Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Its over.....for now!

Here is the finale to the USA bike ride:

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Day 51 Jacksonville, Florida (WARNING: Lots of Writing)

I slept like a log and disappointingly missed Helen’s youngest daughter go to school. I had some more coffee and tried to ignore the nightmare journey ahead of me today. I absolutely hate flying, so much so I would rather wax my genital area. Because of stupid Virgin Atlantic, I have to fly from Jacksonville to Nashville, then to Chicago, changed plans and fly back to San Francisco. I then spend the night back at my starting destination and fly direct to London the following day. The only plus side is that I get to see my lovely hosts in San Fran again.

I loaded up my luggage and we headed into town to have some lunch with Barry, George and Margo. We went via the elementary school so I could say goodbye to Helens daughter. After a super lunch I thanked them all for being such wonderful hosts and being so kind.

The journey to the airport only took a few minutes and there was no queue at the check in desk. I had to pay 50 bucks for my bicycle and ordered to take it to the end of the counter. I said goodbye to my bike as if it was a child. That baby has travelled a long way and I didn’t want it damaged or lost by some numb nuts at the airport.

I had only 90 mins to wait before my flight left so I started my diary. Soon enough I was on the plane and being given some nuts and soda. The take off was smooth but the approach was bumpy due to the horrible weather in Nashville. The flight to Chicago and San Fran was uneventfully. When I picked up my bike box at San Fran I had noticed Customs had cut open the box and resealed it. I just hope they replaced everything and didn’t break anything in the process. The box was looking even more battered than before.

I was met by Jan and whisked back to her place. I arrived later than expected so we only chatted briefly before I retired to bed.

Having hours on the plane to contemplate things I have decided it does actually feel quite strange. I guess I should write something inspiring and thoughtful about my journey but as some of you have probably realised my writing style is worse than a secondary school kid. My illiteracy and shocking ability to express myself will no doubt result in a slur of words. Nevertheless, I shall dedicate the next few paragraphs to thoughts, feelings and anythingness!

So the journey started off completely different to how it ended. I intended it to be an adventure but after hitting the plains and desert of nothingness the trip turned into a challenge of me versus me. This may seem strange and hard to understand but I didn’t feel I missed anything by the change in attitudes. After the Grand Canyon there was nothing on my route that was pulling me in. Of course there are things to see but I was never prepared to complete a humungous detour to see something. Also, the trip was very weather dependant and I was almost forced to head the direction I went.

The feelings I experienced when approaching the finish were very different to any other rides I have completed. For example, when Alison and I got to our goal in Istanbul we both felt very numb and emotionless. There was no feeling of extreme joy or satisfaction. We concluded it was to do with the joy and rewards was the actual journey itself as opposed to getting to the finish. Whereas, this time the journey was not the reward, it was the finishing. As I approached that beach with my fan club cheering, my blood was boiling with excitement. I felt so satisfied with the way I had dealt with scenarios I had been faced with. At times my emotions had been so low but I dug deep and found strength from somewhere to keep me going.

So I left the coast of the Pacific and soon found myself with in the mountainous region known as the Yosemite nation park. The path then lead me to the baroness of Death Valley. Further on, the terrain turned into desert as I passed through Nevada and Arizona. Eventually, I hit the flat planes of Texas where I could see for miles around. Then there was the swamp and marsh lands of Louisiana and Mississippi. Finally, I followed the Gulf Coast but briefly headed inland until I arrived at the Atlantic Ocean.

I have so many people to thank for making my coast to coast journey so memorable. I am amazed at peoples generosity and willingness to help. I have been given accommodation, food, advice and even money to complete my trip. I am in no doubt that I have made some great friends through this trip and may even inspired some people to get out there and live their dream.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Day 50 Jacksonville, Florida

I could not work out if it was a dream or whether it was really over?!? The thought of not having to put my saddle sore butt back on the saddle made me feel on top of the world. Although I guess a small part of me was sad to it was over.

For breakfast, I had coffee and munched on some home made chocolate brownies. Shortly after, I began the dismantling of my bike whilst Helen and Barry reinforce my damaged bicycle box. An hour or so later the bike was in the box and sealed with about 2 rolls of duck tape.

