Train part 1 - Boston to Chicago
Water on the windows.
We pass a town, it looks a shell of its former self, the former self I imagine for it.
The station looks deserted, as though men were once here, in some other time, but no longer.
A man gets on the train, wheezing, desperate, lunges forward, smells of smoke, disarray.
The train draws alongside a building, ghostly, dark, windows smashed, long ago, haunting. Vines are growing through, trying to possess it.
Trees, deciduous, slowly turning shades of red and orange with the seasons. Some relent the change, desperate to avoid decay they hold on to there green foliage.
A woman coughs. At first a slow and steady hackle, then a wheeze, whine, until it builds, from some unseen force it gathers momentum, and then it takes on a life of its own. She can’t stop. And when it seems she has, the moment has passed and the coughing begins again.
Rushing, panicking, arguing, seats are reserved, but there are no seats, it seems, for the eclectic bunch of passengers, gathered in the isle.
Eventually, somehow, people disperse, find their places, the argument gone, and all that remains is silence and air, the noise of the train, rolling along on the tracks, foliage, bushes, grasses, trees, shades of greens, red’s, orange.
A man coughs, the woman starts again.
I walk into the next carriage, and look around me. I’m surrounded by empty chairs. Empty chairs? Why I’m still asking myself this question I don’t know, after eight months and twenty one countries I should know by now that there are no answers, or that the question is not worth worrying about.
Air blows through the train, I can hear it, circling above me.
Shanna tries to take a photo, nothing but a blur, we’re going too fast, ‘I’ll just have to remember it with my eyes.’ She says. And I’m wondering, what do we remember things with? A tap on the back, I turn around, she’s gesturing wildly, pointing outside with her eyes.
We’ll just have to remember it with our eyes.
‘It’d be good if we had our bikes…’
‘Because it’s really pretty out there.’
‘Do you wanna be back on the bike?”
We will be soon.
72 hours later...
Wow, what a trip!
The views were spectacular, America is an amazing place, even more incredible than we expected.
The train travelled through New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Chicago, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon.
We'll tell you all about it and post some photo's very soon!
Hub on Wheels Boston
Distance: various km riding around Boston
100km on day of the bike race
The tent arrived in Boston, Sam spent a day seam-sealing it and we have no more excuses for staying in Boston... so tomorrow we leave.
Our time in Boston has been like a holiday and being with Mari and Jenny has been like staying with old friends. It's been a terrific rest period and we're feeling eager to continue our exploration of the United States.
Our last day in Boston we participated, with Mari and Jenny in a big big ride with thousands of people. We did the longest distance - 50 miles - and despite narrow dirt and gravel tracks where you couldn't overtake, head winds and some terrible bumpy roads, we loved it and completed the course in times we were happy with. It was so nice to ride without the bags and see some spectacularly beautiful parts of Boston, its forest, beach, harbor's, city buildings and rural cemeteries that we never would have seen otherwise, and, it felt good to overtake people on their fancy road bikes! :)
We saw so much of this beautiful city on the ride and met some really nice people along the way... plus there were free massages at the end!
It's sad to know we're leaving tomorrow, and we're feeling a little scared about spending three days and nights on a train... you probably won't hear from us again for a few days!
The bus ride took five hours.
Just getting out of Manhattan at rush hour took 55 minutes- you could probably ride it on a bike in less than twenty.
Not that we were in a hurry.
But, now that I'm thinking of it, aren't bikes great!
Anyway, we both fell into our seats, exhausted, and almost immediately I began day-dreaming, wathching, looking out through the evening light, softly departing in its slow progression over the big apple.
Children, throwing basketballs, into hoops, women, embracing at a bus stop, old men, standing motionless, looking around, expresionless faces telling unknown stories, then looking at me... no they aren't looking at me, looking through me, at something else, something I can't see, can never see. Hair in braids, big black and puffy jackets with sweaty foreheads poking out from underneath, the sun glinting in peoples eyes, in the windows, out over the changing shapes of Manhattans city skyline. Churches, grandiose, massive, dwarfed by the colossal concrete and glass structures that surround them, a beauty, peculiar, different and all their own.
This city has a heart. My eyes close for a moment and I think I can see it, it breathes, sometimes it seems coarse, aggressive, and others, relaxed and laid back. Dangerously so, people walk out in front of cars, nonchalant, not knowing or caring, just walking, on another planet, in another place, with a different set of eyes.
Music plays in the background. Drums and bass, beating on into the dying rays, fading with each other, into some other time.
The door thrusts outwards, for a moment, and the bus driver turns. I catch a glimpse, I can see a cap on his head, 'New York Yankees,' sunglasses perched on top. He takes it off, there is no hair. His skin, dark and luminous, glistens from the suns dying rays that still, desperately clinging to the day in a futile attempt to stop the encroaching twilight, penetrate the thick glass windows, and then slowly, hesitantly evaporate into the moonlit night. A dark night, punctuated with splashes of light, splayed across the window.
And tomorrow, a 50 mile bike race through the city streets.
Circling the Big Apple
We found a good place to hire bikes near Lucy and Sean's for $20 each for four hours - much better than the $15/hr signs we'd seen closer to Central Park! And the bikes were actually better than we'd expected.
It was a perfect day - warm, blue skies, no wind... I'd been feeling a bit of ennui in Boston waiting for the tent but being back on the bike with the sun beating down it all melted away. I found myself grinning as we rode along the path.
It was the first time we'd really ridden for over a week and it felt good!! We rode down the Hudson bike path going past Chelsea piers, the former World Trade Centre site (where construction is booming!) and down to Battery Park, to gaze across the water at the Statue of Liberty.
The path 'mostly' goes around the whole island of Manhattan so we decided to keep riding around the point at the bottom and up the eastern side to Central Park. We rode under the bridges, which was just amazing, and looked across to Brooklyn instead of Jersey.
Things were going well until the lane merged back into the traffic and we found ourselves on a freeway... we must have missed a turn into the side streets... we rode the rental bikes as fast as we could on the narrow shoulder as cars honked and swerved around us. But there was nowhere to go - the road had high concrete barriers on both sides.
On our left we saw an exit - but we could hardly ride across four lanes of traffic to use it - so we kept riding.
Eventually on our right the top of the fence was missing and we were able to pass the bikes over and climb onto a pedestrian path on the water. We continued along for about 7km until the path stopped at a large set of stairs leading to a bridge over the freeway. We carried the bikes up and continued down the path again.
We ended up riding through the streets of Harlem after the path stopped for a third time with no warning. Riding around this side of the island was not as easy as we had hoped. We were running out of time and still had to get to Central Park so we rode down to W110th St and enjoyed the smooth road going through the park along with hundreds of other cyclists.
Riding around New York had been great - but it was time to go back to Boston. We said bye to another pair of terrific hosts and went to Penn Station where the Megabus would take us back 'home' to Mari and Jenny's.
While we waited for the bus Sam was approached by a man 'collecting money for the homeless'. Sam politely declined but the man kept pushing and became rude. So Sam told him to move on... some heated words were exchanged and the guy went onto other people waiting for various buses - many of them giving him money so he'd go away.
Sam went up and asked him his name and which charity he worked for - because he had no tag, official papers, wasn't giving out receipts.. the guy became angry and said his boyfriend would smash Sam. Sam said he was getting the police. The guy ran.
Sam followed him to the bathrooms where the guy locked himself in. The police were called but somehow the guy snuck out... the police set out in pursuit and Sam returned to me just in time to board our bus, which I'd been worried was going to leave without us.
While Sam was gone I'd been approached by a man claiming he was just out of jail and he had nothing - could I help?? It seems all the scammers know where to target the tourists...
Empire State of Mind
The megabus from Boston drops us on a corner in the big city at about 9pm. It's been one of our better bus trips, the free wifi even worked for the first 40 minutes, and we enjoyed a beautiful sunset.
We manage to work out the direction to a station on the 1,2,3 line (Mari had organised with some friends for us to crash with them) and start walking. We haven't gone far when we stumble upon Madison Square Garden - home to the New York Knicks.
We walk around this famous venue and tiredly catch the train to the home of Lucy, Sean and Rudy (their beautiful dog). We spend some time chatting about bikes and our trip and patting Rudy before gratefully falling asleep on their comfortable air mattress.
In the morning we join them for a walk with Rudy along the Hudson River. It's really beautiful - they're lucky their apartment is so close to this fantastic riverside park with walking paths and a bike trail.
Back in the centre of the city, and we head to Times Square to take in the atmosphere and look for half price theatre tickets for the night. We take our time walking around - watch a man chopping wood with his hand as part of a cystic fibrosis fundraiser and look in a few shops.
But the half price ticket window doesn't open until 2pm... a guy selling comedy show tickets starts chatting to us and convinces us to pay just $15 each for entry to 'one of America's best' stand-up shows at the Dangerfields club. On Sam's probing we find out that it is a minimum 2 drink purchase once you get there, but we figure we'd be thirsty and buy a drink anyway.
We walk towards the Rockefellar Centre, stop to look inside a grand church, and find ourselves drawn into the Apple shop. On a corner near Central Park we are enthralled by a homeless man drumming with scraps of boxes and buckets - he is so talented!! We are similarly impressed by a guy singing in the subway, and we buy his CD.
