Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Vale to Boise (September 29)

Day 15

The senorita at the diner asked if I had any Scottish bills to add to her collection. I said I didn't have any. Well, I wasn't giving her a tenner. On the road at 9, through miles and miles of onion country; flat fields, straight roads and very little else. Today I pined for busy streets, terraced houses and enclosed spaces. A sign told me 20,000 truckloads of this most smelly of vegetables were shipped nationwide every season. As soon as it warmed up, off came the jumper and trousers, and on went the suntan lotion. Stopped in Nyssa for groceries, and today's sandwich turned out to be the most flavoursome of the trip so far : an Italian themed sub, thick with salami, pickles, olives, hot peppers and soft, soft cheese. Then across the Snake River dividing Oregon and Idaho, but more of the same old smelly, flat fields stretching to the horizon.

Finally able to update my blog for the first time in three days, at a library in Caldwell, where a man questioned me about my trip (I was wearing lycra). He suggested I go to places off my route, told me about his five cars, his five kids, work in real estate (which like everything else is faring poorly) and his occasional military tours of Iraq as an interrogator. I still cannot believe how welcoming and open people are here. Continued from rural fringes, towards downtown Boise, traffic and urbanization increasing all the way. Funny to be held at lights in multi-lane highways and see beautiful women again, after several days in the boondocks. There are so many cell phone-using drivers and also motorcyclists without helmets. I don't know how the law stands on these issues and it's different in each state, but something should be done.

Tonight's game of Scrabble (yes I played Scrabble!) was with Janice, who had come down from New Meadows in the mountains to the north, to her second home here in the city to play a game with me, via the Pixie Pit. It was good to have home cooking (meatballs and pasta)as well as Idaho wine, after all those burgers. The game was neck and neck much of the way, even when I played the one bingo (REGIONS). I hadn't seen it initially and put down GROINES instead, which Janice rightly challenged off the board. The E of REGIONS was positioned off PUB to make PUBE. Later it turned out to be erroneous (Janice didn't query it at the time) although PUBES was bona fide. Janice had been reading my blog and was proud to report that unlike pretty much everyone I've talked politics with so far, she was a Republican. She especially liked Sarah Palin, as she could relate to her children and her down to earth nature. Janice had four children, 10 grandchildren and one great grandchild on the way. She also told me about the recent indiscretion of the Idaho Governor, a man with a wife and children, who had tried to pick up a man in a restroom and the man in question turned out to be an undercover police officer. His wife stood by him, but he lost his job. Unlike Washington and Oregon, Idaho is predominantly right-leaning.

Tonight I stayed with Nancy and Clyde, sister and brother-in-law of Reva in Belfair and whom I had met there. They had offered to put me up and as the next day was a rest day, I would be staying with them for two nights. They had been playing golf today and had played 36 holes with Nancy's 80 year old mother. Nancy and Clyde wanted to stop after two rounds, which had taken eight hours, but the old lady wanted to carry on! We stayed up until 2.30, drinking wine and talking about the election and religion. They seemed pretty liberal and well-informed. Clyde put me to shame with his knowledge of the Middle East and also knew quite a bit about Britain. Apparently today had seen the worst plummet ever in a single day's trading at Wall Street. Unfortunately I can't remember a lot else about the discussion and I blame the wine.

A little fragile in the morning, but that was soon put right with three cups of coffee and a bathtub jacuzzi session. I weighed myself and have lost a whole pound in the two weeks since I've been here. I had expected it to be a lot more and I blame American food. No wonder there's so much obesity here, that's all I can say. I don't think British people, with the food on offer there, have the same excuse.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Prairieville to Vale (September 28)

(Three posts at once - couldn't blog until now)

Day 14

I've run out of even vaguely clean clothes. I don't think they minded too much at the cafe down the street, which opens at 6 am, including today, Sunday. Every table was taken at 7.45, by young men either working or hunting, or by old timers. Had to sit at the counter between big men wearing denims and stetsons, which they never seem to take off, embarrassed about hair loss perhaps. I had the works, knowing it would soon be burnt off as today held four mountain passes in store and 103 miles of riding – there was a sign mocking me right outside the hotel. The first, the Dixie Pass, was the highest yet, at 5,279 feet, although this was only a 2-3,000 foot climb out of Prairie City. Coming down the other side I got so cold that I moved to the left-hand shoulder so as to minimize the tree shade from the southern sun. I was back in pine forest, as unlike Scotland, the higher you go, the more trees there are. I'd forgotten to apply cream to my nether regions and had to act fast, as I couldn't be bothered to leave the road. The hills really aren't so bad on legs and lungs (as I mounted another to 5,109) providing I stay at about 6 mph. They are gradual on highways to make them easy for big trucks and I didn't need to go lower than 2-2 in gears (28 gears - 1-1 being the lowest and 3-8 the highest).

Plenty of black shards littering the roadside (tyres) and black shards overhead too (crows) both of which turn my thoughts to death in this unforgiving landscape. In Unity, where I stopped to fill up my water bottle in a bar, the young woman working there told me it had been 27 degrees when she got up and it was already in the 80s by noon. I asked if she had any fruit for sale and she gave me two apples with leaves on, from a tree across the road. In the window there were notices about unpatented gold mine claims. It became more like real desert out of Unity, with very little vegetation and even pockets of sand. My milometer got sunstroke or something, as it showed an extra 10 miles on the clock and a high speed of 97.1 mph. Had to find shade for lunch and managed to find just enough by a stream, where I hunkered down on a dead tree beside a stream, where out of the heat, a vast array of colourful flora and insects had the same idea. Today's offering was a long roll that had no opening and contained meatballs and cheese. It was surprisingly tasty, or maybe I was just unsurprisingly ravenous. Crossed into Malheur County, losing an hour in the process, as this also entailed crossing into the Mountain time zone. The wind was against me for once, but this was a welcome development as it was like air con, particularly as it had been forecast to reach 90 today. In a trance in this sterile country, with nothing to stimulate the senses. All you see is barren hills, all you hear is grasshoppers, all you smell is dust and all you feel is heat. Oh for rolling farmland, a bit of thatch, a Norman spire, the sound of leather on willow, in England's green and pleasant land.

El Dorado Pass and Brogan Hill Summit, at 4,623 and 3,981 respectively and then back to earth gradually, into a valley with cows, horses, sheep and silage. Stopped in Brogan at a store cum petrol station cum area for chicken, where I asked for more water and was directed to an old-fashioned pump by a stout lady in an apron. Leaving the town an uncovered onion truck overtook me, shedding its cargo's skins as it went. Life is simple and pure here. Simple, pure and probably rather dull. Thankfully today's destination was the town of Vale and not the town of Mountain top, and the last 20 miles were on the level. Willowcreek, a tiny place, but serving a larger area, as it had a school and a pristine Astroturf tennis court. I was positively drooling as I approached Vale at 8 pm, what with the smell of onions and cooking aromas.

Going past 'Handy Clean Mosheen' car wash, I was directed to an RV (recreational vehicle) park, where a little old lady charged me a mere $30 to stay in the Golden Wheel Motel. Too hungry to go there first, to change and wash, so went straight to the Starlite Cafe at the other end of town, where they had 'Pie ala Mode'. I asked the lady if they served beer here. She didn't understand my accent even after I said it twice, so I asked if they had alcohol. They didn't, so I made do with Coke. I had a burger again. I know I should be a little adventurous, but when you're really hungry, you don't want to mess about. Burger quality has got steadily worse the further east I've traveled and I hope this trend doesn't continue into Idaho. In the bathroom both soap and paper towel dispensers were motion activated - in a place like this!

The motel room was spacious and its décor pleasantly disagreeable. I noticed for the first time that on American TV the volume of the adverts is louder than the programmes! I also noticed when I looked in the mirror, that, yes, the southern sun had given me a wonky tan. When I reached the east coast I would have to come back again to even it up. The windows were jammed shut so I had the fan on overnight, and I kept waking up thinking, “Oh no, it's very windy out there.”

Dayville to Prairieville (September 27)

Day 13

I'm having bike troubles. The chain is making a noise like it needs lubrication, even when it has just been lubricated. While using a screwdriver to force parts of the dérailleur away from the chain, in case it was from here the noise occurred, a young man pulled up in a pick-up truck to offer assistance. Sure, other cyclists have asked if I've needed help before, but in the UK I'm pretty sure that no one has ever stopped in their car. He couldn't help, however, and along with the front tyre, which now has orange patches showing through, hopefully Boise won't be too far away.

Arriving in Mount Vernon to buy a sandwich from the Silver Spur Home Cook'n Restaurant, I was reminded of where I lived, as this town shares its name with a suburb of Glasgow. I'm also reminded of home by the milometer, the clock on which is set to UK time (I'm unable to change it). Here it was in the 80s without a cloud in the immense sky at lunchtime on what could have been any day. There it would be 9 on a probably dreich Saturday night and the town would be “hoachin'” with well-dressed young Glaswegians already “steamin'” on pints of Tennents and voddie and Irn Bru. The tanned blonde in the restaurant took my order and mimicked the way I said banana. No, there was nowhere to buy fruit here. The Juniper Press was a free photocopied ad rag that had not been compiled on a pc or typeset; the ads were mostly in handwritten.

I don't see any McCain or Obama posters in this here Grant County, only “Ron Paul for President 2008” ones, whoever he may be. Continued to John Day, named after, well, John Day, a geologist, and the county's largest town, ringing in at 1,840 head of humans. There was wi fi at Subway, the local teenagers' retreat, blaring out bland indy pop. And so to tonight's stopover, Prairie City, only 48 miles from Dayville and still 103 miles to the next stop in Vale, but nothing could be done about that unless I'd brought a tent. I reluctantly ventured across the threshold of the Historic Hotel Prairie and asked the rotund lady at the desk about tarrifs.

