Things That Go Bump In The Night!

Leaving the Beaver state behind, I crossed into California in beautiful sunshine and arrived at Fort Dick 😉 (I swear I’m not making these names up.) It felt about 10 degrees warmer too. Shortly afterwards, I entered Redwood National and State Parks. The Pacific coast is often hilly and mountainous, so I had a climb ahead of me from sea level to well over 1000 ft. From my uphill perspective, the trunks of the redwood trees seemed massive. Even craning my neck, I could barely see their tops. Redwoods are the tallest living things on the planet. To give you an idea of the scale, look for my bicycle at the foot of the tree in the photo. That tree is actually a relative youngster. Redwoods can reach heights of over 350 ft, which is longer than a football pitch.

Despite the warm sunshine, the nights were chilly. I love camping in the redwood forests, so I broke out my camping gear all the same. Good job I didn’t bother packing my negligée, as the night was so cold that I ended up pulling on everything I had with me. Having finally got warm, I was woken a short time later by an insistent rustling. I lay half-awake listening to it for a while until I realized that the rustling was inside my tent! Switching on my flashlight, I saw a raccoon searching my front pannier for the walnut and cranberry scone that I had stashed there earlier that day. Clearly a discerning raccoon, nevertheless one that didn’t take “No” for an answer. It returned three times until it was convinced that there was nothing to be had. I had no intention of sharing my scone with him. As I always say, “A pleasure shared is a pleasure halved.”

As I headed south along the Pacific coast, cycling from one headland to the next, with climbs of near to 3000 ft followed by exhilarating descents, the spectacular vistas that unfolded around each bend helped to distract me from the increasing pain that had started in my mid-back as a small twinge a few days earlier. By the time I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, I was in such pain that I could barely sit down on the saddle. A doctor’s visit the following day, plus MRI and bone density scan, revealed a compression fracture in my spine. Not only that, it showed that I’d had three previous fractures — all likely caused by something else that the scan revealed — osteoporosis.

So injury stopped play. Sounds more butch that way. I’m going to take inspiration from that raccoon and try again — probably next spring. For the heck of it, I’ll start the remaining stretch from San Francisco to the Mexico border from the doctor’s office 🙂


A Nightmare on Elm Street


While not as conspicuous as the gentleman in my previous post, I was reassured by the motorist who excitedly let me know that he could see my hi-viz vest and panniers from a half-mile back. A girl likes to stand out from the crowd. Hopefully that was also the case when I got caught in the first downpour of the trip shortly before Astoria, Oregon. Yes, I’m now in Oregon!

To be honest, I was rather underwhelmed by the state of Washington. Though I had glorious weather, the Adventure Cycling route frequently took me inland on busy roads. But there were some definite highlights: The views of the Olympic Mountains, Mount Rainier, and Mount Saint Helens were stunning, and seeing eagles overhead was awe-inspiring. Also to Washington’s credit is that the state is still at “peak beard” 🙂

Though I’ve had a lot of rain since crossing into Oregon, I’m loving the Beaver state. (Yes, it really is called that!) The scenery is spectacular and the Oregonians very welcoming. Take the scrawny, tattooed lad in Subway, where I’d sought refuge from a sudden downpour. Instead of the usual melodic “Welcome to Subway”, he darted from behind the counter – mid-sandwich – wanting to know if I was Robert Englund. Preening myself that I’d been mistaken for a Hollywood starlet, I sheepishly confessed that I had no idea who that was. Happy to inform, he googled Robert Englund on his phone and showed me … Freddy Krueger!

Raining heavily again today, but I had great company all day. Cycling past Umpqua Lighthouse State Park after leaving the warm, dry motel this morning, I ran into Tom from Vancouver, who is cycling from Seattle to San Francisco. Tom had camped at the state park last night – along with two other cyclists and a retired lady from the UK! Definitely made of sterner stuff than me – or Freddy Krueger!

