Sunday, 31 August 2008

Stranger danger

T minus 15 days.

Nearly seven hours sleep! I’ve been phoning more potential opponents. A lot of them emailed their phone numbers months ago and I have only just got back to them now. A typical conversation goes like this. Me : “Hello, is that Hank?” Hank : “Yes it is…” “Hello, this is Adrian Keefe.” “Yes?” “About the Scrabble.” Scrabble… Oh hello!” Then they are always enthusiastic and friendly. It has amazed me at how many have offered accommodation to a complete stranger. Over here we learn of mass murders and gun ownership, but obviously most of the country is peaceful and the majority of the populace trusting. That being said, one woman did offer her apartment with the proviso, “As long as you don’t seem too strange.”

Some of these Scrabble players are very keen. One man mentioned a tournament he goes to where 28 games are played in two days. 14 games a day… I think he said they started at 7.30 am and played late into the night. A lot of them have talked about SOWPODS (an international word list used by most countries) and the American word list, which doesn’t include many of the British words, especially of the two and three letter variety. I’ve got a lot of cramming to do on top of everything else…

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Aberfoyle & more fame

T minus 16 days.

Four hours sleep last night, which isn’t enough even for me. I was typing messages to Americans until 12.30 and then I couldn’t relax. I don’t know if I’m coming or going. Apart from when I’m on my bike, when everything is still and serene inside my cranium, I’m all over the place. When cycling, I'm in America, when static the whole thing seems is an impossible dream. Surrounded by bits of paper, emails suspended in the ether, so much to do, so little time to do it all…

The third day of training and now three days of rest. That’s nearly 190 miles in three days. Another north/souther, although this time in the other direction, up to Aberfoyle, which is exactly 30 miles from my home; through Milngavie (Mill-guy), Strathblane and Dumgoyne (where Glengoyne Whisky is made). Quite tired and lethargic after only 20 miles, so stopped to partake of blackberries from a hedgerow (a fortunate time of year to be caught short in the country) and also bought a bar of tablet, which is like fudge, but crumblier and sugarier. 13.4 mph was my average on this trip. I’m surprised I didn’t take off! There was a funny moment, when I was approaching Aberfoyle along a flat tarmac path. I sounded my bell to warn a middle-aged couple of my intention to pass them and the woman looked up into the trees. “I wondered where that sound came from,” she laughed. I laughed too…

The Sunday Post want to do an article about me as well! Not a one-off either…

Friday, 29 August 2008

Carlisle & fame

T minus 17 days.

It was a sad day yesterday as poor old sticky had to be decommissioned (a new gear cable was fitted). He is now taking it easy on the window sill, but could be brought out of retirement at any time... I had some business to attend to in Carlisle yesterday, and as is usually the case with me, rather than taking the train all the way, I got off early and rode the remainder. It was another north to south affair, although this time ellipsoid; starting from Lockerbie, through Ecclefechan, Gretna, Kirkpatrick Fleming, Annan (the last two are pictured) in Scotland and across the border to Longtown and on to Carlisle. It was good to start in the country, as opposed to my home near the centre of a big city, and apart from the Carlisle area, there wasn’t much traffic. 67 miles in total and there was even half an hour of sunshine.

This morning a photographer took 61 pictures of me in various attitudes, but always with my bike and holding a Scrabble board. Some of them stationary, holding the board with spelt-out words such as “America” and “Seattle”, and others with me riding down the road, holding the box under my arm. As he said, the paper (the Scottish Sunday Express) will probably use one tiny headshot and all his artistry will be for nothing, not to mention my aching arms. He had never played Scrabble!? Maybe he was a crownbingo guy? What a waste of a life…

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Unstuck with a stick

T minus 18 days.

Cycled to Coalburn in Lanarkshire, vaguely south, through Strathaven (Straven) and Lesmahagow (your guess is as good as mine) which will always be etched on my mind for the time I stopped for a water bottle refill in a chip shop, and I overheard a woman ordering deep-fried pizza. I hadn’t heard of the delicacy before. Also travelled through the charming villages of Bogside and Deadwaters. Who in their right mind…? Not a good trip, as the traffic was intense, the conditions, in weather forecaster parlance were “murky” and I had bike problems to boot. 28 miles had been clocked up when a gear cable snapped. I tried to fix it, in the drizzle, by the roadside, but could not. Already my hands were as black as pitch and some of this had transferred to my cream shorts, so not best amused. I could still cycle, but only on the smallest of three cogs, meaning low speed. I couldn’t seem to move the derailleur either, meaning the chain had to stay on the bottom cog. Then I hit upon the plan of jamming a tool behind the derailleur. It fell out at the first bump. Continuing in the drizzle, I was determined to complete 30 miles before heading back. I searched for a piece of wood, found a nice soft, wet piece and rammed it home. It worked! I got back without any trouble, with the chain on the big cog (ie the stiffest seven gears). I was so pleased with myself. It was tough going up steep hills, but slaloming, my newly strengthened stomach muscles and dear old sticky combined forces to see me home. Who says a carrot is better than a stick? I’m going to keep it as a memento. When I saw a racing cyclist fixing a puncture and asked if he needed assistance, I proudly showed him sticky. He said, “That’s a good job is that,” in a not entirely convincing tone. I had chosen to travel south because Mr Westerly Wind was out in full force, and to minimise headwind, I opted to be broadsworded the whole journey instead. Occasionally, at roundabouts for example, I encountered resistance, and Mr Westward would laugh, “Are you stupid? You can’t win against me!” He was right. So, even with the wind and the gears, I still managed an average speed of 13.3 mph, which is ridiculously fast.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Queensland & quids

T minus 19 days.

