“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” – Thomas Jefferson, April 22, 1800
A few weeks ago we were sat in the back of Newton Bicycle Store in Kansas watching the film ‘Inspire to Ride’ which follows cyclists during the inaugural TransAm Bike Race. There’s a scene where a bleary eyed Mike Hall is sat outside the very same shop that we were in having taken just over 9 days to cover a distance that we’d been working on for 6 weeks. He went on to win the 4253 mile race in an astonishing 17 days 16 hrs and 17 mins. We went on to finish the same route in 78 days, possibly with some hours and minutes to add too.
It’s a great film that for us served as a high speed review of of the roads that we’d already ridden and a fast forward preview of what was still to come. In a way it’s a shame that the TransAm racers don’t get to see more of the amazing places that they’re passing through as it really is an extraordinary route. Even at the relatively sedate pace we’re travelling at it feels like we could be spending more time exploring.
From the endless sandy beaches of the Oregon coast, over the lava fields of the Cascade mountains. Open desserts, vast wilderness forests, prairies. Rising up to the mountains of the Continental Divide, and criss-crossing it nine times. Volcanic Yellowstone Park with its azure lakes, boiling mud and geysers. The massive Rocky Mountains then onto the painfully flat and breezy Kansas plains. Then painfully steep and frequent hills of the Ozarks before crossing the Mississippi and hitting the Eastern States. Autumn taking hold to decorate the Appalachians just in time for us to enjoy a colourful final run to the Atlantic. The TransAm trail can’t fail to impress every inch of the way.
But in that clip with Mike Hall it’s not the scenery that he talks about, it’s the hospitality and help from the people he’s met that he’s enjoying most. For us too we’ve been amazed by the kindness and friendliness that small town America has to offer. The TransAm bypasses the big cities and instead we’ve been visiting tiny towns and self-sufficient communities often miles from the next place. There’s an old-fashioned feel to these towns where everyone knows one another and a stranger is seen as someone who needs help and should be welcomed. And welcome we were. City parks on the route (usually) let us camp for free, chucking in a complimentary tent wash when the automatic sprinklers come on too. I’ve lost count of how many church floors we’ve slept on and how many different denominations of Pastor and Priest we’ve made friends with. A bus, several fire stations, an off-grid cabin in the woods, an old caravan, a horse-box, plenty of warmshowers hosts all provided a bed for the night. A ranger lent us warm sleeping bags on a particularly cold night in the Rockies while a former state senator rescued us from the side of a road and gave us a new rear derailleur to replace our broken one. America is a great place to travel through on a bicycle because you get to see the side of the country that is rarely captured by hollywood.
But although the old saying goes “Never talk about religion or politics over dinner”, when writing about America it´s hard to avoid either. Having spent three months cycling across from Washington State to Washington DC so much has changed in terms of our surroundings the people and the cultures but two common themes tying it all together have been the big white churches we’ve been staying in and talk of who will next take the keys to the big White House.
No doubt everyone is tired of hearing about the imminent election but I thought I’d chuck in my two penneth worth based on what we’ve seen and before the votes are counted. So as not to confuse i’d better explain that this post is being written after we’ve finished the TransAm but I will go back and fill in the gaps between Montana and Virgina with some more details. I just haven’t got round to writing them down yet due to all the pedalling we’ve been doing.
Since we crossed from Vancouver Island we’ve been counting the road side signs for each of the presidential candidates. The final scores were as follows:
- Trump 345
- Clinton 76
- Johnson 6
Whether this reflects the final result remains to be seen but it does show that Trump supporters are shouting loudest along the route we followed, (or like road signs more). Almost every conversation we had eventually turned to the election so we heard plenty of opinions and predictions and like the stats for the road signs the Trump supporters were the most enthusiastic. “Build the Wall!”, “He’ll shake things up!”, “Let him rebuild the country!”. contrastingly Clinton supporters would generally hold their heads in their hands and admit that they had to vote for her as she wasn’t Trump. Plenty of Trump huggers but not many true Clinton lovers it seems. However for most people the fact that these were the best two candidates that America could offer was the biggest sore point. There was a feeling that they deserved better and for that we offered our deepest sympathies.
As Brits, finishing the TransAm in Yorktown, Virginia has a certain sense of irony as this is the place where the British surrendered at the end of American Revolutionary War. From Yorktown we rode up to Washington DC where we saw the original copies of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. Looking at these documents and then watching the news it’s hard to imagine that a country built on such fine principles that were hard-fought for could possibly be passed in to the hands of someone with apparently no principles whatsoever. Surely we’ve met enough reasonable people who will stop that happening?
I truly hope that things work out for the best after next week’s election as this has been a country that we’ve enjoyed visiting a great deal, on the most part due to the amazing people we’ve met and they deserve a bright future. For our American friends who are following our progress, get voting, tick the right box and good luck! For everyone else, if you can liberate three months from your busy lives and have a bicycle and a tent I can thoroughly recommend taking on the TransAm. Do it soon though.
(Oh and if anyone is keen to see the US at speed, the Transam race 2017 is now taking entries…)