Fishnet Stockings


Bellies in, boobs out for the photographer – in this case for our Paul, who had traveled to the US/Canada border to see me off. After joking that we need to be careful not to inadvertently step over the border, we very nearly did just that. A quick illegal u-turn later and I’m on my way south. Next stop Mexico. Well, not quite, as we had one more night at our B&B in Bellingham. So just 30 miles or so on day one.

The Pacific Northwest is known as one of the wettest parts of the United States. I’m not one to tempt fate, but the weather so far has been magnificent. [It’s now day 5.] Sunny and fairly warm during the day, but brass monkeys at night, so no camping so far, though I still get butch points for carrying my camping equipment with me. Hard core, even if I’ve not used it yet!

Scenery has been a bit of a mixed bag so far. Sometimes spectacular, but the route in the first couple of days took me on some busy roads, which aren’t much fun on a bicycle. Now that I’m south of Seattle, things have quietened down a lot, with peaceful forests, rivers and lakes. Or have they? The gentleman, who swept by on his racing bicycle, did rather take me by surprise. I had expected the lumbersexual look to be “de rigueur” in these parts (hence my own lush silver beard – I don’t do gray). However, this gentleman had chosen to combine his black cycling shorts with a rather daring pair of fishnet stockings. It seems we San Franciscans have some catching up to do!

It’s All Going South!

Look! It’s moving. It’s alive. It’s alive…
(Henry Frankenstein)

Yay, the blog lives and breathes again. It’s been well over a year since I arrived home in San Francisco after cycling across the United States from coast to coast. I’ve since been flirting with the idea of cycling from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego (kind of like the Americas version of Lands End to John o’ Groats). Not sure I’m butch enough to ride from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego in one go (though I hope a few of you would heartily dispute that!), so I’m starting with the US leg from Vancouver to the Mexico border — still a hefty 1,857 miles of breathtaking cliffs, redwood forests, lighthouses, beaches, and rugged coastline.

Setting off for this trip in just a couple of days’ time brings back memories of how apprehensive I was last year when I was about to set off cycling across the United States. I’d recently been diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and wasn’t sure I could get up the Appalachian Mountains, let alone the Rockies. But I completed the ride with aplomb, even if I say so myself. This time round, a year further in with the CLL, and my specialist at Stanford tells me one of the best things I can do is cardiovascular exercise. Hee, hee, I’m not sure he had this ride in mind though. Anyhow, I hope you’ll join me again on this trip, even if only from your desk chair or deck chair, and send me your encouragement along the way 🙂


Climb Every Mountain

Battling a headwind up Market Street, I arrived back home in San Francisco on Sunday, July 3. It had taken me 2 months and 2 days to cycle across the United States. The following evening, the city of San Francisco threw a huge firework display in my honor 🙂

I had originally bought the maps to do this trip 21 years ago. Better late than never is definitely true in this case. I would have missed the kindness and hospitality of countless strangers across the United States, the friendship of the other cyclists I met along the way (special mention here to Don, Dan, and Bill, Paul and Lena, Tom and Jacy, and Marian and Lukas, all of whom defined this trip for me), and the spectacular landscapes. Mind, I would also have saved myself the frustrating headwinds, sauna-like temperatures, and seemingly interminable climbs. But I’d do it all again in a flash.

One of the reasons for finally undertaking this trip was to make sense of some things that have happened to me in recent years: In particular, the life-threatening injuries after a mentally ill homeless man attacked me with a hammer in San Francisco three years ago, and a diagnosis of leukemia last year. In the end, I’m not sure I made sense of anything. But it doesn’t matter; I learned something more important – to live day by day, and to believe that everything is possible.

Before signing off this blog, I want to thank you for reading and to let you know how much I appreciated your comments and well-wishes. Very especially, big thanks to my partner Paul for his support, understanding, and for the mother of all chocolate eclairs when I arrived back. Hopefully, the pictures of Colorado will inspire you to go cycle up a mountain too!

