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?

Day 2: Tuesday, 3rd July. Destination: Blue Skye Farm B&B, Waldoboro, Maine

Breakfast with the bikers in Verona. That’s Verona Island across the river (where we ate last night). I revolted E&E by ordering oatmeal, which I have a soft-spot for. Plus, here I get to laden it down with maple syrup, brown sugar and raisins. Heading down the coast Edward was having bike problems: his front brake sticking. He had to stop and get it fixed. The first bike shop we came to didn’t look too hopeful, and the guy wasn’t going to put himself out by doing anything in a hurry, but none-the-less we decided that Edward would stay while Ewa & I press on to Belfast, 7 miles ahead, to see if the shop there could offer a speedier service. Well, it couldn’t. But on the bright side, our guy said Edward’s mechanic was probably the best in the area. We relayed this to him via the bike shop phone, and agreed that Ewa & I should press on at a leisurely pace and let Edward catch us up.

And so we had spinach savoury snacks in Belfast; lunch at a lovely old trading post in Lincolnville Center (where Ewa befriended the trading post dog); stopped for ice-cream in the pretty seaside town of Rockport; and enjoyed wending our way through more picturesque Maine countryside before arriving in Waldoboro just as we were beginning to feel a bit tired. The place we were staying, however, turned out to be a bit of a distance from the centre of town, one of those places that are always round the next corner. A very charming farmhouse B&B built in 1775, but in the middle of nowhere.

Edward arrived 45 minutes later, safe and sound but having neglected stopping for ice-cream and scenic views. We had to cycle our weary way back into town to eat, but were rewarded by good food, real ale and live bluegrass music, “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou” style, at the Narrows Tavern. A fine evening. Even the cycle back to the B&B in darkness, with a heaven full of stars above us and our blinking bike lights illuminating the road in front, seemed determined to compensate for the out-of-town inconvenience. I think it’s safe to say we slept like logs.

Day 3: Wednesday, 4th July. Destination: Maine Motel & Cabins, Lewiston, Maine

Breakfast at the Blue Sky Farm B&B was lovely, with fresh fruit, yoghurt, home-made pancakes and jam, eggs and fresh fruit juice. The sun was up, and my cycle clothes were drying on the line outside. The day was warm but uneventful: I remember a haddock roll basket with coleslaw and fries with root beer for lunch at a canteen-style diner in the one-horse town of Dresden Mills.

Onwards, into the grey drizzle countryside that seemed to surround Lewiston. An endless suburban road lined with low, grey buildings leading eventually to our motel, where our accommodation was one of a cluster of semi-detached white painted cottages which looked like they’d been modelled on those barometers that are made to look like Swiss Chalets - the ones where a man or a woman pops out of two little doors to let you know whether it’s going to rain or shine. But if that was cute enough, then the introduction to mini Tootsie Rolls at the check-in was sensational.

However, the place was a way out of town and a bit damp. We decided to phone out for pizza which was a sensible if rather dispiriting choice: pizza around here seems to be of the doughy and cheesy variety, which rapidly looses appeal even when hungry. No fireworks visible to celebrate the 4th, and damp cycle clothes struggling to dry on the backs of chairs completes the scene. Goodnight John-boy, goodnight Edward & Ewa.

Day 4: Thursday, 5th July. Destination: Oxford House B&B, Fryeburg, Maine

First hill climb today, over Streaked Mountain (approx 1,250ft). Looked very scary on the map’s route elevation profile, but not so bad in reality: we all managed it with some energy to spare. In fact, far tougher were the two smaller climbs afterwards which proved a point that Ewa & I were beginning to suspect: small steep climbs and “gently rolling hills” can be a lot more tiring than one big climb. Our longest day so far, at 67 miles, but the return of beautiful New England countryside lifted our spirits. I was riding ahead and feeling fit, so sped into town looking out for the Oxford House B&B. By the time I’d cycled out of town and crossed the state line into New Hampshire, I was beginning to suspect I’d overshot.

By the time I got back E&E had already checked in. Set back from the road, lined with trees and not numerically in sequence were about the best excuses I could muster for missing it, but no excuses were really needed: there were two luxurious suites for us, each with a large, deeply matressed bed, and a posh dinner in a dining room with views out to the mountains. A bit fancy for my taste (expensive mashed potatoes called “rumbledethumps” and a somewhat prim hostess who required us to be enthusiastic about them) but Edward enjoyed it all and was happy to supply enthusiasm. Despite finding myself a little grumpy I had to concede that it was good to sit at a handsome dining table with a glass of red wine in my hand and a well-starched napkin on my lap. Terrible night’s sleep, though: that deep mattress couldn’t disguise the noisy humming from a ventilation unit downstairs.

Day 5: Friday, 6th July. Destination: Red Sleigh Inn, Lincoln, New Hampshire

The day started with crossing our first state line into New Hampshire, and commemorative photos were taken. Our route took us to Conway, at the foot of the Kankamagus Pass. At 2,855ft this mountain has loomed over our map’s elevation profile, hurtling straight into the sky till yesterday’s climb looked like a foothill. We gauged the day accordingly, keeping it short. I was cycling a bit ahead, and waited for E&E outside a café in Conway (true to our unspoken rule never to pass a food-serving establishment without consultation). 20 minutes passed and they didn’t arrive, so I stepped out of the shade into the hot sunshine and stood at the crossroad for a further 20 minutes (true to our other unspoken rule that whoever was ahead should wait for the others at any major junction). By this time I was starting to worry. I flagged down a car but the driver, who had driven up from Fryeburg, had seen no other cyclists on the road that morning. The guy at the gas station wouldn’t let me go till he’d tried to contact Edward using his international phonecard, but without any luck. Eventually – as time was getting on – I decided to head off up the pass. It seemed to me that if E&E had got into any kind of trouble I’d have heard about it by now, so most likely they were already ahead of me, somehow having missed each other at the turn-off.

The pass turned out to be beautiful. The sun was shining, and the road followed the sparkling Swift River up a wide, forested valley. Families were out enjoying the day, swimming and picnicking. The incline was a long but pleasant grade and my bike just seemed to love it, urging me to pick up the tempo by responding enthusiastically to any increase in cadence. The climb seemed to go on and on, but apart from concerns about the whereabouts of E&E I was having a good day’s cycling. Nearing the summit, however, the weather changed dramatically - grey clouds rolled up the valley bringing with them the sound of thunder. It started to rain heavily. A break in the clouds – and the trees - showed me that I’d gained quite an altitude, with pine forests of the White Mountains all around. I plodded up the final ascent, and took a self-timer photo at the summit, clad in raingear.

