First things first, if you haven’t already seen our completed map of South America can you need to go to the Americas Trip page and see just how far we’ve come since the last blog. If you’ve seen our South America map, check out our map on that page anyway because we’ve travelled really far in the US in the past 3 weeks! Apologies as well for how long it’s taken to publish this blog. We’ve been having such a good time hanging out with loads of cool people and seeing nice places that we haven’t had much time to be antisocial and update our online lives. Soz!
One of the most stressful things about travelling by bicycle is taking public transport and putting your bike on a plane can often be a terrifying experience. You hear the horror stories about bike boxes being dragged along and wearing part of the frame off, or having heavy loads piled on top of them and bending the frame, so when Ben packed them, he added extra padding and plastic to strategically reinforce the box. Damage or loss of bikes is usually more common on the cheaper airlines and we had booked the cheapest flights that we could find to Orlando, Florida with Spirit Airlines (they are the Ryanair of US airlines), so it’s fair to say we were slightly anxious. However, we needn’t have worried because the bikes arrived (with their boxes intact) before we had even cleared customs and had their own security guard! Even better than that though was being met at the airport arrivals by Dale, our Warmshowers host, and being driven back to their house even though it was way past midnight. What a legend!
Our first few days in the US were spent reassembling the bikes and Ben was happy because he had the use of a bike stand, a rare treat for him these days! Dale and his family were a great introduction to the US because they had thought of everything that a non-native would need to know and taught us about the differences between federal and state laws, sales tax, tipping etiquette, the Highway Code and even more things that we thought we would know from all of the American TV we watch but in reality is totally different. Having this kind of culture shock in the USA is something that really surprised us, everything felt very unfamiliar. We had expected South America to be different, they speak Spanish and are half the world away, but the USA is western and should be closer to home but it’s not. For example, there are so many more dangerous animals that you have to be aware of (alligators, snakes, spiders, bears..) and we didn’t expect to see these so early on but after our first day of cycling we’d seen an alligator, two snakes and two turtles – at least these were harmless.
A big difference that we’ve noticed about the US so far is how car-centric everything is. If you don’t have access to a motorised vehicle you really have to go out of your way to get anywhere. We’d look at a map, see a grocery store and think it was only a handful of kilometres away because that’s how it was in South America and is in a town at home, but here it can easily be 5 miles away. With the navigation, traffic and heat (it’s over 30 degrees Celsius most days) that can be up to an hours ride. Everything is also so much bigger, spread out and more expensive. It doesn’t help that the Pound Sterling is pretty weak against the dollar at the minute either.
One thing that we’re glad has continued is the hospitality that we’ve received in the US. The Warmshowers and Couchsurfing community is really active and has we’ve been welcomed into people’s homes in each state we’ve cycled through. Whether we’ve stayed with someone for a night or three, the response has been overwhelmingly positive and ‘Southern Hospitality’ really is a big deal. We have shared countless meals with people, often our hosts have offered to cook for us because they love hosting people and to allow us to try southern cooking, which is delicious! The amount of variety available here means that no two dinners will be the same. The flavours, cooking styles and tastes are so varied and it’s quite a nice change after the few staples that you could count on in South America (a mix of rice, beans, meat and all three!). Like South America it’s really nice to know that there are amazing, friendly people in the world and that people really do just want to help in any way they can. From taking us to the grocery store, helping us get a US SIM card, showing us routes on a map and taking us to some of the local spots, it’s all really appreciated. (If anyone is interesting in becoming a Warmshowers (cyclist only) or Couchsurfing (all travellers) host and wants any more info, send us a message and we would love to help. Hopefully we’ve shown how amazing the community is and we can’t wait to host people whenever we eventually return to repay all of the generous hospitality that we’ve received).
It’s also noticeable how speaking the same native language makes communicating so much easier and the connections you make are so much deeper because you can fully express yourself. Wittgenstein (Austrian born philosopher writing in the early twentieth century) was spot on when he wrote, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world” – another reason why we need to keep practising, learning and improving our Spanish to expand our horizons.
A huge thank you goes to all of the great hosts we have had so far: Dale (Orlando, FL), Corey (St. Augustine, FL), Wayne and Linda (Yulee, FL), Jeff (Brunswick, GA), Scott (Savannah, GA), Herbert and KK (Rocky Ford, GA), Tim and Kelly (Wadley, GA), Chuck and Katie (Evans, GA), Aline and Leah and Zeus (Easley, SC) – Our US experience would not have been half as good without you guys.
When we decided to fly to Florida a lot of people were surprised because it’s not a common US cycling route, especially considering the route we took through the Andes and our preference for dirt roads and mountains where possible. But it was a cheap flight and going north on the east coast follows the seasons perfectly, plus we didn’t want to rush the west coast and Great Divide Route – that’s still our plan when we come back in the Spring with no time limit. We knew that, at least at the start, the riding wouldn’t be the most interesting so our plan was always to ride pretty swiftly to the mountains and spend longer there. However we were pleasantly surprised and we found that we didn’t mind the flat riding. Don’t get us wrong, we still prefer the mountains but it was nice to be able to ride multiple 100km days and watch the landscapes change each day. The coastal, wet-land Florida gave way to the crops growing in the lowlands of Georgia, which turned into pastures with grazing animals as the land started to undulate in South Carolina. Then after 1360km (845 miles) we finally reached the foothills of the Appalachian mountains and the small town of Brevard.
Florida: Beaches, intracoastal waterway, cycle paths, afternoon storms
Georgia: Beautiful coastal cities (Brunswick & Savannah) and endless farmlands
South Carolina: National forest camping, foothills of the Appalachians
Last Monday (20/5/19) we arrived in Brevard, North Carolina, at the foothills of the Appalachians. The ride from Easley, South Carolina to Brevard, North Carolina was a stunning ride and the first day that we actually felt excited for seeing the sights along the way. We didn’t ride the most straightforward and direct way (unlike the previous two weeks), we purposefully chose a mountainous road that would be through a forest and at almost 1000m (3200ft) we would have great panoramic views of the surrounding area. The road was still paved but it was much quieter, the gradient wasn’t too severe and it was less than a typical ‘Colombia’. The ‘Colombia’ is a technical measurement that we now have for any climb that is between 15-20km long and gains 1500m (9-12 miles with 4900 feet of climbing for any of our new American readers). There was at least one of these in a typical day for us in Colombia!
Brevard is a town known for its microbreweries and mountain biking. We’ve heard it described as an up and coming destination comparable to many bike and beer destinations on the US West Coast, so we are stoked to finally be here and are going to spend a number of days riding bikes and exploring the local area. We have an amazing Couchsurfing host family and plan on making the most of our time here, but more on that next time.
See y’all soon!
Steph and Ben