A Nort h Amer ic a n Bic ycle Jour ney
“...and I don’t know where to go there’s just this long white road and I can’t think straight...” - It’s All Over David Gray, 1993
First published in 2013 by Beautiful People Publishing House Copyright ÂŠ Leon Steber 2013 Minion Pro, Palatino Linotype and Myriad are the fonts used within this book Designed and written by Leon Steber. (http://leonsteber.com) The right of Leon Steber to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
Contents............................................................................................... 3 Introduction.......................................................................................... 4 Preparation........................................................................................... 5 California.............................................................................................. 7 Oregon................................................................................................. 45 Washington.......................................................................................... 59 British Columbia.................................................................................. 73 Alaska.................................................................................................. 93 Yukon Territory................................................................................... 119 British Columbia..................................................................................129 Alberta.................................................................................................139 Montana.............................................................................................. 145 Wyoming.............................................................................................153 Utah.....................................................................................................159 Intermission.........................................................................................183 Mexico................................................................................................. 187 Appendices: Map................................................................................................230 Equipment......................................................................................231 Mileage...........................................................................................232 Food................................................................................................234 Sounds............................................................................................235 Sponsors.........................................................................................236 Favourite rides................................................................................239 Thanks............................................................................................240
A Nort h Amer ic a n Bic ycle Jour ney
(or more of a warning really...)
I ntroduc tion
exaggerate. I’m prone to stretching the truth. I’m liable to bullshit about certain things in order to make them more interesting. If you weren’t there at the time to confirm something, then it’s entirely possible that I’ve just made it up. I’m liable to substitute kilometres with miles in order to make it seem I’ve ridden further, metres with feet in order to make it seem I’ve climbed higher, kilograms with pounds in order to make it seem I’m carrying a heavier load, and Celsius with Fahrenheit in order to make it seem I’ve endured more miserable weather. In fact, it’s entirely possible I didn’t even do this trip. I may have just stayed at home last year watching re-runs of “The Office” and drinking copious amounts of coffee. I considered changing names to protect the innocent, but let’s face it; it wouldn’t take a genius to work out if I’m talking about you.
The madness begins...
Since joining the working life six years ago, I’ve dreamt of nothing but ways of leaving the working life and going on long term holidays. My first attempt was to try and do the typical Aussie thing and live, work, booze up and holiday in London. When my first boss caught wind of my desire to do this, he instead set me up with a six-month stint of work experience in the Philippines. Six months turned into a year, and I felt again the need to travel. I quit my job and headed to India for a few wonderful months of doing my own thing. I was called back to the Philippines but within a year I had started planning the London travels again. Upon quitting this time my second boss offered me a transfer to San Diego, California. Four months of near perfect weather and plenty of surfing and I was transferred again, this time to the San Francisco Bay Area. Though I was getting the overseas travel I wanted, my dream of a long term holiday was getting further and further away. Travelling by bicycle surfaced as an idea early in 2003 when a good friend of mine attempted it in China and Mongolia. His enthusiasm for the idea was contagious and it got me considering a similar, but easier trip. I’d been in America for two years but had seen very little of the country. With only two weeks of holidays a year it was hard to. At the end of 2003, tired of long working hours, approaching the end of my twenties and ready for a change of scenery, I decided the bicycle trip was the way to go. As with all my stupid ideas, I’m more likely to carry through with them if I tell them to people whose opinions I care about. And so it was, with several pints of honey wine to loosen my tongue, I spilled my plans to two very good friends in Oakland, the week before Christmas 2003. Like all the other people I mentioned it to over the Christmas period in Australia, their response was not quite as enthusiastic as I’d hoped. The few people who actually believed I might attempt the trip thought I’d only last a matter of weeks, if not days. It got me wondering whether I was considered “a man of my word” and in a way encouraged me even more to prove to myself that I could do it. However, by the time I started work again in January I was no closer to having any serious plans of route, destinations or a departure date. And I still didn’t have a bike. One evening in late January after another draining day at work, with still no progress in doing anything towards the trip except dreaming about it, I gave myself the kick in the pants that I needed and made a schedule. It included everything I needed to research, buy and organise for the trip, as well as the time I needed to finish off my work. My comfortable departure date was set for the start of June. Within two weeks, with plenty of Internet research and only two bikes test ridden, I ordered a Trek 520 touring bicycle from Left Coast Cyclery in Berkeley. I spent more time deliberating over the pannier bags than the bike itself. I had a packing list as long as my arm but only needed to buy a few essential item as I already owned a good set of camping gear. I began training on the unloaded bike and within a few weekends I was extremely proud of completing a 56 mile (90km) ride around the Oakland hills. The panniers came next, built by Arkel Overdesigns in Canada and guaranteed for life. At first I ordered only the rear panniers to see how much I could fit in them. I did a few small test rides with the panniers loaded with text books. I didn’t order the front panniers until two weeks before I began the trip.
P repar ation
like bike riding but I’d never call myself a cyclist. I’ve never been into types of bikes and components, group rides or racing, and until owning my touring bike, I’d never ridden anything but cheap mountain bikes. My biking experience includes many weekend and afternoon rides after work but I’d never ridden more than 25 miles in a day before. My biking experience also includes two car collisions, the last of which left me with a nasty six-month headache after landing helmetfirst on the road. Riding a bicycle across a country had always been on my things-to-do-in-life list, but so was spitting over the edge of the Tower of Pisa, and I’d not been serious about carrying through with either.
A North American Bicycle Journey
At this point, my whole departure date hinged on whether I would have to go to court in regards to the bicycle accident I’d had 18 months earlier. But all of a sudden my whole schedule was put on fast track when my lovely housemate (and landlord’s daughter) decided we had “personality differences” and wanted me out of the house by the end of April. I spoke to my boss the next day, stressed out and nervous as hell, mainly because I’d never succeeded in resigning yet. And didn’t succeed this time either. My boss, totally understanding of my dilemma, told me to take as long as I wanted and just return when I was feeling “better”. “Better” because for the last few months, the stresses of work had exacerbated the stomach problems I’d had ever since getting sick in India. I’d been to numerous doctors over four years and had numerous tests done and redone, but no cause was ever found. It was not until a week before my trip that a specialist discovered that I had Coeliac Sprue disease, an intolerance to the gluten found in wheat, barley, rye and oats. It was both a relief and a curse. I now knew why I’d felt like crap for years but now could no longer enjoy some of life’s most enjoyable things; pizza, bread, pasta and beer.
Above: Shiny and new, the bike and panniers, sans guitar [Day T-1]
A month prior to starting the trip I’d stopped all my training and exercise in an attempt to put a bit of meat on my bones (the lack of meat was a result of the gluten intolerance and malnutrition). I was now unfit and not an ounce fatter. The weekend before my trip I rode to my friends’ place in Sausalito (just north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge) with an almost fully loaded bike. Not quite fully loaded, as I had no food packed, nor did I have my 12 string guitar which I romantically believed I could not do without for three months (it would not be until the day that I started the trip that I would ride with a fully loaded bike, including the guitar for the first time strapped to my rear rack with its neck sticking between my legs). I absolutely struggled. The ride took me at least three times as long as normal and I was several hours late for the dinner I had been invited to. My friends in Sausalito were the only friends I could find with a set of bathroom scales. I weighed in at a measly 145lbs, the panniers minus food were 60lbs, and my bike with three bottles of water was 40lbs (the night before the trip started, some other friends helped me measure everything on their kitchen scales and we got a total loaded weight of 260lbs, including me). I think I packed too much.
Day 1 (Monday 17 May 2004): 90 miles, 7:07 hours, Colma SF to Manresa State Beach
Got my first rear flat tyre when I got to Santa Cruz, not before being stopped by the Californian highway patrol for riding on the freeway. My fantastic route planning (which basically was to work out where I’d camp the first night and then wing it from then on) meant I had to do a 90 mile day. I was turned away at the first state park because there was no camping allowed and turned away at the second state park because it was camper vans only. I finally struggled into Manresa State Beach where I tried to cook fried rice and fresh vegetables. Learnt that brown rice was a pretty dumb thing to bring on a camping trip, even after having soaked all day in my pannier, it took fifty minutes to cook. It’ll be five-minute instant rice from now on I think. And fresh veggies...well that was the first and last time I’ll be cooking them on this trip.
Day 2: 77.54 miles, 6:17 hours, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
t took me three hours to pack up my tent and cook breakfast this morning. Got another rear flat tyre as I was pulling into a cafe/restaurant place for a second breakfast. My plan was to have a short ride today and camp in Carmel. The AAA map I had (a friend had ordered me about $90 worth of maps through her car insurance membership but I only ended up bringing the California/ Oregon ones) showed a camping symbol beside the town. I stopped at a small hotel to ask of its whereabouts only to discover it was a mistake. After having to ride an extra 26 miles through the Big Sur coastal hills with really strong winds I’ve decided I’ll have my first rest day tomorrow.
or the past week, some good friends have let me stay on their spare couch in Oakland. It’ll probably be the last really comfortable bed I’ll be in for some time. I got up at 3:30am in order to catch the first BART train over to Colma, south of San Francisco. My friends were nice enough to wake up to see me off, as well as to ask when I would be back. It was still pitch dark when I left the Colma station and as I struggled up the first slight hill I asked myself why on earth anyone would choose to do this. It was to be my mantra for the next week.
Day 3 (Rest day): 0 miles, 0:00 hours, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
I’m ashamed that I didn’t learn any campfire songs before I left on this trip.
Day 4: 77.64 miles, 6:27 hours, San Simeon State Park
he Big Sur hills are killing me. I called a friend today and told him I wasn’t having much fun after spending the day again asking myself why anyone would be so stupid to try doing this. He was good enough to remind me that Barbara Savage had hated riding at the start, and not started to really enjoy herself until two weeks into her trip. I don’t know if I’ll be able to wait that long. (Barbara Savage and her husband sold their house and everything they owned, and took off to ride around the world back in the ‘70s, her book was called “Road to Nowhere”).
Day 5: 99.36 miles, 7:16 hours, Lost Hills KOA (Hwy 46)
ast night, in order to shorten the two-hour packing up time in the morning, I didn’t put up the tent, but instead just wrapped it over my sleeping bag. Within ten minutes of the sun setting I was soaked in moisture. My sleeping bag was soaked by morning. I turned inland this morning, the plan is to get to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. My granny gears are getting a major workout as I struggle up the rolling yellow hills. When I got to Paso Robles I saw a sign for an Amtrak train station and inquired as to whether I could put my bike on the train and piss off to somewhere else. Unfortunately not. Spoke to my sister’s boyfriend and told him I wasn’t having much fun. He suggested it might take me a month or so to get into it. I don’t know if I’ll be able to wait that long. After Paso Robles, highway 46 becomes one of the straightest and flattest roads I’ve ridden so far. It’s not very encouraging to be able to see the road twenty miles ahead of you and know that the scenery there is just as boring as the scenery you’re now riding through. I had a slight tailwind and so could easily ride at about 17-20 miles per hour. Every time a truck passed me, which was often, the air draft would drag me along at another 3 or 4mph. Ninety percent of the truck drivers were considerate enough to almost cross over on to the wrong side of the road as they passed me (I only had a narrow shoulder). By the end to the day I was wishing they’d pass closer to me, just for that extra push of wind. Passed the spot where James Dean crashed his car but didn’t know about it until I got to the spot where James Dean last bought gas. They sell all sorts of nuts there now and lay claim to having the largest parking lot in the world. While I was paying for my overpriced mocha flavoured almonds, the owner told me I was crazy for riding along the 46. They call it “Blood Alley” because of the high number of vehicle accidents on it every year. Almost did my first century ride today. I considered riding the extra 0.64 miles just to see my speedo click over but I was too buggered.
Facing page: Pacific Coast Highway, on the way south to Monterey [Day 1] Following page, left: Pebble Beach golf course wildlife [Day 2] Following page, right: Towards Woody, no shade for the last 120 miles [Day 6]
A North American Bicycle Journey
ast night I met two guys, Reed from Seattle and Sean from New Jersey who are riding from Tijuana to Vancouver as quickly as they can. They basically have no gear; no tent, no tarp, one didn’t have a sleeping bag, no flashlight and not even a can opener. I thought I’d introduce myself when I saw them trying to break open a can of baked beans in the dark. We hung out for a while and when they discovered I was carrying a guitar Sean put on an impromptu performance of “Wish they all could be Californian girls” while Reed did the harmonies.
Left: My bike short tan lines [Day 7] Facing page: Near Shandon, alongside Hwy 46 or “Blood Alley” as the locals call it [Day 5]
Day 6: 65.99 miles, 5:54 hours, Cedar Creek Campground (10mi E of Glennville)
here was barely a tree in sight today. Miles and miles of bare, dry, yellow hills. And warm as well. My $5 REI compass/ thermometer that probably has an accuracy of plus or minus 20 degrees, read 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I had to trust my sketchy intuition when I got to a crossroads not shown on my map. I eventually wound up riding into the finish of a women’s three day bicycle race. A guy was kind enough to refill my water bottles as well as giving me a handful of detailed maps. One of the competitors asked me what I was in training for and didn’t seem to understand that I may be doing this just for the pure fun of it (I wish I could find where the fun of it is). Another cyclist I met on the way to Woody gave me much needed route advice on the general hilliness of the roads ahead. I’ve decided to skip the National Parks and just head straight over the Sierras. I got into Glenville at five o’clock, already exhausted, to discover the only camping was ten miles up towards the summit. At my slow 4mph it was going to be dark by the time I got there. Just out of town I passed a lady parked in a van by the side of the road, who exclaimed an “Oh boy” when she saw the load I was carrying. Several minutes later, just after I’d dumped all my excess water in order to lighten my load, she pulled up beside me and offered me a lift. Before I could answer, she had a barrage of questions “Do you have a gun, a knife or any sort of weapon on you?”, “Do you have any drugs?” which she repeated about four times until she was convinced by my answers. I took off all my panniers and shoved them and the bike into the back of her van. Before she started the van she demanded my name and made it clear that she would bust my arse and kick me out of the van if I tried anything shifty. That was followed by several minutes of praying over me and asking me questions about whether I’d ever said thankyou Jesus for coming into my life and so on. Susan was saving me from a two and a half hour arse-busting climb, so I humoured her with her terrible attempts at the Aussie accent and her other ramblings. She was a good sport though and even sent my Mum and Dad a picture that she’d taken of me and my bike. Thankyou Jesus.
Day 7 (Rest day): 0 miles, Cedar Creek Campground (10mi E of Glennville)
day of doing diddlysquat. It’s a free, empty campground but with no facilities except a drop toilet. I’m ravenously hungry but out of fresh fruit, almost out of water and just rationing my overpriced mocha flavoured almonds.
Fell asleep for four hours in the middle of the day, feel like I’m totally out of energy. The overpriced mocha flavoured almonds aren’t helping much. I have had a very painful left knee since day one. I have a very tender saddle sore on my right butt. I’ve had a gash on the first finger of my right hand since day one that keeps opening up each day. I have a popped blister on the middle toe of my left foot. Why am I doing this?
A North American Bicycle Journey
I keep seeing a lot of motorbikes passing me and I think I should have done something like that instead of this bicycle riding madness.
Day 8: 3.52 miles, 0:42 hours, Green Horn Summit
t turned out that the summit was only a few miles above the campground. If I’d have known this yesterday I would have ridden into Lake Isabella instead of starving myself on my rest day. When I got to the summit I took a self-congratulatory photo of myself. My first Sierra Nevada summit (Greenhorn Summit, elevation 6102 feet) and I’d barely ridden any of it myself. I was proud regardless. As I was about to head down the long hill into Lake Isabella a lady in a pick-up stopped beside me and exclaimed “You rode up the hill with that?” Straight away I knew she was a Kiwi and I told her I was an Aussie. Turned out Cheree lived in Lake Isabella and she quickly offered me a warm shower and a hot meal. We first collected firewood for her winter stockpile and then she showed me around town. Before getting to her house she warned me that she was looking after an 11 month old German Shepherd whose owners had abandoned it due to its bad behaviour. She gave me instructions on how to behave around the dog; ignoring it, avoiding eye contact and turning my back to it if it tried to jump up. All the while acting calmly as possible. However trying to behave calmly with a dog barking aggressively inches from my exposing tight bike shorts, is a bit nerve racking. I only got bitten a few times. Turns out Cheree is a bit of a genius when it comes to animal training, she even has a chook that she can make poop on command.
Left: Joshua trees along highway 14 [Day 10] Facing page: Around Lake Isabella [Day 9] Following page: Trying to hitch a ride, Walker Pass above Lake Isabella [Day 10]
Day 9 (Rest day): 50.19 miles, 3:43 hours, Isabella Lake, Cheree’s house
he weekend before leaving on this trip, my good friends gave me a Mohawk haircut. It was done using a rechargeable moustache trimmer whose life was obviously over. A minute into the haircut and it stopped dead. Even recharging didn’t help much and the haircut was barely finished by the next morning. It doesn’t raise an eyelid in a city like San Francisco, but I never quite felt comfortable riding around central California with a Mohawk. So today I got it cut off. Cheree was telling me about a horse fair in Bishop this weekend and thinks I should go see it. During the day she called the local radio station to see if I could get a lift with anyone but no luck. Tonight she made a sign out of a linoleum flooring sample which she thinks will help me hitch a lift there with no problems. It reads “TIRED AUSSIE NEEDS RIDE”.
A North American Bicycle Journey
Day 10: 55.72 miles, 4:21 hours, Walker Pass (east of Onyx) to Olancha
Right: View from Big Pine campground of the Sierra Nevada mountain range [Day 12]
heree drove me to the top of the pass this morning so it was an easy lovely downhill ride to highway 395 that runs along the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. There are Joshua trees everywhere, I feel like I’m Bono and it’s 1987. The “TIRED AUSSIE ...” sign was on the back of my bike in the morning and while I was at a rest stop a family asked me a bunch of questions. The teenage girl walked away shaking her head and muttering “crazy ... crazy ...”. They offered me a lift even though they were going a short way up the road and had a pick-up full of gear. I wasn’t tired yet so I politely refused their offer. No one else offered me a lift. I was enjoying riding for the first time. No significant hills, an emergency lane the size of a truck to safely ride on, and a warm heat emanating from the desert. Tall snow-capped mountains to the left of me, wide empty desert to my right and nothing but asphalt in front of me for hundreds of miles. In the blink-and-you-miss-it town of Olancha, I pulled into a trashy-looking trailer park to camp. The place was run by Indians, the old guy who met me couldn’t speak a word of English but he called his son for me. His son had a map of India in his office and it turned out that I’d been to his birth town which was pretty exciting for the both of us. I’d be pretty excited to meet someone who’d been to my home town. When it got dark, I started listening to some tunes on my mini-diskman and stood out under the flashing fluorescent “Welcome” trailer park sign. Big rigs drove past loudly every few minutes and it was still warm. I suddenly realised that I was enjoying myself immensely for the first time, just standing watching trucks going by in the night and listening to music.
Day 11: 76.5 miles, 5:04 hours, Big Pine (Hwy 395)
’m now officially “into” this biking thing. I don’t even check my miles any more, let alone worry too much where I’m gonna camp for the night. I took down the “TIRED AUSSIE...” sign. There’s no way I’m gonna miss a mile of this. Passed the highest mountain in the contiguous USA today, Mount Whitney. I had a postcard with a picture of it, but I couldn’t find it from the road, there are so many damn mountains. It’s amazing.
Day 12: 28.63 miles, 3:00 hours, French Campground (near Tom’s Place)
Day 13 (Rest day): 7.96 miles, 0:43 hours, French Campground (near Tom’s Place)
hen I got to camp yesterday I was befriended by a guy called Cecil, or “Whitey” as his friends call him and his German short-haired pointer, Molly. He’s 79 years old, has had heart attacks, bypasses and now has a pacemaker and still hikes and fishes around here in the hills. He’s been coming up here since he was twenty years old but “they didn’t have the fancy toilets here then”. He asked me if I have had any experience with bears and proceeds to tell me about a neighbouring tenter who had to shoo one away about two years ago. “Ah, but you’re alright up here I think, you’re in the open a bit more. He was in the bush”. Before starting this trip, it wasn’t the riding or the being out in the elements every day that worried me, it was the bears. I come from a country where most snakebites are potentially fatal, where you have to check under the toilet seat for poisonous red-back spiders, where kangaroos can beat the shit out of you and koalas can scratch your face off. But for me, none of this compares to a meeting with a bear. I tell Whitey I hope I never have a “bear experience”.
Got to Bishop for the horse fair finally but the only campground in town is full. I thought I could sweet talk them with my aussie accent, even with the “NO VACANCY” sign clearly on the counter, but no luck. On the other side of town I put up the “TIRED AUSSIE...” sign again, as I was coming to a climb of at least a thousand feet. Moments later, an old white pick-up stopped for me and whisked me to the Sherwin Summit (elevation 7000 feet). My second Sierra summit and the second one that I didn’t have to ride up. Thanks Cheryl and Jim.
A North American Bicycle Journey
omething ate my rice cakes last night as well as a healthy helping of my handlebar tape. Had my first few drops of rain today just after I left the campground. I quickly rode back to a shelter at the campground and waited out the rain, as well as covering up my guitar in a few extra layers of garbage bags.
Following page, left: Entrance of Big Pine campground with my first storm brewing over the Sierra Nevada mountain range [Day 12] Following page, right: Ground squirrel [Day 17]
Day 14: 42.6 miles, 3:34 hours, June Lake (Pine Cliff Resort) Day 15: 70.58 miles, 5:37 hours, June Lake Loop to Bootleg Camp (south of Walker) Day 16: 54.37 miles, 4:36 hours, Grover Hot Springs State Park (west of Markleeville)
I A North American Bicycle Journey
t was about 5 degrees Celsius when I left camp this morning. My fingers are killing me, I have gashes and splits on the knuckles and ends of several of my fingers. Got to the bottom of Monitor pass and decided I needed a second breakfast before attempting to ride over a 3300 foot hill. Rode into Nevada and grabbed a vegetarian skillet and egg omelette at the Casino just over the border. While riding up to the summit I met several other cyclists all training for the Californian Death Ride in June. The Death Ride is five summits and 120 miles, I’d love to try it one day. Got to soak my tired bones in the hot springs for half an hour, but just couldn’t understand the enjoyment of hot springs on a hot day.
Facing page: Tahoe Lake [Day 23] Following page: Trukee River [Day 23]
Day 17 (Rest day): 10.78 miles, 0:56 hours, Grover Hot Springs State Park (west of Markleeville) Day 18: 40.9 miles, 4:06 hours, South Lake Tahoe Campground Day 19: 26.41 miles, 2:50 hours, Sugar Pine Point State Park
t the hot springs I was lucky to meet Mac and Barbara, a husband and wife from New Zealand who go cycle touring for a few months every year. We rode up to Lake Tahoe together and shared a campsite together at the state park. I get lost just walking around the campgrounds as they are laid out in a very organic way amongst tall pine trees. Eventually getting to the front entrance gate was a reward in itself due to the extremely cute state ranger there.
Day 20 (Rest day): 107.1 miles, 7:47 hours, Sugar Pine Point State Park
y first century ride. At about 10am I left camp loaded with only my camera and food panniers. Rode over Mt Rose summit (elevation 8900 feet), the highest summit in the Sierras and a wonderful downhill into Nevada. Visited Virginia City with its authentic looking old West shops, bars and casinos. On the way back to Tahoe I knew I was out of my league being exhausted after just two summits. Managed to hitch a ride with some Mexicans who offered me refreshments and drove me back into South Lake Tahoe. It was 8:30pm by the time I struggled back into the campground. Tomorrow I’m gonna buy myself a book to read in an effort to stop myself doing these bloody rides on my so-called rest days.
Day 21 (Rest day): 30.72 miles, 2:46 hours, Sugar Pine Point State Park Day 22 (Rest day): 66.27 miles, 4:51 hours, Tahoe City Campground Day 23 (Rest day): 0 miles, Tahoe City Campground Day 24 (Rest day): 0 miles, Tahoe City Campground
oke up to a world of white outside my tent this morning. It was pretty amazing but bloody cold. The snow fell for about two hours and had disappeared from the ground by early afternoon.
Day 25 (Rest day): 75.59 miles, 5:14 hours, Tahoe City Campground Day 26: 41.43 miles, 3:04 hours, Donner State Park (Truckee) Day 27 (Rest day): 71.83 miles, 5:09 hours, Donner State Park (Truckee)
ook a ride down to Jackson Meadows reservoir with my usual half load (I now need to bring the food pannier with me everywhere just to avoid having it chewed to pieces by squirrels). Met some guys from Reno (“...not much worth seeing in Reno...”) who had brought their two sons down for the weekend to get them out of their Mum’s hair. I showed them the cracks on my fingers and knuckles. One guy, who used to work in a wood shop, said he often used to get the same because of the dryness of the air. His solution was to seal them with crazy glue (superglue).
A North American Bicycle Journey
Day 28: 80.52 miles, 6:02 hours, Mineral Bar Campground in Auburn State Park Day 29: 33.6 miles, 4:36 hours, Ruck-A-Chucky Campground (Auburn State Park)
Previous pages: Lake Tahoe pier [Day 23] Right: Finger cracks on my knuckles, Trukee [Day 27]
uburn is seriously trying its hardest to make me give up. After today Monitor pass feels like an anthill. It took me from 7:30am to 2:30pm to do 23 miles. I was hitting roads that were clearly 4-wheel drive only dirt tracks but shown as paved roads on my fantastic maps. My bike got a beating and I’m surprised I haven’t broken any spokes or split my rims. The bolts on my rear pannier became half unscrewed from all the vibrations. I only came to Auburn to see the highest bridge in California. When locals ask me about my route, I tell them I detoured down to Auburn just to see the bridge. Their eyes light up and without fail they will tell me about the Vinn Diesel movie “XXX” in which he drives a car off the bridge into the deep valley below. I would have got to the bridge today but my planned campsite was a short way before it. The AAA map made it look like the campground was just off the main road, but it turned out to be at least three miles and over a thousand foot drop along a very unpaved and corrugated dirt road. The poor-excuse-for-a-road meant that my brakes were constantly on and I could only go about 2mph. Attempting to walk with the heavy bike was even more challenging. I got about 2/3 of the way down when a young couple in a pick-up, Michael and Lisa, stopped and offered me a lift. Even sitting in the back of the pick-up was a pain in the arse. I have no idea of how I am going to get out of here.
A North American Bicycle Journey
Left: Couch on Shirttail canyon road, Auburn State Park [Day 29]
Day 30 (Rest day): 0 miles, Ruck-A-Chucky Campground (Auburn State Park)
t’s not so bad getting stuck here as it is hands down the nicest camping spot I’ve been at so far. I’m at the middle fork of the American river, there are only six basic campsites and a drop toilet. I’ve managed to arrange a lift out of here with Buffy who is camping in the spot next to me. She introduced herself to me last night. She’s quit her job and decided to wing it for a while out here with her pick-up, black Labrador and tent.
You meet some strange people in these sorts of campsites. Take for instance Vic, the guy camping on the other side of me. He introduced himself to me with the comment “You meet some pretty strange people in these campsites”. He said he had to meet me, he had to meet someone who had somehow managed to minimise his need for things in life so that he could fit it onto a bicycle. He was living out of the back of his pick-up and had been down here for a few weeks. The 4-wheel drive on his pick-up wasn’t working so he was kind of stuck down here too. Vic was a cartoonist and it seemed to give him a large amount of pleasure to show me his caricature of the gun toting female park ranger who collects the camping fees every afternoon. Vic avoids eye contact until he’s finished the punch line of his jokes and then he stares straight into your eyes with an evil-looking distorted excuse-for-a-grin. Buffy thinks he may have ingested a few too many illicit substances in the ‘60s and he’s now trying his best to avoid society by haunting campsites for a living. Vic’s eyes glaze over when he tells me how the river slows down time.
Right: Wishing this sign had been at the end of road that I’d started at, Shirttail Canyon Road, Auburn State Park [Day 29] Facing page: The river that slows down time, middle fork of the American River, beside Ruck-AChuck campsite, Auburn State Park [Day 30] Following pages: Lizards, RuckA-Chuck campsite, Auburn State Park [Day 31]
Day 31 (Rest day): 0 miles, Ruck-A-Chucky Campground (Auburn State Park)
esterday Buffy convinced me to hang around for another day and we took a ride into town to get more groceries. We stopped at the bridge which hangs 740 feet above the valley floor and is a very impressive piece of engineering.
Last night after we got back, Vic wanders over to my tent scratching his head “I assume you’re a vegetarian and you don’t drink....”. I give him the double negative so he offers me a beer. I tell him how I can’t drink beer so he instead asks if I’d like vodka or rum. “Your place or hers?”, he says pointing to Buffy’s campsite before he wanders back to his pickup to grab the gin. Ten minutes later he wanders back with a cold beer for Buffy and himself, and rum in a ketchup squeezey bottle plus a lemonade for me. We drink and talk, Vic is a real character and has had an interesting odd-jobs sort of life. At times Buffy and I worryingly look at each as Vic seems almost ready to cry into his hands while he’s telling what appears to be a funny story. He later wanders back to his pickup after we’ve spent the last hour trying to pick out constellations in a night sky that is unrecognisable for a southern hemispherian like me.
Day 32: 61.57 miles, 6:01 hours, Malakof Diggins State Park
potted my first brown bear this afternoon (or it could have been a brown-coloured black bear, I’m confused about the differences). It was slowly rambling across the road about 300 feet ahead of me as I entered the State Park. As soon as it spotted me it bolted into the forest. Its apparent panic, seemed exactly like the kind of comic reaction I’d expect a person would make when seeing a brown bear for the first time. The campgrounds are completely empty except for a group of kids over the hill in the group campsite making a hell of a racket.
Right: My first night of stealth camping, West of Chester on Hwy 89/36 [Day 36]
A North American Bicycle Journey
Facing page: Looking south, Lassen Volcanic National Park [Day 38]
Day 33: 64.36 miles, 6:15 hours, Sardine Lake Campground
ast night it was warm enough to sleep without the fly of my tent. I woke in the night to the sound of a large animal walking past my tent. It disappeared pretty quickly as I fumbled for my flashlight. I fell asleep again but within 15 minutes I was awakened by the group of kids screaming out from over the hill.
Day 34: 33.19 miles, 2:59 hours, Plumas Eureka State Park Day 35 (Rest day): 0 miles, Plumas Eureka State Park
y campsite neighbour for the past two days is Ted, a forty- something, obviously single white male from Los Angeles. He came over to my tent to introduce himself yesterday and quickly noted that my campsite beside the river was much better than his. He determined which day I was leaving so that he could take over my site. When he spotted my bike he told me all about how heâ€™d stopped riding because he got sick of staring at a road. Ted was now into mountain hiking. As a member of the Sierra club his aim was to climb as many peaks as he could so that he could tick each of them off his Sierra Club summits list.
The campground is so peaceful except for my neighbour Ted. Even when I think I can get some peace while eating a meal he comes over to my table, sticks his foot up onto my bench and proceeds to lay out his hiking maps in front of me. He points out each of the peaks he plans to do in the next week and then asks me what time I was going to be leaving in the morning so that he can bring his tent over. Tedâ€™s conversational skills are limited to only talking about himself.
Day 36: 86.11 miles, 6:15 hours, Stealth Camp (6 miles West of Chester)
y tent site was not even cold this morning before Ted brings his tent over and proceeds to set it up. I’m trying to have one last peaceful breakfast but am failing badly. Before I’ve even taken my food out of the bear-proof food locker, Ted is already putting his stuff in. He has to leave straight away because he’s going on a bird watching tour in the park. He’s already pointed out a bunch of bird noises for me. “Hear that?” he’s asked me repeatedly over the last few days, “that’s a (insert bird name I’ve never heard of here...) !”. He’s finally driven off in his Subaru Outback and I’m finally left to finish off the last of my breakfast in peace. As I’m packing up my food pannier I help myself to a few packets of his dried fruit, nuts and jerky, all from Trader Joes. The only guilt I feel is the guilt of not having taken more. Karma will get me back I’m sure. Spent the day dodging logging trucks on highway 89 and did my first stealth camping outside of Chester.
y first National Park of the trip and what a great one to start with. While I was hiking to Mill Creek Falls I met a retired couple from Florida. “Lassen is better than Disneyland” they told me, and kindly offered to send a digital photo of me and an email to my family telling them I was fine.
Day 38: 30.67 miles, 2:44 hours, Manzanita Lake Campground in Lassen Volcanic National Park
ast night a father Ad (born in Holland) and his two shy kids Hannah and Willem invited me over to their campfire for marshmallows. Ad is a cow farmer in a town just past Chico and grows corn and alfalfa. We talked and ate marshmallows until it got too cold to sit out anymore.
Today’s riding goes down in my “Top Ten Bike Rides List”. I got out of the campground (elevation 6700ft) at about 7am and rode up a wonderful cliff-hugging road to the summit at 8512 feet. On the way up, I spotted a squirrel sitting on the side of the road looking as though it too, was admiring the spectacular views. A guy got out of his car ahead of me and took a few photos as I was climbing. He smiled and thanked me as I passed and said he admired me for what I was doing.
A North American Bicycle Journey
Day 37: 27.43 miles, 2:41 hours, Southwest Campground in Lassen Volcanic National Park
Near the top I spoke with Luke, a young park ranger, who recommended Washington’s Olympic National Park to me. He’d done some touring himself, had no girlfriend, house or commitments and lived out of the back of his pickup. Being a park ranger was the perfect life for him. At the summit there were still banks of snow beside the road that towered over my head. After the summit it was a wonderful downhill (all downhills are wonderful, except the Auburn ones) that left me “Woohoo”ing all the way down. I believe that regardless of your age, the exhilarating feeling of flying down a hill on a bicycle is the same as it felt when you were 5 years old and on your first bike flying down a hill. I hope when I’m eighty years old I’m still “Woohoo”ing down hills on a bicycle.
Day 39: 59.22 miles, 3:51 hours, McArthur Burney Falls State Park
A North American Bicycle Journey
hile I was hanging around outside the campground toilets this morning (ok, I admit I try to stand in the most sociable spot in the campground as people go and take their morning piss) the lady that had been camping next to me with her kids exclaimed surprise at how quick I’d packed up camp. She lived down near Vegas with her Polish husband and after hearing my accent said that she and her husband were ready to move overseas to give her kids some culture. When I told her I’d left my job she gave me a “good for you!” and then we bitched about work and work ethics for a while. She said I was doing what she had always dreamed of doing when she was younger.
A very stoned, feral-looking kid approached me when I rode up to the Burney supermarket. His name was Mark and he’d hitchhiked all the way from Carolina to go to some big national hippie festival in nearby Alturas. He told me about some free hot springs out at Big Bend which I may go check out tomorrow.
Left: Lassen Peak, Lassen Volcanic National Park [Day 38] Facing page: Sulphur Works, Lassen Volcanic National Park [Day 38]
Day 40 (Rest day, Friday, 25 June 2004): 72.96 miles, 5:36 hours, McArthur Burney Falls State Park
A North American Bicycle Journey
Right: Road Kill #78, Burney [Day 39]
thought today would be a nice casual ride out to the hot springs and I was entertaining the thought of checking out the hippies in the woods. The ride along the main road was bearable, but the turn-off to Big Bend began descending very rapidly into a deep valley. I stopped to decide whether to continue or not as I knew it would be a very long climb out if I went all the way. I decide to push on and finally got to town after several miles of “woohoo”ing down beautiful curves through thick forest. I stopped at the only store in town, bought a snickers and used the opportunity to ask the guy behind the counter if there were some free hot springs around. “Yeah, it’s in the nice white building a block up the street, costs five bucks” I told him I meant the free hot springs... He gave a small sigh and hesitated as though he always hated giving away the town’s secret to an out-of-towner; “Down the road, up the hill for two miles, park on the left and walk down the stream for a mile”. I thanked him but had already changed my mind about the hot springs when he had mentioned the mile-long walk. I decided to avoid the big climb back and head back to the campgrounds via the shortcut road; a dubious road the park ranger had told me to avoid. Only 24 miles I thought, can’t be too bad. The shortcut road quickly turned from a pleasant paved road into a gravelly, rough, corrugated road and I began making promises to Stef, that I would never take her on another dirt road if she could just survive this one. By the time I got back to my tent I was sore and exhausted and ready for another rest day.
Day 41 (Rest day): 25.69 miles, 1:41 hours, McArthur Burney Falls State Park
pent the day at the Burney public library. Spent a lot of the time talking to Connie the librarian who had been to Burnie in Tasmania. Connie had actually retired three years ago but kept getting called back for casual and part time work. However today she was getting laid off due to budgetary cuts so her and her workmates invited me to celebrate with a bottle of champagne. “Probably the only time that you’ll get to drink alcohol in a county building”.
“Camping” in America is strange. Often I’m the only tent in a sea of RV, caravans and buses. I’d never heard of taking a TV, a DVD and even a TV satellite dish to a campground until I came here. And padded camping chairs. And even a fabric garage tent for an SUV. Green Astroturf laid out so they don’t bring any dirt into their RVs. Camping stoves with four cook tops. And as I walk past the bathrooms I can hear ladies blow drying their hair. “How about we take the entire contents of our entertainment filled house out into the woods this weekend, honey?” We wouldn’t want to get bored would we?
Day 42: 57.07 miles, 5:26 hours, Medicine Lake
oday was the first day that I did not pass through a town. Had to climb over 3000 feet up to Medicine Lake. On the way I stopped to have a look-see at some ice caves beside the road. I saw an old looking 4WD-wagon pull up so abandoned my look-see and went back to my bike. The father of the family Paul introduced me to his wife Gail and their two kids. They were from Oregon and were on a month and a half holiday for the school holidays (Gail was a teacher). Paul handed me a lovely peach “Corporate fruit” and generously tried to get me to take some tins of fruit salad they had. Paul could tell a great story, knew a helluva lot of history, and they offered to load my bike onto the car so that they could take me to see some other caves. I told them I’d meet them at Medicine Lake for a swim later and continued riding. Half an hour later on their way back from the caves, they pulled up in front of me. Paul got out with a rope determined to tie my bike to the roof of their car. I refused and insisted I’d get to the lake soon enough.
A North American Bicycle Journey
When I got to the beautiful lake I headed straight to the beach to find them. We swam a while in the cool water and they invited me to hang out for some lunch that was healthy and gluten-free. Paul told us some great stories of his younger days and his hitchhiking adventures in Mexico. He didn’t quite make it to Guatemala because of an enormous earthquake that killed twenty thousand people. Before we left, Paul ended up giving me a brand new book that he hadn’t even read yet and more fruit. They gave me their address in Oregon and told me to stop by when I got up that way. “We’ve got an old car that Paul’s been working on that you can have if you like”. Wonderful people.
Day 43: 60.76 miles, 4:37 hours, Lava Beds National Monument
ava Beds National Monument is full of caves. I quickly discovered that spelunking in dark caves alone isn’t much fun. Spent the rest of the day above ground. The view from the campground is amazing. I much prefer desert over forests, I like being able to see horizons in all directions.
Left: Big Nasty Trail, Lava Beds National Monument [Day 43] Facing page: My Fourtieth night’s tea, beans and rice...again [Day 40] Following page: Medicine Lake [Day 42]
Right: Lava Beds National Monument [Day 43] Following pages: Crater Lake National Park [Day 45]
Day 44: 79.96 miles, 5:24 hours, Rocky Point (near Klamath Falls)
he ride out of Lava Beds this morning was wonderful. I rode into Oregon and past Tule Lake; hundreds of beautiful waterbirds but about five miles of riding through millions of tiny insects. As I was approaching Klamath, a young guy on a bicycle, Chris, began to ride with me. Chris was home with his folks for the holidays but was a bassoon player at the Conservatory of Music in San Francisco. We talked a lot and he ended up taking me all the way into town to the best grocery store. While I was shopping he rushed home and brought back some cycling maps for me and gave me some directions for getting up to Crater Lake.