The descent was pretty scary: the rain had stopped, but visibility was low and the road was wet and shiny. I seemed to spend a long time hurtling down the mountainside through a series of unprotected hairpins. Most of the time my hands were hovering over my brakes and for the rest were on them. And then, just as I reached the bottom and was heading into Lincoln, there was E&E, consulting Edward’s sat nav. I think it was a relief just to meet up again, so we didn’t really try to figure out what’d happened. We cycled into Lincoln together, and checked in to the lovely Red Sleigh B&B.

I'm writing this from an internet cafe bookshop in the Marketplace Mall while Edward & Ewa catch the new Die Hard movie (“Live Free Or Die” – as it happens, New Hampshire’s state motto) at the cinema next door. This is the closest we've come to a rest day so far, arriving in town at 3pm. We've crossed Maine already, and passed through some beautiful countryside dotted with picturesque hamlets, New England farmhouses and clear lakes bordered with pine forests. The cycling's been fine, bar Edward's brake problems. We're up in the mountains now, starting the day in bright sunshine and ending with thunderstorms. No sign of moose, though plenty of signs warning us of what to do if we meet them. Lots of colourful birds and chipmunks is about the extent of wildlife. Everyone has been super-friendly, and I think we're eating so much food we're actually putting on weight. But right now I really need to get some sleep...

Day 6: Saturday, 7th July. Destination: White Goose Inn, Orford, New Hampshire

We said cheerful goodbyes to our hosts Bill & Loretta at the Red Sleigh B&B heading out of town up the Lost River pass over Mt. Moosilauke. By now, these climbs are becoming second nature, almost. I was a bit ahead and noticed a couple of girls cycling up behind us. They passed E&E, and soon caught up with me. We started chatting, so I picked up my tempo a bit and they reduced theirs. They told me that local cyclists referred to the Kancamagus Pass as “The Kanc”, and they were planning to cycle up Mt. Moosilauke and down the other side, turn back, do the Kanc and back to Lincoln before meeting up with family in the nearby town of Woodstock (yes, that Woodstock). Just a nice morning’s cycle.

Well, by that time, my increased tempo was beginning to take its toll so I encouraged them to get on with it. Overtaken by girls; the humiliation. OK, so they were on racing bikes and carrying no luggage and pretty fit, but even so. Their friend, another girl, caught up with me soon after. She was the “unfit one” of the three, but soon overtook me too… seemed like I was rapidly running out of excuses for my plodding pace. When I got to the summit they were taking a break so we chatted some more before they hurtled off. I got out my camera to snap E&E reaching the top, and they responded by cycling side by side, holding hands for the photo. For the record, there was a museum up there where you could pan for gold (I just used the loo), and a crossing-point for the Appalachian Trail.

The rest of the day should have been short and easy, but Edward’s chain broke, then it started to pour with rain. And our bums were really beginning to hurt. We made it into the small town of North Haverhill where there was a bike shop, barely stopping to glimpse at the stunning New England barns red painted and solemn sitting amongst lush, green fields. At the bike shop Edward decided to replace his chain, and thus also his rear cassette. We took the opportunity to have a leisurely lunch at an oddly oversized fast-food café, which seemed big enough to serve as the Village Hall despite being mostly empty. You could have anything you wanted there, as long as it was deep-fried. We opted for the deep-fried veggies, with deep-fried curly-fries, deep-fried cheesy-stuffed potato skins and a side or two of (free!) popcorn. Mmm…

Onward to the town of Orford, on the Connecticut River. A strange little place, rather elegant yet strung out along a single street as if uncertain as to where the centre should be. As a result, we were uncertain where our B&B should be. But a combination of local helpfulness at the general store and Edward’s sat nav got us to the edge of town and the characterful White Goose Inn, a porch-encircled two-storey house with a narrow staircase leading up to our attic rooms. Our host Marshall seemed a little reticent at first – a trait we’d yet to come across on our journey – but he warmed up as the evening progressed, driving us the short distance across the river to Orford’s other half, Fairlee in Vermont, where the restaurants were. He drove us up and down the street before we chose a nice, homely place with a deck lit up with fairy lights, serving good beer and excellent grilled salmon. We walked back across the wide steel bridge in darkness; the river looking black and mysterious at it disappeared into the night, with fireflies picking out the riverbank with tiny points of light.

Day 7: Sunday, 8th July. Destination: Sweet Onion Inn, Hancock, Vermont

Our host at the White Goose continued to impress with a lovely home-made breakfast of excellent pancakes. We chatted with another guest, a friendly chap called Philip Potter – of whom more later (see post for 21st July) - as we stood on the porch fashioning cycle-helmet rain-covers out of cling film. The Connecticut River valley was peaceful and lovely, low mist clinging to the valley sides, surrounding us in a veil of rain-laden greyness which reminded me of Japanese paintings.

We crossed the river into Vermont by another steel bridge in East Thetford, and stopped for photos. Our route left the Connecticut and headed back into the hills, via a picturesque covered timber bridge (closed for repair, but we sneaked through). The rolling countryside, farmland and woodland continued to the College town of South Royalton, formed around a grandly-scaled yet welcoming grassy square lined on one side by two-storey stone-built shops and cafes, one of which had a deli selling a fabulous selection of veggie meals and snacks. We had Indian-style chickpeas and rice, which maybe doesn’t sound so special, but after a week of deep-fried food was simple the best thing ever. Served by cute College girls, too, which is always a bonus. Onwards passed the much anticipated Gaysville which regretfully failed to live up to its name in any way you choose to interpret it. Stockbridge, 4 miles later on, was a similar disappointment, bearing no likeness at all to its Edinburgh namesake. Not even a roadsign for a commemorative photo.