We wait over half an hour for the next train, and when it arrives it is predictably packed. This is after getting bad directions from the man in the info booth and figuring out ourselves that it was easier to walk to another station rather than change trains three times...
On the recommendation of Lucy and Sean we head to Pier 66 for some dinner at the Frying Pan restaurant followed by kayaking on the Hudson. We're so excited to see the city from this different angle. But after talking to a few different people, including the rude sail-boat charter people next door, we find out that the kayaking has been cancelled for the day. We're really disappointed. But dinner on the barge is delicious, the sun is warm and the view spectacular, so we can't complain too much.
We stop in a small diner to sample some New York Cheesecake, and the prices look cheap so we also get a rice pudding and something called 'egg cream' that is in the milkshakes menu. It's not a custard though, more like soda water with some vanilla flavouring... The rice pudding tastes like sugar and the cheesecake is ok, but not great... When the bill arrives and we realise tax is added on, plus a tip is required, it dawns on us that the food is not as cheap as we'd thought. All we could do is laugh and toast the fact that it's our fourth wedding anniversary, and things really aren't going to plan.
The comedy show is mostly terrific. We overcome the fact that they are trying to get us to buy two drinks each at a price of $7.50 for Orange Juice or Coke... and convince them we are only paying for one drink each. Some of the acts are really clever and funny, and we enjoy most of the night enormously. But the final act... a Texan whose entire repertoire consists of racist, sexual, religious and other offensive material ends the night... people aren't laughing... he is awkward, we're awkward... we're glad when it's over but it's a terrible way to finish.
Great news, Black Diamond has given us a new tent.
They are sending it express post.
Waiting for Black Diamond
Distance- Riding around Boston
Wow, what a beautiful city Boston is, gorgeous parks and ponds, friendly (sometimes) people, heaps of nice basketball courts and tennis courts, and nice bicycle paths to cycle on (the roads suck!).
Anyway, Mari and Jen have been absolute champions letting us crash in their super cool pad in Jamaica Plains (although sadly I'm yet to meet a real life Jamaican) while we wait for Black DIamond to get back to us about our tent.
Most of our readers already know all about the problems we've been having with our tent, but in case you haven't already heard what's been going on with it, here's a short explanation of the saga. (And just a small note to Black Diamond in case they are reading this- we had 400 hits on this site yesterday, double the daily average, so thanks for logging on everyone!!!)
Before heading off on a year-long cycle trip around the world, I purchased and tested a number of tents – the Black Diamond Hilight, Black Diamond Skylight and BD Bibler Ahwahnee, Nemo Tenshi, MSR Elbow Room and MSR Hubba Hubba. Some of these we tested in the backyard, others we tested at places like Wilsons Promontory and Phillip Island (both places in Australia).
We decided to take the Black Diamond Bibler Ahwahnee, which we found to be well designed, and we thought (and still think) possibly the only true four season tent (useable in Summer) on the market.
Unfortunately for us the quality of workmanship has simply not matched up to its fantastic design.
About two weeks ago, whilst cycling across Ireland, our Black Diamond Bibler Ahwahnee tent began to let in water through the fabric. Now, even under light rain, water enters directly through all external surfaces of the Todd Tex fabric. All seams were sealed correctly and no water is penetrating these areas.
After a little research, I found that the problem with this tent has occurred for other people. Here is an example-
Prior to the leaking, we also had a major recurring problem with the state of the eyelets either side of the tent that the awning pole is meant to sit in. The first time I set the tent up in the lounge room the pole was extremely difficult to get in, but I figured that it might have been intentionally made that way so that when the fabric stretched with use, the pole would fit perfectly. Well this never happened and it is still a constant struggle to put the pole in.
Now I have to use electrical tape on a recurring basis to hold in the eyelets to prevent them from completely falling out of the tabs (this has happened a few times). I tried a few different ways of making a permanent fix, like using glue, squashing the eyelets down tighter against the fabric and taking the tent to a number of different repair shops to see if they could permanently fix it, all to no avail.
We had not taken the tent to Black Diamond to see if it can be fixed before now because I haven’t been able to. We’ve been cycling around the world for the last eight months, so we usually need it. It is also difficult to provide an address, particularly one for long enough to have the tent sent overseas.
Now that we’re in the US (and it is leaking badly– which we can’t live with) we’ve posted it with the receipt of purchase (it is still in warranty) to the Salt Lake headquarters. We are desperately hoping for a speedy resolution and return as we aredue to continue our world tour through America and into South and Central America.
Our first reply from Black Diamond expressed disbelief that the tent has problems, and hinted that we have misused it in some way. Here are some quotes:
‘Frankly I have never heard of this fabric leaking as you are describing.’
‘I have not known the Todd-Tex fabric to leak unless it has been damaged by mildew or contaminated with some type of oil.’