Audie and Helen let me do a load of washing while outside it rained heavily for several hours. Audie cooked us burgers and a lovely salad, homemade icecream for dessert, gave me a tour of his neighbourhood and showed me home videos of the large snowfalls they get during the winter (they have to clear the roof of the house occasionally so that it doesn’t collapse). I felt like instant family, it was wonderful.
Day 45: 84.29 miles, 6:33 hours, Crater Lake National Park (Mazama Campground)
his morning I was woken to a breakfast fit for royalty. Fruit salad with sweet watermelon, then scrambled eggs with bell peppers and biscuits similar to warm scones with homemade pineapple jam, orange juice and of course a lovely, freshly plunged coffee. It was hard to leave. Struggled up to Crater Lake National Park with a stomach going haywire but it was well worth it. After setting up my tent beside several slabs of melting snow I took my unloaded bike for the ride around the lake. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the USA and once set a record for clarity. The ride around the lake also goes down in my “Top Ten Bike Rides List”. I could only ride three quarters of the way around the lake, the eastern side was still closed due to snow.
When I got to Rocky Point I stopped in at a gas station to fill up on water and get directions to the nearest campground. As I was walking out, an old guy buying a carton of beer asked me where I was heading. I told him I was about to camp for the night and he suggested that I could camp in his back yard and he had water available. I hesitantly agreed, but refused his offer of putting my bike on the back of his pickup. I instead asked for directions, thinking that at the worst I could just check out the place from the road and then ride off if it looked bad. A five minute ride later and I was in a wonderful wooded area with beautiful houses. Audie came out to greet me, and introduced me to his wife Helen and their dog Meathead. “I’ll show you where you can camp” he said, as he led me to their 24 foot luxury 5th wheeler!
A North American Bicycle Journey
Right: Jedediah Smith State Park campsite [Day 47]
48 Day 46 : 84.27 miles, 5:25 hours, Valley of the Rogue State Park
can now be fed and packed up in the morning within an hour. The first forty miles of riding today was all downhill through shady tree lined roads, the wind chill was ridiculous. I had to wait fifteen minutes for my camera lens to un-fog.
Day 47 : 87.38 miles, 5:48 hours, Jedadiah Smith State Park, CALIFORNIA
oday is Friday and it’s the Fourth of July weekend. I rode madly all day, thinking that all the campgrounds are going to be full of mad weekend warriors and their noisy kids. I even had the “TIRED AUSSIE...” sign hanging behind my bike, but no luck. As I was taking down the sign a guy walking past me said he was pretty tired as well, “after a night of drinking here and there”. Had to climb two small summits, the second one culminated in a very long, dark tunnel. Luckily it had a bicycle warning system; a button to start a set of flashing lights at each end of the tunnel, warning drivers that I was somewhere in the tunnel. It was terrifyingly noisy and very nerve racking and I had to stop at the other end and rest my nerves for ten minutes. After that it was another twenty miles of mostly downhill road but very windy and with very little shoulder. Too many close shaves with RVs and logging trucks and fighting a head wind from the coast didn’t make for very nice riding, even though the scenery amongst the redwoods was great.
A North American Bicycle Journey
Left: Stef on Crescent City pier. The white concrete objects on the jetty are DOLOES (tetrapods) to break up the force of water during winter storms. They measure 15 feet between each and every point. Each weighs 84,000 lbs. There are 750 in place, 20 red ones have radio transmitters to check their movements. One Dolo has moved 11 feet [Day 48]
The state park was full, but luckily it had a $2 hike and bike section, completely empty. The park is set amongst the magnificent redwood trees. I think George Lucas filmed “Return of the Jedi” somewhere near here. Day 48 (Rest day): 29.95 miles, 2:37 hours, Jedadiah Smith State Park
omorrow is the Fourth of July but tonight I decided I’m having a celebration of my own. I bought a whole bunch of food in town, snaggers, potatoes, cheese and Australian Wolf Blass Cabernet Sauvignon. I’m considering that this is my 50th riding day celebration, two days early. When I am halfway through the wine I also decide to name this honourable day the “International Day of Leisure”. As well as that, I decide that I’m gonna celebrate this auspicious occasion more often, maybe corresponding it with every future rest day. Day 49 (Rest day): 29.69 miles, 2:30 hours, Jedadiah Smith State Park
oke up in the middle of last night and had to make a rush to the nearest toilet, about 300 yards from my tent. I think I may have overdone it; eating four sausages, five potatoes, a slab of cheese and finishing off the bottle of wine in just one meal. Hugged some trees today and felt a bit better.
Day 50 (Rest day): 16.17 miles, 1:22 hours, Jedadiah Smith State Park
urrently reading the brand new, unread book that Paul (day 42) gave me. It’s called “Arabian Sands” and was written by Wilfred Thesiger who spent several years of his young life travelling with Arabs in Saudi Arabia in the 1940s. Very interesting and not the sort of book I would have picked up to read myself. These Arabs could look at the footprints of a camel in the desert sand and tell you whose camel it was, if it was pregnant and how fast it was going. I think the Arabs thought more highly of their camels than their own wives.
A North American Bicycle Journey
Bought a helmet mirror at the local bike shop. It’s ridiculous how close some of the logging trucks will pass by on roads that have plenty of room. I’m gonna use the extra warning that the helmet mirror gives me to stop my bike and get off the road completely. A friend reckons it’s because loggers equate cyclists as being hippies. Hippies of course are bad for the logging business, chaining themselves to trees, etc, so it’s only natural that a logging truck would want to give a cycling, tree-hugging hippie a bit of a scare. I’m considering putting a “HUG A LOGGER” sign on the back of my bike but that would probably start me getting run off the road and abused by left-wing, tree-hugging, liberal hippies in their gas guzzling SUVs.
Day 51 : 66.69 miles, 5:32 hours, Prairie Creek Redwoods (Elk Prairie Campground) Day 52 : 64.59 miles, 5:21 hours, Harris Beach State Park, OREGON
t the campground last night I met a great Dutch guy, Rodge, who had started in Calgary three weeks ago and was heading south. Makes me feel totally inadequate knowing that I having been riding for seven weeks and still being in California. Totally great enthusiastic guy and I hope to meet up with him again at some stage to ride together.
Yesterday I had started riding south back towards San Francisco. After meeting Rodge last night, I felt inspired to head north and see more. And so I did. Just before the Oregon border I met a German cyclist, Dirk. He saved me from being accosted by an aging hippy who had cornered me outside the supermarket. The hippy was complaining to me because no one had told him how much his balls were going to hurt when he rode all around the States in the ‘60s eating mung beans that he’d soak all day in his panniers. Dirk is a German radio DJ from Munich being sponsored by Tatonka to ride around, literally, the States. I was instantly envious of his stylish matching all black pannier bags and clothing. I could not compare, my multicoloured, fading get-up garb and plastic bags full of food dangling from my handlebars were a poor match. But as we were both heading north we decided to ride together a while.
Previous page, left: Bike lane near Crescent City, what more could a cyclist want? [Day 48] Previous page, right: Redwoods, Jedediah State Park [Day 49]
Day 53 : 86.69 miles, 7:58 hours, Bullards Beach State Park Day 54 : 71.86 miles, 5:50 hours, Honeyman State Park Day 55 : 62.47 miles, 5:11 hours, Beverly Beach State Park
irk has introduced me to the delights of Dairy Queen ice-cream blizzards with crushed up Snickers. I wanted to introduce Dirk to the joy of early morning riding, he wanted to show me the joy of evening riding. We both got our own way and unfortunately ended up riding from early morning to late afternoon.
It’s great to have a riding partner, and as we learned, unusual to meet anyone else riding northwards along the coast. Didn’t take long to realise why; with fifteen to twenty five mile per hour headwinds that made balancing on the bike a task in itself. At one point it took me three attempts to get back onto the bike. At every tourist info centre we stopped at, we get a very surprised “Oh” when they discover we are riding north. Everyday we would be passed by a dozen or more cyclists heading south. Woosies. Day 56 : 58.52 miles, 4:47 hours, Cape Lookout State Park
A North American Bicycle Journey
irk has been harassed by terrible bike problems, he is up to his 13th broken spoke and has even had his wheel rebuilt. Today he broke his clipless pedal. This morning Dirk reported in to his Munich radio station to do an update of his ride. I got to say a few words to the DJ, which will be on the radio tomorrow. Too bad I don’t know German. Day 57 : 40.52 miles, 2:58 hours, Nehalam Bay State Park
iding with Dirk was fun at first, but it’s getting a bit exhausting having someone around all the time and the decision making that goes with it. I can’t remember much about the Oregon beaches and campgrounds we’ve been through; it’s a blur of getting in after dark, trying to organise dinner and laundry and then on the bikes again first thing in the morning. Yesterday we decided to have a barbeque so we brought snaggers and spuds at lunchtime. When we got to the campgrounds, just before dark, Dirk wanted to organise our time and was deciding in just what order we should do it: “Well we could do the photos now, then we could try and go for a dip in the ocean, then we could watch the sunset, then barbeque and then have showers”.
He got the message and decided to start the fire for our barbeque. Dirk got out his camera and his four lenses and took a dozen photos of me cooking sausages, me cooking potatoes, me eating sausages, me eating potatoes. Finally I told him that I’d had enough of posing and that he should put the camera away. After dinner, I quickly headed off for a shower before he could organise anything else to do. None of the Oregon shops stock Nutella.
Dirk had wanted to take a bunch of photos of us on our bikes and of me posing with my “TIRED AUSSIE...” sign so that he could put the photos up on the Tatonka website. After the last hour long “photo session” he had put me through at the Oregon sand dunes I knew it was not just a matter of a couple of snapshots. Dirk also had not yet gone for a swim in the Pacific Ocean, even though it had been a couple of hundred metres to the left of him ever since he left Los Angeles weeks ago. I was already exhausted by this stage and more than a little annoyed at having my time divided into allocated tasks. I just wanted to sit at the table and rest; not go anywhere, not do anything. I just wanted some “me” time. He got the message and decided that the photo taking session could wait; “We should go down and go for a quick swim now”. “You go, Dirk, I’m just gonna hang out here a while and chill a bit”. He got the message and decided the swim could wait; “We are gonna miss the sunset!”. “You go, Dirk. You don’t need to have me there to see the sunset”. Following page, left: Oregon Dunes, Honeyman State Park [Day 55]
Following page, right: Nehalam Bay sunset [Day 57]
Day 58 : 56 miles, 4:12 hours, Fort Stevens State Park
A North American Bicycle Journey
was up and ready to go at 7:30am and told Dirk I’d meet him at our next planned campground. The last thing he said before I rode off was to set up my tent at the next campground, but “don’t take anything off your bike so we can do those photos”. I got to the campground at lunchtime and spent some time chatting with Skylar and Chad; both seventeen years old and hitchhiking from their home town of Sooke on Vancouver Island to Montreal, via LA and Detroit. I was expecting Dirk to show up at any time but after two hours there was still no sign of him. I was enjoying being on my own again and headed down to the beach for a snooze. On the way back to my tent to continue napping, Dirk spotted me and suggested we go for a quick swim in the ocean and then take some photos. I told him of “my plan” and agreed that we could take the photos later. By the time I’d finished my nap, Dirk was there again wanting to take the photos of us on the bikes. I told him I wasn’t up to taking any photos and just wanted to chill out. Later he asked to talk about our riding plans for tomorrow and I told him I was gonna have a short riding day and stop at the last state park in Oregon. “Well I guess this is our last night then”, he said. Yes, and instead of spending time with him I pissed off down the beach again to watch the sunset. Spoke with Skylar and Chad some more and then agreed to look over Dirk’s digital photos with him, as he’d previously organised for us to do... Nothing was ever spontaneous with Dirk.
Day 59 (Rest day): 35.18 miles, 2:59 hours, Fort Stevens State Park
ot up at about 5am and was ready to ride not long after. A dozy Dirk emerged from his tent and I went over to him and shook his hand. He reminded me that I had agreed last night to take some photos this morning and get a “statement” from me. I knew this could take some time so I told him I’d just email him a whole bunch of my photos when I finished my trip. This seemed to satisfy him but he still wanted a “statement”. He pulled out his microphone and asked me a few questions about the highlights of my trip, and I babbled away. And then that was it. We had a quick hug in which I accidentally hit him on the chin and then I took off. Had a wonderful short day of riding and had a huge campground almost entirely to myself. I camped under the thick canopy of a tree and despite it raining quite heavily during the night, not a drop hit my tent.
Facing page: Wreck of the Peter Iredale, Fort Stevens State Historical Site [Day 58] Left: My first tyre change, on the left is the old rear tyre, middle is the new tyre and on the right is my front tyre, Astoria [Day 60]
Day 60: 91.2 miles, 6:16 hours, Cape Disappointment State Park
I got a rear tyre puncture today on the way across the bridge into Astoria, the first since day 2. I used the opportunity to hang out in the emergency lane of highway 101 during morning peak hour traffic and change my tyre as well. It’s done 3500 miles and was worn down to the threads. After setting up camp at the state park, I took a ride along the peninsula but from the road there is barely any sign of the coast unless you do some hiking. I did get to see my first family of racoons slowly crossing the road in front of me, a mother followed closely by her four young cubs, all the time keeping a very close eye on me.
Day 61: 81.67 miles, 5:52 hours, Twin Harbours State Park
nother mediocre day. I’m bored again of riding and bored again of eating the same old gluten-free food. I called my boss today to quit my job. It’s been two months since I took leave, so I figured I should give them a month’s notice. I’ve thought seriously about the job situation for the last two weeks. I think my mind was kind of made up when I decided not to ride back to San Francisco. I told my boss where I was and how much I was enjoying myself and then “ah...umm...I think I want to resign”. He declined my resignation. He said take off more time if you need it and just come back when someone calls you. Before he ended the conversation he told me that he wished he was in my shoes. I don’t think he really would have liked to have been in my shoes because my feet have been very sore for the past few days.
ave ridden 3000 miles. I’m sick of corn grits for breakfast. I’m sick of bananas. I’m sick of rice cakes and peanut butter. I’m sick of Snickers. And today, for the first time, I’m bored of riding. Even the prospect of entering a new state, Washington (the Evergreen State) didn’t cheer me up or quell my boredom. The only consolation was finding a jar of Nutella in a small store near the Washington border, my first Nutella since leaving California.
Day 62: 66.3 miles, 4:35 hours, Quinault Lake (Gatton Creek Campground)
he last few days have been low points of my trip. I now realise why. I need a bit of a challenge. My plan lately has been to make it to Vancouver and then head across to the east coast of America as fast as I can in order to see the Autumn colours.
A North American Bicycle Journey
Today I had my map of the USA out and for some reason I turned it over to read the travel warnings on the back of the map. And there on the back, hidden away in a corner, was a little map of Alaska (and a little map of Hawaii). I’d forgotten all about Alaska. I’ve always wanted to go to Alaska and see the Northern Lights ever since a friend of mine, Herman, told me his stories of being an ambulance paramedic in Fairbanks. For some reason I’d totally forgot about that dream while thinking of places to visit . I feel challenged!
Previous page, left: Cape Disappointment lighthouse [Day 60] Right: My first thorough soaking, Olympic National Park [Day 64] Facing page: Gatton Creek Falls [Day 62]
I got to Quinault lake in the early afternoon after spending the day singing to myself, the only entertainment, albeit quite poor entertainment, on another mediocre riding day. Maybe it is possible to spend too much time with one’s self, like a friend of mine once remarked to me. Quinault Lake is on the edge of the Olympic National Park and the primitive campground I’m in is literally right on the edge of the lake, I only have to walk a few feet from my tent and I’m standing in the clear cold water of the lake. My campground neighbours are a young family from Seattle; Michael (a physician of internal medicine), his wife Rebecca, their three-month old baby and their wonderful golden retriever Bella who keeps coming and sitting on my feet. I was asking them all about Alaska and they mentioned that a ferry runs up there from Seattle but to ride back by bicycle would require going through some pretty isolated stretches of country.
Day 63 (Rest day): 31.75 miles, 2:53 hours, Quinault Lake (Gatton Creek Campground)
ast night I was woken by a raccoon a metre from my tent, for about ten seconds it just stared brazenly into my torchlight, then casually turned and wobbled away. Had a wonderful rest day; took a leisurely ride around the lake, a quiet dirt road with national forest all around. The whole ride I kept thinking Alaska, Alaska, Alaska and getting more and more excited about the idea. Took a walk through the rainforest, everything is lush and covered in moss and ferns. Michael and Rebecca invited me for a dinner of garden burgers and showed me some of their maps and I realised how bloody far away Alaska really is. Called Herman also and he was very encouraging for me to get to Alaska but to take the ferry there and take the ferry back.
Day 64: 74.56 miles, 5:15 hours, Olympic National Park (Hoh Rain Forest Campground)
y first day in Olympic National Park in the Hoh rain forest section. I hate stating the obvious, but it rained today. I think this must be the first time in my life I’ve consciously decided to go for a bicycle ride when it’s raining (coming from a place that has about 330 days of clear skies every year, it’s not a decision that has to be made too often). And I realised how much fun it is. It was a light, but soaking rain that lasted all day and my rain gear got its first real test. The rain covers for the panniers do a good job except the rear covers don’t drain very well, leaving the bottom of the panniers quite soaked. Luckily I have put anything of importance inside dry bags. My main concern was my acoustic guitar which is sitting on my rear rack. Before starting the trip I used a whole spray can of weatherproofing on the nylon guitar soft-case and now it is wrapped in a 64-day old, very holey garbage bag followed with a rainproof backpack cover which seems to just let the water soak into it. When I set up camp in the only dry spot I could find, under a large-leafed tree, I was too nervous to unpack the guitar to see how it had survived. It was tempting to ride back out of the rain forest to a state park down the road which I knew would have hot showers, but the idea of doing another 31 miles in the rain was enough to put me off. Took a small walk in the afternoon and despite the dullness of the daylight in the rainforest, it is amazingly beautiful and luscious with bright green ferns and mosses everywhere they can grow. Green, green, iridescent green everywhere. The trees seem to sag under the burden of supporting the enormous amount of life in their branches and water seems to drip from everywhere.
Facing page: Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park [Day 65]
A North American Bicycle Journey
Left: Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park [Day 66]
Day 65: 46.5 miles, 3:21 hours, Olympic National Park (Mora Campground) Day 66 (Rest day): 17.01 miles, 1:17 hours, Olympic National Park (Mora Campground)
t was an easy decision to stay a day here, my riding clothes and shoes are still wet and cold from two days ago. I rode out to Rialto beach and took a long walk along the beach. There are a number of very tall, narrow rocky sea stacks standing in the water, usually with a tree or two perched on top of them that’s decided to bravely beat the odds at surviving in such a precarious location. I then headed to the Quileute Indian Reservation and checked out Second Beach, again very beautiful. Spotted three bald eagles circling overhead, easy to spot because of their white head and tail feathers. Day 67: 112.94 miles, 8:07 hours, Olympic National Park (Ozette Campground)
y longest riding day so far! Got to see Vancouver island from the north coast and also met two Canadian bicyclists, who gave me some ideas of rides on Vancouver island. One of them was small and bearded and reminded me of a hobbit, and it was hard not to smile seeing the guy hop up onto his loaded bicycle and ride off. They were both over fifty, I hope if I reach that age I’ll still be doing things like this. Got to the most northwestern point of the contiguous United States where I quickly got my photo taken for posterity and headed on. Was going to camp at the Neah Bay Indian Reservation but the campgrounds looked quite shitty so I rode all the way back to Ozette. Put up my tent at a private campground and made good use of the hot shower, which I haven’t seen the likes of since day 61. The Tour De France is on at the moment and as I’m wearing US Postal Team bike shorts I keep getting people approaching me to give me updates on how Armstrong is going. Some kids at a cafe even called out “Lance!” as I rode past. Lance can lift his bike with his little finger, I have trouble lifting my bike at all.
Following page, left: Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park [Day 66] Following page, right: Second beach at La Push, Olympic National Park [Day 66]
Day 68: 44.12 miles, 3:15 hours, Bear Creek (2mi E of Sappho)
alked to Cape Alava this morning along an impressive 3.1 mile elevated wooden boardwalk that ran through forest, swamp and grasslands until it got to the beach. The sun was still low by the time I reached the beach and there were a number of deer feeding nearby who seemed oblivious to my presence. The low tide had pulled back the ocean to reveal a sharp rocky reef covered with a seaweed that crackled and popped as I walked on it. Further out there were a number of larger island rock outcrops covered with trees and vegetation and I must have taken a dozen or more photos of the area. I walked three miles south along the beach to Sand Point and then found another elevated wooden boardwalk that took me the three miles back to the ranger station. I tip my hat to whoever had to build these wooden boardwalk paths; it must have taken eons, but lowering the impact of humans tramping across the landscape was probably well worth it.
A North American Bicycle Journey
I checked in with the park ranger, Hazel about the camping at Sol Duc campgrounds and she was nice enough to ring the ranger at Sol Duc to check. It sounds like the campgrounds are full every night so he was good enough to suggest a stealth camping location along one of the park roads a few miles before the campground.
Right: Cape Flattery, the most NW point of contiguous USA with Canada in background [Day 67] Facing page: Ozette-Cape Alava, Olympic National Park [Day 68]
Day 69: 27.13 miles, 2:17 hours, Olympic National Park (Sol Duc Campground)
ot to Sol Duc by 9am to find that the campground was almost entirely full, with a cue of people in their huge idling SUVs just waiting to pounce on an empty site. I managed to eventually find a walk-in camp spot with a bear box and by lunch time I was snoozing, still exhausted from the long ride two days ago. After a Dove ice-cream to satisfy my out-of-control chocolate addiction I wandered down to the river for a bath in the chilly water. My bathing-in-colder-thancomfortable-water method goes something like this: I stand ankle deep in the water, massaging the soles of my feet on the riverbed stones until I can no longer feel my feet. That’s followed by ducking completely under the water and washing all over, the whole time gasping with the shock of the cold. A great way to wake up but it takes at least thirty minutes of sitting in the sun to warm up again. Like all the other campgrounds I’ve been at I’ve noticed people don’t explore much beyond a five or ten minute walk from their tents or RVs. It’s great, I never have to wander very far before getting some peace and quiet.
Facing page: Sol Duc Loop Falls [Day 70] Left: Sol Duc Loop, Olympic National Park [Day 70] Following page, left: Me in front of what might be Mount Olympus, on the Sol Duc loop [Day 70] Following page, right: Grouse at Hurricane Ridge [Day 72]
Day 70 (Rest day): 0 miles, Olympic National Park (Sol Duc Campground)
oke up at 4:30am this morning for a hike around the Sol Duc Loop, a 22 mile hike starting from the campground. The campground is at about 1900 feet and the path meanders upwards through moss covered forest, until it thins out to just low ground cover and colourful flowers at about 5200 feet. Got to see my first live marmot. After seeing probably a dozen or more dead marmots stuffed and on display in museums I was starting to wonder whether they really existed or whether it was some museum curators idea of a joke. I eventually got to Bogachiel peak which has an amazing view of the entire snow-covered Olympic mountain range and several glaciers. The thirsty mosquitoes barely let me have time to take a photograph. The path wandered downwards past some small lakes, one heart-shaped where there were a bunch of warning signs about the aggressive mountain goats in the area. I passed a number of people camping in the area who called me “ambitious” for attempting the loop in one day. I now know why; I barely noticed my surroundings in the last few miles back to camp; I was so tired and numb. I finally got back to my tent eleven hours after leaving.
Day 71: 46.41 miles, 3:06 hours, Olympic National Park (Altaire Campground)
his morning I woke to find a group of deer walking right past my tent. Ran out of food so I rode down to Fairholm where I was hoping to find something for brekkie at a gas station. Had to make do with only a coffee but was treated to the sight of seeing the sun rise over Lake Crescent. The water, the hills and the sky were all various shades of blue and only a bunch of ducks broke the clear reflection of the lake. Just before the store, on highway 101 that borders the lake, was another very large and prominent bicycle warning sign. I saw the last one when I was heading to the north coast on highway 112. They’re basically big yellow signs with a very descriptive warning of how dangerous the road ahead is for cyclists; narrow, winding, short line-of-sight and no shoulder. When I spotted the first one of these signs a few days ago I almost considered changing my route but after tentatively riding the road I found the warning to be a vast exaggeration. Today’s warning was luckily the same, I found the ride around the lake to be one of the most pleasant rides I could have hoped for. Obviously Washington looks after it’s cyclists? After I set up camp I hitched a ride up to the hot-springs trail-head with one of the National Park maintenance guys. People in Washington are amazing; even if they have no room in their vehicles, they still stop and apologise that they can’t give you a lift. The hot springs were hot and smelly and afterwards I had to bathe in the cold river to wash all the slime off. I managed to hitch another ride back with three young guys that had just finished an exhausting three day hike. Before long we realised that we’d passed each other while I was doing the Sol Duc loop. Instead of dropping me off at the campground entrance they insisted on driving me all the way to my tent.
Day 72: 50.64 miles, 4:35 hours, Olympic National Park (Heart o’ the Hills Campground)
s I was riding into Port Angeles this morning to stock up on grub a guy stopped beside me in an SUV and let me know that Lance had won the tour de France for the 6th time. At the camp ground I unloaded my bike completely and began the twelve mile ride up to Hurricane Ridge, a ride that Luke, a park ranger back in Lassen National Park more than a month ago, had recommended. The ride down was a lot more fun than the way up. This goes in my “Top Ten Bike Rides List” just for the sheer “woohoo” factor.
as starting to think the Canadians might send me back across the border. I got stopped at immigration in Victoria after the ninety minute ferry ride from Port Angeles. I was sent to a secondary area where I was asked a whole bunch of questions about my travel plans. I tried to keep it fairly honest and admitted I wasn’t really sure where I was heading or when. This led to more questions about how I was supporting myself and a thorough inspection of all the stamps in my passport. Another guy asked me to start listing all the items I was carrying, pannier by pannier and then asked if he could look through my food pannier. They seemed to be satisfied with that, and after 45 minutes, finally let me out into the streets of beautiful Victoria city. A bit of a shock, being the first big city I’ve been in since leaving Oakland. Was a bit apprehensive leaving my bike outside a busy supermarket and when I returned with my shopping an old guy with a bicycle came running over. “Ah, there he is!”, he cried with excitement, “I want to ask you a few questions!”. I was immediately on the this-is-a-crazy-man defensive and kept packing my food into my panniers, only giving him the briefest acknowledgements to his babbling. He eagerly told me that he’d seen so many bicycle tourists and had just done some small trips himself but he had never, never seen anyone carrying as much stuff as me. I started talking with him a little and pretty soon I got to like having this funny conversation with this frothing-excitedlyat-the-mouth man whose name turned out to be Ed. Ed and I talked for a half hour until he wished me well on my way, concluding that I was indeed an extraordinary person. This conversation with Ed left me smiling for the rest of the day. Followed an easy, interesting bike path up to Schwartz to catch a twenty minute ferry over to Saltspring Island. Headed straight to the state-owned campground nestled closely against the east coast of the island from where it was possible to see the large ferries pass by. Just after I finished my dinner of beans and rice the lady camping next door donated their leftover zucchini for my desert and five plums that her grandsons wouldn’t touch. It’s good to be back in a country with Queen Lizzie gracing the coins.
B ritish C olumbia
Day 73: 39.15 miles, 3:27 hours, Saltspring Island (Ruckle Park Campground)
Day 74: 46.61 miles, 3:59 hours, Zuiderzee Campground (10mi SE of Nanaimo)
Below: International fireworks competition, Vancouver [Day 76] Facing page: Vancouver Aquarium [Day 77]
hese Canadians are a strange mob to work out. I’m sometimes not entirely sure if people are being sarcastic or just plain arseholes. My bike was resting near a telephone booth in town this morning and a guy walks up and bluntly says, “What is this? Your office? I need to make a call”, with no hint of humour in his voice at all. I didn’t stay long in town, nor on the island, instead I headed back to Vancouver Island. A few miles from the dock I was heading quickly down a hill when a speeding semi-trailer decided it would pass me. From around the corner at the bottom of the hill, another truck suddenly appeared. The truck overtaking me pulled back sharply towards me and time seemed to slow down as I saw its second trailer get closer and closer. I had no choice but to ride onto the loose dirt shoulder, resulting in me quickly loosing control and landing in the bushes. I was shaking and I thought my heart would burst from beating so fast. I was pissed off as well but consolidated to find that nothing seemed damaged on the bike. My camera was unhurt, even though it had been in the pannier that impacted. I was too scared to check on my guitar. Might have to wash my bike shorts particularly well tonight. Found a great private campground beside a large lake and had my second shower in twelve nights. My next door neighbours, Rudge and Charlotte have been living here in a caravan for the last six weeks because it reduces their commute to work from forty minutes to fifteen. They invited me to join them for a drink and also dinner.
A North American Bicycle Journey Britisih Columbia
Day 75 (Rest day): 0 miles, Zuiderzee Campground (10mi SE of Nanaimo)
t’s B.C. day today, a long weekend so the campground is full. Rudge persuaded me to stay another night and so I moved my tent behind their caravan to share their site. Rudge reminds me of a Bryan Brown sort of crook wearing thongs and chain smoking cigarette after cigarette. We went into town in his old red Ford 150 pickup to check out a house he’s thinking of buying, a “do-her-uppa”. We didn’t talk much but Rudge is definitely a “yup” sort of person, keeps his answers short and sweet and ends the majority of his sentences in “ay?”. After looking at the house we stopped at a pub in town for a double shot of gin and tonic. On the way home we stopped at another bar and Rudge got another double shot of gin and tonic. I’m sure if the trip back to the campground had been any longer, we would have stopped several more times for more drinks. After my dinner of canned beef and instant rice, Rudge and Charlotte invited me over for a second dinner of beef steak, cornon-the-cob and some more gin and tonics. The more time I spend with Rudge and Charlotte, the more I like them. Their unselfish generosity towards me always seems to be a little out of character with what my first impressions of them had been. I’m learning to ignore my first impressions of people more and more. Usually if a stranger offers me unsolicited help, I’m immediately cautious and suspicious of their intentions. But on this trip I’m learning to let my guard down more and more, and starting to instantly trust strangers rather than immediately distrust them. Maybe it’s something from childhood, how we’re all taught not to take lollies from strangers. I like this new trusting side of me, it’s certainly a lot less stressful.
Day 76: 17.89 miles, 1:26 hours, Vancouver City (Cambie Hostel)
udge and Charlotte gave me a lift into Nanaimo this morning and I boarded the ferry to Vancouver. I’m here in Vancouver to meet my friend Herman who is flying in early tomorrow morning. A few weeks ago he offered to come out and ride with me for a while, and I’ve been looking forward to it ever since. I negotiated downtown Vancouver and finally found the Cambie hostel, situated above a punk bar with a number of colourful characters inside. I explored the surrounding city for a while and also joined a crowd of thousands down on the foreshore to watch an international fireworks competition.
Day 77 (Rest day): 0 miles, Vancouver City (Cambie Hostel)
erman showed up at about 6am this morning. We explored the aquarium which was pretty fantastic, beluga whales and a jellyfish exhibit, as well as a bunch of fish from the Amazon that looked as they were straight out of a prehistoric anthropology book.
Day 78: 47.56 miles, 4:00 hours, Squamish (Chief Campground)
e rode up to Squamish and camped in the shadow of the big rock. Spent the afternoon checking out the hot climber girls.
A North American Bicycle Journey
Day 79: 34.33 miles, 3:03 hours, Nanaimo (Westwood Lake Campground) Day 80: 54.33 miles, 4:13 hours, Port Alberni (Arrowvale Campground)
t rained most of yesterday and most of today. Last night we stayed at a private campground in Nanaimo. We still didn’t have a clue where we were heading but the owner of the campground, a kiwi guy, gave us the good suggestion of heading to the southwest side of Vancouver Island via a little ferry from Port Alberni. The kiwi guy was good enough to buy us some beers. There were a bunch of little shits running around the campground annoying the hell out of us. Especially a little ginger haired kid who even threw a rock at Herman’s bike tyre. Speaking of tyres, Herman has already had three flat tyres as well as busting a tube valve. He’s had more tyre problems in four days than I’ve had in eighty.
Facing page: Herman and I, Squamish [Day 78] Left: Boat ride from Port Alberni to Ucluelet [Day 82]
We stopped at a very good market in Coombs and had lunch while watching amusing goats eat the grass on top of the roof. The food at the market was amazing. There were herds of tourists there, though it’s unclear whether the tourists were there to see the goats on the roof or there for the good food.
Day 81 (Rest day): 18.04 miles, 1:49 hours, Port Alberni (Arrowvale Campground)
It took us both a while to realise it was just a bird. I can’t imagine how annoying it would be for the dog named Pepper. Stupid name for a dog anyway. We had grilled salmon and chips for lunch and downed a bottle of red wine on the patio of the campground store. They also have freshly ground coffee in the mornings. Damnit, this is the life.
79 British Columbia
We’re having a rest day due to the intermittent ferry service and staying at another private campground a few miles out of town. It’s a lovely place with a brilliant view of the mountains and within spitting distance of the river. As an added bonus, someone has a cocky here that regularly calls out in a very authentic human voice: “Pepper! Pepper! Come here! hahaha!”
A North American Bicycle Journey
t rained again last night and Herman insisted on using the campground dryer to dry his riding clothes. I normally just put on my damp clothes in the morning and they eventually dry during the day, but it was good having a dry pair to put on. Herman has had to endure much ribbing from me about going soft, he also makes poop stops at the best hotels and restaurants much to my amusement. The man has class. I don’t think either of our digestion systems have been the same since India. Herman actually had to be taken to hospital while in India because of stomach problems. Hasn’t stopped either of us wanting to go back there one day.
Left: Fisherman, Tofino, Vancouver Island [Day 83] Facing page: Long Beach, Tofino, Vancouver Island [Day 83]
Day 82: 6.54 miles, 0:34 hours, Ucluelet (Surf’s Inn Hostel)
nother rainy day. We boarded the Lady Rose ferry that runs down the river to Ucluelet. It was a lovely trip even though it was cold, raining and all my rain gear was soaked through. Spent almost the entire trip huddled against the ship’s warm exhaust funnel were I could get most of my clothes dry except for my shoes. It also turned out to be a bit of a social spot as people jostled for a warm location against the funnel, all probably a little bit buzzed from the fumes. While I was there I met a lovely lady from south Africa and also an old couple from Mount Barker, not too far from where I live in Western Australia. The old guy looked surprised as hell the whole time to meet a West Aussie all the way over the other side of the world riding a bike around. Turned out he also knew some of my relatives back home. We got to Ucluelet at lunchtime and found a hostel instead of spending another damp night in the rain. We spent the afternoon downing red wine and visited a bar on an old ship for gin and tonics. Back at the hostel we talked well into the night with a bunch of young holidaying Canadians about the tour de France and mountain climbing. Herman, ever the bullshitter, has adopted my story and tells everyone who asks that we both rode from San Francisco. When one of the Canadians stated that it must be strange for him to have to end such a long holiday and head back to LA in a few days, I had to choke back a laugh as all Herman could produce was a reluctant, but authentic “yeah...”
Left: Crossing the 50th parallel at Campbell River [Day 87] Facing page, top: Boat ride with Nicki and Ben to Meades Island [Day 85]
A North American Bicycle Journey
Facing page, bottom: Ben and Nicki at the top of Lone Cone, Meads Island, Tofino, Vancouver Island [Day 85]
Day 83: 44.62 miles, 3:49 hours, Tofino
e set out casually towards Tofino, we knew that we probably wouldn’t find a camping spot in Tofino, and would have to turn back. We’d heard it could cost up to $50 bucks for a tent site and that Tofino is Canada’s most expensive place to camp. Bugger that. On our way, I recognised a name from the past, that of a very fancy hotel called the Wickinninish Inn. I’d met a Canadian girl on Phillip Island, near Melbourne several years ago and I remember her telling me about the hotel she had worked at. We walked in to the fancy hotel lobby in our smelly bike clothes and here was Nicki working at the front desk. We both had to look twice at each other before we recognised each other. It was cool, she offered to let us camp at her place in Tofino which we happily accepted. Herman made good use of the fancy dunnies while outside I was asked to move our bikes from the front driveway to a less visible location. We headed into Tofino for a sushi lunch and one of Nicki’s friends showed us where the house was. We set up our tents on the back lawn, high on a hill overlooking the town, one of the best camping spots I’ve had so far. We later met a roommate Paul who reminded us of Frank Black from the Pixies and who showed us around the amazing house. It reminded us of the type of place a porn star would have in LA, even had a fireplace that literally hung from the ceiling and had 180 degree views of the town and islands. It was Herman’s last night, so we wandered down into town to find the most happening bar. It was filled with heaps of young locals dancing to Oakland hip hop and we helped ourselves to several rounds of drinks plus the Dizzy Buddha house special. We even survived the flooding of the entire bar which was kind of surreal having already downed quite a few drinks and not exactly knowing what was going on.
Day 84 (Rest day): 11.43 miles, 1:06 hours, Tofino
erman took off before 7am this morning, I had a great time with him, it was like a holiday in the middle of my trip. A holiday from being alone so much. The weariest thing about this trip is having too many five minute conversations with people. “Where’re you heading?”, “Where’d you come from?”, “Had many flats?”, “You’ve got quite a load there!”, “You’re crazy!” That’s as deep as it gets. And most people talk at you, rather than talking with you. They’ll ask you one question and then go on about themselves for the next five minutes. So I’m gonna miss Herman. A North American Bicycle Journey
Met a young German bicycle tourist in town, he only knew a hundred words of English but he had enough words to describe the dangerous road from Ucluelet back to Port Alberni. Boris convinced me to join him on taking a bus out of here in two days rather than risking the narrow, twisting, shoulder-less road that he’d ridden in on.
Day 85 (Rest day): 0 miles, Tofino
icki, Ben and I took a water taxi over to Meades Island and we did the steepest uphill hike I think I’ve ever done. The view from the peak was amazing. We half walked, half jogged the path down and I thought at times I’d collapse with my rubber legs almost giving out on me.
83 British Columbia
Nicki offered me the use of their washer/dryer tonight so I put absolutely everything in, including my bicycle speedometer which I recovered in a panic after five minutes of the wash cycle. It still worked like a charm.
Day 86: 90.99 miles, 5:56 hours, Miracle Beach State Park (15kms N of Courtenay)
ook the bus to Nanaimo and spent the time talking with Boris, well as much talk as we could considering I don’t know any German. Unfortunately the bus only stopped at Nanaimo so I had to re-ride 15 miles of familiar road. Later in the day I accidentally went ten miles down a dead-end dirt road, trying to find the campgrounds. According to my $5 REI compass/thermometer that probably has an accuracy of plus or minus 20 degrees, it was about 35 degrees Celsius today. I ran low on water a few times today, while I was washing my cycling clothes I noticed I had salt marks all over the back of my shirt. I have French speaking neighbours on both sides of me tonight. Though they’re probably from eastern Canada, I have noticed there seems to be so many more foreign tourists in Canada than the USA. I didn’t meet one foreigner while camping in the States and here I seem to have camping neighbours from other countries several nights a week.
Left: Old ute at Telegraph Cove [Day 87]
Day 87: 59.79 miles, 4:27 hours, Sayward Junction RV Park
suffered today. I’m still tired from the hiking in Tofino and it was bloody hot with a headwind for the entire day. Stopped at a great outdoor gear/bike shop in Campbell River where I bought some spare spokes for the first time. The whole process took about half an hour. First they tried to measure the spokes on my bike then they were checking sizes on a computer program they had. I thought a spoke was a spoke, but turns out I have different sized spokes on my rear and front tyres. They’re now proudly attached to my bike frame with electrical tape. I feel more like a serious cyclist now. I should have got spare spokes ages ago, I knew something was missing in my life. My expertise for bicycle repair is limited to fixing a flat tyre. Maybe if I was to do this all again, I’d learn how to completely pull apart my bike and put it back together again before I started the trip. I got a quick “Replacing a Spoke 101” lesson from Dirk in Oregon but I wasn’t really paying attention. Anyway, it’ll never happen. It was fifty miles between Campbell River and Sayward with nothing in between except waterless and toiletless rest stops. I stopped at one of the rest stops in the afternoon and fell asleep on a bench for forty minutes, I felt so weak and tired. Luckily I didn’t need to ride the extra six miles into Sayward, but instead camped at the highway junction. In the US I was having corn grits for breakfast, a horrible tasteless gluten free cereal that I’d mix with peanut butter and nutella in order to make it bearable to eat. I haven’t found anything similar in the Canadian supermarkets. I had the inspiring idea today of having baked beans for brekkie. Beans twice a day. What a great idea.