And so, a bit weary and with damp clothes, we arrived at the Sweet Onion Inn, Hancock, nestled in the White River valley. We got there early, but a note stuck to the door directed us to our rooms and bid that we make ourselves at home. We went through the by-now automatic daily ritual of showering and hand washing our cycle clothes before lounging on the living room sofas to await supper. Which turned out to be entirely vegetarian, in a pleasant if slightly earnest fashion – nachos with beans, home-made salsa and a variety of hot sauces from mild to crazy. Two veggie meals in a day: a coincidence, or is this how they roll in Vermont?

Day 8: Monday, 9th July. Destination: Super 8 Motel, Ticonderoga, New York

First thing in the morning our last mountain stage of this first map, over the impressively steep-looking Bread Loaf in the Green Mountains. The pass was at 2,000ft and it wasn’t effortless, though hardly as monstrous as our map’s near-vertical elevation profile would have us believe. Besides, I’m well stocked up with Clif energy bars and energy gel (Gü or sometimes Hammer), which – true to the label’s claim - gives an effective 45 minute energy boost. You have to get the timing right, though, as they take 15 minutes to kick in. This time, I took one 15 minutes before the top so missed the boost and had abundant energy for freewheeling downhill. D’oh!

The descent through lush, green forests took us through a scenic little hamlet called Ripton, where an old-fashioned general store offered worms, campwood and chewing tobacco. We stuck to Tootsie Rolls, Snickers and M&Ms, eating them on the porch. Continuing down the valley to Middlebury, a busy little market town, we avoided a shower by lunching at a general store which offered excellent cheese sandwiches. All very pleasant, so far, but as we headed towards Lake Champlain the temperature started to rise and it grew muggy. Tiring cycling weather. The last 20 miles were sluggish and hard work, despite tantalising views of the lake as we approached it and a nice ferry ride across to New York State. Ticonderoga was a welcome site. The Super 8 Motel, though, was right though town and up and out the other side, and by the time we reached it the temperature was soaring. We just collapsed on our large motel beds and watched TV in air-conditioned comfort till summoning the energy to go out again and eat.

Day 9: Tuesday, 10th July. REST DAY #1: Stonehouse Motel, Ticonderoga, New York

We chose a good day for a rest: thunder and lightening storms all over North America with strong winds and high humidity. Many fingers crossed that it’ll pass by tomorrow, but no-one seems to know: could be more of the same, but if there’s a storm tonight it could bring cooler weather or at least an end to the mugginess. Despite the heat, we follow Ewa’s lead by cycling out to Ticonderoga Fort, scene of many a chapter in America’s struggle for Independence from the French and the Brits. Commanding a panoramic view over Lake Champlain, it offers an enjoyable display of fife and drumming along with a museum (oh yes, the Scots were here too, battling away in their kilts) and a lovely flower garden, where Edward & I left Ewa so we could weblog at the local Library. We spent the afternoon avoiding a thunderstorm by hanging out on the porch of the Olde Mill Café, drinking beer and eating red pepper soup.

We then moved out of the bland Super 8 into a rather more groovy stone-built motel in town. There was a power-cut and storm clouds gathered. In the gloom of the temporarily lightless living room, we met up with a long-distance cyclist called Matt who was travelling the other way, and we compared notes while I coveted his shoes: Teva-style sandals with cycle cleats on the soles. My cycle shoes have been absorbing water like sponges, yet I’ve become addicted to those cleats: it’s a good feeling, clicking your shoes onto the pedals. Efficient and purposeful. Edward seems to think its all nonsense, like energy gel, designed to part impressionable cyclists from their money, and Ewa seems quite content as she is – so I must pursue my quest for the Perfect Shoe on my own. Edward has noted, quite correctly, that I find it hard to pass a cycle shop without popping in – who knows why? I think I just like the ambience. But now, at least, I have an excuse.

MAP 02 - Ticonderoga, NY to Lackawanna, NY

Day 10: Wednesday, 11th July. Destination: Aunt Polly’s B&B, Newcomb, New York

We left Ticonderoga at 6:45 am, hoping that getting out of the plain early would help us avoid the worst of the day’s heat and humidity. The road took us up a long, gradual incline into a raincloud-covered land of woods and lakes. The road passed occasional lakefront cabins and houses scattered amongst trees and comfortably dilapidated timber mooring decks, giving the place an end-of-season air though it was probably just midweek and rainy. Jolting me out of fog-bound reverie, a small dog came tearing out of nowhere onto the road, barking madly. At that same moment, a car came round the bend on collision course with the dog. A fraction of a second later a log came hurtling through the air aimed at the car, together with a loud shout. My heart was beating wildly. Whether or not the driver saw the log, or heard the shout, or come to think of it how the dog escaped without a scratch, I’ll never know: it all happened in an instant. The dog sped back up to the garden and the car whizzed past. The log lady neither cautioned her dog nor acknowledged my existence, but I left the scene with the distinct feeling that she thought the whole drama was somehow my fault.

A little while later I passed the lovely and mysterious Eagle Lake, on the look out for our breakfast stop in the town of Paradox. The town turned out to be no more than the solitary but welcome Paradox General Store, a timber building with a porch and a wooden bear carrying a sign saying ‘welcome’. I went in and ordered two egg muffins and a coffee, then wandered to the outhouse before looking back down the road to see E&E pulling up. Breakfast, after a 16 mile uphill start, was most welcome.

From there it was uphill into the Adirondacks. As it turned out, the sky remained overcast and relatively cool, and the humidity dropped so we survived the day in better shape than we’d feared. We passed a buffalo farm and took a break for coffee and to ask what the difference was between buffalo and bison. Not much, apparently. Just outside Newcomb hunger got the better of us and we stopped at a roadside store to share a large pizza. The timber shack exterior and low, dark’n’dingy interior made me suspect that this isn’t as well-off a town as some we’ve come through. A stale smell hung in the warm unconditioned air as the waitress bustled about, serving tray in one hand and flyswatter in the other. Thwack. That said, though, the pizza wasn’t bad. I just hope those were olives.

We ended the day at Aunt Polly’s B&B in Newcomb, a lovely and characterful place with equally characterful owners who shuddered at the thought of us dining at that roadside store. They sent us to the Newcomb Bar & Grill, where the only veggie item on the menu was tortilla chips covered with the kind of liquid cheese you get at cinemas – possibly the worst crime against food ever perpetrated. Now I don’t want to criticise, but this place made the roadside store look good. But I don’t want to dwell on the negative: there was beer and there was pool, which we played (badly), and rock’n’roll on the jukebox. ZZ Top’s ‘Tush’ and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s live version of ‘Freebird’ were my favourites. Back at the B&B, before heading off to bed, we watched half of the movie ‘U.S. Marshall’ on TV in the guest living room, where a full-size (toy) bear sat next to us on a comfortable armchair.

