To get to the latest update, press Ctrl+F, type Day 12 and press enter. Yes, I've forgotten how to make a link that sends you right there.
Disclaimer: this page contains naughty words and will upset you if you are an American, especially a religious one, who lacks a sense of humour. It will make you want to charge around the world shooting 'Ay-rabs' and other small brown people whilst stealing their oil. So don't read it. In fact, most readers will be able to find something here at which to take offence. So nobody is allowed to read this.
Day 1 (05.10) Plane lands at JFK
With around 48 hours between deciding to fly to t'US of A and getting on the plane, little to nothing had actually been planned.
This, for example, is the route plan:
I've already begged left right and centre but if you know anybody on this route who will let me hang my hammock on their land, please beg them on my behalf. A shower would be nice as well.
A panicky email to Auntie Jackie in Arizona turned up a colleague of hers in Noo Joisey, close enough to JFK, who was gent enough to get me and the shoddily-boxed bike from the airport and drive me to his nice apartment for the night. Given that my other options were ride out of JFK at 11pm or sleep on a bench there until the morning, I was mightily chuffed to have landed on my feet. Cheers, Sai.
Day 2 (06.10) 'Opposite Manhattan' NJ - Old Bridge NJ
Sai took me to buy this here lappy at Walmart. I shed a tear for the busted unions and starving sweatshop kids before regaining my composure and swapping a ridiculously small pile of dollars for it. Walmart is a thrilling experience. Everyone there is super clever. All staff speak to each other in Spanish, for instance, presumably just because. And you can get everything there so I also treated myself to some carabiners for the hammock and a box of cheap condoms because I'm thoroughly optimistic now I'm no longer in a country full of muzzers. They will probably only be used as emergency hats.
Sai dropped me off at a park somewhere south of the interstate I'm not allowed on. One that looked a lot like this:
I put the bike back together (luckily no breakage) and rode a few miles to a Warmshowers host I managed to find. Now you'd think that with a host every few miles in this, the country where the site was born, there would be no problem finding somewhere. But allow me to present a rant to the contrary in bullet point format:
- They all want a week's notice. Some even two weeks or a month. How the hell can I plan that far ahead?
- They take ages to reply despite having internet piped constantly into their heads.
- Out of politeness I only ask one at once to avoid having to 'reject' one if two say yes.
- I can only plan three days ahead, maximum, so the above two points cause quite the kerfuffle.
- Some sign up to it just to be part of something. They can't actually offer a place to sleep. Mongs.
- You ask politely for advice on local roads, other hosts, free campsites, anything... in the event that the person can't host, and he knows nothing. He clearly hasn't toured. Probably hasn't been around his block on a bike.
- People want you to phone instead of emailing. I'm not the only one who tours with a phone that doesn't work here or without a phone at all. The cost of a prepaid phone is ridiculous. You pay a dollar or more for every day that your phone is turned on and accessing the network. You pay to receive calls. There are no payphones left. Fuck that.
- Other points I've forgotten but you get the idea.
One host who didn't engage in any of the above shenanigans was Don, who let me crash at his place with only a couple of days' notice. He also took me driving round to find a new rear rack since the existing one was being held together with electrical tape thus:
... but we didn't find one. Never mind. He fed me pizza, pasta, ale and port.
Day 3 (07.10) Old Bridge NJ - Hightstown NJ
Anguished at his failure to source me a rack, Don drove me to another shop in the morning, one of not many that are open on Sundays. He took me for lunch on the way and introduced me to the reuben sandwich, which is corned beef (more like pastrami over here), sauerkraut and other sloppy stuff. So big you can't pick it up without dropping the insides everywhere. Welcome to America gahblessit.
Steel racks being largely unavailable except on mail order, which requires an address, I got a cheap aluminium one that will last at least until LA, we hope. I bought it here...
..See that white van there? This one...
...which the shop owner, also called Van just because that's how the Septics roll, let me use as a hotel for the night as he hadn't managed to sell it yet. Get in:
I even managed to get on his shop wifi and look at some naked ladies. That mess on the floor is this...
...the energy balls I made at Don's, which hadn't had enough time to dry out and were threatening to turn into porage. Don't panic. The drying worked and they fed me for a few days. A loaf of crap bread costs two 'bucks', or 'Benjamins', as dollars are known here, so these will have to be eaten regularly. That reminds me. It's cold now so they won't melt if I put chocolate in them. I can also carry butter if I want. Also there's a chain of bagel shops that sells yesterday's bagels at half price. You're welcome for the update on my diet.
Day 4 (08.10) Hightstown NJ - Washington Crossing NJ
I spent the morning cocking about in Van's office trying to sort out WS hosts with no luck. But the day wasn't wasted. He let me use his daily UPS pickup to send a box of stuff I no longer needed on to Auntie Jackie. Mainly extreme winter stuff. Goodbye heavy, quilted motorcycle pants, extra balaclava, studded tyres, spare water bottle, summer-only kit, other useless stuff. Later you'll read about how much the bike still weighs fully loaded, despite a few kilos having been posted. Shockingly heavy but I'm a hero.
In other news, it took this small number of days for me to relent and start speaking American. The Septics are an ignorant rabble on the whole, and have no idea how to decipher our accents or vocab. We other Englishers, however, have no problem understanding their... uhhh... nasal drone and, like, y'know, Newspeak lexicon or whatever. So it's 'trash', 'grocery store', 'jive talk', 'restroom', 'dickwad' and 'sidewalk' from now on. I promise to treat you to more of the vocab I pick up on the way. You're welcome.
I saw these along the way, just in case you care:
Animals are ballsy here. Especially squirrels. One actually played chicken with me as I sped towards it downhill. I won but only just.
Washington Crossing is a place on the Delaware (I think) River where, a couple of hundred years ago, wealthy slave owner George Washington bravely crossed a couple of dozen yards of waist-deep water at a time of the year when it was a bit Pearl Harbour out. He did it in a boat, the screaming poof. There's a famous painting of him doing it, in which everyone is white, including those rowing. Even the small amount of history the Americans have is lies.
At Washington Crossing is a State Park where camping, according to the internet, is $5. In real life it's $21. That stung but it was starting to rain and the sun was going down. At least I was able to steal some nicely cut and dried wood left by some scouts. I was banking on that for the sausages and ale I'd bought.
This is what the park looks like.
Just like Heaton Park in Manchester but without the dogshit and scallies. That's what 21 notes buys you. And you have to hang your food bag high because of bears and raccoons. And the toilet block is locked and my guts have been up to no good for a couple of weeks now.
The prices here are not just painful, they're trip-threatening. A litre of denatured alcohol for the stove is eight bastard dollars. And despite the country - here at least - being full of trees, most of the land is marked private or used for dressing up in camo and 'popping caps' in animals' 'asses', as evidenced by the spent shotgun shells everywhere. So camping is difficult. Parks are marked 'closed from dusk 'til dawn' and they're patrolled by the '5-0'. People have massive houses with their own private woodland but, even though there are a lot of kind souls around, it's a mathematically poor strategy to leave it until an hour before sunset and start knocking hopefully on doors. If I weren't a cyclist I'd have no hesitation in telling a dirty bloke on a stupid bike to get off my land. I've got kids. What if he tries to nonce them? What is that accent? Honey, what is he trying to say? Is he Mexican? He looks like a Mexican. Honey, get the gun.
Day 5 (09.10) Washington Crossing NJ - Philadelphia PA
The previous night I stopped to buy beer for supping while poking the campfire with a stick to make myself feel manly. Americans have taken to what they call 'craft beer' in a big way, both comercially and homebrewcially. To illustrate, there's a magazine called Philly Beerscene that's about beer in Philadelphia and nothing else, and it's a p-p-p-pretty professional publication. But most of said beer is plastic. By far the most popular is American IPA, which is basically Budweiser with a fuckload of hops thrown in to give it some flavour. Other beers come in ridiculous flavours such as pumpkin, mint and chocolate. This is done with added flavourings. This is not beer. Also this stuff costs more than double the white trash beer it is replacing amongst trendy folk.
Luckily, in the place where I stopped, plastic American ale was on sale for $9 for a 660ml big lad, whereas imported English Ale (more variety in that aisle of a small liquor store than in the whole of Prestwich Tesco to be fair to the Septics), was $3 for a pint or 568ml. They actually think their stuff is better. They call ours 'bland'. We call it 'subtle'. They remind me of watching Turks in service stations. They would pop their heads into every toilet cubicle, as one does when choosing the most pristine place in which to curl one out, and I'd see them instantly reject the sit-down toilets, even immaculate ones, in favour of dirty squat toilets where there's no paper and you have to wipe with a wet hand and flush by filling a little jug from a tap and pouring it into the bowl. They actually think it's more hygienic that way. I crapped like a king in those places.
