Monday, July 14, 2008

An e-mail from Ant - part 1

Today I had a real nice surprise, an e-mail from a young Englishman who by chance rode by our little tea room on his 3,000 mile bike ride from the West to the East Coast last year. He was quite a surprise, dressed in his Union Jack top, black speedos and carrying his bicycle helmet. He walked into the dining room and gave us a lovely smile, looking rather hot, tired and thirsty. I offered him a large glass of ice water and that is how we met Ant.

He told us his name was Antony, Ant to his friends, and I think he thought those British Icons out front were some kind of mirage as he couldn't believe his eyes when he found us on the last leg of his journey. We fortified him with a pot of tea and a scone, and thoroughly enjoyed our chat with him about his travels. We exchanged e-mails and really didn't expect to hear anything more from him, but soon after he sent us the address to his photo site, and we were able to get a clearer image of what his cycling adventure had been like, and it was quite an adventure. I thought over the next day or so I would paste his article here. It is quite an interesting story. In Ant's words:

"Mad Dogs, an Englishman and a Bike.

With a month of PODL to use after an OOA, I had spontaneously decided to cycle across the USA in four weeks. The guy in the bike store was pessimistic; ‘You realise it’s the summer? And you’ll be going through desert!’ ‘I’ll drink plenty of water.’ ‘I assume you’ve been training hard for this?’ (I hadn’t even seen a bike in six months.) ‘I’ll start off slowly and build up.’

Despite their scepticism, they duly sold me a lightweight bike at a bargain price. That night I wondered if it was such a good idea, but my return flight from New York was booked and I had a shiny new bicycle waiting to be taken for a 3000-mile test ride.

The following morning I dipped my wheels in the Pacific Ocean before starting the climb inland from the relatively cool coast of San Diego. At my first lunch stop, after a gruelling 10 miles uphill, a couple asked me where I was heading; when I told them, they joined hands and said a prayer. It didn’t do a lot for my confidence and I felt a little awkward, but I thanked them and got back on my bike.

My strategy was to travel light and stay in motels, carrying flip-flops, a t-shirt and shorts as evening dress. I had a pair of cycling shorts and a top, and washed them every night so that they were dry by the morning. I carried spare inner tubes, a spare tyre, puncture repair kit, a toothbrush, sun cream and first aid kit. Initially I carried a book but gave it away as I never got further than the first page before falling asleep. I had many issues to deal with but insomnia wasn’t one of them.

Although I’d intended to plan my route I never got round to it and so my ‘plan’ was to head north-east from San Diego until I reached Route 66. Then, after a couple of thousand miles, I would turn toward the east coast. This was sound until I realised that getting to the ‘66' meant crossing the Mojave Desert during the summer.

On day three, I had a mid-morning stop at the ghost town of Amboy, 100ft below sea level and 150 miles from Death Valley. I felt exhausted, having cycled 50 miles in 120° heat. The gas station only sold water and t-shirts but the man employed as the caretaker of the ‘town’ generously made me a peanut butter and jelly (jam) sandwich, while I rested on a makeshift cardboard mattress in his garage, refreshingly cool at 105°. I rested until sunset, when the temperature plummeted to 95°, and despondently cycled the 75 miles to civilisation."

Part 2 in the next post.

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