Tuesday, July 15, 2008

An E-Mail from Ant - Part 2

Our telephone booth and Union Jack that pulled him in.

Getting on the road.
And off he went, on the last leg of his journey home to England. Ant, it was great meeting you. He doesn't know it but under my breath I said a little prayer for his safe return home, always.


Don't forget to read part 1 first to get the whole gist of the story. This includes Ant's visit to our shop. He said in his e-mail that he may have got some of his facts wrong as he was pretty tired. I think I remember telling him that one of the ladies who works there was in the WAAF years before, and that I had married a US serviceman (Gregg) when he was stationed on a Royal Navy ship for two years. I certainly can understand why he didn't get all his facts straight. He must have met so many people on that 3091 mile journey. Good grief, I just can't imagine but we are all extremely impressed, and he was such a nice young man.

"Mad Dogs, an Englishman and a Bike - Part 2.

The extreme temperatures resulted in a re-think of my plan as cycling in such heat with few places to obtain water was dangerous. So for the next couple of days I cycled by night and slept by day. It was surreal cycling through the desert in the dark and I only switched my lights on when a car approached, which happened every couple of hours. It was eerily quiet; not even the sound of cicadas broke the silence and, when I stopped for a break, I lay on the warm tarmac, looked up at millions of stars and marveled at it all, trying to stop myself from falling asleep. With hindsight, cycling by night was the best decision I made.

I had a morale boost on day six as I was cycling parallel to the trans-American railway at sunrise. After hours of solitude a goods train went past and I waved at the driver; he responded by blowing the train’s horn, shattering the silence. I was at 7,000 ft had a tailwind and was out of the heat; unbeknown to me the ‘worst’ of my journey was over. I was able to establish a daytime routine to which my body and mind responded immediately. More significantly, my rear had stopped feeling sore and just turned numb after a short time in the saddle.

I had six landmarks each day, three of which I dreaded (the alarm going off, getting out of bed, and getting onto the saddle) and, after the first mile in the saddle, three of which I cherished (arriving at the motel, getting into the shower and bed). Now, back in the real world, I yearn for such a simple existence!

On the whole, the ‘66 either shadowed or was part of a freeway, and, in western USA, cycling on the freeway is not as crazy as it sounds because the hard shoulder could be two lanes wide with little traffic. Through New Mexico and Texas I had a strong tail wind and rarely dropped below 27mph so as the miles clicked past the morale increased. At gas stations, where I would stop for another bottle of Gatorade and a muffin, people would say, ‘Gee - we passed you 10 miles ago!’

I had worn a Union flag cycling top to stimulate a bit of conversation but needn’t have bothered as being on a ‘non-gas guzzling’ form of transport was unique enough. It also resulted in the occasional, ‘Are you Australian?’ Those who talked to me offered words of encouragement and gave me an insight to their lives. I met others doing a similar trip on Harley Davidsons; one was a German student who was riding from Alaska to Argentina.

As I travelled east the scenery became greener and the first tree was a great sight. Cacti looked positively lush in New Mexico and in Texas I came across vast fields of maize and sunflowers. The Bible Belt had more churches per mile than fast food outlets and the eastern states were wonderful, particularly near the Appalachians. The wildlife changed also from snakes, vultures and cockroaches in the west, to armadillos, tortoises and deer in the east. To quote the sign advertising the Road Kill Café, ‘You kill it; we grill it.’

The attitude of drivers changed also; in the west I was treated with respect, whereas in the east car drivers occasionally shouted abuse at me for having the cheek to be cycling on roads, so I reverted to using the minor roads that shadowed the freeway.

About halfway across, I stayed the night with a US Marine friend in Oklahoma. He suggested I take Route 50 from St Louis heading east to the coast and finish at Ocean City. This meant staying on the same road for 800 miles and finishing just east of Washington DC. It turned out to be a fantastic plan with a challenging day over the Appalachians on frightening down hills with hairpin bends to test the nerves and climbs to test the quads.

On the outskirts of DC, I was surprised as I passed a red telephone box and a Union Flag! Stopping, I marveled at this little British shop and when I wandered inside I was greeted by two ladies with American-Brummie accents who asked if I’d like a cup of PG Tips! I was mightily impressed, especially with the scones and jam they insisted I ate to ‘keep up my energy levels’, for which they refused payment. Their mother had been a WAAF during WW2 and had moved to the US having married an American serviceman. All around the tearoom was British paraphernalia, including pictures of the Queen and Spitfires. After three weeks of motels, fast food and appalling cable TV, I was quite content to let myself be mothered in that British haven.

My last day cycling, from Annapolis to Ocean City, was relatively short and as soon as I got to the beach I ran into the waves with my bike held high. Sunbathers eyed me curiously and gathered round to listen to the reason for my bizarre behaviour. Thinking I would be in a party mood they advised me on the best nightlife in town. All I wanted was a steak and chips meal, a beer and bed.

At the hotel I received VIP treatment and a local journalist interviewed me the next morning. I had cycled a total of 3091 miles through 13 states, met a variety of people and seen stunning scenery, as well as a cross-section of life in the world’s most influential nation. My thoughts and emotions were not all positive, but overall it was an awesome experience.

I found it more of a mental challenge than a physical one and discovered that if you keep feeding your muscles with carbs and water, your body can do a lot. I reckon that many barriers like this are mental ones so regardless of physical fitness, magnitude or type of event, we all have our own goals and it shows that if you push yourself you may be surprised at what you achieve! The bike shop assistant certainly was, when I phoned him 25 days after I had departed and thanked him as my bike had passed its test ride. He responded with, ‘Hey DUDE! You’re the man!’ "

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