The surprising United States of America, USA

The USA is the twenty fifth and final country of this bicycle ride and this is the penultimate post.

I have a deep connection with America, this is not because I have any personal links with the country, but because I was born in and have lived my entire life in the American age.  It’s hard to avoid the influences from technology, television, food, music, movies, media, art and more topically politics that are embedded in my life as a member of the western world.

Going by population numbers alone the world should be dominated by India or China, but their cultures in my opinion are not outward looking, they do not carry the ‘White Man’s Burden’, they do not seek to educate and civilise the natives.  This aspirational aspect of the American empire is the reason why the world is full of ipeople, why when we seek acceptance and feel the yearning to be part of something bigger we simply join the queue and say with confidence, ‘grande, skinny, soy, double shot, latte please’.

So I have a huge amount of preconceptions, probably some misconceptions and an image of the American that could be used to define the word stereotype.  It’s these things that are the worry, a fear planted and nurtured by the media makes me wonder whether this country will be the most dangerous country of all; a nation of trigger happy racists.

Good news.  It appears that my friend Frank was correct,

‘the distribution of assholes in the world is uniform’,

he said to me seven years ago as I sipped my beer and questioned the state of the world in the Angel and Greyhound pub in Oxford (hoping for a free pint).  In an attempt to make the phrase a little more positive I’ve adjusted it to

‘the distribution of good people in the world is uniform and to the nearest whole number the percentage of good people is one hundred percent’

Catchy I know, and really does give magnitude to the hard work and dedication that Santa Clause is putting in every year.

Anyway, it turns out the Americans are friendly, welcoming, generous people, just like Pakistanis, Chinese, Tajik, Uzbek, German,……., people.  To give you an idea of the type of people I face on a day to day basis I have included my journal entries for the last 10 days.

NB: I don’t keep a journal, but feel that the structure of a journal illustrates the point I’m trying to make well; everything written in this copy of my fictional journal is true.

July 10th -13th – Staying with Fred and Suzie, two cyclists who are members Warmshowers, a hosting network for cyclists.  They are incredibly welcoming and seem to forgive the fact that time spent alone has turned me a bit goofy and even more socially inept.  They take me for deep dish pizza, take me on a tour of Chicago  and allow me stay for three nights in an incredibly comfortable bed.  They send me off feeling refreshed, like I’d made two new friends and like I could have stayed for another week.

July 13th – Cycling out of Chicago and reach Indiana Dunes National Park, bump into a restaurant owner who advises against camping because of a huge storm, he calls his friend Geoff and asks him to host me, Geoff doesn’t hesitate, he gives a place to sleep, shower, breakfast and dinner and cycles me out the next morning to the safe route heading east.

July 14th – Met cyclists Patty and Bob.  They were cycling in the opposite direction, but stopped and chatted for a while, they then took me for a beer, let me camp in their yard, made me dinner, took me swimming in a lake, let me use their shower, made me breakfast and gave me a map to get to my next destination and gave me another place to stay for tomorrow.

July 15th – Cycled to Adam’s Lake where I met Rob, Bob’s friend from high school (They are now in their fifties), he works on a Byson ranch, Rob and his family gave me a place to camp, dinner, breakfast and place to shower. 

July 16th – Woke up this morning and went to feed the Byson before heading off, they are massive and a little bit intimidating.  Cycled to somewhere in the middle of nowhere, but stumbled across a church serving dinner for $5, went in and ate.  They gave me permission to camp in their grounds and gave me breakfast in the morning, I got trapped in Bible study, but managed to escape after an hour.

July 17th – Eating a sandwich at the end of the day for dinner, random people come up to me and offer me a place to stay, shower and have breakfast in the morning,

July 18th – About to camp in the local park behind some trees, Bill and Judy come and say hello warn me that the police kick people out of the park at dusk and recommend that I sleep in their barn which has a bed, shower and toilet.  Bill takes me for breakfast in the morning and recommends a safe and traffic free route into Cleveland.

July 19th – I arrive in Cleveland and am staying with a couple for two nights, they are on Warmshowers also.  I’m currently typing on their computer, I’m the only person in the house.

On the first day I felt lucky, by the tenth I realised it wasn’t luck, just good people.

So this is the only post for the USA, it’s a great place to ride a bike; some pictures.

Going to the Sun Road
Going to the Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Montana
IMG_5819
Riding along the continental divide.
IMG_5813
Continental divide off road road got a bit muddy.
IMG_5854
The most famous geyser in the world? Old Faithful, Yelowstone National Park
IMG_5807
It’s surprisingly easy to find empty roads in the US.
IMG_5875
Grand Teton National Park
IMG_5946
Amish horse drawn carriage. I asked to take this picture.
IMG_5945
I was nowhere near route 66.
The Bean, Millenium Park, Chicago.
The Bean, Millenium Park, Chicago.
Chicago with Lake Michigan a great city on a great lake.
Chicago with Lake Michigan a great city on a great lake.