I bought Old Speckled Hen, Sneck Lifter and some brand of English imperial stout and strutted out of there triumphant.
I was meaning to write about what happened when I was in there. Some lass came up behind me as I was selecting English beverages and barked AREYOUTHECYCLIST ISAWYOURBIKE at me. Her name is Meg and she speaks like that because she's a PE teacher, not because she's a Nazi. She spent all of 60 seconds sussing me out before offering me a place to stay in Philadelphia. I was planning to avoid the city despite its fame as a Mecca of chilling out, maxing, relaxing and shooting B-ball outside schools. The roads I knew would be a nightmare. But free is the magic word, so in I dived.
This is Washington Crossing Bridge in the morning:
And then it turned into the city and I averaged about 5mph with all the red lights. There was a bit where everything was written in Russian, then a Korean bit, then a tumbledown bit where only blacks lived, then a big busy avenue with skinny hipsters on pink-rimmed fixies causing havoc, then Meg's school where I turned up late and there were no objections to me just walking in and slaloming through sprogs to find the James, or 'gym' as it's called here.
It was pointed out to me that I'd ridden through the very area of Philadelphia that a few different people had warned me to avoid. Everyone stopped short of saying it's because of the blacks but it's because of the blacks. That's what they're talking about when they say 'African-American' - not Egyptian Arabs or white Seth Efricans with green cards. In fact it's the only time I've known an American to be subtle. Subtlety is deemed necessary here when being racist, even though it's no secret that everybody is racist in one way or another. Restaurants are populated by either whites or 'ethnics' but not both, as are streets, bars and workforces. Funny old place.
But the big, scary black people left me largely alone. One said hello to me as I was waiting at a light but that was it. Nobody 'jacked my ass like a looter in a riot', nobody called me a 'cracker'. I kept the camera under wraps, though. Just in case, like.
Meg let me wash my clothes at hers before feeding me a mountain of carbs. She's a part-time cyclist but a full-time runner with far more trophies and medals knocking around that it's healthy to have trained for. The point being she knows what it's like to have an appetite. And she also knows how to massage tired muscles and left my legs feeling like blancmange. I need to learn that.
Day 6 (10.10) Philadelphia, day off
I went to school with Meg in the morning to talk to a class of seven-year-olds who are learning about geography. They were a lot more interested in me that I expected and the talk had to be cut short so that they could actually get stuff done instead of throwing questions at me. They're now following the map but not the fucking blog for obvious reasons. Here are some photos Meg took of the session, including one of me looking strangely smug. I think I look like youngest bro in that photo as well. Smarmy little git that he is.
Love you really, youngest bro x
The guy in the blue shirt there is a new teaching assistant whose thunder I unintentionally stole with my tales of epic pedalling, but I swear I have no idea where that face came from or what was being said at the time.
And then I took Meg's invitation to stay another day (shit, East 17 has just started up on Imaginary FM) to sit and do this blog. But instead I spent the afternoon making my presence less of a burden by cooking her beef and ale stew (I trudged around looking for proper ale or at least Guinness in a city where it's remarkably difficult to buy beer because of ridiculous licensing laws including 'not where food is sold') and staying within range of her bathroom. And buying an insurance policy in case I still had the guts of a wet gremlin a few days later. And failing yet again with the Warmshowers thing.
Day 7 (11.10) Philadelphia PA - Springfield PA
A short day caused by a lie-in at Meg's and a perfect camping spot I chanced upon, whch you do not pass up within two hours of sunset in God's favourite country. I went to buy a beer but because of these licensing laws in Pennsylvania the shop can choose one type of licence - wine and spirits; individual beers or six packs; or crates. The only place I could find was a crate shop and I stubbornly bought one and ended up carrying it for the next few days, also getting too drunk in the evenings. I'm not always clever. The weight, hangover and ongoing gut problems made me right slow
But I saw this.
I wonder what goes on in these people's heads.
Day 8 (12.10) Springfield - wasted day.
Yep, right slow. I stopped at a bagel place for yesterday's now-unloved children of the oven and decided it was alright in there with its clean toilet and its free topups of coffee after you'd paid for one, so I spent five hours writing this same crap on the other blog I've now abandoned. I made a mistake, pressed CTRL+Z, and it deleted everything I'd done that day plus a good chunk of stuff I'd published weeks ago. No autosave or anything. As I wrote on that blog, take that as your warning not to use Blogspot/Blogger. Or Wordpress, which did the same to another blog I did.
I threw a strop and fell out with the internet, returning to the exact same camping spot to drink a lot of beer and sulk.
Day 9 (13.10) Springfield PA - Kennett Square PA
I mucked about, alternatively believeing the satnav and the internet, until I finally settled on small roads instead of Route 1, the latter being busy with a hard shoulder only half the time, the former being nice like this...
...but painfully hilly. I saw a lot of other cyclists - not tourers but full kit wankers - training around here. It's not made for quick progress whilst carrying the best part of a crate still.
On the way through what I later found to be called Kennett Square (the satnav doesn't like naming the towns it sends me through), I saw a bike shop with skinny people around it - a good sign it's for serious cyclists - and stopped to ask them which road they'd take if they were looking for a gentle ride followed by a place to camp for free. A customer piped up, saying I'd find nowhere to camp so I should stay at his house. What a nice bloke.
His name is Chris and he shares my uncommon surname, my beer and coffee snobbery and my dislike of religious mentals. We got on like a house on fire. Plus he took me out to Chipotle, the big sloppy burrito place for those who haven't had the guilty pleasure, and his lovely wife fed me a massive Mexican breakfast in the morning. And he signed up to Warmshowers. The site needs more of this kind of folk. Cheers, Chris.
Here's about half of his bike collection. He's got a few beauties and a few he's salvaged and restored just for the love of it. He literally can't remember how many he has. and he uses them all. What a lad.
I also learnt from him that I was in the mushroom capital of the US. Just think of all the factoids I'd accumulate if I could find a mate every night of the trip.
On the way out of Chris' basement the next day, he was curious to know what the bike weighed. We achieved that by subtracting my weight from 'me holding the bike'. I now weigh 67kg, having lost about 15kg since July. That's 10.5st down from 12 or more. I was a bit on the chubby side I admit. And the bike weighs just over 50kg with full bottles, shocking considering the box I sent to Auntie Jackie was the size of a pannier and as heavy. I thought I was a fairly light packer compared to others as well. Nope.
Day 10 (14.10) Kennet Square PA - Conowingo Dam, MD
The hills round there are murderous. I'd at least unloaded a fair few ales into Chris the night before in return for his hospitality but this is not for heavy bikes. Also it's remote. I saw a couple of Amish farms and a couple of Amish traffic jams with the cart holding up the traffic. Usually it's me on the bike causing the queue but I've never taken any grief for it. The Americans are terrified of passing me in case they clip me and I 'sue their ass' and 'the DA takes their badge' or something. So they sit behind me patiently, often so quietly in their smooth motors that with the wind I can't hear them and I jump as they see the chance to accelerate past. It like totally creeps me out, yo.
I found this about 2pm and again took the opportunity for a short day.
This refers to a big a area of woodland by the side of Route 1 (which turns into a nice one-lane road as it moves into Maryland), just before the Conowingo dam. It threatened to be one of few such places I can go into freely and not fret about Officer Badass.
It seemed too good to be true so, on my way back to the service station I'd just passed to fill my bottles for the night, I asked a bloke by the roadside what he thought of my plan to camp in there. He was a scouser called Kenny who was too stoned to understand what I was on about. And there he is, by the way, proof of the rule I have never seen broken that on every trip, no matter where in the world, there will be a scouser. This one didn't pull the usual scouse trick of smashing my ears up with his nasty accent as he'd lost most of it over 30 years in the land of the free, plus I only hung around long enough to realise he was baked off his tits and not worth talking to, especially as I wasn't in the mood for smoking any 'erb or persuading him to sell me some of his stash for later.
The wood had indeed been used for all sorts of unrestricted public activity. Shotgun cartridges, empty beer bottles and, bizarrely, a collection of bits of smashed crockery (edit: I later learnt that people throw plates up in the air then shoot them) were spotted as I forged through the thorns to a nice clearing for the hammock. But I slept alright, un-shot and un-beared.
Also that day (I think it was that day) I saw this, stroked my little beard and thought, "Quite".
Day 11 (15.10) Conowingo Dam, MD - Hampton, MD
It started raining in the morning just in time to ruin my little sit-on-a-rock-and-cook-up-some-coffee routine. It got worse during the day as badly illustrated here...
... taken from a pizza restaurant where I took refuge. Expensive, these fast food places, but they always have a pop machine where you fill and refill the coke cup you buy. The machines always have plain water as well and I've been taking most of mine from them. Also a cheeky bottleful or two of root beer as the people working there are invariably chimps who 'just work there' and 'don't give a good God damn'.
