Best of the USA

November 21st, 2011


Welcome to the USA – they’ve got a lot of flags, and they love to wave them. How else do you keep 50 states and 312 million people in check?

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:

Stunning landscapes - The US specialises in epic riding vistas that make you stop and go wow, like this one along the Denali Highway in Alaska.

Amazing camping - We’ve camped in some incredible places, from stealth campsites hidden under the Redwoods to prime beachside spots like this one at Refugio State Beach in California. The next morning we watched dolphins swim past while we made our morning coffee…

Cyclist-size portions - Don’t be fooled. Under these two increasingly scrawny cyclists lurk two very obese people who have fully embraced US super-size. Things got messy after this first bite into an epic sandwich from Sebastian’s famous deli in San Simeon, California. Roast beef, avocado, tomatoes, pickle and horseradish mayo in case you’re wondering.

Hospitality - We’ve been genuinely bowled over by the warmth and spontaneity of American hospitality wherever we’ve been. Like Skip and Nancy, who we met as we boarded a ferry in Alaska and within minutes had invited us to stay at their home in Cambria, California. Three months of pedalling later we turned up on their doorstep and spent a fantastic evening with them. A huge thank you to everyone who’s helped us through the US – too many to mention here!

State Parks – The US has an enviable network of State Parks and beaches like this one, preserving beautiful areas of wilderness and offering great facilities and discounted camping for cyclists. Like in the UK, they are an easy target for budget cuts – fingers crossed the politicians see sense and the Parks survive.

Wildlife - We’ve seen some spectacular wildlife throughout the US, ranging from the super–size like grizzly and black bears, moose, whales and sea lions through to the more delicate, like this tree full of migrating Monarch butterflies in California. We should also make a special mention of the less welcome critters - like the raccoons that gnawed through my panniers and stole my last doughnut, or the ravens that overnight created a white splattered masterpiece on our tent that Jackson Pollack would be proud of.

Free coffee refills - Forget the energy bars and protein shakes, our US leg has been fuelled by endless coffee and pastry, like our first ever pumpkin pie from Mission Pie in San Francisco. We’re undoubtedly headed for a huge caffeine and sugar comedown once over the border - until then, we’re making the most of it.




5 Responses to “Best of the USA”

  1. Agus Says:

    Hi guys!!
    Once more I have to say I totally loved the pictures! And I also enjoyed a lot reading your blog. I must say I agreed with you in everything you said, I had the same impression on the US, specially being from Latin America, but after spending some time there I realized I was completely wrong and I ended up loving it!
    I think that’s one of the many benefits of travelling, getting to know differente cultures, understanding the differences and respecting them.
    Good luck in the rest of your journey! Buen viaje!
    Keep posting!!
    Hope to see you around soon! : )
    Besos from Argentina!!!


  2. Edgimundo Says:

    Now mate, you have to know beef and avocado is a rookie error. The sort of pressure required to sever even the rarest beef is too much for even the most structurally sound of ripe avocados to bear. You’re going to end up avocado falling all out the sides. Only mitigated by extreme pre chopping of the beef, and given I’ve seen what happens when you chop avocados, I have to tell you this is not the snack for you mate. Oli, back me up…


  3. Mum and Dad Says:

    It has taken me a while to get around to writing my comments this time! As usual outstanding pictures – serious concerns about James’ appetite for the whoppa! While knowing that this may be the last blog for a while, we still hope to here from you soon. Missing you loads and hoping you will be especially careful on the next bit of the journey.
    All our love
    Ma n Pa


  4. Alison Marvel Says:

    I am drooling at the mouth reading your blog – it soo makes me want to start our trip…. keep the blog coming… loving it. Good luck with the next stage… can’t wait to hear more, especially Cuba. Take care of yourselves. xxxx


  5. Angie & Paul Says:

    Great to meet some fellow Brits in San Felipe, Baja. Love your pictures, sounds like you have had a fantastic time. We will be heading down to Mexico, Central America & South America in the New Year, maybe we could meet up and have more of a chat.


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