Another rest day on Tuesday and gazillions of people wrote to me, mostly via the Pixiepit online Scrabble site, where the Webmaster had very kindly posted a banner requesting more players in certain states. However, quite a few of these live in other states, such as Alabama and Alaska. I even received a reply from a lady in Queensland! More info hot off the press from my namesake in Oregon, where my correspondent, a lady by the name of Edna, informs me “…the only eatery serves a great prime rib on Fridays”. Will alter my schedule accordingly. Yum!

My Mum just mailed me a zip-up thing for important documents to wear on your person. In addition to the bum bag/fanny pack I already have, this is more of a "belly bag". She has also suggested taking a second (fake) wallet to give away if asked to do so by a ne’er do well (apparently there are a few of these in a land of mostly lovely people). However, I don’t even have a first wallet.

Talking of things financial, bad news with the dollar making a comeback against the pound, so I won’t be as quids in as expected.

But I finish with the good news that a reporter from the Scottish Sunday Express wants to interview me for this Sunday’s paper. Read all about it!

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Adrian in Adrian

T minus 20 days.

Yesterday was a rest day and I sent a gazillion emails to newspapers up and down this country and in The States. The object being to try and interest one or two of them into running a regular feature on my trip. I don’t suppose any will even reply, but here’s hoping. I’ve received an email from someone looking for a game in Adrian, Oregon! “I’ve been to paradise, but I’ve never been to me…” as the song has it.

I went to my local bike shop for a few bits and bobs. While I was there I asked this fresh-faced whippersnapper if he could reset my mileometer, which he had fitted a few weeks ago. I’m not very good with technical stuff. Well, anything practical really. Yes, I know, I could break down in the middle of nowhere… I couldn’t work out how to zero the distance reading, even after studying the huge foldout information sheet for about an hour. I couldn’t understand it one bit and ended up staring at it in the hope that the answer would suddenly jump out. Anyway, this young boy pressed a couple of buttons and I was zeroed.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Smoking hot tennis

T minus three weeks.

Cycled 52 miles to Helensburgh for a game of tennis with my friend Agneta. The first two thirds of this route is along a cycle path, but the last part is a particularly nasty road. It’s fast and furious, yet it’s a bit narrow for two cars to pass each other and a bike at the same time. So, I’ve hit upon this wheeze of riding a couple of feet out from the kerb, thereby forcing vehicles to wait until there’s a space in the oncoming traffic before passing me. It works, although in a slightly scary fashion. On quiet roads I’ve started practicing cycling on the right, in preparation for America!

Agneta and I only played one set because she was feeling tired. During our game the weather went from cold, to wet, to hot and then cold again, all in the space of half an hour. Then back to her place for linguini bolognese, apple & blackberry crumble, beer, wine, whisky, coffee and marzipan. Oh yes, and three cigarettes. I don’t smoke, except at Agneta’s, as she smokes and I’m easily led. I always promise myself I won’t succumb, especially as I’m in training, but never manage it. Still able to ride home with ease and feel tip top today.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Sleepless before Seattle

T minus 22 days.

I woke at 6 today, which would be OK, except I went to bed at 12.30. Fortunately (a) I don’t have all the usual things filling up my time like a regular job, partner, children or much of a social life and (b) I am running on adrenalin. My head is full of America and that’s all it wants to think about. Yesterday I didn’t leave the house and mostly did computery stuff related to the trip. I also started phoning people across The Pond. I was mindful of the time difference, and on the west coast, where there is an eight-hour difference, I can only make calls at the weekend, as if they work during the week I would need to be phoning them from the UK at 2 am or later! Even I don’t stay up that late. Usually.

Anyway, the Scrabblers I spoke to were all lovely, friendly, welcoming and delighted to hear from me. Why are most Americans so happy and warm? My only slight reservation about the people I have spoken to so far is that they all sound utterly normal and I’d like to meet a few whackos. Just a few. I am spending 75 days in the US and ideally would like to play a different person every day. So far I’ve arranged 12 games. These are all with Scrabble enthusiasts contacted through and, which is the online site I play with my brothers at. There are another 14 people on the route I am still trying to contact, but that leaves 49 days unaccounted for… I know it will prove difficult to find people in some parts of The West, where, for example, between Bend, Oregon and Fort Collins, Colorado, it is 619 miles (or 10 days of pedalling + one rest day) and very few towns inbetween.