Queen of the Desert

Unleashing my inner Daenerys, I’ve been crossing the vast, open, uninhabited expanses of Utah and Nevada. In the desert, settlements can be 70 miles or more apart, which means carrying all my water and food with me. Temperatures have been in the high 90s Fahrenheit (35+ degrees Celsius) and sometimes over 100. In Nevada, I’ve been climbing at least a couple of passes every day, usually over 7000 ft, and occasionally with strong headwinds as I’m heading west. Good job nobody told me about all this beforehand, as I’m not sure I would have believed I could do it – especially with leukemia – but here I am, halfway across Nevada and doing great! I guess it’s true – you’ve really got to try stuff. Here are a few pictures to give you an idea. I call it “Cycling Elevated”. Enjoy!


The Luv Shack

After the Great Plains, the climb to 9000+ ft was tough, especially as the temperature was in the 90s, but it was only really a practice run for the following day when I climbed the Monarch Pass above the snow level to 11,312 ft. As I stopped for the obligatory selfie at the summit, several folks emerged from their cars and motor homes, and came over to congratulate me. Fortunately, there were no other cyclists around, so I had my moment of glory all to myself. No idea why I made out that climbing the pass was no big deal when it was absolutely knackering. Too cool for my own good, methinks.

Even before I reached the summit, I had started to feel like I’m in the west, and the sign at the summit confirmed this. The Monarch Pass is the continental divide between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. I’m not sure what that means, but I’m guessing that water to the left of the sign flows to the Pacific, and water to the right flows to the Atlantic. I briefly considered asking two girls whether their dog would be willing to put my theory to the test, but thought better of it. A far more precise indicator that I’m in the west is that I can finally find a decent sandwich – on crusty bread and bursting with goodness. I’m loving Colorado.

The other problem with mountains is that the weather is all over the place, often with ominous lightning and thunder, and occasionally hail pinging off my bicycle bell. Seeing a blue patch of sky in the direction I’m heading, I check the map for campsites and spot one with cabins. In America, cabins are usually pretty comfy affairs, and with lightning to my left, treating myself to a cabin sounds like a good option. The scenery was spectacular – a red sandstone gorge with lakes – but the campsite was a disappointment: run-down mobile homes perched on the hillside. I brace myself that these are the “cabins”. But no, the cabins are further up the hillside and they are truly antique. I’m guessing they belonged to the miners who originally worked this valley back in the 1800s. The proprietress warns me that the cabins are rustic, and takes me to the “Luv Shack”. (I joke not; that’s what the sign said above the door.) Upon seeing the decoration in the bedroom, my suspicions about the history of this particular cabin seem confirmed: Topless ladies in various poses reminiscent of Ancient Greece. “I love the decoration”, the proprietress commented, rather ancient herself. And to think, I always thought the Americans were coy!

The Russians Are Coming

Crossing the Great Plains, I had just one tornado alert. Ignoring the advice to go to the basement of the Methodist church, I sought shelter at a handy bar instead 🙂

Before starting out on my cycle ride across America, I had joined an organization called Warm Showers. Judging from my apprehension about the name, I’ve clearly lived in San Francisco for too long! The organization connects cyclists with hosts (usually other cyclists) offering a place to sleep in their homes. It’s a great way to meet local people. Especially memorable was the Mennonite family I stayed with in Kansas, and the home-baked pie with mulberries and rhubarb from their garden!

Although the flat terrain of Kansas was very welcome after the Appalachian and then the Ozark Mountains, I was relieved to cross from Central Time to Mountain Time and shortly afterwards into Colorado after days of cycling past endless fields of ripening wheat and, judging by the pong, ripe beef cattle. The monotony perhaps explains some of the more bizarre thinking that I encountered in Kansas, such as Pastor Joe’s firm belief that the Russians are about to sweep down into the state. Hopefully, Walmart accepts rubles.