Me : How much is the cheapest room?
She : $75
Me : I can't afford that
She : How much do you usually pay?
Me : $50
She : Where are you from?
Me : Scotland
She : Just a minute
She : (on the phone top her boss) I have a young man here and he only has $50.... Is that OK?... He's from Scotland... OK.
Me : Is it OK?
She : It's OK

The room was the blandest, brownest one I'd ever seen – everything in it was brown, including the curtains and lampshades. There was one brown picture and that was 8”x6” in a frame 24”x18”. The interior designer was either a chocoholic or had an inferiority complex. Across the lobby the sign on the door read “Joy of massage”. Out to the Oxbow Restaurant for a Prairie Burger & fries and Mill Pond Beer. The décor was straight out of the Wild West, with deer heads, bearskins and mirrors set in intricately carved, dark wood surrounds. The only up to date elements were the waitresses' hotpants (and they really shouldn't have) and American Football on TV. Always Football or baseball everywhere you go. A group of hunters came in, wearing virtually identical camouflage gear and baseball caps. They all had salads.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Prineville to Dayville (September 26)

Day 12

As the motel didn't serve breakfast, and they usually don't, I ventured into the cold Oregon air and took a left at the Apple Peddler. It was here that I forgot to ride on the right for the first time and nearly ploughed into an oncoming vehicle. I had me another plate of bacon, eggs and pancakes, which were today served by a blond waitress with a ready smile and a Coke bottle figure. All that could be surmised from the three young men at the next table was from their bobbing baseball caps, their hunting talk and their frequent use of the word “freakin'”. To my right a middle-aged couple ate their breakfast while she talked on the phone to a female friend the whole time.

At Ray's Food Place (it says what it is) and my new favourite store, I purchased the following items :

1 turkey sandwich with lettuce and French mustard (10 layers of turkey)
2 lbs red grapes
1 lb Spice Drops
1 quart Gatorade

and all for $8.74!

When resting at the roadside I have to stop myself from looking under rocks, as I'm partial to beetles and lizards, but as Paul in Philomath warned me, there could be a rattlesnake lying there. My Mum has told me not to stay with any weirdos and now my older brother tells me not to use minor roads in the mountains in case of heavy snow. This is my support team. I did see and hear plenty of crickets though, and my chain chirruped along with them - oiling and cleaning it doesn't reduce the noise annoyingly – and worryingly, as the next bike shop is 200+ miles away. Also saw numerous stripy caterpillars playing chicken in the road, an owl and a chipmunk standing on its hind legs.

Lake Ochoco (would be a good Scrabble word for dumping bad letters) looked pretty, although it would have been prettier still had it been the other side of the road, so I could take pictures away from the sun. It's as if the light is coming from every angle here, such is the strength of colour and the clarity of every form. I know that when returning to a Scottish winter, it will seem extra dark, dank and dingy, especially today as it reached the 80s and of course it's a dry heat. Saw three lone bicycles (the first distance cyclists I've seen so far) today, all of them going the other way – into the wind – and one on a recumbent bike with three times the gear I'm carrying.

Climbed to 4,722 feet at Ochoco Pass and then sped downhill to Mitchell, where a Suzi Quatro lookalike in a junk-shop filled my water bottles and showed me old postcards of the former thriving timber and ranching town. The hardest climb yet, up to Keyes Creek Summit at 4,372' was slightly eased by witty comments painted on the hard shoulder by another cyclist :

At the start - “Piece of cake”
Halfway - “Keep peddlin'”
Three quarters - “Almost there”
At the top - “U R awesome” (with a smiley face)

It then opened out on to suede hills, followed by suede rocky outcrops, which created feelings of insignificance and it's at times like this when you see yourself and the world as if from the outside. In this remote country, where people live far apart from one another (as well as driving about in huge, high up cars and motorhomes as big as buses) it starts to make sense how intolerance, resistance to change, anti-communism and anti-anything different to 'white bread' Americana would germinate. The US has often been accused of isolationist foreign policy and this can be better understood when travelling through states like Oregon. The road, however, is a great leveler, at least for me. I love roads, especially ones like this, smoothly curving through rugged and desolate terrain. There were sections atop precipices without barriers, like something out of a James Bond film, and I could hear my Mum saying, “Ooh be careful Adrian,” as she used to when I learned to drive with her. There were also sections scouring through gorges – and it was in one of these that I swerved to avoid four cows. I couldn't work out where they'd come from, as there was no grass for many miles in either direction.

Exiting the gorge, the land flattened out with distant pink mountains, which must have been in the area of the map where Gatorade had been spilled. I'm still enjoying the signs, many of which don't relate to bikes, but I read them all the same. It's as if they've all been written by the same firm but fair hand : Daddy America. And so, after 88 miles and the hardest ride of the journey thus far, I rolled into Dayville at 7 pm. A cute 'Way Out West' settlement of 170 souls; it catered for me perfectly with its one lodging house and its one cafe/bar. Denise showed me to one of the rooms in her Fish House Inn and immeasurably better than any motel, with its homely feel, its neighbourhood cat coming in for a stroke and its olde worlde décor, such as fishing nets with wooden fish draped across the wall. After nothing more than grapes and Spice Drops since lunchtime, a big, juicy, fat burger with gherkins and fried onions was just the ticket at South Fork Saloon & Steakhouse, along with a bottle of Black Butte Porter, brewed in Bend. The townsfolk were all in there and many of them were playing Texas Hold 'em around a blue baize table. I had no desire to join them however, and came back to the cosy Fish House for milk 'n' cookies.

Didn't rise until nearly nine (and I would have slept longer had it not been for fighting cats) after a fantastic sleep in a big, plush high-up bed. Nowhere serving breakfast, so plumped for a $1.29 blueberry muffin from the store next door and filter coffee from the inn. Watched local news, where they were discussing yesterday's presidential candidate head-to-head debate. The pundit compared the two performances and criticized Obama as “a little cerebral”. Half an hour later the same news item was repeated and there was nothing else on except cartoons.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Bend to Prineville (September 25)

Day 11.

First stop : a bike shop, to get new peddles. Second stop : a bank. Third stop : the library (another amazingly good one and very well used by Benders). Fourth stop : Townsend's Tea Shop, where I asked for a latte and I got a 'tea latte'! A groovy cafe in the style of an old-fashioned English tea house that never actually existed in England. Bend is a gorgeous little town, which had a population of 10,000 when Yoleen moved here in 1990 and is now up to 75,000, such is its popularity, especially amongst old folks. There are 80 golf courses in the vicinity, all of which are irrigated, the gardens boast wonderful imported turf and also the flowers are pretty impressive, including succulents and sunflowers. Something else I just remembered about Yoleen is that she indulges in an activity called Geo Cashing, where people hide and seek pieces of Tupperware using GPS, secreted all over the world, trade trinkets and write comments in log books hidden with their finds. Each to their own. I could have stayed in this tea shop all day, and really didn't want to hit the road to stay in a succession of lonely motels through some pretty desolate country between here and Boise.
Before finally leaving, I stopped off at Safeway, where I noticed people receive cash for returning cans and bottles. So that's why I've seen a certain class of individuals walking round town with shopping trolleys full of what I thought to be trash.

20 miles north to Redmond and the same again east to Prineville. I had originally intended to travel on Highway 20 via Burns, but Scott in Sweet Home had said there was no accommodation in Brothers, so I had to take this slightly longer, but more populated route to the north. The roads today were straight and fairly flat, and all the places I passed through were Dullsville USA. The mountains were too far away and although today was sunny and warm, the views were spoiled by dust. This high plateau is what the locals call dessert, yet there's still plenty of stunted vegetation. There's irrigated farmland too, as this is ranch country, and next to large houses there are often artificial ponds surrounded by weeping willows. There are even bulrushes in the irrigated ditches at the side of the road. There were strong winds on this open land, although thankfully none of them have been from the direction I am travelling as yet. Fascinated by the weird and wonderful plants around here, especially the heathery ones in lemon, and pale pinks and oranges. These subtle tints reminded me of the colours in those children's pictures composed of dots that you paint over with water.

After this morning's large breakfast, I didn't stop for lunch - in the shade of a tree, surrounded by animal bones – until 4 pm. But what did you have Adrian? I had a turkey, provolone (processed cheese) & pesto wrap, followed by a banana and a handful of jelly beans.

And so to Prineville, or rather Plainville. Tonight I spent my first night alone, in a motel and dinner was a simple hamburger from a fast-food joint. It was actually very refreshing to be on my own for a change, which is not to say I haven't enjoyed each of the 10 nights with warm, gracious and interesting hosts so far – but it is nice to have some time to myself – watch crap TV and not have to talk. I properly cleaned out all the Gatorade-streaked items from my panniers and laid out the maps, which now include large pink regions. I did something else which is far too disgusting to relate, but it was connected to spending long hours in the saddle and involved a sharp pin.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Sweet Home to Bend (September 24)

Day 10.

(Two posts published today - scroll down for day 9)

Today was the biggie. The biggest of the trip maybe, psychologically at least. I was to be getting my first taste of serious climbing and serious altitude. Not only that, Bend was 98 miles up the road. Stopped at the drive-in Coffee Hut for a latte. One for the road. Here I overheard a female customer moan about her ex-boyfriend, “He was either working or hunting.” To begin with it was level, then it was downhill – I didn't want downhill as it could only mean more uphill. Stopped every 10 miles and it was tortuous to wait that long on the steep parts, but psychologically it was empowering and I was totally disciplined and hard on myself. After climbing for 15 miles I finally reached the summit of Tombstone Pass and finally saw that the altitude here was 4,236 feet – and this from 500 feet in Sweet Home. I don't think I've ever been to such a height, at least not through my own exertion. However, it wasn't as arduous as I'd imagined and it's twisting through forest, so it's not as if you can see a road going straight up a mountain in front of you. I was bothered more by my noisy, crunchy peddle and also that it might drop off. I stopped for a snack and drink at a car park, and a man chatted to me, while his boy stared. They were identical in every way, except for the size difference and one of them wearing a beard. Dad praised my efforts and said the hardest part was behind me. I lied that I'd started at 9, knowing that he would praise me further. The boy just stared. There were trails here and you're supposed to enter your details in a log book in case you don't return.

