November 21st, 2011
I have to confess that before this trip, the US had never been top of my bike travel list. In my head, car-choked, strip-mall lined America just wasn’t different or exciting enough to make for the real adventure I craved. Without any language barriers, culture shock or strange food, surely it was just a place where people who want to go on holiday without really leaving home go?
Well I’m glad to say that the last 135 days and 3,500 miles from Anchorage down to San Diego has firmly put me in my place. Yes, there are incredibly fat people, stupidly small dogs, ridiculous drive thrus, mind-numbing strip malls, unjustifiably enormous cars, and a lot of flags. However, the US we have discovered is also full of warm, interesting people, incredible landscapes, vibrant cities and great food.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I ever thought such a vast, varied country could ever confirm to the bland stereotype we see played out through TV, music and film.Of course we’ve only seen a tiny slice of the progressive, liberal, laid-back west coast (just to throw a few generalisations in). Everyone tells us that we would have had a very different experience on the East Coast, or in the deep South, or mid-West. I’m sure that’s true, but it proves the point – it’s the variety that make the US such a fascinating place to travel through.
I’ll certainly be leaving fired up with ideas for the next trip: the Great Divide mountain bike route, an Alaskan rafting or kayaking trip, climbing in Yosemite, skiing or snowboarding in Colorado, mountain biking in Utah…all journeys and places that people along the way have told us great things about.
Looking back, many of the characteristics which I thought would make the US a dull place to travel have in fact made it the perfect place to start our first long biking adventure. It’s given us the chance to find out what long distance touring (rather than a two week holiday) is all about, and to really test our legs and our kit with plenty of help on hand.
Alaska, with its huge distances, limited supplies and plenty of rain was a challenging place to start, but definitely toughened us up quickly to life on the road. From Oregon south we’ve had it much easier, largely following the well-trodden Pacific Coast Trail. This route is perfectly set up for bike touring with cheap camping, plentiful supplies, and gently rolling roads along beautiful coastlines.
Between pedalling, we’ve also managed to squeeze in two fantastic ‘city breaks’ with family and friends in Seattle and San Francisco, a luxurious Alaskan ‘cruise’ with the best open air cabin you can imagine, plus numerous revitalising overnight stays with new friends thanks to random meetings, and the Warm Showers and Couchsurfing networks.
So the US has been good to us, and it’s been a great start to our adventure. However, we’re both ready to move on, itching for new roads, different cultures and pushing out of our comfort zone – and I have no doubt that Mexico and the rest of Latin America will deliver on all fronts. Having cycled and lived in Central America before, I’m excited to be heading back into more familiar territory, dusting off my rusty Spanish, and exploring new routes.
From San Diego we’ll cross into Mexico, put our heads down, race through Tijuana and onto the 800 mile long Baja California peninsula, where desert, beaches and the best fish tacos in the world await. From the bottom of Baja we’ll take a ferry across onto the Mexican mainland and then probably head for Mexico City, where we’re hoping to catch a flight to Cuba for a month of long-awaited exploring. After that, who knows – one thing we have learned in the last four and a half months is that the best bike trips are those that are least planned…
Here are some of our US highlights: