Friday, 10 August 2012

Little things are big

America is big. When I chatted with people in pubs in London about our plans for this year I usually began with, 'First we cross America.' 4 days and 200 miles in, this seems more than a challenge. We will have to up our average considerably if we are going to make California before it's time to catch a flight out of the country. When I have read about others undertaking physical challenges they talk about the mental challenge. Now I am beginning to understand.

As I write this I am sat on the veranda of an abandoned log cabin at a campsite sheltering from a down pour. I can hear frogs croaking. Our tent is holding up but it's too humid and bejou to hang out. James has emptied the contents of his front cycle bag so is now happy he has something to organise.

Our New York train arrived in Richmond on Wednesday night. Matthew (Fran's brother) had incredibly kindly takeon the quest of finding us a bed for the night. He met us from the train and took us to his friends Todd and Kate's house. Some initiative for a 19 yer old. Kate is British and met her husband Todd when they were both in Russia. They helped us with everything possible from a lap top to maps and tips like signs in towns labelled 'business' mean town centre. This turned out to be a well-used tip.

So on August 1st we set off - cycling across the States. We were waved off by the Weinberg family and it really did feel like being waved off by family. We headed west from the beautiful suburbs of Richmond towards the hills.

Day one was hot -really hot. We were cycling under the midday sun. Rolling hills and scorching heat and soon I had a headache. Lesson 1 of many: always drink enough.

60 miles later we arrived in Charlottesville. We walked down the high street of the pretty university town. Two guys wrapped in Lycra called over to us. Roger and Alan were nearing the end of their Trans-America cycle and the first of five parties we have met doing the same thing. Turns out loads of people do this every year. Roger is 62 and after four days had called his wife to ask her to pick him up. But he persevered and now 3 days from the end he said could never have got into such good condition any other way and looking back he'd enjoyed the majority of the ride. I knew I'd need his story later. Alan and Roger had organised a place to stay , who happened to be Steve, through He had space for us too. It was all coming together.

Steve was a really sweet guy. An engineer with a shy dog called Bean who'd been rescued from an animal shelter. He was also hosting Ben who had just started his crossing. He was more prepared than us and had sewn his own cycling hats by following a video on YouTube. Isn't the internet amazing. Ben also had the all-important maps that everyone (apart from us) has.

Day 2 we headed for the mountains. A local cyclist, Neil, stopped us and told us what to expect. He was excited about our trip and again said he'd follow the blog. Every person we meet gives me more motivation to make it. We cycled up hill for 3 miles to reach the Blue Ridge Parkway - a road built by Roosevelt to give people jobs in the Great Depression. The road goes nowhere though it's 'awful pretty' and bloody hilly. Magnificent views, a glorious day, relatively fresh legs - what a way to start our trip.

We stayed in Vesuvius that night. A tiny place with a river and a store. The store was called Gurties's and was clearly the centre of life in the not so explosive village. Tammy was the madam of the establishment giving a warm welcome, cooking traditional American fair and welcoming locals and cyclists alike. We met a Swedish guy who was also crossing America. Everyone is at it. He had the all important maps. I did my best to use my non-photographic memory to have a look at them each time.

We camped in the field behind Gurties's. Potaloo and hose - all you need really. James spotted a wasp's nest behind the hose and offered to get rid of it for Tammy. He did and she was so pleased she offered us the use of her swimming pool. We didn't in the end as we were caught up watching fire flies or lightening bugs, the stars and a deer. Amazing.

Day 3 was beautiful cycling up hill and down dale. We met more Trans-American cyclists. Lauren and Pete were teachers who have decided to quit their jobs to study . They were cycling to their new home in Boston. Their stuff had gone before them. Lauren said that when they'd started they'd done 30 or 40 miles a day. Again I thought - if she can - I can. Lauren and Pete also had the all important maps and when she found we didn't they offered to mail us their spare set. An offer we will take her up on. Thank you guys.

It was after we met these two that we decided we'd ask the people we met a common question. As we're teachers it is going to be 'If you were going to teach the world one thing, what would it be?'. I will post the video responses as we go.

We also met Alex and Jim. They were also nearly done but had lost two of their party on the way. Ours is definitely a team effort. Like the Bristish cycling team. It's about getting the both of us across with no drop outs.

Our stop for the night was Buchanan a 'quintessentially Mid West town'. We cycled into town across a bridge straight to a canoe centre. I asked 'Can we swim here?'. Not only could we swim but we could camp, and use the hose to shower and go for beers at The Copper Top bar just across the street. We hung out here for the night and met some great locals including Tammy, Mandy and Butch. A tobacco chewing, funny and kind mid-town guy. We managed to squeeze in three river swims during our one night stay. Swim hat and goggles essential.

Day 4 was long and hard but only 40 miles. Most of today I felt like stopping and having a sleep. Even had a little cry at one point. James had asked me if I was ok as I seemed a bit quiet, then a truck beeped at me and I was tired after my lunch. Enough to send anyone over the edge. Just at the point when I was ready to cry more we pulled into a church to fill up on water. A car pulled in with a tandem on the roof. Becky and Neil were enthusiastic cyclists who again were full of tips, encouragement and the welcome news that we were minutes from various lunch options. They were originally from New England and liked the idea that they'd saved us from the church.

So after a shorter day we stopped in Dixies' Cavern camp ground. We ate spaghetti with a chopped up red pepper. Minimalist but everything tastes better after miles on the road.

On reflection after the first few days this journey has reminded me that it is the little things that matter. Because it is the little things that become bigger. As human beings we find it hard to conceive of big things and America is so big. There are so many different people. It is hard to imagine that we can cross it by bike, but all we can do is keep pedalling every day and enjoy the ride. It's the same with any long term goal - you need a lot of motivation to get you there. Children need a lot of motivation to work hard at school to get their best chance in life - even when it's difficult and boring. Most get this from their parents and others have to rely on school or themselves. It is also the little things between people that count. Being kind all the time is important as that's how you show kindness and care and everyone always notices, be it a thank you, a wait at the top of a hill or an offer of a place to stay.

And it is all those little moments along the way that will give me the steel to keep going even if things are difficult. I'm sure I'll need a lot of them as our journey continues. So thank you to all the people we have met who have offered encouragement and help and those at home who are following our adventure.

I hope that in future we can repay the love we have been shown and give that confidence back to others. As they say in Bugsy Malone .. 'You give a little love and it all comes back to you'.


  1. wow Mari, very proud of you! Keep going, what an amazing achievement it will be xx

    1. Is that cousin Char or teacher Char?

      Thanks though.

      We have almost reached Nevada's desert. And ready for a rest day. Next blog imminent ...


  2. Mari, I had thought of buying you maps for your birthday but assumed you would have them !! Your social capital will get u through I am sure, but please no more rosemary conley pastas!! Lots of calories needed . Keep up the blog, really enjoying it. Love gail x

  3. I have been consuming LOADS of calories and have found keeping any kind of healthy diet quite difficult in gas stations.

    James has been genuinely quite shocked by how much I am obsessed by food!

    Mari xx