Saw my first live deer, startled by a non-vehicular human, it bounced into the trees. It's all trees around here; great swathes of burnt, white skeletons, alongside the living. There were trucks fully laden with timber heading coastwards and empty ones with their back wheels turned up onto their front ones, going the other way, like salmon returning to the source. I also saw a motorbike in a trailer being towed by an SUV, being towed by a motorhome. It's impossible to describe the scale of this environment without using a string of superlatives, so I won't even try. Had my first mishap halfway between where civilization ends (Cascadia) and where it begins again (Sisters) in the form of spilling a quart of Gatorade inside one of my panniers. I was out of water too and it's a distance of 60 miles between the two settlements I just mentioned. However, I immediately stumbled across some kind of logging base with buildings, where one of the men directed me to a tap. He looked just like Hannibal out of the A Team and he was smoking a car. I love it when a plan comes together. Maybe it was a dream, but the water tasted real enough. Here's what I consumed today :

2 slices toast & Marmite
1 chicken salad sandwich
3 bananas
2 energy bars
1 big bag of jelly beans
1 buffalo burger & fries
Approx 3 litres water
3 pints of Oregon beer
2 coffees
No chocolate!

The energy bars are made by a company called Clif and it says on the back “Named after my father, Clifford, my childhood hero and companion throughout the Sierra Nevada Mountains.” On the front there's a drawing of a man hanging from a cliff.

Then there was a lot of downhill and then the Santiam Pass (4,817 feet) which was much easier, with the sun in my face and wind at my back, and I was out of the woods – at least metaphorically. Why were all these people snapping knobbly old Mount Washington (what was it doing in Oregon anyway?) when there was a Toblerone one next to it. There was this one fat, middle-aged man wearing shorts and a T shirt, with a camera sporting a huge lens, who looked like a Duane Hanson sculpture. He makes life-size sculptures of ugly Americans. Don't blame me, blame him. Flat for the last 30 miles, through touristy Sisters and on to a scrubby plateau with a few short trees and yellow grass. The Yanks love their country and their pride shines through their signs. Recently I've seen a kennels called Forever Fields, a dirt-track called Paradise Alley and a complex of barns bearing the name Straw Palace in big, silver letters. Had to take a dump and at least there were a few trees to hide behind, off Highway 20. At least it was dry and warm and thankfully I'd remembered to pack toilet paper this time. The bike lane is often as wide as the car lane and yet I was the only one using it until I got into Bend, like my own red carpet. There are plenty of bikes attached to SUVs, but no one uses them to get from A to B.

In Bend I saw the Shag Hair Salon and Susan's Permanent Make-up, before turning into Elgin, where tonight's host resided with her big black diabetic dog and her two elderly cats, one of them blind. I had come by Yoleen through the Pixie Pit and she had six games of Scrabble permanently on the go on her laptop. She had three jobs to make ends meet, the main one in a theatre, another organizing a farmers' market and the other one making candles, manufactured in her kitchen. We went out to dinner at The Bend Brewing Company – or BBC as she termed it. Here I had a... you guessed it... huge, delicious buffalo burger, accompanied by beer brewed on the premises, one of which had Tartan in the title. We also played Scrabble, which was no great shakes as neither of us had much luck with the tiles, but I managed to squeak home in first place. She had warned me there was a letter missing and it turned out to be a blank, the most prized tiles in the game. Yoleen had the following day off in my honour and wanted to take me on a pub crawl; however, after eight hours in the saddle and 101 miles of asphalt behind me I needed to sleep. Amidst my protests, Yoleen gave up her bed for me and slept on the couch. Yes, another lovely person.

After yet another great sleep (although today I was dehydrated) we went out for breakfast, where the waitress hadn't heard of HP Sauce. Imagine such a thing! Neither did she know Daddy's Sauce, which must be another of these fake American products we get in the UK; but she did have A1 Steak Sauce and that was tastier than both the aforementioned condiments. Yes, I like food and I like talking about it. In an Ideal world I would live in Scotland, surrounded by English people, eat American food and have a wife from Somalia.

Philomath to Sweet Home (September 23)

Day 9

It was still in the 40s as I hit the road back into Corvalis, although the sun soon warmed it up. Stopped in this cool college town for my latte and blog fix at a hippie cafe, where a woman was pretending to be interested in the poetry her friend was reading out and hideous psychedelic paintings hung on the wall. Popped into Safeway for my usual wrap, banana and Gatorade – this time the copper sulphate blue variety. In Wells Fargo Bank I had already signed the $100 traveler's cheque, when the cashier said there was a $10 fee. Having signed it in her presence I would have to cash it there and then. However, after I looked at her aghast, she phoned her boss and the fee was waived. Today was supposed to be easy (a mere 48 miles) sandwiched as it was between two monsters. However, it was harder work somehow and maybe this was because I was finally heading east and I could see the mountains looming. In Lebanon I stopped at a bike shop as one of my pedals was making unhealthy noises. Sure enough, the young man, who must have had a 60 inch chest and worked most of the time as a hairdresser (I'm not sure how he got close enough to cut people's hair) fitted a new pair of pedals. They only had this one type that fit and they were off another bike, so although they cost $100 new, he only charged me $20. A few hundred yards up the road I turned round and came back again, as they had metal ridges that stuck into my plimsolls. I decided to make to with the crunchy sound until I reached Sisters, or even Bend.

America is already in Hallowe'en's thrall by this time of year. I don't think there's really any gap between summer, Hallowe'en, Thanksgiving and xmas – they blend together. Many houses are externally decorated with all manner of suitable figures and one cafe was promoting a pumpkin pie flavour latte. Arrived in Sweet Home late in the afternoon and popped into another library to kill time before tonight's rendez vous. Scott & Diane, a cabinet maker and nurse, were waiting for me on their porch and took me inside their spacious, tidy home, where I was also introduced to their very well-behaved children Elric and Natasha, as well as their dog, cat, fish, water snails, dead butterflies and hamsters playing dodgems inside their spheres. I have never been in the company of such a charming family. We spent the entire time in each other's company – or the humans at least. First up were burritos, followed by a tour of the house and photos, followed by a four-player game of Scrabble, which I am a bit ashamed to say I easily won as I had both blanks leading to two bonuses (STEADIER & DREAMING – great bingo letters). Then we sat down on the sofas and talked. Yes! Imagine it, simply chewing the fat, all five of us. They were such a lovely and loving family, knew everything about each other and were full of banter. Elric told me about his turn on the school debate team today. They had representatives for the Democrats and Republicans (oh not that again) but also a third non-affiliated party, which he was spokesperson for. He argued that the main parties wasted a lot of money and spent all their time badmouthing each other. Not bad for a boy of 13. Meanwhile, Natasha, nine, could have talked the hind legs off a coyote, but she was immeasurably entertaining, as her speech was so theatrical and polished.

Scott helped me with the route to such an extent that he gave me a whole NEW route across the 'bad lands' of eastern Oregon. He looked into motels for me, as for most of the next few days I haven't been able to find Scrabble players or couchsurfers, due to the sparse population. I had thought there was a motel in Brothers, but his up to date computer programme found nothing, saving me a 150 mile trip in one day! Instead he plotted me a route further north. Tomorrow would be the 'big day' though, getting to Bend, as this involved a big climb to heights I'd never been before on foot, let alone on pedal. So, an early night was in order and this clean-living family were all in bed by 10, meaning that I could retire early also.

Elric had to catch the 6.50 am bus! People get up early round here. The dog, who had been friendly yesterday, now didn't recognise me and barked. Scott told me how many of his family worked with wood : one of his brothers transported it, another milled it and of course he turned it into cabinets. Had my beloved Marmite on toast (well I had brought it all this way, so I might as well use it) and I was on the road soon after 8.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Some photos for y'all






Kindly sent to me by Dan in Belfair and featuring his lovely wife Reva and her sister Nancy.

Portland to Philomath (September 22)

Day 8

A couple of dedications. Congratulations to my older brother, Anthony, who lives in Boston, on his engagement to his long-suffering... I mean long-standing girlfriend Rachel. Also a big thank you to my younger brother Neil, who lives in Hampshire in the UK, on his sterling efforts on the production of maps with my route on them. Thanks also to the people leaving comments, positive or negative I don't mind, and I'd love to receive more. I'll keep writing the same way, but any criticism is welcome.

I had been warned about a Pepsi truck making a delivery at 3.30 am, and Kevin's snoring which I could hear it quite clearly from the floor below. Unfortunately I'd forgotten to take the ear plugs I'd been offered, but once I'd done my blogging duty I was out like a light. In the morning Kevin cooked up a storm, featuring the de rigeur crispy bacon, his 'Gold Bullion' yeast extract (I think it needs a little work), fried potatoes and an egg produced by another in-house, or rather in-back yard chicken. Then, with crumpled laundry they had kindly done for me, stuffed it into a pannier and was kicked out, as they had to go to work at 8.30. A couple of the many hundreds of cyclists I saw in Portland let me tag along behind them, to help me get out of the city and this included going on what had surely been a multi-million dollar tarmac bike path, with a wealth of very informative signs, sculptures and views of the industrial landscape. Bikes seem to be prioritized over bums. Beautiful day and yet still haven't seen any mountains down on ground, as now there is so much foliage. Maybe it was just as well. Headed back the way I'd come, via a library in Lake Oswego, ie south west. Yes, I should have stayed in Sherwood after Portland.

20 miles had elapsed and I was still in suburban Portland, which Kevin had described as a merely a large town. I stopped at a library in Lake Oswego (I'm so impressed with the libraries round here) then retraced my peddles on Highway 99, all the way back through Sherwood, where they have Robin Hood re-enactments and a local sports team is called The Bowmen. Reminded of Scotland by the South Westerly wind in my face and also by the references to Scots in place and street names, making me wonder what it was like in the nineteenth century when these people came out to this wild country. A few more observations from Highway Americana : a lot of drivers use cell phones, companies and even individuals and families adopt sections of roads, and roadwork signs are not only bright orange and diamond shape, but they sport orange flags on top because they need to vie for attention with all the other signs. Stopped at (my new favourite store) Fred Meyer's for a club wrap, a banana and a quart of Gatorade, coming in at $4. Not only is the food cheap AND delicious – but I can eat as much as I want as I know the calories will be cycled off. Talking of which, another sign informed me that Corvalis was still 58 miles along the highway and I had already ridden 35, it was after 1 pm and Philomath was beyond Corvalis... When I stopped in a field to devour the second half of the wrap, a truck with specially adapted wheels went by on the railroad. Only in America...

