6 September – 24 October 2013
Under normal circumstances I would have spent more than a few days in San Francisco. However, my friends Brian and Christina in Naples, Florida – who have been kind to store all my backpacking gear after I returned from the Caribbean in Spring 2013 – were scheduled to have their first child on 8 September. Obviously they wanted as little outside interference as possible, so I only for a few days. After taking the stuff I needed for my South America trip – shipping some back to Denmark and the rest to San Jose, California to be stored with my bicycle – I quickly departed for Maimi to visit my friend Andres.
Doing no sightseeing on San Francisco I had only briefly checked my camera after I got it back from repair, but trying to use it in Florida I quickly discovered that it hadn't been repaired properly – the problem with the zoom was still there. Incredible how the Danish company Elektronik-Centret can do such a bad job – attached to the camera was a detailed description of the problem/error and a request to test it extensively before returning it (due to my stay in the US). Do not use this company unless you – like me - have to according to you guarantee. What to do? I didn't want to go to South America without a camera; neither did I like having my camera shipped to South America after repair in Denmark. Florida was hot and humid and not a place where I wanted to spent a lot of time at this time of year, so I decided to return to San Francisco where the weather is very pleasant until the end of October. It would be some time before I could get an affordable ticket so I couchsurfed with Nilda for a while before returning to California.
Transport to/from Denmark and repair would take a long time, so I got a ticket for Cartagena, Columbia on 24 October to make sure I would leave the US before my visa expired. For the first time on this trip I had a lot of time in the same place which entailed an opportunity to relax, read, get updated on news, etc. I experienced many parts of San Francisco but didn't do any of the tradional tourist things... My host Quensella introduced me to Glide which is a very untraditional church.... 50 years ago visionary Cecil Williams began the transformation from a dying, traditional, exclusive church to an all inclusive church based it on unconditional love and acceptance of everyone no matter religious belief; sexual orientation; financial, job or housing situation, etc. - the result is a very diverse congregation. The Sunday service is called a celebration and that's exactly what is is – a celebration of life. The postive words and real life stories are supplemented with fantastic live music and great singing performed by a big emsemble assisted by the congregation. In my home country Denmark almost all churches are empty because it's boring, (bordering depressive especially the hymns) and old fashioned - they could benefit from a more modern approach... Located in one of the worst parts of the city, Glide also does a lot a community work helping people improving their lives in many different ways as well as feeding thousands of people every day... I had a great experience volunteering there – preparing and serving food for primarily the many homeless people.... I highly recommend visiting Glide for the celebrations at 9am or 11am should you be in San Francisco on a Sunday.
During the last weeks of my stay I spent some time preparing for my South America trip – getting a rough idea of my itinerary, what to experience, plane tickets, preparing couchsurfing requests, etc. I also bought a new camera, a hammock, a couple of used hiking boots (only US 10), etc.
I apologise for the quality of the pictures – as mentioned I didn't have my own camera, so the pictures are taken with borrowed cameras....
Summary and reflections upon this Summer's bicycle ride
Let me start by saying that the trip far exceeded my high expectations. It's been a very interesting and diverse trip of 13,200k (8,250 miles) across and around the US taking me over mountains (the highest being 3.3k ~ 10.800 feet) and through valleys; visiting everything from small villages to major cities; riding through forests, farmland and countryside; crossing rivers and creeks, etc. I've travelled through 28 American states (and Ontario, Canada); my favourites being Wyoming and Utah both containing spectacular and unique nature – the latter also providing the most amazing views in Zion and Bryce National Parks. Some roads were good ans some average but riding primarily in the countryside (to where less money is allocated) I often struggled with poor quality roads and a lot of gravel paths.
Timing the trip with the seasons I was pretty fortunate with the weather most of the way – having Spring all the way up the east coast, having Summer across the Great Plains and down the Rocky Mountains and finally Indian Summer in California. Along the way I survived a near-death incident with a pick-up truck, a bear rubbing against my tent and some crazy weather - everything from torrential rain and thunderstorms to snow/hail as well as freezing temperatures to sunny days of 45C (112F).... though always cursed by headwind no matter what direction I was heading. And still I felt priviledged since most days were dry.
I wrote down my expectations before leaving Florida mid March 2013 – see overall section USA 2013.
Before starting I was neither physically nor mentally ready but as expected it didn't take very long – the first days I particularly benefited from the flat landscape in Southern Florida. My concern about not having decent bicycle maps turned out to be less of a problem – using google maps (primarily on the densely populated and busy east coast) worked out better than feared (especially after acquiring a Cateye odometer) and as I rode west my overall US maps worked okay as there were few roads to choose between.
Despite many people warning me about the dangers in the US (weapons, robberies, assaults, etc.) I was right never being concerned with this. Different people had also told me to be careful entering people's private property asking for water, directions, etc. - “in the south they'll shoot you and in the north they'll call the cops”... I didn't really believe it could be so bad and fortunately I was right. The only real danger I was concerned with was drivers not being used to bicyclists though it turned out to be much less of a problem than anticipated. More often cars went much wider around me than necessary when passsing – the dangerous situations most frequently related to cars turning right without noticing me, but being extra careful/foresight and giving up my right of way prevented collisions.
It was difficult meeting people in the beginning, but besides Florida – where many people were hesitant/nervous to meet me – I blame the season/weather and riding in desolate areas. As Spring came and people spent more time outside it became much easier. This also influenced my accommodation – with few people to ask and riding through desolate parks/forests it was an easy solution to wildcamp. However, as my confidence grew and I became more open about camping out, I experienced people offering their gardens, guestrooms, etc. I often felt like Crodile Dundee coming to America - “Hallo, I'm Michael from Denmark on a bicycle trip around the world - do you know a place I can pitch my small tent for the night without trespassing or offending anyone?”. Along the invitations to stay with people often came meals, showers, laundry, snacks, etc. and it also created a much welcomed opportunity to learn about the diversity of the American people. I stayed with everybody from a toothless old, black woman in Georgia to rich, white people on a huge estate in Virginia (one of those mansions with giant white pillars) - despite worn clothes and limited hygiene I always felt welcome and was treated well.
To my great surprise everybody were very outspoken on all topics including politics (especially domestic), religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity and racism, north/south and east/west, city/countryside, etc. My premonition that Americans in general are fairly ignorant and therefore narrow-minded – was unfortunately confirmed; fairly few people knew and/or cared about the world outside their own county/state and especially outside the US. On the other hand I was happy that my prejudice was proven wrong regardings people's priorities in life – I experienced a few people being primarily focused on appearance and material life and a few times people yelled at me from their cars, but it's really not worth mentioning. Of the thousands of people I met along the way, the vast majority were open-minded and curious about my trip and all the time I was met by amazing and overwhelming friendliness, kindness, generousity and interest. Thank you to everybody I met along the way and particularly those who let me stay overnight – you enriched my trip and my life and I'll never forget you; these experiences alone made this trip worth taking.