local population.  An upside to the dimishing temperatures is that we're now starting to see the leaves change colour on the trees to beautiful golden reds and browns, and they're now being scattered allover the roads, which makes a very pretty sight, when we're not cycling in the rain.

Steep and fast descents
Pennsylvania has meant the long awaited return of the hill to our daily ride, and the hills here, whilst not being especially high, are definitely very steep.  This means some slow ascents for a few miles, but some very fast descents on the other side.  I equalled my top speed of 45.4mph the other day, and was a bit annoyed not to break it but seeing as my tyres are more or less on their last legs, and my brakes are pretty much gone too, best not to push it too much.

There are also lots of Amish families around here, which I didn't really know anything about before.  They are basically families, generally of German origin, that have shunned modern technology and try to live as they did 100 or so years ago, before the mobile phone, car, fridge etc came to exist.  I say that, but there are splits within the Amish community, and some families have indeed welcomed certain inventions into their daily lives more than others.  If they need to go somewhere which maybe a bit too far for their horse and cart to go to, or they don't quite have the time, they'll call a non-Amish person up (presumably on an iPhone), and arrange to get driven there.  Make of that what you will.  This got me thinking of just how the respective communities decide what they will and won't allow into their daily lives, I can just imagine the meeting of the Church leaders, looking through a catalogue, or maybe even on a computer projector, and them speaking to their congregations afterwards,
Amish Farms
"This year the Amish leadership, after a long, passionate and protracted debate, has reached the difficult decision that our way of life would be untendable without this new invention, and we have therefore reluctantly decided to allow...the iPad onto our list of approved items for daily use."
That would all be in their Pennsylvanian-Dutch dialect, but you get the idea.  In a way, with them having all the modern technology, it just makes it more like a big game of fancy dress really, but they see it as necessary to preserve their "way of life" in the long run I suppose.  It does however make our day more interesting when instead of being overtaken by a pick up truck, we're overtaken by a horse and cart, and then having to weave our way round lots of horse shit on the side of the road.

We've also been encountering some fairly angry dogs over the last week.  I'm not sure what it is about being on a bike that dogs don't like, or that arouses their attention more than at cars or motorbikes, but as soon as we cycle within 50m or so of a house, the dogs are up straight away barking at us very aggressively.  Maybe they're hungry and want to eat us, or they like the look of our bikes and fancy a ride, or we're the only people that travel on these rural roads and the dogs haven't seen anyone for days, I don't know.  Amish families do seem to have more than their fair share of wild dogs however, which do also have a tendency to chase us.  This has led to some interesting episodes where Andy maybe ahead of me, I see him suddenly speed up, and realise that's because a big alsation is at his legs, and then have the conundrum as to what to do myself...do I wait for the dog to go back to the garden, or try and go super fast and catch it unaware, but being only a few metres away from me.  The adrenaline gets pumping I can tell you, and dogs run fairly fast aswell.  My legs are still attached to my body, upto now.

Washington DC
Once again, the hospitality and kindness we've received in Canada and the US has been overwhelming.  Tim and Linda near Niagra Falls, and Tony, on the American side of the border were both on Warm Showers and put us up for the night.  At the weekend, we stayed in a valley near Penn State University at Willa's family's farm, who I met whilst she was on her year abroad in Leeds, and we're currently staying with Tom and Anna-Mary, some bikers we met whilst in Wyoming.  They gave us their details, and as we're a bit ahead of schedule, we came to Lancaster to see them.   They used to own a restaurant so have been feeding us like Kings, and very kindly drove us to Washington today. We've had a wonderful day walking round the sights and trying to spot Barack and Michelle, we think we saw his helicopter fly over.  Whatever people around the world say or think about Americans, one thing you cannot doubt whatsoever is their friendliness and generosity, a true credit to their country in every sense of the word, and I cannot emphasise how much more enjoyable and entertaining they've made this trip for both myself and Andy.  Wonderful, wonderful people.