It calmed down a bit and I rode out towards a big green and blue dot I'd seen on the Google maps. Reservoir, it said. The roads were slippery and narrow and the thick clouds meant everyone had lights on at 3pm. I did not want to be on the road. The roadside around the reservoir was uncampable with steep slopes, thick undergrowth and squelchy ground, so I came a lot closer to Baltimore than I was planning to, where a small green bit on the map turned out to be a farm.
I went into the farm shop, which was full of pumpkins for Halloween plus what seemed to be the usual overpriced organic crap. I've been in these places before and seen them wanting to swap small freshly baked pies for fifteen whole dollars apiece so I didn't shop, but I managed to get permish for the hammock on a quiet patch across the road.
Leaving the shop, one of the girls working there had overheard my pitch/sob story and asked over my shoulder if it was true I was cycling cross-country. I turned round to give it the smug 'aye lass' and wow this girl is the prettiest thing I've ever seen and I can hardly speak. A smile that could knock a mountain down and this cute little curly blonde haircut that looks like it smells of a meadow that's almost never used for grazing cows and such. She's a cyclist too, she says, and although I haven't caught a glimpse yet I know her arse is a work of art. I fall completely in love with her. But then I'm faced with a choice I've had a couple of times on this trip: weakly attempt a chat-up whilst my sodden lycra drips rain all over the floor that she'd have to mop up and whilst the sun rapid;y ruins my camping plans by disappearing... or remember this kind of thing is off the agenda because I can never hang around for long enough, and so shuffle out with the refill I've scrounged and Morrissey it back home and cry and want to die. The latter, as always.
Shut yer mouth, etc. How can you say I go about things the wrong way, etc.? Probably because I'm a bad bad man. Later in the evening I'm sat in the hammock chowing down on a gourmet spread of mixed dried fruit, seeds and nuts, mmm that's some good eatin', and feeling crushingly sorry for myself and a car turns up in the field and what have we here? Has she come to say hello? Yes, she has, and she's brought her mum. Or rather her mum has driven her. Mom is also a cyclist and wants to say hello and whatnot, and casually and accidentally drops into conversation that her daughter is still not out of high school, which makes her either underage or retarded based on my sparse knowledge of the American education system. And don't I feel a tool. I casually remark that I thought she looked older and she says she gets that a lot. I fucking bet she does.
They left and I slept cold, wet and alone, but importantly still unchallenged by accusations of sex pestery. I have no choice given the circumstances but to call that a win.
Day 12 (16.10) In a Dunkin Donuts, writing this
I cycled a couple of miles in the morning to the first free wifi place I could find and here I am overhearing fat people talk about NFL and prostate cancer and why the other donut place in town is bad because it's run by 'camel-riders'. I've just had the biggest single portion of cholesterol I think I'll ever have and I've had my share of fry-ups. A toasted egg and bacon sandwich that's fried in butter, which has dripped all over the place. And anyway there's your blog and there's the weight of it off my shoulders for the next few days. Now I need to get out of the urban area and find my trees.
And for fuck's sake I'm doing my spell check and some bloke has decided to interfere and complain to nobody in particular on my behalf about the way muslims are running Britain now with their 'shi'ite courts'. Fox News, probably. I'm going. If it's not spelt good it's nops ldtasr gd.
Here beginneth a month's updating all in one go. I've forgotten a lot of detail and the photography is crap except where it's not.
I went back to the reservoir - the other side of it - and found a bike trail for those twats on mountain bikes with the cameras attached to their helmets so they can upload blurry clips of woodland to Youtube and remind me that my own offerings to the internet are not the absolute most pointless. These bike trails are always subject to a list of rules such as 'thou shalt not be here after dark' but they're usually good camping, aside from the need to look out for shit because they're also used as dog toilets.
The trail was fairly quiet. A couple of helmet camera twats and a few dog walkers. One dog walker stopped to do The Questions and told me he was an Italian. White Americans like to pretend to be from *insert name of European country* because that's where their great grandparents were born but black Americans don't seem to like doing the same with *insert name of African country*. Funny old place. He also told me he was a surgeon. He also chuckled that I just didn't know what I was missing out on by not reading the Bible.
Surgeon. Bible. Rationality. Fantasy. Science. Nonscience. 'MMMMMericuh.
"Au contraire", I counter-smarmed, "I know I'm missing out on at least a pound in weight". You see, kids, alpha status can be demonstrated verbally as well as physically or explosively.
I'd had the super clever idea to eat a tin of cold refried beans for tea because eating cold baked beans in England is a taste sensation when you're rough camping. But cold refried beans, although cheap, attractively packaged and proteintastic, are not at all the same. They are miserable and minging. The experience nosedives further when you forget to dig the multitool and trusty plastic spoon out before dark and so you decide a knife will open the can and scoop up the sludge just fine
This didn't do the blade any favours. I later dropped it right on the point for good measure, effectively knackering it until I could find a blacksmith but according to the telly they all live in the west with the cowboys and the injuns.
.Day 13 (17.10) Hampton, MD - Glenwood, MD
I don't remember much of the cycling, it being a month ago, but I do remember being pleased with my clever self at having skirted round Baltimore. According to famous TV program that I didn't see what the fuss was about The Wire, Baltimore is a super scary and dangerous place, plus it was quiet and green the way I went.
At the end of the day I found a particularly nice little spot for the hammock. A planted pine grove with nice wide spacing and no undergrowth except around the perimeter where it served as a screen. Plus the lower branches around head height were all long dead, snapped off easily and were nice and dry for the campfire. It's getting cold enough that the hasssle of collecting dry wood when it's almost dark is becoming more and more worth it, although as I type this almost a month later I still haven't had a night cold enough that I couldn't have sat around warmly with a couple of extra layers on.
Here's what the place looked like, anyway:
Day 14 (18.10) Glenwood, MD - Leesburg, VA
The satnav showed the same road that three different routing websites I use (bikeroutetoaster, mapmyride and ridewithgps) knew about, and did the same trick as them by refusing to go down it. I am large-testicled enough to disregard such nonsensical advice when said road is almost a perfectly straight line and the others zigzag appallingly. The worst it could be is a gravel road, I thought.
Yep, a gravel road it was. With a river running across it thus:
Because I am an expert veteran bicycle tourist who once went to South America, I'll have you know, and faced much worse obstacles than this such as brick-sized gravel, marble-sized sleet and mountain-sized hills, I'll have you know, I refused to believe it was deep and stormed right into it. The middle of it came up almost as high as the crossbar and it turned into a scene to rival celebrated racist George Washington's heroic crossing of the Whatsitsname River only without the propaganda painting or the fancy hats or the boat.
My shoes got all wet, which is why you should always take a spare pair touring, kids. But that was the only major hassle so I called it a victory for me (handsome, strong, clever) over the map (inaccurate, 2D, contains France).
I further defeated the map later on by spotting a little unpaved road it had been trying to keep secret. It runs along the Chesapeake and Ohio canal, which follows the Potomac River. It's famous, I later found out, and I should have ridden more of it because although it's gravel...
... there's nobody else on it on weekdays, it's flat since it's a towpath and it's smooth enough to trundle along at a decent pace. It also has what are still the only examples I've seen of the mythical 'hiker biker campgrounds' that I'm assured can be found all over the place in America, just not in the bits of it I'm exploring.
These places are either free or about tree fiddy and are otherwise known as 'primitive campgrounds' by Americans, who really only like to call campgrounds campgrounds if they can park their campervans there, hook them up to drinking water and elastic trickery, use the nice hot shower block and watch telly. Their campervans have satellite dishes on them. Their 'primitive' is my 'palatial' with wells for water, tables, fire pits with grills and even these:
Since it's such a narrow and harmless river, not much scarier than the one I'd waded through that morning, I'm surprised that the Potomac has so few crossings. There's one in the centre of Washington that I can cross, one further west I'm not allowed to cross because it's the interstate, and this here ferry that takes you to just north of Leesburg:
I demand to know why they have this thing, which doesn't even have an engine and is instead pulled to and fro on cables (one of which snapped a few years ago and allowed the thing to drift pathetically downstream) and not a bridge. Two-Time-World-War-All-Time-Space-Race MVP my arse,
In Leesburg I settled in for some campsite googling and found nothing that filled me with confidence within the 15 mile radius I had time for. So I went to a big park on the riverbank, farted in the general direction of the signs that said I wasn't allowed to be there after dark and set up camp. I'd had so much fun poking a fire with a stick the previous night that I'd planned to make another one. Bigger, hotter, in fact meatier because I'd bought some PIG SLICES to cook over it by hanging it from a STICK I'd SHARPENED with my KNIFE while GRUNTING like a MAN. But it lashed down and I had to sit under the tarp and eat just lonely bread. It didn't matter anyway as I'd forgotten to pack the bacon and must have left it at the supermarket till. Like a girl.
