Updated: Dec 15, 2021
And just like that, another country done! We are now well over 9000km into the trip. 7757.95 km in the US alone. And what a learning experience.
As a quick summary, the trip went well despite a few bit of bad luck and delays. We underestimated how many punctures we would get and had to buy bigger and thicker tyres. We faced one of the biggest rain storms California had seen, after a 6 months drought there! Again, like in Canada, we suffered a majority of headwinds days, counting in the end only 4 days of tailwind in Texas and Florida — not much over a month and half of riding... We endured aggressive drivers and discovered to our horror “coal rolling” in North California, and parts of Nevada, Utah, Alabama and Florida. We also got a bit tired of the roadside junkfood (I cannot see a burger or fries now without a shudder) and we got chased by a bit too many dogs for our liking!
Both David and I had experienced the US before. He, 10 years ago, when he cycled from LA to NY. I, when I studied for a year at Harvard in 2008 and travelled there with my family. Bikepacking it now, many years later, has allowed us to appreciate the country in ways that seemed both familiar and novel.
Familiar because we have re-visited places we had loved before like South California and Arizona. I had driven down the coastal road 1 with my parents in the past and we had marvelled at the beauty of the pacific, the scenic cliffs and the majestic forests of giant trees. Utah and Arizona, with their amazing rock formation and canyons are always a place worth visiting. The remoteness of the desert makes you forget you are in one of the biggest world economies.
Familiar as well because we had the chance to experience again the simple generosity of the Americans, their enthusiasm when sharing projects and adventures, and their amazement at times for anything that takes place outside their big nation. Some of their comments or words like “bicyclers” brought a smile to our faces. For some Americans, cycling remains a totally foreign concept, and even foreign people are still a novelty. In a very tiny town in Nevada an lovely motel employee told me she had never seen a cyclist, let alone a French one, and she could not wait to help her mum later that night. We were also very lucky to meet people from the cycling world who understood the dimension of our trip, what it took, and who wanted to help us out. Some of them met us on the road to bring us food, or cycling gear. Some even ordered cycling components for us for when we would arrive in Miami to replace bits on our bikes. That kind of generosity made the bad days (and there were a few) so much better and kept us going.
But we have also discovered the US through different lenses. First of all, I have learnt a great deal about my own prejudices and misconceptions when it comes to the US. In my mind, a lot of the Southern states would be conservative and rough, with rednecks in trucks not interested in us and likely annoyed at cyclists on the road. I was so concerned at a recent incident involving a driver and cyclists in Texas that I was ready to avoid the state all together. And I am so glad we did not! Texas will remain a highlight of our trip. People there were kind, considerate, generous, and drivers in the large gave us plenty of space and even stopped at times to make sure we were ok. Both David and I are sure we will be back. It is often in the least expected places that you find the most reward!
What was also new for us, and more particularly for me, was to explore a more diverse side of the US, in all its cultural complexity inherited from its past and from more recent economical, political and even meteorological events. Only cycling offers access to this diversity: you go fast enough through places to visit many different ones in a day or two, and yet slowly enough that you can gradually see the people change, the landscape change, the accent change. And because you stop often and in more places, you get to talk to more people and learn more about the way they live. In Washington and Oregon we have appreciated a laid back ambiance with people enjoying a closeness with nature and a taste for a good time around locally brewed IPA. We have discovered there are two Californias, the North part which, outside the national parks, in rougher and less affluent, and far from the chill SF or hip LA, and the South one, which is the one people know, high-tech, beautiful, cool all round. In Utah we have stayed with a Mormon family in a city known for polygamous mariages and where the local order is enforced by a “God squad”. In Arizona we have enjoyed the kindness and generosity of the Navajo nations, with many of them simply walking by the roadside and having a chat with us or offering us a place to stay. In Texas, we have discovered the hill country and a large German speaking community! In Louisiana of course we have enjoyed a bit of the old French vibe, but we also have seen the devastation of the recent storms and talked with people who had lost loved ones and were still in shock.
Everywhere as well we have seen a big political divide which, for once, does not seem to just be amplified or made up by the media. Trump supporters are many in the Southern States and many are feeling left off and are keen to change things and hold on to political promises. There is a divide and a bit of bitterness in the US, not unfamiliar to Europe as well, which, as far as I experienced it, did not exist back in 2008. The financial crisis, the wars, terrorism, riots, disillusion with the system… whatever the causes are, the US are not a nation as confident and happy as they used to be. But they are proud and resilient, and hopefully this is a necessary evil to gain back a new and improve persona.
I will need more time do digest almost 50 days spent in this huge country where each state is a nation and a culture of its own. I have learned there how much we all are representing our own nations and how a simple smile, an drink offered or even a bit of space on the road to another person can change that person’s day and their perspective towards the place they are visiting. Sometime great landscapes don’t matter if you encounter kindness. I hope one way I will meet again Juan, Jo, Trish and Rusty, the team a Meteor Cycling or and Miami Bicycle.
I hope they can come to London and I can make them love it just by being as kind and generous to them as they have been to us. Thank you USA for being awesome. Always remember that you are! See you soon!