My Route


For more detailed maps, scroll down through the blog. Click on any one to enlarge it; use the backspace button to return to the blog. That goes for the photos, too.

Saturday

Introduction

When people have asked me why I’m doing this trip, I’ve tended to answer something like “because it’s a beautiful country and the people are friendly”. It’s an honest enough answer, but yet doesn’t seem quite equal to the scale of the task. After all, cycling across America from Maine to Oregon means travelling over 4,500 miles, with only legs for power. It means crossing New England at its widest point; cycling along the entire length of Lake Erie; traversing the Midwest states of Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota; tackling the vastness of North Dakota and Montana; crossing the Rockies, the Cascades and the Coastal Range before finally making it to the Pacific Ocean. Go ahead and look at an atlas – it’s HUGE – I’m not kidding!

But even so, I can’t find a more convincing motive. It really is about spending 90 days crossing an amazing country, and the opportunity to meet people along the way. It’s about small town America; about lakes and mountains; about seeing things I’ve never seen before – maybe a moose or a bear? It’s about reducing life to the simple routine of pedalling, eating and sleeping, and the mental shift that occurs when this happens - not to mention taking a break from the domestic stress of work and unfinished DIY projects. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s about the simple pleasure of cycling down the open road.

Friday, 29th June 2007. Destination: Berkeley YWCA, Boston, Massachusetts

A long day's travelling from Brighton to Boston via Gatwick and Philadelphia. My Hostel in Boston, the Berkeley YWCA, is in the historic downtown district, all pretty avenues and brownstones, but by 10:30pm too dark to really appreciate. Feeling hungry, I took the warden’s advice and went round the corner for a pizza and beer at Picco, a nice little restaurant on Tremont Street.

Sitting at my table looking out the window in this snug, small corner of a vast, foreign continent a sense of unreality came over me: was I really about to do what I was about to do? More to the point, could I make it to the Bus Station early enough tomorrow morning to get a place on the 6am (no reservations, first come first served) Vermont bus to Bangor, Maine? I went to bed tired, disorientated and slightly anxious...

Saturday, 30 June. Destination: Bar Harbor Hostel, Acadia National Park, Maine

My taxi glided through quiet 5am streets of Boston to the clean, modern bus station where a queue for the Bangor bus was already growing. I wanted to get some breakfast but didn’t want to loose my place: the next bus was not till lunchtime. When the bus arrived it was already half full, coming in from somewhere else. I didn’t expect that. Despite the resulting mild panic (I hate uncertainty on days that depend on schedules going to plan) I got a place - and somewhere on the road we even pulled in for breakfast. A few hours later arriving at Bangor, the Bar Harbor Shuttle Bus was already full and ready to go: fortunately, you could book that bus in advance and so the lady driver was waiting for me, with one spare space beside her. By coincidence, she turned out to be a keen cyclist who's also cycled across America, on the Transamerica Trail. She's currently planning Lands End to John O'Groats, so we spent the short journey from Bangor comparing notes and enthusing about bicycles.

So, I've arrived in Bar Harbor and all is well. The place is lovely - coastal Maine as I imagined it: all white-painted ship lapped houses and lobster shacks, with boats bobbing on the bay. The sea is sparkling and the sky is blue. First official meal of the trip: clam chowder, naturally. And, more importantly, there's a good bike shop to help me out with last-minute stuff. I'm currently sitting in a cool, shady internet cafe drinking a mango smoothie while listening to a precocious kid - 10 year old? - playing Mozart on the piano (quite well, actually). Edward and Ewa arrive tomorrow. I think I'll spend the rest of the afternoon down by the bay, gazing out to sea.

Sunday, 1 July. Location: Bar Harbor Hostel, Acadia National Park, Maine

A lovely day on Mount Desert Island, Acadia National Park, with nothing to do but wait for E&E to arrive, so I decided to explore the island on my lovely new bike. Cycled round the park loop road, which goes past the aptly named Sand Beach; Thunder Hole (an oceanfront rocky-outcrop-acting-as-echo-chamber kind of thing); and Otter Creek bridge, where I dipped my front wheel in the ocean.

Then, to check out the gears, a jaunt up Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the US Atlantic Coast (1,500 feet from sea level). Back in plenty of time to hang out with my new buddies at the bike shop - a big thank you to Chris Nice at Bar Harbor Bikes for all his help - and to hope that E&E would arrive OK, or at least before tomorrow (read Edward's blog for details). As it happens, they got in around 10:00pm, and we (or I should say Ed) had their two bikes put together by 1:00am, ready for the Big Start tomorrow...

MAP 01 - Bar Harbor, MA to Ticonderoga, NY

Day 1: Monday, 2nd July. Destination: Motor Inn, Bucksport, Maine

It’s hard to avoid the impatience and expectation that accompany setting off on a long journey, and I’d anticipated leaving early after breakfast. Ideally, a breakfast of eggs & home-fried potatoes straight off the griddle, in an American-style diner sitting on tall chairs at a chrome counter listening to old guys talking about fishing while a friendly waitress kept our coffees topped up. But we had to take it slow: E&E had to get their bike cases to the depot which was sending them on to Toronto (their finishing point), and both Edward and I had some last-minute fiddling to do with our bikes. Good news is that we had our breakfast, pretty much as described, at a place next to the hostel. Then, to try to keep delays to a minimum, we split up: Ewa in a taxi with the cases, Edward & I to the bike shop, where we planned to rendezvous. The rest of the morning trickled away. Edward’s brakes / suspension weren’t quite right and Chris was doing a thorough job getting them sorted. Ewa arrived so we went searching for fruit smoothies and muffins. Perhaps we were all a bit anxious that we still had our day’s cycling ahead of us, but there was nothing much to be gained by talking about it.

We finally set off in the sunshine at 12:30pm along a scenic high road overlooking the coast of Bar Harbor. It was about then, on the first incline, that the truth of the matter dawned on me: here I was, setting off on the first day of my cycle trip across America and I had no idea if I was fit and strong enough to do it. The unfamiliarity of an elegant new bike with clever gears and pedal cleats, a fully-loaded pair of panniers and handlebar-bag – even a new set of cycle clothes – surely all little more than a costume to disguise the victory of aspiration over common sense. But, as grey clouds gathered and it started to rain I found myself settling down, and from that moment on my instinct was to avoid such thoughts: if I could get through the day without causing myself any physical damage, then I could carry on tomorrow. It wasn’t going to help weighing myself against the enormity of the journey. I had to trust that my training, planning, common-sense and a bit of luck would be sufficient. If not, then I could always jump a freight train for the middle bit, or spend my summer fishing on the banks of a New England river…

We crossed onto the mainland in the rain. Not quite the dazzling starting line I’d imagined - more a succession of island hops over low, grey bridges. After which, the 46 miles through lovely New England farmland to Bucksport seemed to take a long time and we didn’t arrive at our motel till 6pm. The town, on the banks of the Penobscot River, seemed pretty much deserted, but a friendly chap guided us across the bridge to the local diner. We’d made it through our first day without accident, and found food and shelter. All we have to do is the same again tomorrow, right?