June 16, 1995
USA LEG by bicycle (Steve + Eilbhe Donovan) - Ft. Lauderdale to San Francisco
>> May - Oct. 1995
February 1995: The sun sparkled and danced across the Great Bahama Banks as "Moksha" glided gently towards Miami. Jason sat straddling the bow deck, playing harmonica and contemplating starfish on the sand bed - as only one who has spent four months on the ocean can. An hour later he clambered back with news: 'I'm going to in-line skate across America', he said. 'Terrific', I replied insincerely and resumed my own contemplation of an enormous, juicy steak beside a cold glass of beer.
June 1995: 'Pedaling across the Atlantic was easy compared to this', he muttered, as we sweated and swore through the Everglades - he on skates, and me cycling behind in a defensive role as trucks fired beer cans and obscenities. When, Dear America, did we lose the right to travel when motors made you all go faster? In 20 years, maybe your Chevy will be honked of the road by passing nuclear powered hover-jets. I calmed down and studied Jason's scarred, shaky legs - half in admiration, half in relief that I was only cycling!
My own, less physical challenge began after Jason and I agreed to spend much needed time apart. As he skated on alone NW from Tallahassee, I cycled west through the deep south with my girlfriend, Eilbhe. I had called her in Ireland only a week before and invited her to cycle across America with me. Bring shorts - and remember don't 'take the piss' over here - they won't get it were my only instructions.
She arrived, totally unfit, to a shocking climate of 102F with 100% humidity. Eilbhe had never trained for any sport in her life, and had cycled no further than the local shops and back. I found my challenge in hers, not just to see her cycle the distance, but to see that she enjoyed the experience. Our enemies were bloodthirsty insects, heat and the maddening drone of automobiles. Our allies were the cool lakes at sunset, the gentle passing of nature and the hundreds of kind souls we encountered on the way. In setting a challenge beyond myself, and just by being with this beautiful person, I discovered an entirely higher level of fulfilment than I could on my own. In two weeks, Eilbhe cycled her first 100 mile day.
'Whatever you can do, or dream you can ...begin it' (Goethe) has been our message to the dozens of schools, colleges and summer camps we have visited since leaving London 20 months ago. With the help of Stuart, my father, we had created enormous enthusiasm and support in Florida. But four months of suburbia had drained us. Back on the road again I felt alive, exuding once more the genuine warmth and happiness I find in simple, outdoor living. With such energy our journey makes sense to others; without it we must seem like manic escapees looking for the proverbial exit door.
Eilbhe and I visited schools, camps and homes in New Orleans and Welsh (LA), Houston and Austin (TX), Cloudcroft (NM), Flagstaff (AZ), Los Angeles and Morro Bay (CA). Half of the 15 weeks we took to cycle to San Francisco was spent off the road in the company of kind strangers - turned good friends. In Americans, I witnessed the inclination towards extremes (good and bad) which only the descendants of pioneers have the freedom to evolve. Here I found the best and the worst in humanity. Otherwise, the only sweeping generalisations I can comfortably hold are that Americans are open, honest and overweight.
This again, can be good or not. The openness with which many Americans offered a bed for the night, for example, is the same openness with which they unravelled intimate family tragedies at gas stations when we asked for the way to the park. To the British - who would gladly submit to torture before revealing their emotions - this is a hazard of American travel more alarming than the threat of guns.
To own at least one big gun seems a prerequisite to manhood in southern country, along with a pickup truck. But whilst the gun is in frequent use, the truck would always be completely empty. Such observations amused us as we slogged along endless Texan backroads in the summer heat. At last the humidity subsided as we climbed our first hills approaching Austin - affectionately know in liberal circles as 'the last refuge of the Texas hippie.' By early September we passed into Mountain Time. Had you been on the border of New Mexico near Hobbs, you would have remarked on the steely, determined stare of two filthy cyclist hauling pannier bags a garbage browser would turn his nose at. Over several days we crawled, pushing 80 pound loads, up the Sacramento Mountains to an elevation of 9,000 feet.
On the evening of September 9th, having spent the day riding horses in the Rocky Mountains near Cloudcroft, I called Nancy Sanford (our co-ordinator) in St. Petersburg (FL) and returned to Eilbhe with embarrassing news. 'Jason's overtaking us on skates, for chrissakes! He'll be in San Francisco before we reach the Sierras'. The following night, Jason was fighting for his life by the roadside after a reckless driver hit and ran.
Just prior to Jason's accident, we had been discussing taking a 'short cut' to the Pacific Coast to avoid some mountains and enjoy more beaches. His courage and example made me stick to our original route, which included many Native American areas and monuments we had dreamed of visiting in New Mexico and Arizona. Of the few native people we did meet, I best remember the wisdom of Terry (half Cree, half Irish) when we discussed the material greed of modern man: 'So, Steve, you figured this: when ya see the hearse driving down the street, do ya ever see it towing a U-Haul?'
We reached the Pacific early October. Having traversed the Mojave Desert on Old Route 66 from Needles to Barstow, then negotiated the horrific mess that is Greater Los Angeles, we deserved a quiet beach. For that entire month we camped by the ocean and in redwood forests, swam and watched dolphins play in the surf. Our mileage dropped from 80 to 15 miles/day. The highlight of our ride through Big Sur was the Old Coast Road south of Bigsby Bridge, which snakes over two ridges in the heart of towering redwoods and spruce. The gradient was too steep even for our 24 gears, though we fought our way on foot up the dirt road in thick fog and camped at the summit. Real wilderness at last! An intense awareness overcame me, and I slept lightly. The following morning, our tent was surrounded by mountain lion tracks larger than my fist. Such visitations are powerful medicine, and for days my spirits ran before me. Despite a flat tyre, we freewheeled the twelve miles down to Bigsby where I stopped two 'gear' riders for a pump. 'Gear' riders sport everything except a smile. It was a pleasure to chat with touring cyclists along the Pacific Coast Highway - the first we had seen through the entire continent. Contact with 'gear' people rarely exceeded 'you're going the wrong way!' as they sped by in a flash of garish Lycra.
Eilbhe and I cycled reluctantly to journey's end on November 2nd. Stopping at a supermarket for milk I read a recruitment ad for the Gay and Lesbian Downhill Ski Team and knew we had arrived in San Francisco. Now, four months on, I'm looking forward to Jason's arrival with 'Moksha", which will be displayed at the Maritime Museum in Monterey. Kenny continues to work on a documentary for Britain's Channel 4. As usual, we're skint (broke) and the route has changed.
In October 1996, stage 3 of expedition will be spectacularly launched with our departure under the Golden Gate Bridge. Meanwhile our priorities are to see that Jason fully recovers and that we find a sponsor to finance this next, most incredible leg of our journey - to cycle through Central America to Ecuador, then Pedal over 10,000 miles across the South Pacific to Australia.
Please help us in any way you can. We need: an ssb Radio and new solar panels to carry on communicating with schools, to have 'Moksha' shipped to Ecuador, and we need a new GPS for navigation. There is still room for individuals for donate $20+ for their name on the boat and newsletters! Checks should be payable to Steve Smith at the above address. Finances permitting Newsletter 4 will reach you from Ecuador as we prepare for the first ever attempt to pedal the Pacific.
Cheerio till next time,
- Steve Smith
Posted at 8:11 PM