Day 15 (19.10) Leesburg, VA - Warrrenton, VA
It's a straight, boring road from Leesburg to Warrenton. That's enough talk of cycling.
Let's talk about food. Denny's made it onto my list of things to look out for from the roadside because it does $4 all you can eat pancakes and $6 all you can eat salad and soup. I am more than capable of rinsing out their entire kitchen and it's a decent enough salad. I've since heard that other places such as Pizza Hut and Olive Garden (former always grubby so don't like it; latter never actually seen one) do similar salad deals.
Usually when I take photos like the one below it's to show cynical marketing or insultingly bad English or whatnot, but this one was technically true:
Not a single penny was given to charity by me that day. I'm not THAT easily-led by my 'tummy' and I'm sure there are hungrier kids in Somalia so I scoffed at the idea of helping starving Americans. The ignorant cheek of these septics sometimes, ey?
Not a single penny was Western Unioned by me to Africa that day.
Here's what I also ate. Pricey but the risk turned out to be worth it when I examined the stuffedness of it. 8 notes well spent.
The map showed a bike path I expected to be like the one I found a couple of days previously with the rough track in the woods and the helmet camera wankers and the non-scientific scientists but no. It was a weird one. It was labelled a bike trail at the entrance but it was so short and pathetic I bet I was the only one to take an actual bike on it that month, except for dads teaching their kids, since it consisted in its entirety of a ginnel from the main road to a suburban housing estate and three dead-end paths a couple of hundred yards long. Seeing that nobody would be mental enough to use the place I confidently set up right here:
The overnight drying line was a schoolboy error. That night was the first I had in the frost and this happened to all my clothes by morning:
Days 16-20 (20.10-24.20) Messing about in Warrenton, VA
The morning found my path beset on all sides not only by the inequities of freezing, damp clothes but also by the tyranny of continuing intestinal shenanigans. The appetite never goes away but for the previous weeks nor had the runs. And It was becoming painful. I felt like I'd taken a few punches to the gut from a bigger boy. Problem - the insurance policy I'd recently bought in case things didn't clear themselves up still wasn't claimable-upon, so I had no choice but to sit it out in a motel. It was the only one in town, as free wifi at Denny's (gahdblessit) taught me, so it was double the price it should have been. Luckily, it was right next to Denny's and not far from the aforementioned most pointless bike path in the world.
Two days of feeling sorry for myself in the motel didn't clear it up, so on the Monday I judged my insurance status to be at least more solid than my guts and went to a walk-in clinic. The doc tested me for various gut rottenness and Lyme disease, since I'd mentioned unusual lethargy and a rash not obviously linked to me being a soap dodger and those are symptoms of that. Wikipedia says it's transmitted by minuscule ticks that hang around the woods both I and their other food source, deer, like to frequent, so why not be sure to be sure. He said he'd have the results the next day but I'd have to go back in person.
After the trauma of sample collection, feeling slightly more capable of a bit of pedalling and a lot poorer after the motel pocket rape, I looked into WS hosting just on the off-chance I could save cash while I hung around. There was one fairly local WSer whose profile said same-day hosting might be doable. I judged I had two hours for him to reply positively before it got so close to sunset I wouldn't be able to make it there before dark, so I chanced it, lauging at myself as I typed, and wrote that I knew how ridiculous a request it was and that I could always go back to the motel as a last resort.
I got a quick reply from the man, Al, to say that not only was it no problem but that his profile was out of date and that he now lived a few minutes from the Starrry B's I was internetting from. And he would pick me up in his truck since I was unwell. Lifesaver.
Al and his family humbled me with their kindness. As readers of this nonsense I type will have gathered, this atttitude I give out is not all for effect. I strut about far more cockily than I have any right to, slagging people off left, right and centre just because in my petty arrogance they strike me wrong, but when people treat you like this you wonder if you shouldn't at least send a few pennies to Africa. Just to balance out the karma, you know.
They fed and housed me for the three nights it took for me to get the test results. They took me out to an 'Irish Pub' (Al: "I know this is not like the great places you guys must have at home but this is the best we can do for ya, buddy"), where I discovered that Fat Tire, despite belonging to that untrustworthy gang of widely-available American 'craft beers', is actually a decent sip with a bike on the label to boot because the brewer used to be a tourer like moi. I twice Hugh-Granted an apologetic request for another night in their spare bed and they twice rushed to accommodate me. Al loaded me up with Cliff Bars, which taste remarkably like the energy balls I make but are bloody expensive, hence the energy balls. He also loaded me up with sample energy gels that are handed out at the MTB events he does (not, to my knowledge, with the wank camera on his helmet), and I can report that they've been a big help on the occasions I forget to eat enough and get the old sugar crash jelly legs. All this while Al himself is suffering from glandular fever and presumably worrying about how he'll be able to convince his lovely wife he caught it with some ofher part of his body than his cock or his tongue. I for one have full faith that it was a sneeze-wipe-doorknob scenario.
And all I could do in return was cook them some average English food one night, give them a little giggle with my Hary Potter impersonation and briefly help their eldest with her Spanish homework. So for this and other hospitality you'll read about later in this update I faithfully promise to roll out the red carpet for any WSers who want to show up on my doorstep once I've got one. In Korea. No, seriously, come to Korea. It's a lovely little place. And even if you're a twat I'll try not to blog about you nastily.
Oh and in the time I was loafing around in the surprisingly OK town of Warrenton, VA, my guts magically cleared up and have been regular since, I'm proud to inform you, and so it was little surprise that the test results came back negative. To paraphrase the conversation I had with the doctor:
"So everything we tested for came back negative."
""This is not the first time my guts have SEEMED to calm down of late - do you expect I've got 'absolutely nothing' or 'something even worse'?"
"Well you don't have IBS, which is complete made-up bullcrap anyway, and the next step if you continue to feel bad is a colonoscopy to look for inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn's. Keep checking your stool for blood. (Giggle)."
There has been no blood.
Oh, photos, yeah. I warned you the photography had been crap but here's another one I took whilst wondering what exactly the corporate decision-making process entails:
Day 21 (25.10) Warrenton, VA - Golansville, VA
With Al's help I'd decided on a little diversion slightly further east than originally planned because I'd make much better pace with the flatness of the terrain.
I took one photo that day. A useless one unless you want to see one of my typical stomping grounds - the supermarket car park:
Not much further down the road was a turn-off that looked promisingly foresty. I'm stubborn, so I stuck to my choice of campsite despite it being shit. Far too much sapling/thorn undergrowth to struggle through with a wide bike, also far too much undergrowth to be able to see more than a few yards all around and choose decent trees. I found one space wide enough for a proper hang but one of the two trees was a thin, bendy one. No problem, thought I, because I'll just cleverly tie the smaller tree out to two or three behind it with my clever tension knot I learnt before I started the trip and then it won't let the hammock sag right down to the ground like it's doing now as I sit in it, regretting my shit choice of campsite.
That didn't work because the other trees also sagged and I woke up twice with my arse on the floor and the tarp in my face since it was, as always, tied to the same two trees as the hammock. One of those times it was raining and the flaccid tarp was letting water creep underneath and drip down on me. Not a particularly good night's sleep.
And before I went to bed I was watching a documentary I'd 'acquired' about this chap, than whom I challenge anyone to be more of a LAD by the way, when the laptop froze. I forced it to power down by holding the power button, and when I turned it back on it said it couldn't find the bootable disk or something along those lines. On its arse after three weeks. It hadn't even taken any serious knocks or spillage. It was a couple of days after the no-quibble return period at Walmart. Acer are a complete set of useless bastards with a broken website and an Indian call centre. And that's why this update has taken so long.
Day 22 (26.10) Golansville, VA - Richmond, VA
That morning in Ashland, VA, I began my fond relationship with the American public library, pathetically limited as I am to what gadgets and information superhighways can do for me. I'd heard (from this ginger lad, who knows a few tricks about touring and who'd broken his usual limping stride of information dispersal to inform me of this well in advance of me needing to know, to be fair) that American libraries have not only free wifi but also actual desktops that I and the scrabbling poor can surf even without a 'lah-berry' card. And I found out for my own sweet self that you can always fill your water bottles at their drinkng fountains and/or enjoy their actually quite clean toilets. Gratis. Sometimes the fat girls who work there even smile at you and call you 'Sir'. But a lot of them want photo ID. Yep, just to use the 'puter. Yep, Land Of The Free.
I floundered about on t'interweb trying to get the lappy fixed and arrange a WS host down the road whose address I could borrow, then rolled guffawing past this...
