Reflections and Thanks
Total Miles Traversed Across the Country 5519 Miles (Including Hitched Rides)
So…it’s now over. I have been home for a few days and have had a chance to reflect on the feat I have just completed. Without doubt, it has been the greatest adventure of my life…well so far anyway. For, when undertaking something like this, it does not simply become a singular activity to be started and ended. The world has shown itself to be the vast playground it is, and I look forward to learning new ways of exploring it in the years ahead. The only advice I can offer to anyone who has ambitions of doing the same is this…
People are inherently good. By far the best thing about my adventure were the people. The kindness shown to me throughout my trip has restored my once wavering confidence in the above statement. The more vulnerable you are, the more you find this statement to be true; quite often in the most unexpected places. Ironically, as I became more competent on the bike, I felt the need to reach out less, and ultimately found myself in less engaging situations. More the reason to continue to try new things incompetently I say.
The natural world is a beautiful place. Get your head up. Take your time. Listen. Breathe. You do not have to travel thousands of miles to find this statement to be true. It is a state of mind. Learn to apply the curiosities of childhood to the everyday.
Fear is soon banished through action. If you can learn to take the first step, fear is quick to diminish and is replaced by an ever growing courage. 8 months ago, I picked up a second hand racing bike to travel back and forth from work to save me money for a travel adventure I had yet to plan. 4 months later, I had picked up a second hand touring bike, decided I wanted to cycle across a country and booked my tickets. Sure, the first two weeks were a right farce, but with everyday that passed my confidence grew and I steadily progressed to completion. With everyday that passed I found that keeping a rational mind and trusting in my instincts always got me there safely.
Physically, our bodies are capable of great feats of endurance. Before I arrived in South Carolina, the furthest I had rode was a painful 30 miles to Richmond Park and back. By the end, I could sit on the saddle for a comfortable 6 hours and a consistent 80 miles. If your mentally still there, your body will always be strong enough to keep you going physically.
Live simply. Simplify, simplify, simplify. It amazes me how little I carried with me by the end of the adventure. Shelter, Clothing, Fuel, Food and a Kindle gave me a content lifestyle for a solid 4 months. There really is something to be said about living with simple pleasures. Ironically, more often than not, the simpler pleasures undertaken while away were much more productive and happier than those practiced at home. The one thing I already miss is the simplicity of it all. Ironically, the more ‘civilized/urbanized’ areas I encountered, the less civilized I found it to be. People were in a rush, manners were harder to come by, nature was ignored and simplicity was a harder commodity to engage with. We’re bombarded by so much bullshit on a daily basis in the city, that it’s easy to forget just how simple life can be.
And finally…THANK YOU to all those that have contributed to my fundraising efforts. The generosity from all those who have supported me and/or contributed to the fundraising efforts have genuinely been overwhelming. To have raised well over £3000.00, especially as the page was not set up until well into my trip, has been a great collective achievement. The money will ALL be going to a cracking cause in Cancer Research UK.
The page will continue to be open for another two weeks, so I make my final plea for all of you to spread the word one last time! Any more final donations would be a real bonus, and help push us closer towards that initial target of £5000.00 - one for every mile I have cycled. Thanking every single one of you for all your support and efforts throughout.
Saaaan Fraaaancisco & Vegas
46 Miles Total 4949 Miles
I wrap the last piece of brown tape on the box, heave the old girl [80 lbs] 8 sweaty blocks to the local UPS and that’s it. She’s gone. On her way home. I no longer can call myself a cycle tourer, just another city bound tourist taking the bus. I smile to myself as I walk back to my hotel in the knowledge that this isn’t really the end, it’s just the beginning. After completing this, the spirit of adventure has well and trully been awoken, as I already contemplate other adventures that I’d like to have a go at in the years ahead.
Anyway, back to the city. Let me first say, the place is diverse. All cultures and faces are apparent here. Which is something that cannot be said for many of the areas I have rode through during my time in the country. Also, the ‘block’ system, which I have come to admire during my time here, allows you to walk through the heart of the city without your view of the surrounding bay, bridges and cityscape being obscured. With every [comically steep] sidewalk you climb, and believe me there’s many, you’re treated to a view that makes it worth your calf twinges. I spend four days just walking the place. Easily 7-8 miles a day. I do once try to take the bus, but find myself impatiently waiting and sitting no more than ten minutes before I’m twitching to be moving through the city under my own steam again. I guess my time on the bicycle has me used to moving at my own pace.