Traveling south there were less trees, more crops and it was more open. I don't know why it seems so vast here, or maybe it's psychological, but Britain is rendered claustrophobic in comparison. Repeatedly vistas are unfolding which are more expansive than the curvature of the earth should allow and it's mind-blowing, especially with today's crystalline visibility. It's as if I've been a troglodyte all my life and have finally stepped out into the sunlight. When stopping for a breather discovered the wind was slightly behind me now. I have been so lucky with the weather... so far.

As dark descended, pine trees released their sweet, toilety scent. In Corvalis there was a 'Darkside Cinema', which tonight's host told me had received a lot of grief from the Christians, such as the Church of the Nazarene maybe, whose electronic display read “God makes the wind, Man sets his own sail”, as I sailed by. Philomath (Fi-LOW-muth) is home to the 'Philomath Frolic and Rodeo”, which I entered as it was growing cold and dark, as well as having reached 100 miles on the clock for the first time ever in one day. Paul's house was another five miles up the road and I'd reached 106 as I turned into his drive, whilst maintaining an average of 14 mph. Paul, a carpenter, an ex or even current hippie, hailed from San Francisco, where he'd grown up with such great bands as The Grateful Dead and Frank Zappa. Next door to Paul lived a wood sculptor and his beautiful work was all around the place. Paul whipped up a very welcome salmon patties on sourdough sandwich and we drank beer and German brandy while playing a couple of games of you know what. I managed two wins, but they were close games and I was the only player to eke out a couple of bingos (FEASTINGS again). I had come across Paul on the Pixie Pit, the online Scrabble site I play on with my brothers. Paul hadn't played a live game in years he said. He played some great music, including Joan Armatrading, Robert Plant, early Fleetwood Mac and introduced me to John Mayall.

After another deep sleep, Paul talked politics over a fine breakfast of waffles and eggs. Yet another Democrat, he used the phrase 'Joe Lunch Bucket' to describe the average Republican who is resistant to change and intolerant to anything that is 'other'. He agreed with me that many local political offices were dependent on who has the most money and can afford more promotional signs along the highway.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Sherwood to Portland 2 (September 21)

Day 7

Found a shopping mall just as the rains came down (first time since I came out here) and looked inside for a few items. I needed :

1.A compass
2.An adaptor for my razor
3.Tippex
4.Some postcards
5.Sweets (yes I'd eaten all those other ones I didn't like)

Could I find any of these useful items amongst all the swanky clothes, shoe and perfume shops? Could I find any of these items in two department stores (Nordstrom's & Macy's)? Could I hell. Sat on a bench overlooking a covered car park as the rain became torrential. This is the kind of weather I'm afraid of when I'm exposed on some cold, lonely mountain top. Fortunately today was a kind of rest day and I was in a city. Watched the scuzzy locals, like the enormous black woman wedged into her car seat as other black women came and went (I don't think she could have got out), the smoking skateboarders and a couple of grungy dudes sitting next to me discussing the merits of Russell Brand. After feeling loved and welcomed in the country, I was totally ignored as just some other crazy guy – a weird bicycle guy with a fanny pack.

As the rain abated, I continued towards the Sullivan's Gulch area of town, along 28th Street, although first I went to 24th Street by mistake. Too many numbers in these addresses. Outside Kevin & Wendy's house it looked kind of tatty, and when Kevin, who looked a bit similar to a younger Elvis Costello, showed me into the ground floor 'warehouse' where I parked my bike, it didn't seem too great. But then he took me upstairs. What a place... It was an Aladdin's Cave of Cool. Everything (and there was a whole lot of everything) was old-fashioned and beautifully crafted - and loved by this sweet couple. It looked as if Wendy had been arranging herself decorously, wrapped in a blanket, just for my entry. She looked a little like Audrey Hepburn, but not as waiflike and a whole lot prettier. Kevin showed me around what was clearly a labour of love, as here was a granite bathroom suite, there was a custom-made kitchen with marble worktops and in Wendy's studio it was an emporium of gorgeous treasures, such as chocolate ladybirds, jewelery and a package of rubber beetles sent by her sister. Wendy took me to a local store, where I found everything I needed from the list above apart from the adaptor plug. She told me that they had been introduced by friends on her one and only blind date experience, which had clearly paid off and they had been married for some time.

The two of them did a bit of this and a bit of that for a living, but had clearly made a lot of dough in their time. Kevin was the resourceful type, as he showed me his 'Marmite' type product, while downstairs he was making cider. They were extremely engaging as well, for all their Americanness (they called each other buddy) and we got on like old friends. Such is the social cement quality of our favourite game, or Kevin and I at least, as we sat down to play a couple of games either side of yet another delightful meal. It seems as though I've never tasted food properly before, as here so many things have been tantalizing on the taste buds. Tonight I had a kind of bolognese, with homemade pasta, and homegrown tomatoes and peppers, with more local beer and followed up by Wendy's stupendous ginger cake. I'm running out of superlatives,at least when it comes to the gastronomics of on this trip. Once again they were Democrats and have even entertained the idea of leaving the country if McCain and (more worryingly from their perspective) Palin is elected. Anyway, there were more important things afoot. We each won a game of Scrabble and were happy to leave it that way. Kevin played beauties in both games, with SQUINT/DUOS (52 – because the Q was on a double letter and the word was doubled also) and YEARLING (92) in the second game. I got two bingos in the first game, which was why I won it. Maybe one day they will come and visit me in Glasgow and then we can play the decider. Then I went down to the 'warehouse' part, which was still kind of groovy. I've never slept in a room with hundreds of tools, fermenting cider and so many weird and wonderful objects before. There was a painting of Charlie Chaplin in the toilet and some other guy who gave you the evil eye as you sat on the pan. The bed had a quilt made of jumpers and there was a dead tree covered in dried lichen and sprouting pink, plastic flowers.

Leg 2 : Portland, OR - Boise, ID


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Sunday, 21 September 2008

Sherwood to Portland (September 21)

Day 7

Like everyone else I've encountered, Polly couldn't believe how little I carried on my bike, as we said our goodbyes and I got my own back on that hill, on which I clocked my highest ever speed of 44.3 mph! Averaged almost 15 mph for the 20 miles into Portland; rider and bike in good shape, smooth roads and the wind onside. I prefer to watch the milometer rather than the speedometer though, as it goes up in hundredths, so I can feel like I'm moving along. I especially enjoy watching the years of my life ticking by from 19.66 onwards, in speedy 17.6 yard increments. I just get enough time to see a single snapshot from each year, like losing my virginity, moving house, getting a job, ending a relationship... Then I can speculate on the year of my demise around 20.56. Going down a massive hill into the city I passed a hobo coming the other way, with twice the load on his bike – in addition to a big rucksack. Seemed strange to be in a cosmopolitan environment again, with its sleek skyscrapers, well-dressed young urbanites and skanky bums. A lots of bums. Had lunch at a yoga centre & cafe, peopled by the 'knit their own bread brigade', androgynous women and bearded men. Here I pleasured myself with a huge (do I use that word too often?) hummus, olive and salad wrap.

Longview to Sherwood (September 20)

Day 6

Greg took me to Safeway, where I bought a huge pastry for 99 c and fantastic coffee, to which I added 'half and half' thinking this must be a low fat alternative, when in fact it means half cream. Unusually you had to pay for refills, but because the guy at the till made a mistake with the cash register and I was from Scotchland an' all, he gave us the second cup for free. I don't understand a lot of the behaviour here, but I like it. Greg filled me in on the political system here, which is nearly as complicated as football, with all the layers (governors, senators, mayors, councillors) and they even vote in their judges. I haven't met any Republicans yet and like in the UK, everyone believes Obama will be the next Pres. They also seem to be of the opinion McCain is just like Bush and Palin is not up to the job and would go to war with anyone at the drop of a hat.

Took my leave of this gentle guy and crossed the Columbia River into Oregon, which is somewhat akin to crossing the Firth of Forth, as it's 1.5 miles across a magnificent iron bridge. Views of belching industry and millions of logs waiting patiently to be shipped someplace, but no 'long view' of Mounts St Helens or Rainier due to poor visibility. Saw more dead wildlife along Highway 30 – a deer and a grey cat-sized creature with black eye patches (a raccoon?) Picked up a beat-up nail brush, as this is one item that has been lacking from bathrooms and I like to have clean fingernails. Must have been an old crocks' rally going on because I saw a lot of gleaming 'Anthill Mob' type cars, although my favourite was a mat royal blue one. A VW van with The Grateful Dead painted on it went by also. I wonder how many of them there are in America? Generally there are many Hell's Angel type bikers on the roads too. It's 2008, but not in these people's minds.

Stopped to pick up a sandwich in a supermarket in St Helens, where the smallest one was still pretty big and the biggest was the size of a loaf. Perused the endless varieties of candy, in search of something I knew and asked a girl if she knew of American Hard Gums. She looked at me like I was a kiddy fiddler and hadn't heard of them – maybe you only get them in Britain... Chose 'Spice Drops', which looked similar, but they tasted medicinal and that's not really what I go for in a sweet, although they had a mouthwash quality. Ate the tasty, thick sandwich on a hillock the other side of Skappoose, overlooking Highway 30 which had now busied up with Saturday traffic.