‘Please give me as much information as you can concerning the life/use of this tent that may explain why it has started leaking.’
‘Please understand we just don’t hear this. Something unusual has to be going on.’
The problems listed were not caused by misuse. and it appears that Black Diamond are aware of this but unwilling to accept it. When you spend a small fortune on a tent and it is the only home you have, you look after it well.
We wash, with water, the tent occasionally, and always make sure it has dried before packing it up and riding each day. And according to online reports at least two other serious cases of this kind of leaking of Todd Tex fabric have been reported to Black Diamond.
Having also purchased the Black Diamond Orbit Lamp, two BD Icon head torches, two other BD tents, the Skylight and Hilight, and a host of BD clothing, all of which had been fantastic (we'll do reviews on some of this stuff over the coming weeks if anyone is interested), this makes us think, and hope, that what has happened to us with this tent is a one off incident.
We still believe that Black Diamond makes fantastic products, and would consider purchasing many of these items again if the customer service meets what you would expect from one of the most integral and well known global out door brands.
Keep checking back and we will update this review as soon as we here back from Black Diamond.
We landed in Beantown at late in the afternoon, the famous home of the Boston Celtics and the New England Patriots!
(NB- I strongly recommend never flying Aer Lingus, crazy bloody Irish).
After waiting for a long time we were beginning to wonder if our bikes would ever show up, and starting to worry that we might miss Jenny, when the steel roller door made another slow and arduous journey up, revealing our trusty steeds safely stowed away in their big brown boxes. Phew!
Five minutes later and we were standing outside the airport, looking for a gold colored Toyota when we heard someone yell out to us from a pick up truck (or a ute if you're from Australia). Suddenly we realised it was Jenny, and our eyes lit up!
Smiling and happy with relief that we were now in Boston, and had found such an awesome girl that'd driven out to pick us up, we said g'day to the first person to collect us from an airport for our entire trip.
Jen got out, and helped us put our boxes and bags in the back of the truck, and we zoomed off in a cloud of phat American smoke!
Half an hour later, after driving through the city of Boston we arrived in Jamaica Plain, a pretty suburban neighborhood only minutes from Boston's inner sanctum.
Here we met Mari, the second coolest person in the States, and possibly the first best Guitar Hero jammer in the country!
Dublin to Boston
We had a day in Dublin to see the city and prepare for our flight... we washed clothes, aired the tent and sleeping bags, repacked the bags... And in the afternoon we headed into the city.
The air was cool as we walked through the beautiful streets and parks of Dublin. It was quite a trendy city, with lots of cafes and shopping... we were told by our hosts, Gabby and Neill, that Dubliners love to shop, and they were out en mass even late in the afternoon.
We treated ourselves to dinner - Tappas for two - in one of the sophisticated restaurants. For 31 euro we got six dishes and bread... meatballs in sauce, chicken burritoes, baked potatoes, salmon, salad, fried goat cheese... It was all so delicious and we felt so full! It was one of the best meals we've had on the trip.
Back at Neill and Gabby's that night it was time to take the bikes apart and pack them in the boxes they'd picked up for us (thanks so much again guys!). In the foyer of their apartment building we cleaned and dismantled the bikes... and finally managed to fit them in the boxes. It is such a hassle taking them apart to fly... But we're getting a lot quicker at it!
It was an early start the next day when we said goodbye to our terrific hosts and Neill dropped us and our gear at the bus stop for the airport coach.
Sam had an interesting experience at McDonalds buying some breakfast... while waiting outside for it to open he was chatting to a guy about our trip. This man then told another man standing nearby, who Sam had already noticed, looking a little dirty and unkempt and carefully counting every cent in his hand. This second man, upon hearing about our trip, immediately said, 'I shoul' give ya some money' and examined what little change he had. We were touched by his immediate offer of generosity (and declined, instead giving him a couple of euros) and reflected that it was the first time we'd been offered any money for the trip (apart from Stevie's constant offers of money and help whenever we hear from him - Love ya Steve!).
At the airport, after some confusion at the Aer Lingus check-in (you're meant to use the do-it-yourself machines, but they were trying to charge me for the bikes, even though I'd already paid for them!) we were ushered through the line and checked-in fine. Before boarding the plane in Dublin we went through a US security check - our fingerprints were taken, we were questioned about our plans, and then finally we received the passport stamp to permit our entry into the US. We were now in the USA, although technically still in Dublin airport.
The flight itself was another story... I won't go into detail here, but it was not one of our best flying experiences. We were very glad to be on US soil and away from the airline. Looking at our watches we waited half an our for our bikes, and collected them just in time to walk outside and meet our Boston host...
Sam and Shanna Evans are from Melbourne, Australia