Helen had arranged for us to pop over into Georgia and visit a family hunting lodge to have some lunch and relax for the afternoon. Keen on seeing more of the country, I was definitely up for it. It was only an hour drive away and we were there in no time. The house was located on the river bed surrounded by 18,000 acres. Cypress trees removed from the nearby swamp were used to build the house and it was designed exactly how one would think I hunting would be. It had the maids quarters, the balconies, the creaky staircase and the stuffed trophy heads all around the mansion.

I was introduced to Helen’s sister, her husband and their children. We sat around a fire and drank beer and ate more food. The weather was glorious and it was suggest I went with the younger boys on a speed boat trip along the river to the swamp area. We took one of the dogs and cruised along the peaceful canal for a few miles. Unfortunately we did not spot any alligators or poaches, nevertheless it was great fun.

When we returned the youngest boy Sam took me for a ride around the property in their truck. He is only 15 years old and passionate about hunting. Loose on the front seat were two rifles, a shotgun and I believe there was a 9mm handgun in the glove compartment. I have to admit it felt a little strange but I guess I am not accustomed to that lifestyle. He was talking about his hunting stories which were actually quite interesting. I picked his brain on a few issues but his head was pretty well screwed on for such a young boy.

With the evening drawing to a close we decided to head back home before the mozzies came out in force. I managed to take a few nice photos of the sun over the river leaving only the silhouette of the trees for detail.

We got home relatively late and after a few phone calls we had dinner. Feeling pretty tired I went to bed thinking how lucky I was to be staying with such a cool family. They have bent over backwards to help me and I will be eternally grateful for all their help.

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Saturday, 22 November 2008

Day 49 Jacksonville, Florida

Daily mileage 27 Ride Time 3hr 05min
Avg speed 13.08 mph Total mileage 3093

I woke up buzzing but knew I had some stuff I had to sort out before I could get on the bike and finish the trip. I started the day with a lovely cooked breakfast and coffee. We discussed where the local bike shops are and headed off in search of a bike box. On route we popped into Helen’s friends house as they wanted to meet me and here about my experiences. They told me they had been following the blog and have been fascinated about the ride. It still feels odd that random strangers have been following the ride.

Eventually, we found a beaten up 5ft box that needs some serious patch work but at least the bike will fit. The weather was cold and blustery and I was contemplating leaving the ride until tomorrow as it was approaching 1330hrs. We got back to the house and Helen prepared me a gorgeous burger and I decided I would finish it today.

I loaded up my bike for the final time and we arranged to meet each other at the beach in 3 hours time. I cycled out the drive way and had to stop almost instantly. My emotions were already buzzing and I had to get a grip as I had 30 miles still to go, which were on very busy roads and would require a lot of concentration. It was a struggle but eventually I pulled myself together and found a quite road for the first 10 miles. After passing through the city all I had to do was head due East on Beach Bld for about 12 miles.

That road was busy but I had a few positive cheers from people I had met early and people who were going to be at the finishing line. Every time I received a horn beep I would smile and it would drive me on even faster. The wind was very strong in places but there was no way I would let that get to me.

With the final bridge in sight I could smell the ocean. I climbed up the steep slope and once on the top I caught my first glimpse of the dark Atlantic Ocean. At the last set of traffic lights I saw a few people huddled in the chilly wind on the edge of the beach. I was pumped and so incredibly happy that the end was only a stones throw away. As I got even closer, a hoard of kids with banners were all cheering me on and greeted me with huge, smiles and an applause.

I felt so relieved that I had made it in one piece and celebrated with cold alcoholic beverage. I looked at the ocean and it looked cold and was very choppy. With all the cameras at the ready, I ran into the sea and dived under. Unfortunately, I dived way to soon and scrapped my chest on the bottom of the sea bed. I ran back ashore and got changed out of my soaked clothes before I caught hypothermia!

I had actually cycled the last part much quicker than planned and other friends of my host began to arrive a little later. Nevertheless, it was so nice to have a big welcoming committee. We headed to Helen and Barry’s sons house and had some more snacks and beer. My smile did not leave my face as the moment started to sink in that I would not have to get on that saddle anymore.
Later in the evening, we decided to go to a Irish pub for dinner along with Barry’s brother and wife. The dinner was great and we chatted some more. After dinner we took a stroll along the beach and I could not help but look across the Atlantic ocean and think that will be next.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Day 48 Jacksonville, Florida

Daily mileage 65 Ride Time 4hr 46min
Avg speed 13.64 mph Total mileage 3065

I woke up several times during the night thinking about it all being over very soon. I got up at 0800hrs, had a shower and drank some coffee. With Barry still asleep, I left the house and said goodbye to all the dogs. The glorious tail wind had gone and the usual cross/headwind had returned with anger. Determined not to let that get to me I kept focused on the few miles remaining.