Apart from the imminent Russian invasion, the biggest surprise of the Great Plains was that I was already at an altitude of approx. 4,400 ft. I always thought the Great Plains were near sea level. With the snow-capped summits of the Rocky Mountains visible on the horizon, it’s a relief to know I already have several thousand feet in hand. Tomorrow, I climb to over 9000 ft.

Toto, I Don’t Think We’re in California Anymore

Apart from the Ozark Mountains, my abiding memory of Missouri is Mrs Redneck cursing Mr Redneck in the most unsavory terms for leaving the gate open and letting the dogs out. I counted at least seven dogs run out. With that many dogs, two hands, and one can of pepper spray, I had switched to stealth mode, so to my delight, she hadn’t seen me approaching. “Bad day?”, I enquired politely, as I cycled past.

Approaching Kansas, the landscape started to level off. At the state sign, I asked the Swedish cyclist I had met the night before whether he had packed his ruby slippers, but since he asked me to repeat the question three times, I concluded the Wizard of Oz didn’t make it to Sweden.

One thing I’m hoping is that Kansas has brighter tortoises. They amble out onto the road from the grassy verges and sit sunning themselves on the Tarmac. Meanwhile, I’ve seen enough tortoises flattened to tortillas to last me a lifetime. I stop at each sunbather, lift it from the rear, gently set it down in a sunny patch on the grassy verge, and tell it that the waiter will be along shortly. “Why from the rear?”, you ask. Well, a particularly large individual clearly did not want to be moved along. It was flatter than the other tortoises I had encountered, and it had a tail. Thinking it was just crotchety, I tried to nudge it to the side of the road with my foot instead. To my dismay, it sank its teeth into my cycling shoe. Recovering my composure, I told it to suit itself (in terms similar to those used by Mrs Redneck) and minced off. Later that evening, I learned on the World Wide Web that it was a snapping turtle and not to be messed with. Special advisory to any gentlemen considering taking a refreshing dip in a lake or river in these parts: Be sure to wear your swimming shorts!

Mississippi Blues

Crossing the Mississippi at Chester, Illinois gave me a tremendous buzz – especially after the previous evening’s flat tire while riding a levee in a downpour. With my head down due to the strong headwind, I missed the Welcome to Missouri sign 😦

With its lush green, rolling landscape, Missouri reminded me of the south of England, but without the quaint villages and tearooms. After the Appalachians in Virginia and Kentucky, I thought I was done with strenuous climbs for a while, so the Ozark Mountains in Missouri came as a bit of a surprise. The climbs were shorter but steeper, and the descents very fast. I reached a record 42 mph in the Ozarks.

Mountains seem to trap bad weather. To get the most reliable forecast, I’ve taken to asking a local, but I guess wishful thinking is why I didn’t ask yesterday. Soon after I set out, the skies darkened, the rain started, and claps of thunder rolled in the distance. Flashes of lightning soon became unnervingly close. I spotted a gazebo near the roadside and rode to it. The three military guys were already sheltering there. We hung around for a bit, but with Pilots Knob just 4 miles away (yes, that really was the name of the town), I headed to it at warp speed

“Give it all you’ve got, Scotty”, I urged myself on. Decelerating at what looked like a cafe, I was initially thrown by the name “The Hustler”, especially given the name of the town. But perhaps it was “The Rustler”. Difficult to tell in the driving rain. Anyway, the military guys seemed to know what they were doing, so I followed them in, hoping that I wasn’t inadvertently entering a house of ill repute. A quick glance at the diners reassured me that it was a family establishment.

The forecast on the TV above the counter spelled more doom and gloom, so the military guys opted to stay in Pilots Knob. But I felt the Force was with me, and after double-checking with the platinum blonde behind the counter, I decided to go on. It turned out to be a good move, for as I was leaving the cafe, a customer pushed $20 into my hand. She had heard that I was cycling across America. I suspect she thought I was too poor to take the bus!