I’m pleased to report that I just hit the 25,000km mark on my odometer since setting forth on this journey – It’s an awful long distance to have travelled, and it seems I have a story per kilometre to tell about it, many things that I haven’t posted about are still fresh in my memory and are shared with random strangers, hosts, and friends along the way. I’m still very much interested in continuing and while I’m not entirely interested about setting a record on distance, length, going off the beaten path to be the “first” or record holder little things like this give me a boost of joy to see how much I’ve accomplished so far. I’m getting close to hitting 1,000,000 calories burned in the next few days – I’ve probably burned them a long time ago, but only started monitoring that metric in 2010.
It’s really apparent that I don’t follow regular routes and common pathways, looking back over the past 2 years of touring – maybe it’s because of my extreme stubbornness to not want to turn around and go backwards, or maybe it’s because I’m finding all the little diamonds in the rough that don’t often get mentioned. Each year I come up with a sort of plan on where I’d like to go, and where I intend on being at a certain amount of time, and laugh each time I look at the document, as it seems I’m only getting to 10% of anything I intended to! For example, when I went across Canada, I figured I was going to go on a straight line from end to end, yet on the very first day while riding the ferry I figured that I might want to go up north, with the end result of the trip being nearly double the amount of originally planned kilometres to ride. 2011 has been no different, hoping to cross into the United States and ride the American Cycling Association Atlantic Coast Route down to Florida, before switching ideas to wanting to do the Trans-Am (Cross Country) trail, and even the Underground Railroad tour from Ohio to Louisiana. Looking back I’m not sure I’ve actually traveled on any of these routes whatsoever, putting myself into small towns, weird riding conditions, and meeting people who have never seen a touring cyclist before in their life. I’m OK with that, it’s nice to have plans, but more important to focus on how you are feeling in the moment rather than push ahead. One of the things that has been eating me has been timelines – I hoped for 2011 not to be filled with timelines and deadlines, but I have a significant deadline to meet before the End of August, with one shortly thereafter in September.
2012 will be different in so many ways, I won’t be returning back to my hometown, and most of the times I might not have an idea what road I’m even on due to trailblazing in Africa. I’m excited for this, yet cautious due to the potential dangers involved – Fellow touring cyclist Peter Gostelow who I’ve mentioned before in this blog has just had all his gear stolen from Kenya (this is after he survived a Machete Attack 2 years ago in Senegal), and Sean Newall who just successfully rode 45,000km across 18l commonwealth countries dealt with a robbery of all of his possessions in Morocco via a knife to the throat – yet still persevered and finished off his journey in 360 days. It’s a dangerous place, there are news reports of robberies, murders, and riots regularly, but something about it draws me there, wanting to take care of this continent before visiting anywhere else. I had always planned on doing the continent last “I still had money, and my knees hadn’t blown out yet”, yet within the first 5 days on setting forth on this tour I realized I was just trying to fool myself as it was the place I feared the most. So, it al began from that point, taking an active interest of news reports, attempting to build contacts in any of the countries, and closely following the reports of other travelers. Friends started making comments voicing their concern, family took it a step higher than the concern until eventually some friends came right out and said they couldn’t bear to follow along as I went through the journey and would rather not talk to me until it was over – weird reactions from people but fully understandable knowing the magnitude of the journey that is soon to come. I’m taking it as I have a solid group of people who care about my safety and sanity who wouldn’t wish any ill fate to come out of anything I do other than success, yet it can be a bit damaging, when all I really can hope for is support, even through there is unease and warning bells going off in close ones heads – I’m aware of the issues on a daily basis, and aware that the only way to succeed is to actually do something and the fact of the matter is that all that people can do is sit back, and hope for the best – the same way that I would be going through each day by day situation. It would be wrong of me to go into the situation with a constant fear of the environment as it would likely shape the experience and attract the wrong people into my world. Remember, all we hear about is the bad things in life, there is no good news network on television, and the media has a way of inflating stories to epic proportions, so while there is peril, there will be bliss at the same time, people are good overall – it all boils down to trust. I’ll be traveling with someone through the continent as well, which should ease some fears, yet certainly doesn’t exclude one from entering into dangerous situations, this is going to be a learning process for me as well in tolerance, dealing with someone elses needs, and traveling with a partner, as opposed to just doing the lonesome wandering at present. I’ve got some unease, but I think that this is another skill and part of my life I need to work on in order to grow to be a better person and looking forward to see how it turns out.