Left: Nothing but ocean and fog. Ferry from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert [Day 90] Right: View from the campsite near Queen Charlotte City [Day 91] Following page left: Creek north of Misty Meadows campsite [Day 92] Following page right: Tow Hill and Agate Beach, Queen Charlotte Islands [Day 93]
Day 88: 87.51 miles, 6:42 hours, Telegraph Cove RV Park
t took me ages to do the first twenty miles today. I started early at 6:30am (the sun rises at about 5:30am) and rode through miles and miles of commercial timber forest. There can hardly be anything more boring and tedious than riding through commercial forests. My baked beans breakfast didn’t help me much energy-wise, so at Woss I stopped in to get some snacks. They had a little restaurant at the gas station so I decided to try the egg and veggie breakfast and told the lady to skip the toast. She asked me if I was wheat-intolerant and offered me corn tortillas instead - it was great. It seemed to make all the difference, I think it’s the eggs. I met a guy who cleans the rest stop toilets along the highway, turns out he is a commercial diver. He told me about the world class diving in the area and gave me the number of a friend who does dive tours on the weekends. The idea of being in such cold water is putting me off, and I think instead I will just head straight to Prince Rupert.
A North American Bicycle Journey
The turnoff to Telegraph Cove began with a long thirteen percent downhill which I’m going to enjoy struggling up tomorrow morning. The last five kilometres were a horrible corrugated road covered in a fine white powder sand that would fly up and cover me in dust every time a car went past. Telegraph Cove is a tourist trap, but has a nice little village on stilts and is a popular starting point for the $90 Orca watching tours.
Right: Pesuta shipwreck, Naikoon Park, Queen Charlotte Islands [Day 92] Facing Page: Agate Beach campsite, Queen Charlotte Islands [Day 93]
Day 89: 56.15 miles, 4:32 hours, Wildwood RV Park (5km from Port Hardy)
n uneventful day, more commercial forests. At one point I had to get driven through a construction area. While I was on the back of the pilot car, the driver called something out. Later he told me he’d seen a bear. Boris, the German from several days ago, told me he’d seen sixteen bears on his road trip so far. I’m still on number one, and that was back in California fifty days ago. Got a flat tyre later in the day; stupid me - I was looking out for bears and hit a big rock on the road. Even damaged my rim a little.
At the campgrounds I met a young German couple, Rolf and his very fine girlfriend, Dorit. They’d started riding from the middle of Canada four months ago but were now returning home to finish their Biology and Psychology studies. From what Rolf told me about the ferry up to Alaska, it sounds stupendous and I’m convinced now to go up as far as Haines.
Day 90: 3.71 miles, 0:19 hours, Prince Rupert
aught the 7am ferry to Prince Rupert. It was a long time to spend on a boat. Even though it was beautiful, I did start getting sick of just seeing forest, forest, forest. Very beautiful butagonisingly monotonous. They should have a hot tub and a happy hour or something like that on the ferry. Or even better, a happy hour in the hot tub. I spent some of the hours reading my latest book, “The Killing Fields”, which I picked up at an RV park by swapping my old book “Cider House Rules” by John Irving. The most I’ve spent on a book so far is fifty cents. The highlight of the ferry trip was the $22 dinner buffet. I broke my gluten-free diet totally, but at least I broke it in style: four main meal plates of halibut and fresh salads, then three plates of desert. When I saw the profiteroles (cream puffs) I couldn’t resist; eleven of them.
Day 91: 16.83 miles, 1:37 hours, Charlotte City, Queen Charlotte Island
aught another ferry and arrived on Queen Charlotte Island just before dark. I began riding up to Queen Charlotte city (which is barely the size of a small village) but stopped at “Joy’s campground”; basically some nice lawn at the back of Joy’s house without any facilities. I never got to meet Joy and didn’t have $5 in change, so I left her a note saying I’d return in a few days. It was a beautiful spot, right on the water. I sat on the rocks as the afternoon light slowly dwindled and watched bald eagles clashing mid-air.
Day 92: 29.09 miles, 1:58 hours, Tlell (Misty Meadows Campground, Naikoon Park)
nother boring day of riding through boring monotonous commercial forest. Took the only paved road on the island that runs north-south. I was so bored I stopped at the first campground and called it a day. I was planning on doing a walk along the coast but fell asleep on the bench. Took me three hours to get my act together. The walk went through a few kilometres of forest and then out onto the beach. There was an impressive shipwreck on the beach from the early 1900s, the bow was all that remained.
Swapped books again, there wasn’t a great choice, it was either John Grisham’s “The Client” or a bunch of optimistic romance novels. The campground host, a lady in her 60’s told me that she’d been to Albany (Western Australia) back when it was still a whaling station. She remembers particularly well the blood and the horrendous stench. Day 93: 54.84 miles, 3:45 hours, Tow Hill (Agate Beach Campground)
A North American Bicycle Journey
t was misty all day with the occasional rain but I enjoyed the riding today. Saw heaps of deer but still no bears. The last fifteen kilometres or so was all dirt but nice as it had views of the ocean. I stopped for a fantastic coffee along the way at a small bakery/ cafe/pizza place filled with interesting historical artefacts, animal bones and agate from the nearby beach. The entrance to the cafe was bordered by the rib bones of a whale. I found a wonderful sheltered campsite at agate beach, spitting distance from the ocean and managed to set up my tent on the wooden boards that were set up at each tent site. It definitely goes down in my list of favourite campsites. The tap water here is a brown-yellow colour but I’m drinking it anyway. Funnily enough, at all the other provincial campsites I’ve been at, there’s always a “Warning: boil water before drinking” sign at the tap. Not here though. I spotted a guy that I had met on the ferry and he raved about the fishing here, describing all the fish he did and didn’t catch. Later in the afternoon he came back to my campsite with chicken drumsticks and other snacks. Very appreciated. Day 94: 91.19 miles, 6:23 hours, Sandspit
91 British Columbia
egan the long ride back to Queen Charlotte City, twice as monotonous as the first time. I pulled into the campground that I’d stayed at the other night to fill up my water bottles. The tap was turned on full bore with water gushing everywhere, I figured some idiot had left it running. I filled up my bottles, turned the tap off and started guzzling the water. Damn, it was like drinking battery acid, and I quickly spat out what was left in my mouth. It was too late, my throat was burning. It felt like my stomach had been scraped empty with a hair brush and within minutes I was burping gas every few seconds. I quickly rode over to another tap inside the campgrounds but as I was filling up, a maintenance guy drove over; “I wouldn’t drink that if I was you, I’m flushing out the lines with bleach”. Even a coffee and more food didn’t help, my throat is still burning several hours later. At Skidegate I caught a ferry across to the south island, and rode into town with Daniel, a mushroom picker from Montreal.
Day 95: 47.83 miles, 4:42 hours, Ferry to Prince Rupert Day 96 (Rest day): 10.98 miles, 1:11 hours, Prince Rupert
id the dirt road loop around the south island yesterday and then caught the ferry back to the north island. It started pissing down with rain so I spent the last few hours waiting at the ferry terminal. The ferry back to Prince Rupert left at 10pm. As soon as I hopped on board I claimed my spot at the front of the boat with my mattress. I was asleep before the boat had left the dock and didn’t wake up again until the breakfast call. I’ve decided to head further north than Haines. My sister who is working offshore in the North Sea, has challenged me; first to the Arctic circle... My campground neighbours are a young Japanese couple, Jun and Chickadoo. Jun laughed at nearly everything I said. Not just laughed, almost broke into tears. I love Japanese people, they’re hilarious. They’d quit their family business, much to the horror of their families, and decided to do the travelling thing for a year or two. Really cool people.
Facing page: Waiting for the ferry to arrive at Skidegate [Day 95]
Day 97 (Rest day): 1.41 miles, 0:13 hours, Ferry to Juneau
The ferry ride was similar to the BC ferry ride, mostly through beautiful but monotonous hills filled with trees. Did spot two humpback whale tails this morning but haven’t looked out that much. I’ve been getting absorbed in my two new books, Lance Armstrong’s “It’s not about the bike” and “Doctor Zhivago”. I claimed a spot in the lounge, grabbed a coffee and started reading. A really cute, blue-eyed, brunette sat down in the seat in front of me, with what I assumed were her parents. As the dad went past he asked me about the coffee in a familiar accent so I used the opportunity to ask him where he was from. He was an old farmer from Wagga in New South Wales, and was with his wife Barb and daughter, the cute one, Meg. Meg was taking time off from her cruise ship job to show Barb and Peter around Canada and the Alaskan Inside Passage. Peter and I got talking about farming and retired farmers and the subject came upon his health and he told me how he has Coeliac disease, the intolerance to gluten, as well. So this got us really talking about our experiences and so there was plenty to talk about between farming and having the shits to fill in several hours. When we stopped at Ketchikan, Megan invited me along for a tour of downtown. The ship only stops at the port for thirty minutes, but Meg, who had been here many times before on the cruise ship, knew exactly where to go and what to see. It was hilariously funny because we were literally running between sights and every time we passed a nice shop, Barb would give a tortured sigh. Thirty minutes was not enough time for shopping. Meg’s mum was a little hard of hearing so the tortured sighs were always quite loud, and she was often the loudest person in the ship’s lounge. Meg confided that when they were kids, Barb, even with her “bad hearing” could hear Meg or her twin brother mutter a “fuck” quietly under their breaths from over fifty yards away.
Facing page: The ferry to Juneau [Day 98]
A l ask a
ried to book a ferry all the way to Seward, but found out that it doesn’t leave for a week. So much for my ferry timetable reading skills. Bought a ticket to Juneau instead and went and waited in a car queue to board the boat at 7:30am. Before getting onto the ferry it was necessary to go through US customs and as each car pulled up to the inspections officer he asked them if they had any fruit in the car. When I got to customs, he asked me a few friendly questions about my bike trip and gave me the ok. Being the good boy I am, I asked him if he was gonna ask me about all the fruit I had hanging in plastic bags from my handlebars and guitar. “Ah, it’s a stupid rule anyway”, he said, and waved me through.
Day 98 (Rest day): 42.74 miles, 3:42 hours, Juneau (Mendenhall Glacier Campground)
t’s a bit hard to sleep in a stuffy ship’s lounge after spending the last three months living in a tent. Last night after dark, I grabbed my sleeping bag and mattress and made good use of the reclining chairs in the open air solarium at the back of the boat. I had a wonderful sleep and when I woke up with the sun, I spotted a few humpback whales and icebergs. We got into Juneau at lunchtime and I rode up to the campground that is literally on the opposite of a lake from an amazing glacier. Just being within sight of the glacier is like being in a bloody refrigerator, it’s so chilly even though the sun is out in force. It’s a very fancy campground, flash toilets and showers and very private camping sites all very spread out. I found the backpacker sites and tried to squeeze my food into the small bear-proof food locker that’s meant to be shared between six sites. It’s almost a mile from my campsite to the entrance of the campgrounds and there’s virtually no one else here. Rode the fourteen miles into town and for the second time on this trip, I got pulled over by a cop for riding on the freeway.
A North American Bicycle Journey
Day 99 (Rest day): 0 miles, Juneau (Mendenhall Glacier Campground)
Right: Cruise liner, Juneau [Day 99] Facing page: Iceberg, Tracy Arm Fjord, Juneau [Day 99]
eg gave me the idea of doing a boat tour today so I booked hoping it would also be a chance to see them (her) again. They were the last ones to show up and immediately got into an argument with the owner about prices, as they’d been given an old brochure with a cheaper price. From then on we referred to the captain as “the Arsehole”. It was really great to hang out with Meg again and I got to like her more and more. It was cold as buggery being around all these glaciers even though it was a very sunny day. Someone told me that Juneau averages thirty-three sunny days per year, so far we’ve been lucky to get two of them. The boat took us up a fjord and pretty soon we were seeing icebergs larger than houses that had broken off the glacier further upstream. The boat parked itself about a half mile from the glacier and we were treated to a magnificent display of ice carving. With a huge cracking noise, enormous shards would fall off the face of the glacier and into the water, making an enormous splash and sending a large swell in our direction. This went on for about ten minutes and pretty soon the water surrounding the boat was covered in pieces of ice. The colour of the glacier ice and icebergs is an amazing vibrant blue, there’s some sort of physics to explain it, but buggered if I could repeat it here.
Day 100 (Rest day): 23.86 miles, 1:45 hours, Juneau (Mendenhall Glacier Campground)
got up early this morning and took a walk up the western side of the Mendenhall glacier. I was only expecting a few hours round trip but the amazing views made me want to just keep going up and up. The trail eventually passed the tree-line, through fields of snow and stopped at the top of Mount McGuinnis (4228 feet). The peak was just a grassy mound so it provided an amazing 360 degree view of mountains (all snow-capped except the one I was on, the closest of which was the rocky crag of Mount Stroller White, elevation 5150 feet), the islands of the Inside Passage, part of the town (Mendenhall Valley), the glacier (several miles across, and from my height it was barely possible to spot the helicopters landing on the glacier for ice trekking tours), everything! It really felt like I was on top of the world and I get a small inkling of what mountain climbers must feel when they reach a peak. I got very lost on the way down, the path was marked by small orange ribbons tied to bushes and trees and I eventually found myself crawling through very thick undergrowth getting quite paranoid about bears. I eventually managed to climb to the top of a large rock and spent ten minutes trying to spot the nearest orange ribbon using my camera zoom lens. I was exhausted by the time I got down to my tent, eight and a half hours after I’d started and with only two Snickers bars for lunch. To celebrate my 100th day, I sadly went to McDonalds for dinner and had super-size fries and a super-size chocolate thickshake. And after I left, I decided that I never, ever needed to go to McDonalds again.
Facing page: Glacier carving, Tracy Arm Fjord, Juneau [Day 99] Following pages: View of Mt Stroller White (5150ft) from Mt McGinnis (4228ft) [Day 100] and Mendenhall Glacier [Day 100] A North American Bicycle Journey
I parted ways with Meg and her Mum and Dad and instantly felt the pangs of loneliness after having spent the last few days with them. She was a very cool girl, and a lovely family.
Below: Humpback whale, Juneau [Day 99]
On the way back we stopped to let off a boyfriend and girlfriend who were doing some kayaking for three days. As they were lowered into the water everyone on the boat started singing “row, row, row your boat” much to the displeasure of the Arsehole. He was trying to get the kayakers’ attention to tell them to be at the same place in three days for pickup and to be careful of the tides and bears. The Arsehole did redeem himself somewhat when the glacier tour turned into a fantastic whale watching tour and thus saved us all from spending another hundred bucks.
Day 101 (Rest day): 41.18 miles, 2:52 hours, Juneau (Mendenhall Glacier Campground)
o I had McDonalds again for lunch. Tried to book a ferry to Haines or Skagway but found out that the ferry at the end of the month to Seward doesn’t stop at either of these places. So thanks to my ferry timetable skills I’m stuck in Juneau for another five days. But definitely not a bad place to get stuck.
Day 102 (Rest day): 0 miles, Juneau (Mendenhall Glacier Campground) Day 103 (Rest day): 0 miles, Juneau (Mendenhall Glacier Campground)
t looks like I was lucky to have those three days of sunshine when I first got here. It’s been nothing but drizzle and more drizzle since. I’ve been spending my days in the State Library, insulated from nature by glass, the sounds of birds and the wind muted by brick, I’m out of the weather and into comfortable climate controlled air-conditioning. And I’m enjoying every moment of it. In over three months of being outside for nearly twenty four hours a day, as much as I love the outdoors, it’s good to suddenly be out of it.
Day 104 (Rest day): 0 miles, Juneau (Mendenhall Glacier Campground)
hen I stole Ted’s jerky and dried fruits almost seventy days ago, I knew Karma would catch up with me. When I got back to the campgrounds last night I found that someone had nicked my half bottle of Aussie wine and a can of beans from the bear-proof food locker. Yet there was no one else camped within a stones throw from me. So Karma has finally paid me back, hopefully everything is in balance now and no more will go wrong.
Left: Letterbox, Juneau [Day 105] Previous page: Mendenhall Glacier [Day 100]
Day 105 (Rest day): 57.79 miles, 3:42 hours, Juneau (Mendenhall Glacier Campground) Day 106 (Rest day): 0 miles, Juneau (Mendenhall Glacier Campground) Day 107: 19.19 miles, 1:28 hours, Ferry to Seward
n the ferry again. The ship doesn’t have a very good lounge section so I immediately set myself up on the open air solarium where I’ve been ever since. It’s a bit chilly though, but there’s a bunch of other thick-skinned (or thick-headed) people up here braving the elements also. Got talking to Dan, a forty-two year old artist who told me he’d seen the Northern Lights last night. We spotted some humpback whales breaching which was pretty cool. Dan was telling me that they’re not too sure why whales breach, but one possible explanation was to aid digestion. Dan told me that his brother works up in Alaska on the US missile defence system, but their family never knows quite where he is or what exactly it is that he does.
Day 108 (Rest day): 0 miles, Ferry to Seward
ept waking up last night to see if there was any aurora action happening, but nothing. Someone mentioned that it’s a long weekend this Monday, which apparently marks the end of summer. I’m starting to get a bit worried about this attempt at getting to the Arctic Circle, there’s no way I’m gonna ride there so I’m hoping to hitchhike, but not sure what my chances are. Met a guy, Lejon, who’s planning on finding work on a fishing boat up in Seward. Lejon and I ended up talking most of the evening about everything from Tsunamis and other natural disasters, to cult suicides, and climbing mountains and giving up smoking and grog. Also met another Aussie guy, David from Brisbane, who is here with his wife and eventually going to head down to South America. It’s great to be able to have these longer-than-five-minute conversations with people and to not talk about anything to do with bicycles.
Top: Going through the narrow Bainbridge passage [Day 109] Right: Coast guard escort on the way out of Prince William Sound [Day 109]
A North American Bicycle Journey
Right: Train from Seward to Anchorage [Day 109]
Day 109: 5.08 miles, 0:24 hours, Anchorage
t started raining last night and a very cold cross breeze was blowing through my part of the solarium. There were two other people sleeping in my area, one in a tent and another with a sleeping bag on a reclining chair like me. Everyone else in the solarium is in the more sheltered areas, but I found it far too stuffy there. So I contested with the biting winds and still I refrained from putting on my beanie or zipping up the bottom of my sleeping bag. I learned many months ago that leaving my feet sticking out the end of the sleeping bag was the only way I could regulate my body heat and not wake up soaked in sweat. I woke up several times in the night but no aurora because of the rain. When we arrived in Valdez at 3am the shipâ€™s female pursuer seemed to take great pleasure in making as many loudspeaker announcements as possible. Then security personnel started waking each of us up to see who we were. By this time I was alone in my solarium, the smarter pair had withdrawn to warmer and dryer locations. In the morning I found out from Lejon why there had been so much commotion in Valdez. Apparently when Lejon had first got on the boat heâ€™d been accosted, like many other people by a guy called Paul. Paul, who everyone had nicknamed Jesus, spent his day talking to most people about faith and God. Jesus had a ticket to Valdez. But when the ship arrived in Valdez, Jesus was nowhere to be seen. They knew he was stowing away because Jesus had a Jeep Cherokee in the hull. So all the announcements at 3am in the morning had been to try and find Jesus. Then security went to every single person to check whether they were Jesus or knew Jesus. Eventually the Valdez police were called in and they found Jesus in one of the private rooms that he had managed to sneak into. Jesus refused to put his pants on and so Jesus got carted off the boat in his underpants.
A North American Bicycle Journey
Left: Train to Denali [Day 110]
We got into Seward at 3:30pm, and I hopped on the train heading to Anchorage an hour later. For 109 days I’ve been able to stop anywhere I like and take photos. Now I’m on a train and all of a sudden it feels like life is moving too fast and I’m not in control anymore.
Day 110: 2.1 miles, 0:15 hours, Train to Denali National Park (Reiley Campground)
ast night we arrived in Anchorage after 10pm and I had no idea where I was going to stay. While slowly assembling my bike outside the station I started talking to the security guard and he eventually got around to asking where I was staying. After my vague reply he pointed me towards an RV park just a half mile down the road. As I crept in under the stealth of darkness, a kiwi voice shouted out “Another touring cyclist!”. It was Heidi, and her partner Nigel who had just finished a ten month trip from Argentina to Anchorage on a tandem bicycle. This morning I crept out of the RV park before light and without paying. There’s another bit of bad Karma that will come back and bite me in the arse one day.
Spent quite a bit of time today copying down parts of the “Milepost”. The “Milepost” gives a mile by mile description of all the highways in the Alaska/Yukon area. There’s not that many highways up here, literally just a handful, so it can afford to go into quite a lot of detail. I’ve copied down every campground, water stop and grocery store between the Arctic Circle and Edmonton, a total of 2024 miles. I must be bloody mad.
David, Sophie and I had dinner at my campsite and finished off a bottle a wine I’d been carrying since Juneau. They are a wonderful couple, and when not braving the elements in Denali, live and work in London. They eloped about six months ago to avoid the lavish wedding that both pairs of their parents want. They still haven’t let their parents know yet. After dinner they made hot chocolate with a generous splashing of traveller’s rum (plastic bottle) and we got to see the first flakes of snowfall. They invited me to join them to camp inside the park tomorrow night, but unfortunately I don’t have anywhere to stash my gear in the meantime (the lockers at the visitor centre were not designed to house an acoustic 12-string guitar).
Day 111 (Rest day): 0 miles, Denali National Park (Reiley Campground)
n amazing day. The Autumn colours are out in full and it snowed last night so everything looks bloody splendid. And so said the tour bus driver Peter who gave a wonderful commentary along the entire trip into the park. We saw moose early in the morning. Peter spotted a bear and after waiting patiently while it hid out of sight for several minutes, we were rewarded with it wandering down the slope in front of us and then walking a few feet from my window. It wandered under some trees, bumping snow off the branches and looked like a sugar-frosted bear. It then stood up and gave itself a back rub against a small tree that shuddered under the bear’s weight. We spotted a small herd of caribou, quite some distance away, but close enough to see the male’s bloodied antlers from where all the velvet had fallen off.
Left: Bear in Autumn foliage Right: Wolves with a caribou kill, Denali National Park [Day 111]
When we got to the East Fork River bed Peter spotted a wolf, then another, and another. Peter, who’s been driving here for ten years was really surprised to see one, let alone three. When we got to the bridge, we discovered why. A caribou had been freshly killed, about thirty metres from us and the wolves were taking it in turn to rip it to shreds. When we returned in the afternoon, it was a field day for photographers who were standing at the edge of the river with ten thousand dollar telephoto lenses. Apparently not long after we left, a bear and its two cubs wanted a share of the action. We were pretty lucky. Peter offered a prize to anyone who could spot the next bear and I managed to win that one. We didn’t go all the way into the park, but instead stopped at a visitor centre overlooking the highest mountain in the USA; Mount Denali (McKinley) standing at 20,320 feet. Like most days though, we weren’t overlooking the mountain, but looking at a large cloud covering the mountain. Lastly, we spotted some Dall sheep high overhead on a rocky cliff. After getting back from the bus trip I headed over to see National Park dog sled team. I miss dogs. A lot of the huskies have eerie clear blue eyes, it’s almost unsettling.
Day 112 (Rest day): 0 miles, Fairbanks (Hostel)
oke up quite a few times during the night, feeling totally refreshed and ready to get up. I could hear it raining on my tent so I ended up turning off my 2am aurora alarm clock. Woke up cold and for the first time on this trip, zipped up the bottom of my sleeping bag. When I did finally get out of bed, my $5 REI compass/thermometer that probably has an accuracy of plus or minus 20 degrees, read slightly above freezing. Catching the 3pm train to Fairbanks, and as per usual, I have no idea where I’m gonna sleep. When I got to Fairbanks, I found some hostel pamphlets and rode out to the first place that took my fancy. It’s actually just some old guy’s house with some rooms in the basement. When I first got there and knocked on the door I got no answer. So I opened the front door to find an old lady with a goatee in a wheelchair.
Above: Husky dogs, Denali National Park [Day 111] Facing page, top: A National Geographic photographerâ€™s wet dream, Denali National Park [Day 111] Facing page, bottom: Mount Denali, the highest mountain in the USA, may or may not be in this photo Denali National Park [Day 111]
Above: Denali train station [Day 112] Right: Stef and I at the entrance of Denali National Park [Day 112] Facing page: The Northern Lights, Fairbanks [Day 113]
Turned out that she can’t hear a thing so she called her husband. An old hunched-over man came out from somewhere, took his hat off and went about getting my name, etc. Then he grabbed the hat, and seriously asked me if it was mine. No, it’s yours, I said, kind of embarrassed. He took me out the back of his house and showed me where I could camp, a tiny spot in between the patio and the garden shed. The garden shed actually turned out to be another room with a bed in it. There was only one other person there, a serious Japanese guy, Tadashi, who was on his mountain bike and had more gear than me. He’d done East Africa (Egypt down to South Africa), spent a year riding around South America and now up to here. Then two other Japanese, that I’d met on the train, Mariko and Seiji showed up. None had fantastic English and I know about two words of Japanese but we still managed to have some great, often funny conversations. At 11pm, Boyle, the old man, came down and told us the Northern Lights were out. We rushed out and could make out a greenish cloud fading and moving in the sky. It disappeared but we waited and eventually it came back, filling most of the sky, rapidly moving, hovering, twisting and fading in and out of intensity. It finally started twisting together like wool being spun and turned an intense white, purple and red. It was fantastic. I kept laughing so much. I was so intensely happy and so was Seiji, who was also seeing it for the first time. We put our arms around each other and laughed drunkenly with happiness. I couldn’t stop laughing. Who needs TV when you have this sort of thing? Mariko is not so impressed. She works up at Yellowknife where Japanese tourists take weekend trips all the way from Japan just to see the Northern Lights. Mariko and several other young guides, have to stand outside in the sub-freezing temperatures, waiting for the aurora, while the paying tourists drink and eat inside the warm lodge. When they give the signal, all the tourists come rushing out and Mariko and company have to rush around taking photos for everyone. It’s all over in about ten minutes, then the tourists head back to the warm lodge and Mariko and company are left to defrost their fingers and toes until another night.
Day 113 (Rest day): 18.57 miles, 1:39 hours, Fairbanks (Boyle’s Hostel)
his morning I discovered with horror that the clip on one of my rear panniers has snapped. It may have happened while it was on the train. Made a panicked call to Arkel in Quebec but unfortunately they were already closed. I sent an email and just hope they can recommend a place I can get some spares. I’m planning to leave for the Arctic Circle tomorrow morning, but will leave the broken pannier, my guitar and other nonnecessary items here at the Boyles.
Day 114 (Tuesday, 7 September 2004): 42.59 miles, 3:38 hours, Arctic Circle, (Dawson Highway)
hen I got up this morning I checked the thermometer hanging on the Boyles back porch. It read 22 degrees Fahrenheit at 7am. I called Arkel, and the lady who answered told me that she had four spare clips packaged up and ready to be sent express post (it arrived the next day while I was away). I then spoke to Kevin, one of the designers who wanted to give me a prize for being the first to break one of the clips. He was real cool, and asked me all about my trip and hoped that the broken clip hadn’t ruined any plans. What plans? I’m even more impressed with Arkel after this experience.
I set off towards the Arctic Circle with two mismatched panniers, eight litres of water and two days worth of food. I was either being really optimistic or really foolish, probably a bit of both, and hoped to be able to hitch a ride all the way there and all the way back to be in Fairbanks again tomorrow night. It was so goddamn cold. The hair below my bottom lip kept frosting up from my breath and I had to be careful not to spill water on my goatee, as that kept icing up too. I quickly lost feeling in my toes, and my fingers, only covered with old, holey Thinsulate gloves, hurt like hell. My cheeks, nose and ears stung like crazy. I figured it was better that my extremities hurt like hell rather than not being able to feel them at all, but before long, I couldn’t feel them at all. My water bottles kept icing up and whenever I was thirsty, I had to stop and smash the ice at the top of the bottles. I stuck out my frozen hitchhiking thumb at every passing pick-up, but it was not until I was 35 miles out of Fairbanks that I got lucky. The bike went on top of two big eskies (ice coolers) on the back, one full of beer. It was two First Nations people, who took much humour in calling me a dumb Aussie for being out here on a bike. They took me all the way to the banks of the mighty Yukon River, where they had a cabin and were going to spend the winter (and they were calling me crazy?). It was still another sixty miles to the Circle and unpaved road all the way. After about five miles, I pulled into the Hot Spot cafe and got a chocolate thickshake while the owner (apparently an ex-stripper, she sells “Hot Spot” t-shirts featuring the silhouette of a well endowed women reclining in a seductive manner) told me all about a crazy Italian girl who had passed through a few days before on a bicycle while it was snowing and insisted on making it to Prudhoe Bay. I’m getting the impression that the locals, who anyone else would consider crazy for living up here, consider anyone else who travels up here, crazy. Two guys working for the oil pipeline company showed up and joined in on the jokes about crazy cyclists. I tried to argue and convince them of my sanity, hence the hitchhiking up here instead of cycling all the way, but they weren’t convinced. I didn’t even really convince myself.
Left: Campsite at the Arctic Circle [Day 114] Right: Stef and I reach the Arctic Circle [Day 114]
I left, but about ten minutes down the road, the two guys stopped for my outstretched thumb and gave me a lift. My bike once again, perched precariously on the back of the pick-up against a cable roll (Oh why, oh why do I never get picked up by people with empty pick-ups?). The scenery towards the Arctic Circle was nothing like I imagined, no polar bears and no floating slabs of ice, just a lot of tundra, a lot of smoke (Alaska had something like six million acres of land go up in smoke this year), and a lot of drunken trees skewed every which way, which they told me was due to global warming and the rising of the permafrost. Now there’s a strange concept for someone from a warm country - a permanent layer of frost, sometimes several feet below the soil’s surface. The sun also doesn’t get very high, it always feels like early morning or late evening.
A North American Bicycle Journey
The guys dropped me off at the Arctic Circle sign, after we had accidentally driven five miles past it (we’d been busy looking at the drunken trees and smoke). Talk about feeling isolated, I felt like I was the only living being for miles. I took the obligatory photo shots at the Arctic Circle sign and happily considered myself the winner of the “Steber Family Race to the Arctic Circle”.
Seeing as I was pretty alone out here, I decided I would do the permanently-sealed-victory sort of nudie shot to clinch the deal. Just as I was busting out of my bicycle shorts, in drives a car with a girl from Colorado: “Ah, I see you’re well prepared!”, she said as I quickly chucked my shirt back on in embarrassment. It turned out she was referring to my camera tripod which was all set up for the nudie shot. As she drove off, a procession of other people started showing up, so there was no chance of completing the nudie shot. A small minivan drove in with half a dozen people, including Andrew, a travel guide from Melbourne that I had met on the train to Denali. He was with a group that had flown to Prudhoe Bay and then driven back. They even had a piece of carpet with a painted dotted line on it, which they rolled out for photographs. So much for feeling alone out here. I set up my tent at the empty, undeveloped camping sites about a quarter mile from the Arctic Circle sign. Now I felt really alone and also a little paranoid about bears. So I cooked my dinner back at the sign and then put my food pannier in the drop toilet outhouse back at the campground. The sound here carries remarkably well, another guy showed up at the campgrounds, and though he is over 100 metres away, I can clearly hear him as if he was right outside my tent. Richard came over and introduced himself and offered me a glass of wine. I’d been sitting outside of my tent and because I’d packed so lightly and had no entertainment, I was literally doing nothing but looking at the magnificent Autumn colours and waiting for the sun to go down. Richard is a taxi driver from Las Vegas and comes up to Alaska every year for a holiday. He was kind enough to offer me a lift all the way back to Fairbanks tomorrow, very cool. After Richard headed back to his tent I checked my $5 REI compass/thermometer that probably has an accuracy of plus or minus 20 degrees and it was at freezing point. It was 9:30pm by the time the sun set and by this time I had every piece of clothing I could find on, and even with two pairs of wool socks my feet were stinging from the cold. I crawled into my sleeping bag with everything on, and it was not until 2am that the full feeling in my toes came back. Every hour I woke up with my alarm to check if the aurora had come out. At 11:30pm, I peaked outside my tent to find a thin white cloud streaked all the way from the north horizon to the south horizon. It was possible to mistake it for a jet’s exhaust stream but it illuminated the ground with the same intensity as a full moon. Slowly it started shimmering vertically like a wind-blown plastic phosphorous-coated shower curtain, tinged with purple and red. And then it would change into cloud shapes that moved and stretched across the entire sky in a matter of moments. It’s something I’d been wanting to see for many years now and it was so much better than I expected and really indescribable. It was lovely. I had planned to get up and take a bunch of long exposure photographs, but when it’s below freezing outside it’s very easy to justify that a photograph would not do the Northern Lights justice.
Day 115: 8.15 miles, 0:46 hours, Fairbanks (Hostel)
lashed my bicycle to the top of Richard’s dirt-covered Subaru Outback rental and we headed off at about 10 or 11am. It’s hard to know what time exactly, because the entire day feels like mid-morning, with the sun just floating above the horizon. I enjoyed the ride back to Fairbanks; Richard was a very knowledgeable bloke and I learnt a lot of things about Alaska during the five hour trip. In some parts the smoke from the bushfires was particularly bad with fire right up to the edges of the road.
Day 116: 10.99 miles, 1:00 hours, Fairbanks (Hostel)
t’s been twenty-one days since my last “serious” loaded touring and I’m nervous as hell about starting again tomorrow. I bought a $50 pair of Gore-Tex windproof/rainproof socks that are slightly too small, but I’m desperate. I also bought a $40 pair of windproof/rainproof gloves and a $20 face mask. I’m now prepared to laugh in the face of any weather that Alaska and Canada throw my way.
Day 117: 99.78 miles, 7:13 hours, Delta Junction
I stopped at the town of North Pole and posted a bunch of postcards at Santa’s house. The rest of the day was not quite as exciting. Long, straight, flat road, pretty golden trees but pretty boring and miserably cold. I was following the list that I’d copied from the “Milepost” but so far, every water stop, grocery store and campground that I had marked down has been shut. Shut since summer ended which was the other weekend. No one told me this would happen. I had too much time to think today and I spent the time deciding I would give up riding and start hitchhiking south if I run out of water or food.
oday was the worst. My face, hands and feet stung with cold until about 2pm. I guess the fact that they sting is actually better than not being able to feel them at all. All my drinking water froze up very early on, even though I’d filled it with tepid water from the hostel. My new so-called “windproof” Gore-Tex socks were useless at keeping my feet warm. And the gloves are useless as well. I eventually put my old holey woollen gloves under my new so-called “windproof” gloves and then put my padded cycling gloves over that. So here I am wearing three pairs of gloves; kinda restricts me from picking my nose properly. I’ll know never again to buy Alaskan winter gear from a salesgirl that spends every winter down in Southern California.
A North American Bicycle Journey
Left: Me and a mouthful of food at the North Pole [Day 117]
While I was fixing a flat tyre I was a bit heavy handed and I snapped the valve stem. I’ve got no more spare tubes so if I lose another one I’m screwed. Anyway, it mightn’t be such a bad thing to run out of spares. It gives me another valid reason to abandon this madness.
oday was the worst. Colder than buggery again. All my water this morning was frozen solid, even the bottles I’d kept in the tent. At one point when I’d stopped to eat, I was checking my spokes and discovered that one rear spoke was extremely loose. I tightened it and made sure the wheel was true again. Ten minutes later I stopped to check it, only to find it had loosened again. I retightened it, and this time, wrapped some electrical tape around the nipple, hoping it would maybe hold it a little. I don’t know, I didn’t have any other ideas. I rode for another ten minutes and checked the spoke again. It was still tight, but to my surprise another spoke had significantly loosened. I tightened it, added the electrical tape again and set off. Ten minutes later, both of the spokes with electrical tape were fine, but to my horror, yet another spoke had come really loose. I kept going like this until nearly every spoke nipple on the rear wheel had black electrical tape on it. I decided to stop checking, ignorance is bliss, right? I tried humming loudly as I rode so I couldn’t hear the rim rubbing on the brake pads. I had too much time to think again today and I spent the time deciding I would give up riding and start hitchhiking south if my back wheel falls apart.
Day 118: 109.18 miles, 7:50 hours, Tok
A North American Bicycle Journey
It was a hundred miles from Fairbanks to the first place to camp at Delta Junction. The Australian-born lady at the RV park let me camp for free. It’s bloody cold.
It was another day of long, straight, flat roads, pretty golden trees and miserable cold. Later in the afternoon I got to see some mountains off in the distance, which I think are from the Wrangell Saint Elias National Park. I almost ran out of water because my planned water stop at Dot Lake, mile 60, was no longer in business. Did I mention it’s bloody cold?
Left: Icicles at lunchtime, Alaskan Highway [Day 118]
oday was the worst. Colder than buggery again. I broke my first spoke today but luckily not on the drive side. After replacing it, I found that I didn’t really need to tighten any more spokes for the rest of the day. Some more hills today, but nothing so bad, at least I could warm up on the uphills. Whizzing down a hill is no longer a joyful experience, it just means more of the stinging cold. Late in the afternoon I bought a Gatorade on the Alaskan side of the Canadian border. It gave me such a head-spin that I thought I would pass out at one point. At immigration I got questioned for about ten minutes. They were concerned that the bank statement I showed them for proof of funds was from June. I tried to explain that I was sleeping in a tent every night, eating tinned beans and instant rice, I don’t spend that much money. Didn’t get a very good impression of Canadians after the rudeness of several staff members at the hotel I was camping outside of. Someone once told me that border towns all over the world, doesn’t matter where you are, are always full of nasty, miserable people. Maybe they were right. When I had my tent set up, Mike, a retired guy from Detroit came over to talk. He was heading up to Anchorage with his wife who was giving a lecture there. Real nice bloke and he was a bit worried about how cold it was going to be during the night. Moments later he came back with two of their heaviest blankets and insisted I use them for the night. What a champ. It’s gonna be lovely not waking up cold.
Day 120 (Monday, 13 September 2004): 107.05 miles, 7:41 hours, Burwash Landing
oday was the worst. Colder than buggery again. I broke another spoke. Like yesterday, I broke the spoke as I was riding past a crash barrier at the side of a road curve. I didn’t realise this until later. Whenever I stop to eat, there’s never, never a place to lean my bike. But if I need to repair a broken spoke? There’ll be a crash barrier right there. And there’s barely any of these crash barriers out here, they’re about as common as an open food store, of which I saw none today. Hopefully I don’t see any more crash barriers in the next few days as I don’t have any more spokes, except an emergency Kevlar spoke I had the foresight of buying. I had too much time to think today and I spent the time deciding I would give up riding and start hitchhiking south if I break another spoke.
Facing page: Along the Alaskan Highway [Day 120] Following page: Storm clouds and blue skies, Alaskan Highway [Day 120]
Day 119: 112.09 miles, 8:23 hours, Beaver Creek
Though it’s cold, and the sun isn’t out much, I’m still getting quite sunburnt on the only exposed part of my body, my face. It almost rained on me, just sprinkled a little but there were a lot of threatening clouds out which contrasted with the beautiful golden Autumn colours. I’m exhausting myself. I’m sore. I’m sick of peanut butter, I’m sick of Snickers and chocolate. I haven’t had fresh fruit since Fairbanks and I’m missing it badly. I found a free camping spot at the back of the Burwash Landing restaurant where there’s a tour group of Germans also camped. I indulged in the $4 shower, the only pleasure I’ve had in the last few days and spoiled myself with a huge steak dinner.
