Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Getting picked up in an ambulance: $663.60

Having some skin cut off your face and a crappy hospital sandwich: $330.00

Being able to draw maps like these...

Cycling route

Complete route

... Priceless.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Happily Ever After...

Listening to: Freebird.

Another milestone reached: £1000 raised for Depression Alliance. Big big thank you to the Thwaites for this support at the end of my trip, and throughout the whole experience.

This post is long overdue and there are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, I've been lazy. I'd like to be able to say that I've been distracted by getting a new job and setting up a new home, but no, I've been playing Gran Turismo 5 and embracing the lifestyle of a bum. When you're doing anything constructive, it's far too easy to put it off when there's no reward for completing it or nobody to punish you when you don't. Secondly, the nature of this post makes it fairly tricky to write something decent without making myself sound like a right dickhead. I'm not sure I've managed it, but still...

After cycling over 3000 miles and traveling a further 7000 miles by Greyhound coach, you've got to be a pretty vacant person not to think about things and reflect on your experiences. Much of this post is to try and get clear in my own head what I've learnt and to try and put it into some kind of context to make it valuable to everyone else. With this in mind, this post is going to be long and painful and not entirely coherent.

Achievement / Accomplishment
 Achievement and accomplishment are synonyms, but achievement infers success as a result of greater effort and overcoming hardships and this is very important in relation to the reasons for my trip. If anyone has read the 'About Me' section of this blog, I did a bad job of saying that I'm a nobody. I've gone through life following what I believe to be an almost natural progression. I've gone through the UK education system with little effort until reaching university. Even going through university I've always known that I had the aptitude to get a good degree. Through my short career to date, things have fallen into place and I've done a lot of good and valuable work, but I've hardly been out of my comfort zone. I've accomplished a lot, but I feel as though I've achieved very little.

But is this assessment a valid one? I've met so many people to whom university, being a chemist, the Space industry, and being in a position to leave a job in the Space industry, is completely foreign. To those people (and there's a lot of them) I've achieved so much. If these experiences could be put on some sort of scale, accomplishing even a quarter of what I've done would be a huge achievement.

To not recognise that I've been incredibly fortunate in the opportunities presented to me would be foolish and I'm immensely grateful for those opportunities. Considering the wider world, it is fortune that has got me to where I am today (ignoring the unemployed and living with my parents bit) and not achievement. But there is achievement in recognising the opportunities that exist and seizing them for personal and social gain.

I should acknowledge my fortune, but I must recognise my achievements. I have done some amazing things that have benefited many, and yet, as said above, I don't feel as though I have achieved much. Even compliments about this trip are met with protestations that it was actually fairly easy to cycle 45 miles every day and just takes time to rack up the distance. Celebrating success is recognised as one of, if not the best way in which to stimulate growth and further achievement (think monkeys and bananas), and if you can't recognise and feel good about your own success can you ever realise your potential?

Life / Living
In reference to my reasons for going on the trip, the discussion between life and living is similar to the argument between achievement and accomplishment. I've gone through life taking easy options when the opportunities present themselves. I've gone through the UK education system to get an MChem and then I entered employment to work with two very successful companies. But having been thinking about life, the universe and everything for well over 15 years, this is living and not life.

A distinction has to made between the two because otherwise this is really confusing, and my distinction will probably be the opposite of many other people's. This stems from thinking about humanity in the animal kingdom and questioning what it is that makes humanity consider itself as a higher species than any other. There are a number of things which all living things do that define them as a living thing: MRS GREN (Movement, Respiration, Sensitivity, Growth, Reproduction, Excretion and Nutrition - yeah GCSE biology!!!). All these things are done in order for a species to survive, but theories of evolution and social pressures can also be applied to define actions that are needed in order to survive. In the modern Western world, in order to get food and shelter money is required. To get money, you need a job, and to get a job an education is required. So for the purposes of this discussion, I define living as those actions that lead to survival such as education and employment. Life is those actions that are carried out purely for the self, that have nothing to do with survival and I'd argue that it's the ability to carry out and appreciate these actions that makes humanity a higher species, although there are of course exceptions.

So, introducing some sort of context, I felt as though the massive majority of my actions to date have been living and not life. It's linked heavily to the perceived lack of achievement, but I didn't feel as though there was anything where I'd grasped life in order to call it my own and so going off to conquer the States on bicycle was a big way in which I could. Who else cycles around the States, especially going to State capitals? But really, the truth of the matter can be seen in a film I've mentioned before: Zombieland. Apart from the zombies, a part of the film is about finding pleasure in a small nonsensical thing - eating a Twinkie. It serves no purpose and yet it brings massive pleasure (in the film anyway; I've not had a Twinkie so couldn't comment on the amount of pleasure it actually brings but I'm guessing it isn't that great) and it's a small action. Attached to the Twinkie is the theme of enjoying the little things. A massive gesture isn't needed in order to claim a life to be your own. Rather than the massive gesture, you only need to appreciate and give time to the things that you enjoy, and enjoy for a nonsensical reason or for any other reason. The message is simple - give time to yourself to enjoy whatever it is that you want to do.

Generosity / Greed
America is a model of Western capitalism. Americans may like to believe that the country is founded upon freedom and opportunity, but really it's greed. Companies tailor their practices to a lazy public resulting in the drive-through Starbucks, drive-through cash-machine, and the drive-through off-license or liquor-store. In a quest to the White House, Mitt Romney claimed that it was his job to not care about 47% of Americans. There is a healthcare system propping up an insurance industry, where the primary concern is the wallet rather than care (I met an Aussie guy who'd been run over and dropped off at a hospital and they were asking him how he was going to pay for the treatment before he'd figured out where he was). This system was defended by one person as they didn't want to pay for the poor choices of others.

So, America is a greedy country. But the generosity that's been shown as I've travelled around has been incredible. From people giving directions, sheltering me from storms, giving me lifts, giving discounts just because I've asked, to people giving up their sofas, giving up their time to show me the sights and sounds of their local surroundings, feeding me, plying me with drinks and doing whatever they can to make me feel welcome. And then there's Terri and Mary and families who have done so much more.

But, so many people are awesome. People who just want to be kind and generous whenever they can. And these people are everywhere. For the past 4 years living in Oxfordshire I've been pretty lonely but that needn't have been the case. There are so many people in every area who are easy to get on well with, who share the same interests as you, have the same queries, troubles, ideas and dreams. It's too easy to go about with your head down, keeping yourself to yourself for fear of interfering and inconveniencing, but making that effort to talk to the people around you, be it neighbour or someone who keeps sitting at an adjacent table in the pub, or even offering your help to strangers in need, will enrich your life and the lives of those around you.

Proactive / Passive
This section stems from a philosophy of life of mine: what wants to happen will happen. On one front it's a way for me to deal with things that go wrong - bad things happen all the time whether we want them to or not and it isn't the end of the world (unless it is actually the end of the world), it's a part of life that has to be dealt with. It also helps guide me in certain decisions in that some things happen easily and I'm going to be better at the things that I find easy compared with the things that I struggle with e.g. I could decide that I want to be a poet, but that's only going to be painful for everyone involved so I'm going to stick with the much easier career of chemistry (it helps that I have a degree in chemistry). Negatively though, and I have had arguments about this before, this makes me quite passive - I wait for an opportunity to present itself rather than creating the opportunity.

 Another factor in deciding to cycle around the USA was that nothing interesting was happening. I write emails every now and then with the most interesting and hopefully funny events that happen in my life, and they've been a bit lacking. I knew that this was down to my passive nature, so I decided that the time was right to make something happen. I'm a firm believer that anyone can do anything that they chose to do, and I chose to cycle round the States. The thought of doing something different and unknown is a scary one, but that doesn't mean you can't do it successfully.

 These big trips, pitching yourself against the elements in an unknown environment, is often described as a life changing experience. Personally, I'm not feeling it. What the trip has done, is to help give me a position in which I can reassess my life and what I want from it. My life isn't any different, but I know a few ways in which I can improve it. The trick now is to remember those improvements and to not to succumb to routine and external pressures.

Summing everything up - have friends around you that you can rely on for the big things and the little things, such as an impromptu couple of beers. Make sure you give the time to appreciate the things that you enjoy e.g. if you enjoy listening to music, stick on an album and do nothing other than listen to that album. Don't be scared to do the things that you want to achieve. Finally, recognise your success and don't be afraid to celebrate it.