After 20 miles I stopped at a gas station which turned out to be a hunters gathering place. With pictures of dead dear and proud hunters all around the walls I felt a little uncomfortable. I rushed down my fries and chicken and got back on the bike. Within minutes I received an aggressive horn beep from a logging truck for not pulling off the road so it can fly past me. He obviously found it too much to slow down instead he just wanted to bull doze along the road. Thoroughly hacked off at his ignorance, I rode with aggressive until I eventually calmed down and relaxed.

I got very excited when I passed into the city limits of Jacksonville and realised that the end was in sight. Like any city, the traffic congestion started building and there were traffic lights on every block. I knew it was only a matter of time before I received another beep from an obnoxious driver. Sure enough I got the beep and then the hand gesture indicting me to get on the sidewalk. Fortunately we were approaching lights so I got the chance to shout abuse through the window.

It was such a shame because I was on a high of being so close to the finish but as soon as I received that beep my emotions turned to anger. There really was no need and if he had opened his eyes there was even a sign indicting the road is shared with bicycles. Plus, I could be ticketed for cycling on the sidewalk.

I found my couchsurfing.com host house and was greeted by Helen and Barry. There house gorgeous and they live in a lovely location. We went for a short walk down to the river and discussed the logistics for tomorrow. The plan is to find a bike box in the morning and then I will finish the ride to the Atlantic coast in the afternoon.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Day 47 Lake City, Florida

Daily mileage 70 Ride Time 4hr 42min
Avg speed 14.84 mph Total mileage 3000

It was colder in my hotel room than my tent the previous night. If only I found the air conditioning button before I went to bed it could have been a different story! Still feeling stuffed from my massive pizza, I struggled at breakfast. My breakfast buffet effort is not even worth talking about.

I got on the road and instantly felt the wind behind me. The difference was incredible and I sliced up the road with my speed. My spirits never dipped and I felt on cloud nine all day. With the sun shining bright, I revealed my bare torso to the world and got some rays whilst on the saddle. The roads were quiet and I loved every second of it.

I was thinking about where the desire to do these things came from and I have decided to blame it all on the movie ‘Goonies’. I remember watching that film and thinking I want to experience an adventure like that and hear I am doing exactly that. Except instead of finding treasure, the reward will be completing the journey.

I arrived at Barry’s house, my warmshowers.org host, and introduced to his three energetic dogs. I jumped in the shower and weighed myself for the first time in months. I have lost 36lbs/16kg in total. Some of that weight was lost on the Istanbul bike ride but the majority has been during this trip.

We spent the evening chatting and relaxing. It should be another relatively short day tomorrow so I might enjoy a short lay in.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Day 46 Perry, Florida

Daily mileage 68 Ride Time 5hr 05min
Avg speed 13.43 mph Total mileage 2930

I crawled out of my sleeping bag and was slapped in the face by the cold air in tent. The outer tent was soaked in condensation so I slipped out without touching the sides. As I stood up a family of dear where munching on the grass only 10 metres away. I relit the fire and wrapped up warm. I threw the outer layer over a washing line so it could drip dry. I returned about 10 minutes and was amazed that the water droplets had turned into ice!

I set of wearing pretty much everything I had. Fortunately the sun was shining brightly and once out the shadow it was glorious. I was starving and thirsty so I stopped after only 4 miles and had a hot coffee and bun. I sat out of the wind and enjoyed the sun rays beat on my face whilst devouring my food.

The road was quiet and pretty and the first few hours the miles flew by. I think it really hit me that I only have a few days cycling left and that brought a huge sense of satisfaction over me. I had overcome so much during my journey and been pushed to my limits.
The lack of food was beginning to make me feel weak and as if by magic a Subway appeared from nowhere. I had the usual foot long with cookies and soda. I could have eaten it all but decided to save half and eat it later on.
I made a decision to have an easy day so plodded on and paid no attention too my slow speed. I passed over a small river and stopped at a picnic table beside the canal. I found a spot out of the wind and sun soaked for 30 minutes. It was lovely and peaceful.

I arrived at Perry and searched for the motel strip. After some negotiations I checked into a room and ordered the biggest take away pizza on the menu. I spent the evening chatting to friends over the internet and watching a NBA game on TV.