So, this should be the last post before I can look back on it all and feel bloody proud of myself!  It's been one hell of an adventure, and we're very nearly done.  It's good to be finishing on the East Coast as opposed to the West I think.  Everything on this side is a bit more familar to us, as it was obviously settled more so by our European ancestors than by say, the Hispanics in California.  So it's nice to see place names such as Lancaster and York, red brick houses, and older buildings in general.  There's just more of a historic feel to the place, which when coming from England, is something you don't appreciate when there, but as soon as you leave, you realise how old our country really is.  I'll be back there before too long though, next Friday in fact, not really looking forward to it!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Canada - The Real World

Toronto skyline from the University
We're in a different country!  Andy and I crossed the border into Canada on Tuesday and boy, does it feel different.  It's unbelievable what a few miles and a rather impressive bridge can do.  For a start there are lots of slim people, and all of a sudden these slim Canadian folk like to walk around on pavements, not seen too many of them for a while, or they ride bicycles, or drive normal size cars, as opposed to gigantic waddlers in humongously sized pick up trucks and SUVs.  After just about 2 months in the States, what a wonderful feeling it is to be in a normal country that is trying to be sustainable with progressive attitudes to the normal everyday issues that normal people all over the world are facing.  Normal is fabulous.  Obviously not all of America is quite as bad as I'm implying, but going through the places we've been, especially so in the last month, it's refreshing just to be in another country.

Enjoying a proper nightclub!
So, we've been in Toronto for the weekend.  A very impressive city with lots of large skyscrapers, and the big CN Tower of course (the world's 3rd largest free standing structure at over 1,800ft), rather spectacularly overlooking Lake Ontario.  I've also been treated to the wonderful company, guiding and hospitality of Kat, who I met whilst at Leeds University.  She's been our personal chaufer, guide and entertainment provider for the weekend here and taken us around all the sites.  I may have possibly been sick on her driveway in the early hours of Saturday morning, but I couldn't possibly verify this as she's too good a friend to do that to.  It did feel very strange however going to a proper bar in a big city, with lots of attractive people in cool clothes, after being in the middle of nowhere for a long time, it definitely takes some adjusting to.  Andy and I did look rather trampish, Andy a bit more so than me in his rank board shorts and baselayer (had to slip that in!), but when out trip song came on, it was a memorable moment!

Lake Huron
There's more Warm Showers luck to write about.  Upon entering Canada we were put up by the lovely Ned and Cary on the shore of Lake Huron, and were first of all greeted with an incredible view, and then the possibility to swim in one of the Great Lakes, it would have been rude not to take it up, especially with the water being so incredibly warm due to the summer sun having been on it for the last few months.  A truly spectacular view and location.  They then very kindly set us up with their daughter and son-in-law in London, that's London, Ontario, not London, England!  Cary and Dave gave us a brilliant tour of the student packed bars and we saw a mini-Covent Garden, Hyde Park, River Thames and Tower of London, a very odd experience for Andy who lives in London on the otherside of the pond.  It is really nice however to be in a country with so much heritage that is familiar to us, be it for whatever rights and wrongs of the past.  Queenie looking at us on the notes and coins, very British architecture all over the place and even nice little shops selling Yorkshire Tea...lovely stuff. 

3/4 done!
The end of this epic adventure nears ever closer, there's now siginficantly less than 1,000 miles to go, and that means well over 3,000 done.  Signals such as the changing weather, shorter days and much cooler mornings and evenings show that autumn is well on the way.  The recent bad weather may or not have something to do with Hurricane Earl on the East coast, but I don't really know too much about that.  Anyway, when people now ask us where we're going, New York doesn't really conjure up much of a response, but saying we've come from LA, certainly does, "You guys have biked from LA?!  What the fuck?!" 
And then there's our bodies.  We haven't really had any physical problems, but my left hand has started to feel numb with occasional bouts of pins and needles from holding the handlebards all day, every day for 2 months.  I don't think the human body let our hands evolve with that in mind.

Hot, flat, and pretty monotonous
We're going to head to Niagara Falls today, or tomorrow, depending on Andy's hangover!  And then we'll be back in America, and all that that entails, free refills at Subway and free fat mobiles at Walmart.  We weighed ourselves last week for the first time since we set off.  Rather believably I've lost 10lbs (5kg), but Andy has rather unbelievably put on about the same amount, fattie, although he assures me it's all muscle!  What's interesting though is that this is with eating more or less the exact same diet, and doing the exact the same amount of exercise.  The only slight difference is my bike is slightly heavier, and Andy enjoys his refills more than me, so that could be it, or just being a bit older than me.  I'm definitely feeling the weight loss though, it's noticeable on pictures and Andy says I get drunk more easily now, so there you have it, if you want to lose weight, get on your bike for 3,000 miles.  Who'd have thought that hey?!  Exercise and weight loss are linked together, and not some fancy, pretentious and expensive diet promoted by magazines and the media.  Wait till we get to New York though and have 5 days of feeding our expanded stomachs, living to excess and doing no exercise, I'm sure we'll pile the pounds back on, so hopefully I shouldn't waste away.  That'd be impossible in America.