I have been getting a tonne of support from people following along on Twitter, Facebook and all sorts of private emails coming through via the website – which has helped get me through the tough days in the past few weeks. Some samples of the emails that I wake up to in the morning that put a big grin on my face – I’m doing what I set out to, spread joy and inspiration to people who are feeling trapped and locked into a life that’s not making them feel fulfilled:
1) You are so far! I am so glad that you made it out of the worst part of New Mexico. It is good to hear that your days are getting better. We think about your travels often.2) I was wonderin if you would make it out of the Texas heat in one piece! I crossed into Texas on Sunday and saw the mileage sign showing "587" miles to the other side - another great opportunity to speak about your pilgrimage and journey around the world. Everyone who hears your story admires your zest for understanding / enjoying people and life as much as I enjoyed learning about them.3)You'll never know how much you inspired me to press ahead with this. I had so much doubt about what would happen instead of just doing it. So I'll be leaving **** in April and moving to New Zealand hopefully on a permanent basis.
Again – loving these sorts of things, keep it up, and while I’m a bit slow at responding, I will eventually get back to you! It’s strange not having solid friends on the road, so I do my best to cram as much awesome into the short amount of time that I get to spend with people, in hopes it can stay strong so that when life has gone further we can meet up again and spend additional time together without dealing with any of the formalities, tha’ts what true friends are – you can be anywhere in the world but just fall right back into place like nothing has happened or someone wasn’t gone immediately.
I’ve been resting in Moab, Utah for the past 2 days with the plan of hanging around a few more days to reset my body’s balance, allow the aching muscles to cease, repair my bicycle, and spend quality time with solid people. I’m staying just outside of town on a 5 acre ranch with 3 very strong individuals, artistic, traveling types and grateful for the safe zone to send postal mail to, and be able to laze around without fear of timelines or deadlines or service fees. Getting here was a whole other story however..
I woke up early in Farmington, NM a few days ago and hung around the coffee shop waiting for the bicycle shop to open at 10am. It turns out that the one I was hoping to go to was closed on Mondays anyways, so I had to circle back to the one I found the day before ‘Haven Bicycles’– it’s been a staple in the community for 20 years selling parts, bicycles (mostly mountain bikes), and performing maintenance on all sorts of bicycles. I explained the problem to him about how I was noticing a thump in the wheel every time the wheel rotated, explained the fact that I had attempted to true the wheel myself, and we took apart the bicycle and put the rear wheel on a truing stand. It wasn’t more than 10 seconds later that we noticed that the wheel was basically true in the first place, I had obviously done a good job, or maybe did nothing at all, yet he checked the spoke tension and we put the wheel back on the bicycle. The next hour was spentsharing stories, and he helped me go over a few areas of my bicycle that he thought might be the source of the creaking/clicking when pedaling, the chain ring, bottom bracket, and fenders. They all were tightened a bit further than where they were before I entered the store, but I’ve since found that it is directly related to the chain not being on the same tooth as it was on before the wheel came off in the first place. I rode off hoping that the wheel bump would be gone, but less than 2km down the road I felt it jolting through my body once again, and decided to just say to hell with it and rode forward, it being noon already and I had cycled a little under 8km for the day so far – with the hopes of leaving New Mexico that day – I was done with the State and wanted change. I pedaled west into the headwinds struggling to make much of a run towards the state line leery about the looming dark clouds headed my way. In the distance I spotted an amazing rock formation and realized that I was close to the town of Shiprock, where stopped for an hours rest and sat out some of the light water drops coming from the sky. Knowing I had 60km remaining in the day I psyched myself out and circled back to Route 491 and headed directly north, through bumpy construction sections again with a nasty headwind holding me back from my full potential. Some of the most amazing rock formations started appearing during the last 20km of New Mexico and considerable time was spent gawking and snapping photos of these wonders, trying to remember what was told to me by my friend Alfred in St. John’s Newfoundland as he has quite the interest in geophysics, in fact he taught it at a university for many years before realigning his life goals. The traffic was bad, with very narrow shoulders – semi trucks whizzing past and at some times I felt a bit out of my element wishing for some of the wider, cleaner roads of states past namely Texas. Once crossing into the State of Colorado is wasn’t that much better, but the impressive scenery distracted me from the hunger pangs that were starting to appear, and the rolling hills that kept on and on for miles. Eventually I came to a Casino with an attached rest stop, hanging around for an hour wondering if it would be a good place to stay for the night. I asked one of the cashiers about if they allowed Semi Trailers to park over night and received the reply that they let anyone park there, with my response being “even a bicycle?” with a nod of approval. I circled around the area looking for a safe place with some shade, also a proper shield from the loud trucks yet found nothing and continued to move on with about 50 minutes left of daylight. 100ft up the road were two other touring cyclists fixing a puncture, on a trek from New Jersey to San Diego on their 31st day heading over to the Grand Canyon, Zion Park, and Las Vegas for a bachelor party as well. We exchanged stories and they moved forward once their flat was repaired, not worried about cycling in the dark and wanting to meet their daily target at the 4 corners monument which connects the states of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona – the wind was also in their favour so I don’t blame them. I circled back to the rest stop and found two shipping containers that I figured would be safe enough for me to camp in between, again asking for permission from the cashier. However while setting up I was surrounded by a few more staff who were talking on their cellular phones alerting security and talking to managers, stating that it wouldn’t be a good idea for me to stay there. “You mean it’s not safe for me to stay here, or you don’t want me staying here” was my question, with obtuse answers that didn’t give me what I needed, and I decided that it was worth my time to continue north up the road until the town of Cortez, where I knew there would be Churches, Parks, and other areas to safely camp without anyone bothering me.