...and other such silliness into Richmond, which is big enough to have several hotels to choose from. I treated my poor, tired little self to Holiday Inn Express, where The Lawd blessed me not only with 'king si7e bed room at back' AND ringside view of miserable grey river, but also region-specific Weather Channel, which confirmed what Al had warned me about by email earlier: DERE'S A STORM A-COMIN'!*
*Al is in fact one of a small number of septics who neither talk nor type like that.
Day 23 (27.10) Richmond, VA - Somewhere about 2 miles east of Highway 301 south of Petersburg, VA, since you care to know
Here's Doris ladying it over some paupers' plastic bikes outside Richmond Central Library, where I stopped to decide where on Earth to go next.
Naturally, having read Al's email, watched the telly weather and seen this on the BBC (only fully trust news if the BBC says so, except weather forecasts for England, about which the BBC lies spectacularly every single time ON MY LICENCE FEE NO LESS), 'south and fast' seemed to be a good direction. Scroll down the article in that link there to the map. At the time of reading it I was on the dot of the third i in Virginia. The sky was grey and moving fast like in a horror film opening shot but without the studio-distorted wolf howls or ooh isn't it eerie wind chimes. I humoured Al because he, the local, knows better, and made to run away from it.
To an extent. I didn't get particularly far because I had no external motivator, if I may permit myself to business-speak you momentarily. The sky never changed all day from 'non-specific scowl' to anything else, and the wind didn't seem to go mental in any direction. Perhaps because that night's 'green bit on Google Maps' was forested heavily enough to keep my little micro-climate comfy. I did hear what I expect was a deer crashing about the woods alarmingly close to my tarp lines during the night, but other than that I slept like a baby. A dry one.
Day 24 (28.10) to Rocky Mount, NC
100-miler, Only one in America so far. Have a look at the image below that I stole but it's freely available on the internet plus I'm hiding behind a VPN that says I'm 'somewhere in Europe' (unless I want to watch Iplayer or MOTD, in which case I'm specifically in Southampton) so you can't sue. The winds I'd seen so far had all blown north up the east coast and slowed me down. The storm made the winds swirl around anti-clockwise as you can see, and the bottom left part of that circle kicked me up the arse throughout that day and blew me into three figures with hardly a bead of sweat spilt.
I like the cute little habit the septics have of giving person names to unfortunate events such as this, which will forever be remembered as 'Superstorm Sandy'. About 50 years from now, some kids who will be mostly white but clearly part diverse (Mum, you're not allowed to be racist) will be sat saucer-eyed around their grandad's feet. "Heard of that Superstorm Sandy, 'ave ye? America? Great storm of oh-twelve? Well, then. See me? Out-fucking-RAN it, didn't I?".They will also learnhow their old grandad streetwisely dodged Plane Crash Lee-Roy, Indiscriminate High School Massacre Shaniqua and Accident Or Injury At Work That Wasn't Your Fault Ray-Ray.
It barely rained on me all that day. I was quite happy with the weather for a change, completely unaware until a couple of days later of how bad it was in the epicentre or whatever you call it. Seems it was a real storm after all, not just the usual media scaremongering: Some people lost all their stuff.
I saw a news report in which a bimbo had been sent to stand in streets like the one below to show everyone the devastation. Her words were, "These poor people. There must be some kind of fund to help them get their boats back". Meanwhile, hundreds of people the wrong colour to be going around owning boats and parking them badly were without power and water for days or even weeks afterwards. There must be some kind of fund to help them.
The Lawd has a lot to answer for. But yea verily The Lawd answereth not to Man. He just wreaketh random havoc whensoever and wheresoever it pleaseth Him. No further comment from Me, but here's Jesus with His thoughts on the episode:
Naaaaaah. That's BANG out, Jesus.
I slept in a wood near a Maccy D's, where I bought a dollar menu chicken burger and thoroughly enjoyed it, I went back three times later since it was so close - water refill, handful of milk portions in the morning for coffee, powerade refill before setting off. Also toilet. I love Maccy's so much that my only minor quibble with them is that they only ever have one plug socket for the public area of the building - sometimes actually on the ceiling, which makes it a bit pointless that they have free wifi. Starry's has a socket for every seat but alas the only thing you can buy for as little as a dollar there is a slap in the face.
Day 25 (29.10) Rocky Mount, NC - Selma, NC
The storm finally rained on me but I was close enough to where i was going not to care much. I'd found a WS host who just happened to have been a computer repair shop owner in the past, so the rain wasn't enough to bring me down. But the towns were. Some really miserable places around there. Rocky Mount looks like the sun last shone on it a hundred years before the White Faces came. I was surprised to see that most faces in the city were black. Famous black person Chris Rock had previously told me that black people only live in seven major cities and nowhere else. He lied.
Outside the towns it's a bit nicer. Cotton fields in bloom. Later you'll see a much better photo of this, taken by someone who knows what he's doing with a camera.
This is the day I started to hear some proper hillbilly accents. I'm now well and truly in The South, which is regarded as a backward place full of backward people. After Richmond I began to see fewer front teeth, more trailer parks, fewer fancy places like Starry's and more grubby places like 'JimmyJoeJohnBob's Biscuits, Grits and Bibles', zero cyclists and more churches than people. Usually Baptist churches.
I stopped at a Hardee's, which I'd never seen before, to chiggidy check it out. It's a fast food chain and it's not a nice place. Not only is the food nasty but I saw this in the window on the way back out and lost all respect for the establishment:
This is even worse than the loudmouth Jesusism and the military wanking. It's just stupid. How can you put your hand up in the boardroom, blurt that out as a slogan suggestion and not expect a slap? It's not even a Hardee's-only campaign. Look, I can show you: www.porkbeinspired.com
The host I'd found in Selma is called Pavel. He was born in Czechoslovakia, ran away from the Russians to Canada, bounced around a few other countries and landed in America. He's still more Czech than anything else. Czechs consume more beer per capita than any other nationality and not just a little bit more either. A clear 30% more than the Germans, who find themselves in their usual second place. I showed up with six brown ales to thank him but we sank much more than that. Here he is hiding behind his glass in shame because he's put ice cubes in it and he knows he's effectively wiping his arse with the Koran of beer.
Day 26 (30.10) Packing and shopping
Pavel couldn't fix my lappy because its hard disk was dead. He did, however, let me use his to fill in Acer's online service form. The previous day we got on so well that I invited him to ride along for a couple of days since, like me, he currently can't be arsed to go to work. Plus he's got form. The previous summer he'd ridden all the way from Selma to Austin, Texas with his daughter who's only 12. I was impressed.
He wanted the day to go kit shopping and prepare his bike because he'd been off it and on the ales since summer, so I had the day off to do that with him. We drove to Raleigh in his convertible, the first time I'd ever been in one in fact, to look at an outdoor shop called REI, which has a lifetime no-quibble return policy on all its stuff. There are stories of people going there to buy all their kit for their outdoor expeditions, then returning everything months or years later once they've worn it out. I only bought a pair of pure wool socks to see if it's true that they don't stink after a few days' wear (it is so I'll be buying nothing but that in future) and some spare tent pegs. I was tempted to buy a lot more.
We also went to a big Asian place that had a restaurant and a supermarket. I bought a vat of kimchi because it's more moreish than smack and it's about 16 of my 5 a day. I didn't care how ridiculously big and heavy it was. We also bought energy ball ingredients. And ales. Plenty of ales.
Day 27 (31.10) Selma, NC - Clinton, NC
Finally some decent photos. This one is mine of Pavel enjoying an energy ball...
...and all the rest are done by Pavel. He's got his own dark room at home and as many different cameras as you'd expect to go with it, but on this trip he just took a little didge the same size as mine but twice as heavy, which is always a sure sign that something's not cheap Chinese-made tat. That plus knowing what all the settings on it are for are how you take proper photos.
Ready to set off in the AM after some long overdue bike maintenance:
I take up a lot of room on the road when there's no decent shoulder but I don't care. The more you hide off to the side, the more often drivers will try to squeeze past at speed. This way they have to wait or kill you and you win the game of chicken. In other countries they beep at you. In America they wait their turn, except for literally three who have beeped me and been rewarded with a 5-minute go-slow. Al, above, shared a top tip too. When you cycle a lot you become an expert interpreter of car sounds and can judge speed, size and distance from white line fairly easily as they come up behind you. When Al senses one coming that's trying to squeeze him out or, worse, 'buzz' him for fun as Al puts it (this has never happened to me), he just spits to his left before it comes up on him and most of the time it makes the driver think twice.about going too close. I can never seem to bring up a big enough gobful at short notice (I've tried to experiment a couple of times since Al told me about it) but I can definitely blow out a theatrical nostrilful. It has worked. Relax, I don't do it all the time.