The penultimate request for donations.

www.justgiving.com/shayl-majithia1

 

Canada: Do you feel alive?

I write from the headquarters of the Adventure Cycling Association in Missoula, Montana.  It’s been a few weeks since I last wrote.

I left Japan with a sense of urgency, a bit fed up, a bit bored, tired and with a cracked bicycle frame.  Waiting for me at the airport in Vancouver was my uncle, I have family all over the world and this was an opportunity to meet some members that I’d never met before.  The lack of formality when I arrived was great, it appears that family, regardless of how distant is still family and I was treated like a son; home cooked food and home comforts revitalised me and brought me back to life.

Canada is spectacularly beautiful, perhaps even the most beautiful place country I’ve ever been to and a great place to ride a bicycle.  The road from Vancouver to Whistler and on through Jasper and Banff national parks is filled with spectacular views and more wildlife than I’ve ever seen outside of Africa; moose, bears, elk, deers, eagles, foxes, and squirrels are potentially lurking behind every corner.  

I met these motorcyclists in a campground near Lillooet. They couldn't believe I'd cycled the road from Pemberton, a particularly steep climb.
I met these motorcyclists in a campground near Lillooet. They couldn’t believe I’d cycled the road from Pemberton, a particularly steep climb.
IMG_5608
Lakes along highway 24 at around 1300m altitude make for some beautiful riding.
IMG_5611
Rode the wrong road for 25 miles and got a lift across to the other side of the lake that I should have been on.
IMG_5614
Saw my first moose, this one is a girl moose. I struggled to photograph animals despite seeing a lot.
IMG_5615
Amazing warmshowers experience at bridge lake, a highlight of my journey. Thanks to Lydia, Greg and Brent. They also had some incredibly good locally made Gouda!
I was told this is called Indian Paintbrush, the bee flew into the picture.
I was told this is called Indian Paintbrush, the bee flew into the picture.
Camping is amazing when you are surrounded by huge mountains, but can be a little cold.
Camping is amazing when you are surrounded by huge mountains, but can be a little cold.
IMG_5732
I swam in this lake, it was ridiculously cold because the water is meltwater from glaciers, but my legs felt like new after.
IMG_5725
Just stopped to take some pictures of flowers at the side of the road.
IMG_5742
This is a lake that contains ‘rock flour’; rock ground down by glacier movement. This rock flour absorbs a lot of the visible spectrum, but reflects the blue that you can see. I think this one of the best views I’ve ever seen.

Almost everybody I meet asks me the same question, ‘Why did you decide to ride your bicycle all this way?’, I always answer with something like, ‘I’m young and have no responsibilities so thought that it was a good time to see the world’.  This suggests that adventure is only for people in my situation, but as I cycled away from Vancouver I met lots of cyclists who did not fit my stereotypical cycle touring mold.

IMG_5635
Kathleen (mum), Derek (dad), Anna (daughter) and Jasper (son). One inspirational family. I have met hundreds of cycle tourers on this trip, these guys were truly inspirational. Just enjoying life on the road, i was lucky enough to meet them in Jasper at the Whistler campground where I found them making Sushi for there camping dinner!
Trudy and Frank; newlyweds and retirees, I shared campsites with these guys for four nights, became like a little family. Don't underestimate them, despite the folding bikes, these guys are serious cyclists.
Trudy and Frank; newlyweds and retirees, I shared campsites with these guys for four nights, became like a little family. Don’t underestimate them, despite the folding bikes, these guys are serious cyclists.

image

Father and daughter team Mike and Elaine, in the last picture inspired the title of this blog post.  As we cycled together on a short section from somewhere to somewhere else on a hilly, gravelly, muddy track, with the rain coming down, Elaine called to her father, ‘do you feel alive?’.  This was a her quoting a documentary on the famous ‘Barkley Marathons’: a brutal ultramarathon that pushes runners to the absolute limits of their own ability.  This quote resonated with me and my journey and made me realise that the times that I have felt the most present, the most awake and the most ‘alive’ were the times when I was pushing myself;  when I was climbing a huge hill, cycling at high altitudes, extreme temperatures or doing long days in the saddle.  So it is from this thought that I have decided that I will attempt to cycle all the way to New York city from Vancouver; my flight is on August 19th, I am going to go to Yellowstone first.  I will have to average higher mileage, push harder, but the end is near, the thoughts of work and home plague my thoughts and to remain present is vital.

When you leave the mountains you suddenly notice how big the sky is.
When you leave the mountains you suddenly notice how big the sky is.

I’ll sign off once more with a request for a donation for AgeUK.  This is the charity I have attached to my ride, 15,000 miles of cycling across 25 countries is hopefully enough to convince you to donate what you can to this amazing cause that helps the elderly in the UK to have a full and happy life.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Shayl-Majithia1