Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Season’s Greetings

(I haven’t put the photos on a photo-sharing site yet, but will let you know when and where you can see them.)

I rode my bike for the first time in four weeks yesterday. It felt weird. It also felt weird to be on the left hand side of the road, and on narrow roads without traffic I found myself veering across to the right a couple of times. Anyway, I’m much happier now that I’m mobile again.

I’m still mulling over my achievement and it has certainly been a life-changing experience. Not just for me either - life changed for other people too. Just within my extended family there was a bereavement, a serious illness (which that person has made a full recovery from) and Neil, my younger brother, started a new job.

Today I’m going to a friend’s house and will be staying there until all this nonsense is over.

Thank you once again to everyone in America who provided accommodation, sustenance and Scrabble. It was a pleasure to meet you all and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Once again I’d like to reiterate that each and every one of you are most welcome to visit me in Scotland.

I’m also looking for suggestions as to what to do for my next expedition. I’d like to cycle across America again, possibly from San Diego to New England (playing Scrabble of course) but maybe there’s something different that I could do?

I leave you with a recipe, for what better way could there be to sign off than talking about food, glorious food?

Hudson Bay Bread
1 1/2 lbs. (3 cups) butter or margarine - soft
4 cups sugar
2/3 cup corn syrup (light Karo)
2/3 cup honey
2 tsp. maple flavouring (Mapleine)
Cream together the above ingredients. Gradually add:
1 1/2 cups sliced almonds
19 cups finely ground rolled oats (see above)
Press into cake pan or large sheet pan about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Bake at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes. Do not overcook, as it will get crispy and brittle. Take out of oven and use spatula to press down (keeps it from crumbling). Cut into exactly 3 1/2 inch squares. Package in plastic bags with as many as there are crew members (one each for lunch). If you measured correctly, they should just fit into 1/2 gallon paper milk cartons. They will be protected, easy to pack, and easy to find when you want to grab a quick lunch. Slather with massive quantities of peanut butter and jelly, and wash it down with some Red-Eye, and you will know you ate lunch!

Saturday, 20 December 2008


(All my photos will soon be available on a photo-sharing site.)

God I’m fed up. The weather has been diabolical since I returned; first it was freezing and now it’s wet. How I miss those big, blue skies. I’ve lost my momentum and haven’t found my pedestrian legs. Talking of not cycling – I finally took my dismantled Trek of the box on Thursday, which had begun to remind me of the black obelisk in 2001, only to discover the front wheel was missing. There was this note from those lovely Homeland Security people saying they had inspected the box’s contents (for bombs and drugs presumably – which is why they had also sawn through a tubular strut of the pannier rack). How did they manage to leave a bicycle wheel behind though? So, two days later, my poor old bike tries to maintain a sense of dignity, resting on the forks like an amputee, on my bedroom floorboards. Not exactly the way to treat a returning hero, who carried his master ungrudgingly, for 4,760.7 miles across a continent. To think I’d calculated the trip to be almost exactly 1,000 miles less. In the process I lost a whole 5 lbs, which I’ve probably put back on during these three stagnant weeks. I gaze around my flat forlornly at all the rubbish I’ve accumulated over the years, longing to jettison the vast majority, sell up, pack a few useful possessions into plastic bags and straddle my faithful companion once more, to take on another continent…

Three weeks must be about the longest period in the last decade I haven’t ridden a bike. I’ve had to suffer icy pavements and pedestrians (not as dangerous as drivers, but often as disrespectful). Roads; gorgeous, smooth tracts of warm tar; how I miss them. I loved everything about my trip (people, landscapes, towns, food…) but it’s really the great American roads that I am most thankful for. I like to think about the men who toiled to produce them, under-paid immigrants a lot of them I should imagine. I like to think about the fact that you can arrive at any point in the US and as soon as you step onto tarmac you are linked to a virtually infinite network of destinations from sub-Arctic Canada to Tierra del Fuego. I like to think about the millions of people who travel on these roads and have a symbiotic relationship with them. In places like Wyoming the road is an artery pumping life into towns that only exist because of them. It’s heart-warming to feel a part of that throbbing, vital wellspring.