It snowed quite heavily all morning and when it finally eased up I was left with gusty headwinds for the rest of the day. I had too much time to think today and I spent the time deciding I would give up riding and start hitchhiking south if I had to ride through more than three inches of snow. In the middle of the day, a car pulled up in front of me and a husband and wife got out to greet me. They were from Ontario and said they’d seen me a few days ago. They took a photo of me all rugged up in my rain gear and three pairs of gloves and then offered me all sorts of food, chocolate, apples and even beer. They offered to send an email message to my folks, so I asked them to tell them I was doing fine. “Don’t tell them I’m suffering”. My only consolation today was that it was only 78 miles to Haines Junction, a relatively short riding day considering I’ve done just over 500 miles in the past five days. It was a long down hill into town, stinging cold, but I camped at a lovely friendly RV park overlooking some magnificent mountains. I headed to the tourist bureau to ask if there were any bike shops in town. There wasn’t, only a guy that fixed bikes in his spare time and he was out somewhere watching a big hockey game that was on. Just as I was walking out, in walked John and Anita , a couple that I’d met at a rest stop on my first day riding out of Fairbanks. They were impressed at the distance I’d covered, as they were expecting to pass me again sometime on the road tomorrow as they headed back north. They told me there was another cyclist about sixty miles ahead of me and then insisted I take any of the food they had in their car. They seemed a little disappointed that they couldn’t do anything more for me. For the last two nights I have woken up with a numb right hand. I’ve decided I will give up riding and start hitchhiking south if I start crying uncontrollably.
123 Yukon Territory
oday was the worst. Colder than buggery again. I woke up to the soft pitter patter of snow falling on my tent and looked out on a world of white. As I was starting to cook my breakfast out in the snow, a very cute German girl invited me to share the tour group’s shelter that they’d set up beside their van. So I had breakfast and coffee with twelve Germans who could barely speak a word of English but were wonderful to offer me all sorts of food.
A North American Bicycle Journey
Day 121: 78.39 miles, 5:32 hours, Haines Junction
Day 122: 80.13 miles, 6:07 hours, Whitehorse
oday was the worst. Colder than buggery again. I had far too much time to think today. What does one think about for ten hours a day and almost six hundred miles of riding in the freezing cold? One feels extreme anger (ANGER!), jealousy (JEALOUSY!) and resentment (RESENTMENT!) at every passing car. I started to wish that I’d had a misspent youth and had learnt to break into and hotwire a car. A car with a good heating system and a coffee cup holder. With a thermos full of hot coffee to last the entire day. A car that does one hundred miles in an hour and a half, not a day. A car with a strong heater blowing right onto my feet. A car that says a big “Fuck you” to headwinds and drizzling rain. Words like “toasty” and “warm” keep running through my mind, and I get angrier and angrier. It seems like I can’t remember the last time I was warm and comfortable. I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold and miserable before in my life. I’m low, real low.
Facing page: Autumn colours, Alaskan Highway, Yukon [Day 120] Following page, top: Norbert with his “Nothing’s ever open” look, Alaskan Highway [Day 126] Following page, bottom: Feeling the cold; me on the Alaskan Highway [Day 126]
My sixth day out of Fairbanks and I’ve had enough. For all the good experiences I’ve had with strangers over the past few days, I’m no longer hoping that another random act of kindness would come from some stranger; I’m expecting it. It seems inevitable every day. Twenty five miles from Whitehorse, the first town in six hundred miles to have fresh fruit and a bicycle repair store, my head is about to burst from crazy thinking and I’m swaying all over the shoulder of the road. I can see there is a huge thunderstorm up ahead but there is no need for me to prepare for it as I have been wearing my rain gear and pants all day for the last six days (maybe this is why I haven’t seen any bears; I considered wiping all my bags under my sweaty armpits everyday, just to keep bears away, I stopped short of urinating on everything). A government vehicle pulls up in front of me and a guy hops out with a chocolate bar which he hands me. “You’d better get your bike on the back and I’ll give you a lift into town”. I decided today that accepting a lift is not the same as asking for one and isn’t the same as giving up. A minute later, the heavens open above us and the pickup is drenched in a rain that lasts for over an hour. The windscreen wipers struggle to clear the water from the windscreen, the road is just a blur in front of us. Mark is a recent father of two kids and did a whole bunch of bicycle touring around Europe himself when he was younger. He works for the airports up here and said he’s not normally in the habit of picking up strangers. He drops me off at the local campground, doesn’t want anything in return for the huge favour he’s done me but hands me his business card; “Email me when you’ve finished your trip”. Instead of setting up my tent in the rain I decide to go look for a bike shop to buy spare spokes, a new tyre and a spare tube. Jared, the bike mechanic at Icyclesport, takes one look at my rear wheel and grimly tells me it’s fucked. The spokes are all so loose that changing one spoke at a time is not going to fix a thing. The only solution is to totally rebuild the wheel. Jared tells me to come by early tomorrow morning so that he can get started. I head back towards the campgrounds but on the way I spot another bicycle tourist. It’s a great feeling to know that there is someone just as screwed up as me out there in the world and here I’ve found him, riding down the same street in the opposite direction. Turns out that he’s been the cyclist that’s always been a couple of miles ahead of me for the past few days. Norbert is from Austria and is riding from Anchorage to Denver.
His nerves and motivation have also become a bit shattered from the riding so far, so I’ve managed to convince him that riding together for a while might help our collective sanity. At worse, there’ll be someone to whinge and moan to; suffering together has to be better than suffering alone. He’s agreed to delay his departure for a day and recommends a youth hostel for me instead of tenting it in the rain.
Day 123 (Rest day): 3.48 miles, 0:23 hours, Whitehorse
’m staying at the nicest damn hostel I’ve ever stayed at. It’s called the “Hide on Jeckell”, located as the names suggests, on Jeckell Street in Whitehorse. It’s run by a young German couple who have taken all their good experiences from hostels they’ve stayed at around the world and applied it here. And it works. Free coffee in the morning (great coffee, and free-trade stuff as well), free internet, fantastic kitchen, free bikes for their guests and a great collection of books and biggest selection of board games I’ve ever seen. There’s a bunch of Germans here and Japanese as well, and everyone is very laid back and friendly. A few of the Japanese I met last night knew Mariko and Seiji who I’d met in Fairbanks. One of the Japanese guys told me he’d met some other guys from Perth a few weeks back as he was paddling down the length of the Yukon river in a kayak! I had trouble sleeping last night. It’s strange to be inside after tenting for the last four months. This morning I took my bike down to Icyclesport and Jared spends the good part of the morning teaching me as much as he can about what tools and spares to get, and everything about wheel and spoke physics. I even learn to tune spokes with a pitchfork (F#). He tries to convince me about all the good reasons for living in Whitehorse throughout the winter, but fails to convert me. In the end, it turns out that they don’t have the correct length of spokes to rebuild my wheel so I end up buying a new rear wheel plus a tube and new tyre. I cut off all the spokes from the old rim as I figure I may as well get it rebuilt when I’m further south. When I go to pay he discounts everything heavily and doesn’t include labour, even though it is the start of the quiet season and they almost go broke every winter from lack of business. I’m beginning to think I know the answer to Einstein’s great question: Is it a friendly universe?
Day 124: 62.96 miles, 5:43 hours, Stealth Camp 62mi E of Whitehorse Day 125: 70.65 miles, 6:42 hours, Stealth Camp E of Teslin
t’s great riding with Norbert, so far we talk a lot and he’s told me all about his riding adventures in Australia and in Europe. He sure does talk a lot for someone whose first language isn’t English. It’s been bloody cold and it snowed several times on us yesterday and today. We complain bitterly about the weather for most of the day and we make up plenty of reasons for quitting and just catching a ride south. Each day when we stop for lunch we have to put on several more layers of clothes, the daytime temperatures rarely get above freezing point. Norbert, who is an Austrian ski instructor when he’s not doing ridiculous things like this, is wearing the same clothes that he skis in. He says he’s never been so cold before in his life.
A North American Bicycle Journey
On the first night we camped in an abandoned gravel pit about fifty metres from the road. We’d been talking about bears a lot and so we cook our meals about another fifty metres away from our tents and then hung our food panniers from a high tree. Just trying to throw our rope, tied to a rock, over a branch took half an hour. We didn’t have great aim.
Right: Our campsite just past the Continental Divide, Alaskan Highway [Day 126] Previous page: Norbert crossing the Continental Divide, Alaskan Highway, Yukon [Day 126]
All this talk of bears during the evening resulted in my first close bear encounter for the trip. In the middle of the night, I suddenly woke up in shock with a bear’s nose pushing against the fly of my tent, growling deeply. I almost wet my pants in panic and quickly tried to clap my hands and scream to scare it off. Nothing came out except a muffled “mmmmmargh” and I was frozen with terror inside my sleeping bag, the bear just inches away from my face. “You okay Leon?!” Suddenly I’m lying awake, really awake. No bear. My voice is back. “Yeah...just a really bad dream Norbert”
Day 126: 72.24 miles, 6:38 hours, Stealth Camp E of Ranchera
We camped on a hill just past the Continental Divide. Our tents overlooked a river on the left, beautiful mountains in front, and a clear lake to the right. There’s snow all around the campsite and as the sun dropped over the horizon, the temperature dropped dramatically. My feet are always extremely cold lately, almost sore to the bones. It used to be that they’d warm up at some point during the night. But lately, even with two thick pairs of socks on and the emergency blanket wrapped loosely over my sleeping bag, I’m waking up with my feet already cold.
127 Yukon Territory
We crossed over the Continental Divide today, but it wasn’t very high according to Norbert’s watch; 1040 metres. Only passed one open shop today, at Ranchera. Norbert bought gas for his stove while I went into the restaurant next door to ask if I could fill up my water bottles. The old lady behind the counter, the only person inside, seemed very irritated by my request and grumbled as she led me behind into the kitchen. While I was at the tap, I looked around the kitchen to find the bench filled with about a hundred freshly baked rolls of bread. Also sitting on the bench was an open half bottle of whisky. I thanked the lady and wandered over to Norbert to tell him what I had seen. Norbert’s been trying to buy bread for the last few days. He walked inside and came back out a few moments later, empty-handed. “Miserable bitch”, he cursed under is breath.
A North American Bicycle Journey
ore snow today. Instead of complaining we’re trying to use the “at least” motto. When it’s snowing on us, at least it wasn’t raining. When it starts raining on us, at least we don’t have headwinds. When it’s raining with headwinds, at least there aren’t any mosquitos. I’m thinking if I had the choice, I’d swap the blood suckers for this cold weather in a heartbeat.
Left: Norbert and I, dinner time, Alaskan Highway, Yukon [Day 126] Following page: Double rainbow (hoping for no more rain), Cassiar Highway [Day 128]
oday was a true test of my sanity. We had lots of snow, lots of drizzly rain that soaked me through to the skin, heavy fog and not much to eat. And the test results are positive. I’m bloody mad to be doing this. Why I don’t just stick out my thumb and get a lift, I may never understand. I had the last of my grits today for breakfast and nothing more to eat until lunchtime, which consisted of a measly two rice cakes with a little peanut butter. I have enough Nutella for one more rice cake, but I figured that if we didn’t find food soon, I could have it for tomorrow’s breakfast. A Snickers bar for afternoon tea. I even considered only eating half of it and saving the rest for later, but once I’d started it, it was impossible to stop myself from finishing it off. Norbert shared his green tea with me today, which he makes in a small thermos in the mornings and at lunchtimes. He goes through a 1kg pack of sugar in less than a week just sweetening it, but it does wonders. Despite the few calories I’m taking in with solid foods, the sugar seems to keep me going. Food, food, food, food. It was all I could think about, and thinking about food stopped me from thinking about the bloody weather. Before getting to the junction I told Norbert of my plans to ride the 28 mile roundtrip to Watson Lake in case there were no other stores open. Luckily it wasn’t necessary. A small gas station at the Cassiar highway junction was open but with barely any food stock as it was closing in a week’s time. I bought a pack of Pringles, two small tins of salmon and replenished my diminishing snicker bar stockpile. It was hardly the feast I had been hoping for, but at least it would keep me going for another day. We set off down the Cassiar at about 4pm. It was a roller coaster ride of small hills, blind corners and no shoulder. It didn’t matter a lot, there was no traffic anyway. I feel firmly committed to the insanity of this ride now that we are on the Cassiar. It really feels like we’re in the M.O.F.N.. It is so bloody cold. There was snow everywhere we went today, it was lucky we had not been two days earlier during the snow storm. I tried putting a thick pair of Smartwool socks over my so-called “windproof” Gore-Tex socks but still I had cold, sore, aching feet all day. I squeezed my old wool gloves into my so-called “windproof” gloves and it helped, but several of the fingers in my wool gloves are holey, so my fingers would quickly go numb in those parts. I had my beanie on under my helmet for a while and then the hood of my rain jacket over that. My ears and cheeks stung so bad at one stage that I donned my ski mask. My water bottles were frozen throughout the day, lucky we had Norbert’s tea. We camped in a car park beside a small lake. With our tiredness and hunger, we couldn’t even be bothered to be discreet about setting our tents up hidden from the road. We stashed our food panniers at the bottom of a rubbish bin about a hundred metres away. It saved us spending the usual fifteen minutes of trying to hang our food from a tall tree branch. It didn’t save me from having to put up with the steady stream of verbal diarrhoea from Norbert though. For someone who’s first language isn’t English, he sure does talk a lot.
B ritish C olumbia
Day 127: 74.15 miles, 6:55 hours, Stealth Camp South of Junction 37 (Cassiar Hwy)
Day 128: 67.13 miles, 6:47 hours, Stealth Camp south of Jade City
hat an incredible day of extremes. Not only do I have to put up with Norbert’s verbal diarrhoea, but I have to suffer through every piece of weather that the gods can throw at me. We started off this morning in 40-50km/h gusty headwinds. Then Norbert and I had an argument about peanut butter. I told him I wanted to make it to the next food store at Good Hope Lake by today, but he argued against it. For me it was easily within a day’s ride but for Norbert it would be a long day. And Norbert didn’t like riding too fast as he didn’t like to get a sweat (why the hell he chose to ride a bike then is beyond my understanding). He offered me his remaining peanut butter ration, but me; ever so self-reliant, bloody minded and bloody stubborn wasn’t about to dig into Norbert’s food supply when I possibly had all the food I could need within 60 miles.
A North American Bicycle Journey
It was at this point that Norbert wondered aloud as to how I always seemed to know when the next food stop, albeit rarely open food shop, was going to be. I sheepishly showed him the milepost list that I’d had in place of a map for the past two weeks. He questioned why I had kept it from him, as if it was some sort of betrayal of the trust that we had built up over the last few days. I let out a small bitter laugh and admitted how much it killed me to know exactly at what mileage we would pass another food shop, and have my hopes dashed again and again to find that it was closed. Not good for the psyche.
Right: At least it’s not raining, Cassiar Highway [Day 128]
“We’ll probably get sunburnt today” were the last words I said to him as I took off again. I rode with extra purpose, no longer checking to see if he was keeping up with me. It was sunny at last. Then five minutes later I got hailed on, so hard that it stung my face and chilled me to the bone. Luckily the hail only lasted for five minutes and then it was just a very heavy rain for a good half hour to ensure that none of my clothes remained dry. And then back to the heavy wind. Well at least I didn’t get snowed on. And at least it got up to a balmy 9 degrees Celsius, not the usual 1 or 2 degrees that we’ve suffered through over the past few days. I eventually got to Good Hope Lake and bought a bunch of stuff and had a long toilet break. It was enjoyable to take a dump in a proper dunny rather than shitting in the woods constantly with a frozen arse. I helped myself to a wonderful sugary coffee. As I was paying, a guy wearing hunting gear asked me if I was the guy on the bike. “You better watch out man, I had you in my rifle sights back there as you were coming down the hill. I thought you were a moose”. I asked with a naive laugh what he was talking about, there’s laws about not shooting animals within twenty metres of a road. “Not around here there ain’t…”,
I haven’t seen a lot of wildlife so far on this ride from Fairbanks, I figured that the animals know it’s hunting season and make themselves scarce. Now I will be the first to admit that I’m not an animal expert, I used to watch my fair share of David Attenborough documentaries when I was younger, but I’ve never heard of a bicycle-riding moose. Maybe in these parts there are some though. I’m going to try to keep an open mind about these things. I walked outside to drink my coffee and found a forlorn, tired looking Norbert sitting, waiting for me. Another guy that had overheard the hunter talking at me walked out of the shop and approached me, smirking, “What kind of a hunter does he think he is? Mistaking a guy on a bicycle with a yellow helmet for a moose??”
orbert and I rode in silence today. I was sick of listening to his verbal diarrhoea. Last night as I was setting up my tent, he would just keep talking and talking in a low monotone voice. My hearing’s not so good when there’s background noise, so I kept on having to stop what I was doing in order to listen to what he was saying. But he dribbled on so continuously that it was impossible to set up my tent. I got to the point where I just decided to ignore him and instead just throw a “yep” and a “hmmm” into the equation now and then in order to keep him happy. I eventually climbed into my tent to get out of the wind, and even though I was out of sight, he kept talking. It was only when I quickly threw a “goodnight” into the mix that he finally shut up. Add to this the pessimism that flows out of Norbert’s mouth constantly and things were starting to get me down. Before riding with Norbert, I’d ride on regardless of the weather ahead. If there were rain clouds ahead of me, I’d not think twice about continuing towards them, and never would I consider bad weather as being an unlucky sort of thing. But with Norbert I’d get a running commentary on the weather ahead and “What have we done to deserve this?” sort of comments thrown about. We’d be riding, soaked to the bone in a drizzling rain and Norbert would feel the need to predict how much worse our situation was about to come; “Looks like there’s bad weather up ahead”, he’d say, pointing to a dark and stormy mass of clouds hovering above the road several miles ahead. When we got to Dease Lake we stocked up on groceries at a large gas station. After he’d packed his food panniers he suggested that we split up as I hadn’t talked to him all day. He rode off while I talked to a woman in a campervan who was fishing at the lake with her husband. My mood was sour. I took it as my own fault that things hadn’t worked out with Norbert. We’d ridden together over the toughest parts of our journeys and we’d ended up hating each other. I’m glad I didn’t bring any good friends along on this journey, I would have probably murdered them by now. I got back onto the road again, feeling quite lonely and depressed. It was friggin’ cold. Ten minutes down the road I found Norbert talking to another cyclist. I stopped to say hello and it turned out that it was another Austrian. Good for Norbert. They talked in their own language and when I realised I wasn’t going to be included in the conversation I got back on the bike and kept riding. It was getting dark already and before long it had started raining heavily. I got soaked to the skin once again. My arms and wrists got so cold that I started to get wrist cramps. The first cramp caused me to almost fall off the bike in shock. It felt like someone had wired 240VAC to my handlebars and was having fun flicking the switch to see if I’d crash. It rained heavily for over an hour. The Cassiar had now turned into a mud pit and I had trouble keeping my thin tyres from getting stuck in the truck tracks. It was 6:30pm and I was now desperate to find a camping spot. Right on cue, the rain stopped. A moment later I came across a truck stop area, just a wide patch of bare ground beside the road, overlooking the valley. I set up my tent quickly, the rain would be back, and got into some dry clothes. I couldn’t even be bothered to tie my food pannier up in a tree.
131 British Columbia
Day 129: 90.71 miles, 7:39 hours, Stealth Camp S of Dease Lake
A North American Bicycle Journey
Norbert and I continued to ride on into more rain and now some of the most beautiful scenery I had seen for days. Snow covered mountains and a whole bunch of colourful lakes beside the road, all made more beautiful by the impending sunset. It was that time of the day again, looking for possible places to camp; a small patch of bare ground hidden from the road. Right on cue, as we come around a bend in the road we spotted an old shed, beside one of the beautiful lakes, no walls but with a tin roof still completely intact. For once we’re completely out of the rain, just the usual bloody wind trying to pull our tents down.
Day 130: 92.47 miles, 8:12 hours, Stealth Camp S of Iklit
barely slept last night, it rained a lot. It was a long night. I made an early start in my damp clothes; 7:30am, and got treated to a beautiful sunrise. That was about it in terms of sunshine, as it turned to shit not long after. I struggled to keep my bike straight on the muddy road. I stopped for a chocolate milk at a small town and was kept company by a hungry looking husky. The wind picked up and it felt like I was riding into 50km/h headwinds with spitting rain to boot.
A North American Bicycle Journey
Further down the track I found an empty camping ground. I asked the man at the gas station whether I could take a shower, my first since Whitehorse. I was trying to recall the last time I’d ever smelt someone with as much body odour as me. I came up blanks. It was a proud moment.
The shower was one of those coin operated ones and it ran out just as I was washing my legs. It was still heavenly though. I would have thought the hot water would restore the feeling in my toes, but they just stayed numb. They’re still a healthy looking pink though, so I assume it can’t be too bad. I had to wash my hair three times to get the mud out of it. When I returned to the road it started raining in earnest and the roads got even muddier. My derailers clogged up and I had to waste quite a bit of drinking water in order to flush them. I was dirty and stunk of mud once again. Just as well, it’s probably my bad B.O. that’s been keeping the bears away. I had considered actually urinating on my bags, maybe that would mark my territory. But even that was a bit too feral for me. My so-called waterproof socks failed me once again. I eventually made it back onto paved road, but by now I was getting the painful hand cramps again. I can foresee that the cramps are going to make any sort of repetitive wrist movement a hell. I found a not-so-good camping spot about 15 metres from the side of the road and was treated to the occasional truck blaring its horn as it passed within metres of me. I had to put a heavy rock on each of the tent pegs. The wind was so bad that my tent kept collapsing over the top of me throughout the night. Not a nice way to get woken up, especially when I feared there were bears about and my food pannier was lying just outside my tent. I hope that even bears don’t go out when there’s bad weather.
Day 131: 93.91 miles, 6:57 hours, Stealth Camp S of Hwy 37A Junction
t rained a helluva lot last night, my cooking stove, which I always leave out with my breakfast grits soaking, was floating in a puddle of water. I made an early start again, with a constant rain that had not let up since yesterday. All my clothes were still wet from yesterday (or was it the day before?). I was ready to give up. It was crazy to suffer like this. I was ready to pull out my “TIRED AUSSIE NEEDS RIDE” sign once again. The Cassiar highway had beaten me. And yet I was now riding through some of the most spectacular scenery I’d seen for a while. I couldn’t care less. I hadn’t pulled out my camera for days; the effort and time needed to let the camera lens demist while my fingers quickly froze was not worth it, even with this spectacular beauty all around me. The messy mud road was destroying my spirits and sounded like it was destroying my bike. I could barely ride for a mile without the chain starting to slip because of the mud. According to my map I had another 30-40 miles of it to go.
A North American Bicycle Journey
I finally got to the Bell 2 gas station. I decided that I’d hang around the entrance for a while and see if I could find someone to give me a lift to the end of this damn highway, and even further if possible. I went inside and bought some Snickers and two coffees and got myself warm. By the time I walked out, the rain had lifted and the sun was trying to burn its way through the clouds. It was like someone was teasing me to go on, or maybe deciding to give me a little bit of slack. I got back out onto the road and to my excitement found that my map was out of date. I’d expected mud for miles but was treated to a freshly paved road. I even managed to get up quite a bit of speed for the first time in ages. On one of the down hills, not paying so much attention, I spotted a mother bear and its three cubs just beside the road. I almost fell off my bike in surprise. The three cubs ran for cover, the mother took a few steps to follow them and then stopped and watched me. I kept going, now with a shit-eating grin on my face. When I stopped at my next rest stop, the woman I’d been talking to at Dease lake showed up and offered me her mixed fruit and nuts. The world conspires…
Left: Cassiar colours, Cassiar Highway [Day 132] Facing page: Milepost map
The woman and her husband were driving a massive RV tour bus thingie and it reminded me of Norbert. While we were on the Alaskan highway we made plans together on hijacking one. The plan was that one of us would play dead on the side of the road while the other snuck onto the bus. It’d be a non-violent bus takeover. We’d let the retired owners back on board, ask them where they were heading (as long as it was south) and then send them to the back of the bus to watch satellite TV and drink coffee. Norbert would provide entertainment and I’d drive with the foot heater on full blast. By the end of the trip they’d be thanking us for the favour we’d done them. But like everything, Norbert and I bickered about what colour bus we’d hijack. That was when we weren’t bickering about food, or about the accuracy of his bicycle computer.
A North American Bicycle Journey
I asked her if she’d seen any other cyclists and it turned out that Norbert and Co. were at least a day behind.
Facing page: Finally, a new highway, Yellowhead Highway 16 [Day 133]
I camped in what was probably a truck stop, a large cleared dirt area by the side of the road with a rubbish bin at one end. I set up my tent in the scrub at the opposite end. After eating I hung my food pannier over a tree about 20 metres away from my tent. As I was passing into the pleasant realms of food-karma-inducing sleep I started to notice the sounds of an animal in the brush behind my tent. I could immediately tell it was a large animal from the twigs cracking as it moved. For some reason I didn’t consider the possible seriousness of the situation and continued to drift away, only half listening to the background noise of the animal. Several minutes later I sprang awake when I realised how close it was to my tent. I did the only thing I could think of: clapped my hands as loudly as I could and yelled at the top of my voice. Whatever it was, it pissed off very quickly. The sound of it thundering through the undergrowth was incredible as it was obviously something big and maybe not so surefooted. I could still hear it running about 20 seconds later.
Day 132: 94.26 miles, 6:19 hours, Kitwanga (Cassiar RV Park)
had to put on wet clothes again this morning. By midday I happily realised that it was going to be a beautiful, dry day, so I opened up my panniers and hung out my clothes to dry while riding. It was good to finally have dry socks and cycling shoes. I spotted another black-coloured bear in the morning just after leaving camp. It quickly turned and ran when it spotted me. I stopped at the first gas station I got to and replenished my snickers rations. I also got some fresh fruit, my first for the last week. While I was drinking my coffee I got talking to a young guy who was heading up past Bell 2 to do some moose hunting with his Dad. Another couple showed up and said they’d seen me at Bell 2 yesterday and said they’d even considered offering me a lift. The riding today was all coasting along paved road, quite mindless actually. It’s funny to be able to totally switch off after spending days struggling to keep the bike upright through mud and all sorts of weather. Towards the end of the day I started to get quite nauseous and almost felt like I was going to faint. It felt like I’d had too much sugar during the day. So I had another Snickers bar and did the last ten miles quite slowly. I camped in luxury at the Cassiar RV park. The manager was really friendly to me, let me have a campsite for cheap and let me have a good map for free. We got talking and he mentioned to me about two cyclists from Vancouver that had passed through a week or two ago. They were riding from Vancouver to Moscow. Once they got to the tip of Alaska, they were going to head across the Bering Sea in a human powered boat. “Whatever happened to riding to the next town? ... I thought that used to be a big deal?”, he sighed. I felt humbled. I helped myself to a very long, hot shower. My toes are still a healthy pink but I can’t feel them at all. I tried to give Mum and Dad a call to let them know I was still alive, but no one home.
Day 133: 83.89 miles, 6:10 hours, Telkwa (Rainbow Adult Park)
had a huge smile on my face as I hit the end of the Cassiar Highway 37 and turned onto Yellowhead Highway 16. I gave a loud woohoo (half for joy, half for relief) which turned a few heads at the gas station and then went and rewarded my efforts with a coffee. Looking back on the last few days and I can’t believe what I did and I can’t even begin to understand why I didn’t just hitch a ride. I had a thought that maybe had kept me going. I remember when I was a kid, we had several salt water creeks running through our property. The only times the creeks were full of water were in the middle of winter and we’d spend days making boats and wading through the cold water. Though an Australian winter is quite a bit milder than North America, that’s for sure. But I figured if I could enjoy the cold when I was a kid, damn…why can’t I enjoy it now? Now that I’m back in civilisation I’ve been making the most of it. At New Hazleton I pigged out on bananas, cheese, rice cakes and chocolate milk. At Smithers I stopped in at Dairy Queen for a blizzard and fries. And finally, the first Safeway store for 1300 miles since Fairbanks. After passing through the tiny blink-and-you-miss-it town of Telkwa (though on a bicycle you’d have to keep your eyes shut long enough that you’d fall off) I stopped to check out a camping park which had a bicycle above it’s entrance sign. A notice board listed the price as $10 and right there and then I decided I’d try to make it the extra 30 miles to Houston. About one minute after I turned back onto the road, a pickup chased after me down the road and pulled up in front of me. A man hopped out quickly and introduced himself as John, the manager of the camp. He asked me where I was headed and when I told him, he let me know there was a “knee-breaker” of a hill in front of me. “Might be best to stay the night and get a fresh start in the morning.”
He half convinced me by mentioning that the showers were free, but as I pulled my wallet out to pay the camping fee he said that he wasn’t charging me at all. I set up my tent on the long lawn and made my dinner. I took a long, wonderful shower and then made good use of the laundry room. I did all the laundry that I hadn’t had a chance to do since Whitehorse while at the same time made use of the heat and the lighting to get a start on my latest book. Just as I was about to start, John walks in and invites me up to his place for a glass of wine. John cycles a lot too (did a tour in Mexico where he said the drivers are really respectful of bicyclists) and said he always gets pangs of jealousy when he sees guys like me riding down the highway. He’s an engineer on “the Skeena”, the train that runs from Prince Rupert to Jasper. He suggested I skip the Prince George to McBride section of my ride and just catch the train. Apparently the highway route is a scenic ride through one of the largest clear-cut forests in the world. It can actually be seen from outer space. John’s had a bloody tough six months. His wife just died in the spring from a long battle with cancer, and his father died four weeks later. One of the nicest blokes that I’ve met. We were swapping stories about our bicycle trips and for some reason my numb toes came up as topic of conversation. Turns out that he used to get numb toes as well. He went to a podiatrist and turns out that it’s a condition called Morton’s Neuroma where a nerve gets squeezed between the bones in your feet. He goes into his laundry room and searches through the cupboards for a few minutes. He comes back with a pair of neoprene cycling booties and hands them to me, “They’re yours.” I refuse the offer, it’s too much, too generous. “They don’t fit me anymore so it’s not worth holding on to them is it?” After stumbling back to my tent in the dark after too much wine, and hence having mud all over my pants, I realise that people don’t grow out of shoes when they’re middle aged. Thank you John.
Left: Stef, Yellowhead Highway [Day 143]
Day 134: 132.29 miles, 8:42 hours, Fraser Lake RV Park
oday I passed the 10,000 kilometre mark. Not that I’m using kilometres anymore since living in the US for a few years. And today I also did the longest ride that I’ve ever done (>200 km). It’s not fun riding at this pace. I know I need to hurry south as fast as I can before it gets really cold, but this sucks, I take no notice of anything around me. It’s almost like having an 8-5 job again. The good thing about today though was the weather. It was sunny most of the day and I could finally strip off my smelly rain gear and survive in t-shirt and shorts. There was a slight headwind in the morning but matched by a lovely, much appreciated tail wind this afternoon.
ot into Prince George at about 3pm. The ride was boring again and the number of trucks passing within inches of my left elbow seemed to increase the closer and closer to town I got.
I went straight to the train station and found out that the next train to Jasper is in two days. I could ride it by then I figured. Fuck that. I’m gonna sit in a warm hostel and drink coffee for two days rather than freezing my arse off in a forest devoid of trees. Turns out Prince George doesn’t have a hostel as such, just a hotel called “The backpackers”, which turns out to be just a dingy motel. Turns out the room has a TV and at 2am I finally switch it off after getting a lifetime’s fill of reality TV; The Bachelor, The Apprentice and Wife Swapping. I feel grateful for the reality I’m living in.
Day 136 (Rest day): 0 miles, Prince George Backpackers Motel
hen I’d tried to get my rear wheel fixed in Whitehorse, Jared had also mentioned my chain could do with changing. 10,000 kilometres on the one chain was excellent but any more was riding on borrowed time. I found a bike shop early in the morning and waited while the 15 year old bicycle mechanic put on my new chain. The owner walked in when he was almost finished, or should I say “waltzed” in, because he brought in with him lots of energy and a whole bunch of questions about my bike trip so far. Pretty soon Dave had convinced me to replace the entire drive chain, my front rings and rear cassette. He offered me what seemed like a great deal an the best set of Shimano rings (“seems to be a mistake, someone’s put on the wrong price sticker”) but as he was installing them he discovered that the bolt pattern on my crank didn’t match the rings. Then he wandered about the shop, lost in thought, wondering what to do. Then he offered me an excellent deal on a set of top quality cranks. All of this plus a new rear cassette approached a price of $500 Canadian Dollars. Now I admit I am normally very gullible, but it just didn’t seem worth the money, especially since I had only come in to replace a $40 chain. Then Dave drove me all the way across to the other side of town in order to see if a competing bike shop had a front cog set that matched my cranks. Dave was doing all he could to help me out, and seemed very genuine. But on our trip to the other bike shop he made it clear that he was a Christian and he didn’t believe in Evolution. He then proceeded to describe some of his very screwed up views about the Native American people. When I walked out of the shop two and a half hours later he’d discounted everything I’d bought, given free labour, and told me as much as he could about tools and changing the rear cassette. I still didn’t have a new set of front chain rings. I was kind of glad to get out of there. I spent the rest of the day breaking my gluten-free diet eating cream puffs, fries and a pizza. I felt a little down today, but on further thinking about it, realised that my feeling down whilst on this bike trip compared to the feelings I’d experience on a normal working day in an office. I cheered up.
137 British Columbia
Day 135: 92.91 miles, 5:54 hours, Prince George Backpackers Motel
A North American Bicycle Journey
I’ve been wondering all day about John’s recommendation of taking the train from Prince George. I figure if I don’t tell anyone, no-one will be any the wiser.
Day 137: 5.42 miles, 0:30 hours, Jasper National Park (Whistler Campground)
he train trip was unremarkable. Got to Jasper and into a new time zone at 5pm. My plan is to head south as quickly as I can on Highway 93 and get back into the States (if they’ll have me). I rode straight out to the National Park campground. It’s the only campsite left open at this time of the year in the entire park. The ranger was nice enough to suggest I just pull into one of the closed ones on the way south, “but don’t tell anyone I told you that”. He was also nice enough to remind me that the overnight temperature would be -2 degrees Celsius.
Day 138: 88.38 miles, 6:39 hours, Stealth Camp (Rampart Creek Campground)
I took the riding slow and ate lots, even started getting my camera out again. It was a gradual 1000 metre climb and 100 kilometres to the first summit at the Icefields Centre. My chain grabs and jams whenever I try to change to the granny gears. It’s because I’ve got the new chain on an old, worn-down set of cogs. So I struggled up-hill in middle gear. I rang a bike shop in Banff who suggested I try a bike shop in Lake Louise. Hopefully they will have some front chain rings so that I can stay on Highway 93 and go south as quickly as possible. At the Icefields Centre I stocked up on a lot of water and some over-priced Snickers bars. When I was about to get back on my bike, a teenager approached me and was in total awe at the idea of me riding up to the summit, “Much respect to you man!” I then rolled downhill for about 40 kilometres and found one of the closed campgrounds that the ranger had mentioned yesterday. I made use of the dining building and set up my sleeping bag on top of one of the wooden tables.
Facing page: Between Jasper and Banff, Icefields Parkway [Day 138]
had my alarm set for 6am but it was still bloody cold and bloody dark. I reluctantly crawled out of bed at 7:30.
Day 139: 97.22 miles, 6:45 hours, Banff (Tunnel Mountain Campground)
Below: Thanking Stef for getting me this far, Banff-Jasper National Park [Day 139] Facing page, top: Icefields Parkway, Banff-Jasper National Park [Day 139] Facing page, bottom: Stef [Day 143] Following page: Highway 89 [Day 143]
he second summit today was a lot easier. I got into Lake Louise at 3pm and found the bike/ski shop that I’d been referred to. The bike mechanic, apparently one of the finest in Canada, had gone on holidays four days ago. So they’d closed down the bike part of the shop and were now only selling skiing and snowboarding gear. Looks like I’ll have to head over to Banff. I had a closer look at the free map of Alberta I’d picked up and realised it was probably a good thing. If I’d taken Highway 93 all the way south I would have just skirted along the edge of Glacier National Park and totally missed the chance of passing through it. I pedalled as fast as I could to Banff thinking that bike shops would be closed by 5pm on a Saturday. As soon as I got to town, I rang a bike shop for directions and found out they were open till 9pm. Unfortunately they didn’t have any front chain rings for my bike but gave me the names of some good shops in Calgary. Shite. Banff is full of Aussies, must be all ski bums I reckon. I camped at the local park and was surprised to find, even though it’d drop to -2 degrees Celsius overnight, that there were many happy campers out there in force.
Day 140: 87.23 miles, 6:17 hours, Calgary (YHA Hostel)
ast night as I was leaving the bike shop in Banff, the manager patted me on the back and laughingly said that at least I’d have a nice tailwind all the way to Calgary. Shit. Headwinds all day. It was horrible. Riding into an unforgiving headwind for an entire day was depressing. Just before I got to Canmore I got a flat tire from a small staple. After Canmore I got another flat, or maybe it was just a slow leak from my poorlyrepaired first flat. I used the opportunity to change my rear tyre with the spare one that I’ve been carrying ever since Whitehorse. I put in a new tube but just as I got to 75psi the thing popped near the valve. What a bang. I had a ringing in my ear for an hour after. Not only constant headwinds but constant traffic as well. Just the continual noise of cars and trucks rushing past left me dreading the thought of entering another city. It took me over an hour to find a hostel downtown, the street numbering in Calgary is ridiculous, or I’m just very dumb.
Day 141 (Rest day): 0 miles, 0:00 hours, Calgary (YHA Hostel)
ad a crap sleep last night. A stuffy and warm hostel room full of snorers. Worked out there’s only about another 1500-1800 miles until I get to Mexico. I’d better get my Spanish language tapes out again. Found a bike shop with a mechanic that looked remarkably like Garth from Wayne’s World. However he enthusiastically and competently gave me my granny gears back with the only set of front chain rings that he had left in stock. Dinner was a six-egg omelette with tomatoes, potato and three sausages on the side. Washed down with dessert; a full block of Cadbury’s chocolate and a tub of yoghurt.
Day 142: 108.96 miles, 8:17 hours, Fort MacLeod (River’s Edge RV Park)
ode South out of Calgary into boring flat fields with strong side winds. A shitty boring, windy day.
Day 143: 78.16 miles, 7:19 hours, St Mary (Red Eagle RV Park)
nother shitty, boring windy day. Would have been lovely if I was heading east with the wind.
I spent the day in a trance. Instead of watching the road ahead of me, I watched the reflection of the road, reflected onto my sunglasses, reflected into my helmet mirror. Kept me entertained for a few hours but left me with crossedeyes. They let me back into the USA, surprisingly. Was hoping to be in Glacier National Park tonight but riding with a constant side wind was too tiring.
Day 144: 108.1 miles, 8:26 hours, Stealth Camp (Big Fork National Campground)
h… Today was the first enjoyable day of riding I’ve had for a very long time. I got up early and rode straight into the park, it was still cold and wet but the scenery was fantastic. I eventually got to the summit of the road and was then treated to a 12 mile downhill ride through some of the most fanfucking-tastic scenery ever. Was treated to another bear sighting. I’ve got that shit-eating grin back on my face again. Pulled into a closed National Park campground and treated myself to a 12” pizza from the store just outside. Convenience plus.
Day 145: 93.7 miles, 6:55 hours, Campground 10mi W of Ovando
was too lazy to set up my tent last night and instead just lay on the picnic table. It was an on and off sleep, I kept hearing noises down by the water but couldn’t work out what it was. I had my alarm set for 6am but when it went off it was pitch black with the stars still out in force. Tried to sleep a bit more, but the 12” vegetarian pizza wanted out. The ride along Highway 83 was quite pleasant, nothing special, just forest, but almost no traffic. Around lunchtime I stopped at Condon and ate two over-ripe bananas, an apple and a litre of chocolate milk. About ten minutes down the road I was feeling as high as a kite. My body felt numb and I had to concentrate on following the road’s white line. It was great. A guy at the store wearing coke bottle glasses noted that I was travelling alone, “That’s a bit stupid isn’t it?”. I thought of a bunch of good things I could have said to him afterwards, but unfortunately not at the time.
Facing page: Morning in Glacier National Park [Day 144]
Day 146: 151.71 miles, 8:53 hours, Three Forks (KOA Campground)
Well...a change in wind direction calls for a change in plan. There was no way I was gonna struggle against ths headwind so late in the day. So I turned South and followed the wind. It was kind of like windsurfing; I just pointed the tyres in the right direction and the wind did the rest. Just before getting to the Interstate 90, on a downhill with the wind at my back, I reached my highest speed on this trip so far; 52 miles per hour (83km/h). Moments later, I got my first ever pinch flat; probably from rolling over gravel on a fully-loaded bike going 52 miles per hour.
Another shit-eating grin from me, and I gave the big guy in the sky a big thank you for the trip so far.It wasn’t long before I hit Townsend where I had planned to continue on with my good run and head east to a campground (winds were coming from the northwest). I stopped at the gas station to fill up on water but by the time I got outside again the wind was all over the place. I tried heading east out of town but had leaves blowing straight into my face and was almost careering into oncoming cars. At first I thought it was just turbulence from being amongst the town’s buildings, but as I got to the edge of the town I was almost blown completely off my bike. The wind had almost reversed direction in just ten minutes.
A North American Bicycle Journey
hat a day of fabulous riding. It’s amazing how the aversion of paying one’s camping fees motivates one to start riding early. I was out of the campground by seven and didn’t see the sun until 7:50am. A lot of small rolling hills but with a little tailwind I’d done fifty miles by 11am. After forty minutes of climbing, I hit my summit for the day; six thousand and something feet and about my fifth(?) crossing of the continental divide. Then a fabulous eight percent grade downhill almost all the way into Helena. I stopped for a quick thickshake and fries and was off again with more twenty mile per hour tailwinds. The skies had huge storm potential and looked very threatening but luckily not a drop of rain hit me. Just out of town, at the edge of an empty field, stood a black billboard with plain, white lettering: “Is the road you’re on taking you to my place?” - God I thought it was something to do with safe driving or something. As I was swept past with the wind I looked at the back of it. Again; white lettering on an all black background: “I don’t doubt your existence” - God
Facing page: Morning in Glacier National Park [Day 144] Left: Stef and I and my favourite sign, the summit at Glacier National Park [Day 144]
Day 147: 100.55 miles, 7:59 hours, Gardiner (Rocky Mountain RV Park)
tarted out early again today with another emergency shit. Took it easy today; hung out at the Three Forks gas station for a half-hour morning coffee break. Then slowly rode along a road adjacent to the Interstate and got to observe the surreal, rush-rush culture of this six lane ribbon of road stretching across the country, with it’s fast food mega-chains and gas stations spaced evenly along it. Each junction, looking just like the last, with its Starbucks, McDonalds and Petron side by side. I’ve loved riding through Montana, with it’s big open skies and wide paddocks. I’ve been barked at by more dogs in Montana than the total of the whole trip so far. A dog earlier in the day almost met its end as it ran across the road to get me – the squeal of brakes from an observant car driver stopped the stunned dog dead in its tracks, but luckily not literally. I’d hate to be blamed for the death of some untrained owner’s dog. After passing through the outskirts of Bozeman (which someone told me has the highest number of Mount Everest climbers outside of Nepal) I hopped onto the Interstate. There didn’t seem to be any other option. I planned to take a shortcut road to bypass Bozeman Pass and the town of Livingston. My nerves were shattered by the time I got to the exit eight miles down the road. There’s only so much I can handle; having vehicles pass by within a few feet of me, going at about ninety miles per hour left me sweating with fear. I thought I’d taken the wrong exit, so I stood with map in hand and the best “I’m lost” look on my face. Within a minute, a young bloke pulls up beside me in his car asking if I need help. Straight away he asks if I’m an Aussie and then if I’m from Perth or Margaret River. Turns out Gary’s wife is an Aussie. Gary is a scientist and director of Y2Y (“the Yellowstone to Yukon Program which promotes science and conservation to maintain ecological connectivity between parks and protected areas in the U.S. and Canadian Rocky Mountains”). He offers me directions; “Yep... unfortunately you have to get back on the Interstate for a couple more miles”, energy food, and even a place to stay if the roads into Yellowstone were closed. What a champ.
So a few more nerve wracking miles and I exit onto a very muddy, potholed, dirt road. It had been raining and it was very slow going, the road for the first ten miles was terrible. While bouncing along the road I could tell that something was wrong with the weighting of my bike. Eventually I stopped to do a thorough check and was lucky to find that one side of my rear rack had come completely unscrewed – luckily the bolt was still sitting precariously inside the eyelet. Must add Loctite to my toolkit. From then on I started enjoying myself. It wasn’t potholed anymore, but it was muddy as a baby’s dirty diaper and I was sliding all over the place. I haven’t had so much fun on a Sunday afternoon for a long time. Definitely one of my favourite rides. The empty road wound it’s way through farms and stables, there was a lot of snow on the ground at the higher points. By the time I got back to the main road at Emigrant I was carrying several extra pounds of mud and my chain kept slipping over the cogs. I had to spray several bottles of water over my muddy bike to dislodge it. It was a mostly downhill thirty mile road to Gardiner, which sits at the north entrance of Yellowstone. While I was eating my dinner, an old man wearing a big cowboy hat wandered over. Said he would have liked me to join him and his wife for supper and to sit for a few hours in their caravan. I thanked him but we just ended up chatting a while at my table. There’s a lot of fresh snow lying about, a warm caravan might have been nice. I’ve been suffering from a painful left shin for most of the day. I must have bumped it a day or two ago. I can barely walk on it. I don’t think the cold is helping too much. It hurts while riding as well, feels like there’s air bubbling out of my tendon each time I lift up on the pedal. I can barely twist my foot out of the pedal cleat, which is a problem as the left foot is the foot I lean on when I stop the bike. In spite of it, it was a good day of riding.
Left and right: Glacier National Park [Day 144] Following page, left: Interstate 90 intersection [Day 146] Following page, right: The road between Interstate 90 and Pine Creek [Day 147]
Day 148: 42.03 miles, 3:40 hours, Yellowstone National Park (Madison Junction Campground)
he old guy wandered over to me as I was eating my late breakfast this morning. The last time he’d visited Yellowstone was fifty years ago. Not much has changed since then apparently. I forget why he came over in the first place, maybe it was to give me a weather forecast; lovely today, though a bit fresh. By the end of the week though, it’ll definitely feel like fall and the cold weather will start in earnest. Told me if I get past Salt Lake City I should be fine.
When he was in his twenties he used to go hunting with his father-in-law out in the M.O.F.N.. They used to take a jeep with a horse trailer into the forest as far as they could go. Then they’d unload the horses and ride for another two days into the wilderness. He told me how one particular night in the fall they were sitting around the campfire and they hear a loud bang followed by a hideous animal-inagony sound. Couldn’t be a bear they figure; it wasn’t the right time of year and they’re not so active at night. Pretty soon a man walks up to campfire carrying just a saddle and his rifle. He’d accidentally shot his horse! I tenderly rode into the park just before ten. With every pedal stroke it felt like the muscle in my left shin was ripping apart. It was slow going and pretty soon I’d decided to only make it as far as the first, and only, open campground in the park. At one point, I planned to go for a bit of a wander to see the scenic hot pots but as I hopped off my bike I realized it wasn’t going to happen. I could barely walk. I could barely hobble. It was painful. When I got to the campground I had to walk using my bike as a support. The park ranger was sympathetic and generous. A few minutes after signing me in she walked over with a reclining chair and told me to put my feet up. She offered a share of the firewood and told me to set my tent up under a tarpaulin that they’d tied between some trees. I reclined for a good hour or so, contemplated a fire but didn’t build one, and set up my tent under their tarp. It was good. It took me ten minutes to hobble over to the toilets which were only fifty metres away. I’m scared that I may have done some serious damage to my leg – I’ve never felt anything like this before. I should be off my legs and resting for several days. With bad weather coming at the end of the week, it’s not an option. If I can’t handle at least another fifty miles tomorrow without it feeling worse I may have to get out my “TIRED AUSSIE...” sign. I’ve got three passes of the Continental Divide in front of me tomorrow, the highest of which is 8391 feet. If I can ride...
Facing page: Bison herd, Yellowstone national Park [Day 149]
The old guy started telling me stories about his younger days. He told me about the real mountain men that people only saw when they came into town every few months to stock up on necessities. He told me how he’d given up hunting after accidentally being shot at twice. He told me a story about a guy accidentally shooting his mother who’d been wearing a bright orange day-glo hunting jacket at the time. Plus a few other stories. Made me stop snickering pretty quickly about the run-in I’d had with the trigger-happy redneck at Good Hope Lake.
Day 149: 87.73 miles, 6:28 hours, Grand Teton National Park (Signal Mountain Campground)
A North American Bicycle Journey
esterday I wasn’t so impressed by Yellowstone, especially after seeing the other national parks that this country has to offer. This morning I changed my opinion. It was extremely foggy and all the hot springs and mud pots seemed to add to the ominous ambience. Two bison strode out of the mist on the other side of the road and I carefully rode past them. Also spotted a tan-coloured fox with a bung hind leg limping through the grass.
Right: Early morning, Yellowstone National Park [Day 149] Facing page: Watching people watch Old Faithful Geyser, Yellowstone National Park [Day 149] Following pages : Grand Teton National Park [Day 149, 150]
I got to Old Faithful Geyser only to find that it had just gone off and wouldn’t go off for about another seventy minutes. I killed time with a few phone calls and had a coffee. Watched the geyser erupt for a few moments and then limped back to bike. As I got to my bike, I hear someone behind me: “Now here’s a man who knows how to travel right”. I turn around and there’s an old man, about eighty years old, hobbling, as badly as I was, with his wife by his side. He took my photo with his new digital camera and offered to send it to my folks (though not by email - he hadn’t worked that one out yet). He told me how he’d broken his hip twenty years ago. He’d been training for a supported bicycle tour from Missoula, Montana to Alaska via the Cassiar Highway. All of a sudden a dog runs out in front of his bike, colliding with his front tire and causing him to fall onto his side. When he tried to get up he found that he couldn’t move his hip or leg. After getting his hip replaced he decided to restart his training. His first ride was just a painful one mile ride down his street, the second ride was for two. Then he did a five mile ride, eventually after some time, a fifty mile trip; camping out overnight and then riding back the next day. “Sign me back up for that ride” he told them. And he did it. When he got to Alaska he thought he should keep exercising to keep his hip in shape. But after only five miles of riding he would be in agony. Turned out that he’d actually worn out his replacement hip. He’s got a second hip now, and he’s still going. I took the riding very easy today, with the SPD pedals I was able to do most of the pedal turning with my right leg. When I occasionally had to rise from the saddle, I made my thigh and knee do all the work, rather than using the foot to do any work.
Day 150: 117.3 miles, 7:37 hours, Stealth Camp 15mi S of Smoot
got an early start this morning, it was beautiful to ride through the remainder of the park as the sun was coming up behind me. It was cold to begin with, slightly below zero, but by midday I had my rain clothes off.
After riding through Jackson Hole, slightly disappointed at not spotting any celebrities at the local Ace Hardware, I hit five miles of roadworks. They wouldn’t let me ride through it on my own, so the shaggy-looking, chain smoking pilot car driver asked me to throw my bike on the back of his pickup: “You’ll have to put it on yourself though, liability and all that, you know...” He did end up giving me a hand when he could see I was struggling with the weight of it. Turned out to be an interesting guy. He was fifty-eight years old and worked for five months of the year, then pissed off in the winter to the Bahamas or Mexico. Told me he owned twenty-eight condominiums around the country, an umbrella company to manage them, and was worth well over fifteen million dollars. After another headspin-inducing apple, over-ripe banana and chocolate milk combo at Alpine, I gradually rode up to the uninhabited campground at about 7600 feet. There’s no services available here, so it looks like I’ll be shitting in the woods again tomorrow.
Day 151: 109.79 miles, 7:19 hours, Stealth Camp (Hyrum State Campground)
ept waking up last night to the sounds of little creatures rushing around my tent and over my bicycle tarpaulin. I’d shine my headlamp but find nothing. I was sure that by morning I’d find a pannier chewed to bits or a holey tent but not so. Could have just been the imagination playing tricks on me again. It was probably about minus two degrees Celsius when I rode out of the campground early this morning. According to my thermometer’s wind-chill chart, this equated to about minus ten degrees Celsius as I coasted down from the campground, not far from the 7600 feet summit.
I crossed the border into Idaho and stopped at the first gas station for a coffee. I stayed on Highway 89 and passed through a number of small, historic, blink-and-you-miss-it towns. I eventually got to Bear Lake, crossed the border into Utah and began an 1800 foot climb. I was hoping to be rewarded with a relaxing downhill on the other side of the summit but was met with strong headwinds. It was hard going, but the view was amazing. The road wound down through steep canyons and stunning autumn colours. I only wish I could have stopped at one of the campgrounds on the way but unfortunately I was without a can of beans for dinner. After carrying up to three or four days worth of food for the past few weeks it’s been great lately, going through several towns each day, to carry virtually no extra food. But unfortunate now. I got into and out of Logan as quickly as I could. It was like a small city and the noise and rush of traffic stressed me out. I made my way to Hyrum and found the local state park camping ground. There’s absolutely no-one else staying here and no-one at the reception so I didn’t bother paying my camping fee. Found the showers and treated myself to an overly long, but much needed and appreciated, hot shower. Thankfully, it’s now starting to feel like I’m out of the cold weather during the days. I’m almost halfway through the States, pretty soon I imagine I’ll be complaining about the heat. Facing page: Arches National Park [Day 154]
When I went to change gears, nothing happened. “Shit!”, I thought, “the little buggers have chewed through my rear derailer cable” (Ok...in case you’re wondering, in my so-called “normal” life, I don’t think to myself in conversational speech such as this, but being on my own on this bike trip for so long, yes I do happen to slip into conversations with myself, quite often aloud). I stopped and checked over my bike, only to find that the cable was still intact. It had actually frozen solid under the bottom bracket. I swished some icy water around in my mouth to try and warm it up, and sprayed it over the bottom bracket to get rid of the ice. Within minutes of resuming the downhill ride, I had large chunks of ice in my goatee and my hands had gone numb. I had John’s neoprene booties on, but I could still feel the cold pedal clips on the bottom of my feet. My toes are still completely numb.
Day 152: 80.47 miles, 5:50 hours, Salt Lake City (Hostel)
t was the most beautiful clear day. By eight in the morning I was already down to shorts and a t-shirt and at one point I spotted a billboard displaying the 75F temperature. I had a 5000+ foot summit to do first thing in the morning, then it was a pleasant downhill into Ogdon. I had a Fritos scoops and salsa lunch washed down with the standard litre of choc milk. It’s been a while since it was warm enough to take off my rain gear. So it was a little embarrassing to once again walk around a supermarket in bike shorts. I got the standard “crotch watch”, mostly from middle aged mothers. I figure it must sort of be similar to what a woman feels when she spots a guy checking out her hooters.
A North American Bicycle Journey
I was riding through the suburbs just as all the kids were getting out of school. It involved a lot of dodging mums in their SUV tanks and stopping at every single pedestrian crossing. One girl asked if I was the postman when she spotted my US postal team shorts. I’d already had my expected flat tyre, as always seems to happen to me in any urban area I pass through. It was my first front tyre puncture of the entire trip.
Riding into suburbia after spending so much time on empty roads was difficult. It’s like I’m preparing for battle. I get so worked up because of the visual and auditory over-stimulation. I should have had my overripe banana and choc milk and rode into town a bit buzzed. May have helped my sanity. Got to downtown SLC, found a free tourist brochure and headed to the first hostel listed. It didn’t look like much from the outside, but when the owners showed up to let me in, they turned out to be really nice. Barb, Stephanie and Ardel have only owned the place since the summer but have been running bus tours through the national parks for the last four years. They made me feel at home and insisted I rest my injured leg as much as possible. For Ardel’s birthday celebrations we ate cake and watched the first few episodes of Northern Exposure which brought back many good memories. For my first night in Salt Lake City I sought out the nearest Sizzler and made myself full/sick on a twelve ounce steak, potato and all-you-can-eat salad bar topped off with a dessert of the cheapest, runniest soft serve ice cream you can find. I walked home as fast as one can with clenched butt cheeks. I ended up painting the pan (I know, I know, too much information...).
Day 153 (Rest day): 0 miles, Salt Lake City (Hostel)
tried not to make so much of a pig of myself today and had an Afghanistan buffet for lunch. Incredibly good.
Ardel and Stephanie have offered me a ride down to Moab tomorrow. Both of their parents are visiting and they have some room in their bus for a cyclist that can barely walk anymore. We’re being joined by two girls, Lindsey and Cat, who are following us down in their own car.
Day 154 (Rest day): 3.55 miles, 0:15 hours, Moab (Shared Campground Cabin)
Facing and following pages: Arches National Park [Day 154]
e started out for Moab in the late morning. It was weird not to be travelling by bike. I felt helpless not being able to stop where and whenever I wanted. The last pit stop before Moab, I swapped my gear into Lindsey’s car. Ardel had suggested I share a camping hut with the girls so we could all save money. For some reason, the girls agreed, and I certainly wasn’t going to complain. We found a cabin about a mile from the centre of town, unloaded our stuff, and then hopped back in the car and headed to Arches National Park. Arches was amazing. It was trippy. It was totally exciting. We’d pick out different shapes in the rocks; a face, animals, even a big “screw you” middle finger rising out of the desert. We did a small hike to the South and North Windows, then another to the viewpoint overlooking delicate arch. The sky was threatening rain, but rather than getting soaked we were treated to a rainbow over the rocks. The dark skies contrasted with the saturated red of the rocks. We eventually watched the sun set over the desert and admired the myriad of changing colours with every passing minute. It was bliss. And great to be sharing the experience with people that appreciated it in the same way.
For dinner we hit a Mum and Pop diner in town, filled up on meat and veggies and generous sized ice cream sundaes. We headed over to Ardel’s campground to pick up my bike and ended up talking and drinking with him until the late hours.
Day 155 (Rest day): 0 miles, Moab (Shared Campground Cabin)
e headed off quite late in the morning to Arches National Park again. We drove straight to the end of the park road and then hiked out to a bunch of arches. It was about four hours of hiking and by the end of it we were exhausted, both physically and mentally; “Archburnout” as we referred to it. The park is amazing, every time you change location you see another set of views that you didn’t expect. My shin was killing me by the end of it, but it was well worth the pain. Our plan after that was to see Dead Horse Point but both Cat and I wanted coffee so we headed back into town first. We ended up getting waylaid at a fossil shop. Cat, who is really into stones and astrology, spent about an hour looking and bought a bunch of things for her boyfriend back in Seattle. I wouldn’t have called myself a fan of rocks but after spending time in the shop, I can see why people get so interested in that sort of stuff. We headed back out to Canyonlands, missed the turnoff, and wound up back on Interstate I70. It was already sunset and Lindsey’s car fuel light was on, so we abandoned the Dead Horse Point plan and headed back to town for dinner. We hit a few bookstores and then wandered back to the cabin to play guitars, drink bacardis (weak as piss because of Utah’s drinking laws) and to have my tarot done by Cat. Seemed an appropriate sort of thing to do in rather straight-laced Utah and seemed appropriate at this stage in my trip to try and work out what I was being led to. I knew when I started this trip, a lot of it was about finding out what I wanted to do after the trip was over. But I found that thinking about these things made the trip less enjoyable. So I let the questions go and started to enjoy just being in the moment and living each day as it came.
Cat’s suggestion was that instead of worrying about trying to impose my future plans on the trip, look for clues within the trip itself. What is it about the trip that I really enjoy? What aspects of it stimulate me? What meaningful coincidences have I had that have pointed me in a different direction to which I’d originally planned? She warned against just having the set goal of breaking out of structures like the mediocrity of 9-5 employment. If I have no goal in the separation from the things that have tied me down, what will I make out of it? I’ll just end up being free, but will be aimless. I need to have a good idea of what it is that I’m doing this trip for, so I have a good idea of what I’m leaving behind and what it is I’m searching for. I need to be open to new ideas that are presented to me on this trip, be creative with them rather than just having the idea of destroying what I was trying to leave behind. Use the new ideas as building blocks.
A North American Bicycle Journey
Day 156 (Rest day): 5.26 miles, 0:31 hours, Moab Campground
Right: Arches National Park [Day 154] Facing page: Hole in the Wall, South of Moab [Day 157]
felt bad tying my guitar to my bike this morning. Last night I noticed that the neck is pulling away from the body of the guitar. It still plays ok but buzzes occasionally. I feel bad to have brought it on this trip. It seems a little weird to describe my bike and guitar as having personalities, but they’ve been through thick and thin with me and I can’t help but feel that they are somehow more than mere possessions. So I feel guilty to have forced my lovely 12-string acoustic on such an arduous trip that it never asked to be on. It’s survived cold, heat, damp – all the sorts of things that you shouldn’t expose a beautiful instrument to. And now it’s sick and it’s all my fault.
We got up late this morning, we cleaned up the cabin and said our goodbyes. I started to miss them before the dust from the car in the distance had even settled (oh crap, spouting more clichés...). I couldn’t help but admire and feel attracted to Lindsey and her car trip. Here she was doing something that I had always dreamed of doing. Driving across the US in a car with no fixed plan or route. I wish I’d met her while living in Oakland, turned out she only lived down the road from my old house. And quirky Cat, with her stones and astrology, couldn’t help but like her good nature towards everything, whether it be a person or a tree. So I had my bike packed and ready to go by lunchtime. I was held up for a while by two friendly, but extremely talkative, English brothers who were mountain biking in Moab. It seems there is a mountain bike on the top of every single SUV in this town, it definitely feels like the mountain biking capital of the universe. I headed towards town and out the other side. There was a slight headwind and I felt a few drops of rain. After being spoilt with a roof over my head and being driven around for the last few days I immediately felt tired with the idea of riding again. So I turned around and went back to town, found a campsite and stayed another night. I called my good friends Brooke and Stef in Long Beach for a chat. They suggested coming out and meeting up with me next weekend in Zion National Park. It’ll be great, I haven’t seen a familiar face for months.
Day 157: 55 miles, 7:01 hours, Monticello RV Park
s soon as I got on the bike this morning I was in a constant struggle against strong headwinds. It was tiring and slow going. It was right on the border of being too cold to just wear a t-shirt and too warm to wear my rain jacket. Bored with riding again, I had long breaks at roadside rest stops. Spent an hour chatting with James, who lived out of his pickup and cleaned and maintained the toilets and lawns at one of the stops. His mower had a flat tyre and he was hoping the wind would keep blowing so that he wouldn’t have to rake up all the leaves.
Another hundred metres past that stop and I stopped for another half hour coffee break at the Hole in the Wall. Some guy built a house into the side of a rock and had also built some fabulous sculptures out of number plates, old tools and scrap metal. By lunchtime I’d barely done thirty miles. It was sad. I remember when I was with Norbert we’d asked each other questions like; “What would you prefer; this biting, cold, terrible, snowy weather or sunny warm headwinds?”. Of course, at the time, I’d answered warm headwinds, so I shouldn’t be complaining. It’s amazing how much the wind plays havoc on my psyche. A day like this makes me consider quitting the bike and getting a rental car. It’d take me a week to see all the parks in a car rather than spending almost a month doing it by bike. I eventually got to the turnoff for the Needles entrance of Canyonlands National Park. I’d so much wanted to see the Needles but the idea of riding thirty six miles to a possibly cold and lonely campground put me off. Especially when it was only fourteen miles to the next town South of Moab; Monticello. I was tired of concentrating on keeping my bike upright. I’d done the “spit test” and the result was that the wind was strong.
A North American Bicycle Journey
Monticello is a small town with nothing much of interest it seems. It’s just over 7000 feet in elevation with the beautiful La Sal mountains to the north. I found the first campground in town and pulled in. My tent looked tiny and lonely amongst the four caravans parked there.
Day 158 (Rest day): 0 miles, Monticello RV Park
ast night I woke to the sound of a huge rat rummaging around inside my tent fly. In the morning I wasn’t sure if it was just a dream.
It was windy as hell today so I stayed put. My shin feels like it could do with some more rest after yesterday’s effort. I washed some clothes and they were dry within thirty minutes of hanging them out. A guy at the gas station said it was the edge of a bad weather front that hit San Francisco a few days ago. It’ll start clearing by the weekend. I spent the morning cleaning my bike and chain. I walked down to the library after lunch. Luckily it was still open I guess. A lot of the other libraries I’ve been in have had their government funding and opening times cut. It’s great that education in this country is considered so highly within the current government’s administration. Election time in a few weeks.
The library didn’t have much in the way of a magazine section unless you’re a hunter and love guns. I sent some postcards in the afternoon in an effort to get rid of all my stamps before leaving the States. The postmaster looked at me standing there in my thongs (flip flops) and asked why I wasn’t feeling the cold. I told him I couldn’t feel my feet at all so it didn’t matter so much. The lady behind me told me it’d probably snow in the next day or two. Called Brooke and Stef to let them know there was no way I was going to get to Zion by this weekend, maybe next weekend. Dinner was a 400 gram can of tomatoes, a 400 gram can of spinach and a 400 gram can of salmon mixed in with about half a kilo of rice. I followed it with a half kilo tub of yoghurt (almost five pounds of food).
Day 159 (Rest day): 0 miles, Monticello RV Park
’d planned to get an early start this morning but instead woke to the soft pitter-patter of snow falling on my tent. It was a peaceful sound after having just survived one of the worst night storms of my trip. As my tent only consists of the one pole, I have to face it into the wind, otherwise it acts like a sail and collapse over the top of me. It’s pretty scary when this happens in the middle of the night. I have two guy lines tightly tied to the picnic table, trying to hold the tent in position. The idea of getting out of my warm sleeping bag in the middle of the night to recover and re-secure a tent peg in the bitter wind and rain isn’t so appealing.
Facing page: Natural Bridges National Monument [Day 160]
I slept in for a while longer, finally getting up after nine when five pounds of food decided it wanted out. Did some sewing repairs to my clothes and gloves then lay in the tent reading my latest book, a Graham Greene novel. After lunch and a coffee I relocated myself to the library’s warm confines. It snowed all morning but not enough to stick on the ground. It cleared up in the afternoon but by evening it was looking very threatening again with quite a big drop in temperature. While I was cooking dinner a large Mexican man, who is in the caravan next to me with three kids, offered me his spare heater and extension cord so I could keep the tent warm overnight. Real nice gesture but I could see myself going up in flames in the middle of the night. He also offered some leftover food, but after repeating last nights dinner tonight, I wasn’t so hungry anymore.
Facing page: More empty road, Highway 95 [Day 161] Below and next page: Morning on Highway 24 [Day 162]
y tent was covered in ice when I woke but the bad weather seemed to have abated. I set off on the bike, my second day of riding in a week. I spotted another bicycle tourist just before getting to Blanding. It’s been over two thousand miles since riding with Norbert but the memories of riding with another crazy bastard still haunt me. I passed him on a downhill with just a quick hi and then waited at Blanding where he spotted me and stopped to talk. He was from Switzerland, and like myself, had been on the road since May. He’d also ridden down from Alaska but while it was still warm. He’d just finished doing the Moab 24 hour marathon. It was quite funny how he described it. Nearly everyone in the race, which consists of a 15-mile course, is in teams. Anyone that’s serious about the race will have back-up bikes and even a mechanic to look over the bike after each and every lap. They’ll have energy bars and drinks passed into their waiting hands on every lap. The riders just concentrate on one thing and that’s riding the course for a total of 24-hours. Our cyclist from Switzerland did the whole thing by himself. At each and every lap he’d jump off his bike and run to his tent where he kept a stash of almost thirty bananas. I thought it was brilliant. We parted ways and I made it to Natural Bridges Natural Monument. I did the entire loop, stopping and taking a walk out to each of the viewpoints and talking with everyone. One lady wanted to touch me as she wanted some of my fitness to rub off onto her!
A North American Bicycle Journey
Day 160 (Saturday, 23 October 2004): 71.18 miles, 5:37 hours, Natural Bridges National Monument
Day 161: 100.39 miles, 6:38 hours, Hanksville RV Park
got to watch an awesome red sunrise. Reminded me why I used to enjoy the early morning riding. The road was a nice gradual fall into the Glen Canyon which is where the Colorado river passes through and turns into Lake Powell. It must be amazing to raft down the Colorado, it passes through some amazing landscapes.
A North American Bicycle Journey
I passed through red rock canyons, huge pillars stretching up to touch the blue sky. By the afternoon I was riding through yellow canyons which turned into sandy hills before reaching Hanksville. I was tempted to push onto Capitol Reef National Park but I was starting to feel a little nauseous from all the Snickers bars I’d eaten.
A.J. was there to meet me at the campground, take my camping fee and tell me his life story. It was a long story...he was an old guy, and it ended with him telling me he’s had three heart attacks, is on a pacemaker, takes 22 pills every day and needs to use a skin cream to counter the effects of the pills. He works at the caravan park during the summer, but when it closes in a few days he’s heading back to Texas. He’s moved around a lot because, according to him, no one can put up with him much. While I was cooking dinner, Bill and Debra, a couple from Alabama, showed up in their rental car. We got talking lots and they ended up giving me some much needed fresh fruit and a bunch of AAA maps.
Day 162: 67.12 miles, 6:36 hours, Stealth Camp at Pleasant Creek Campground
he morning ride into Capitol Reef was beautiful, dark clouds contrasting with the tall, yellow sand dunes. It was tempting to stay the night in Capitol Reef but after checking out the Native American petroglyphs (some looking remarkably like visitors from another world) I pushed on. A man at the park visitor centre asked me in a hushed, dramatic voice whether I was the guy on the bike. “It’s going to rain tomorrow” he informed me. Maybe they don’t get rain around these parts much. I headed out to Torrey where I’d planned to get fruit but only ended up getting some water and more Snickers. I turned off onto Highway 12 and slowly rode up to the campground at 8600 feet. I passed some amazing views overlooking the park and the Henry Mountains. I was tempted to pitch my tent at one of the viewpoints and watch the moonrise but it seemed a little too exposed to the elements.
Just as I passed the 8000 foot marker it started to snow on me. Luckily the campground, already closed for the season, was nestled amongst pine trees. It made me feel a little more protected and brought back pleasant memories of the redwoods in Northern California. Also reminded me to hang my food up, as I’m back in black bear territory.
Day 163: 94.21 miles, 7:13 hours, Kodachrome Basin State Park
L A North American Bicycle Journey
ast night I woke up to what I thought was heavy rain. I got brave enough to slip out of the warmth of my sleeping bag and check outside. It was snowing heavily.
When I got up in the morning it was freezing. Minutes after I rode out of the campground I was in heavy snow country. It took me an hour to get to the 9400 foot summit and the views were tremendous. It was cold enough to don my ski mask and every bit of warm clothing I could get on. I even threw my bright red cycling shirt over the top of my rain jacket: every pickup that passed me was full of hunters and there was no way I was going to be mistaken for a bicycle-riding moose again. It was a long cold downhill to the town of Boulder, the last town in the U.S. to receive mail by mule. I tried to warm up on coffee and gave Brooke a call. The plan is to get a cabin somewhere near Zion National Park and I’ll meet them very late at night in two days time. It’s a long eight hour drive for them from Long Beach. The ride out of Boulder was breath-taking. At first the road ran along a high narrow ridge overlooking colourful canyons on either side. Then there was a thrilling 14 percent grade drop down into the canyon and up the other side. Definitely one of my favourite rides of this trip. After a lunch of salsa, chips and a litre of chocolate milk I headed slowly through a lot of boring national forest land. As I was passing two parked Cruise-America RVs a man spotted me and called out for me to stop. He offered me a drink and I thanked him but I said I had enough water. “I wasn’t offering you water”, he replied. He was from the Netherlands and I spoke to him and his wife and friends for a short while. They’d done cycling trips themselves in Malaysia and Ecuador.
Right: Panorama Point, Capitol Reef National Park [Day 162] Previous page: Highway 24, Bryce Canyon National Park in the distance [Day 162] Following pages: Panorama Point and Castle Rock, Capitol Reef National Park [Day 162]
I eventually got to Cannonville and started the 9 mile detour to the Kodachrome Basin State Park. It’d been included in the top ten camp grounds of the state so I knew the extra miles might be worth it. It was very pretty but I was too tired to appreciate it and went about my cooking and tent-setting up routine in a slight daze. I sat outside my tent for an hour or so watching the full moon rise up over the ridge into a clear night sky. I counted how long it took to fully appear, about a hundred seconds. There was a thirty percent chance of rain this afternoon according to reports, so my luck is still up. There’s wild rabbits hopping about everywhere here.
A North American Bicycle Journey
Right: Open hunting season, approaching the summit of Highway 12, West of Boulder [Day 163]
178 If I was still in Fairbanks right now I would probably be standing in a foot of snow. When I left Fairbanks a month and a half ago, I got to see the changing of the Autumn colours for the first time in my life. I was told the scenery takes only about 2 weeks to go from green to red to gold to winter greyness. I’ve been lucky enough to see it for the past month and a half as winter slowly creeps further and further South through the country. It’s incredible. I’ve looked to the sky every night and experienced almost six lunar cycles since I first rode my bike out of Oakland, California. Almost six times I’ve watched the moon go from new moon to waxing crescent, from half moon to waxing gibbous, from full moon to waning gibbous, from waning half to waning crescent, and on. I’ve felt the warmth of a summer sun along Californian Highway 395 through to the chilly headwinds and snow of the Cassiar. I’ve watched my stumpy shadow stumble beneath my feet in the peaks of summer, I’ve watched my shadow enjoy its massiveness with the sun struggling to rise above the horizon in the Arctic. I’ve seen the changing of clouds from hour to hour, day to day. I’ve watched storm clouds gather, brew and threaten. I’ve watched the aurora dance, twirl and amuse. I’ve felt the seasons pass and noticed how time can move so much slower when you take the time to notice it. And I’ve seen the stars. The stars Baby, the stars. In the same time, if I hadn’t of left home, I could have been sitting in a room designed to keep the seasons out; air filtered and set to a steady 25 degrees Celsius, 400-lux of fluorescent light to wash over me. I could have spent another nine hundred and twenty hours working for a faceless company, daydreaming about what I’m doing right now.
Day 164: 73.4 miles, 6:08 hours, Glendale RV Park Laundry
I got another coffee at the store back on the main road. I stood outside in the cold, my only company an old dog whose owner was inside. We looked with sympathy at each other. The lady that served me the coffee came out and kindly told me to go warm up in the TV room adjacent to the store. I watched CNN and their analysis of the debates between Bush and Kerry until I could stand it no longer. I could’ve stayed there all day, it was so comfy. But I believe little boys who are liars grow up to be politicians. Or weathermen. Neither would have convinced me to stay. The stormy skies were threatening to destroy me and the wind was starting to whip unpredictably from front to side. I had to get to a lower elevation. It was a wonderful downhill through Red Canyon, which was just as the name suggests. The bonus was the smooth bike path that bordered the road. I said hello again to my old friend Highway 89 as I turned South onto it and straight into a headwind. I stopped at Hatch for a lunch time breakfast omelette. It was raining by the time I got back on my bike but not unbearably so. By the time I got to the next summit at 7910 feet, which I hadn’t even realised existed thanks to my free Utah map, it was pissing down. To take respite from the rain, I pulled into Long Valley Junction, a gas station just after the summit. I bought another coffee and stood in the dead phone booth outside, the wind whistling in around my ankles. A minute after I took to the road again, the hail began. It could have actually been very heavy, fast falling snow. With my limited experience of winter conditions I wouldn’t know the difference. It felt like my nose and lips were going to be shredded off my face. I was soaked through to the skin in seconds. I could barely see where I was going and had to concentrate on following the white line at the edge of the road. It took the best zen-like focus I could muster. Further down the hill the heavy snow or heavy hail or whatever it was, turned into a more familiar heavy rain. I still struggled to hold the bike to the barely visible white line. My so-called waterproof/windproof Alaskan gloves were soaked through leaving my hands to cramp. At one stage I reached for my water bottle and couldn’t grasp it properly. Into the middle of the road it bounced. I saw a KOA campground with cabins and pulled in hoping for relief. It had long been closed for the season. I was ready to gladly pay a hundred dollars for a warm hotel room and bath. Further down the hill, I pulled into a rest stop and spent half an hour using the restroom hot water taps and hand dryer to warm my hands and clothes. I wrung out all of my wet clothes just to get them a bit less soaked. As I walked back to my bike I discovered I was shivering uncontrollably so I headed back into the restrooms again to put on another layer of clothes on under my rain clothes. The neoprene booties that John gave me made a brilliant difference. It’s one thing to be cold and wet but it’s another to be cold and wet and to have shoes full of water. I made it to the small town of Glendale and pulled into the one and only RV park I could find. It was completely deserted and the office was empty. A note on the office window said it was still open, just set up your RV and someone will come around later. It was still raining heavily so I sat on the porch, changed into some warmer clothes and called Brooke from the courtesy phone that was there.
I’m glad I didn’t try stealth camping last night. The park ranger was around bright and early in the morning and approached me to verify my camp site number. I saw about five minutes of sunshine this morning at 8:00am and then that was it for the day. When I got back to the main highway I bought a coffee to warm up. I began the climb out of Cannonville and into Bryce Canyon which was through beautiful orange walls of sand. I got to the park road turn off and as I turned to head into the park a blast of cold wind hit me head on. It was an easy decision to not bother with Bryce, I was at 7600 feet and I was freezing my tits off. The road into the park would slowly ascend another thousand feet and no doubt be a helluva lot colder. Another day, hopefully I can head back here with Stef and Brooke in the car.
A North American Bicycle Journey
had the fly of my tent open last night. As I drifted off to sleep, I caught sight of a black and white house cat sneaking around my tent. I woke up in the middle of the night to what I thought was an animal messing with my camping stove. Moments later I realised it was actually a rock fall not far from my tent site.
Brooke said she’d checked the weather forecast and it wasn’t going to be a great weekend in Zion. They suggested an alternative plan of picking me up and heading back to Vegas where Brooke’s grandparents live. It sounded good; no rain, good food and maybe earn some winnings on the pokie machines. I’d met Brooke’s Grandpa, Dale, once before. He’s the only person I know who’s actually set his car on fire, so he goes down as being one of the coolest grandparents I know. Brooke said they’d head out from Los Angeles at 9pm tomorrow night and probably meet me somewhere at about 4am. If possible, I’ll try to hitch a ride to Vegas to save them a few hours of driving.
A North American Bicycle Journey
Eventually, Doug, the owner of the RV park showed up in his beaten-up, old pickup. I asked him if I could pay for a campsite. He looked at me like I was stupid. “You’re gonna set up your tent in this rain?!?” He offered me the laundry room instead and then invited me into his wood working room. When I offered to pay the camping fee he told me not to worry about it. He got the wood fire stoked up and told me to dry myself out in front of it. Doug had a ranch just behind the RV park and said that the rain in the last two weeks had just given them their annual average rainfall. We got talking about the differences between city and country folk and about the modern day farming life. Once I was dry and warm he wished me well and headed off. The kindness of strangers will never cease to amaze me.
Right: Early morning, Stef outside the laundry room of the Glendale RV park [Day 165]
I took my bike into the laundry, found an electric heater in the cupboard and started cooking dinner. While I was eating, the rain turned into a heavy snowfall and was still going strong several hours later as I passed out after the power failed.
Day 165: 102.39 miles, 8:03 hours, Exit 4, Interstate 15
t was good waking up and not having to take down an icy, wet tent. There was at least three inches of snow on the ground and the snow ploughs were still speeding down the main road as I left. It was beautiful and I was amazed at the way the snow seems to deaden sounds. I got on my bike nervously; I’d never ridden through snow before and wasn’t sure if I’d be able to. It was easy though. The riding was fantastic, it was just a new experience for me and I think my jaw was continuously dropping at the sight of snow everywhere.
