Catching the train from Santa Barbara to San Diego was pretty easy.
We booked tickets on the Pacific Surfliner train online, and the next morning turned up at the station where our tickets were printed.
We were told that the train had racks for bikes, but if they were all full we'd be turned away and have to wait for the next train.
We spent the next 40 minutes wondering if we'd get on the train, but when it pulled up there were no problems. The conductor pointed us to the correct end of the carriage and showed us how to hang the bikes.
Sam took care of that while I carried the bags upstairs and put them in the special luggage rack.
We spent the next six hours reading and watching the ocean go past. It was another beautiful train journey - they sure know the best place to put a train route in the US!
We arrived in Down Town San Diego and rode up the Pacific Highway to Old Town, where we filled in some time before heading to the home of our hosts, Jamie and Adrian (more friends of Jenny and Mari).
In Chicago we ran out of the train station and jumped into a water taxi that took us slowly up the river and through the beautiful windy city.
The boat ride was fun, and gave us the chance to see the city from an angle we might never have gotten otherwise. Actually, although it didn't live up to its 'windy city' moniker, we decided that this one one of the most beautiful cities we've seen anywhere in the world!
Running back to the station we collected our bags and prepared to board a different train.
Chicago to Portland took about 47 hours.
Might sound like hell to some people, but we think it was a fantastic journey, well worth a sore neck from sleeping in a chair for two nights (or three in total for us).
Check out the photos, I think they are some of our best ever.
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.
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!
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...
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.
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...
We made it to Swansea with plenty of time to spare, but not before getting caught in a rain storm. We hid under a bridge, wondering if it would clear, and when it slowed down to a drizzle we kept on riding.
After hanging out for a while we decided to go down to the ferry terminal early, about 5pm. When we got there I figured we were in the wrong place, with a checkpoint and big semi-trailer trucks pouring through. We asked the man, twice because we couldn’t understand the first time, if we could go through to the ferry. ‘Six o’clock is the earliest ye can coom, no earler’ then this’ he said.
7pm and we go back to the checkpoint, but the man has left, so we just keep on riding, until we hit the traffic jam. Half an hour of standing in line, sitting on our bikes and it seems we’re nearing the front of the queue when we see someone yelling out to us, in Irish and gesturing that we should go around the back way. Thanks for telling us, Shanna says laughing, and mumbles something to me about us freezing our butts off for nothing.
We get down to the spot and there’s no one there who knows what’s going on, so one of the coppa digga’s (police) standing around doing nothing sends his buddy off to find out.
Ten minutes later and he comes back and tells us we have to go join the queue and line up with everyone else so that customs can search our bags. Awesome, I say, annoyed, no more like pissed off.
Half an hour later after going through customs were one man is working and being watched by six other people (no wonder the UK is going broke!) and we are finally on board. After riding more than ten ferries over short and long distance this one has taken well over double the time to board of the next best challenger.
We watched the boat leave the harbor under Swansea’s glittering lights and then found our room on board, a hot shoe box. It was so hot in there we decided to check out the boats attractions, and found, a leprechaun for sale in the down stairs shop.
Over the PA system the captain announces that the stabilizers are coming out to try and settle things a bit, but nothing seems to change, and our stomachs are still churning. Finally, with the boat rocking like mad we fall asleep at midnight, but get woken up by a bunch of drunk welsh women at one in the morning. In my sleeping attire (a pair of jocks), groggy and still half asleep I open the door to see what all the fuss is about, and immediately get an ear full of cat calls. One of them says sorry and I hope this means the noise will lower a few decibels.
6am and the captain is on the PA again to let us all know that the restaurant is open for our business, if we would be so kind to get up now and cough up some more money.
At 8am we go down below to the cargo area to untie our bikes, only to find that they’ve been untied already, and are now in a different position. We look at each other, droopy eyes, both thinking the same thing, it can only get better from here.
And it does.
The bus from Cardiff was stuffy and bumpy… I was feeling a little sick so I knew Sam was feeling terrible. Luckily it arrived in London early, not late as we’d been warned, and we jumped off seemingly eager to explore London, grateful to be out of the bus and in the fresh air.
