Sunday, 19 August 2012

Trails of tears

A few days ago the day I expected would come. The day - probably the first of many -when I thought to myself. 'Why did I do this? Why have I left my job which I am good at and enjoy? Why did I think cycling 60 miles a day would be enjoyable?' This followed a long night camping at the back of a church disturbed by a noisy night wildlife, a phone call in the middle of the night and stressful thoughts that expand to epic proportions when in 2 square metres under canvas.

The spot was surreal. A big white church with a beautiful view. Amish horse and carts passed periodically on the road with their 19th century outfits. Yet here we were. Close by was the town of Lebanon where we stayed the night before. Lebanon was the centre of the Corn Bread Mafia and where 100 men we arrested in 1991 for their part in 'growing 182 tons of marijuana on 29 farms in 10 states, ....which federal prosecutors considered to be the largest domestic marijuana syndicate in American history.'* Thanks to Charles for a great night his bar with Ashley and Richard where we learnt about this notorious history.

The day after this sleepless night neither James and I were not well rested, though somehow I found my cycling legs and actually found the miles therapeutic. I wondered to myself if this is why people isolate themselves. To face the thoughts that work and day to day life make you put to one side? Too much introspection cannot be a good thing but maybe time on the road will be give me more calm. Just one night in a hippie town and I'm already sounding like I have flowers in my hair.

Just when it seemed like the day could not get any worse we reverted to McDonald's in Beaver Dam for their free wifi to find out where we might stay. Come on world. Why doesn't someone start a campaign to have no passwords on wifi? The US is better than the UK but surely that would democratise the Internet?

As we left a car pulled up and told us a storm was coming. We'd seen the weather report and the front looked big.

We decided procrastination would be the best strategy. It was time to find food. We were in a little place called Hartford. The town has the amusing slogan 'home of 2000 happy people and a few sore heads'. Sore heads is not a reference to having hangovers as it is another dry town as we discovered when we happened upon a great little restaurant - in fact the only non-chain-fast food place in town - Capers Cafe - run by David and his wife Kim. David had been a chef in restaurants in Alaska for 15 years before moving back home to Kentucky. He met Kim, originally from South Korea working in the local hospital. They had two staff waiting on tables - Madison and Chandler who were delighted that two Brits, and cycling Brits to boot had popped in to their place. The food was freshly cooked, healthy stuff. I had fish tacos and James had breaded chicken - though nothing like the fast food variety. Of course we got chatting and we were about to leave to find the local campground when the crazy wind started blowing the door of the restaurant open. Kim appeared from the kitchen. With the concern of a mother she insisted we could not go out in that and as the rain and the the lightening came it was clear she was right.

A swift plan was made and soon we were leaving our bikes in their restaurant and bundling in to the back of a truck to the home comforts of their countryside home. After a hot shower with a clean towel, our washing being whisked away by Kim, camomile tea and meeting the very cute Kiko - a Boston terrier I was having a wonderful night's sleep in contrast to the night before. How quickly your mood can change, fired by the kindness of more strangers.

Our luck then seen to have changed. I had hit the two week wall I was expecting and after we were on our way. Thank you so much to you both.

So we were off. Heading west again with food in our bellies (scrambled egg and fresh vegetable stir fry breakfast cooked for us by David at the restaurant) and we were back on track. After 23 miles at a stop in Walmart where we tried to get the American cell phone we bought 10 days ago to work

Walmart man 'Sorry you can't talk to a person on a weekend'
Me 'But it's Friday'
Walmart man 'I know. Friday, Saturday, Sunday I only ever get a waiting tone'
Oh well.

It was whilst waiting for this palaver to be taken care of James noticed he had 4 broken spokes on his back wheel. We cycled on but he didn't feel safe - especially with all that weight on the back. The wheel could just crumple at any time. A few miles further we found some wifi and located the nearby 'Bubba's bikes'. Google maps told us where to go. We couldn't find it and knocked on someone's door. 'Oh, you want the 181 north. This is the 181' south' Guaranteed the hills around Greenville were steep. Another 3 miles and we got there.

Unfortunately Bubba's bikes is a Harley Davidson motor bike shop. Despondent we sat outside and had our lunch. The next nearest bike shop was 40 miles in the wrong direction. Just where thought our luck had run out a truck pulled up and a friendly 19 year old Sexton Steele got out. Son of the owner we chatted to him and soon he was making a few calls. A friend who knew a guy who owns a bike shop 70 miles away. Next thing we knew Kirk was arriving in a jeep and taking us and our bikes to his home. Whilst I chatted to his wife Becky, Kirk fitted James' bike with a new wheel, chain and gears. Guardian angels - the lot of them.