Pavel chooses them well:
I spend most of the day pointing out trees and assessing their campability out loud. I do this to show Pavel how I tour without a tent. He doesn't much care.
"See them on the right? Not bad spacing. Bit close to the road though. Easy to see into as well. You'd see the camp fire from miles away. Probably give it a miss." This was early afternoon, when it was still a few hours away from mattering. I must be annoying to ride with.
I overtook this tramp on the way into Selma, stopped to check he was OK because I was going a lot faster and he seemed to be struggling, and gladly carried on away from him because he insisted a bit too strongly that he was fine. I thought he'd be long gone, but we glimpsed a loaded bike stopped down a side road on the way out of Selma and stopped to say hello. Good touring etiquette. I wasn't best pleased to realise it was this same guy. He's a bike tramp. He's been at it for seven years, he stinks a mile away and everything he eats or earns is charity. Or theft for all I know. Doesn't he look shifty?
He also thinks he's a rasta and jabbered on far too much about Jah and 'going dred' and quoted reggae singers as if they were great philosophers. But he latched on to us as if we were all about to join hands and camp happily together for a few nights. Pavel didn't mind but I took him to one side and said I'd prefer to shake the fella off because I didn't trust him. I mean just look at the genocide in his eyes. But I'm not completely heartless. I fed him some energy balls and kimchi (that's the jar in the photo up there) and had a go at fixing his derailleur like so:
But I couldn't because his cable had snapped and none of us was carrying a spare. And that's why he couldn't find the gears to keep up with us and why we camped that night without worrying about getting our stuff nicked.
Dozens of churches about like this one but never anybody in or around them. The buses are misleading. They're just for rounding up old and/or poor people on Sundays. Knock on the door looking for water or permish to camp round the back and you're wasting time. Knock on houses nextdoor and they never have anything to do with the church. There's never a vicarage like at home.
Pavel's cotton field photos are much better than mine, even when they're flawed like this one:
He insists we stop and do some staged ones. I go all quivery at the knees with the attention and get the schoolgirl giggles as I roll past him. I can't quite hold a straight face but here's me trying.
Rolling into Clinton we found out where a Walmart was and headed towards it for beer and sausages, keeping our eyes peeled for campsites on the way. We found none that looked ideal but Pavel had heard that Walmart have an 'ask to camp' policy. It's for campervans or truckers but it couldn't hurt to ask. He found the number for the manager on his smartphone, rang him and asked to go and see him in his office. I was entertained by his inventiveness. The manager eventually said he wasn't allowed to say yes but would make sure his staff wouldn't say no. Then we looked around the car park and realised that we couldn't camp anywhere around there as there wasn't enough cover and it's far too busy because it's a big retail complex. Not bad advice for a plan Z if it ever comes to it, though.
Pavel also carried an Ipad, useful for bringing up Google satellites and finding some trees nearby at the side of a quiet road. Woods thornier than I've ever seen but we found a decent enough place that would take both a hammock and a tent. Job done.
By the way, Barbecued sausage, strong cheddar and kimchi on wholegrain bread. Seriously.
Day 28 (01.11) Clinton, NC - Clarkton, NC
In the morning Pavel took a world record number of photos. I like these because they show what it's like pretty much every morning, except of course when I find a bed to sleep in. First one is me already cooking up the coffee as he crawls out of his tent. Not often I'm the first one to get up in any situation.
Cold enough for the layers that morning. First the babushka buff then the wooly balaclava on top.
Don't worry, ecofannies. We cleared up our litter before we left.
Now changed into lycra to show off my beautifully sculpted buttocks, it's time to pack up the hammock, starting with the Thermarest. It's a battle to get it rolled up tight with cold hands. In these shots, your hero is pictured wearing a winter buff rolled up to make a hat since the wooly hat he had has been misplaced:
Top quilt. It's still not falling apart, Viv, if you're reading. And it's far too warm for just a couple of degrees below freezing. Good bit of kit. Would have been fun to test it at -30.
Loading the bike:
Apologising for the time it takes:
Dragging the bike through the thorns and back to the path:
Trying to act natural as Pavel stages the day's first heroic pedal strokes:
We went right back to the Walmart, since it was only round the corner, for its above-freezing and plumbed toilets. I wasted half an hour trying to get the drivetrain clean. I'd polished it all to a shine the previous morning before we left but it clogged up with sand on the path above, undoing all my work and making the chain grind audibly. Easy to clean off with petrol, not so easy with cold water followed by Heet, which is isopropyl alcohol sold as engine anti-freeze that I bought for the stove. It's not nearly as efficient a burner as de-natured alcohol and it doesn't de-grease particularly well either. Pavel took some foters. I particularly like the black and white ones. They make the scene look less farcical.
I had a place to stay a couple of days down the road so that half-arsed wipe would have to do until I could scrounge some more petrol. I can never buy it for myself because I refuse to carry a special bottle for it and no service station will let me fill a pop bottle.
Pavel had been considering riding along for a couple of days but his body wasn't as up for it as his mind and so he turned back home, both of us being MEN about it GRRR and acting as though it was no big deal to say goodbye. Over the campfire he'd told me he was terminally ill and had struggled more than he'd let on to keep up with me. He's already shaken off one bout of cancer but he's been warned he probably won't be able to this time. It's not my right to feel sorry for him but I can't help it after hearing him talk about his plans, which are far better than most because he's not a soulless cardboard cut-out like most. He wants to take his daughter on another trip, the kind my dad talked about doing with me for years before he died and it was too late, and I hope his body lets him. One of the best blokes I've met on my travels and proof that life's a bitch you can't count on. A French woman, if you will.
I wasn't in the best of spirits the rest of the day and so I didn't take any photos. The satnav took me past a Jehova's Witness church in the middle of nowhere, which had a perfect patch of pines behind its car park. First time I'd decided to try it on at a church because I'd normally see it as taking advantage of beliefs I generally mock. But I couldn't see any better options, their book says they have to help people and they've had enough practice of their own at turning upo uninvited, so why not just this once. The sign on the door said they were having a meeting about an hour after sunset, so I politely waited by the front door without setting up camp, expecting them to let me camp no problem, perhaps in exchange for a brief chat about Jesus. Fair trade. I laid out my sweaty clothes on the bike to dry, scouted out the best two trees, cleared a spot for a little fire, gathered a few twigs for it, all very leave-no-trace and eco-friendly, then sat on the bench outside the entrance with my head against the wall and dozed off for half an hour as the sun set.
The sign on the door was in Spanish. Apparently it was Mexican night there. The first bloke who showed up in his car, I asked him if he was the minister - si senor he was - and gave him my humblest and politest spiel in Spanish and asked if he'd be ever so kind and all that shit, and he said he couldn't help because having people on the property violated their insurance policy. If he'd had enough self recockingspect to just tell me to fuck off I'd at least have respected him, but what a fucking weasel. Christian or not, if you're spineless enough to piss on such a harmless request and blame it on insurance, you deserve everything the Dobermann I'll be buying specially does to your face next time it shows up at my door telling me what book I should be reading. What the actual fuck is this bloke preaching to the mongs who turn up to bow to him?
I went back to the highway with no light left, stormed down it dangerously for four or five miles, blinded each time headlights came the opposite way, then magically found a road that had no mailbox a the end (so not a driveway) and what felt underfoot like an absence of the two lines carved out by car wheels (unfrequented), and no obvious fencing (not obviously trespassing, officer). I camped clumsily in the dark.
Day 29 (02.11) Somewhere, NC - Nichols, SC
According to the morning it had actually been a very nice place to camp. I hailed a couple of Maries to make up for the previous night's ranting.
The satnav played up a couple of times that day. Its first trick was to cost me a few extra miles in reverse by sending me down this road:
Some people in a house outn of shot to the left said it had been like that for ten years. Later it wanted me to do about seven miles on this road. Not a chance after the grit the chain had soaked up on the same surface a couple of days ago. Heet doesn't grow on trees.
After recent shenanigans I rolled into the librariless town of Nichols and went for a completely different but equally new approach. I went right to the police station, did my introductions and asked the copper where he'd camp if he didn't want to be arrested or shot. "Rememmer det bridge yi came over on the way inda town?" "The one where people were fishing?" "That's it. It's aaaaaaall public.People kemp out dere. Jus be safe with your kemp fahr. I'll make sure one of us comes bah lader to check yi're doin OK."
Wasn't that a breath of fresh air? I didn't get the nice spot by the river because there was already a pickup truckful of whooping rednecks with some crates of Gahd Dahm Bud Light I didn't want to provoke by being different, but there was room for me to hide in what is probably a steaming swamp at other times of the year. It had dried out nicely but the mozzies were still clinging on to the year even though it was cold enough for me to layer up. But in doing so I didn't have to bother about them.