Turned up Cornelius Pass, which was uphill, so took my jumper off and wrapped it round my waist so I could sit on it, much to my bottom's relief. It was three miles up and then two miles down, so I prayed I hadn't made a wrong turning again. So many huge vehicles. I've often thought of having a T shirt printed with the words 'Get a bigger car' on the back. I don't think a lot of Americans would get the thinly veiled sarcasm though and would say “Where are these big cars this guy's selling, I don't see a phone number.” Came off the route Greg had worked out for me, and also off the crappy map in Hillsboro, a mere suburb of Portland and yet home to 80,000 souls. They're good at telling you populations and altitudes, but not anything useful like how to get anywhere.

Somehow fluked it to my destination, Bell Road, which is South West of Portland and all uphill. Some bits of it were steep and other bits were crazy steep. Saw a dead skunk (no bad smell though?) and some kind of blue bird with a ruff, which might have been a jay, according to my host, Rich, who had a passing facial resemblance to Clint Eastwood, and along with his wife Polly, lived in a pretty big house with magnificent views (that hill had to be good for something). They belonged to the Portland Scrabble Club, which is how I came across them. Polly was a nurse and Rich used to have a marketing job, but was now retired. Polly toiled in the 'cookery programme' style kitchen, gave me a cream soda and Rich beat me at my chosen game, even though I played UTILIZED (only 70). Dinner was a highly flavoursome Mexican themed, vegetarian affair, with Oregonian beer and wrapped up with blackberries from their yard and ice cream. They had four acres, and four chickens which laid an egg each a day. Next up it was Polly's turn to beat me at Scrabble and then Rich decided to make it three losses for yours truly. They were all quite good games, but I had a few words disallowed, like LATTISED, which was a bit silly, yet also EEN and LAH, which are both acceptable plays in my language. I had played EEN with CHEESY, which would have scored 60+ had it been allowed. I could had CHESTY/SEN and I chestiness wins over cheesiness any day in my book. They were good players though, I'll grudgingly give them that. Rich wanted to add insult to injury with a fourth loss for poor old me, but no, it was time for bed. I'd cycled 76 miles today and about ten of those had been unnecessary ones.

In the morning discovered that as well as my bedroom, there were no curtains on the bathroom windows. Interesting... Polly cooked up the most delicious fried eggs I have had in my entire life, from the chickens in their back yard. We put the world to rights this morning at the kitchen table, overlooking a hazy, lush rural idyll. Polly is liberal, but Rich is a little more conservative, which I think means he is Republican. Polly is aghast at Sarah Palin vetoing a woman's right to have an abortion and also her acceptance of school's teaching creationism and not teaching sex education, especially as she has so many children and one of them has been in trouble for taking drugs. They met through their beloved board game and both play at tournaments still, although Polly chooses the locations o0f the competitions based on whether there is sightseeing. They take a lot of vacations, especially cruises, where they play Scrabble continuously on board the boat. Rich told me about a woman who dressed in leather at tournaments and another who showed a lot of cleavage. This was possibly part of their tactics, although the cleavagey lady was getting on now, so it was more off putting than distracting for her male opponents. i was given a quick tour of the three acre property, overlooking vineyards and Mount Hood, when it isn't so misty. They have fruit trees, a goldfish pond and I was also introduced to the hens, where it seemed there was rivalry as we came across a broken egg.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Centralia to Longview (September 19)

Day 5

Took my leave of a drowsy Summer & Tom, and headed back into town for bacon, eggs over easy, pancakes, maple syrup and coffee at Bill & Bea's Drive-in, served by a tanned waitress with fiercely beautiful blue eyes. So much for American service – it took half an hour to produce such a simple breakfast. The pancake just about did me in. Stoked up and feeling fine, I left Centralia City Limits and was out on Jackson Highway with a tail wind, swinging through wooded hills, yet somehow remaining on the flat. I feel a kinship with the other road users, whether they be in battered old jalopies, great rumbling wagons or Stupid Ugly Vehicles. Drivers wait patiently behind as I swerve round a parked car, I've yet to see someone not indicate when turning and pedestrians in the shoulder step on to rough ground to give me a wide berth with a smile. Here it seems industrious, with a plethora of businesses and shops, and so many souls toiling outdoors. I live America goddamnit. In a world of my own failed to see a traffic island even though it was edged yellow and bumpily careered over the top of it.

Stopping every ten miles for a breather, a drink and to take notes. Sat down at a picnic table adrift in a sea of golden maple leaves in Lewis & Clark State Park, in Cowlitz country, the 'Capturing Medicine Spirit' Indians. The sun came out in Toledo and it warmed the air up after a couple of cool days. Here I popped into Betty's Place for a hot bacon, turkey and swiss cheese on sourdough, which was consumed beside a fast-flowing turquoise river. The local high school promotes a forthcoming sports diary, including wrestling. Is that right? Adults watching young boys grappling one another? Noticed that away from the city people are bigger and plainer.

Crossing Interstate 5 there followed a heavenly stretch of golden tree-lined road, where only half a dozen cars passed in as many miles. Here there were ramshackle homesteads, old folks out in their yards, goats, llamas and dogs chasing me (usually) from behind fences. Recrossed I5 again and a third time before Castle Rock, a town with a population of 2,300 and boasting nine churches. Here I got lost and a man told me to turn down Pleasant Valley Hill (except he wasn't) where I passed another perplexing sign in the form of the “Shed with Shears Hair Salon”. One criticism I have so far with this country is that there are often no direction signs on minor roads, let alone distances. The scale of my map is too small, so how was I supposed to know Pleasant Valley Hill would lead to Longview? Talking of which, turned right when I should have turned left and went 2-3 miles up and down, up and down, the back again, up and down, up and down. Happened upon the library in Longview, where I picked up a street map, which didn't show where this building was, so asked two people to point it out and neither of them were able to! Eventually I found 24th Avenue, where today's Couchsurfing host lived. Turned into it and the number was 1600 or so and Greg lived at 500 and something. Got down to 1200 and the road came to an end. Studying the map further I discovered that 24th Avenue continued the other side of a river, via a circuitous route across a river. How dumb is that?

Waited on Greg's porch for him to come back from his work. He was a photographer for the local paper and tonight he was covering a high school football match back up the road at Toutle. Lugubrious, bearded and bespectacled, he was a true bachelor, with a cluttered house and he didn't have any food or even coffee at home – but went to restaurants and Starbucks, where they give out free refills through out the day! I was only too happy to tag along to the football, as I wanted to understand the rules. After watching it and various people explaining the rules, I'm still none the wiser. They all told me about it as if I had some prior knowledge and without any grasp of the basics I was totally in the dark. It was still good to listen to the National Anthem sung by a young girl, hear the shouting from the crowd, watch the cheerleaders' hopeless routines, as well as these young boys who were mostly very slender, but dressed up with all that padding they actually looked more like women with fat thighs, shoulder pads and puffy sleeves. Back to Greg's newspaper office to watch him photoshop the pictures he chose to use for the next day's edition and also meet another photographer who had ridden across the US in 1975, when it was a real novelty. He was great because unlike a lot of people, he was full of positivity and recounted fun stories and talking parrots and vicars inviting him and his companions to sleep in their churches. There was no Couchsurfing dot com back then. Greg took me to a very traditional restaurant, where we both had burgers. A kindly, softly spoken soul, he told me about his photo-journalism in many Third World countries and how, even at the age of 59, he stayed in hostels for $8 a night. I was dead beat by the time he drove me home and showed me a few of his pictures of shanty towns, emaciated black children, along with Obama and other celebs. He offered to play Scrabble, but I declined, not because of tiredness, but because of this bloody blog. So once again I have failed my mission.

Belfair to Centralia 2 (September 18)

Day 4

So then, the day was going really well; I had nearly 30 miles under my belt by noon and that was with lengthy stops. It felt luxurious to spread the distance over a day, compared to the training runs of 4-5 hours. Trying to focus on today and not think about the 70 or so days as a whole. Labouring uphill with my heavy load, but this is balanced out by the speeds achieved downhill. Saw small wooden houses for sale for $45,000, which would presumably be delivered by truck. One of those plonked in a forest would do me. Then I could really get some stuff done.

There's a lot of road literature – Americans love their signs; some merely inform, others say nice things in an attempt to sell you things and others order you about. Missed Mud Bay Road and the Highway turned nasty as we approached the centre of Olympia and I knew bikes weren't allowed here, but no one beeped at me. Came off as soon as I could and stopped at a picnic table to tuck into Reva's lunch. It consisted of :

1 crunchy peanut butter sandwich
1 packet Harvest Cheddar Sun Chips
1 tub bike-shape pasta salad
Approx 4 oz carrots
Approx 6 oz almonds
Approx 3 oz cashews
1 brownie
Assorted candies
1 bottle Gatorade
1 big belly

On to Centralia. Stopped in the library for a couple of hours to work on this and then phoned Summer, who I had found through www.couchsurfing.com. She gave me directions to her place and I stopped off to pick up a six pack, where a cross-eyed woman behind me in the queue engaged me in conversation.

She : Did you come by bicycle?
Me : How did you guess?
She : Because of your ass (a reference to my lycra shorts)
I bought the beer.
She : You drink beer AND you have an ass like that?

I arrived at Summer's in time for a tasty, spicy ratatouille of chicken, veg and rice. Here I met her boyfriend Tom and their four well-behaved pit bull terriers. Tom worked as a chef at a big hotel complex and Summer was about to go for a job interview at a radio station. They liked to listen to the left-leaning National Public Radio and their views were well-informed. The house was Bohemian Chic, with playing cards stuck all over the fireplace and artifacts picked up from Summer's many travels. We had a couple of beers and then Tom drove us to 'Dick's Sausage & Deli' for a pitcher of homebrew, sat outside in the cool evening air. They were very friendly and we were joined for interludes by members of staff, including Dick himself, who invited us to sit on his back porch after the deli was closed up. I think the ale was strong or something, because I soon felt squiffy and asked to be taken home. Watched an episode of Seinfeld, Summer's favourite programme, prior to very little sleep on the sofa. Yes I'd forgotten about Scrabble and had already failed my game a day challenge, although I had played ten games in the last three days.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Belfair to Centralia (September 18)

Day 4

Looking like a bird of paradise, with panniers bulging, I wobbled off along Highway 3, a fine, smooth stretch of asphalt with a decent hard shoulder, cutting through a varied forest and alongside stretches of water. Forgot to ask to be returned to my pick-up point, so I'll just have to say my trip started in Belfair, which is actually further west than Seattle. Just wanted to keep my head down, concentrate on my average and not think too much, allowing the old grey matter to turn to cheese, a foodstuff it's quite happy to imitate. Stopped to introduce my behind to the delights of Chamois Cream and saw my first American wildlife in the shape of a small green and black snake at the roadside. Stopped for a latte at a deli serving 'thumbprint cookies' in Shelton, famous for its xmas tree industry. Caffeine-fired and candy-charged, continued on to the Freeway. Freeway, Highway, Interstate, Schminterstate. Still confused by it all and even though I have complete faith in Dan's directions (with distances I can check against the micrometer) I have no faith in following them and had to stop to ask people on porches if I was going the right way.

