“Look! It’s moving. It’s alive. It’s alive…”
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 🙂
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!
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!
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!
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.