Day 11: Thursday, 12th July. Destination: Deer Meadows Motel, Inlet, New York

This is bear country, and everyone has a photo or two to show you of a bear wandering through their backyard. But we haven’t seen any yet – just a few chipmunk and some pretty flowers. First stop of the day was at the tourist town of Long Lake in order to drink coffee and check out the quality of local snacks. Pulling in to Hoss’s General Store, we saw a young man pushing a large, black bear across the yard in a shopping cart. Not a real one, as it turned out, but from a distance close enough to make you wonder – if just for a moment.

The Adirondacks are all lush forested mountains and crisp blue lakes. Lovely cycling country: the hills are just big enough to make you feel like you’re making an effort, without being so big as to wear you out. We passed Blue Mountain Lake, where people were fishing and rowing boats, enjoying the sunshine and quiet roads. Lunch at a rock’n’roll bar in Raquette Lake then on to the Meadow Motel outside a place called Inlet. Edward headed into town to have more work done on his bike (he’d been cycling most of the day with his front disk brake rubbing against the wheel, which would have driven me crazy), while Ewa and I checked out the lake across the road.

Some paddling was done (by Ewa), and then we wandered along to where a sign advertised flying-boat trips. Seeing the plane bobbing on the lake by the shore was all it took to convince us that this was an opportunity we’d regret not taking. So, a couple of hours later, the three of us were being whisked across the lake and into the air for a 20 minute loop over the surrounding lakes, forests and mountains. A lot of fun, and strangely disorientating to see from above the countryside we’d cycled through: roads and houses disappeared under the canopy of trees making the area look uninhabited as far as the eye could see. How on earth did we make our way through all that?

In the evening we ate at a rather posh restaurant at the eastern end of the Fulton Chain lakes, which Edward had discovered on his earlier cycle-mending foray into town. In an unexpected touch, the place provided crayons to doodle on the paper placemats. We drew some flowers. As dusk fell, Adirondack chairs set alongside the grassy shore provided an almost too picturesque location to watch the sun set across golden waters, till we were left in fairy lights and darkness - before having to belt home to rescue our almost-dry clothes from an unexpectedly heavy shower.

Day 12: Friday, 13th July. Destination: Headwaters Motor Lodge, Boonville, New York

I don’t know at what point precisely we left the Adirondacks, but it happened sometime today. Probably heading out of Old Forge, a largish town at the Western end of the lakes, where we stopped for breakfast (two eggs, scrambled, with white toast, home-fries and coffee). On the plus side leaving was mostly descent, but I’m going to miss the pretty scenery. One more picturesque stop of note by Moose River, where we skimmed stones and watched Edward scramble easily across rocks to a mid-stream island to then get stuck on his way back. I actually wanted to join him, but was too chicken and, yes, I didn’t have a pair of who-cares-about-getting–wet tevas on my feet. One day I’ll find them…

The last 10 miles of the day were tiring for Ewa & I: perhaps the combination of a slight headwind (first we’ve really come across), plus uphill at the end of the day was enough to put the snail in our pace. So it was good to arrive in Boonville, despite joining the first major road in a good while and having to follow it out of town before arriving at our motel. Comfy enough place, though; plus the walk into town wasn’t bad at all, taking us past characterful townhouses into the faded grandeur of a rather ramshackle main street. We hung out at Chatty Cathy’s Internet Café, blogging to lounge music, before eating veggieburgers and fries at a chrome-and-red-leather banquette in Freddie’s rock’n’roll Diner. We listened to The Beatles “I Saw Her Standing There” on the jukebox, and drank chocolate milkshakes. On a note more The Omen than Happy Days, we were accompanied most of the way home by a very large and somewhat frightening black dog. Even Ewa, our resident dog-lover, was a bit ill at ease. Fortunately it got bored of us and wandered off down a darkened side street, no doubt to transform into a werewolf.

Day 13: Saturday, 14th July. Destination: Driftwood Motel, Pulaski, New York

First stop, the small town of Osceola for the 36th annual turtle race. We arrived just as they were getting ready for the Big Day, painting a large circle track on the town square and setting out a bunch of stalls with turtle-related t-shirts, tablecloths and cookies. Some friendly folks with a metal washtub full of turtles explained the rules: 1) Put your turtle on the track and the first one round wins; 2) Drink lots of beer. E&E sponsored a turtle, but I’m sorry to say we couldn’t stick around to watch it race. A short way out of town a couple we’d met drove past in their pick-up and stopped to tempt us away from the road with the offer of an afternoon of beer drinking. Most sociable, but I declined on behalf of the three of us – after all, E&E don’t drink – and besides I’m getting far too puritanical to let beer-related pleasure detract from the miles we have to cover. Still, we’d taken a liking to the good folks of Osceola, and it seemed a shame to leave the fun behind.

Plenty more to look at on the road to Pulaski. Large tracts of woodland subdivided into plots inhabited by cabins, trailers, caravans with d.i.y. pitched roofs, burner-out bungalows, prim timber-framed houses bedecked with a multitude of doo-dads (flags, toy windmills, welcome signs), houses that looked like the Creepy Coupe from the Wacky Races, all with lawns strewn with animal figurines (deer, bear, flamingos), broken-down cars, car-boot-sale junk, old tractors and engine parts, and creatively decorated mailboxes.

Our motel in Pulaski (pr. sky) had red carpet on the walls, sluggish a/c and the kind of look that only a total lack of care can produce. It would seem that people staying here aren’t too picky. In town we dined on sweet corn, beans and curly fries at a near-empty sports bar. Some guys were playing pool rather badly in the next room, but after our dismal performance at the Newcomb Bar & Grill we weren’t about to take them on. We’re almost at Lake Ontario, and I can’t figure out why this town exists, being so close to ports and rivers, yet removed from both. Maybe there’s some closed-down industry I don’t know about, but this place feels like a ghost-town.