Towards Zion National Park the snow on the ground got thinner. The park was stunning. Definitely one of my favourites of this trip, though I’ve probably said that about nearly every park I’ve been through so far. I had to stop at the second tunnel leading into the park and put my bike on the back of the ranger’s pickup. There’s nothing like getting a bit of special treatment. She dropped me off at the other end of the mile-long tunnel and I descended quickly down a switch-backed road into the bottom of the canyon. I took the six-mile road into the park which was pleasant. They don’t allow private cars along the road, only shuttle buses, which go pretty slow and aren’t allowed to pass moving bicycles. I had a long lunch and then headed back out to the main road and along a path that meandered back and forth beside the river. I left the park, and passed through the town of Rockville which had me singing the old R.E.M. tune for a while.
From there it was into the town of Hurricane with it’s fast food joints and gas stations stretching along the main street. I indulged at a Dairy Queen. There were stormy clouds ahead of me, lightning lit up the horizon, but the rain held off. I made it into Saint George by dark and gave Brooke another call. I would try to hitch a ride to Vegas in order to save them some time. I stood outside a Shell gas station for twenty minutes with my “Tired Aussie needs ride” sign. I was tired and felt foolish trying to hitch a ride so I gave up and found a bike path that led to the outskirts of town. I only had the light of the full moon to guide me and I rode until I headed too far from the Interstate and then turned back. Looked like I wasn’t even going to make it to the border. I found a truckers’ gas station and got myself comfortable on the benches inside. It seemed a good place to while away the night. And that’s the story of my life... So I rang up a few old friends in Oz while I was waiting and it got me thinking that maybe I should take a break and head home for Christmas. It’s approaching summer down under, the best time of year for festivals, beaches and music and here I am freezing my arse off on a bike. So I ran through my options; I could head home and recover for a while, but would I want to get back on the bike and do it all again? Would I get to ride in Cuba and smoke cigars in seedy looking bars with Fidel looking over my shoulder from a picture frame like I had always dreamed? I had a long list of complaints that were encouraging me to give up: 1. Bad hair - I haven’t had a haircut since day 9 at Lake Isabella. I’ve got a permanent case of helmet hair and a flattened forehead. 2. Drippy nose - my nose hasn’t stop running since Alaska. My right hand glove is as stiff as a board because of all the snot I’ve wiped away with it. There’s snot all over my map holder. 3. Neck - always a problem, some days a lot worse than others. 4. Eyes - too much looking at the road and sometimes getting “mirror eye”, where I spend the whole time looking at the road behind my left ear. 5. Wrists - a little stiff. 6. Finger joints - always stiff. Occasional numb fingers. 7. Hands - permanent calluses at the bottom of my palms and on the webbing between my thumbs and pointer finger. 8. Spine - needs a good cracking. I now have a permanent cyclist’s slouch. 9. Bum - not bad. 10. Left shin near the foot - still sore and swollen from Yellowstone. When I point my toes slowly downwards it feels like there’s bubbles coming out of the muscle. 11. Toes - still completely numb. 12. Feet - some days the balls of my feet hurt like hell. Twelve reasons to head back to LA with Brooke and Stef and fly home for a while. I ordered more coffees and waited.
I pumped up the new tube and hesitantly set off again, wincing every time I hit a bump on the road. I stopped for what was probably my fifth coffee of the day and got directions. A few minutes later, and only a few miles from the interstate, I got another flat. This time I found the source, a small sharp stone impossible to see from the outside of the tyre.
A North American Bicycle Journey
I got a flat tyre not far out of Rockville. Couldn’t find the source of the leak so I just replaced the tube. It was then I noticed that my rear rim was cracked at nearly every spoke nipple. It’s incredible. The rim is less than a month and a half old, I can’t believe it. I was suddenly glad that I’d been carrying around my old rim all this time, despite comments from a lot of people telling me they would have just chucked it. I’m also glad that our plans changed and that we’re heading to Vegas, I could have been stuck in the M.O.F.N. with a split rim.
Day 166 (Rest day): 0 miles, 0 hours, Las Vegas
We slept at Dale and Bonny’s apartment for only three hours. I weighed myself on the scales they had, I’m down to 155 pounds! I’ve lost 10 pounds, another good reason to head home (I later realised I’d gotten my conversions wrong and was thinking I had been 165 pounds when I started this trip, but I’d actually been 65 kilograms. So I’d actually put on 10 pounds)
Day 167 (Rest day): 0 miles, 0 hours, Las Vegas Day 168 (Rest day): 0 miles, 0 hours, Long Beach
fter a few days of all-you-can-eat buffets, hot tubs and gambling, I decided to throw the bike riding in and fly home to Oz. I bought an airline ticket to leave in two and a half week’ s time. I spent the rest of my time in Long Beach, barely leaving the apartment, watching reruns of “Arrested Development”, “Ali G”, “The Office” and watched Bush win his first election. By the time I left Long Beach, I’d been to In-and-Out burger fifteen times and had never got sick of it. Wish I could open a franchise in Perth. I barely went outside for two weeks. I normally hate being cooped up indoors all day, but now, after almost six months in the elements, I was fine with it. Had a weekend trip up to San Francisco to catch up with old friends JJ and Sarah in Oakland. We celebrated their new house with a party. Their old apartment had a haunted hallway (the “Devil’s hallway” as they liked to call it), now they have a next-door neighbour who invites friends over for Wicca chanting followed by pizza delivery. Spent an afternoon with a good friend wandering about the Piedmont cemetery but had no luck finding John Lee Hooker’s tomb. I locked my bike in a small storage room somewhere in the two storey car park beneath Brooke and Stef’s apartment. When I went to find it the day before I left, it took me half an hour and the help of the security guards to locate the storage room again.
Facing page: The drive back to Long beach Following pages: Mum and Dad’s garden
rooke and Stef showed up in their rental car at 5:30am Utah time. We crammed the bike and panniers into the back of the car. It was astonishing how badly everything smelt, the panniers hadn’t dried out for days. It was dawn when we made it to Los Vegas and we headed straight to a casino for an all you can eat buffet. I ate like a pig. I’m gonna like Vegas.
Will I ever see it again? I flew back to Perth via Tokyo, a bumpy flight where the sound of someone vomiting in a nearby seat wasn’t uncommon. I hadn’t told Mum and Dad I was coming back to Australia, so a friend picked me up from the airport. I had to break into our Perth apartment. I took a bus down South to surprise my folks, a bit scary to see my Mum’s almost hysterical reaction. Over the next few weeks I ate lots of good food, put on weight, read lots of good books, went on lots of good walks and generally got myself feeling healthier. I even got the feeling back in my toes.
Went to one funeral (the girlfriend of a best friend who died of cancer at the young age of 32), one wedding (a friend of my sister’s), foiled a burglary (woke up to the sound of thieves trying to get through my bedroom window), turned thirty, and found out I have to be back in Perth in three months time for my brother’s wedding (a surprise announcement on Christmas eve). By the end of my time in Perth I was glad to be getting out of Perth again but nervous about getting back on the bike. The airline almost stopped me from flying back to the States because my working visa was about to run out in two months time. I ended up having to quickly buy a flight from New York to London just so they’d let me get on the plane. I suffered severe pre-bike trip melancholy. I questioned everything I was doing. I tried to write it down in an email to a good friend but found I couldn’t express myself at all. I spent a few days in Long Beach with Brooke and Stef and decided to start my trip (part two) on a Monday by riding down to visiting Herman.
Day 169 : 32.71 miles, 2:58 hours, Long Beach to Herman’s house, Irvine, CALIFORNIA
y first day’s riding. Bored me to tears. Why did I start this again?
Day 170 (Rest day): 31.56 miles, 2:19 hours, Herman’s house, Irvine
ot a new rear wheel built and two new tyres today. Old tyres are down to the third threads. Am thinking about how I should ride into Mexico, my favourite idea is riding down to Baja. As long as it’s warmer than here.
Weighed my bike fully loaded with water and then all the panniers. I’m now of course sans 12-string acoustic guitar, I’m missing it already. Me 73 kg (161 lbs) Bike 26 kg (57 lbs) Front panniers 17 kg (37 lbs) Rear panniers 19 kg (42 lbs) Total (including bike): 135 kg (297 lbs) Still can’t work out why I keep destroying my rear wheels...
erman and I drove out to Joshua Tree in the afternoon. It was too cold and not very conducive to exploring the park.
Day 172 : 97.18 miles, 6:51 hours, Stealth Camp on Hwy 62
few too many red wines around the campfire last night. I woke up with Herman wishing me all the best through my tent flap and then all of a sudden I was alone. Alone with a hangover. Cold.
I think Herman left while I was still in the semi-conscious state between dreaming and waking because he knew my hesitation about starting this trip again. He probably realised he’d be driving me back to his place again if I’d had time to think about it.
Facing page: My first enormous climb of 2005, Highway 78 near the Arizona/New Mexico border [Day 178]
M e xico
Day 171 (Rest day): 0 miles, Joshua Tree National Park
I rode to Twenty Nine palms to stock up on two day’s worth of food and water. Somehow, in the time between last night and this morning I’d decided to head East across the desert. No idea if there was a reason behind it. I passed two other cyclists during the day who were heading to the west coast. Both avoided eye contact with me when they talked. They both seemed like weird loner types. Maybe it’s the effect of the desert. I hope I don’t give off the same sort of impression to people. The second guy was sixty-six years old and mentioned he’d just got out of hospital yesterday after being treated for dehydration. Said that he could pinch the skin on his arm, and the skin would hold the shape of his fingers. I hope I’ve got enough water. I camped the night at the side of a dry creek bed. There was a flash flood warning sign before it but it was the only place with decent tree cover that I’d seen all day.
A North American Bicycle Journey
Day 173 : 73.14 miles, 6:15 hours, Stealth Camp, 5mi NW of Hwy 60 junction on Hwy A272, ARIZONA
t was another exhausting, boring day. Rode into Arizona and was treated to roads with a one foot wide shoulder, if lucky.
The only person I spoke to today was an old, skinny lady with facial hair who used to be a nurse. When she heard my accent she spent the next ten minutes telling me how anti-American she was. She was disgusted at the way her country was behaving and at the events in the Middle East. She’d love to live in Australia she said. I think she was trying to come onto me. I failed to mention to her that our Prime Minister Howard was well and truly best mates (or so he’d like to think) with Bush and supported his every move. No-one really seems to realise Australia’s alignment with the US over here. The only news about Australia in the media here is when someone goes and does something wacky. Or when Australian scientists have discovered that spiders can be trained much quicker to learn multiplication tables whilst under the zero-gravity conditions of the space shuttle compared to their counterparts back here on Earth. International news in America seems to be “the middle East” and that’s about it. I tried to get to Salome tonight, but I bonked and ended up camping beside a creek with virtually no vegetation cover. I didn’t put up my tent till nightfall as I would have been too visible from the road. I started eating the Cadbury’s chocolate I bought from home. It was little consolation for the fact that I’d run out of water and didn’t have enough for cooking.
Am feeling very lonely, very cold and very stinky.
Day 174 : 68.66 miles, 5:09 hours, Wickenberg RV Park
ast night I was privileged to hear a pack of coyotes (or wild dogs?) squealing and howling not far from my tent. It sounded remarkably like a group of young girls screaming their heads off in anguish.
Another day of boring riding. For the last few days I’ve had nothing but a lonely, long, flat highway to myself, with a railway line and a row of power lines stretching to the horizon on the left of me, a fence about thirty metres to the right of me, desert on each side, the occasional tall cactus, and the sun always rising and setting on my right. It’s cold enough that I always need to be wearing my rain clothes but sunny enough that the right side of my face is becoming very tanned. I got hailed on today. It was a short, two minute attack of small hailstones and then a few minutes of light rain. For the rest of the day I got to watch monstrous, dark storm clouds move away in front of me towards Phoenix. The rain brought me a little joy, it broke up the monotony of the day and it was especially breathtaking to see the beautiful pink and purple sunset I was privy to on the walk back from the grocery store.
Day 175 : 92.15 miles, 7:01 hours, Apache Junction KOA, E of Phoenix
think I could have almost enjoyed myself today had it not been for spending the greater part of the day negotiating my way through Phoenix. It must have been fifty miles of suburbia. I’m amazed at the amount of recreational vehicle (RV) culture here in Arizona. There’s RV storage places. RV parts. RV reconditioning. RVs for sale. Every second sign along the highway has the letters “RV” in it.
None of the RV parks I passed at sunset would let me set up my tent. It was one and a half hours after dark that I finally found an overpriced KOA on the edge of suburbia that allowed me to camp. Fuck RVs.
t was easy to keep thinking up excuses to get off my bike and rest this morning because of my stumbling energy reserves (“Well, it’s been at least ten minutes since I last checked the pressure in my back tyre”).
The scenery was pretty fantastic today compared to the monotony I’ve had since Joshua Tree. I wound upwards through Tonto National Forest, century-old towering cacti, amongst tall weather-softened peaks and boulders. I’m not in half the shape I was before Christmas, so it was a long and tiring uphill. The road seemed to summit and I hoorayed at the sign stating I had a six percent decline for the next twelve miles. I even put on warmer clothes and tightened my rear brakes for the speedy downhill to come. But it didn’t. Obviously a cruel joke by someone that doesn’t like cyclists. Within minutes I was huffing, puffing and sweating my way up more hills. The downhill I eventually got was not great. I had to peddle all the way down due to headwinds. Very deflating for the mind. When I was in the town of Globe in the late afternoon I asked a local for directions to Hwy 70. He said that I’d better make sure I’m at the next town Pilma before dark as “the land up there is Indian reservation”. Pilma was a good fifty-nine miles away, there was no chance of me getting there by nightfall. This got me wondering what the man thought would happen to me if I got caught stealth camping on the reservation. Did he think they would scalp me? Put a curse on my family? Luckily for my scalp and my family, three miles out of Globe I stopped in at the Apache Casino. In my AAA camping guide it said they do not allow tents, but the staff seemed fine to take my $5 and let me stay. It was basically the casino car parking lot. I managed to find the only bit of unpaved dirt in the parking lot, directly under a massive floodlight that allowed me to read my book, inside my tent, well into the evening.
Day 177 : 68.11 miles, 5:54 hours, Thatcher RV Park
lept in a little this morning, not because of tiredness but because of the cold. My tent had iced up.
While I was packing my tent up, the lady from the trailer next to me came over to talk. Alissa offered to cook me eggs for breakfast. Sounds great, I thought. She mentioned that the eggs were from her pet quail and told me how it had crawled under the blankets in her bed two nights ago and suffocated. I declined the offer of the cooked eggs. She insisted on showing me the very dead quail as if in someway I might possibly be able to help it or something. I politely declined again.
We started chatting. Alissa obviously thought the two of us were getting along so well that she contemplated that I may be the reincarnation of her long lost boyfriend. She asked me the year I was born, and got very excited at my reply. I insisted that I would have recognised her if that had been the case.
A North American Bicycle Journey
Day 176 : 63.91 miles, 5:56 hours, Apache Casino (E of Globe)
She told me about the people that were spying on her and penetrating her body with “some sort of electromagnetic beams”. Their plan was to steal her vital organs for use in transplants at hospitals. This is how her boyfriend had disappeared (I think by this stage I knew why her boyfriend had disappeared and it had nothing to do with body organs). She showed me her trailer which was basically a wooden garden shed on the back of a car trailer. There was no sign of a car and she mentioned that she’d been here for two months. Inside the walls, ceiling and floor were lined with chicken wire to stop the “beams” from penetrating the trailer.
A North American Bicycle Journey
Over the weekend, she told me, the Casino had hosted a rodeo. Alissa had had very bad feelings that these body snatchers had tried to kidnap and kill a little girl, “right here in this very car park”. This led to her 9/11 conspiracy theory. Though, for her, it wasn’t a theory. She described it in a way that I knew she fully believed it. Apparently after the planes had crashed into the World Trade Centre, the New York Fire Department was meant to get to the twin towers and quickly recover as many bodies and body parts as they could. This would have supplied major hospitals with transplant materials for months “...but the buildings collapsed, so there went that plan.”
She asked what I did for a living apart from riding a bike and I told her of my background in electronics engineering. Her interest shot up once again. She had her own business selling solar powered chargers and air ionisers. I could be a partner in the business? She gave me her email address and I promised I’d check out her business website. She offered me a lift all the way to Texas but I told her I was enjoying the scenery so much that I didn’t want to skip any of it... Yeah right. Normally I find crazy people quite interesting to chat to. It makes a change from the usual predictable barrage of questions you get from the so-called normal people. But Alissa was a bit too spooky for my liking.
Day 178 : 52.37 miles, 5:48 hours, BlackJack campground, Apache National Forest
wo long climbs today, the second of which took over two hours up a number of switchbacks with a nasty headwind all the way. An amazing view from the top, it was possible to see the road that I had been riding six hours earlier stretched out below me. At the summit I found a deserted campground amongst the pine trees; I felt very much at home considering the time I spent with them in California.
It was only four in the afternoon so I bummed about for a while, trying unsuccessfully to get a fire going and eating my dinner. When the sun sunk below the hill line, the temperature suddenly kamikazied to freezing point. Good enough reason to hit the sleeping bag.
Day 179 : 58.59 miles, 5:39 hours, Silver City KOA, NEW MEXICO
was woken last night in the middle of the night by a wild dog growling outside my tent. I clapped my hands loudly, shooing and growling back at it, and it seemed to disappear. By morning, I was left wondering again if it was all a dream.
In the morning I woke up cold and all my drinking water had frozen solid. It made cooking my breakfast a challenge. The day started with a lovely, but freezing, downhill and then it all went pear-shaped. Strong headwinds and rolling hills for the rest of the day. I stopped often, for any excuse, even just to take a drink. By the end of the afternoon I was depressed and frustrated at my lack of miles. I still had 10 miles to go to Silver City and was almost about to cross the Continental Divide for the tenth (?) time on this trip. I was really upset and even took to cursing loudly at the wind. On another of my for-no-good-reason rest breaks an old pickup pulled up in front of me. It was an old guy, and he asked me if I wanted a lift into town. I gladly said yes and chucked my bike into the back (chucking the bike into the back of a pickup is no easier now than it was with the guitar; just a little less worrisome). Harry was a retired automotive car shop teacher (28 years) and said he’d seen me the first time when I rode through his home town of Cliff earlier in the day. He’d done some cycle touring himself, he’d actually gone into a business venture with his son-in-law doing just that. He gave me a tour through the historic Silver City town and then drove me five miles out the other side of town, up some ferocious hills, to the KOA campground. The kindness of strangers once again.
I got a quiet campsite in what was once a large field. It was another very cold night, and for the first time ever, I ate my dinner from inside my tent, wrapped up inside my sleeping bag.
Day 180 : 64.15 miles, 5:17 hours, Pancho Villa State Park (S of Columbia)
A North American Bicycle Journey
nother terribly boring day. At four in the afternoon, with at least two hours of riding still to go to get to my planned campground, it started raining. And raining. And it got harder. It was depressing. And sure enough, within five minutes another pickup stops beside me and a young chap offers me a lift. I ask him where he’s heading and try to explain where I’m heading but he just says yeah, I’ll take you wherever. He asks me if I mind visiting some of his crops on the way. Travis is about thirty five and manages a farming cooperative. When he was younger, he spent two years as a missionary in Santiago, Chile and did a bunch of other travel, but is now settled with his wife and farm. Since I grew up on a wheat and sheep farm in Western Australia, I was really interested in seeing his farm. The equipment was unusual (onion seeders and chili pickers) and they even had a irrigation system. All sorts of crops; wheat, watermelons, corn, chili, onions. He spoke fluent Spanish and on the way to his place he stopped to help out a Mexican by the side of the road. The man was an illegal worker who’d just lost a lift with his brother. Travis told me it was illegal to employ illegal immigrants and even to assist them, though he was kind enough to let the man use his mobile phone and even gave him ten dollars to get home.
It was easy to like Travis. He wanted me to stay at one of his worker’s houses for the night but I declined his generosity with some stupid excuse. Then he wanted to buy me dinner but I had to decline again. And then he wanted me to ring him if I got cold during the night. He even offered me money! I was starting to wonder if he would have even offered me his wife? He was a top bloke, very generous and very worldly and intelligent. He was totally aware that Australia was in the coalition of the willing in the invasion of Iraq, something of a first for me coming from a local. After an hour or more of seeing his farm he eventually dropped me off at the state park about three miles from the Mexican border.
Day 181 : 74.4 miles, 5:50 hours, Best Western Hotel, El Paso, TEXAS
ast night I camped in the group eating area of the park, a large covered shed with open walls and a concrete floor. I was eating dinner and halfway through a bottle of red wine, and all of a sudden there’s a “Hey Leon!”. I turn around, and there’s Travis with a wide grin saying he’d come back just to make sure I was ok.
He even had some gifts for me. The first was a John Deere blanket; a small, fleecy blanket with a print of an old tractor on it. Oh cool, I said, and I continued to tell him how I used to get the small scale toy tractors each time Dad bought a new John Deere. In my half-sober state, I went on and on telling him about these tractors. He interrupts me, says “Yeah”, looking at me dead seriously, “I have a room full of those tractors, I’ve been collecting them all my life.” In my state, I just gave him an amazed/stunned look that probably just came across looking very stupid. I think he knew that I was tipsy and I felt a bit paranoid about saying too much. He showed me the second gift, a large ziplock bag of very flat, homemade chocolate chip cookies. “My wife thought you might need some dessert.” I wasn’t about to tell him that I couldn’t eat them because I was a Coeliac, I just grinned stupidly again and thanked him profusely. Without hesitation, he pulls out his third gift, a black, soft covered copy of the “Book of Mormons”. “I’ve written a note in the front”, and he quickly flicks past the front pages, “and I’ve marked my two favourite parts.” He goes on to explain each, the first being about Jesus visiting the Americas after his resurrection and the second about a promise the book makes about being true. In between explaining, he tells me that he’s not trying to preach to me. “Oh no, no, no” I reply earnestly, it should be entertaining reading in my present state of mind. Travis eventually leaves, only after offering me a lift all the way to El Paso and asking if it’s ok if he comes to visit tomorrow. I’d already told him that I would have a rest day if it was another day of bad weather.
Following pages: Zocalo, Mexico D.F. [Day 184]
When I woke this morning, it had rained, stopped and started raining again. While eating breakfast it stopped raining. By the time I’d finished breakfast it had started again. I took a hot shower and by the time I got out it had stopped again. So I rode over to the Columbus gas station and gave Travis a call and luckily got his voicemail. For some reason I was very embarrassed about being drunk when he had visited last night, I know Mormons often shun alcohol and I felt a little like I had insulted him after all the generosity and kindness he had showed to me. I left a thank you message and then got back on the bike to head East. Ahead of me lay fifty-nine miles of borderland highway patrolled by speeding border control SUVs. Above me was a drab sky that began raining again several minutes after I started and still hadn’t stopped when I hit the sack in El Paso. “For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining, is to let it rain.” - Longfellow My raincoat, a cheap waterproof one that has been with me for years, only stayed dry for a few minutes. Then my arm warmers got wet and cold. A bit later, I had my rain hood on, sunglasses off and coat zipped all the way up to my neck because I’m freezing my tits, arse and face off. Pretty soon, even my snowboarding gloves that I’d bought back from Australia, were soaked through. They were thick enough, at least, to be windproof and to keep my hands relatively warm and cramp-free. The rain continued for the next five hours. When I stopped at the end of the road, on the turnoff to the city, a policeman in an unmarked vehicle drove over and commiserated with me, “You soaked all the way through?” I nodded. “Damn, you make me look soft, I was trying to stay in the office all day to avoid the rain.” He gave me directions to downtown El Paso and I headed off. I promised myself to stay in the first good hotel I came to, no matter what the cost. And here I am; after a twenty minute hot bath to re-warm the bones, watching bad Hollywood action movies. And strangely enough, really enjoying it. The last two weeks have been absolutely miserable. Screw this. It’s time to catch a bus. Warm lazy days, here I come.
Day 182 (Rest day): 0 miles, Bus from Ciudad Juarez to Mexico DF, MEXICO
made the most of the hotel’s complimentary breakfast, three bowls of cereal. After checking out, I sat in the parking lot trying unsuccessfully to pump up my tyres and in the process busted the valve on the front one. I thought it would be a good opportunity to change the front tyre but after skinning my knuckles and bleeding all over myself I regretted it. I’m not normally the superstitious type but it left me with ill feelings about crossing into Mexico today.
The border crossing was a total anti-climax. There wasn’t even someone to welcome me to Mexico. I had to go searching to find someone who could stamp my passport for a six-month stay. I headed to the bus station, forgetting street names constantly, and having to check my map almost every block. At the first counter I booked a seat to Mexico City on a luxury coach.
Day 183 (Rest day): 5.67 miles, 1:02 hours, Buenos Aires Hotel, Mexico DF
ell I’m a proud man today. I think I just did the craziest thing I’ve ever done. The bus arrived at the Mexico City bus station in the early afternoon. I asked for directions to downtown from several people and to my delight, all pointed in the same general direction (and at the same time learnt how much fun it is to get directions from someone when I have no idea at all what they’re saying). I checked my compass, loaded up my bike and hopped into traffic.
It was crazy. I think that I even hopped onto a fast moving freeway at one point. It was a lot of fun. I had a few near misses but totally kept my calm. It must have been all the carbon monoxide I was inhaling. I got plenty of surprised looks from pedestrians and a group of construction works hailed me to stop and asked me to explain myself. The architecture is amazing and there’s plenty of great looking women everywhere. After several miles of cycling bliss, I found a tourist information booth in the large downtown Alameda park and was pointed to the lovely, cheap Hotel Buenos Aires. The Hotel Buenos Aires seems to have stolen all it’s gear from other hotels. I have Holiday Inn towels and Hotel Canada coat hangers.
After a cold shower (I wrongly assumed that the red tap would be warm) I hit the streets on foot for a few hours. It was a warm, stormy evening and I was treated to a lovely lightening display over the city and a light on-and-off again rain. Back at the hotel, I started thinking over my options. On the bus trip, I’d decided to find the Cuban Airlines office tomorrow and get a flight to Havana with bike in tow. But now I’m considering changing the plan. I have exactly two months before I have to return to Australia for my brother’s wedding. While wandering around tonight I passed half a dozen shops devoted to selling travel bags. It gave me the idea of leaving Stef here somewhere safe, buying a backpack and heading to Cuba as a regular tourist. Backpack around a while, head over to Cancun or Cozumel for some diving, fly back to Mexico D.F., pick up my bike and then return to Oz. The other option is to ride all the way down to the Yucatan (Cancun) and catch a plane across to Cuba with Stef. Ha ha, absurd! That’s crazy talk. Must be the car fumes talking.
Day 184 (Rest day): 0 miles, Buenos Aires Hotel, Mexico DF
o last night I got to thinking about the second option more. It’s about sixteen hundred kilometres and should take over two weeks. I couldn’t find the Cuban Airlines office on my tourist map of Mexico City, so... it is decided.
I got up early and caught the Metro to Coyoacan, the oldest part of Mexico D.F. and the location of a number of free museos. I came across a large nursery where the city grows all its trees. It was popular with joggers, it was easy to see why; it offered some respite from the noise, pollution and hustle and bustle.
Above and facing page: Teotihuacan Piramides [Day 186]
As I headed to the Museo Frida Kahlo an old guy sweeping his front pavement called out to greet me, so I stopped to talk to him, or rather just to spend a few minutes misunderstanding each other in a fun sort of way. The joys of international sign language. Before I knew it, he had crossed the road to his car and wanted to take me to the all of the museums. First he drove to Frida’s and pointed it out to me, then around the block to the Leon Trotsky museum. Before leaving me he invited me, or according to my translation, back to his place. I recognised the words beer and pot smoking in his Spanish somewhere. Though he may have meant that smoking pot had give him a greater understanding of Trotsky’s work. Frida’s house was lovely. Her studio overlooked an amazing courtyard which featured half a pyramid with a bunch of cats lazing about on it. She was lucky enough, according to the Chinese saying, to be born and to die in the same house. I stopped for a coffee in an old train carriage on a street with cobbled stones. The lady running the cafe, looked like the older version of a girlfriend I had once, she was gloriously beautiful, had an amazingly sweet smile and her belly button was showing. A friend had given me a Spanish pocket book as a Christmas gift and I thumbed through it. I wanted to say to her ”Tienes un cuerpo precioso” and “Eres muy guapa” and even “Quiero hacerte el amor” but instead I just sat shyly behind my cafe con leche e con azucar and got the occasional reciprocated eye contact from her. I felt like a happy kid. I headed back homewards to the Zocalo, a large paved plaza next to the Cathedral. At the centre of the Zocalo is a huge Mexican flag. A single kick-arse flag like that sure beats the hell out of all the tiny, cheap, made-inChina flags and bumper stickers that you see in the States. I waited to get a photo of it, but I think gale force winds would be needed to completely unfurl it.
Day 185 (Rest day): 0 miles, Buenos Aires Hotel, Mexico DF
t’s Wednesday and all the most beautiful women seem to be out walking with their mothers tonight. Does this mean they’re single or is it mother/daughter shopping night in Mexico?
Day 186 (Rest day): 0 miles, Buenos Aires Hotel, Mexico DF
aught an early bus to the Pyramides at Teotiuacan. Pretty much had the place to myself for two hours before hordes of people, including hundreds of cute, little Mexican school kids showed up. They have no idea who built the impressive city and its temples or where they disappeared to. Then the Aztecs arrived, liked what they saw, and used the place themselves.
Back in Mexico D.F. I spent the afternoon hanging out in sunny plazas and courtyards, reading, watching and listening. There is music everywhere here; on the corner there will be a man with a windup music box, in another pedestrian arcade there will be a band of talented blind musicians, and outside the church I ended up at, a trio of girls with violins were playing classical music. I love this city. While I was sitting outside the church, two cute girls smiled when they arrived and sat behind me for a while. When I left to find a restaurant I passed them again and one of them called out Hoya to me. They asked me something in Spanish, realised I didn’t understand, then asked me where I was from in English. Perla and Lilia are studying linguistics, English and German and ask if I want to swap some language skills with them over coffee. I learn how to say a bunch of things from them and Perla even writes it all down for me in a “Personalised Dictionary To Leon”. After I’d practiced, but not actually ordered a dish of enfrijoladas, they invited me to join them at a concert at the Spanish Cultural Centre next to the Cathedral. A strange Spanish guy sang a bunch of controversial and social commentary type songs. I couldn’t understand a word of it but watching his facial expressions and the accompanying classical guitarist was entertainment enough. Perla was kind enough to explain the meaning behind several songs, one of which was about a cigarette crossing the Mexican/ US border as an illegal immigrant and then going around destroying everything (don’t ask me). Was planning to hop back on the bike tomorrow and head for the Yucatan but the idea of hanging out with two cute Mexican girls seems more sensible.
Left: Buenos Aires Hotel, Mexico D.F. [Day 188] Right: Puebla Cathedral [Day 190]
Day 187 (Rest day): 0 miles, Buenos Aires Hotel, Mexico DF
t took me three hours this morning to find a supermarket that I had passed on my way to the Pyramides yesterday. Stocked up on rice cakes, Snickers and fruit as well as investing in some new clothes. Met up with Perla and Lilia after their classes and watched a film. We headed back to the cafe we’d been at last night where I got to have my enfrijoladas and then headed to a small party not far from downtown.
Day 188 (Rest day): 0 miles, Buenos Aires Hotel, Mexico DF
A North American Bicycle Journey
Facing page: Zoologia, Tuxtla Gutierrez [Day 195]
erla showed me around Tlatelolco, some Aztec ruins within the city, surrounded by corporate buildings. In 1968, it was also the site of a bloody massacre of demonstrating teachers and farmers by the military that was covered up by the government until recent years. We headed to some markets in her neighbourhood that were alive with colours, sounds and smells. Perla had taken a pause in her medical studies in the fifth year to study linguistics. Her plan was to finish her degree and become a midwife and to promote natural birth in Mexico. Her passion and enthusiasm were contagious and it was inspiring to hear how she felt about life and the world.
After sampling her Mum’s awesome home cooking (the best meatballs I’ve ever had, they had a boiled egg inside!) she wished me on my way with a passionate kiss that’s going to leave me on a high for days. I’m going to miss her. Tomorrow I ride...
Day 189 : 81.96 miles, 7:17 hours, Victoria Hotel, Puebla
oday I decided I don’t want to ride anymore. Why ride and perspire bucketfuls, getting sunburnt and breathing obnoxious fumes in the process when I could be drinking good coffee in small friendly cafes and wandering about exploring a new place? It’s fucked up. I’ve got my priorities all wrong.
So I left the hotel at seven and negotiated the cobbled, fairly empty streets of downtown. Good thing it’s Sunday, I thought. I eventually got to a main road where everything changed. I was suddenly competing with killer taxi-drivers and messy pavements. If I get lung cancer later in life, I’ll know exactly what day to attribute it to. I could have spent the day more productively and probably in a healthier manner, by sitting all day in an unventilated hotel room chain-smoking unfiltered cigarettes. And the heat! I had to keep wringing the sweat out of the padding in my helmet so that it wouldn’t drip into my eyes. I eventually found highway 150D and followed a group of local cyclists through the toll gates. The road took me out of Mexico City and climbed upwards and upwards. Several times I thought I’d reached the summit but only to find that there was more. Fifty-six kilometres later and I was at the top amongst a dozen roadside food stalls nestled under the pine trees. I had a total pig-out. No menu or trying to explain what I wanted; when I said I didn’t know Spanish the friendly waitress pulled me over to food to pick and choose. Soup with god-knows-what in it and soft green tacos with fritas and meat, it was bloody lovely. Had to don my jacket for the downhill. It was about eighteen kilometres before I had to start pedalling and was very easy for another fifteen. Got into Puebla, found a hotel and booked for two nights. I wandered into the downtown streets which were a riot of people, colour, dancing, music, balloons and clowns. It was fantastic, I guess it must be a Sunday thing. Everyone was out with their families and everyone looked like they were having a good time. I saw mention of a passenger train between Puebla and Oaxaca in my dog-eared and out-of-date Mexico guidebook (two bucks from the Perth library throwaway sale). There’s only one thing better than a bike, and that’s a train.
Day 190 (Rest day): 0 miles, Victoria Hotel, Puebla
t’s funny, but with a day’s rest I feel like hopping back on the bicycle again. You can only walk around and look at churches and ruins so much, you can only drink so many coffees in small, friendly cafes before you start buzzing like a fridge and pissing like a racehorse.
Found the tourist centre and asked for a ticket for the Oaxaca train. The gentleman at the counter gave me a smile and said, almost a little sadly, that the train hasn’t run for the last five years, “Ah, but it was very panoramic”.
A North American Bicycle Journey
Puebla is one of the oldest Mexican cities and the downtown is filled with lovely Spanish architecture. The central park has been filled with life everyday, it’s a wonderful city to people watch. I sampled the local speciality for lunch, mole poblano con pollo; chicken covered in a thick chocolate (yes...chocolate) and coconut sauce.
It’s Valentines Day today. Mexicans are so passionate and affectionate, and it’s not just today. Every day I see couples of all ages, young and old, passionately kissing and embracing – it’s wonderful to see and always brings a smile to my face.
Day 191 (Rest day): 3.71 miles, 0:39 hours, Bus to Oaxaca, Hotel Central
rode through Puebla’s ancient cobbled streets to the autobus station in the morning. Getting chased by evil buses and being cut off by turning cars and there’s me; just riding, so calm, smiling, almost in a trance. It’s like Stef is a drug and I’ve been smoking too much of it.
The bus driver looked a little puzzled as to where he was going to put my bike on the full bus. I sat next to a middle-aged English lady who was holidaying with her husband and two kids. She was so extremely dull that it scared me. The road was spectacular though, it would have been a ridiculous climb. Tall skinny cacti and deep gorges bare but for the brown scrub that was everywhere. Found a hotel, the price of which had risen 400 per cent since my guidebook had been published. Showered and hit the streets to discover Oaxaca is another beautiful Mexican town. The cathedral is extravagantly stunning, I’m sure there’s more gold on the ceiling there than in some Swiss bank vaults. Lots of old cobbled streets and brightly painted buildings. Blue and orange paints seem to be favourites.
Day 192 (Rest day): 0 miles, Hotel Central, Oaxaca
came about an English bookstore by accident, filled with interesting books about art, photography, radical philosophies, anti-corporations and Shamanism. I bought Ernesto Che Guevara’s “Motorcycle Diaries: notes on a Latin American Journey”, wandered over to a nice cafe I’d noticed earlier, ordered a large americano with milk and set about ingesting the book. The coffee was incredibly good and sent my head into a spin that made Che’s adventure even more amazing. It got me wondering whether I will get to South America one day and inspires me even more to attempt the massive continent with my sturdy bike, Stef. He writes so well, conjuring up colourful images with a humour that leaves me wanting for more.
After dinner I stopped by a small art cafe and had two lovely glasses of vino tinto while I watched a lady play guitar and sing Spanish songs. The music didn’t do much for me, the vino tinto did, and so I’m glad I stopped in.
Day 193 (Rest day): 0 miles, Overnight bus to Tuxtla Gutierrez
nother day, another head spin inducing coffee. I’m going through a very self indulgent pitying process of thought since having started reading Che’s adventures. It makes me wonder whether I’ll ever do something so cool. People do these riding across America bike trips all the time, but I take my hat off to those people going all the way down to Patagonia. That’s the shit. That’s the stuff with balls. It makes my trip feel miniscule.
And another successful boarding of a bus with the bike. I’m kind of eager, in a screwed up sort of way, to be back on the bike. In Oaxaca I saw a lot more tourists than I’d seen in Puebla or Mexico D.F. and often it felt as though we were invading each others idea of a personal holiday in Mexico. Eye contact was often avoided; it was as if tourists were trying to pretend that they were the only foreign visitor in the town. It felt weird and almost a little hostile. So while I bitch about feeling insignificant against the adventures of Guevara, I still feel a step away from the many tourists dragging around their backpacks. Meanwhile, I’m dragging around a bike from bus station to bus station! While walking the bike to the station tonight, pushing it from the handlebars, it seemed as if the frame flexed from side to side with the weight. It’s as if Stef is shuddering from the weight she is burdened with. But as soon as I pull myself into the saddle, she marches on without complaint. Like a true soldier, the beast, Stef, my always dependable, and too often neglected, friend and companion. The thing I’ll miss most about Oaxaca is the amazing americano doble con leche on the side street North of my hotel. Best coffee I’ve ever had.
Day 194 (Rest day): 1.29 miles, 0:25 hours, Hotel Mar-Inn, Tuxtla Gutierrez
rrived in Tuxtla Gutierrez on the overnight bus early this morning. Tuxtla is not like any of the other cities I’ve been through, it doesn’t have any sort of charming buildings, or really stunning cathedrals or the like. At least I found a good hotel, otherwise it would suck.
I took a short bus ride to the next town, Chiapa de Corzo, and then got straight onto an already full and ready to go speedboat. We powered through the Cañon del Sumidero, with sheer walls of rock, some 1200 metres, towering over us. We passed alligators, birds, monkeys and floating rubbish. I got to chat with a fellow Aussie and his Mexican fiancée who were soon heading back to Melbourne to live. It was fun, my first non-city venture since the Piramides over a week ago.
Day 195 (Rest day): 0 miles, Hotel Mar-Inn, Tuxtla Gutierrez
roke my golden rule of never again visiting a zoo in a developing country after horrible experiences in India and the Philippines. The zoologica was impressive, especially the insect and arachnid display, which I probably shouldn’t have looked at. If I had any plans of camping while in Mexico, they’re gone now. It may change my big animal paranoia and bad dreams to that of a creepy crawly nature; hairy spiders as big as my hand and centipedes as thick as two of my fingers.
Another day wasted productively.
