It’s 5:15 in the morning and my alarm, a rather annoying rooster that’s crowing, has just gone off. I roll over, fumble around in the dark trying to locate my phone to silence the alarm. Gradually I open my eyes and look around. For a few brief moments I am not entirely sure where I am. Then I realise that I am in the Hilton Garden Hotel in Burlington, Massachusetts, and I will soon be setting out on Stage 43, the last stage of my USA tour. Forty-seven days ago, along with a group of other riders and a support team I left Los Angeles to ride the 3,400 miles to Boston. Barring accidents today on what is effectively a short parade lap to the beach, I am on the threshold of achieving Every Foot and Inch (EFI) status. By then I will have pedalled every single mile between LA and Boston.
After so many mornings like this, my start-up routine is well tried and tested so I have a few minutes to spare and I’m using them to look back over the tour and reflect on some of the places I visited, the people I met and the rides I have experienced. This feels like a good time to try and make some sense of what has certainly been both an exciting and also a challenging ride. Riding a big tour like this has left me feeling cocooned from the outside world. It’s a bit like being in a bubble which had been relentlessly rolling forward eastwards, clocking up mile after mile. It’s been a strange sensation. I am in and connected to the real world, yet in many ways I feel disconnected from it. Almost like a spectator gazing down on a planet and its people.
Apart from the general unpleasantness of riding on the shoulder of a busy interstate the major downside is punctures. The shoulders are strewn with truck tyre debris from blowouts. Unfortunately, the debris includes a mass of very tiny fine wires which get stuck in our tyres inevitably leading to punctures. This becomes a very common occurrence. In one afternoon I had more punctures than I had in all my rides over the last three years. I heard that the groups’ puncture count for one day was over 40!
|Team building masterclass|
|The Red Hills of Sedona|
|The desert reclaims the land|
|Waiting for the end|
We enjoyed incredibly good weather. By my count we had had about two and a half days rain. I had only needed my rain jacket on two stages. The winds mostly blew in our favour too. Tailwinds enabled us to roll along at a good pace and on one stage I set a personal best for 10 miles (22 minutes, equivalent to about 27 mph). Only on one day did we have to ride into strong headwinds and on a couple of others we had to contend with strongly gusting sidewinds. Had we been facing headwinds this tour would have been so very different.
|Maize as far as the eye can see|
With a few notable exceptions I was unprepared for positive and welcoming reception I received from the people I met along the way. I have always found American people to mostly be very polite: “You’re welcome” and “Have a nice day”. In many cases these responses seem, in my experience to be automatic and somewhat robotic. What surprised me on the tour was the sincerity and interest that I encountered with the people I met. If you are ever looking for a tactic to break the ice with strangers I can wholeheartedly recommend the sweaty lycra approach! It worked for me – every time. Here’s how it goes.
|Lycra - an ice breaker!|
|Scrambled eggs - again!|
The location of the hotels, on the outskirts of the towns and cities we overnighted in, meant that we rarely got an opportunity to explore and learn more about where we were staying. The rest days by contrast were wonderful and I had memorable times in Santa Fe, Abilene, Champaign and Erie. Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted that I haven’t mentioned Flagstaff. Well, I didn’t spend my rest day there. Instead I went to have a good look at the Grand Canyon. And it looked pretty good too.
|Robin and Mary - gone yet never forgotten|
As the tour progressed I found that one day blurred into the next. So much so that I had difficulty sometimes remembering my geography. Arriving one afternoon at a gas station in New Berlin I got chatting to Bridget, who ran the store. When she asked where I had come from I paused and then said: “I’ve forgotten”. Bridget then asked me where I was heading to. Another pause and then: “I can’t remember”. By now the two ladies were looking at me as if I was an idiot. Suddenly in a flash of inspiration I blurted out: “I’ve come from Los Angeles and I’m going to Boston!” Well I don’t have the words to describe the looks on their faces. But whatever, they were happy to have their photograph taken with me. I emailed one to Bridget later that evening and she replied a couple of days later wishing me well and thanking me for the picture. From then I always tried to ensure I knew my locations before going into any more stores!
|Celeste Victoria ('CV')|
my partner in this grand adventure
What really made this tour special were the people I met, especially my fellow riders and the tour support team. Our team of riders was a very diverse group covering a wide age range from mid-twenties to mid-seventies with a great range of experience. Whatever our individual motivations for taking part in the tour, we all shared the delights and the sense of freedom that cycling enabled us to have. Within a very short time it seemed as if we were one large extended family who had gathered together for a reunion. As one of three overseas riders on the tour I was touched by the way my American counterparts welcomed me into their fold and the information and explanations they willingly shared with me over the seven weeks of the tour. Everything from information about the places we passed through and their history to unveiling the mysteries of some of the food we consumed.
Although over the first few days we naturally formed into smaller groups there was no sense of being better than some or not as good as others. I really enjoyed the times when we were all together – at SAGs or dinners when there were opportunities to chat over the past day’s ride and look forward to the next day. All carried out with lots of good hearted banter and ribbing. The levels of chatter and laughter at these times were the best measure of our enjoyment. And on the few occasions when we were a bit subdued I did a little dance to raise the spirits. It never failed me. Well I don’t think it did!
|My new family - the class of 2018|
My goodness is that the time! Enough of this reminiscing. I’d better hurry up and get downstairs. I have an appointment at Revere Beach, Boston. EFI is within my grasp…
If you'd like to hear a bit more about my tour recollections you can listen to an interview I did for BBC Radio Suffolk by clicking here.