I walk through Fisherman’s Wharf. Filled wth tourists, tacky printed tees and over priced frozen fish. I navigate my way through the hype and make my way to the pier. Here, I sit and look out at Alcatraz. I walk through North Beach, home to trendy little independants, Coit Tower and some ‘too cool for school’ vintage boutiques. For this is where the famous ‘Beat’ literary movement was founded back in the 50’s. Home to Jack Kerouac and Neil Cassidy, the place oozes with a liberal stance that places bookstores and cafes right beside pornographic theatres and smoking shops. I pass dozen of local cafes, residents sitting outside on tables either reading, writing or in conversation. Food is something else the city is best known for, and I guess with racial diversity comes good food too. The place has every type of food you could wish for.
On my way to Market street, which could quite easily be Oxford or Regent street, with it’s global brands and hoards of people, I pass through China Town. It’s ornamented buildings, street singers and minimal personal space make for an exact match to the iconographic image I had already prepared before hand.
I walk up and around Nob Hill, the more affluent part of the city. With it’s 5 star hotels and iconic cable car buzzing past, you get a great view of the city from here. You stand a top the hill, and have an uninterupted view of the dozen or so blocks that seperate you and the ocean. The city is made up of mainly Victorian houses and architecture; each house painted a different pale hued colour, making for some quite nice compositions against the blue sky.
On my way to the Golden Gate Park, with it’s random landscaping of buffalo pens, Japanese tea gardens, museums, tulip surrounded windmills, golf courses and carousels all sitting side by side in one cubic area - I pass the famous Haights Ashbury. The place radiates that ‘Beat’ movement mentality. Trendy record stores, second hand bookstores, thrift stores and ‘spiritual’ stores dot the street. Regardless of whether the sun is out or the grey clouds are hiding it from view, EVERYBODY wears sunglasses. To hold my hands up, even though I’ve read Jack Kerouac’s classic ‘On the Road,’ to compare similarities between his cross country trip and mine would be nonsense. His was travelled on drugs, blues and beautiful women, where mine has been about self reliance, nature and meeting good honest people. So I confess to not really having too much affinity to the ‘Beat’ movement, or this trendy ‘urban cool’ demographic, but the place is intetresting nonetheless.
However, to paint this place as a haven for progressive trendy twenty somethings and beautiful architecture would be a misrepresentation to the other side of the city. Sitting side by side through much of the city, alongside the stunning architecture, alongside the trendy folks and stores, alongside the global brands, lie destitution and poverty. It really does shock me how open and in display the contradictions of a city are. On more than one occasion I pass an individual passed out, blood dripping onto the street while holiday makers and families with their children just step around. I find anger in myself that with every day that passes, and with every body passed out on the street I pass, I develop a tendency of not wanting to look at the persons facial area for fear of what I might see.
I pass through the infamous Tenderloin district and within the space of a block or two feel like I’m in a new city. The smell of urine feels the air, whisky breathed homeless people constantly have their hands out looking for change. The streets are filled with lonely faces full of sorrow. Whether that be an aged chinese lady rummaging the bins, a local deluded man screaming profanities into nothing but air or the tweaking women scouting the pavement for left behind cigarette butts. Individuals urinate in the street, offer to sell me drugs and their bodies in full view without remorse - it’s clear some have lost caring about other people’s judgements long ago. The stench of drug taking and alcaholism is prominent here. It gets to the point where human weakness is so much in view, I opt to turn my eyes to the ground and put my headphones in. After four days, I know the areas that are best to spend the day and the areas that are best to avoid in the city.
I sit on park hills reading with a view over the whole city, I watch the hundreds of cyclists that dart around the city, I walk down to the bay and have a few beers overlooking the pier, I visit the many local museums, shop the local thrift stores ($50.00 gets me a whole new wardrobe) etc… The city is trendy, dotted with beauty and in equal measures destitution. For an artistic young individual looking for a creative place to live, I can’t think of anywhere better.
After San Fran, I then spend the next few days experiencing all the extravagances that Vegas has to offer. And like the right old fart persona I often adopt amongst my peers, all I can think to myself inside is… ‘Give me the simplicity of nature anyday.’ Good weekend nonetheless though.