I haven’t ridden in the dark for a long time, and its an unnerving experience. Soon after I left the rest stop and casino the sun went down followed by me riding for 1 hour trying not to look too deeply at the oncoming headlights, watching out the bumps on the roads, and weaving in and out of glass. My Dynometer powered bicycle light worked well with giving a wide area of view, yet I still felt rattled and unsafe wondering that someone coming up from behind was going to hit me. I reached the town of Cortez and had to scramble to find a place, being turned away from the Truck Weigh Scales as it was state property, and briefly stopping at a softball field with bright lights shining everywhere. I knew the baseball players would soon disappear as it was 10pm and found a spot that I figured would be good. While I sat and watched the players catching my breath for 5 minutes something didn’t feel right and I turned around to go check out the perimeter of the softball park further. I was right, if I was going to camp there I would have been locked in for the night and further, as there was a large gate with a padlock on it. With no areas to slip my bike under or over this could have been a catastrophe, so I moved forward, tired, hungry and frustrated that I hadn’t found a place to sleep yet. Every building I saw afterwards I rode around to see if there would be a safe place to camp without dogs, people, or fear of being caught, and found a treed area behind a city works building. Once I dismounted from the bike I felt the first few raindrops that increased in intensity, so I moved over to underneath a parked camper setting up my tent in the heavy winds, soaking the inside of the tent before able to get the fly on (I wrote a review on the tent I was using just a day ago, so glad I’m done with this tent) and not having anywhere to setup my stove to cook a proper dinner. A can of Pineapple, can of Tuna, a Poptart, and half a pound of Soynuts was the only thing I had to put in my body without going through the whole cooking process and I went to sleep frustrated and soggy inside a wet tent. Up at 6am wanting to evade being caught on someone elses land I found a coffee shop to hang out at and get some breakfast in Cortez. Stopping at a bicycle shop on the way out of town I hoped to find some helpful mechanics, but they all seemed to be tied up with new sales, and I left without purchasing any new parts. Due to the fact I had a poor dinner the night before and cycled so late into the day my energy levels were failing and I struggled to make any sort of distance in a proper time. Average speed was 8km/h struggling to get up hills with the bump in my riding, heat, and heavy headwinds. I had no good food with me and had to ration my water intake as I traveled on Route 491, also known as the Devils Highway – Route 666, changed in 2003 after the retirement of the parallel Route 66 Highway, and due to the fact that there was many people in the area who claimed that stretch of road was cursed and was causing all sorts of unnecessary deaths (not to mention everyone stealing the road signs!). I struggled all day long with up and down hills into the first town in Utah, Monticello.
Stopping at a gas station, they pointed me in the direction of a church where I’d be able to pitch a tent for the night. I obviously missed it as I left the city limits going down a huge hill, my mind telling me that it wouldn’t want to go back and climb the hill to find out where it was so I sought solace on the side of the road after the sun went down (2 nights in a row) and cooked some dinner, realizing that I had left food at the previous nights spot, so again it was a day of pop tarts, pinto beans, and canned tuna. The most glaring issue however was that I assumed I was going to sleep at a church and be able to get a refill of water in the morning of my bottles, but since I had missed it I had only 1 bottle left. I had a 32oz beer with me so drank that for hydration, before heading to sleep.
Based on my calculations the day from Cortez to Monticello was going to be the worst riding from Albuquerque to Moab, with an easy last day ahead of me, mostly downhill. I was right, save from a few light hills (locals said they were big, but nothing as steep as the grades I saw in New Mexico or Colorado) with some absolutely mindboggling scenery of the distance, huge rock structures with holes in them, smoothed by the heavy winds in the areas. I left before the sun was really hot with half a bottle of water and made incredible time, average speed being 22km/h even with the bump while riding. I soon enough came to an area known as the ‘House in the Rocks’ , a tourist trap with a petting zoo, overpriced junk, yet ran into a free spirited roamer who exclaimed he had never made more than $500 per year in his 60 years of life, who offered some great suggestions on springs and camping areas in the area – he’d been living in the area for 6 years undetected and seemed pretty interesting until he started going off about being in the Vietnam war. It was time for me to go at that stage. Up the small hill and over for the next 15 miles put me into the city of Moab, Population 5300, yet temporary home of thousands of tourists from all over the world. Many Europeans come here to partake in hiking, mountain bike riding, rafting in the area and in the winter the town reverts to its sleepy self. Riding is good pretty much year round from what I garnered from locals and bike shop workers and the city has a nice liberal leftist vibe going for it. Even stranger, is I’ve been asking every person I meet in the city how they learned to write and nearly all of them have replied that they use their left hand.
