So we did it. Not sure what to think right now less than 24 hours after rolling into the Atlantic Ocean nearly 3,000 miles and three plus weeks after setting off. Think it’s going to take a few days to sink in. Can’t believe I’m already itching to get back in the saddle. I’ll add some reflective words as they come to me. For now I’ve gotta find a cold beer and some healthy food (in that order).
We all like to big ourselves up a bit. (Hell if it wasn’t for the photographic evidence to the contrary I’d probably claim to have crossed America on a unicycle – half the number of wheels equals double the achievement). And so it is with towns. Especially small towns. Places like Vidalia where we’re staying on our final night before – all being well – crossing the finishing line and baptising our wheels in the Atlantic tomorrow, a mere 27 days and 3,000 miles after christening them in the Pacific. Vidalia, you see, is home to the “world famous” Vidalia sweet onion (Vidalia’s quotes not mine) . Now I’m not terribly well versed in culinary matters but have you heard of Vidalia sweet onions? Thought not. Talking up one’s town is called boosterism (thank you Conal) and it became endemic as America expanded westwards with new towns trying to outbid one another for residents and in doing so boost land prices. Not so much supply and demand more lie and demand. But on balance I suppose it’s better to be famous for sweet onions than, say, Anaheim’s claim to fame. The Californian city is home to the inventor of the “world famous” pooper scooper (my quotes not Anaheim’s).
At the end of every day’s riding I take a shower. Get rid of the grit and the grime. Freshen up. Let the jets of water ease tired muscles. Well today I had three showers. It’s not that I’ve developed some cycling-induced obsessive compulsive disorder. It’s just that it rained on us for the first time. The rain showers were nearly as hot as the one in the hotel bathroom. In fact if I’d slipped a bar of soap into my cycling pants I could have saved a whole lot of time later and finished the ride squeaky clean. Or at least squeaky. I enjoyed riding in the rain. It reminded me of home. Reduced the air temperature and increased the speed. The only down side? Prune fingers, prune toes and, though I didn’t look to check, prune cheeks.
Not many pictures, by the way, because I didn’t want prune iPhone.
No dogs today. Except one firmly on a leash, cast in bronze and, therefore, not chasing cyclists (though I swear I saw his nose twitch as I rode past). We saw the hound in question at the Fort Benning army base where he and his master are part of a memorial to the hundreds of “combat canines” killed in action – many of them in Vietnam. Just goes to prove that they can be man’s best friend – just not so much in Alabama.
Yesterday I was decrying the fact that riding across America at an average of 16 mph leaves little time for proper inquiry at the places we pass and that consequently our view of them is impressionistic – urban, hot and dry, windy and cold, dusty, hot and wet, green, very green, very hot, very wet…
Well a little inquiry into last night’s stopover – Columbus, Georgia – reveals a few interesting facts. The last battle of the American Civil War was fought there in 1865 after General Lee’s surrender and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Nobody had thought of informing either the Confederate stronghold or a Union detachment sent to sack it.
The inventor of Coca-Cola, Dr. John Pemberton, was wounded in this battle. Had he died how different – and thinner – America might be. Apparently he developed the drink to try to wean himself off an addiction to morphine which he was taking to ease the pain of his sabre wounds. Little was he to know that a whole nation would become addicted to the stuff. Hell even I’m becoming addicted to it. I rarely if ever touch fizzy drinks (beer and sparkling wines excepted) back home but here I’m drinking a can of his brew every day. It’s refreshing in temperatures nudging the 90s (Fahrenheit) and the sugar “rush” keeps the legs spinning. With only two days of riding left I’m going to be getting cold turkey. Or getting fat.
One of the biggest differences between travelling by two wheels instead of four is that a bicycle journey can be enjoyed not only by the eyes but also by the ears, the skin and the nose.
As far as those last two senses are concerned Alabama feels like a wet blanket and smells like a wet blanket. Or, at the risk of sounding like some poncey wine connoisseur, at least the base notes are wet blanket. The top notes range from the cloying sweetness of honeysuckle through freshly cut grass (the Americans love their ride on mowers) to gut-wrenching road kill. Armadillos may have a tough exoskeleton but it’s no match for a 40 tonne semi-trailer (that’s juggernaut to non-Americans).
Little things remind you how bloody big this country is. And not the obvious little things like sitting on a bike for seven or eight hours a day to get from one reasonable sized town to another. Things like house numbers. Imagine living at 15,887 Vicious Dog Creek Road. Actually I made the road name up but not the number (see picture below). In the UK I’ve never lived in a house with a number greater than 75.
And it’s not just house numbers that are big. Everything’s big. Including the people. Supersize humans waddle (and I mean waddle) around supersize malls that they’ve driven to in supersize cars. They eat supersize meals (which is, of course, a part of the problem). In fact people with an athletic build are so few and far between that they are the ones who turn heads. Fat is the new norm. Going large is easy and cheap. Or rather it’s cheap in the short term. The long term costs – for example in terms of public health – are huge. Or should I say supersized?
Crossed into Georgia today – the last state in our epic ride across America. Three days to go. Three hundred miles to go. Will I be glad it’s over? I’ll let you know…
One of the disadvantages of riding so far and so fast each day is that there’s little time for anything other than cycling (and eating and sleeping). The southern states are rolling by in a blush (a cross between blur and lush) of greens under cumulonimbus skies so I’m determined once the trip is over to learn a little about the towns we’ve passed through and fill in the intellectual gaps.
One of the other disadvantages is that one’s backside takes a beating. Without going into too much detail I have a rear that’s beginning to resemble that of a baboon. Apparently the red is sexually attractive to other baboons. I know we’re related to these old world monkeys and share 91% of our DNA but there’s nothing remotely sexy about my arse (or ass as they say over here). Is there?
