At the beginning of my journey down the Pacific Coast, I stood in my friend’s house in Portland, Oregon, and looked at the huge map of America he had on his wall.
I’d been used to seeing America on the miniature globe on my desk; but, on this large scale, only ever when split into abbreviated day-by-day chunks, on my laptop screen.
At this new, wall-sized, explosion, the distances suddenly looked all the more intimidating. Even my very first day’s ride, planned to arrive at a dot labelled “Manzanita”, looked huge. I could see a long list of towns I’d be passing through. What had seemed like a simple journey along a couple of highways, was now a patchwork of intersections, county and state lines, bays, borders and bridges.
I (again) checked the internet for last minute tips and weather forecasts and happened across the site of an adventure company offering organised tours of a similar route.
“93% of our riders agreed that this tour was “the best thing that they have ever done””
I baulked at the statement (it reminded me of similar claims I read when trying to find a wedding venue – “100% of our couples say that their wedding with us was one of the best days of their lives”!)
Suffering from the jeg-lag of my transworld flight, I set off in pitch dark the following morning. Almost immediately I missed a turn and found myself riding on a giant overpass as commuting traffic squeezed past me at speed.
Carefully does it…. a long way still to go.
The best thing ever? Let’s see.
Ten and a half days later I slowly rolled up to the front door of my friend’s house in LA.
I uncleated my shoes, stopped my ride computer and took a few deep breaths.
My arms and legs were buzzing slightly with tiredness.
My face was glowing with wind and sun burn, and I’d grown a wilderness beard.
I’d cycled 1,650 miles.
Along the coast. Through Redwood Forests. Across a desert. Over a mountain range.
My journey was now at an end.
Now I’m back in Bristol; back at my desk; and back at work.
At this exact point in time, another cyclist will probably be setting out from the Canadian border, making his (or her) way South.
Another ‘me’ will be stopping to take another photo of the Golden Gate Bridge – probably from the exact same view point.
Somewhere they’ll be some other rider, leaning on their bike, trying to summon up those last energy reserves to ride that last 10, 20… 50 miles for the day;
But for 2 weeks, that was me. Living the dream.
Of course, my rolling up to a friend’s house in LA wasn’t “The End”. Nothing stopped at that arbitrary line in the sand
Neither was my pitch dark departure “The Beginning”. Before that there was the flight from Heathrow; the drive to the airport; and the booking of the trip some 8 months ago.
There was that trip to the USA in 2005, that I’d planned but never went on.
There was the map of the world on my bedroom wall when I was still at school – complete with pins of where I’d been; and where I’d wanted to go.
And a generation ago, there was my Granny, riding her fixed gear bike in the Cairngorms of Scotland – up the hill to Tomintoul. Before my dad. Before he met my mum. Before me.
And there was me in Southmeads Hospital in March 2015, digesting the fact that I’d just been diagnosed with MS.
Me, holding back my emotions as I tried to cycle down the hill to work, but barely with the strength to lift my legs; trying to cycle up the Col du Tormalet as my perceptions of dreams and reality blurred.
There was me, lying on the kitchen floor as my body swirled with vertigo, recovering from my second bout of chemotherapy.
And there was my nadir: being lifted to my feet by a cinema usher as my distorted senses left me unable to leave my chair.
Time existed before, and time will continue to be.
But those 2 weeks did feel like a moment apart.
A wash of memories and landscapes; emotional highs and lows that I will ring-fence as something special.
And – yeah – I’d tick that box.
It might actually have been the best thing I’ve ever done.
So, back in Bristol; back at my desk; and back at work.
My friend recommends a book called “After the ecstasy, the laundry”.
The next day of now.
I look at some of the photos I took. Somehow none of them quite seem to capture the real essence of the trip – another beach; another view – snapshots in time that don’t quite describe the whole journey. I’ll try and piece them together into a longer ride diary blog when I have time.
1,650 miles of cycling – but perhaps the real challenge is when the riding ends.