Seattle to Belfair (September 17)

Day 3

Proper cycling, along a busy main road, in cooler conditions. Riding on the right isn't as weird as I thought it would be, except when I have to look left and right at an intersection, when I have to turn left or right at an intersection and when vehicles turn left or right across my path at intersections. Apart from that it's a piece of cake! Oh yes, and when a big truck passes me on my left. I don't know why that should be scarier than when they pass close by on the other side back home, but there you go. They have 'bump' signs before an unmade section, unlike our 'ramp' signs. So much more descriptive. Feel like shit in every way. It's just my body, mind and soul panicking I think (they won't tell me and then maybe we could work through it). Bought a Milky Way, which is in fact what they call a Mars Bar... Stopped for a rest next to a railroad where a goods train was lumbering southwards, with that beautiful long horn note sounding out across the bay. This sound defines America; the scale, the space, the opportunities.

Searched for a wi fi cafe Downtown (which defines modern man), can't follow directions, eventually find it, then I have to buy something, then I can't connect to the internet... F***ing laptop! You don't get these hassles with good ol' paper and pencil. Found another cafe and this time it worked. It takes so bloody long to turn the thing on, open the Word type package, open the document, select the relevant part, copy it, connect to the internet, go to Blogger, sign in, create new post and paste it. Made it! That bit was boring, but it was therapeutic for me. Unknowingly made the 12.45 ferry across Puget Sound to Bremerton with 5 minutes to spare and the next one wasn't until 3 pm. Remember the times when things work out Adrian... Like everything else here, the ferry was huge. A simple cream cheese bagel and banana, gazing at the skyscrapers, the wooden houses along the pine tree-lined shores and the (gulp) foreboding, spiky mountains.

Kept making wrong turnings out of Bremerton. The sign would say “Go this way Adrian” and I would go this way, yet still managed to go the wrong way. I had to stop at every turning and ask someone. The Highway was hairy, although there was a wide hard shoulder. At one point when a road fed in from the right, the shoulder became the spine of a raging thoroughfare, but there is always a substantial, unbroken white line keeping everyone in their place. Once on the Old Belfair Highway it was fine and dandy. Stopped to have a rest down a long, shady driveway and picked blackberries. It was like being on a jaunt in central Scotland, except here it was now 20 degrees and there was no wind. After a mere 29 miles in the saddle I came to Dan & Reva's auto shop, workplace of tonight's hosts, and Reva had made a welcome sign and put it at the roadside. They harnessed my bike on the bike of their pick up truck, where he looked very regal, and Reva drove us back to their new house several miles away, while Dan continued toiling. Reva stopped off to show me The Wetland Center, a nature reserve, where we had to keep to the boardwalk. The house, newly built by their own fair hands, was very impressive. They had even constructed the walls (out of two layers of polystyrene 'Lego' blocks and poured concrete between them). It was beautiful, bristling with Reva's art and African themed adornments; but the best thing about it was the view over a steeply descending wilderness, line of trees and bluey mountains. They were both keen cyclists and she showed me photos of them in various fancy dress outfits on their two seater – in one they were dressed as dinosaurs (tandem-o-sore-asses!) She had no interest in the forthcoming election and ended my attempt at political discussion when she declared that the millions spent on campaigning was a waste and would be better spent on wind farms.

Reva had the Scrabble set up prior to my arrival and was gagging for a game. She used to go the Seattle club, but rarely plays live games nowadays, as Dan is a Scrabble widower and she mostly plays online. The spoils were divided with two games played and then we stopped for dinner. We had won each with high-scoring bonuses utilizing the Q – Reva put QUESTING (107) on a triple word and I slotted QUIETENS (92) on a double word. Game over in both instances. Dan came in from work, a fine figure of a man for his 60 years, with his curly brown hair, blue-grey work clothes and braces. Reva's sister and husband, Nancy & Clyde turned up next, having driven from Boise, Idaho, with Lacy, their cute pomeranian. Dinner was a mighty tasty affair, featuring a pork casserole, marinaded in, amongst other delicacies, Pepsi Cola; also bicycle shaped pasta; homemade brownies, homemade chocolate ice cream and all washed down with beer brewed in Woodinville, Washington. I won the third game, which was a damp squib and then we played Super Scrabble, which has twice the tiles, twice the squares and takes twice as long. Reva beat me into second place by four points.

Dan spent ages searching for a suitable route for me for the next day. Such lovely people – and I was happy to draw my Devil Cat cartoon character on his garage wall, alongside her friends and family's doodles. Dan talked about the time Mount St Helen's had blown her top in 1980 and how when he heard the boom he thought it was a pilot from the nearby air force base fooling around. The mountain is in a 'doming' phase – gradually rounding off its flat top. Reva had been following my blog and read about my restless nights, so she gave me some kind of pill, which had the desired effect.

In the morning I wanted to be up to see Dan off at 7.30, then had a mocha latte made by Reva from her gleaming coffee machine with all its knobs and whistles. The bathroom featured a hot tub, two water jets in the shower, TV and zebra themed objets. At a breakfast of asparagus & ham fritata and fruit salad, Nancy and Clyde expanded on their endless golf-in-the-summer and skiing-in-the-winter lifestyle, now they're retired. People often vacation in Arizona at xmas and there is a reverse migration, to escape the summer heat. Reva insisted I take a pair of padded lycra shorts and garish synthetic top, neither of which I have ever worn before as I'm a casually dressed cyclist. Also she foisted a huge packed lunch upon me, whereas Dan had only been given a sandwich.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Seattle (September 16)

Seattle

Day 2 (again)

Kyle, for it was he, and Neta drove me to the Greenlake suburb, to the north of the city. With the aid of mobile phone sat nav, they dropped me off outside Jane & George's clap-board house, surrounded by tarpaulin patches, as they are in the throws of having the roof replaced. Jane, a math teacher, treated me as if I was a long-lost relative and introduced me to her two chatty daughters, whose names elude me, and two dogs, Judy & Elmo. I was delighted by the politics they discussed, without any prompting. Seattle is largely democrat and so is much of Washington, except for the rural, eastern part. They were aghast by Sarah Palin's nomination, due to her lack of experience, anti-abortion stance and general far-rightedness. Jane popped out for a burger and asked me if I wanted one of this eatery's renowned milkshakes, to which I said yes and that she could surprise me with the flavour. She bought back a peanut butter one!

George, who runs a cinema, showed up later and the two of us played Scrabble on the kitchen table. There is one big difference in the rules over here and that is to do with challenging your opponent's words. In the UK you can query every single word that is played against you, whether it be CAT or QAT, COUGH or QOPH, and it is the other player who can forfeit their go (if it is an invalid play) and never you. If you challenge a bona fide play Stateside, YOU lose your next go! Luckily George explained this to me. However, as he said, there are competent players who play 'bullshit' words, knowing that a lesser player will not challenge them; or is it merely gamesmanship? Of course I forgot my ditty and played a few erroneous two-letters. I was very surprised that CLIT was unacceptable in the US – and I thought it was us Brits who were more reserved. Anyway, we played two games and the spoils were evenly divided. By this time, at 10pm (6 am by my body clock) I was zonked and hit the sack. I still woke up a couple of times, my head throbbed and I didn't sleep past 6.30 am.

Today, Tuesday, the first task was to reassemble my bike... It was going ominously smoothly until, yes, I reached an insurmountable object in the shape I of the front, which wouldn't go back between the forks like a good boy, as they had been squashed together in transit. Luckily George was handy, and using a block of wood, he helped me to get old Treky back on the road. I wasn't confident enough to start riding it into the boondocks though and wanted a mechanic to look over it.

So, while my host family were in their respective workplaces and schools, I got the lie of the land and did 'stuff' in local shops. First stop was a mobile phone shop, where I had to buy a new (well actually second-hand) phone and a flippin' charger as well, because the UK and US have different voltages. Or something like that. Then on to the bike shop (Gregg's to be precise). What a revelation this place was, compared to the ones I'm used to. British bike shops are usually tiny and cramped, whereas this one was enormous, with toilets and comfy seats! Mike tinkered, tightened, adjusted and pumped accordingly – and for no charge! He said he liked tourists. I did spend money in the store though, on a helmet (I've never worn a helmet in my life but need one here as it's a travel insurance requirement) and high energy snack bars (never had one of them before either). Then found a cafe with wi fi, where the waitress was quite happy for me to sit outside, using my laptop, even though I didn't buy anything. So, I was able to copy and paste what I'd written in a Word type document and put it in my blog. Phew! That means that I can type something every day even if it doesn't appear on the blog until several days later.

A fantastically delicious salami, pickle and white cheese panini from an Italian cafe for lunch, where the server gave me tasters of equally sublime gelati (a kind of ice cream). Here a customer asked where I was from and after a chat he invited me to stay at his place! He lived in Santa Fey, New Mexico, which is not on my route unfortunately. What a nice guy though! So far people have been utterly adorable. Not only this, but I like the feel of the small part of Seattle I've seen so far. It's relaxing, neither pretentious nor poor and the locals are mostly slim, active and attractive! There are so many cyclists, roller-skaters and joggers – including joggers with dogs and prams! I admit that my impression is slightly affected by the blue skies and warm temperature. I didn't even mind when I got a puncture (yeah, on the first day of riding, after a couple of miles!) It was actually an old patch that had come apart as a result of Mike pumping the tyres up super hard.