Day 14: Sunday, 15th July. Destination: Carriage House Inn, Sodus Point, New York

Three miles to Selkirk and breakfast within a stones-throw of Lake Ontario, still frustratingly out of sight. Short stack of blueberry pancakes for Edward & I, which turned out to be of epic proportion and defeated us half way through. We had them wrapped to go, and I managed to disgust Edward by eating mine cold and doughy a little further down the road. A long day in the saddle (69 miles) with a mild but persistent headwind for most of it, but the cycling was fairly flat. We stopped for lunch in Fulton, an unremarkable town redeemed by a long, wide bridge and a characterful red-neck family diner where I managed to disgust E&E again by choosing oatmeal for lunch.

16 miles further down the road we reached Fair Haven, technically on Lake Ontario but once again keeping it just out of sight. We stopped at a pretty, white-painted art gallery - because a sign outside promised a café - and made our way through the lobby past sundry local paintings to a small servery area where a matronly lady stood in front of an impressively shiny espresso machine. Good news, as strong coffee is hard to come by in these parts: most diners preferring to serve the translucently weak filter variety. The good news was short-lived, though, as the lady had no idea how to use the machine and proposed to use the filter beside it. Edward (knowing about such things) wanted to help, but the lady was stubbornly resistance to his advances. I sloped out of the gallery clutching a plate of muffins, resigning myself to filter; but Edward was persistent and about 20 minutes later came out of the front door proudly bearing three hard-earned cups. Meanwhile, Ewa had more success across the street, bringing back delicious ice-creams. I have a feeling we sung some ice-cream related song as we headed out of town, but I could be mistaken.

Finally we reached Sodus Point and our first evening on Lake Ontario. Our B&B was a lovely house in a perfectly manicured neighbourhood. We ate at a lakeside restaurant, were people arrived by speedboat. It seems to me that by reaching the first of the Great Lakes I’ve successfully crossed the first discernable chunk of my journey – at least, from the perspective of a US wall-map. It has been good so far, and apart from a few itchy insect bites on my legs, all is well.

Day 15: Monday, 16th July. Destination: Econolodge, Brockport, New York

Another long day in the saddle for us, at 75 miles. We left our B&B early after breakfast and cycled a short distance before pulling in at the general store & gas station in Pultneyville. I’d though we’d just be picking up snacks and heading on, but Ewa had other ideas and was next seen heading towards the seating area clutching large beakers of coffee. Up to this point our snacking/resting/eating routines have been remarkably in-synch, but with only 10 miles on the odometer and a long day ahead I was eager to press on, and so I fidgeted grumpily as E&E took their time chatting to locals and sipping their drinks. They eventually relented, and 21 miles later we arrived at the Mormon town of Palmyra, a distinguished red-brick Main Street setting it apart from many of the places we’ve been through lately. We ate ice creams in a corner shop and a guy took our photo for the local paper.

Palmyra marks the point where we join the Erie Canalway Trail which takes us 91 miles to Lockport, 20 miles east of Niagara Falls. We dropped down out of hot sunshine into the welcome cool shade of a tree-lined towpath which took us all the way to Fairport on the outskirts of Rochester, at a population of 219,773 quite the largest place we’ve come through so far. Here we found a fabulous place to eat, ‘Alladins on the Canalside’. Falafel, pita bread and hummus! Such a welcome change from fried food. We’d been looking out for it since Matt the cyclist we’d met in Ticonderoga had said how good it was. There were ducks waddling about on the towpath and Fairport locals keeping the place busy. Ewa took a photo of Edward & I sitting with our plates in front of us, and our faces glow with the kind of anticipation normally reserved for Christmas Dinner.

The next part of the day took us through the historic industrial areas of Pittsford and Rochester, now pretty quiet with wooded parks to wind through and rusted bridges to cross. As the afternoon wore on, we returned to countryside where the slowly curving Canalway Trail took us steadily to Brockport, our progress being measured by road bridges crossing us at approximately 1 mile intervals. Brockport was a welcome sight, and looked promisingly interesting from the canalside. But the place had little in the way of groovy alternative places to eat. What was I thinking? Alladins must have gone to my head. We had to cycle a couple of miles back from the canal to reach our motel and couldn’t really summon the energy to do more than watch TV and sleep. Well, it had been a long day, but tomorrow takes us to Niagara Falls and our final rest day together.

Day 16: Tuesday, 17th July. Destination: Budget Inns, Niagara Falls, New York

Cycling along the restored canalway has been a real pleasure, though 91 miles of gravel track has taken it’s toll on our bottoms. I composed a song entitled “(I’ve Gotta) Sore Butt (And My Butt Is Sore)”, and sang several dozen choruses to keep myself going. No cars and some people walking have provided a nice change. Early morning today, a flock of Canada Geese flew in formation down the canal, passing us in elegant silence. We saw beaver, squirrels, chipmunk and an abundance of ducks and geese.

The last day of our cycle trip together took us past elevator bridges that opened upwards to let boats pass underneath, past locks, and past more small towns serving the boating community. Arriving in Lockport, we had a steep ascent past a large lock that marked the end of our Erie adventure, and then rejoined the world of cars and roads. Welcome enough, at least by our bums, though the peace and quiet will be missed. The final 20 miles to Niagara Falls were straight and uneventful, passed flat, green fields dotted with woodland. It started to rain as we negotiated the grey, industrial outskirts and major road intersections approaching Niagara. It seemed that according to the ACA map we were almost in the centre, yet all we saw were huge areas of electric transformers and concrete overpasses.

As has become our routine on this trip, I usually cycle ahead navigating with the current panel of our unfolding series of maps displayed in the transparent cover of my handlebar bag. Ewa is behind me and Edward usually brings up the rear – not because he’s not Mr Muscle, I hasten to add – have you seen his calves recently? - but (and this is conjecture because I never asked) to make sure there were no stragglers left behind. At any questionable junction I’d wait for E&E and, if necessary or for the purpose of reassurance, consult with Edward who had the same route unfolding on his sat nav. The limitation of the printed map becomes evident when it’s necessary to go off-route, or the town is slightly more complex than the 4m/1” scale can illustrate (I suspect that’s what happened back at the foot of the Kanc). At such points Edward would take over using his sat nav, and that’s what he did here. He took us up and over a fabulous abandoned bridge into the heart of the somewhat seedy and dilapidated old town till we finally found our Motel on the edge of the tourist strip. We made it! Celebration commenced in the motel room with a jumbo bag of doritos and an extra-large can of beer for me, phone-texting for Edward and TV watching for Ewa.