Bodega Bay State Park to San Francisco
86 Miles Total 4903 Miles
I wake up, open the tent and am greeted to those familiar occurances that I have now grown accustomed to during these last three and a bit months; the fresh clean air - which I’ve got in the habbit of sucking in through the nostrils first thing, the morning light - which I’m now convinced is the best ambience for nature’s colours, and a relaxed and content mind. I cook up breakfast, take a walk down to the beach to get one last look of the secluded sands, and pack up the bike; in the knowledge that (until my next adventure) this is likely to be the last time I get to exist in such simplicity.
With San Francisco firmly on the brain, I ride with strength and purpose throughout the morning. In the knowledge that I no longer need to worry about over exertion for fear of fatigue for tomorrow’s ride, I pound down on the pedals and keep momentum up and over each of the many hills I pass. The ride, as always [we only remember the good time eh] is again a joy. I ride past multiple little creeks which are dotted with docked fishing boats and various sea birds hovering on the water. Again, in the morning light the water takes on a deeper purple colour that gradually returns to it’s normal hue as the sun rises higher in the sky. I take the opportunity to pull my bike over and just sit overlooking one of the creeks while I eat a couple of apples. Before long I will be entering back into the ‘metropolitan’ areas of the country and must admit, I find myself a little weary of leaving this silent place, where everything is on full display at it’s most honest. At it’s most simple.
Just as I start to begin to pass through a few of the suburbs that surround the city, I meet Joe, a fellow rider who is out on his racer for a morning training ride. After I tell him about the occasion, he ends up riding with me for a good 20 miles. We ride relaxed, side by side, just chatting about my trip, the Mid West (Joe grew up in Illinois) and California living in general. He offers to go for lunch at a local seafood place by his gaff, but eager to press on and get to the city I politely have to refuse. We pass through a mini forest of redwoods, some steady hills and a couple of suburbs that swarm with people. We part ways and I set about navigating my way through the cars, busy streets and traffic signals that now slow my progress.
I pass through a small town called Sausalito and as I come round the corner I see the waterfront; and in the horizon is the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. I’m nearly there! I charge up the comical steep gradients that seem to be placed all around town, poodle my way up the entrance path that snakes around the foot of one of the massive red struts and I’m there!
‘Sorry pal…you can’t get over the bridge on your bike from this entrance. You have to go over that side.’ [Workman points to the adjacent path that lies on the other side of the bridge to the one I find myself on. A chain fence and a 2 lane high speed highway seperates me and this adjacent pathway.] ‘To get over there I’m afraid you have to go all the way back down where you came up, go over the bridge down there and work your way up the otherside.’ I produce an exhausted smile, as I think to myself; there’s no way I’m going back down there. I wait for the guy to leave, notice a steep stairwell that allows pedestrians to walk underneath the bridge to get to the said pathway, and set about staggering my way down with the heavy old girl.
It is a right struggle to get the old girl down. Not really thinking my plan through, I now I find myself stuck inbetween two stairwells with no hope of lifting the heavy old thing UP the otherside. I sit and laugh, thinking to myself of all the little times like this throughout my trip I have had to stumble my way through thousands of little mini problems like this one. I wait for the next person to come down the stairs, and will simply ask him/her for help. First one to come down - an old girl, must be pushing near triple digits. I give her a smile and save her the trouble. Thankfully the next person turns out to be a right gentlemen and before long I’m pedalling the old girl over red steel on the right side of the bridge. I lean the old girl against the red metal, and take a minute to observe the vast cityscape in the distance.
I arrive in town, manage to accidently navigate myself over the steepest hill in the city (Lombard Drive - if you haven’t heard of it, look it up on google and imagine me puffing my way up and down it with my loaded bike) and arrive at my hotel jubilant yet exhausted. I’ve actually done it. I’ve just cycled the best part of 5000 miles through the heart of a nation! I collapse on my bed, lay back, close my eyes and recall, with an impressive vividness the chest full of moments that I have just been lucky enough to traverse. It causes me to produce a pure smile that stays with me for hours and hours.
I decide to take a few days to let it sink in. I thank everyone of you who has contributed to the fundraising efforts so far, your support has well and trully eased me through the touger days on the tour. However, the 5000 miles is yet reached, and the £5000.00 for Cancer Research is yet achieved. I still have 10 days of my trip remaining. San Francisco, Vegas and my reflections on the adventure are to follow shortly. Love to you all x