This evening Jane & George drove me to the Seattle Scrabble Club, where I had a choice of playing with a blue or white card. You choose the colour of the score-sheet depending on whether your average score is below or above 360. As mine is probably slightly higher, I fancied myself a white-collar worker. Four games and four losses later, I found out my true socio-economic status... I was often ahead in these matches, but Jane (my hostess), Steven, Daniel and Alice were all strategic players; they tracked the tiles played and seemed to know they were going to win even if they fell a hundred points behind. I felt like a mouse being toyed with by cats. I did win five bucks tonight though. Woo hoo! At this club they all play their games simultaneously (and always with clocks) and Rebecca ('The President' to give her official title) announces a theme each time. If you play a word that fits the theme you could win a prize if it is deemed the most pertinent. In the last game the theme was “what goes up” and I had played the word tax. It even got a laugh! In my first game Jane left me for dust with IONIZER (91 points) and I was challenged off the board when I suffixed an S to TEASING. I'm sure you could play it in Britain... I did manage to get a Q on a two-way scoring triple letter with SUQ/QI (67) at least. Steven also queried one of my words (ALOTTED) which I hoped would have two spellings out of sheer desperation. Daniel next, an anoraky type player, tall and gawky, sporting a “National Scrabble Championships” baseball cap. He complained when I didn't hold the letter bag high enough to draw my tiles, as you're supposed to hold it above eye-level, and someone had been kicked out this year when spotted looking in the bag. I don't like this kind of Scrabble and am more of a 'cardigany' type player. With my very first seven letters I was able to play TOURIST (66 – and how apposite) and managed another bingo a bit later to fly into the lead. However, it was not to last as my LAIRIEST and TEREPINS were removed from the board. OK, OK, I wanted to win. In the last bout Alice, a shrewd old soul, twice blocked my forthcoming bingos as if she could read my mind. Maybe she's a red-hot poker player too. I did manage INCHOATE (60), which I agonized over the spelling of, as I'd only seen it played against me once before. It was a tight game when I strained to produce another clearance with STRAINS (64) but then picked up the last of the letters and they were the goddamn awful ZQVMMDO. I had to play the Z and the Q for pitiful scores just to dump them, by which time Alice went out and I forfeited 13 points. Unlucky for me.

Jane & George left early as Jane needs to be up at 5.30, so Rebecca drove me back to her place, foisted lots of maps on me, as she is a fellow cyclist and has biked across the country, not once, but three or four times. She proudly displayed her bicycle, which I was surprised by the colour scheme of, especially given her gender. It was a pukey combination of egg yolk yellow, with banana mudguards and plum panniers. Then she drove me back to Greenlake, where I had another restless, headachey night.

In the morning I took my leave of this wonderful, warm family, who had left me to do exactly as I pleased and even left me alone in their house. Hopefully they will be the first of many such lovely people I meet along the highways and byways of this country.

Leg 1 : Seattle, WA - Portland, OR


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Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Phone number

I have a new phone number while I am in the States. Anybody is welcome to contact me, although I would prefer text messages, in case I am riding at the time! It's :

206 351 5432

I guess you would add 001 if calling from the UK.

There isn't any reception for the remoter parts.

Glasgow to Seattle 2 (September 15)

Day 1

Glasgow – Seattle

Rudely awoken by 'mobile phone woman' with her “It's time to get up,” ranting at 7.30. Last minute stuff, including printing out the latest version of the itinerary – imagine if I'd forgotten that. Received my first unfriendly email from an American. A man who had agreed to accommodate me, in principle at least, now says I am not welcome in his home. I had written asking for his address, in the event of the arrangement being firmed up, but somehow he had taken umbridge. He says I am not welcome in his house. Raining outside. Hurrah! However, in the free Telegraph on the plane (it was actually a surprisingly good read) meteorologists have predicted an Indian Summer. Boo! Bid farewell to my lodger, Chris. Tony accompanied me to the airport, to offer physical, moral support and financial support – he paid for the taxi. He wasn't happy with the two bin-liners I had used to wrap my three panniers though and a lengthy search of shops and facilities at Glasgow Airport ensued. They don't have a cellophane-dispensing machine? A very nice British Airways lady produced three further bin-liners and Tony was OK with this. It wasn't anything to do with me... On parting he told me to enjoy it. 'Sky Nibbles Gold' on the plane to London had the words 'Fly, Nibble, Enjoy' printed on the packet. Alright, alright! Mature, mumsy air hostesses? I expected so much more from a top dollar airline like BA, compared to my usual Ryan Air and Sleazy Jet experiences. You pay so much more and it should be reflected in the 'trolley totty'. Something in the paper about a new adventure sport called 'Mountain Unicycling'. Yeah, alright, steal my thunder why don't you? Ultra smooth landing at Heath row, compared to the white-knuckle rides I'm used to with those other flyers. On to Seattle, an eight hour flight and time difference, which should be fun. Sat next to a young lady, who not only lived near the address I was going to, but offered me a ride (well, in her boyfriend's) SUV. I'll never criticize these gas guzzlers again. Neta, for it was she, worked for a biotech company and had been on holiday in Greece. I love airline food, and today's consisted of oatcakes & salmon paste, chicken with tarragon sauce and trifle. One of the things I did to pass the time was try to learn Scrabble words. Knowing the two-letters is crucial and there are 22 I know that aren't in the US list. So I devised a little poem : TENY CHUG POUR KOFY OU OO EE EA DADI JAKY OBIO YUZO. It's great isn't it? I can sing it as I ride through the mountains.

Glasgow to Seattle (September 15)

Day 1

I've arrived in Seattle. Safe and well. I've typed up something in a word-processing package on my laptop, but have been unable to get a wireless connection so that I can copy and paste it on here. Will write more later.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Packing

T minus 1 day...

I was typing the itinerary up all evening, until 12.30 am, when I was too tired to see straight. I finished it at lunchtime. Woo hoo! A complicated four-page document – and that’s with 8 pt text. It lists the 77 days, from where to where each day, mileage, who I’m playing Scrabble with/staying with + address + phone number, and time of arrival. There are lots of blank sections, some of which may be filled as I go along.

Just weighed myself (after cutting my toenails) and came in at a whopping 11 st 13 lbs/167 lbs. Get some exercise fatty! You want to cut down on your pork life, etc, etc.

It’s teatime the day before I embark on the biggest adventure of my life. As I’m leaving dear old Blighty behind, I’m quaffing a celebratory (or is it commiseratory?) dry sherry – just a small one. Yesterday my neighbour Tony helped me to box up the trusty old Trek in a cardboard box, which was actually a complicated operation as the bike had to be disembowelled, hung, drawn and quartered, then virtually reduced to aluminium filings. Definitely should have bought a bike in America… The whole trip seemed to be unravelling in front of my eyes. I saw myself at Seattle airport, covered in grease, not able to put it back together again, no one helping, passers-by giving me dirty looks… I would just blow all the travellers’ cheques on the next flight home.

There was a power cut while I was typing this (great timing!)

Including what I’m wearing, this, then is what I am packing :

Clothes

1 pair trousers
2 pairs shorts
1 pair leggings
1 long-sleeved shirt
1 jumper
5 T-shirts
5 pairs socks
5 pairs underwear
1 bright yellow cagoule
1 woolly hat
2 pairs plimsolls
1 pair overshoes

Bicycle equipment

Bicycle!
Lights
Mileometer
Pump
Water bottle
U lock
2 spare innertubes
Adjustable spanner
Multi-spanner
Tiny screwdriver
2 allen keys
Gaffa tape
Rubber bands
Puncture repair outfit
2 spoons
Oil
4 rags
4 pairs disposable gloves
Bum cream

Toiletries

Electric razor + recharger (for my head)
Wet shaver + 10 blades
Shaving gel (75ml)
Toothbrush
Toothpaste
Dental floss
Deodorant
Flannel
Tiny pair scissors
Cotton buds
Paracetamol
Nail clippers
Canesten Cream
Toilet paper
Survival bag

Food

1 Mars Bar
1 portion Nuts & raisins
3 portions Liquorice Allsorts
Tic Tacs
Small jar Marmite!

Miscellaneous

Passport
Flight confirmation
Travel insurance documents
Laptop + charger + manual!
Mobile phone + charger
Sun tan lotion (factor 15)
Sunglasses
Magnetic Scrabble board
Scrabble score sheets (not enough)
US word list + UK word list (to see what isn’t included)
Spiral-bound US road map (with lots of pages torn out)
i pod
Digital camera + batteries + cable + manual!
3 notepads
Greetings card samples (for me to sell)
Business cards
Stamped addressed postcards (to send Anthony, my brother in Boston)
Scottish postcards (if Americans want to see where I’m from)
2 pencils
2 biros
2 rubbers
1 pencil sharpener
Travellers’ cheques
Credit cards
Diary
Itinerary
Directions to some people’s houses
Plastic bags (lots)
Freezer bags (lots)

There are probably things I’ve forgotten to list and there’s even more likely to be things I’ve forgotten full stop.

That’s all this side of the Pond. More soon from the good ol’ US of A…

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Jitters

T minus 2 days...

Yesterday I finally got round to accessing the internet on my new laptop in a café with wi fi. This is a big achievement for me and I was very pleased with myself. Just to make sure it was working properly, I sent an email from one account to another. You see, this technological world is hocus pocus to me. I am not competent with new technology, including digital cameras, of which I have one and am planning to take hundreds of photos. I am not competent at fixing bikes either. Actually come to mention it, I’m not a particularly competent cyclist or Scrabble player… Or am I losing faith in my abilities at the eleventh hour?

Talking of bike fixing, the super duper service came to £148. Yes, I should have bought a new bike in Seattle… It felt great though – tight as a nut. I’m now the proud possessor of three extra gears as well! Neil (the man at the bike shop) also gave me a tub of cream to put on my bottom.