You only have this life once; enjoy it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Home Again

Leaving New Orleans I spent 26 hours or so on the Greyhound heading up North to Washington DC, my original starting point, to see Mark again for a BBQ (see the last post). Him and his wife, the lovely Lauren, were the first familiar faces I'd seen since I'd left DC over 4 months previously and so somehow fitting that it should be those two I'd see again at the end of my trip. Diving into DC, it's an amazing feeling to recognise some of the landmarks and know that you've been there before, that you've gone pretty much all the way around the States in an epic 10 000 mile journey.
Greyhound Route

Again, getting into New York City, when I came round the corner to see the familiar skyline I knew that it was my last stop. My last 20 minutes on a Greyhound coach and my last few days before making it home. Just before that though I was reminded of the tactical brilliance of getting the train into NYC the previous time I was there as NJ (or that bit of it at least) is just horrible. Met up with an old colleague for some Venezuelan, and then had a couple of days with an old Uni friend (the incredible Chelsey, who I didn't see last time as she'd broken her collar bone). Somehow did essentially nothing in NYC until my final night when I met up with a couple of girls I'd met in DC to go to an off-Broadway (very far off) show in some small basement in the East Village.
Brooklyn Bridge & NYC Skyline

Plane left Newark on time, and entered a queue of 20 planes for take-off. Over an hour later, we were back in the gate refueling. So what went from being half an hour ahead of schedule was now an hour and half behind schedule. Arrived in Brussels to be told that I'd missed me connection and so I'd have to go pick up my bag and head up to the ticketing desk to get a new flight. My bag wasn't where I'd been told it was. Talked to the baggage services desk, and had to go to the other baggage services desk then wait for them to send it up to where it should have been originally. Finally made my way up to the ticketing desk, which was closed for lunch. I could just sense all these flights to Manchester leaving as I was forced to sit by the desk waiting for someone to sort me out a flight home and let me use their phone. Turns out I didn't have to get my bag after all for whatever reason so I could have come straight up to ticketing for the new flight, but eventually I had my new flight details. Manchester, via Edinburgh. Flying into Edinburgh gives an amazing view of the city and up the Firth of Forth. In Edinburgh I found out that I had access to the business lounge and made full use of it for all of 7 minutes before boarding. Time left NYC - 13:30 (EST). Original landing time in Manchester - 10:10. Actual landing time in Manchester - 17:45. Body-clock time on landing in Manchester - who knows.

Gave my phone to my Mum when I left to put somewhere safe. It's still somewhere very safe, but we are looking for it.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Before & After

Let's have a quick look at the effects of traveling for 4 months. Before....

Just ignore the gurning. And after...

Friday, August 24, 2012


Butchering the lyrics just to achieve a rather spurious blog title from: Lola by The Kinks

New Orleans
On the bus from Austin to New Orleans I had to endure possibly the worst journey yet - Lethal Weapon 4 was being played. Give me back the brain damaged and the fat guys with Swastika tattoos any day. I do perhaps get an easier ride on the buses than a lot of people, and I think I have it pinned down to one reason - everybody hates the beard. Ignoring that I don't have any gear to trim it down, and despite all the insults and questions about shaving it off before I come home, I've kept at it, and besides, growing a traveler's beard is a rite of passage. But having this beard has led numerous times to me having two seats to meself on the bus and not having to provide a head support to some drooling convict (I should point out that this is a not a sweeping statement to imply that all Greyhound passengers are drooling convicts - I'm well aware that not all convicts drool).

Louis Armstrong Park
Got off the bus in New Orleans nice and early and headed over to my hostel to ensure I had somewhere to sleep and to figure out where I was and what was going on in the real world (or on Facebook). Couldn't check in until after 4pm but I could use the internet. After half an hour sat in the front room, noticed a couple of bedbugs crawling over me top. Hadn't noticed that before, and with numerous reviews of the hostel complaining about bedbugs this didn't look like a good situation. Miraculously enough though I was now allowed to check in before 4pm; funny how that works. Started ironing, noticed how many seams there were in me shorts, gave up and decided to just throw them out and buy new clothes whilst monitoring the situation of other things such as me rucksack. For those people in DC, NY and back home, I'm pretty sure the bugs were in the chair and not the rug and so haven't gone into me rucksack, but I won't be offended if you demand all my stuff be isolated in dual heavy-duty bin-bags.

Garden District Cemetery
Onto the city itself. Had a walk around the first day while hoping that some CouchSurfing requests would come through before I had to go back to the bedbugs. It's on the water, it's a destination for stag dos, loads of shops selling tat and 'comedy' T-shirts, even more bars with neon lights competing with each other to offer the strongest novelty drink, and a number of strip clubs (3 Hustler clubs within 2 blocks) I've seen this before - Blackpool! Only in Blackpool the alligators have more leathery skin and wear sashes, cackling inanely as they're out on a hen night for the first time in over a decade. Also, the food is far worse in Blackpool.

Once away from Bourbon St. the nightlife becomes much more entertaining (assuming you need more stimulation than a drink in a neon green plastic container and a girl in or out of a bikini). I'm not really a fan of jazz, but some live music with some people swing-dancing makes an amazing atmosphere.