There was one cringe-worthy moment - when I phoned someone who shall remain nameless. “Do you have a place to stay in town?” he enquired and I replied, “No, are you offering?” to which he said, “No, my place is too small, I just wondered if you were staying in town.” This is not a reflection on him in any way, just an embarrassing (for me) misunderstanding. I also asked another man if there was anything else he wanted to know about me and he said, "It's not like we're going on a date."

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Loch Lomond

T minus 23 days.

Yesterday another 60 miles was accomplished, and again my head is not all together onside today. It’s a hilly route, via Bearsden and Drymen (Drim'n), as the land is quite crumpled around Loch Lomond, the largest freshwater body in the UK (by surface area if you want to get picky). I stopped at the side of the loch, turned up a path and rested by the graveside of my two cats, Barry and Terry, who are pictured (beside a lochside view) and died last May and this May respectively. I could only stop for five minutes because the midges were out for my blood. Glasgow is pretty much at sea level, then it's gradually uphill for 15 miles, rising to a height of 637 feet (at The Queen's View, just past a biker pub), followed by a steeper decline for 5 miles. On the way back it is necessary to stop for five minutes halfway up that bit, for fluid and food (I take nuts and raisins) before reaching the top, and then the last 15 miles are lovely of course.

Today is a rest day and I'm about to start phoning potential players, working from east to west to keep pace with the time difference. Here goes!

Friday, 22 August 2008

Fuzzy Friday

T minus 24 days.

Happy birthday Dad. He’s 70 today.

So, I did the requisite 60 miles yesterday and it was easy peasy. Not feeling so chipper this morning though. It’s my (puffy) eyes and (woozy) brain that seem to take the brunt of it. However, I’m not a morning person and it will pass. It better had because I’m doing it all again today. And my God what a day! Sunny and in the sixties (warm for Scotland). The leaves on the sycamore tree in the back yard, which I’m overlooking as I type this in my bedroom, are as still as a photograph. Yesterday I journeyed east, via Bellshill, Newhouse, Salsburgh, Shotts and the delightfully named Climpy. Thirty miles took me just the other side of Forth (nothing to do with the Firth of Forth) for a breather in a pine forest, before heading back into the Westerly wind, which was all mouth and trousers. Today I’m heading northish, to the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond.

Well, I haven’t had much of a response from American newspapers, radio stations and bike shops – although one bike shop has invited me in for “Scrabble and cold beer”. I can’t figure out how to set up the wireless connection for my new laptop either. Oh well, upwards and onwards…

Here's a music video featuring Scrabble : Well worth watching. Honest!

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Seattle bike shops

T minus 25 days.

It's not raining, so I really should take to my silvery steed...

Because Delta Air Lines in their infinite wisdom see fit to charge $175 to transport a bike from Charleston, SC to Atlanta (all the other flights are with British Airways and bicycles go free) and also because my Trek would need a service before I leave, I am thinking about buying a bike in Seattle. To this end I have emailed a few local bike shops and await their response.

These images are from a couple of the bike shop websites. One is and the other is

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Email shmemail

T minus 26 days.

I meant to cycle 60 miles today, which is my training and what I will be averaging six days out of seven in America. The weather had other ideas. It has been raining non-stop for nearly 24 hours. So, instead I will send out hundreds of emails now, to a list of local newspapers and radio stations situated in parts of the US yet to yield a Scrabble opponent for me. Writing to clubs and a banner on the e-Scrabble site I play on has produced 60+ responses. Quite a few of these are a long way from my route, as I can't wiggle about endlessly and have to get across the continent before the winter comes. There are maybe 20 on the route so far, which leaves over 50 still to find. Here goes!


I have decided to keep a blog about my forthcoming cycle ride across America. I fly from Glasgow to Seattle on September 15th and return (fingers crossed) from Charleston, South Carolina, on November 29th. I have worked out a rough route on Google Maps and if it can be done (or someone can help me please!) I will upload a live, interactive map of my journey. According to this the total mileage will be 3,757 miles (give or take a few hundred).

Why then am I doing this? Several years ago I had a yen to ride my bike around the coastline of Scotland. I mulled it over and then hit upon marrying what would what be a lonely, physical activity, with another of my keen interests, the sociable, cerebral activity of Scrabble. I contacted Scrabble clubs all over the country and hey presto, in July 2006, I cycled a vague perimeter of Scotland, some 1,356 miles in 23 days, and had a fantastic time. I played my favourite board game with 22 people and one sheep. It had been a great way to meet nice people and to see the country. It was even sunny and dry for most of the journey!

The following year, England was not so kind, as it rained a lot during Scrabble Travel II, in June 2007. It was still a great trip though, and (my laptop has just been delivered as I type this!) with a similar distance another country was conquered.

Although I kept notes, with the intention of turning my experiences into books... I was unable to secure a publishing deal, and put them on the back burner. Hello to any lovely publishers reading this! However, I will make a more concerted effort to attract publicity for my US adventure, as it will be more exciting and I will be talking politics, what with the upcoming election taking place while I'm there.

I have attached photos from the Scottish trip and there are hundreds more from both trips at (login : zoz261, password : silvery).

Next stop, America. Bring it on!