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Posts Tagged ‘san diego’

Cycling across America


In 1998 I decided on a new challenge: to cycle across the United States. It would be a journey of 3,500 miles, solo – just me, my bike and my tent, across America. I started at San Diego, and dipped my back tyre in the Pacific Ocean and kept going East – up and over four mountain ranges, one 8,000 foot pass, through eight states, and across four timezones. I finished at St Augustine and dipped my front tyre in the Atlantic waves in Florida.The simple question of “why?” has a simple answer: “to celebrate being able to see.”

A few years earlier, I very nearly lost my sight. Both retinas had detached and, thanks to an emergency operation, I can still drive to work, run for a bus, and enjoy the colours of nature’s changing seasons. Imagine being blind. Every day events such as crossing the road, choosing apples at a supermarket, finding clothes that match, watching a football game or film at the cinema – or riding a bike – would all be very different and take time to adapt to. Since I was not a cyclist, the challenge of cycling across America would parallel the challenges of adapting to a life without sight, learning to use my other senses and having a different vision on life. I also wanted to raise £ 10,000 for a local charity North East Sensory Services (formerly Grampian Society for the Blind). Their work cannot bring sight back, but can help individuals lead an active and independent lifestyle.

America is a BIG place! It took me three weeks to cycle across Texas, but first I had to get across the Arizona desert. You expect it to be hot in a desert, but the temperature rose to a scourching 16o degrees f. I tucked my head down against the glare and started pedalling. I stopped at the only water stop, a gas station, hinged between sand dunes, and guzzled fluid to fill my body with water. My aim was to store as much water in my stomach and then fill several large bottles. These would add to the weight of my bike, which was already laden with 65 pounds of tent, sleeping bag, portable office, food and cooking equipment.Extra weight means extra effort to cycle, which means extra sweating.Perhaps I could have taken less water, but didn’t want to risk it. My fears were confirmed when I heard of another cyclist who had collapsed from heat exhaustion. He lay on the boiling tarmac for 20 minutes before he was picked up by a passing truck. In that short time, the sun’s rays were so fierce that they had melted the lycra in his shorts. He was treated in hospital for heat sickness and first degree burns.

My coast to coast adventure took 61 days. I got through eight bottles of sunscreen, 305 litres of water, 153 blueberry muffins, two T-shirts, three bottles of green slime (to help prevent punctures), and five inner tubes. I had 11 punctures, burned 218,000 calories and raised £ 12,000 for charity.