Golden light plucked at the old heartstrings this afternoon; polishing up the cream and red sandstone tenements, and the heathery hills. Do I really want to leave this beautiful country for such a long time? Maybe I’ll stay home; play online Scrabble with my opponents instead, while riding a static bike in the gym. Much safer. The lustrous light also picked out the locals in all their gaudy detail, including a very pregnant woman smoking. No, I’m off to America; land of the free; where everyone is wholesome as apple pie.

Here’s a few messages I received yesterday :

You were not REJECTED--this is our first vacation in two years - You should still go to Adrian - You should eat breadkast (sic) - or whatever - at the local eatery - put your scrabble board out and I bet you get a game.

I travel as a touring cyclist regularly, sometimes alone, have done three coast to coast trips across the USA, and have logged many thousands of miles with nary a negative event -- well, except for two flat tires! I have yet to meet the projected wierdos that are always being conjured up by those who would limit my adventuring. But, I also don't frequent bars or casinos as I saw "Thelma and Louise". The one persistent threat to cyclists the world over is automobile traffic and that is usually my only great concern. I do hope your Mom is able to have peace of mind about your travel here. I/we have been hopsitably welcomed all over the country.

Well, I'm not a great scrabble player or good at sex, but I enjoy both. I want to challenge you to scrabble. I think you'd kick my ass at sex, and at least I have a chance at scrabble. Hehehehehe.......I have a sister who loves to play too, although I i'm better at sex than she is. (just joking) At any rate, I'm in Rock Springs, Wyoming USA. If I don't answer please leave a message on either phone as I work evenings, but will stay awake to verbally abuse you! (so long as the abuse I use is listed in an official scrabb dictionary). Sorry, I don't mean to be so off the cuff, but us Irishmen have this "Scottish" issue.....hehehehehehe........


I think that last one is tongue in cheek, but don’t worry Mum, I won’t take the risk.

Friday, 12 September 2008

The Swimmer


T minus 3 days...

I suddenly remembered why I’m doing this. It was the film “The Swimmer” (which had a profound effect on me when I saw it many years ago) that sowed a seed in my noggin. In the film Burt Lancaster (what an actor) swims across his county, via swimming pools. You can read about it here : http://www.amazon.com/review/product/B00005JKQ6?filterBy=addTwoStar. The only differences are that (a) I don’t look so good in swimming trunks and (b) Scrabble is my metaphor, for what I don’t know. When I find out, I’ll be sure to let you know. I’m not going to me now though (Adrian, Oregon) so it might have nothing to do with finding myself. In fact Adrian rejected me… It’s not (as in the film) alcoholism or extra-marital affairs, that’s for sure! I just liked the idea of it anyhow. Scrabbling across America… Not as poetic a subject as swimming and a bit more anoraky, but hey ho.

So, my mother is worried about me staying with weirdos. If there’s any wierdos reading this, please post a comment to let her now you’re a nice weirdo at least. Thanks.

My legs are sore today, after walking (as opposed to cycling) a few miles yesterday. Bizarre.

I’ve been told of a new site similar to www.couchsurfing.com. It’s www.warmshowers.org, which has slightly fetishistic associations, at least to my addled way of thinking (and something else for my mum to worry about) but it’s another hosting community, this time aimed at touring cyclists. I wonder if there are any in Adrian, Oregon…

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Bikes & boxes

T minus 4 days...

Not much to impart today. Too much to do and not enough time to do it in. I've taken my bike in for a super duper service and will be picking it up in the next couple of days. Today I've realised how soft the skin on the soles of my feet have become, as temporarily bikeless, I've actually been walking for a change, an activity I haven't done a lot of lately. I am also now in possession of a box to pack said bike for those nice people at British Airways to transport it all the way to Seattle for free! The nasty people at Delta Airlines however, are charging $175 for a short connecting flight from Charleston to Atlanta on the way back. Not sure what to do about that. I could take it on the train perhaps. Or leave it behind. No, I didn't say that! That bike has done me proud over the last few years, including Scrabble Travel I & II (around Scotland and England). Oh well, back to the grindstone, or rather, the old interweb.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Couchsurfing

T minus 5 days...

I wish I’d taken to my bike yesterday afternoon as planned, as it brightened up in the pm. Stupid weathermen forecasting rain all day… I ask you. Although, it was because of this extra time at home that I visited www.couchsurfing.com. What a groovy site! It’s for thrifty types like me to cadge accommodation. Perusing this site had been on my “to do” list for months, but had been shelved because I imagined it would be amateurish and full of oddballs. It’s actually quite slick, with maps covering the world, info on the hosts, even photos of them! So, I devised a profile and started searching in states like Idaho and Utah, (where Scrabblers are thin on the ground) and sent messages about my trip to individuals on my route. One of them wrote back within minutes, not only offering her sofa, but also up for a game! Later, others replied too, and one has invited me to a football match!

Then I went to a pub quiz where one of the questions was “What tin causes more accidents in the kitchen than any other tinned product?”

Today I did leap astride my silver stallion and together we wended our way amidst the gossamer-gilded hills of early autumn. Season of mellow fruitfulness and all that. No matter how striking the scenery is Stateside, I’ll still miss this soft Scotch variety. I won’t shed a tear over Glasgow however, with its air of menace and filthy streets. All this city is to me is a collection of conveniently placed amenities. I had a ridiculously early business appointment 20+ miles to the north of Glasgow, where the lady in question had requested I visit her at 10 am. This meant getting up at 7.20 am, a time I am not well acquainted with. To make matters worse, she wasn’t even there. I was placated a little with a cup of good, strong coffee, and a whole lot further when a junior member of staff was duly rustled up to deal with me in her boss’s absence, who just happened to be stunning. Then on to Buchlyvie (Buchhh-livvy) for another spot of work, on the way back from which I saved a life! (A furry caterpillar in the road.)

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Excitement

T minus 6 days...

When I tell people about my trip for the first time they always ask, “Are you looking forward to it?” and “Are you excited?” I have problems with those kinds of questions, especially when the thought of it has just popped into their head and I've nursed it for years. I’m trying to rustle up some enthusiasm, really I am. It’s just that it feels like “work” at the moment, as all I seem to do these days is rifle through reams of paper and wade through an email in-tray that can never be wrung dry.

However, I know that once this thing is actually set in motion; once I’m set in motion; get a couple of days of proper cycling under my belt, start moving across the map, play a few games of Scrabble, that yes, my whole being will be quivering with feverish excitement. Well, just a little bit – come on I’m a reserved Brit after all.

Look at the lovely sentiments from some of my prospective opponents :


Good to hear from you Adrian. I’m looking forward to buying you dinner and playing a game. I may bring a couple of kids along – perhaps my wife too. Forgive us if we pick your brain a little about Scotland. My ancestors are from there, although I have not ever been there.

Carl


Adrian, Good luck on your trip. Will see you in the beginning of November. Be safe and when you are coming to my house and if it gets to late and dark call me and I can pick you up from the trail. Will have food for you. Will check your blog for your progress.

Scott


No troubles on the early arrival, just as long as you let me have my coffee and “This American Life” radio show in peace and quiet (10 - 11 am) – my mother tends to call, knowing I am home, but I don’t answer at that time.
I have racked my brains trying to think of folks I know on your route, but you are traveling unknown territory to me. I however, have no doubt you will meet people on your trip, especially if you set up your board on the side of the road and wait...

See you soon.

Kevin



It’s raining today, so instead of training as planned, I might just sit here at this old computer and get started on an itinerary.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Sunday Post



T minus 1 week...

Everyone I speak to in the States tell me it’s blue skies and in the 70s where they are. Here it continues cold and overcast, with interludes of rain and wind. However, I enjoy the changing seasons, with their different moods and scents, and it definitely feels like autumn now. One of the things I like about this time of year, apart from the quality of light (when there is sunshine) and the freshness of the air, is the pale blue strip of sky above the horizon in early morning and late afternoon. It has a golden quality, as if lit from behind, and it never fails to warm my heart.

I’m so pleased with Euan Duguid (do you think he might be Scottish?) as he is
the reporter from The Sunday Post and he did indeed do good putting together this fantastic article, covering a whole page (apart from an advert for “waist-reducing stay-dry briefs”). Look at the time the photographer went to cutting around my silhouette, even though we went all the way to the park for nothing? Euan has created a most excellent word in “scrabulous”, which I’m going to start using now. He only made one mistake about the deep-fried pizza incident spawning from Coalburn, when it was in fact Lesmahagow. Coalburnians will be up in arms, especially if their chippie doesn’t fry pizza! But I’m nit-picking; it’s still a scrabulous piece of work.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Lock-in

It’s flippin’ cold here in Scotland, and I’ve had to put the heating on AND don two pairs of socks…in early September. Meanwhile a lady in Utah told me it was expected to reach 80 degrees yesterday.

A very welcome rest day on Saturday, to work on the route some more, make phone calls and send emails – which included writing to “unsuccessful” applicants, one of whom sweetly replied :

Sorry I am out of your scope of travel. Meeting other Scots who we still send cards to, I know you must be a really nice person. Good luck to you as I continue each day playing 2 people. Sally

The only time I ventured out was to visit the allotment for herbs to add to a pasta dish. As usual the gate was open, but while I was at my plot, someone locked it and I didn’t have a key. I was able to climb over it; but what about my bike? Somehow, in stages, I was able to lift my bike part of the way over the eight-foot gate, balance it, climb over the gate, lift it a bit higher, climb back over the gate, turn it this way, climb again, turn it a bit more, etc, etc. It was like the puzzle with the farmer trying to transport a sack of corn, a chicken and a fox across a river in his boat, which will only take two items at a time. Why he would want to take a fox in his boat is neither here nor there. Eventually, bike and man were both safely over the gate, with only minor scratches to hands and panniers. Several cars went past during this episode, although of course no one stopped to offer assistance. It’s nothing to do with them right? People in cars, hermetically sealed from the outside world...