I’m not so keen on the number of vehicles that travel on the roads however. Or the number of journeys (especially short ones) that are made. Or the size of a lot of people’s cars. I’m not so keen on the level of consumerism either, which compared to the UK seems rampant. But this is a time of celebration and contemplation, so I won’t rant on about that.

I’ll post again on Christmas Eve. No, really, I will.

Saturday, 13 December 2008


I'm at my Mum's house in Caterham, Surrey, 20 miles south of London, for a few days. She plays Scrabble too. Last night I scored 543 - my highest ever total in a two player game – to my Mum's 269. I made three bingos (INDOORS/SCOP, AERIALS, WAISTED) and also scored 53 for QUIT/GI/AT with the Q on a double letter and the word doubled. I picked up all 4 Ss, as well as one blank, Z, Q & J.

Talking of the golden game, a couple of days ago I was in a London pub, where I happened upon a young couple hard at it. They were down to their last few tiles and only a few points separated them. I asked who had played the bingo (the rather nice DIVISIVE). The young woman declared it was hers, but asked me what I meant by a bingo. They didn't seem to know the rules very well, as she hadn't added a 50 point bonus to her score. This meant that her male counterpart couldn't catch up. I shouldn't have got involved...

(Will write a lengthy post next week.)

Saturday, 6 December 2008


It's back. Woo hoo!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean - Glasgow (November 30)

Day 77

The Atlanta flight arrived in Gatwick at 8.15 and the scheduled plane to Glasgow left on time at 8.25. In other words I didn't make it. Not only that, but when I passed back through customs to collect my luggage with some other people in the same boat (the next available BA flight to Glasgow left from Heathrow, so we had to collect it) their luggage came out on the carousel and mine did not. A man at the lost property desk ran my details through the computer and said he was “95% certain” my luggage was still in Atlanta. There was nothing to do but catch the bus to Heathrow and wait for my stuff to arrive in Glasgow (tomorrow I had been told). Thankfully I had cash, means of obtaining more, as well as my house keys. My poor old Trek, neglected, in pieces in a box, would think he was for the knackers yard.

My fortunes improved at Heathrow, when complaining to a BA woman about plane delays and missing luggage got me a free pass into the Executive Lounge. Sometimes moaning pays dividends. She also looked into my luggage and said it hadn't even left Charleston. Unwashed for two days, wearing three day old tatty clothes, I felt like a tramp at the Ritz, but it soon passed. Here I could have had a shower if I'd been bothered, and practically done my weekly shop for free.

A rainy Sunday morning in London, flowed into a dreich afternoon in Glasgow – and today Anthony's put-down of Britain as a “tiny fog-bound island” was accurate. The sun had come out over the Lake District and Southern Uplands; tinged gold on the southern slopes and frosty on the northern sides, with creamy mist frothing up the valleys. The shapes of hills, fields, rivers and roads – so different to America - and all of them comforted me. The Rockies may well be striking, but there's nothing like the domes of home; sleek and soft, like sleeping dogs. Down in the Clyde Valley there was freezing fog.

On the bus two men peppered their shouting conversation with with sandpaper voiced swear words, belying their young years. On the phone one of them rasped, “Who do you think you're talking to you f***ing p**ck?... Right, I'll be round there in 20 minutes.” I don't know why Scottish accented four letter words sound so menacing compared to those delivered across the Ocean, where they almost sound cool. Everyone on the bus could hear them and no one said anything, including the driver. Walking home from the Christmas-lighted city centre I overheard a man smoking outside a pub say to his companion, “I'd chop his fingers off if he said that to me.” Aah, Glasgow.

Entering my flat was like walking into a freezer, as my lodger had been away. Lovely to be back amongst all my bits and bobs, have a bath and sleep in my bed. How fitting that I should return on St Andrew's Day and also the fifth anniversary of the end of my last relationship. New beginnings.

(As I write this - two days later - my luggage still hasn't been delivered. I have spoken to people at Glasgow, Heathrow, Gatwick, Atlanta and Charleston, but no one seems to know where it is. I'll let you know the outcome and write an appendix in the next few days.)