After the usual shower and clothes wash procedure we walked into town to admire the Falls, which revealed themselves dramatically at the far end what would otherwise have been an ordinary city park. Quite mesmerising, watching the sheer weight of water pound down into the gorge below. Still, you know, we’re cyclists at the end of a 71 mile day and hungry, so enough with the view, already: where’s the food? We chowed down at the unexpectedly charmless Niagara Centre, which had all the character of a partly closed-down 1980’s shopping mall. Its saving grace being an Indian buffet which, although about to close and just about run out of food, served us some rice, naan and veggie curry on polystyrene plates. Don’t say we don’t know how to party.

Day 17: Wednesday, 18th July. REST DAY #2: Budget Inns, Niagara Falls, New York

Breakfasted at Denny’s across the road from our Motel at the Days Inn. Annoyingly expensive considering it was just regular roadside diner fare, but there was nowhere else around. After that, we took a turn on the tourist boat Maid of the Mist, getting up close and personal with the Falls. We had fun with our blue plastic ponchos (yes, three people can fit into one) and generally acted like tourists. Afternoon spent blogging with Edward back at the Niagara Centre, where they crammed a small row of computers into what looked like a service corridor off the lift hall. Ewa had better sense and took herself on a balloon ride to look at the falls from above.

We had planned to go and see the new Harry Potter film in the evening, but film times clashed with our desire to siesta back at the motel (I wanted to lounge around with another jumbo bag of doritos and another extra-large can of beer and Ewa was content watching episodes of Star Trek: Next Generation on the SciFi Channel). But this is the last night the three of us will spend together on this trip - tomorrow I head West towards Lake Erie and E&E start the final part of their journey North through Canada to Toronto - so we dined out at the rather swanky Red Coach Inn courtesy of Philip Potter of Greenwich Massachusetts, who gave us $100 to have dinner on him. We met him back in Orford, New Hampshire at the White Goose Inn, remember? He served in Italy and the UK during World War 2, where “those scrounging Brits” left him with some fond memories. We’re happy to keep those scrounging traditions alive! Thank you, Mr Potter.

MAP 03 - Lackawanna, NY to Monroeville, IN

Day 18: Thursday, 19th July. Destination: Lighthouse Inn, Irving, New York

From the moment I woke up, a sense of transition was in the air. Packing panniers as usual – except this time I was doing it on my own. Mixed feelings as I pedalled away from the motel: half panic (will I survive on my own?) and half liberation (I’m now free to eliminate those post-breakfast pre-brunch coffee breaks!). Couldn’t help feeling a bit vulnerable, and certainly alone: there’s comradeship in the face of things going wrong (punctures, getting lost etc) that could be tough – even scary - to do without.

And so I headed off alone into Canada across the beautiful Rainbow Bridge. A brief visit along the Niagara Parkway then back into the US over the Peace Bridge into Buffalo. Not the prettiest of towns. Overcast weather, a brisk headwind and my second puncture of the trip didn't lighten my mood. However, just as things were looking down what do I see but a small sign by the roadside directing me towards the Frank Lloyd Wright estate of Graycliff, on the coast of Lake Erie. I stopped by just in time for the 2o'clock tour. Not, perhaps, the greatest of FLLW's house designs but full of interesting details as you'd expect. Nice metal-framed corner windows opening up to give uninterrupted views of the lake.

After all the pretty New England scenery, the road following Lake Erie seemed a little bleak. My first night's solo accommodation was equally unpromising - a two-storey prefabricated box of a building divided from the main road by a car lot. No town to speak of; just a gas station and a road junction further back down the road and a diner further up. The whole thing pretty much devoid of anything you could loosely call scenery. It just sat there, a place without context. The forlorn whistle of trains heading west (or east) a little way behind my window provided just the right tone to compliment the kind of room that felt like it had never seen better days. My neighbour had been living there for a couple of weeks, doing some local work. It was hard to imagine there was any work around here for him to do.

Day 19: Friday, 20th July. Destination: Vernondale Motel, 7m W of Erie, Pennsylvania

On, briefly, through Pennsylvania for my bike's 1st 1000 mile checkup in a place called North East to the lovely Vernondale Motel, a little East of Erie. The Lake County bike shop in North East was one of those places that the second you walk in you know you're in safe hands: some kids were hanging out talking about an upcoming bike race, and the tech guy / owner knew them all and - as became evident - was involved in organising the local bike club. He was busy, but the second he realised I was doing the coast-to-coast he put down what he was doing and gave my bike a thorough check-up, throwing in some maintenance advice for free. I couldn't help thinking of how, in these secular times, places like this have taken on the community role of churches, and this bike guy was doing a good job of keeping the local tearaways on the straight and narrow.

Well, with such uplifting thoughts and my gears meshing smoothly I cleared the city of Erie popping out the other side ending up at the Vernondale Motel. Stuck a bit out in suburban nowhere, it had charm sufficient to compensate for it's location: The old lady at the front desk offered me a cyclist's discount and a fresh squeezed glass of orange juice and the room was pure 1950's, with one wall (behind the bed) a giant technicolor print of pines, lakes and mountains and everywhere else collectable 50s lamps and chairs. Neat-o mosquito.

Day 20: Saturday, 21st July. Destination: Rider’s Inn, Painesville, Ohio

Today I'm on the road to Painesville, just East of Cleveland. Stopped at the fancy new Conneaut library to get some weblogging done, heading on to Ashtabula for coffee and muffins. As a consequence, I've been singing Bob Dylan's 'You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go' all morning:

"I'll look for you in old Honolulu,
San Francisco, Ashtabula,
You're gonna have to leave me now, I know.
But I'll see you in the sky above,
In the tall grass, in the ones I love,
You're gonna make me lonesome when you go."