A North American Bicycle Journey
One of my favourite passages from the book: “At night, after the exhausting games of canasta, we would look out over the immense sea, full of white-flecked and green reflections, the two of us leaning side by side on the railing, each of us far away, flying in his own aircraft to the stratospheric regions of his own dreams. There we understood that our vocation, our true vocation, was to move for eternity along the roads and seas of the world. Always curious, looking into everything that came before our eyes, sniffing out each corner but only ever faintly – not setting down roots in any land or staying long enough to see the substratum of things; the outer limits would suffice.” - Motorcycle Diaries, Ernesto Che Guevara
Day 196 : 54.8 miles, 6:24 hours, Bed and Breakfast, San Cristóbal de las Casas
A North American Bicycle Journey
fter finishing the last of my grits, I was on my bike and on the road again by seven. It was easy to find my way out of town and pretty soon I was in Chiapa de Corzo again. I headed for the toll road to San Cristóbal but was stopped at the gates. After some confusing dialogue, a English speaking guard approached me and gave me directions to the non-toll road. At first I was disappointed, it was a narrow road with virtually no shoulder to ride on. But pretty soon I realised I didn’t need a shoulder to ride on at all; every single driver that passed me was totally respectful, gave plenty of room and gave me a warning honk if they could see there wasn’t much room. It was great, I’ve never had so many honks and waves and greetings from drivers and pedestrians.
The road wound upwards into the hills and by the time I got to the summit, I’d risen two thousand metres over a climb of fortythree kilometres. The road had so many curves that on three separate occasions I passed cars that had pulled off onto the side of the road in order to let one of the occupants to vomit. Halfway up, I stopped to talk to a grinning Spaniard cyclist who was heading downhill. Carlos was one of those legends riding from Chile to Alaska. He’d already spent a year in South America and met and fallen in love with a fellow cyclist, a South African girl. He asked me the route I’d taken and had a lot of questions about the North American bears, admitting that he was starting to freak out about the idea of them. He sadly told me I had another kilometre of climbing to go but recommended a good hostel to stay at in San Cristóbal. As we parted ways, my eyes started screwing up. My sight distorted in the lower left, almost as though I was wearing glasses with broken lenses. I kept riding for another kilometre or two, but it soon got to the point where I could barely see the road properly. I pulled into a small roadside drink shop and almost dropped Stef, I felt really faint and weak. I sat down for a while, ordered a Sprite and ate some of my salted peanuts and an apple. I couldn’t even read the ingredients on the Sprite bottle. I sat there in a stupor for half an hour. Feeling a little better, I hopped back on the bike again and made another two or three kilometres before the eye sight distortion came back much worse, almost causing me to crash the bike. I sat down on the side of the road and really thought that I’d soon pass out. I’ve fainted once before; it started with a ringing in my ears, gradually turning into a sound like thundering surf. At the same time, all I could see through my eyes was black and white noise, just like the static on an un-tuned TV. But this time it felt different. I tried to rationalise what I’d done wrong. Was I dehydrated? I took a leak and it was clear as water. My skin wasn’t clammy or dry. In fact I was sweating buckets. Then I figured I may have drunk too much. I’d already finished my six litre water bag and one water bottle before eleven in the morning (Hyponatremia?). I rested on the roadside for another half-hour and then started walking my bike. My vision eventually came good but left me with a bad headache on the left of my forehead. When I hopped on the bike again, I put it in granny gear and took it slowly. I reached the summit and got to enjoy about eight kilometres of downhill into San Cristóbal. It was a good... no...it was a great feeling riding into town and having a bunch of surprised/impressed tourists gawking at you, it kicks the shit out of arriving by bus.
Day 197 (Rest day): 0 miles, Bed and Breakfast, San Cristóbal de las Casas
till have the remains of a headache today. I can feel it especially whenever I cough or sneeze.
I climbed up to a tiny church overlooking the town. I’d planned on finding a crucifix made out of car number plates, I thought it was a good reflection on the things that our society chooses to worship. Didn’t find it.
Watched a film in the evening about the Zapista National Liberation Army. They represented Mexico’s, and especially Chiapa’s, oppressed indigenous people. In 1994, to coincide with the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement, they seized the town of San Cristóbal by armed force. I couldn’t understand a word of the film but it was interesting nonetheless.
Day 198 (Rest day): 0 miles, Bed and Breakfast, San Cristóbal de las Casas
took a tour of the neighbouring villages with a guide named Cesar, a wonderfully knowledgeable local. Cesar used to be a Mormon, now turned Atheist and now very much against the missionaries from the US who try to change the ways of the indigenous people. Our first stop was to a cemetery in the village of San Juan Chamula. People are buried with a bunch of their clothes and the cross on the grave is coloured according to their age. If they died as infants; a white cross. Young people; a blue cross (and apparently the indigenous people see blue as just another shade of green). Older people; a black cross. People who are murdered, mothers who die during childbirth and people who die of accidental deaths such as drowning are buried separately from those who die naturally and are also believed to go to a separate place in the afterlife.
A North American Bicycle Journey
We walked to the village church. From the outside, it’s another regular beautiful Spanish church. Inside, we got to experience the villagers’ unique take on Christianity. It’s dark and filled with the aromas of incense, candle wax and pine leaves. The church is without any pews; over most of the floor pine leaves are scattered and villagers are huddled in groups of three or four. In front of each group are numerous burning candles. Sometimes a shaman sits in front of them chanting prayers, a chicken with its neck broken beside him. Even Coca Cola is sometimes used in the rituals. The pine tree is the sacred tree and it’s branches are strapped to any crucifix. Most of the statues of saints, watching from the walls of the church, have mirrors hung around their necks, symbolic of their soul. Those that don’t have mirrors are ignored. The “conventional” priest from San Cristóbal comes to town once a month, only for baptisms. He gives the mass in Spanish, a language which none of the people understand.
Left: A San Cristobal street [Day 197]
Left: Cooking, Zinacantan village [Day 198]
A North American Bicycle Journey
Facing page: Weavings, Zinacantan village [Day 198]
The village’s spiritual leader is a volunteer. It may take up to twenty years between volunteering and becoming the leader. The leader has to rent a special house for a year and pay for all of the rituals, candles and incense, which can amount to a lot. In return, they earn much respect for the rest of their lives. The civil leaders are elected somewhat democratically. They stand on the balcony of the town hall and are either considered popular; the villagers raise their hats, or unpopular; the villagers pick up the first thing they can find and throw it at them! I liked the idea of something Cesar explained: maybe the other day when I almost passed out while riding I “caught a bad wind”. This happens if you accidentally go past a witch while they are casting a spell on somebody. We drove to the village of Zinacantan where we were invited into a house where the women cooked us tortillas flavoured with crushed pumpkin seeds and long, thick, green onions. The village church was a conventional catholic church, the people were much more open and often smiled and the village was cleaner.
Cesar explained some of the medical practices of the shaman and approached the topic both from his scientific scepticism and from his personal experiences, as his mother would heal him with traditional practices when he was a child. He explained that the local police are actually ex-criminals. If you are caught committing a crime in the village you are given a heavy stick similar to a baton and are given instant membership into the local constabulary. So while we were in and around the church we had a bunch of ex-crims with big heavy sticks watching us to ensure that we took no photos. The villagers believe that taking a photo of someone will take their soul.
Day 199 : 53.37 miles, 4:20 hours, Hospedaje San Jose, Ocosingo
t felt good to get back on the bike again. The road out of town rose for about ten miles before I started getting into rolling hills. I passed over and through scenic hills and valleys filled with pine trees. There were several indigenous villages, Coca Cola emblems posted over every available space. There were Coca Cola posters, Coca Cola umbrellas, Coca Cola chairs and Coca Cola posters everywhere, even on houses that didn’t sell the stuff. Not once did I see a Coca Cola rubbish bin.
A North American Bicycle Journey
I didn’t have any shoulder to ride on, but again, never felt unsafe. No vehicles ever overtook closely to me, and most would give a warning honk if they thought I needed it. The cars and trucks coming in the other direction often honked and waved also. I’d wave and give a “Hoya” to anyone that was walking and especially anyone that was riding along the road and would always get a very friendly wave and greeting back. I’ve never been honked at and waved at so much before in my life – it was fantastic. Often men, instead of giving a Hoya would give a whistle and a wave. Often I would have to look for the source of the whistle, often a man grinning and waving madly from a field or house some distance away.
Another passage from Che’s adventures which I can relate to: “Our pace was incredibly athletic while within sight of the town’s inhabitants, but later the vast solitude of the bare Andes, the sun that fell harshly across our necks and the badly distributed weight of our backpacks brought us back to reality. Until what point our actions were ‘heroic,’ as one policeman put it, we’re not sure, but we began to suspect, I think with good reason, that the definitive adjective was approximating something more like ‘stupid.’” - Motorcycle Diaries, Ernesto Che Guevara
Day 200 : 73.84 miles, 6:11 hours, La Posada Hotel, Palenque
l día doscientos! And a good day to stop riding I think.
The hours spent riding today seemed to pass so slow. It was only later that I realised my guidebook had got the distance between Ocosingo and Palenque wrong by over thirty miles. The day involved struggling up many hills in a very humid, tropical 30°C heat. I only had one Snickers today, at lunchtime, and every mouthful of it was savoured. After I got to Palenque and had found a hotel I headed out on the streets of the town to find more Snickers. I found a large gas station just before town and bought all six of the Snickers bars that they had on display. Day 201 (Rest day): 0 miles, La Posada Hotel, Palenque
A Facing page: Palenque ruinas [Day 201]
dmitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery. After waking up I went back to the gas station to find more Snickers, but it looks like I had taken the last ones they had. They did have the crunchy type Snickers bars though, so I bought all four that they had in the refrigerated display. I looked in a few other places in town but it seems they only had large displays of biscuits on their shelves. Probably in a hot town like this, chocolate isn’t so popular. I got on the bike and headed a mile out of town to another gas station I’d seen yesterday. They had six of the original Snickers bars on display so I bought them. When I was buying some snacks later in the afternoon, I spotted another three in the store’s refrigerated display. So I bought them. If only they had the “grande” sized bars like they do in the States, I’d be laughing. I headed to the Palenque ruinas in a collectivo early in the day, already the humidity was incredible. It was an amazing site and I wandered from palace to temple to building to building for several hours. It’s mind blowing to see a map of the area; the number of excavated buildings is miniscule compared to the total number of buildings on the site. Beyond the ruinas the regular hooting of howler monkeys could be heard and near a dry creek bed I watched some small birds, but apart from that there were no other signs of wildlife.
By eleven in the morning the crowds had arrived and everywhere was bustling with tourists, some of them being shown around by local guides. I overheard one conversation between an older American woman and her Mexican guide. She was asking about square holes, about a metre squared each, cut out regularly along a temple’s inside wall, each giving a pleasant view out into the courtyard: “Are these windows?” “No, these are cut-outs” “Are they to let the air in?” “No, they’re there to make it lighter.” Am considering whether I can pack all my necessities (isn’t everything I have necessary?) into my tiny day pack and travel around Cuba sans Stef. A fellow cyclist I met in California earlier in the trip mentioned that I could leave my bike at his girlfriend’s house in Cancun. Booked a trip out of town to see more ruinas tomorrow.
Day 202 (Rest day): 0 miles, La Posada Hotel, Palenque
n early start. A van showed up at my hotel at six, filled with about a dozen quiet, sleepy tourists. We drove for quite some distance before stopping in the middle of nowhere for a wonderful breakfast buffet. After sitting down to the best breakfast I’ve had in ages; beans, rice and scrambled eggs, a very beautiful, very tanned French girl sat down across from me. She asked me if I spoke Spanish and when I said English I assumed by her silence that she didn’t speak English. We sat for a few minutes in total silence until I asked her some short question in easy English to see if she’d understand. Turned out she was totally fluent. Her name was Amélie and she was travelling on her own for three months down to South America. She couldn’t believe that I had a bike with me. I couldn’t believe she was on her own travelling through to South America. We were back in the van all too soon and then at the first site. Bonampak was a set of ruins set around a large grassed courtyard. On one side a large set of steps climbed up to four buildings overlooking the area. Amongst it all were some very well preserved frescos with scenes of Mayan life.
Facing page: Palenque ruinas [Day 201]
A North American Bicycle Journey
Left: Bonampak Ruinas [Day 202]
209 We boarded a brightly painted speedboat and headed down river for about forty five minutes. The river separates Guatemala and Mexico and meanders through luscious jungle. Hidden just from the river’s view by dense foliage lay the Yaxchilan ruinas. We entered through a set of roofed buildings with tiny bats hanging from its ceiling. It exited to a large, long courtyard surrounded by more buildings. Massive trees had long ago reclaimed the courtyard, vines had climbed anywhere they could get a foothold. Spider monkeys, some with babies clutching tightly to their backs, swung lazily through their branches and jabbered away at each other. Bright green lizards warmed themselves on walls and butterflies with intense black wings and red and yellow spots fluttered about in the humid air. It was an incredible atmosphere and we had the place to ourselves. On the 147 kilometre trip back to Palenque we stopped for beers and coffee at a small roadside shack. A German lady in our group amused us all by feeding teaspoons of sugared coffee to the pet green parrot. Within ten minutes the once friendly parrot had gone from nice to nasty and was rushing to bite anyone that came close. Back in Palenque, Amélie asked if I’d go for a drink. We met an hour later, her looking pretty sweet in a black dress, and we drank two for one pina coladas in a bar in which we were the only customers. I could have sat in her presence all night, she was absolutely lovely.
Day 203 (Rest day): 3.25 miles, 0:39 hours, Bus to Merida, Hotel Las Monjas
headed to the bus station early. The girl behind the ticket counter gave me my ticket but refused to let me leave until I’d understood something she’d asked me in Spanish. She drew a picture of a girl with long hair and I thought she meant that I had girl’s hair or something like that. She called her friend over to help and eventually pulled out a Mexico Lonely Planet guide. After a minute of frantically searching through it, she proudly smiled and put her finger under the word “girlfriend”. I laughed and said no. Now I know what chica means. I had to pay the guy loading bags into the bus fifty pesos before he would take my bike!
The bus got to Merida at four. My hunger needed satisfying immediately and I found a restaurant filled with photos of the country’s most famous matadors since the 1700s. Each table, as far as I could interpret, was a death plaque for a matador. My table’s bullfighter, as far as I could make out, seemed to have come to a “lamentable” end on his motorcycle. I’m feeling the pangs of loneliness. It seems the only time I feel lonely is after leaving the presence of lovely people. I can get along fine without speaking to people for days; I once had to look after my parent’s farm when I was younger. It was twenty miles from town and I didn’t see or speak to anyone except our sheepdog, Rusty, for eleven days. But someone nice comes along and then leaves and suddenly I’ve got a heavy heart.
Day 204 (Rest day): 0 miles, Hotel Las Monjas, Merida
ade a side trip to the yellow town of Izamal today. There was very little else to do except see the yellow buildings which made quite an impressive sight with a backdrop of dark rain clouds overhead.
When I got back to Merida I wandered along the Paseo Montejo, a large boulevard that heads North of the historic centre. I found a Walmart superstore; curiosity got the better of me, so I checked it out. An hour later I came out with a cheap Chinese-made button shirt and about thirty dollars worth of groceries. Having already abandoned my anti-mega corporation sensibilities for the day, I dropped into McDonalds on the way home. Dinner tonight, a belated celebration of two hundred days of living it up; Canadian prosciutto with blue cheese, washed down with cheap red Californian wine and a half-litre of tepid strawberry flavoured yogurt.
Day 206 (Rest day): 14 miles, 1:35 hours, Bus to Valladolid, Hotel Maria Guadalupe
aught the eight o’clock bus to Valladolid. My bike luggage again cost me extra, this time almost as much as the ticket itself. The journey was uneventful. The roadside scenery in the Yucatan is horrendously monotonous and flat. Thick, impenetrable shrub, looking like it struggles against the dryness of the place, lines each side of the road. I’m glad I didn’t ride here.
Valladolid is a sleepy town; a pleasant, laid back sort of place. In the bus station I was standing with my bike, copying down the timetable for buses to Playa Del Carmen. A little guiltily I must add, as I felt that it was quite insulting to the town; I’d barely just arrived and I was already plotting my escape. A gorgeous Latina, about my age with light brown, curvy hair, approached me and asked me if I could speak Spanish. Her name was Cecilia, though she pronounced it in a way that it rang sweetly off her tongue; in a way that I couldn’t quite pronounce it. She said she’d come up to me because she’d seen me with the bike and thought I’d be different. Cecilia asked me a lot of questions about my trip and my luggage before I could get a chance to find out anything about her. She was from Columbia and was on holidays with her boyfriend Carlos, who was from Venezuela. Carlos approached us shyly, moments later, with a likeable grin. She was an artist and writer, he was a Communications student in Cuba and they were both trying to settle in Havana. She told me why she liked the social system in Cuba; she may not be able to have a fancy camera or a fancy car, but she had health care and when she has kids (“I want to marry and have kids and watch them grow up in Cuba”) they would get free dancing, singing and art lessons. She said with a scorn how she sees so many children and old women on the streets of Mexico, selling small trinkets and begging for change; yet Mexico is such a rich country. Cecilia agreed that some European countries also have social healthcare and education systems, but people live their lives by stepping on, and crushing others in order to always be better than the Jones’s. I told them how I wanted to go to Cuba and they encouraged it, especially since I would be on the bicycle and people would look at me in a different way (instead of being a rich, white, foreign tourist I would be a rich, white foreign tourist on a bike, I thought realistically). We swapped emails and went to part ways. I shook Carlos’s hand and as I was about to shake Cecilia’s, she pulled me in towards her in what I thought was quite an intimate and sexy manner, and kissed me on the right cheek, leaving me plenty of time to reciprocate the gesture. Sigh...What a way to start the day. I left the bus station with a grin as wide as a bus. I wandered off on my bike trying to find a cheap hotel near the plaza. After the bike accident that very nearly killed me, I said I’d never ride helmet-less again, but here I am riding about a lovely Mexican town with the wind in my hair. Damn it felt good. The respectfulness that Mexican drivers have given me while on the bike has definitely given me a false sense of security.
ore ruinas today then I could handle; Labna, X’lapak, Sayil, Kabah and Uxmal. Sayil and Kabah were particularly impressive, but after seeing so much today, I can’t remember why. Uxmal was also particularly impressive but I was a little disappointed to find that on closer inspection, the stone hoop in the ball court was in fact just a very authentic looking fibreglass replica.
A North American Bicycle Journey
Day 205 (Rest day): 0 miles, Hotel Las Monjas, Merida
Facing page: Izamel Monastery [Day 204]
A North American Bicycle Journey
Valladolid is a sleepy town; a pleasant, laid back sort of place. In the bus station I was standing with my bike, copying down the timetable for buses to Playa Del Carmen. A little guiltily I must add, as I felt that it was quite insulting to the town; I’d barely just arrived and I was already plotting my escape. A gorgeous Latina, about my age with light brown, curvy hair, approached me and asked me if I could speak Spanish. Her name was Cecilia, though she pronounced it in a way that it rang sweetly off her tongue; in a way that I couldn’t quite pronounce it. She said she’d come up to me because she’d seen me with the bike and thought I’d be different. Cecilia asked me a lot of questions about my trip and my luggage before I could get a chance to find out anything about her. She was from Columbia and was on holidays with her boyfriend Carlos, who was from Venezuela. Carlos approached us shyly, moments later, with a likeable grin. She was an artist and writer, he was a Communications student in Cuba and they were both trying to settle in Havana. She told me why she liked the social system in Cuba; she may not be able to have a fancy camera or a fancy car, but she had health care and when she has kids (“I want to marry and have kids and watch them grow up in Cuba”) they would get free dancing, singing and art lessons. She said with a scorn how she sees so many children and old women on the streets of Mexico, selling small trinkets and begging for change; yet Mexico is such a rich country. Cecilia agreed that some European countries also have social healthcare and education systems, but people live their lives by stepping on, and crushing others in order to always be better than the Jones’s.
Right: Labna Ruinas [Day 205]
I told them how I wanted to go to Cuba and they encouraged it, especially since I would be on the bicycle and people would look at me in a different way (instead of being a rich, white, foreign tourist I would be a rich, white foreign tourist on a bike, I thought realistically). We swapped emails and went to part ways. I shook Carlos’s hand and as I was about to shake Cecilia’s, she pulled me in towards her in what I thought was quite an intimate and sexy manner, and kissed me on the right cheek, leaving me plenty of time to reciprocate the gesture. Sigh...What a way to start the day. I left the bus station with a grin as wide as a bus.
I wandered off on my bike trying to find a cheap hotel near the plaza. After the bike accident that very nearly killed me, I said I’d never ride helmet-less again, but here I am riding about a lovely Mexican town with the wind in my hair. Damn it felt good. The respectfulness that Mexican drivers have given me while on the bike has definitely given me a false sense of security.
And so Stef will be coming with me to Cuba. The trip will be pointless without the bike. It wouldn’t be Cuba without Stef. Back at the hotel, I “Cuba-fied” my panniers, taking out everything I didn’t need including the mattress and sleeping bag. Screw the bike shoes as well, it’ll be flip-flops from now on. I’m taking it easy; no more of those tedious, long, sweat-my-arseoff days anymore. I’m excited about cycling again.
Day 207 (Rest day): 0 miles, Bus to Playa Del Carmen, Youth Hostel Plaza
headed out to the Chichen Itza ruinas by bus and was once again, one of the first through the gates, allowing me to get quite a few people-less photos. Overall I wasn’t that impressed, I’ve seen too many ruins.
I caught an afternoon bus to the tourist-filled town of Playa. At the bus station a man from San Francisco watched me as I loaded my bike. He said he wouldn’t want to ride here; he’s seen the state of the roads, there’s rarely any shoulder to ride on. I spent the next few minutes patiently explaining to him how much better Mexican drivers are then those in America with their big SUVs and “I own the road” attitudes. Found the local hostel, seconds before a heavy tropical rain storm let loose on the town.
Day 208 (Rest day): 0 miles, Ferry to Cozumel, Alberto’s Apartment
aught the ferry across to Cozumel at lunchtime. On the jetty, I stopped to look at one of the many stands advertising diving packages. Immediately a bloke approached me and asked if I wanted diving and accommodation. I told him I wanted the three day dive package but only really cheap accommodation. He offered me his apartment for a cheap rate, and I hesitantly agreed without even seeing the place.
I bought a good coffee at a cafe overlooking the main plaza and then headed off to find the oldest Christian structure in the Yucatan, the church of San Bernadino. The church was at the end of a wide and cobbled street, Calle 41A, running diagonally from all the main streets. The street was bordered by the colourful walls of residences; blues, yellows and reds. It was quiet, empty of cars and only a few people around. I was still feeling that familiar nice buzz from the coffee but all of a sudden everything seems to slow down. I’m in super slow motion and right now Calle 41A has become my favourite street in all of Mexico. I’ve never felt so present in a place before. It seems my life has changed a notch. The loneliness; my sombre, useless questioning mood and the heavy heart that I’ve carried ever since parting ways with Amelie, and probably for long before, has completely disappeared. I’m left with a grin on my face for the rest of the day. The type of grin that makes most people smile back at me and makes others, like the old ice-cream man at the plaza, comfortable enough to approach me and strike up a conversation. We didn’t understand each other at all, but we had a good laugh about it anyway. The good feelings were definitely helped by meeting Cecilia this morning. Maybe she was my angel in disguise giving me some much needed sense of direction.
A North American Bicycle Journey
I posted my well-read copy of Che’s Motorcycle Diaries to my friend Stef (the person, not the bicycle...) in California. It was an adventure trying to buy an envelope without knowing the Spanish word for it, sobre, and everyone kept pointing me to the post office (which had none). At the newsagent it took five minutes of bad sign language before the man realised and pulled out the envelopes stacked just behind him. The book cost almost as much to send as it did to buy it, but it’s Che, I thought, and well worth it.
Alberto walked me to his car. He obviously doesn’t spend any of the money he makes on his car; the Chevy had door handles missing, inside panels falling off, no rear window and useless seats held together with the seatbelts. He read my mind and explained that he spends all the money he earns as a dive instructor on travelling. That explained why the car was in such bad shape; he had been in Spain holidaying when the last hurricane had swept its way through the island, leaving the Chevy as a rust bucket. Every time we hit a speed bump, the sun roof would come off. I dreaded to think what the apartment was going to be like.
A North American Bicycle Journey
The apartment was on the edge of town, a block away from a large supermarket/cinema complex. Surprisingly, the apartment itself turned out to be pretty nice. He invited me to a dive in the afternoon, gave me directions and left me. I wandered about town a little, bought some bathers and then headed the four miles out of town to the marina.
The first dive was a little strange, as he was also doing an introductory dive for two others. It was just offshore but still pretty good in terms of the fishes and colours. I enjoyed it but got a little too cold by the end, even though my gauge read eighty degrees. We boarded the boat, driven by stern looking, but friendly Captain Daniel, and headed offshore. Alberto lent me his wetsuit shortie for the next dive, a large wreck of a fishing vessel. We entered the vessel near the stern and swam about a hundred feet towards an opening above the bow. In the middle was a room filled with a cloud of tiny, silver sardines, occasionally getting picked off by large black groupers three to four feet in length. In the next hallway it was almost completely dark but I could tell I was passing through another school of small fish, their silhouettes passing only inches in front of my mask. I told Alberto that I had been thinking of doing my dive master certification for several years and he gave me the idea of doing it here.
Day 209 (Rest day): 50.54 miles, 3:45 hours, Cozumel
lberto picked me up from the apartment this morning in the clapped-out Chevy full of divers. We did a fantastic wall dive and saw a turtle. There was a Latin-looking woman on board with her much older American boyfriend. She wore a tiny bikini and had the most amazing cleavage I think I’ve ever seen. We had a long boat ride back to the marina for new tanks and waited for the dive master to show up. He didn’t show, so a young guy who didn’t know any English at all was asked to escort us. Another nice dive, along a colourful reef with large angel fish everywhere. In the afternoon I set off on the bike for the forty mile ride around the island. It’s not really around the island, only the Southern part. There are no paved roads to the North, only a beaten track on which they do four-wheeler motorbike tours on. The road heading South out of town was mostly quiet, the odd tourist in a rented jeep. It’s nice to ride with an unloaded bike though I never feel complete without the extra weight. On the home stretch, a few miles out of town, who should slow down to say hi but Alberto in his clapped-out Chevy. He introduces me to his gorgeous girlfriend Carol and two dogs, one called Negra for its beautiful black coat, and the other Blanca, of course for its white coat. He invited me to a beach party later tonight on the other side of the island and I agreed. Watched the movie “Constantine” starring Keanu Reeves at the cinema down the street. It looked to be the only semi-decent thing that was showing. It ended up being quite good.
Day 210 (Rest day): 28.8 miles, 1:59 hours, Cozumel
oke up last night to Alberto throwing stones at the window above my bed. I thought someone was trying to shoot at me. I grabbed my bottle of “León de Tarapaca” vino tinto that I’d bought earlier and hopped into the clapped-out Chevy, now sans sun roof, or rather, now with a star roof. We picked up Carol, who is from Argentina and used to live near the largest mountain in the Americas; Aconcagua. We headed to the East edge of the island where there’s nary an electric light bulb about, and the stars come out in force, a garbled array of diamond dust thrown across the sky.
The party was just getting started. Alberto and I shared the wine, drinking it from grande-sized paper cups. He introduced me to his friends. I met Jesus, a skinny, gnarly tri-athlete. His routine before the start of any race was to smoke a joint, down a Red Bull and then start running. According to him, he’s done quite well using this tried-and-tested method for the last twenty years. I also met a tattoo artist who was living in Canada but planned on heading to Australia and South-East Asia. Sounds like it’s easy to get work anywhere if you’re a good tattoo artist. Alberto dropped me off in the early morning with the plan of going diving in the afternoon. By lunchtime though, Alberto had dropped around to invite me for lunch with his Mum instead. We went to a lovely seafood restaurant on the edge of town and we spoke again about becoming a dive master. I’m very close to deciding. I just have to keep reminding myself how much I hate working nine-to-five in front of a computer screen.
Went diving in the afternoon. My dive buddy was a Swiss man with wild grey hair who had logged over seven hundred dives. A good buddy to have.
Day 212 (Rest day): 6.85 miles, 0:32 hours, Cozumel
rouble in Paradise. We had a noon time dive planned today and by the time I got to the marina two very hot girls and their boyfriends, plus a boat-load of snorkellers were waiting in the sun. The two other Americans scheduled for the dive hadn’t shown up, so the boat left while Alberto and I waited. The American couple showed up half an hour later, far too jovial and talking non-stop. We drove down the coast to meet the boat and the girls from Utah were whinging about having to wait so long and being hungry. They were grumpy. We dove Columbia reef, I really enjoyed it, especially the bikini view and the fact you can’t hear people whinging underwater. The boat dropped us all off at the nearest resort but there was no lunch available so there was more whinging. We all piled into the clapped-out Chevy and started heading back into town but the Chevy overheated badly and we had to pull into the nearest resort. Luckily food was available so we were spared of whinging for half an hour. The girls had decided enough was enough, cancelled their second dive, and caught a taxi back to town with their apologetic boyfriends. Meanwhile, Captain Daniel had problems of his own on the boat, he was trying to deal with two American ladies. One was quite a large woman, a diver, and the other, her friend with a prosthetic leg, who was snorkelling. They were refusing to snorkel because of safety issues. Captain Daniel was at wits end. He told me this was the last time he was going to work for Alberto, he was going to quit. So Alberto and I boarded the boat and dove with the fat lady. We were rewarded for our extreme patience today with the sight of a very large spotted eagle ray. The ray swam a metre past Alberto who did not even notice and kept his head down, totally oblivious to our excitement. It was a magnificent creature, we were close enough to see the sucker fish clinging to its underbelly. And we also got to see another hawksbill turtle. It was dusk by the time we got back to the marina. After packing away all the gear, Daniel started arguing with Alberto and then stormed off on his moped (mopeds everywhere on this island). Alberto told me that Daniel drinks too much and wasn’t happy. I asked if he’d quit. Alberto said he always quits but comes back once he calms down. Alberto told me that he tries to deal with Americans as little as possible, they’re too much trouble.
t’s decided. I’m staying here for the next twenty five days to do my dive master certification. I’m a little disappointed about not making it to Cuba but I have to take this opportunity while I can. Cuba will have to wait.
A North American Bicycle Journey
Day 211 (Rest day): 9.86 miles, 0:48 hours, Cozumel
Day 213 (Rest day): 10.59 miles, 1:02 hours, Cozumel
ot the coffee percolator in the apartment working. Life is good.
We dived early today with a young couple from Norway and a couple from Germany. The Norwegians, Torre and Mona, were cool and told me about doing their open water diving courses in Oslo in dry suits, in water only a few degrees above freezing. We dived Santa Rosa and also a small nameless hotel reef closer to shore. Turns out Captain Daniel wasn’t kidding about quitting.
Day 214 (Rest day): 8.27 miles, 0:41 hours, Cozumel
ove again with the Torre and Mona. What a difference it makes to dive with people who understand that this is Mexico, and not everything is necessarily going to go as smoothly as things back home.
Felt an immense loneliness while I was walking back from town to the apartment. There are so many couples here and friends walking around together, even if it’s drunken spring-break friends abusing the hell out of each other outside the American bar. While I’ve been on the road I’ve rarely been lonely, but everyday here I feel it and it’s getting worse. I think once I finish my dive course I will try to travel again for a few days before my flight home. There’s a circus set up in the empty block opposite the supermarket/cinema complex. The Circo Gasca. As I walked past tonight for the umpteenth time I could hear wonderful opera music coming from inside the big top tent, which isn’t very big. Outside, the camels were lying on their sides in their own shit and the donkeys were standing around looking very bored.
Right: Uxmal Ruinas [Day 205] Facing and following pages: Chichen Itza [Day 207]
The only sign of life as I passed by was a midget dressed up in a clown outfit. He was teasing a neighbourhood stray dog by howling back at it. It was weird sight. I had to hold back a smile as I Hola’d him. He stopped howling at the dog for a moment and gave me a wave back, a big white, painted smile on his face.
Day 215 (Rest day): 7.04 miles, 0:28 hours, Cozumel
e took the boat today with Torre, Mona and five New Zealanders, only one of which was diving, the rest snorkelling. The girl from NZ, Angie, who’d only dived eight times before, was my buddy and was a natural. We spotted a turtle but that was about it. When we surfaced, the boat was being towed, and a guilty looking Alberto mentioned that we were having a few electrical problems. On the second dive I did my first ever dive briefing for the group. I forgot a whole bunch of points and ended up repeating most of it again but no-one seemed to mind. When we got in the water all we could see was a sandy bottom with a few isolated pieces of coral. We’d apparently found Paradise Reef, but there wasn’t much to it. I desperately wanted to see the eagle ray again, just to have something to remember my first dive master dive, but alas, nothing more than a stingray, moray eel and a big crab. I went to dinner with the Norwegians and New Zealanders. It was good, but mostly involved laughing about Alberto and his slack organisational skills, his changing of plans at the last minute, his pricing structure, and his boat. The boat is not much better than the clapped-out Chevy and is actually the slowest boat I’ve seen while here. It’s the only boat to have an old two-stroke Johnson outboard motor, every other boat in the marina has shiny, new Yamaha engines. It’s also the only boat in the marina that goes through two large plastic containers of fuel and oil mixture every day, most of it being spewed out as exhaust fumes. I passed the circus on the walk home again. The camels were still lying in their own shit and the donkeys were still looking bored. I spotted the midget (it’s actually quite difficult to spot a midget in the dark) leaning nonchalantly against the ropes of the big top tent, dimly illuminated by the flashing incandescent lights circling the “Circo” sign. He was smoking a cigarette. I gave him a wave, not thinking he’s seen me as I pass, but he has and he gives me a wave back.
Day 216 (Rest day): 0 miles, Cozumel
inally my dive master course has started. I met my instructor Jeraldo, at the dive shop he works from. The owners, Danielle and Jean Pierre are French and welcome me with coffee. First thing Jeraldo and I talk about is Alberto’s chaotic dive business! Jeraldo was studying architecture in Mexico D.F. when the dive bug bit him and he decided to dedicate his time to the sea. He one day plans to study permaculture in Scotland and then teach the techniques back here in Mexico.
After the first lesson I waited at the marina for an hour and a half for Alberto to show up. Mona and Torre came along again, plus two gorgeous girls from Italy and their boyfriends. The wait was worth it, the Norwegians and I did another lovely dive on the wreck again.
woke up with a head cold and had the chills several times throughout the day. I ate almost an entire clove of garlic and tried to buy a litre of cheap tequila after Alberto’s suggestion that it would clear my head up. Unfortunately the supermarket doesn’t see alcohol after three in the afternoon so I had to make do with lemons.
My first theoretical class with Jeraldo today.
Day 218 (Rest day): 0 miles, Cozumel
ad another class with Jeraldo this morning on all the things that can ruin your dive. The list was almost enough to put me off diving for good. Starts with Hypercapnia which is excess CO2; caused by breathing too quickly or working too hard. Then you’ve got Hypocapnia which is insufficient CO2; caused by excessive voluntary hyperventilation or due to stress. Hypoxia is insufficient O2. There’s CO poisoning if you get tanks filled with contaminated air and then O2 toxicity.
The list goes on and on; decompression sickness which may be cutaneous, joint and limb, neurological or pulmonary, heat exhaustion and heatstroke, middle ear squeeze, ear drum rupture, air embolism, mediastinal emphysema etcetera, etcetera and so on. When I got home this evening I wasn’t in the normal tired daze of post-diving and really felt like having a drink. I couldn’t be bothered with waiting in line for twenty minutes at the supermarket next door so began an earnest search of the house. All I could find, at the back of the food cupboard was a bottle filled with a pale brown, milky substance that smelt alcoholic but I wasn’t game to touch it. I considered the alcohol fuel from my Trangia cooking stove but didn’t want to wake up blind. So I resorted to cooking dinner instead and promised myself tomorrow to buy some wine and never again to have an apartment empty of alcohol while I’m here.
Day 219 (Rest day): 3.49 miles, 0:22 hours, Cozumel
he supermarket wouldn’t let me buy alcohol before nine in the morning! The head cold persists.
Day 217 (Rest day): 0 miles, Cozumel
A North American Bicycle Journey
I was cold once out of the water so I huddled inside the small cabin of Alberto’s boat. Unfortunately, my view outside was blocked by the two cute Italian girls sitting in their string bikinis in the doorway of the cabin. Warmed me up a little.
Day 220 (Rest day): 31.1 miles, 2:25 hours, Cozumel
fter this morning’s lesson, Jeraldo invited me a long for a dive with a group of friends that had come over from Cancun. One of them was a Swiss guy who had never dived before but was a mountain climber and planning to do K2 later in the year. He was a natural.
Day 221 (Rest day): 7.76 miles, 0:49 hours, Cozumel
A North American Bicycle Journey
Right: Taking it easy on the dive boat “Tortuga”, Cozumel [Day 214]
ent diving with Alberto in the afternoon. He had on board a cool Japanese guy who works for Panasonic as a electronic engineer. He was on long service leave and had started in Peru and worked his way North, diving in Honduras and Belize and had plenty of funny tales. Also on board were three young Americans. The girl with them was a pain in the arse complaining about this and that and clumsily falling into the shallow water of the marina at the end, badly scraping her shin. I led the group and we dove the wreck and Paradise reef which was beautiful this time.
Half-way through the shallow second dive it seemed like someone had dimmed the lights. Just as we were about to ascend, we spotted one of the snorkellers giving us frantic hand signals to get out of the water. We ascended to find dark, threatening clouds above us and a very strong swell. Within minutes a heavy torrential rain was falling. About half a kilometre away one of the enormous cruise ships had come unmoored from the dock and was slowly heading our way, it was lucky we’d gotten out of the water when we did. The sea outside the marina was chaos, dive boats frantically trying to recover their divers as huge waves rolled in and out.
The thousands of heavy rain droplets hitting the sea’s surface reminded me of a time I’d been surfing in San Juan in the Philippines in the middle of a humid tropical thunderstorm. Each heavy rain droplet hits the water and makes a crown of water bounce back, reminding me of that famous high-speed photo of a milk drop by Dr. Edgerton. Multiply that effect by millions and millions, add the beautiful, soft, crystal-like white noise sound that rain makes and the low rolling boom of thunder across the hills and you get a pocket kilig moment. A pocket kilig moment, as a wonderful friend once explained, is one of those special moments in time that you wish you could fold up and put inside the pocket of your jeans and pull out again later whenever you need it. Finally worked out the alcohol trading hours of the supermarket next door. Nine to nine on weekdays, nine to three on Sundays. Also discovered happiness; not having to wait in line at a check-out till. While I was grabbing my two bottles of León de Tarapaca vino tinto an old American guy asked if I knew what any of the Chilean wines were like and whether I could recommend one. I just buy the cheap stuff, I told him.
Took my bike for another lap of the island and bonked because I didn’t have enough fluids.
Day 223 (Rest day): 4.73 miles, 0:29 hours, Cozumel
ad to pass a physical abilities test today which reminded me of how bad a swimmer I am. The four hundred metre swim was a rude shock to my arms. Then an eight hundred metre swim with mask, snorkel and fins. Then treading water for fifteen minutes, the last two minutes with my hands above the water. We suited up and hopped in the water where I had to demonstrate a bunch of BCD skills, including swapping all my diving gear with Jeraldo while the both of us are taking it in turns to breathe with the one regulator (BCD stands for Buoyancy Control Device and is the vest that is worn to maintain buoyancy under and on top of the water). As we drove back to town, Jeraldo told me that I’ve almost finished the course. I’d better get started on some serious thinking about doing a short Cuba trip. Not much new on at the Cinema so I watched Constantine with Keanu again.
Day 224 (Rest day): 11.89 miles, 1:02 hours, Cozumel
got my first tip today! First time in my life. I was meant to dedicate the day to studying but called Alberto around lunch time and he invited me down to the beach to help with some intro divers. There were three cute young American girls and one guy, all from New York and all of them in their early twenties. We began with a shore dive to teach them their skills and then took them on a small tour of the nearby reef. One of the girls couldn’t control her buoyancy and kept floating towards the surface so I held on to her hand for the rest of the dive.