It's a fahr:
Tried to take a nice photo like the ones Pavel takes. Failed. Tried to remember some of the technical things he'd said about photography. Failed.
Not to worry. Ah done slep' preddy good anyway.
Day 30 (03.11) Nichols, SC - Lee State Park, SC
The wind had been back to normal for a couple of days. Here it is opposing me because I am a bad person who deserves no better.
I went through the town of Darlington, which had a little patch just outside it on the satnav screen with hundreds of tent symbols, each marked 'shelter' I've already been let down by the satnav in this respect because 'shelter' to the satnav can mean 'field with cows in it', 'expensive hotel', 'interesting tree' or any number of things. It is never a campsite. But here there were a dozen all together and I was being told to ride past close enough to investigate. It was a Nascar stadium and each of the 'shelters' was a car park outside where apparently the Nascar fan can park his campervan and drink flavourless fizz beer in between epidodes of whooping like a chimp at cars going round in a circle very fast.
I don't remember much else about that day other than being tired at the end of it because of the wind. So just have the photos I took and be satisfied.
Service stations in the south usually have rows of plug sockets outside, probably for vending machines. Also for the satnav.
Here's what Lee State Park looks like. I turned up too late in the day to be park rangered. I saw one just finishing his shift and he told me to fill in one of the forms on the campground notice board and post it and my 17 notes in the drop box there. Unfortunately there was no pen so I couldn't fill in the form and I'm too polite to leave 17 notes just floating around unexplained.
Firewood is a challenge because everybody else has had the same idea and cleared the ground of it already, but once you've found enough there are nice fire pits by the picnic tables and plug sockets for your satnav or campervan telly. There are also clean shower blocks with hot water and electric heaters on the wall that dry your clothes lickety split. I should really have paid.
Here's what you can do with a large enough rectangular tarp when it's extra windy out or you just want some privacy - fold the corners in to make doors:
Day 31 (04.11) Lee State Park, SC - Columbia, SC
An hour into the day I was exhausted. Pedalled too hard into the wind the previous day because I'd set my heart on the state park. So I rolled slowly and failed to make it in and out of Columbia and back into tthe greenery for a place to camp. I did go past a different state park on the way into the city but I skipped it just in case the word had been put out about a guy on a bah-sickle who looked and talked kinda funny goin around not payin to kemp.
What did I see along the way, kids? Hazard warnings aplenty...
...tempting eateries, this one I had to skip because it was just five minutes after I'd rampaged though a Maccy D's dollar menu...
... dirty low-down two-bit good-for-nothin' cotton-pickin' honky-tonk rootin'-tootin' roly-poly jibber-jabberin' crackerjack rat-bastard liars, such as this bloke with the smirk of an unconvicted wife beater who wanted to swap a bookful of smallprint for One Million Dollars...
... and Jesus. I found him in a supermarket in the town of Lugoff, peering smugly out of the town rulebook as I tried to buy beer for what I was still hoping would be an outdoor evening. I put my stuff on the till belt while someone else was still paying and the woman serving barked without even looking at me, "Yi cain't bah aylco-hawl hear awn a Sundie." She allowed herself an "Ah done telt det boah real good" smirk as she carried on scanning stuff. I asked if she meant the entire state but no, she meant only the town of Lugoff. I was still spitting distance from the town limit, the other side of which was a Walmart not subject to the law. It's also not illegal to drink awn a Sundie, yi just cain't bah a drink, see?
Why can't the religious keep themselves to themselves and leave other people to do it their own way? I know they're not all like this but they don't seem to do much to oppose the ones who are. Fuck it, I've spent too long doing this update already. I'm tired. let me just throw in a list of words and have done with it. Mediaeval. Oppressive. Insane. Fascist. Illogical. Pointless. Not even in the Bible. Backward. Unbelievable. Moronic. None of anybody's fucking business what I put inside my own body. Pathetic.
I went to a motel and almost ordered in some coke and a hooker but no because it was a Sundie.
Day 32 (05.11) Columbia, SC - Modoc, SC and Day 33 (06.11) - day off in Modoc
Mostly plastic motel breakfast. First helping of it at least.
That sludge in the bowl is not porage but grits, which is the same idea but made of maize. It tastes of nothing but it's hot and carbtastic, so I approve. And yes I went back for more and yes I was hungry again an hour later. Once I stop cycling I'll keep eating like this and grow myself a fine pair of chesticles.
Those are some train tracks, obviously. I followed them for most of the day but saw no trains. Apparently, and I found this out on a tired day when I was tempted to cheat but resisted, there are only two passenger trains per day from New York down to Florida. There are occasional cargo trains but they're not cheatable on, even by people who aren't carrying bikes and excessive baggage, because there are constant security checks for hobos nowadays.
I had a place to stay in the tiny town of Modoc, which on the satnav screen appears to be one lonely side road and a cemetery but in real life even has a post office, a fire station and a mini-mart. I was hosted by some lovely people who turned out to be the 'right kind' of religous people, which I should mention in fairness since I've been giving the religous a mild kicking here lately. The right ones, like my hosts here, don't hide it but at the same time they don't shove it down your neck, constantly bring it up in conversation with people they know would rather not discuss it or openly judge you for not being like them. However, I'm sure they quietly disapprove of much of the content on this here web page. Fair enough. As Mother would confirm if she had any right of reply here, they're not the only ones. But that didn't discourage them from helping me out, which they did enormously and generously.
At the start of the trip I went around the internet begging for hammock space, including on a forum all about hammocks, most of whose members are based in America and all of whose members are unbelievably geeky about it. If you think I go on and on about my hammock, just google Hammock Forums and compare me to that lot.
Sue here is a Lv99 hammock geek. She owns twelve (yes, 12) of them, none of which is unused because she's an ex-military lass who can't be kept indoors. She even has a double one she uses with her husband Mike. I had to see it to believe it but it looks like a decent night's sleep. Idiotically, I didn't get a photo of that or the hammock shrine in Sue's garden, where she's erected a series of strong, perfectly spaced posts around one of her trees because she wasn't happy with the natural feng shui of her lawn. You'll just have to believe me.
I did get photos of Mike at play in his workshop. He's a Texan who knows about killing and eating things in forests and even gave me a few tips on hunting deer, such as how to walk quietly when it's crunchy underfoot, but I'll never be able to put his advice into practice because I strongly doubt foreigners can get hold of shooters or shooting licences here. But he also knows about knives and agreed to fix my knackered one for me. These photos are arty. By arty I mean blurry.
What have we here?
Point seems to be bent.
Probably just open up a can of whoop-ass on it with a hammer...
...then take a grinding wheel to it...
... loads of grinding.
A bit of honing and it was sharper than little sister's tongue. What a gent.
Sue and Mike took me out to a Mexican place within seconds of me arriving, where I specifically ordered the most calorietastic thing on the menu, el burrito muy grande con sloppy. That kind of order is probably a faux-pas in England but the Americans aren't quite as stuck up, so it was met with mild amusement. But that's not all the feeding I got. Check this out:
I carry one metal mug, which holds about 694.34ml of liquid and is only used for warming water for coffee. I can't cook in it because my simple popcan stove doesn't have settings other than 'burn' or 'boil over'. Sue came up with a solution and it's one I've been using every day since. See this pile of food she gave me...
... the square silver thing is an envelope she made me out of reflective wall insulation called Reflectix. You boil water, add it to a sachet of quick cook rice stuff in a Ziploc (no, they don't melt) and seal it, then put the Ziploc inside for about 15 minutes and the rice slowly cooks. Then you chuck in one of those other sachets (above) of tuna or chicken and there's your meal. She also made a 'cozy' out of Reflectix that fits perfectly around my coffee mug. And there's all manner of other stuff in the food pile for good measure. Plus a multitool. I didn't get to keep the hammer.
I left there after two nights with a couple of extra kilos on my arse and a few more on the bike, but not before a trip to the hydro dam where Sue works, where I got the executive tour. Sue, I don't think we cleared up whether I'm allowed to post these photos or not but let me know if i'm being terroristy and I'll replace them with some funny kittens. Anyway for now, here's the dam from the outside.
And here are the turbines. Look how big they are compared to the door on the left. They're strong enough to power a number of light bulbs that's so big it won't fit on a computer screen.
Mike's favourite bit is the view from the top of the dam. He assures me you can see thousands of fish in there on a clear day. Proof that dams are good for the environment.
Day 34 (07.11) Modoc, SC - Calhoun Falls, SC
Next place to stay was in Athens, Jawjuh, home of that band that had one good album, which I've just loaded up on Youtube for old time's sake, but hung around whining for years before and after. 100 miles there in a day was ambitious as the terrain was up and down as usual, so I gave myself two days. Good job because the first day was miserable. Into the wind (sound familiar?) as well as the rain, a proper bone chiller, so I gave up after about 30 miles just before Calhoun Falls. Chance to warm up with one of Sue's kitchen sensations.