Had the good fortune to take a break at the Harbor Perk café, a smart place serving excellent coffee. I chatted to the owner and his wife about the contradiction of coffee in the US: everyone loves it, but the stuff served is generally weak, filtered and totally lacking in perk - unless you drink 3 or 4 mugs. Which, come to think of it, might explain the general free refill policy…

Beautiful weather all the way to Painesville. Cyling along straight, narrow roads that curiously criss-crossed alongside the lake required a certain amount of map-checking but in the end it was just a case of peddling to the next junction, stopping to puzzle over the unmarked roads, then pedaling on. I passed a couple on a recumbent tandem (first time I've seen one of those) who looked like serious coast-to-coasters, so I reckoned I was on the right road. Pulling into the town square in Painsville, on the Eastern outskirts of Cleveland, it looked like they were gearing up for a town fair. Quite the picturesque little University town, I rode my way passed marquees and stalls to Rider's Inn, an elegant looking place whose charm was rather compromised by the steely-smiled proprietor who, in my mind, rather traded on history, chintz and self-conscious quirkiness to justify high cost and low maintenance.

As you may have noted, I've yet to be won over by these 'characterful' historic Inns of North America. They originally came in to being to provide inexpensive accommodation for travelers; but it's the simple, family-run motels that have won my heart so far, carrying the torch for this essential service.

Day 21: Sunday, 22nd July. Destination: Motel Plaza, Vermilion, Ohio

Today I trundled over the pitted and bumpy roads of suburban Cleveland, stopping off to visit the Cleveland Museum of Art, a rather fine early 70's building by Marcel Breuer, unfortunately (for me) currently under extensive renovation and mostly closed. However, there was one small gallery open, showing an exhibition called Icons of American Photography. Some really stunning photographs from the dust-bowl days through to classic pictures of Yosemite, amongst many others. I arrived at the Museum as I reached the first quarter stage of my TransAmerica trip, and it seemed an appropriate way to mark the event.

Since my last post, the weather's turned for the better. Three days of clear skies and sunshine, tempered by a cool breeze coming in off the lake. My daily mileage is going up as the roads get flatter (E&E&I were averaging 55m per day, but I'm doing between 75 and 80 right now). Today’s destination is Vermillion, on the very Western outskirts of Cleveland. I can report that there is nothing in Vermillion (on my route, at any rate) except for a simple, friendly motel and a place to eat, each on either side of a wide stretch of open road.

Day 22: Monday, 23rd July. Destination: Days Inn, Bowling Green, Ohio

Here I am in the Public Library of the little town of Clyde, Ohio - 30 miles or so inland from Lake Erie. The lake's behind me now, and I'm heading into farming land, which means straight roads and no hills. As a couple of cyclists said to me the other day, "it's all flat from here till you get to the Rockies."

Memories of Lake Erie will be affected by the fact that I didn't really get to see too much of it, the coast road being mostly one row of houses away from the water's edge, so the most you get is glimpses between buildings and trees. But maybe it's better that way: the endless expanse might have been a bit much over four days.Talking of endless expanses, though, I have a feeling that's what's coming my way: "I'm sure it's great cycling, if you enjoy looking at fields of corn and sunflowers" as one guy said to me at the Donut shop in Huron this morning...

...Continuing on from my Clyde library blog of earlier today, Bowling Green turned out to be a University Town and the Days Inn a couple of miles out of town at the Interstate. Always a bit of a drag to have to cycle back into town after showering and changing and relaxing, I ended up cycling half-way back, passed the campus to a falafel hut I'd seen earlier. Tasty, but not amazing. ‘London Calling’ by The Clash was playing on the radio, which was cool, but when I noted this to the student behind the counter he looked at me blankly and said "Who are The Clash?" What are they teaching college kids these days?

Day 23: Tuesday, 24th July. Destination: Cyclists Lodging, City Park, Monroeville, Indiana

Another long, flat day with nothing much of interest to look at. Passed through places called Napoleon and Defiance, alongside the Maumee river. Endless fields of corn and soya. Passed into Indiana at the end of the day, without sign or fanfare. Just more fields and narrow roads, one of which suddenly turned into loose gravel (not so comfortable on road wheels), occasional oncoming cars kicking up white dust from miles away.

Monroeville has made its mark on the Northern Tier for us coast-to-coasters by way of a rare and rather marvelous cyclist-only hostel in the town park. Free to use, with a laundry, kitchen, shower and a TV. What a great idea! One of the wardens, Jennifer, let me in and gave me a key, and seeing as how I was the only one there, left me to make myself at home. I lazed around, read, and watched a thunder storm pass by.

Day 24: Wednesday, 25th July. REST DAY #3: Cyclists Lodging, City Park, Monroeville, Indiana

Rest day; new map. Washing clothes, eating pancakes. Slept in till 8:30am! Visited the library not to blog, but to do some email and download ACA (Adventure Cycling Association) updates: the ACA maps I'm using have all kinds of essential information such as accommodation & phone numbers on the rear but of course these get out-of-date so the free updates are quite important. As is becoming the ritual on a 'new-map' day, I sat down and planned the next section, booking motels for the next week. A quiet, lonely kind of day: I never notice being alone when I'm cycling, but on a rest day it's sort of unavoidable. Perhaps that's why so many cyclists end up taking less days off. I think I'd expected some company, this being one of the few cyclist shelters on the entire coast-to-coast route, and had been looking forward to the opportunity to trade traveler's tales. As it was, in the evening the hall was used for a town meeting: they didn't seem to mind a cyclists cot set up in the corner.

As I was heading out of town the next morning, a woman from the local paper took my photo for next week's edition. Unfortunately, they don't do an internet version, but she's going to send a copy to my home address. Fame!

MAP 04 - Monroeville, IN to Muscatine, IA

Day 25: Thursday, 26th July. Destination: Shelton Inn, Peru, Indiana

This section of map, crossing Indiana and Illinois, has been difficult to plan. Usually, the ACA route connects sufficient points of accommodation to keep the mileage even, give or take the odd day that's either too short or too long. But for some reason, this one cuts across farmland as if the game were to avoid habitation at all costs, which has lead me to plan an unprecedented five diversions over the 6 days it'll take me to reach Muscatine. Despite my best efforts, accommodation dictated that today's mileage was either 37 or 85. I chose 85, which meant an early start and a long day in the saddle.