We managed a few more miles on the brand new wheel and ended up at Paula and Bobby's - The Short Family restaurant. Paula's great grand father - Cowhard - had come to America via Ellis Island. The men went, leaving the women who never followed. Paula had been to Liverpool to try and find these lost family connections but got nowhere. She let us camp, use the shower and donated the cost of our dinner to our one fundraising efforts for schools in Africa. A girl Allie and a grandma called Cathy looked up our blog and gave money for the cause on behalf of the 'people of Kentucky'. Thank you Kentucky. For everything.

Today we covered 60 miles with improved cycling formation. Part of our route follows the Trail of Tears - a shameful period in US history. America has a relatively short white history and it constantly shocks me what a short time it was that this land was not 'our land'. The Trail of Tears has been also called ethnic cleansing and genocide. Following ominously titled 'Indian removal act' of 1830, President Andrew Jackson sanctioned people being rounded up into camps, then the forcible removal of thousands of native Americans from their lands in the south including around the 17,000 from the Cherokee tribe - 4000 or more of whom are estimated to have died in the camps and on the march. This policy changed by the 1860s and an attempt was made to 'assimilate' all native Americans. This meant banning their ceremonies and celebrations, converting them to Christianity and forcibly removing children under five to attend boarding schools.**

In 2010 Congress passed and Obama signed a bill that included the line “apologizes … to all Native Peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States.” It was part of a defence bill and Obama never said the words.

Tonight we are enjoying the hospitality from a baptist church that has welcomed cyclists since 1976. The pastor here talked to us and answered our question what would you teach the world with this. 'Never doubt that anyone's heart can be changed'.

Words of kindness and of apology mean a lot.

* **


  1. Even though my tour was so much shorter, I can definitely relate to having hard days that make you wish you weren't riding, and then days that make you feel like you're on top of the world! I hope the adventure makes it worthwhile in the end, just think of the beautiful things you've yet to see and all the wonderful people you've yet to meet!

    Take care!


    1. A belated thanks for commenting Kendra. We have now made it to western Utah across some amazing mountains and are all set for a rest day before the Nevada desert.

      Are you in San Fran now or back up north? Would be great to meet up if we can.


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  3. Brought a tear to the eye!!! what doesn’t stop you peddling makes you peddle stronger right, words of wisdom is what you need for I have little except for the artist i play on my player but if your courage and determination made you get even this far... the hope of making it.. will take you all the way!!! xx

    1. Thanks Mathilde,

      Have now made it to Utah and have often thought of your words of encouragement.

      Thank you xx

  4. Next time you hit a wall you can read this back and remember what wonderful people you won't of met yet that will help you get over it. Plus - I am liking the tan ! xx

  5. Mari and James, Met you on the TA route in VA. I think it was your 3rd or 4th day out. Alex ( the 19 year old) and I ( the quite a bit older guy) finished in Yorktown a few days after we saw you two. You are a good writer and I look forward to more of your stories. "Walls". Those thoughts do pop up don't they! There is the serious 'why am I here wall'; I am so miserable I can't stand it wall"; if I have to eat one more greasy meal I'll vomit wall...and so forth. They all await you guys. I've done 8000 miles of touring which is really nothing in the serious touring world, and what I found that works for me is "live in and with the moment". "How far do we have yet to go?" Ohhh bad thought!!
    Enjoy your freedom.

    1. Hey there Jim,

      Thanks for taking the time to write. We stopped counting how many hamburgers after the first few days. I tried to get us some fresh fruit or veg today but no luck. We did however have some delicious preserved peaches - home made - which a very kind couple brought us in our tent yesterday when we were camping in the town park in Fairfield, Utah. Once again, humbled by human kindness.

      Do keep following.


  6. Rock on mates!

    -the baking soda salesman

    1. Jeremy Taglafere. Your name has become legend on our adventure. Keep following.

      Mari in Nephi, Utah

  7. Gail passed on the blog address to me. I'm so glad she did. I've been catching-up on your adventure this afternoon intending to comment on the last post, but ... this was such an inspiring one (as Gail has also said) that I felt I needed to say - "Fantastic". Well done to both of you.

    Now back to the next installment

    1. Thank you!

      Nearly finished the next one. Do keep following.