We did two more dives on more colourful reefs and were rewarded with another longer sighting of an eagle ray. It swam very slowly in front of us for two minutes and then floated out of sight over the edge of the reef. When I was packing up the gear, one of the girls asked me how long I’d been here. I told her. “Two weeks and you’ve already bought a bike!?” she exclaimed, looking at Stef leaning against Alberto’s clapped-out Chevy. I explained I’d kind of ridden from San Francisco and they all thought that was cool. Then they tried to hand me a handful of money. I was totally surprised and kindly refused it, telling them I didn’t need it. “We want you to have it” they explained.
helped Jeraldo with an intro dive for three Americans. One of them was a gum-chewing, slightly obnoxious teenage girl who didn’t seem to pay much attention during the briefings. What was cool though, was seeing the change in her after she’d finished her first dive. She’d suddenly gone from an obnoxious teenager with attitude to an amazed and grateful first time diver. It was great.
A North American Bicycle Journey
Day 222 (Rest day): 44.05 miles, 3:03 hours, Cozumel
I thank them and they wandered off to wait for their taxi back to town. Soon Alberto comes over and tells me he has a received a tip from them, he’s got a fifty peso bill in his hand. “What we normally do”, he says, “is put all the tips together and split it, so I owe you twenty five pesos”. I laugh and kid him, ”They obviously liked me a lot more than you” and show him my handful of three hundred pesos. So we split the money and I notice that the Americans are watching us and I wonder if maybe they had meant for me to have all of the three hundred. But I didn’t mind. I was stoked. It wasn’t about the money at all. It was the fact that for the first time in my life I’ve performed a service that someone appreciated and been given immediate credit for it. Sounds bad to say that the money made it feel more appreciated than just a simple thank you, but it’s an unpaid job so it did help in paying for some of my diving. I’ve realised that part of my responsibility as a dive master is to convince any good looking girl in a bikini that the water is warm enough to dive without a wetsuit.
A North American Bicycle Journey
Day 225 (Rest day): 12.79 miles, 1:18 hours, Cozumel
Right: Alberto in his clapped out Chevy [Day 215]
n a good dive here in Cozumel I am always reminded of the worlds that Dr Seuss created in the books I read as a child.
Day 226 (Rest day): 29.78 miles, 2:09 hours, Cozumel
et my CPR and first aid refresher course instructor today. Unfortunately he isn’t able to start until next week which means I have to hang around for almost another two weeks. There goes any ideas about Cuba. It may be just as well, it will be Easter this weekend and will probably be almost impossible to find accommodation unless I’d booked it in advance.
Oh well... The ideas of future trips are already playing themselves out in my head. I did have the crazy idea of riding from London back home to Perth, Australia but that might be a little mad. I think I may fly straight to Cuba from London and then continue the ride South from there. Next time I might pack a little lighter, but I doubt it, I rarely learn from my mistakes. It’ll be exciting to have these ideas bubbling about in my head for the next few years while I’m working in London.
Day 227 (Rest day): 19.38 miles, 1:40 hours, Cozumel
elped Alberto with an introductory dive today with two Americans from Los Angeles and a cute Japanese girl in a pink string bikini named Sumiko. At one point during the dive Sumiko started floating to the surface so I was sent to retrieve her and she held tightly to my hand for the rest of the dive. Damn, this is a good job. We were lucky enough to see three moray eels slivering about on the ocean floor. This was exciting, as normally you only ever see them poking their heads out from holes between rocks. For some reason, the moray eel reminded me of how hungry I was as yesterday while riding around on my bike I had spotted the only sushi restaurant in town. I decided what the heck, and gave Sumiko the international underwater hand signals for “Do you want to go eat sushi with me later on?” A horrified expression crossed her face. Maybe I’d actually signalled eating sushi with a knife and fork rather than chopsticks, or maybe she just doesn’t like eel. Or maybe it was because the eel had now slithered directly below us. I just hope it’s not like the deadly sea snakes in the Philippines that have to go up for air. In any case I took her horrified expression as a rejection of my invitation. She didn’t let go of my hand for the entire dive so I didn’t feel too bad.
Day 228 (Rest day): 6.97 miles, 0:39 hours, Cozumel
lmost three weeks ago I booked my flight home to Australia with a travel agent on the internet. This morning I rang the airline direct to ask them for gluten-free meals, only to discover that my flight had been cancelled two and a half weeks ago. I emailed the travel agent only to be given a one line apology and suggesting I rebook the flight. Meanwhile the price of the flight had risen seven hundred dollars. I found a local travel agent down town and managed to book similar flights for just a hundred dollars more than my original booking. I will arrive in Perth forty-eight hours after getting to the Cozumel airport.
Had my dive master exam and managed to pass. Woohoo!
Day 229 (Rest day): 46 miles, 3:06 hours, Cozumel
he big news on the island at the moment is the death of one of Yucatan’s richest men. He was killed yesterday by the engine propeller of his own massive boat after coming up from a dive. He owned Xcaret, a Disney-like natural paradise park on the mainland. He apparently pushed his wife away to safety before being tragically cut to pieces.
Alberto came over later in the evening and I talked to him about going over to the mainland to see the Tulum ruinas and to do some diving in the freshwater cenotes. The cenotes are a network of underground rivers that were once used, when they were only half full, as a means of transportation by the Mayans. Cenote diving is different to cave diving as there will be visible sunlight at least every sixty metres. This means that divers do not have to be specially certified to experience them. Alberto told me about all the places to camp near Tulum, how to sneak into the ruins for free like the locals and gave me a contact for the cenote diving. Alberto tells me he’s very tired of the whole diving thing and wants to get his paragliding instructor license as soon as he can.
A North American Bicycle Journey
I studied some more today, I’m more than ready for the exam. I rode South of town about fifteen miles to see the ruins at El Cedral. The ruins were absolutely unimpressive but I enjoyed riding around the little, very quiet village that surrounded the ruins. That was my exercise for the day. I’m wondering whether I can get to ten thousand miles at this rate. I have three hundred and sixty miles left in approximately twelve days.
Day 230 (Rest day): 0 miles, Coba
left the comforts of Cozumel apartment life and caught the ferry to the mainland in the morning. I met up with Jose, an old Spanish man who was to be my dive master for the cenotes. We picked up two Frenchies, both mid-twenties, Caroline and Fabian. At the first cenote, Dos Ojos, we geared up and got into the fresh water of the cave opening, only to find that Caroline wasn’t such a great diver and probably not experienced enough for this sort of thing. I used my first 500psi of air just waiting for her to descend and equalise. She continued to be a hassle during the dives. She had no control over her buoyancy and kept floating to the top of the cavern. I can imagine for someone with not much experience, being in a seemingly enclosed environment with no access to the surface, could be quite terrifying. She also managed to lose one of the good rental masks and complained bitterly with exaggerated facial gestures about the tanks hurting her sunburned back.
The cenote diving was interesting for the first five minutes. The second five minutes was the same as the first five minutes. The entire dive was the same as the first five minutes. It was something I’d always wanted to try, but now that I’ve tried it I will never need to try it again. There was barely any aquatic life to see, apart from the odd tiny silver fish. Just stalagmites and stalactites, and if you’ve been in a limestone cave before you will know what the inside of a cave looks like, just fill it with water and there you have it; cenote diving. The coolest thing for me, was the way the exhaled air from our regulators rose and formed pools of quicksilver on the ceiling of the cave. They appeared as perfect mirrors until you touched their surfaces, breaking the illusion, and they would then appear like windows with a view of the roof behind them. There were also several parts of the dive where daylight broke through the cenote ceiling and created a fuzzy rainbow in the water. After the dives it was great not to need to rinse salt off everything. I headed back to Playa and then caught a bus towards Coba. I had planned to camp somewhere but by the time I got to the small town it was dark; the hotel across the road from the bus stopped was more appealing.
Day 231 (Rest day): 5.52 miles, 0:33 hours, Cozumel
he weather was so bad last night that the roof of the hotel was ripped off in the wind and the rain came pouring in. When I awoke to a chorus of roosters, the roof was still there and I was dry as a bone.
The ruinas were spread out over almost two miles but nothing seemed particularly outstanding from the other ruins I’ve seen. It did have the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan area and thankfully it wasn’t out of bounds. The view from the top was impressive but is just a sea of thick jungle scrub as far as the eye can see. How early explorers persisted in getting through this country I will never know, but obviously the promise of Mayan riches was enough to keep them going. Once I got back to Playa, I grabbed lunch and headed to the Tulum ruinas situated with a view of the lovely turquoise waters between the mainland and Cozumel. The place was crowded with tourists from Cancun and it was amazing the number of Latinos that would totally disregard the “No climbing” barriers just for a photo opportunity. I got back to Cozumel in the afternoon, glad to be back. Day 232 (Rest day): 59.16 miles, 4:16 hours, Cozumel
A North American Bicycle Journey
t’s time to start planning the trip back home. I rode all about town looking for boxes big enough to fit the bike; the supermarket, refrigerator store, and a moped store; all of which let me rummage through their garbage, but to no avail. While I was on the North side of town I found a grungy-looking bicycle repair store and they said they’d pack my bike for a small fee. I had hoped they’d just hand me an old box.
I went to have my first-aid refresher course but it was cancelled so I used the opportunity to make another lap of the island. There were strong headwinds on the eastern-side and I had the sun setting behind me for the last half of the ride. I’ve started enjoying this ride now. I always give a big wave to the ambulance as they pass, they’d stopped to check if I was ok one time when I’d pulled over to eat. A big wave also to the Green Angels, the guy that rescues stranded drivers. He’d also stopped one time to check whether I was ok. I get passed by a convey of one or two dozen jeeps, for those cruise ship people who like to get a whirlwind tour of the island. I go past the sign advertising Bob Marley’s second home always thinking that next time I’ll get a photo of it. Next time. I pass the surfers on the East coast and stop and watch a while. I pass the wooden beach shack decorated with a charcoal drawing of a voluptuous naked lady. I stop in at the bar at Punta Morena beach for a quick drink and amuse myself watching the pet anteater. Each time, I consider buying the “Punta Morena – Surf Naked – Put a little colour in your cheeks” t-shirt but never do. Next time. I finally hit the road heading back into town and see how long I can keep up with the mopeds that struggle whenever they have a passenger.
Day 233 (Rest day): 13.2 miles, 1:01 hours, Cozumel
’m finally a dive master. Had my refresher CPR course in the morning. Jorge, my CPR instructor told me that there are about two thousand scuba dives done every day in Cozumel. And in the afternoon I made two of them. Alberto had a very good-looking Spanish dive master, Yolanda, onboard helping. The two middle-aged divers from Ohio were cool; they asked me a thousand questions about my trip. Because of the good-nature of the guys and Yolanda’s bikini with little yellow flowers sewn onto it, it was a very enjoyable dive. The first was at Paradise Reef where we were watched by two long barracudas. Yolanda pointed out some anemone shrimp to me, tiny and translucent; I’d never noticed them before. The second dive was on Los Palmos; a gently sloping wall that disappears into the big blue. We were privileged enough to see two eagle rays. I was actually more excited to spot my first splendid toadfish, apparently endemic to Cozumel and reputed to live nowhere else in the world. Went and saw the movie “Constantine” again as I was in dire need of some popular entertainment. In other news, there was another earthquake today off the coast of Indonesia, but luckily no tsunami followed. And Lisa Marie Presley told Oprah that she thinks Michael Jackson may have used her. Paul Hester, the Crowded House drummer, hung himself in a park not far from his home two days ago. “Most of life is so dull that there is nothing to be said about it, and the books and talk that would describe it as interesting are obliged to exaggerate, in the hope of justifying their own existence.” - A Passage to India, E.M. Forster
Facing page: Coba Ruinas [Day 231]
Day 234 (Rest day): 50.74 miles, 3:09 hours, Cozumel
efore mid-morning I had already completed another lap of the island. I now have 9832 miles on this trip and have 168 miles left in order to clock the 10,000 mile mark, seems a bit impossible with only two full riding days left. What a difference a good dive does for one’s psyche. I found Alberto at the pier chatting to a beautiful girl, turned out it was Yolanda, who looks great even wearing normal clothes. I took a young Italian couple down to the beach for some snorkelling while Alberto tried to round up some more divers. Neither knew much English but Molina, the very cute girlfriend would babble away at me excitedly whenever she spotted something cool, they were a lot of fun. I was the dive master for the two of them, and Mike, a bloke from British Columbia, apparently from a small town that I’d ridden through. He was shocked when I told him what time of year I’d been there. We dived on Paradise Reef again which was lovely as usual. Then we headed to the North end of San Francisco reef where we made a drift dive onto a gentle sloping wall. Drift dives are my favourite dives, it’s like flying, effortless flying. We only had to kick when we stopped to say hello to a large turtle heading in the opposite direction. I spotted a large lobster and we saw plenty of large angelfish nibbling on the coral. When we got low on air we all linked arms together for the ascent and safety stop. The dive left me with a grin on my face for the rest of the day. Especially after getting a goodbye kiss on the cheek from Yolanda. Day 235 (Rest day): 83.89 miles, 5:28 hours, Cozumel
wo laps of the island today! Ten thousand miles is in my sights; an early morning ride today then another on Saturday morning before I get Stef boxed up. Day 236 (Rest day): 37.26 miles, 2:40 hours, Cozumel
ometimes waking up early is hard to do. My planned lap of the island was cancelled due to poor attendance; all I could manage was a ten mile ride south and then back again.
After two nice dives today, Alberto invited me to meet him and the other dive masters at a restaurant on 65th street. I spent at least half an hour trying to find either the restaurant or his clapped-out Chevy but eventually rode home disappointed.
Day 237 (Rest day): 33.45 miles, 2:09 hours, Cozumel
was on by the bike by 6:15am. It rained heavily overnight so there was a cool breeze blowing. I don’t think it’s ever rained lightly while I’ve been here; it always seems to bucket down. I rode fifteen miles south and then returned to town. The marina was closed because of the weather, so no boats were out. On the way back, I passed Alberto and Yolanda in the clapped-out Chevy and they asked me where I’d disappeared to. Alberto invited me out again tonight to meet some friends from Texas, said he’d pick me up about six. I got a lovely goodbye kiss from Yolanda.
A North American Bicycle Journey
I showered and headed over to the dive shop to say goodbye. Danielle gave me a book to read for the long trip home and Jean Pierre showed me his almost completed web page. I left telling them I’d pass by later, but I hate goodbyes so didn’t head back. I will miss them all. I dropped my bike off at the bike shop north of town to get it packed. My bike computer read 9997 miles. Another three miles but for some reason I didn’t feel it was right to hit some sort of milestone. This whole trip seems to have been about going lots of places but not quite getting anywhere. I’d had the idea to ride west to east across the USA at one point but threw out that plan. Then I thought I’d try to do the four corners of the USA, but I only made it to one corner. Then I tried to ride north to south through the USA but gave that up after numb toes convinced me of my insanity. I’d tried to get to Cuba, ah... So, why reach ten thousand miles? If I feel like I have somehow failed to reach a milestone on this trip maybe it will encourage me even more so to attempt something bigger and better next time. I like that idea. I picked up Stef, all wrapped in cardboard, half an hour later. Carolina knocks on my door at six and the three of us head to the restaurant in Alberto’s clapped-out Chevy. Alberto hands me a nice bottle of wine as a gift, and I immediately feel a little ashamed at the cheap bottle of my “León de Tarapaca” vino tinto that I’d bought along myself. So into the fancy open-air restaurant I walk sheepishly, hacienda creeper framing the clear night sky, with a bottle of wine in each hand. Alberto introduces me to his friends Colin, a pilot from Texas, and his wife. We talk lots about paragliding, fishing and diving and the negative effect that Steve Irwin has had on the American people’s perceptions of Australians. It was a brilliant meal, the raw fish I’d bravely tried was really good. Colin pays for the entire meal, and I, quite tipsy, try to slip him some money discreetly for my share, but he refuses. “Come on..., I’m a stranger” I insist, but they laugh.
Day 238 (Rest day): 0 miles, Flight to Australia, depart Cozumel 11:55am
lberto offered to give me a lift to the airport, which was really great of him. We chucked the boxed up Stef in the back of the clapped-out Chevy and I was careful where I put my pannier bags. There’s a hole the size of a large suitcase on the rear left of the Chevy’s floor, Alberto reminds me not to put anything there or it will wind up on the road. We parted ways with a hug, I’m gonna miss Alberto and his clapped-out Chevy.
The airline was fine about taking the bike, for an extra sixty dollars. They wouldn’t let me take the bicycle lock for some reason. The plane made a wide arc across the island so it was possible to see the reefs I’d been diving on over the past month. I’m gonna miss Cozumel. Everything always looks good from the air. I dropped back down into the polluted hustle and bustle of Mexico city. Perla had made the effort to come out and meet me, it was great to see her and sad to say goodbye again.
Facing page: Coba Ruinas [Day 231]
Flew into the hustle and bustle of another city, Los Angeles. For an airport at midnight, it was crazily busy. I got through immigration quickly but it took me well over an hour to get my luggage re-scanned and to check in. The LAX staff were bitter and miserable, I’ll be glad if I never have to travel through LAX again. Day 239 (Rest day): 0 miles, Flying
oday didn’t exist for me, I lost it at some point over the Pacific, probably during the three or four hours of sleep I managed on the way to Taipei.
A North American Bicycle Journey
Day 240 (Rest day): 0 miles, Arrive Perth 11:50pm
Below: Leaving on a jet plane - my last look at Cozumel: the south side of the island [Day 238]
arrived in Singapore with plans to meet up with a friend, but of course I’d given them the wrong day, the day that didn’t exist for me. I took the free city tour just to get some sun on my face.
Flew into Perth just before midnight, almost two days after I checked in at Cozumel. Stef showed up on the baggage conveyor twenty minutes later, without a scratch. I don’t know how I should end this, so I won’t even try. I was expecting myself to have some sort of insight or maybe feel a little enlightened but nothing. I am, however, feeling the happiest and most relaxed I can ever remember feeling. Happiness is all relative anyway. Happiness can be living in a place you love. Happiness can be grinding your own coffee beans in the morning before you brew that kick-arse wake up drink. Happiness for me probably has a lot to do with good wine and not rushing about lots. It’s been good to slow down for a while. I’d sort of thought of this trip as kind of like dropping out of life for a while; no watching bad news on TV, no job, just the basics; food, water and shelter. Simplify my life. But in a way I think I’ve gotten closer to life; I’ve had time to see the things that I’d normally not notice. I’ve learnt about trusting my own instincts more often, having more faith in my own abilities, and having faith in the kindness of strangers. It’s been good to not have a battle plan, just to go out there and make it up as I go along. It’s been good to have a soundtrack to my restlessness, a bunch of songs that have become more important to me as time goes along. It’s been good to give a few good “Woohoo”s on those long down hills.
A North American Bicycle Journey
Will I still be able to have kids after spending so much time on the bicycle?
A ppendix : map
◦◦ Jandd front and rear expedition racks (aluminium) ◦◦ Shimano pedals with clipless one side (salvaged from my old bike) ◦◦ Brooks B17 leather saddle ◦◦ Continental Top Touring tyres ◦◦ Three waterbottle cages ◦◦ Crank Brothers pump ◦◦ Aero bars ◦◦ Cateye speedometer ◦◦ Shimano Clipless bike shoes ◦◦ Giro helmet (I never go without one now) plus helmet mirror (after too many close shaves with logging trucks in Northern California) ◦◦ Bike gloves ◦◦ Ground sheet tarpaulin ◦◦ Back pack (day use size) ◦◦ 12 string acoustic guitar wrapped in garbage bags and covered with a rainproof backpack cover ◦◦ Spare tyre wrapped around the guitar (usually carried for at least a month before changing tyres)
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REAR LEFT PANNIER: Arkel GT-54 pannier with waterproof covers ◦◦ Adventure Designs 1-man tent ◦◦ Waterproof bag: Mountain Designs Travelite 650 Sleeping Bag, Cotton sleeping sheet (both from Oz) ◦◦ Teva sandles ◦◦ Rope ◦◦ Emergency blanket ◦◦ Medical kit ◦◦ Small tarpaulin for bike ◦◦ Toiletries ◦◦ Stove fuel ◦◦ Candle lamp and candles FRONT RIGHT PANNIER: Arkel GT-30 pannier ◦◦ Rainproof pants ◦◦ Rain jacket (cheap and wind proof only) ◦◦ Waterproof bag: Camera bag with Nikon F70 camera, 10 rolls E100VS slide film, 20mm Nikkor lens, 28-200mm Tamron lens, Sony MZ-NF810 minidisk and stereo microphone, minidisk charger, spare batteries ◦◦ Journal ◦◦ Maps
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Thermarest full-length sleeping mattress Pura water purifier Sneakers Waterproof bag: 2 pairs of bike shorts, 2 pairs of bike shirts, good pants and shirt, tracksuit pants, casual shorts, 2 t-shirts, 3 pairs of Smartwool socks (these are brilliant and don’t stink too bad if not washed for a week), Smartwool jersey, warm jumper, 3 pairs of boxers, thermal undershirt, beanie, wide brim hat Assorted cable ties, safety pins, duct tape, clips Clothes line Tools: 2 spare tubes, Swiss army knife, puncture repair kit, bike multi-tool, tyre levers, kevlar emergency spoke repair kit w/spoke tool, small adjustable wrench, Allan keys Passport, travellers cheques, US dollars, ID cards, emergency contact information, telephone contacts and National Parks Annual Pass (thanks Brooke and Stef) Goretex waterproof socks and waterproof gloves (both bought in Fairbanks, absolutely hopeless) Neoprene booties (many thanks to John in Telkwa, BC) Ski face mask (bought in Alaska)
FRONT LEFT PANNIER: Arkel GT-30 pannier with waterproof covers ◦◦ ◦◦ ◦◦ ◦◦
MSR 6-Litre heavy duty waterbag and shower attachment Knitted wool gloves (old and holey) Assorted sized zip-lock bags Trangia stove, two pots, wind stopper (a present from the folks back in Oz and much appreciated) ◦◦ Food: the following was pretty much always there: Bananas, Corn grits, Chili con carne in a tin, Snickers, mixed nuts, 5-min rice, rice cakes, peanut butter, salt/ pepper/herbs/sugar, Nutella ◦◦ Knife, spoon, cigerette lighter, matches ◦◦ Plastic cutting board HANDLEBAR BAG with map cover: REI ◦◦ Lip balm, sunscreen, maps, betadine ◦◦ Bandana ◦◦ Zipka headlamp
too much stuff...
REAR RIGHT PANNIER: Arkel GT-54 pannier
A ppendix : equipment
BIKE: Trek 520 (2004)
A ppendix : mile age
A ppendix : food
the diet that kept me pedalling...
A week before I started the trip I was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease. This meant that I had to follow a gluten-free diet and could no longer eat products containing wheat, barley, rye (and possibly oats). It wasn’t an easy thing to work out while on the bike but I got the hang of it by eating a very simple and boring diet. The big problem with the diet is working out all the foods that don’t seem to have gluten yet will have food additives such as modified starch, maltodextrin and caramel (often derived from barley or wheat). At the time I was doing this trip (2004/05) it was rare to find products labelled with gluten-allergy warnings in the USA. It may have changed by now hopefully. In the United Kingdom the labelling is very common but is very misleading. For a product to be labelled gluten-free in the UK it has to contain less than 20 parts per million gluten, not so good if you happen to be quite sensitive to even small traces of gluten (I lost 8 kilograms in the first few weeks of living in the UK because of this). Australia seems to be the best for food labelling. A product labelled as gluten-free cannot contain any traces or derivatives of wheat, barley rye or oats. So the diet was boring but within two weeks I started feeling incredibly good. The constant tiredness I’d been feeling for years finally disappeared and some days I could just ride and ride and ride and... Breakfast ◦◦
Grits (from corn): Grits is incredibly boring by itself, it’s not dissimilar to eating beach sand. I’d try to always add a few spoonfuls of nutella, peanut butter or mixed fruit and nuts in to give it taste
Lunch and Snacks ◦◦ ◦◦ ◦◦ ◦◦ ◦◦ ◦◦ ◦◦ ◦◦ ◦◦ ◦◦ ◦◦ ◦◦ ◦◦ ◦◦ ◦◦ ◦◦ ◦◦
Snickers Bananas Dried fruit and nuts Apples Bananas, bananas, bananas, bananas... Other assorted fruit Snickers V8 tomato juice drink Rice cakes and peanut butter Rice cakes and Nutella Snickers Rice cakes with peanut butter and Nutella Snickers Did I mention Snickers? Over-ripe bananas, an apple and a litre of chocolate milk (induces headspins, though only worked in Montana and Wyoming where they have different sorts of cows I guess) Fritos Scoops and Salsa Snickers
Dinner Recipes Now here’s where I get real fancy: CHILI CON CARNE AND RICE: Ingredients: ◦◦ 1 tin of Stagg “Chili con Carne” ◦◦ 1 quantity Instant Rice Method: ◦◦ Cook rice. ◦◦ Add Chili and heat through. ◦◦ Serve. ◦◦ I ate the above recipe more times on this trip than you or I could possibly ever imagine.
CHUTES TOO NARROW
HER MAJESTY THE DECEMBERISTS
BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE YOU FORGOT IT IN PEOPLE
ABANDONED SHOPPING TROLLEY HOTLINE
GRANT LEE BUFFALO MIGHTY JOE MOON
THE DIRTY THREE
THIS IS THE SEA
A CENTURY ENDS
LET ME COME OVER
GODSPEED YOU BLACK EMPEROR! LIFT YOUR SKINNY FISTS LIKE ANTENNAS TO HEAVEN
SOMETHING FOR KATE
TREMBLING BLUE STARS
FIGHT FOR YOUR MIND
ASK ME TOMORROW
NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL IN THE AEROPLANE OVER THE SEA
the tunes that kept me sane...
DOWN THE RIVER OF GOLDEN DREAMS
TEENAGE FANCLUB GRAND PRIX
A ppendix : sounds
INTERPOL TURN ON THE BRIGHT LIGHTS
A ppendix : sponsor s
o one. No one could really give a shit, especially as I was doing it all for my own selfish reasons. And screw those arseholes at Snickers, I probably increased their yearly profits single-handedly from all the Snickers I ate on this trip:
SNICKERS REJECTION EMAIL: Reply-To : mm _ firstname.lastname@example.org Sent : Saturday, 12 June 2004 6:05:20 AM To : leon _ steber at hotmail.com Subject : Re: 5513397A In response to your email regarding MASTERFOODS USA, A DIVISION OF MARS, INCORPORATED product Thank you for your email. We are sorry to say that we are not signing any new sponsorships. We are focusing on our current national sponsorships. We wish you every success in your future endeavors. Sincerely, Consumer Affairs Masterfoods USA A Division of Mars,Incorporated
SUBJECT: PLEASE RECONSIDER, RE: SPONSORSHIP OF LEON STEBER Dear Sir, Thankyou for your quick response in regards to my request for Snickers sponsorship. However I feel I have been dismissed too quickly before you have gotten to know me and I please ask you to reconsider? I think Snickers needs to market itself as a glutenfree alternative sports energy bar and feel that I would be perfect as the “new face” of Snickers for the Summer of 2004. I’m sensitive, passionate about the outdoors and looking after the environment and the whales and all those things, not butt-ugly, semi-intelligent yet stupid enough to ride aimlessly around California on a bicycle for over a month now. It has been Snickers that got me over the Sierras (once in either direction!), Snickers that pushed me up the Big Sur Coast, Snickers that saved my arse on the Gold Country hills. I feel Snickers should market itself towards “real” people doing “real” things, not gorgeous Hollywood-looking beach bodies having fun at the sea. Not that I have anything against gorgeous bodies. As an attractive bonus, I am also very cheap and would gladly give my time and my face to the Snickers marketing department in return for only a few Snickers bars each day of my trip (and maybe a Snickers cycling jersey ... so I can spread the good word...!) I ask you to please reconsidering sponsoring me,
Best Regards Leon Steber
ot coke either...Not like I care though. But I could have really done with a new shirt. Bastards...
COCA COLA ENQUIRY FORM: Dear Coca Cola, I am currently on a bicycle journey that started out in San Francisco almost 200 days ago, wandered aimlessly through California, and then up to Alaska and now heading South through Mexico.
If you’d like to sponsor me, let me know and I’ll send you details of the next big town I’ll be stopping in. Kind Regards Leon
Coca-Cola Support (email@example.com) To: leon _ steber at hotmail.com Subject: RE: Coca-Cola Web Form Friday, 25 February 2005 3:54:09 AM Thank you for your recent email message, Mr. Steber. We appreciate your interest in our commitment to the environment. The Coca-Cola Company focuses its efforts in two main categories: packaging and operations. Significant strides have been made in both packaging innovation and reduction of the amount of raw materials needed to produce packaging, or source reduction. We use only packages which are recyclable, and we are active in supporting recycling initiatives, as well as litter prevention programs around the world. On the operations side, we are quite proud of our efforts in the area of wastewater quality. Before we discharge wastewater into a natural body of water, we treat that discharge to a level capable of supporting fish life. I’ve included links to two brochures on our website that illustrate our commitment to preserving the environment: http://www2.coca-cola.com/citizenship/eKOsystem.pdf http://www2.coca-cola.com/citizenship/environmental _ report.html
I was also wondering whether you would like to sponsor me for the remainder of my trip? I would gladly promote the brand in exchange for a new, bright red Coca Cola cycling jersey (my existing jersey is looking a bit faded and worse for wear I’m afraid). Or even a new water bottle with the Coca Cola logo splashed across it, that would go down fine. Even a bit of money if you’re that way inclined, wouldn’t go unappreciated. I don’t actually drink any Coca Cola myself (gives me bad gas; I can clear a room of people with a single fart after a glass of Coke) but would be more than willing to do the Coke company a favour by wearing the logo on the back of my sweat-drenched and smelly shirt.
A North American Bicycle Journey
Today I rode from San Cristobal de las Casa to Ocosingo. A very pleasant ride through mountains covered with pine trees and past many small indigenous villages. I was impressed to see how much Coca Cola has made its mark on these villages. I see Coca Cola billboards, Coca Cola chairs, Coca Cola umbrellas; they even use Coca Cola in some of their shaman rituals. But nowhere did I see a Coca Cola trash can. The roadsides were littered with empty Coca Cola bottles and other trash. Why is this? Does Coca Cola not consider this to be a part of their social responsibility?
As a consumer oriented Company, consumer feedback is very important to us. Please be assured that we have shared this information with our colleagues in Mexico. Please visit our website again if we can be of further assistance. Sherry Industry and Consumer Affairs The Coca-Cola Company ..............................................................................................................
A North American Bicycle Journey
To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: RE: RE: Coca-Cola Web Form Thursday, 3 March 2005 19:27:05 AM
Thanks for your vaguely related response to my query regarding your environmental policies. I guess you guys just have a list of standard answers to commonly asked questions. However, you aren’t doing your job properly; where’s your standard answer to my sponsorship question? I’d really love, at least, a coca cola water bottle. The mouthpiece on the one I’m using at the moment is getting quite crummy from all the spittle around my mouth after a day’s riding. Thanks again for your response, have a great day. Cheers Leon .............................................................................................................. Coca-Cola Support (email@example.com) To: leon _ steber at hotmail.com Subject: RE: RE: RE: Coca-Cola Web Form Monday, 7 March 2005 4:07:12 AM Thank you for contacting The Coca-Cola Company, Mr. Steber. The Coca-Cola Company focuses its efforts in two main categories: packaging and operations. Significant strides have been made in both packaging innovation and reduction of the amount of raw materials needed to produce packaging, or source reduction. We use only packages which are recyclable, and we are active in supporting recycling initiatives, as well as litter prevention programs around the world. On the operations side, we are quite proud of our efforts in the area of wastewater quality. Before we discharge wastewater into a natural body of water, we treat that discharge to a level capable of supporting fish life. As I am sure you can imagine, The Coca-Cola Company receives numerous requests for support on a daily basis from a wide range of individuals and organizations from more than 200 countries where our brands are sold. While we would love to support every worthwhile request that comes to us, we simply can’t. We wish we could respond more positively. please visit our website again. Sheila Industry and Consumer Affairs The Coca-Cola Company
If you have additional questions or comments,
3. The ride from Trukee up to Donner Pass, CALIFORNIA [Day 26]:
4. The ride through Lassen National Park, CALIFORNIA [Day 38] 5. The ride around Crater Lake National Park, OREGON [Day 45] 6. Ride down Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, WASHINGTON [Day 72]:
7. The ride through Glacier National Park, MONTANA [Day 144] 8. The muddy road between Interstate 90 and Emigrant, MONTANA [Day 147] 9. Highway 89 between Garden City and Logan, UTAH [Day 151] 10. Pretty much any ride in Southern Utah, UTAH [Day 160 through to 165]:
my favourite ten rides...
A ppendix :
2. Highway 395 between Olancha and Independence, CALIFORNIA [Day 11]
1. The ride along Big Sur, CALIFORNIA [Day 2]:
A ppendix : thank s
Thanks to Alby Mangels for being an inspiration to a generation of young Aussies to wander all over the world doing stupid things just for the sake of doing stupid things. Whenever I got in sticky situations I’d ask myself “What would Alby do if he was here?”. He would have gotten out his video camera and gorgeous modellooking girlfriend and started filming. Big thanks to Tania and James for logistical support in London and the many favours I’m indebted to you for, Mum and Dad for never sounding too concerned on the phone, JJ and Sarah for all the good times in Oakland and a bed when I needed it most, Brooke and Stef for being about the only ones to encourage me before I started, saving me from freezing my arse off in the winter and always having a mattress for me in the cupboard when I passed through, thanks also for the National Parks Annual Pass, I made sure I visited as many as I could, Herman for inspiring the original idea of this trip, always encouraging me, joining me in Canada and providing the entertainment, Mike B for running with the bulls and providing a bit of a challenge, Jason and Judy of Left Coast Cyclery for the invaluable bike recommendation, Kathleen for the orange juice and accommodation help, Susan for the lift up to my first Sierra summit, Cheree for the kiwi hospitality, Cheryl and Jim for the ride to the top of my second Sierra summit, Whitey and Molly for the stories and offer of a fresh fish dinner, the Mexicans in the pickup at Tahoe, Barbara and Mac for the entertainment over several days, the cute ranger at Tahoe for letting me camp for cheap, Michael and Lisa for the bumpy ride, Buffy for the inspiration, Vic for the sketchy rum, the blokes at Sardine Lake for the offer of beers, Ted for the jerky, the couple from Florida for sending a pic to my folks, Ad and kids for the marshmallows, Luke for the ride ideas in Washington, Connie for the retirement champagne, Paul, Gail and kids for the meal, the book, the fruit and the offer of an old car, Chris for the maps, Audie, Helen and Meathead for the “camping” in their backyard and amazing food, Rodge for the inspiration and the offer of Cancun accommodation, Dirk for his time management skills, Michael and Rebecca for the garden burger and good conversations, Hazel for taking the time to check campground availability for me, all the people that offered me lifts in Washington, Canada for letting me enter the country, the Aussie bloke in Victoria for his amusing attempt at selling me his GPS, Ed for his frothing-at-the-mouth excitement, the granny on Saltspring for the leftover dinner, Rudge and Charolette for showing me around Nanaimo, providing entertainment and letting me share their campsite in a full campground, Nicki for the campsite on her back lawn, and Ben for the leg-busting hike, Boris, Dorit and Rolf for route tips, the fishing bloke at agate beach for the snacks, Daniel for the bike ride entertainment, Jun and Chickadoo for the laughs, Meg, Peter and Barb for the wonderful Aussie company over two or three days, David and Soph for the cocoa and traveller’s rum and good laughs, Andrew for the photos at the Arctic Circle, Mr and Mrs Boyle for the warm old fashioned hostel hospitality, the blokes that gave me a lift up to the Arctic Circle, Richard for the lift back, Tadashi for the inspiration and route advice, Mariko and Seiji for the laughs, Kevin and everyone at Arkel for the extremely good service and getting me back on the road faster than neccessary, Mike for the blankets, the German tour group for the brekkie and shelter, the Aussie lady at Delta Junction RV park for the free stay, Hans and wife for the food and beer offers, John and Anita for keeping up with me, Mark for saving me from a very wet ride into Whitehorse, Hide on Jeckell hostel for being the best hostel one could ask for, Norbert for putting up with me for a bit and teaching me the art of stealth camping, the lady from Dease lake and her mixed nuts, the Cassiar RV park for the discount accomodation and free map, John for the free accomodation, wine and neoprene booties, Dave and the cheap parts and labour at Prince George, the Garth-looking bike mechanic for giving me back my granny gears, the couple from Arkansas for the paddling the Yukon inspiration, Kerry for the cabin accomodation offer that I never took up, Mike for the job offer that got me seriously thinking, the billboard in Montana for bringing a smile to my face, Pauly for the grizzly bear stories and for actually giving me the first decent, thoughtful conversation in weeks, Gary for the directions, chocolate and accomodation offer, the old guy from Arizona for all the old stories and food offers, the park host for looking after me when I could barely walk, the eighty year old for the inspiration and for sending a photo back to Mum and Dad, the road worker for the lift and real estate advice, Barb, Stephanie and Ardel for the great accomodation, the entertainment and the lift to Moab, Lindsey and Cat for the good, great times in Moab, Charlie and Julia for reminding me of how great Aussies are, James for the rest stop chat, the Monticello RV park owner for the cheap stay, the Mexican for the kind offer of an electric heater in my tent and the leftover pizza, A.L. for being a miserable bastard and making me thankful for what I have, Bill and Debra for my first fresh fruit in days and the AAA maps, the couples from Netherlands for the beer offer, Doug for spending the time with a complete stranger to make sure I was warm and dry and had a dry place to sleep, the Zion Park ranger for the tunnel lift, Brooke and Stef for coming all the way from Long Beach to the edge of Utah, for letting me crash for weeks, for everything, to the great friendships and late night talks and everything, for Dale and Bonnie for the great meals, accomodation and much needed gambling tips in Vegas, JJ and Sarah for letting me crash at your place again, the security guards for helping me to locate my bike again, the Singapore Airlines stewardess who forgot my request for a white russian...remembered me after about fifteen minutes and then spent the next two hours plying me with them...then when thoroughly off my tits asked me to fill out a customer service appraisal form, Sandie for always picking me up... teaching me to cook the way I cook...and always looking out for me, Mum and Dad for nursing me back to health with good food and good walks, the burglars for waking me up, Herman for the entertainment again, Alissa for reminding me how screwed up people can be, Harry for the much needed lift and tour of Silver City, Travis for all the kindness you showed and your wife for the cookies which I couldn’t eat, the highway patrol cop for the directions and sympathy, the old guy for driving me to the museums, Lilia, Perla for being my wonderful guide for a few days and Mum for the best meatballs I’ve ever had, Che for the inspiration, the baristas in Oaxaca for the best headspin-inducing coffees I ever had and never had since, Carlos for doing the big trip and inspiring me to one day do South America, Cesar for the great tour, Amelie for the good company, Cecilia and Carlos for lifting my mood incredibly, Alberto... for all your hospitality and making me a member of the family...all the good diving...everything, Jeraldo for the dive master instruction, Captain Daniel for the good laughs to help pass the hours while waiting for Alberto, all the fishies and nice reefs of Cozumel, every bikini-clad diver I saw, the divers from NYC for giving me my first...and probably last tip, all the great dive buddies I had, all the whinging dive buddies I had for making me appreciate all the great dive buddies so much more, Jose for the cenote diving and the amazing patience you displayed, Yolinda, Carol, Torre, Mona, Danielle, Jean Pierre for all the company and good conversations, good beers, good food, good times, Angine for packing up Stef with care, thanks to regular employment everywhere for encouraging thoughts of escaping regular work and to attempt to get on a bike and attempt a trip like this, and finally...last...but not least...finally a enormous thank you to Stef (the bike, the beast, the legend) for getting me everywhere...thank you, thank you, THANK YOU ! Thank you to whatever it was that made me put my helmet on (in spite of showing up at work with helmet hair) on the morning of Friday 13th September 2002, just minutes before being hit from behind by an Oakland Raiders football player in an SUV and landing head first on the road. R.I.P. Darrell. Also, a very very big thank you to my sister Tania who has been patiently proof-read all my work, she’s a legend. Thanks Tania!
Leon Steber's directionless wanderings through North America on a bicycle. More at http://leonsteber.com/biketrip