Turning the bend out of Monroeville past the ice-cream store took me onto 30 miles of straight and narrow road, passing field after field of knee-length corn together with occasional fields of ground-hugging green stuff. Other than that the only things that changed were the sign boards for brand-name genetically-modified seeds set alongside the road. Hypnotic. But then, a sudden turn took me passed a military base of some sort and across the Salamonie Dam into a small but pretty state forest. The cool, shaded road made for a pleasant change. At this point, I headed off on Diversion No.1 to take me to Peru via Wabash. Now, endless fields on straight roads is all very well but this route of mine was an unexpected treat: Wabash turned out to be an eccentric little town not only proud to bill itself "The First Electrically Lighted City in the World," but also featured statues of elephants along the downtown sidewalks. Turns out, the statues mark the 5-day countywide jaunt of an escaped circus elephant called Modoc back in 1942. Great little café too, called Modoc's Market, serving homemade fruit smoothies.

After that, a lengthy and slightly tiring route along the wide Wabash river valley with leafy trees to provide shade and frame views. No idea why the map makers avoided this pleasant diversion. Got a bit down on arrival at my motel because it was right the way through Peru and out of town on a strip mall full of Arbys & Wendys & McDonalds & no veggie places & no beer. Until I found, tucked away and unannounced, the 'Mandarin Buffet' serving Szechuan tofu and Tsingtao beer…

Day 26: Friday, 27th July. Destination: Knights Inn, Rensselaer, Indiana

Overcast, humid day, and kind of tiring. Neglected to check the map before heading off and ended up cycling 30 miles before breakfast, the unwavering straight road taking a shuffle past Fletcher Lake, a picturesque little fishing & caravan place in the middle of nowhere. A little run-down, in a comfortable-old-shoe kind of way. It even had its own little hill! Pretty hungry before arriving at Ma & Pa's Diner in Royal Centre (Diversion No.2).

Out of Royal Centre it was all straight roads and fields till another little jiggle to cross the Tippecanoe river at Buffalo, where the general store owner was the first I'd met so far to be frankly unimpressed by my journey. It rained in the afternoon, but that's not so bad as it cleared the air. Straight on to Rensselear (Diversion No.3), featuring a nice looking town square with a cute independent cinema, but my place was 3 miles out of town by the Route 65 Interstate. Shame, but in recompense the Knight's Inn assistant manageress, Leia, recommended the Mexican place (Los 3 Garcia) next door to eat and it turned out to be tip-top serving veggie tostadas with guacamole and refried beans. Back at my motel, a bunch of rednecks kept me awake talking loudly till late right outside my door. All good contextual detail, I'm sure, but not when all I wanted was to get to sleep.

Day 27: Saturday, 28th July. Destination: Watseka Motel, Watseka, Illinois

So here I am in Illinois, home of Barak Obama and title of my current favourite CD, 'Come On Feel The Illinoise' by Sufjan Stevens. I've been anticipating this for some time. Will the inspiration touch me? Will it feel somehow different, more connected to the pulse (or dream) of a Bush-free alternative America? Well, let's see.

These past few days the weather's been overcast and humid. Rain's been lurking on the horizon and caught up with me yesterday afternoon. Probably not the best conditions to enjoy the experience of crossing the farmlands of Indiana. But despite that, people have been very friendly and always willing to start up a conversation. I've cycled past field after field of corn and field after field of soya. I've been chased by more farm dogs than I care to count. One thing's for sure: dogs round here love to bark and chase cyclists. So far, I've survived without any bitten ankles, but those critters sure come at you at one heck of a pace.

I'm currently taking a break from farmland in the Watseka library, Illinois (near Iroquois, just over the state line, and Diversion No.4). No obvious difference between Indiana and Illinois so far - the fields and farmlands continue. The country's basically flat, undulating with gradual ups and downs. The roads criss-cross the land and my route is mostly a series of straight lines punctuated by right-angled corners. Almost all the roads are numbered, so my map directions go something like "twelve miles straight along 900south, turn left, three miles straight along 500west, turn right, ten miles straight along 1125south..." Maybe every 20 miles or so there'll be a gas station where I can fill up on water and cookies.

Getting back to those friendly people I mentioned, at a gas station in Lake City, Ohio, I met a guy who'd lived in Aberdeen in the 1970s while working on the North Sea oil rigs. He had fond memories of cold winters in Scottish B&Bs where the heaters were coin operated. One farmer just outside Hoagland, Indiana (nr. Monroeville) told me that the green, leafy crop I'd been passing for miles was soya. He said corn and soya are nowadays being grown for ethanol, as an alternative to gasoline for cars. Apart from the obvious financial benefits, he reckoned it'd be good for America to be a little less dependant on foreign oil. As we talked, fighter jets thundered overhead from Fort Wayne reserve military base, and the landscape I'd been cycling through took on a larger perspective.

Another farmer, quite an old chap, told me that he'd never left Indiana. I got talking to him at Ma & Pa's Family Diner in Royal Center. His father died when he was 16, and he'd been working on the farm ever since. He reminded me of the actor Walter Brennan:
"I've never met someone from Scotland before. (Pause.) Where did you say you came from?"
I could've stayed drinking coffee with him all day, but those miles won't cycle themselves.

Day 28: Sunday, 29th July. Destination: Town & Country Inn, Streator, Illinois

Another long day, with a return to sunshine and heat. Frustration with backroad dogs has kept me to the slightly bigger (and certainly straighter) state highways for a while. Cycle-friendly shoulders and only occasional traffic make them quite a pleasant change. Lunch at a colourful town fair in Odell, where I met up with a 21-year-old cyclist from Washington doing the coast-to-coast west to east. He was carrying a tent (as most do) and was trying to hook up with the local mayor to obtain permission to camp in the town park. We ate fries under a marquee and shared cycling stories. Just as I was leaving, I heard his name being mentioned on the fair's p.a., something along the lines of "this guy's cycling across America…" I reckoned he was going to be well looked after.

Out of town, after passing a vintage Standard Oil station on the famous Route 66, I met another couple of cyclists heading east. All said they'd had days of headwinds over the trip, and I've heard that before. I should remember that when people say "you're heading the wrong way!" Some way off-route (final Diversion, No.5) the Town & Country Inn in Streator was nothing special, despite the fancy vintage signage. The bar was dark and smelled of chlorine from the indoor pool (currently closed). There was nothing to eat on the strip mall, so I ended up at the thoroughly depressing fast-food chain Long John Silver's seafood restaurant. A food low for the journey so far.