Click on the music then look at the pictures.
The dogs here in Alabama are like doodlebugs. The ones that bark are the V1s that tormented London earlier in the Second World War. You can hear them coming a long way off and take evasive action (not so much head for the Andersen shelter more pedal like crazy to outrun them). The ones that don’t bark are like the silent V2s that rained down on the capital towards the end of the conflict – altogether more scary. Canine stealth bombers if you will. Pouncing from the undergrowth with barely a snarl until the saliva specked teeth are so close to your calf muscles that you can feel the wet heat. So far none has found its target but at the current rate – 7 or so dogs an hour – it can only be a matter of time before a “direct hit.” The Kiwis have suggested I send Rose up ahead. Not such a bad idea….
Here’s everything I’ve eaten today and I’m still hungry, my ribs are sticking out and my face looks chiselled (or perhaps I should stop kidding myself – gaunt).
Weird how you can feel totally different physically and mentally on two successive days. Yesterday was like wading through treacle (the Mississippi is a similar colour by the way). Today I felt strong and was flying along thanks to a shared load at the front of the pack with Symon, Nick, Shane and Jerry. Seems extraordinary that draughting (or slipstreaming) can save 15 – 20% effort which over a 100+ mile day is significant. Be interesting to see if tomorrow is a good day or a bad day.
Perhaps it has something to do with what you eat. We’re eating a lot. And I mean a lot. Which isn’t difficult in the land of plenty where a medium fizzy drink would qualify for a bucket back home. I’ll write more extensively about our diet over the next few days but it’s difficult to get enough down our necks to replace the 1000 or so calories we’re burning every hour or two.
The flower shop sign I mentioned yesterday doesn’t seem nearly as hilarious 24 hours on. But just in case you were waiting here it is: “Blinging Up Daisies.”
If I open a bike shop-cum-cafe what should I call it? The cross bar? Wheel Meet Again? Answers on a postcard. Or better still in the comments box below. Best idea wins a free meal on opening night.
Dog tired for the first time today. And tired of dogs for that matter although thankfully they left us alone after yesterday’s canine capers – all except a chewawa (or however you spell it) which although nippy in all senses of the word we felt we could deal with like Jonny Wilkinson drop kicking England to glory in a game of rugby.
Tired to the point where however hard I pedalled I didn’t seem to go any faster. Tired to the point of not upping the cadence rate when a fellow rider appeared on the horizon (not that they did today such was my slothful pace). Tired to the point where taking pictures seemed like a bad idea given that even though it meant stopping for less than a minute catching the pack could take 30 minutes.
One of the pictures I did take was of the sign at the city (I use that word advisedly) limits of Brinkley, our overnight stop. Americans – or at least American signwriters – seem to be obsessed with population numbers: Nowhere, Oklahoma pop. 6; Hope, Arizona pop 19. Some places in small town America are so small I’m surprised their signs don’t start with a minus sign. And what do they do when someone dies? Or when a baby is born? Or when someone gets so sick of living in a place where Macdonalds is number one on TripAdvisor and the only alternative – Mom’s Diner – closed shortly after General Custer passed through that they hire a U-Haul trailer and simply up and leave with all their worldly possessions hitched to the tow ball of their unfeasibly large pickup truck?
Wouldn’t digital signs be better? The sheriff or town clerk or JP or whoever keeps a tally of these things could update the population daily using the mytownisdying app.
Two other signs caught the attention of the Kiwi riders, Symon and Nick, but sadly escaped the attention of my camera. The first was a conventional analogue sign asking: does your church need a digital sign? The other was for a florist and was laugh out loud cheesy but for the life of me I’m too tired to remember it. And it’s only 9pm. Gotta sleep. I’ll let you know the punchline tomorrow. Something about daisies I think. Or roses. Or triffids. Heck only another 800 or so miles to go.
Today was mostly about dogs. Bloody great slavering hounds. Alsatians. Pitbulls. Mongrels…All of them with sharp teeth and bad attitude. The ones that were chained up were almost amusing. They’d come bounding towards us at full tilt and then get yanked to a halt so quickly they’d do a triple salco with toe loop and land in an undignified heap of yelps and saliva. The ones that weren’t chained up were not at all amusing. One hid in the long grass of the verge and pounced as we passed. Another – a grey pitbull with shoulders as wide as the Arkansas River – we saw from a long way off but had an amazing turn of speed for 120 pounds of muscle on four short legs. Rose wasn’t going to hang around to make it’s acquaintance. In just three revolutions of her pedals she’d overtaken Jim the mechanic with a turn of speed that would have left Victoria Pendleton in her wake. Only down side was she swerved instinctively as the cur homed in on her haunches and out from the shoulder into the carriageway. Fortunately there was nothing coming. Apparently there’s worse to come in the next state where every other property has an unleashed yard dog drooling for a slice of bike pant. Not so Sweet Home Alabama.
Talking of swerving Randy and Monique were almost sideswiped by a car that ran a stop sign and careered from a side road on their right slap bang into their path. I was two lengths back and saw it all. Boy it was close. Randy’s bike handling skills kept him safe with a swerve that Beckham would have been proud of. Best not dwell on what could have been…
On the whole the drivers we share the road with have been polite and given us a wide berth. One or two have hurled abuse (I’ve no idea why) and a few others have passed by uncomfortably close. We should, of course, be more worried about 40 tons of semi trailer hurtling by just three feet away but somehow the sight and sound of a dog closing in on you is more frightening. It’s a primeval fear that makes the hackles stand up on your neck. Just like the dogs.