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
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Riding along the continental divide.
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Continental divide off road road got a bit muddy.
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The most famous geyser in the world? Old Faithful, Yelowstone National Park
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It’s surprisingly easy to find empty roads in the US.
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Grand Teton National Park
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Amish horse drawn carriage. I asked to take this picture.
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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

 

Japan, a moment please.

The heat was a struggle in South East Asia, reaching Bangkok felt like a milestone.  I had four thoughts, carry on cycling the busy highways all the way to Singapore in the high humid climate, fly to Cuba before it becomes part of the American empire, fly to New Zealand because it sounds awesome or fly to Japan to see the cherry blossoms.  I write from Japan; when your life gets to the point where your biggest decision is where to enjoy yourself more, life is easy.

I booked a cheap flight with Jetstar, a budget airline with good bicycle flying rules.  Direct to Fukuoka on the southern of the three main islands of Japan.

I haven’t been here long, but I felt compelled to write a quick post before I leave Nagasaki this morning.  Japan is an amazing place, pretty closed off to the outside world and very much a monoculture where conforming is a way of life.  There is almost no sound in the street, no music, no car horns and the people are very quiet and polite; to me it feels like you could never get in an argument with a Japanese person as they would simply apologise and say thank you if you offended them.

My first few days have gone very smoothly, I have arrived at the perfect time to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom and they are, without a doubt, spectacular.  Like yoghurt coloured fireworks they explode once a year to delight the Japanese and the lucky tourists that get their timing right.  Here are some pictures.

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Cherry blossonms in Fukuoka

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As I arrived in Nagasaki, I met with Junko, a lady who had accepted my request through the Warmshowers (cyclists couchsurfing) network to be my host.  I met with Junko and her friend Akiko in Tateyama park for lunch under the cherry blossoms.  A pretty magical place where hundreds of Japanese flock to during the blooming.  Akiko told me that her family had been in Nagasaki for the last four hundred years and her great grand father had worked with Thomas Glover.  She studied English literature at Tokyo university and loved James Joyce and William Shakespeare and was excited to tell me that western literature made her understand different dimensions of herself and emotions; two very interesting women.

Naturally as I was in Nagasaki I was keen to learn more about the atomic bomb explosion so I visited the hypocenter, the Atomic bomb museum and the Peace Park, here are my thoughts.  A couple of weeks ago a man blew himself up in a playground in Lahore, Pakistan.  Lots of casualties, mainly women and children, at the time I had a conversation with a fellow tourist, both of us couldn’t understand the thought process behind the attack. On August 9th 1945 at 11:02am America dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, almost 75,000 people died, almost 75,000 more were injured and the majority were women and children because many of the men were fighting in the War, I could not understand the thought process, despite numerous theories about showing force in preparation for the Cold War, Japan not surrendering, reducing casualties for the allies, it still seems incomprehensible.  I always think that Americans are stupid because of the lack of gun control and the incredible statistics that come from it, but it appears to me to be the same thing as having nuclear weapons, which the UK have.  If everybody got rid of their nuclear weapons, then this type of atrocity would be impossible, there is only one solution that makes any sense.  I wonder whether I would rather be in the blast radius of the nuclear bomb or the one that pressed the red button.

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The human stories from the museum were extremely sad and brutally honest.  You should visit Nagasaki.