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, incredibly easy bicycle touring

I write from Aira, I’m staying with Nobuyo and Kanami, a husband and wife who own the Ramen shop downstairs. The rain falls steadily, the volcano across the bay wears a cloud hat and puffs steam and smoke intermittently into the sky.

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Best Ramen ever! Kaman is on the left and Nobuyo is on the right.

The last few days have been a little strange.  Being woken by an earthquake in the night is not unusual for this journey; I have experienced a few.  But the aftershocks are high in number and strength and make me a little nervous, the alert app I’ve downloaded goes off all the time and the ground rumbles with a slow rocking motion; mother nature truly is a powerful force.  So far the casualties have been relatively few, so the local people seem less worried.  Today there are less aftershocks, but due to the rain I’ve decided to rest and update my blog.

My campsite in Satsumasendai next to the nuclear power station on the night of the first earthquake.
My campsite in Satsumasendai next to the nuclear power station on the night of the first earthquake.

Everything in Japan works, it appears to be a utopia, the first attempt at the matrix.  The people seem quiet, level, constant, robotic, unemotional.  But scratch the surface and you’ll find that the Japanese are not just inhabitants of Japan, but are part of a community.  The rules that would seem over the top, like only ever crossing the road at a pedestrian crossing (which is observed even by drunks in the early hours) is just a deeper, more engrained understanding of what is the best thing for everyone.  Take a moment to really talk to a Japanese person about anything and you will recognize an unparalleled passion for mastery of the apparently simple and a comprehension of the effects of the details in life on the self. You will find a chef who knows your needs because he understands his food profoundly, you will find passion, love and intent in every bowl of soup.  But you must take a moment to observe it, to be present.  This is not shouting, this is subtlety.  This is Japan.

Abacus. Yes.
Abacus. Yes.

My trip is over one year old now, but still I wake everyday with a feeling of nerves, apprehension and interest for the adventures that will come my way.  I use the word adventure in the meaning of anything that is different to the same.  Generally I have found that a transition is just a more succinct way of saying ‘dip in progress’; every time I move from one country to the next I regress.  I forget many of the important lessons I’ve accumulated throughout this journey and my confidence levels drop, but this hasn’t happened in Japan.  Japan is the easiest country I’ve travelled to so far.  Convenience stores everywhere provide toilets, reasonably priced good food, hot water for tea or noodles and free internet access.  I came to Japan with little preparation and research, just off the back of other people telling me it’s great and I just discover my way from day to day.  The basic day is to ride either the beautiful rolling coastline or the more hilly, green inland roads.  Stop for a picture of something interesting like a beach, volcano, vending machine, shrine, flowers, birds, sunsets, sunrises.  Stop to eat. Find any park to camp in, even in cities. Wash in sento, Onsen, campsite showers, couch surfing or warm shower host houses.  Easy and yes it is expensive if you compare it to backpacking or cycling in the rest of Asia; similar to Europe.

Some pictures and a plea.  Please donate to AgeUK because it truly is a great cause, one which truly centers around the idea of community and compassion.

Coastline of Kyushu in the evenings.
Coastline of Kyushu in the evenings.
Gate buried by lava
Gate buried by lava

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Coo Carp swim in the streets of Shimabara in volcanic spring water.
Coo Carp swim in the streets of Shimabara in volcanic spring water.
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Unzen
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These signs are everywhere, Japan is prepared for nature.
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Shit.