The Spotted Cat
Recently I've been feeling really tired. I just want to go home. There's a slightly different feel to things having stopped cycling - I'm now a tourist rather than a traveler. Not the biggest of differences, but I think subconsciously it makes you think about things in a different way. Going round all these tourist destinations you do the same things each time of seeing the usual suspects (big buildings, monuments, parks, museums, etc.). These places have a nightlife and to not experience it is to miss out on a major tourist activity so you go out for a few drinks every night. It's difficult to get away from the tourist hotspots as having done no research you don't know where the bad areas are or if you'll find what you're looking for even if you do go adventuring. As a break from routine, this is great; you can live the holiday excessive experience. But living it all the time so many things are put on for tourists and it's difficult to find a personal experience. I've talked previously about motel rooms offering the same experience wherever you go, and as an analogy, tourist destinations are the same. There's a lot more variation, but everything is still geared towards taking your money and the same methods are used. I'm really craving my own bed, curled up in a duvet hidden from the drizzle outside (I'm assuming it'll be drizzle back home - it is Manchester), being able to cook something as fancy or simple as I desire and paying for the things I need or want rather than parting with money for things I'm told I want and tipping for the privilege.

Not sure all this quite makes sense, but it's almost there. But rambling done - I've not got the focus or inclination to make it any better. I've got into a better mood than this morning as I've managed to sort out all accommodation to the end of the trip and after seeing nobody for over 4 months I'm hopefully seeing 5 familiar faces before heading home.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

If Everything Goes Right, Then Everything Has Gone Wrong

Austin TX
The advice I've been given before is that taking the Greyhound in the North of the US is not so bad, but then in the South it gets horrific. We stopped in the most desolate God-forsaken place in New Mexico, at a combination of laundrette, post office and general store with no sign of the town these services were supplying. The shop was barren and had even less items of nutritional value leading to the beginning of 26 hour's eating of a Mars bar, a pack of Skittles, and a pack of M&Ms. Putting up signs to not put paper towels down the toilet is a good incentive, but needs some work as some people don't understand the difference between paper towels and toilet paper creating a smell wafting from the bin of which the Golgothan shit demon would be proud. Back on the bus, a family had got on having been rejected from an earlier bus due to some dispute about the age of their child or something. The T-Shirt with the cheesy picture of a wolf and fat guy with a Swastika tattooed on his chest pointed to only one thing - rednecks.

After arriving in Austin and meeting me CouchSurfing host it was back onto a bike for the Thursday Night Social Ride; about 100 cyclists cycling around the city in the dark, trying to avoid parked cars, moving cars, street furniture and, more difficultly, each other.

Many people say that Austin is the only good part of Texas and with it being a university town, it's a bit of a party town. Did nothing Friday afternoon (I'm blaming the timezone change as well as the previous night's drinking) but then went out again for the evening. Met a load of Ray's friends and had a few drinks and then went to another bar to experience a bit more of Austin. We went to some bar that's notorious as an easy place to pick up women. Even I had me arse slapped walking through the place and we were only in there for 2 minutes. Straight out of that place and headed next door where there was some live Country music happening - amazing when you're drunk.

In the supermarket attempting to get food, me credit card was declined. Not the end of the world, probably Halifax being a pain in the arse again. Logged into me account and there was no connection to the account: credit N/A, available balance £0, no recent transactions. Weird, but seems as though the system is temporarily down. After a night of drinking logged back on to find that things are back up and normal, except me card's been cleared out to tune of £2000. Card cancelled, I'm now on cash or having a £1.50 charge for each and every transaction.

The weather has continued to be ridiculously hot, but we have had some rain at last. There was a bit of a storm in Flagstaff with it being monsoon season and then we've had a couple in Austin. Still hot and humid, but at least it's a change.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sunset Tours

As all five of us on the tour group had never had the experience before, we were lined up, had to cover our eyes, and with one hand on the shoulder in front were marched forward like a precession of prisoners. On opening our eyes, we were treated to this sight...
First view

And then once our eyes adjusted and I'd put me shades back on, things looked like this...
First view, once I could see again

And then I looked around and things looked like this...
First view, looking around

The Grand Canyon is immense. We were on a sunset tour so we spent the afternoon going to different spots taking plenty of photos (I was armed with both of my cameras for this trip) before finding a rock above the canyon where we could see the river in two directions, having a beer (the reduced oxygen makes walking uphill extremely tiring, but it also makes you drunk much quicker) and watching the sun set. I also managed to achieve one of my life goals that I never realised I had: having a piss off the sand dunes on West Sands (don't do it into the wind) is pretty liberating, but pissing off the Grand Canyon is just epic.
Not even this picture does the place justice