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

 

Thoughts on Japan

It has been almost fifty days since I arrived in Japan thirty days of cycling covering 3,500km.  My thoughts on the country have changed a lot and I write about them here.  My start in Japan couldn’t have gone much better, cherry trees were in bloom everywhere.  I initially felt very much at ease with so many things in Japan reminding me of the UK, a happy melancholic reminder of home, life here is easy.

In my last post I commented briefly on the earthquake, I thought I hadn’t been affected, but now a month down the line my sleep suffers; tsunami, falling buildings, broken roads and aftershocks plague my dreams, a normal consequence of going through any kind of trauma.  Although the nightmares are becoming much less frequent and will I’m sure soon disappear, I think of all of the people in the world that have really gone through trauma, I wonder whether they can ever sleep well and I wonder why I have literally no idea about mental health.

I am a zombie on a bicycle, I am tired so end up arriving in places with that thought of ‘how did I get here’, I had this same feeling in my first year of teacher training, I also had recurring dreams.  I occasionally get shaken out of my sleep walking state through interaction with other humans, something beautiful or something sad, but never by noises, there isn’t any sounds in Japan except that of flowing rivers, birds and talking machines; the ‘sound of silence’ never meant anything to me before I came here, I imagine to be on the moon would sound something like this, but at least there would be cheese.

Despite the tiredness, I cycle further and faster than normal.  I cycle to the southern tip of Japan and then head to the ferry to get to Shikoku.  I meet with two cyclists Charlotte and Eric who I met in China five months earlier.  I spend the day with them cycling, it’s great my mind is at ease, I am not worried about anything. I sleep well.  Shikoku appears to be a utopia.

Cape Sata - Southern point of Japan, in line with Egypt.
Cape Sata – Southern point of Japan, in line with Egypt.
Charlotte and Eric. clean after using the sento.
Charlotte and Eric. clean after using the sento.

I visited a school in Okawa and spoke to some children about my journey.  It was a fascinating, eye opening experience for me, and probably a little boring for the children.  Now I have to try to tell you why; writing is difficult.

On a Sunday I sit down with my family for breakfast.  On one of these mornings when discussing something, my father told us a story of a man;

A man had gone to see a witch doctor and had found out his future including the date that he would die.  The man was a man who believed strongly.  The day that he was meant to die came around and he found himself in a car with an erratic driver, the man terrified by the thought that the prophecy would come true and his death brought about by a car accident opened the door and jumped from the car, only to run over by an oncoming vehicle. 

I guess you can take what you need from a story like this one.  I am going to take the part about the knowing your future, but ignore part about the inevitability because it is depressing.  I was reminded of this story in this school.  The school had thirty children and almost thirty staff, the population is aging and there aren’t any children.  The staff had ten days of holiday in a year and all worked seventy hour weeks and worked on Saturdays.  They have no rights, they live away from their families because they get deployed to different areas to work and they literally drop dead from exhaustion and nobody talks about it.    This is a country where mental is intertwined with the word arithmetic and nothing to do with health.  Everything in Japan is designed for convenience to negate the need for thought, to keep the workforce working and not thinking, you don’t even wipe your ass in Japan.  I had the feeling that I was in the future of the UK and did not like it.

Route 6 in Shikokum cyclist heaven.
Route 6 in Shikokum cyclist heaven.
I think this is Okawa, Shikoku.
I think this is Okawa, Shikoku.
Rice fields in Japan make good photo opportunities.
Rice fields in Japan make good photo opportunities.

I leave Shikoku on the famous Shimani Kaido bridges, a beautiful bike route that hops across small islands to the main island of Japan.  The traffic free cycling ends at the end of these bridges, this is where more than eighty percent of the population ‘lives’.

One of the bridges
One of the bridges
Bridge
Bridge
Sky
Sky

I’m suddenly in Hiroshima the Atomic Bomb Museum.  My focus flickers between my own reflection and the contents of the glass box.  I haven’t seen myself for about a week, my beard is slowly conquering my face, by eyebrows losing their plurality and my expression is pained, the burnt school uniform in the display brought to life on a mannequin gives me a sick and sad feeling but I feel wide awake for the first time in a while.  The UK has nuclear weapons. I move on to the next box.

School uniform after the nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. 4,000 instantly dead children.
School uniform after the nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. 4,000 instantly dead children

It would appear that Japan was not always a place of restraint and lack of indulgence.  Everywhere in Japan you will find abandoned hotels, hospitals, theme parks and houses, evidence that the people of Japan once lived.  Here are some pictures from an abandoned theme park I snuck in called ‘Dreamland’, it is now an ironic name I guess.

Abandoned Dreamland
Abandoned Dreamland
Abandoned Dreamland
Abandoned Dreamland
Abandoned Dreamland
Abandoned Dreamland

Back on the bike, Honshu is rubbish for cycling compared to Kyushu and Shikoku, there are of course some nice roads, but the parts that I cycled were in general not much fun but got me to interesting places.  For me the nice part about Honshu is Kyoto, Mount Fuji and Hiroshima.

Highlight of Kyoto for me.
Highlight of Kyoto for me.
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Mt. Fuji – This picture sums up the ease of cycling on Honshu. I climbed to 1500m. The view was terrible.

So that’s it from Japan, I’m heading to Canada in search of the next adventure.  I am still trying to raise funds for AgeUK, it truly is a great cause. Click the link to donate.  Thank you for all of the donations so far.

www.justgiving.com/shayl-majithia1