The envelope is not much bigger than my hand, I thought important to show you:
The voila hand should have been saved for the end result, really:
I don't care what it looks like. It's shown me what I've been missing on cold nights. Clever lass, that Sue.
I almost forgot to mention she cut me a sheet of Reflectix to replace my Thermarest as a ground mat or extra hammock insulation. Nothing wrong with the latter but it's pinker than I prefer and much heavier but no smaller rolled up than Reflectix. I used the Reflectix for one night and it was just as warm as the Thermarest but in the morning I had to leave it, hoping (nah, knowing because she's Lv99) that Sue could make use. They have this thing on the hammock forums called 'pay it forward', which involves giving away a piece of gear then earning the right to claim something someone else is giving away. I've long had my eye on a new knife made out of strong steel and not stainless plasticine like my current one, but I can't carry two pads until someone takes a small pink one one off my hands and I find a co-operative post office. As always, you're most welcome for the insight into my daily conundra. Oh yes. 6 years of Latin at school, biatch.
That night's camping was on land marked 'National Trust', which at home means thou shalt not but here... dunno. It didn't say No Trespassing so in I went. It had ribbons tied to trees, which I think has something to do with shooting animals, but here I am not shot.
Day 35 (08.11) Calhoun Falls, SC - Athens, JA
Should have done more miles the previous day. I can't remember being more knackered after a bike ride. It's partly the terrain and partly my own stupid fault. I avoided too many main roads, at one point going through a hilly state park the GPS didn't fancy. It didn't want to go over this bridge...
... probably because it's made of toothpicks. The planks are splitting and I almost lost a wheel down one of the cracks. Luckily I have fatter tyres than the road racers. The chap I was staying with that night, Tracy, told me one of his colleagues had recently died on that very bridge, having jammed his skinny tyre in one of the cracks and broken his neck in the fall. I only took the photo to show how quaint it was.
Tracy is another hammock forummer, who probably wanted to do some of the hammock geekery I'd done with Sue and definitely has the garden for it, but I was so exhausted when I got there I just begged for the couch. I was wary of his dog interfering with that plan...
...but it's not as scary as it looks. I really only took this foter because Tracy had taken me out to buy a new memory card for the camera and I needed to test it. It works and it's got 5 squillion GB on it, so in theory I'll have an itchier trigger finger with it and be able to upload more.
Tracy was just about to head out for a 'Hang', which is when loads of hammock forummers get together for a weekend to see who wins at sleeping in a hammock. I would have tagged along to learn some fancy new knots and watch Tracy catch trout and whatnot if I'd caved in to the tired legs. But now and then I get past the natural laziness. Off in the morning.
Day 36 (09.11) Athens, JA - Auburn, JA
Tracy used to be a mountain biker until somebody threw a car at him and put that on hold, but there was no rustiness as he took Doris out for a spin. Even with the practice I've had I wobble for the first few yards of the day. It's not a stable bike. But Tracy rolled it like a boss.
The dog was up for a few miles as well. Awwwwwww.
He's a deadpan champion, this Tracy. In the same way he delivered the news of his former colleague (Tracy's an art teacher) kicking the bucket on that bridge, he waved howdy at a car that went past this photo before turning to me: "Yeah, that guy used to be a PE teacher at our place until he got caught peeking into the changing rooms and they kicked him out." I giggled at both tales. Not because I'm a prick. It was the straightface delivery that got me. Tracy, I'll be the first to download your shows and not pay you a penny when you take up stand-up comedy as your side earner.
Just time for another well deserved dig at 'MMMericuh before we leave Tracy. He says every single one of his male colleagues has to have a job on the side because teaching doesn't pay the bills. None of the female teachers do because they marry richer guys, he adds. That is shocking. Not the gender imbalance thing, which shows what horrible gold-digging bastards women are (except for all the ones I know, luv u bbz x), and not because we all thought Americans were super well educated and we're surprised that an under-funded education system can produce such stellar intellects, because we didn't and it doesn't, but because this is supposed to be The Greatest Country In The World. 'Period'. No point having all those nukes pointed at China if nobody knows what colour the red button is. Meanwhile in China, it's illegal to get less than an A. It's really not the muzzers you should be worried about, Septics.
And then I went on a bike ride again.
I got to the town of Auburn, where I tried the same trick that worked up there^ in Nichols and asked some coppers where I could stay. One fobbed me off to the town hall nextdoor and told me to ask about the town campground, which was free. It wasn't free. It was 15 notes and there wasn't even a table. Just a field. Look at me as funny as you like, town hall lady, but how can you tell me that and not have me giggle at you? The second copper mulled it over and said I could go either down the road to a Romanian Orthodox church that was surrounded by trees but not people because it wasn't Sundie or to any bit of woodland that had a for sale sign on it. Because I'm white and fairly clean shaven, he trusted me not to do any damage and said it was unikely I'd get caught so hey jiminy what the heck.
I got to a for sale bit before the church but in the morning the church looked better. Streetview took this photo for me but the link probably won't work.
Meanwhile I set up my nice little camp and saw two deer mooching about like they owned the place. But deer don't like cameras. What does like cameras is my tarp, the piece of shit. It's superultramega lightweight because it's made of this fancy new material called cuben fibre. It's ridiculously expensive. Now the worst damage it's taken has been pine sap dripping on it and being a little bit sticky until wiped off with a cloth. It hasn't been dragged through any thorns, so this is not my fault, but look what's happened to it:
Because it has to be pulled taught at either end, what with it being a tarp, there's tension on the fibres of it and they've started to come apart. Maybe if I kick up enough of a fuss on the hammock forum I'll get a refund or replacement made out of something else but that's no good while I'm too homeless to replace it by post. It was made by Zpacks and imported to England for, again, a great many Benjamins, but let's be charitable for now and say it's not the workmanship (despite that wonky seam) but the raw materials that are shoddy. You're welcome to let this info tickle the back of your left ear for a while until there's an update, you lucky young scoundrel.
Day 37 (10.11) Auburn, JA - Smyrna, JA
This is what the campsite looks like as I'm packing up in the morning and suddenly realise the camera isn't in its proper place and I panic and strew everything everywhere looking for it. Notice it looks the same as when I'm being neat and tidy. I found the camera. It was in that black plastic bag where my pegs and spare bits of cord live. Panic over.
Let's have a look at some cynical marketing in Subway along the road. We like Subway because it's only 5 notes for a massive butty with as much salad as you can persuade them to jam inside it, but we disapprove of its marketing. Here's what nobody wants for Winterval:
And here's how to sell sandwiches whilst being A Real American Patriot:
Americans like go on about their Heroes. They mean the military, police and other thugs. And why not? Being a Hero in America makes you more American than your neighbour, who for all we know probably goes around voting for black people, reading the Koran and spelling correctly. Heroes are people who sign up for a job they know is dangerous not because they think the salary and associated benefits are a fair swap and not because their education leaves them no other option, oh no, but because Gahdblessamericuh. Heroes accordingly get Hero shags. They get free tickets to sporting events and discounts at a weird and wonderful range of retail outlets. Associating yourself with Heroes, whether you're a politician, a prostitute or a sandwich peddler, increases your own social worth. But teachers get none of this treatment, least of all the Hero shags. In fact, Hero shags for teachers are a complete no-no, as Tracy's former mate well knows. Teachers don't even get Hero pay. They certainly don't get their own You're More American Than Us Gahdblessya Day. So Heroes can fuck off.
And because they've started this in the UK recently and because you're an unpatriotic naysayer if you see right through to the cynicism of it, the UK can fuck off as well. Armed forces at the FA Cup final my arse. Do your job, get your money and shut up about it just like the rest of us.
That feels better. Smyrna is a suburb of Atlanta. It's the start of the Silver Comet Trail, which is a few dozen miles of what used to be a railway that's now paved over. It's a nice bike ride I'd been told about many states previously. As always with the shortening days, I sweated the last few miles to get to it just before sunset. And then I had to fly along it looking for a place to sleep. You're not supposed to be on it after dark and the signs say it's patrolled by Heros on golf carts, plus it was the weekend so there were familes and dog walkers out, but I found this a couple of miles in and all was well..
It doesn't say anything about camping, officer, and I got off and pushed I swear. At the bottom of the steep path behind the sign are a couple of old mill buildings like this one, where I would have hung from the steel beams but for the weekenders still hanging around at dusk.
The morning photo of it looks much better. Anyway down the path from here is a rain shelter - basically a roof over two posts that are just wide enough for a hammock. You only have to worry about the 5AM dog walkers after that.
Yes I know it's not up to date yet. The rest is on the way.