When I arrived in Moab I was destroyed from the 9 days of riding straight from Roswell through desert conditions, steep hills and with a serious lack of energy, so I didn’t get much accomplished on the first day other than moving from couch to couch, making a light dinner before heading off to bed grabbing a solid 8 hours of sleep. The next morning my body was screaming at me, throbbing and dazed from the exertion I placed on it, but I forced myself to get out to do some light riding into the city and see what was happening. Great set of amenities, restaurants, bike shops, and outdoor stores are placed strategically around the city centre, and I managed to pick up some replacement S-Biners, a spare tire tube, and stopped to talk to various mechanics at some of the many bicycle shops. Chile Pepper Bike Shop was the most friendliest, interested in what I was doing, and most of the bike wrenchers have toured in the past and I felt comfortable hanging around telling them about the nagging dilemma with my wheel. We put it in a stand and looked at the rim, noticing that the rim was out of round, causing the problem – for an expedition grade rim, this is unbelievable for me to grasp on a bike that has only 7000km on it – I’m running 20+ lbs. lighter than I was last year on an inferior bicycle and expected these rims to last at least 30,000km. Frustrated, I set an appointment for the next day to bring it down so they could try to perform some light repairs in an attempt to dull the jarring I’ve been experiencing. I haven’t heard anything back from Schwalbe after I sent them a message the other day leaving Farmington that the wheel was true and the tire was still giving me issues, so then moved forward into contacting the manufacturer of my bicycle: Thorn Cycles based out of the United Kingdom for some advice. I explained the whole situation in email and waited patiently for them to open, being 7 hours ahead of my time zone. Here’s the reply I received back:
Thanks for the mail. The rear wheel will not be out of round unless the bike shop you took it too have made it so. I'd bet that there are 2 issues:-  You have too much air in the tyres...you don't say how wide your tyres are but if they are 2.25" you should only have around 38psi in the front and around 42 psi in the rear. If the roads were really smooth, you could use 45psi front and 50psi rear...any more than this and the rims could explode!  I bet that the tyre is not properly seated, which is effectively making the wheel (s) oval. If you have Schwalbe tyres they can be difficult to seat...you need to remove the tyre and apply a 50:50 washing up liquid:water solution and apply liberally to the bead...re-fit the tyre and pump up hard...then let down to correct operating pressure...the tyre should now be seated correctly.
42psi! This is the first I’ve ever heard to run my tires so low, and never heard that a rim could blow out, especially a $150 rim rated for expedition use – I’ve been running my tires at 50-55 in the rear and 45-50 in the front, and anything below that makes the bicycle feel sluggish, and causes more effort to get up and down hills, not to mention even riding on flat surfaces. Regardless, I took the information I was sent over to the bicycle shop today and left the bike with them. I spent the next 2 hours working on this post enjoying some Scorpion Pale Ale from the Moab Brewery next door – a fine beer with 6 different hops inside of it, although it could be a bit more tart for my liking – they were out of their Black Imperial IPA. Upon return to the bicycle shop they gave me the news, as I thought 2 weeks ago when I first started noticing this problem, its a problem with the tire. It’s gone out of round somehow (is it because it is a folding bead?) and was causing the problem, the bicycle shop simply removed the tire, performed minute adjustments to the wheel and re-seated the tire on the rim, still experiencing the same problems. I put my spare Schwalbe Marathon 26×2.00” tire I purchased back in Albuquerque on, gathered some information from them regarding routes out of the city but not before taking a video of the old tire spinning on a truing stand to send to Schwalbe. I rode a few kilometres around and noticed no bump while riding, so I’m going to assume its fixed.
From this point forward I have 1400km to go until the end of my USA cycling, stopping in Gerlach, NV just north of Reno for the Burningman Festival. It starts in 25 days, and I have more than enough time to get there, so thinking of detouring a bit and heading back south over into the southern part of the state (I’ve traveled through northern Utah and Nevada many times) and checking out Zion National Park, and maybe heading up through Las Vegas to see a friend. I’m also in the process now of making a list of things I need to do before I leave the USA (I am starting an equipment purge, and selling things on Ebay left right and center – first one is this Drift Innovations HD170 Action Camera that records 1080p quality recordings – brand new in box with accessories – ending in less than 2 days). I’m going to hang around here for a few more to get to know some new friends before deciding what exactly happens, and hope that my bike gets me through this final leg of the USA journey through the hot desert, and the crazy hills that are just around the corner. For those who have been with me for a while, thanks for sticking around!