It was a few hours before we could head to the home of our Warm Showers host, Max, so we found some maps and brochures, and sat down in a food court with public wifi, to plan the next couple of days.
It was confusing – there was the London Pass, where you pay for the pass, then get free entry to selected sights. But some of the biggest attractions were not part of it. And of course it was quite a big outlay of cash. We had some half price vouchers given to us on the coach… but did we want to go to those places? And then there were lots of places that were free to visit – so could we stick to them? I spent time working out different price options and circling places on the map… not really coming to any conclusions but confusing myself more.
We went for a night-time stroll to Buckingham Palace, hoping to see the queen return from a night out in the city but satisfying ourselves with snapping some photos.
It was getting late so we headed to the station to follow Max’s directions to his place. But the metro station was closed. Someone had ‘fallen’ in front of a train and the line was closed. We checked a bus map – maybe one of the buses we needed to get to Max’s place came this way… but no luck. We resolved to walk to a station on the line we needed and then follow Max’s directions.
We arrived at his place late – almost midnight. And then we sat up talking until 2.30am.
It was a relaxed but interesting day. We started at London Tower, and caught a ferry down the Thames, laughing at the amusing commentary provided by the crew. It was a great way to see many of the sights, including the Tower Bridge, Shakespeare’s Globe, London Eye, Big Ben and some amazing buildings. We got off at the Westminster pier and walked towards Trafalgar Square. On the way we passed by a crowd outside the Horse Guard building so we joined them in time to watch the inspection.
At Trafalgar Square a series of public performances were underway under the banner 'Liberty'. It seemed to be a festival dedicated to and performed by those with physical and mental impairments. We saw some girls with down syndrome perform a ballet, a deaf girl sing with her band, acrobatics tricks and wheelchair basketball. There was a large crowd and a great feeling. You could see the joy in the eyes of all the performers.
We saw some Piccasos in the National Gallery, and were intrigued by the portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, reading the short commentaries and then imagining the raison d'etre behind their respective visages. We could have spent more time in the galleries but were disappointed when they said closing time and kicked us out.
In the evening we walked to Curzon cinema in Soho, passing through the West End and Chinatown districts where we sat through 40 minutes of ads and previews to eventually see the Argentinean drama The secrets in their eyes.
Distance: 28km riding
In the morning thousands of people gathered on the shores of Ijmuiden to farewell us from The Netherlands.
They even organised a parade of boats through the harbour, music blaring, people dancing... it was quite the nautical celebration. We wondered if it all spontaneously erupted simply because the sun came out...
We enjoyed the party and headed off to the terminal of our departure. It was exciting to be going to Newcastle, and to be staying overnight in a cabin! Almost a hotel... with beds... and hot showers...
The voyage across the north sea was quite rough, it was sometimes difficult to walk through the ship. And the pile of courtesy seasick bags on the table indicated this was normal.
We arrived in Newcastle to 17 degrees, winds and a forecast of heavy rain... But I felt so excited to be there! I wanted to talk to all the border workers as we made our way to the passport check, just because they spoke English...
But getting into England was more difficult than expected. They wanted to know where we were staying that night, what was our route through England, when were we leaving... turns out many Australians overstay their visas and they wanted to check me out... especially since Sam has a UK passport so technically he can stay... It was harder than entering China!
Once I got the stamp and we were in the country we rode to the suburb of North Shields, where we found a fantastic bike shop. We spent a couple of hours looking at all the things we needed (and didn't need) and chatting to the store workers. One of the mechanics, Jesse from Arizona, invited us to stay with him and wis wife for the night. We gratefully accepted and spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the seaside of Newcastle.
I felt quite nostalgic being in the place my hometown was named after. Suburbs like Wallsend and Gateshead.. signs pointing to Morpeth. And it looked like Newcastle, the working harbour, beaches... I loved it! As we waited for Jesse to finish work and take us back to his home, we sat on a bench watching the surfers, joggers and energetic dogs... we could have been sitting on the beach on the other side of the world.
But we weren't. We were in England. And it felt good.