Crossing a continent

Leg two of the round the world cycle complete: Orlando, Florida to San Diego, California.

All the way across the third biggest country in the world (by square km), powered by nothing but our own two legs. No gas, no petrol, no diesel – it feels pretty good!

We left Phoenix Arizona a week ago, and we’ve been made to work hard to get to the finish line. It’s been seven days back to back on the bike and it’s been tough going.

One of our hardest days we’ve had was just before a town called Ocotillo in Southern California. The day started beautifully, we rode through terrain that could easily be mistaken for Egypt – massive sand dunes stretching out for miles. It’s actually where they filmed the Jabba the Hutt scene at the start of Return of the Jedi on Tattoine.

It was beautiful… until the wind started.

It was the strongest headwind either of us had ever ridden in. All you can do is try and make yourself as small as possible, stick as close behind the person in front of you and just focus on keeping the pedals turning. One by one. Cycling into a strong headwind is like trying to run in a swimming pool – no matter how hard you try moving forward, you never seem to get anywhere. It was so strong; at a couple of points it actually blew us off the road.

When the sand whips up, it gets everywhere. In your eyes, your mouth, your ears, your hair, your bike chain. Everywhere.

All you can see is sand, all you can hear is wind.

Eventually the three of us arrived at Ocotillo. Washed out and knackered we pulled up to a little diner where we were warmly welcomed.

We were a team of three, as we had met George a couple of days before on the road. We ran into each other as we were leaving Wickenburg, Arizona. He is on a cycle tour round the US, from Virginia to San Francisco, and was heading to San Diego on the same route as us so we decided to team up.

George is about to start studying his masters next summer in renewable energy and sustainable housing design. He’s a great lad – and also totally hard core.

After arriving in Ocotillo and eating until we cold hardly move, it was time to set up camp. The diner owners had kindly said we could camp round the back for the night, before starting the big climb into San Diego.

We proceeded to cook up a feast for dinner – burritos. Flavoured rice on the stove, mashed avocado, tomatoes, cheese and sweet corn, all wrapped up in a large tortilla. Delicious.

It was still blowing a gale. Whilst we were deciding how to set up our tent to best shelter from the wind, George comes out with:

“Hey guys, I don’t think I’m going to set up my tent tonight”

“Erm … okay mate, where are you going to sleep?”

“I’m just going to sleep here in my sleeping bag – I think my tent will just blow away in the wind.”

“… are you sure? So you’re just going to sleep rough out in the open? With no tent?”

“Yeah, it’s no problem I’ll be fine.”


Once we’d set up our tent, we checked on George to see if he was going to be okay. Sure enough, there he was in his sleeping bag under the stars, unfazed, just chilling, reading his book, the trees swaying all around him. He was wrapped up in his sleeping mat in a sort of roll. We were laughing – he looked like a human burrito. They say you are what you eat – George is a burrito.

Here’s a picture. It’s dark, but you can just about make out our tent which we had to weight down with about six rocks to stop it blowing away, and the human burrito sheltering by the wall.

Thankfully the wind abated the next day, as we had one major climb to ascend before San Diego. It was 1,750m of vertical climbing across 75km. We were able to spin up, slowly but surely, and arrived in Pine Valley, our final rest before San Diego.

Pine Valley is an idyllic town set in the mountains, surrounded by huge pine trees. It has a wonderful climate – hot, but not too hot in the summer, and cold but not too cold in the winter.

Jesse and Lindsey, our kind hosts in Pine Valley however, are thinking of moving to Texas. Jesse told us:

“I’m not what you would consider a liberal, I’m very conservative. Here in California there are restrictive gun laws. For example from January I’m going to have to declare my AR15 (machine gun) and get a license for it, or hand it in. I’m not willing to do that. Also, to buy a gun you have to wait 10 days for them to do a background check, in Texas you pretty much walk into any shop, and walk out with a gun.”

“I’m very religious. In California Christianity isn’t encouraged, whereas in Texas there is a church on every corner. They are also stopping doing the pledge of allegiance (to the USA) every day in schools, and folding of the flag properly (part of USA flag raising ceremony the kids have to do each day). This is very important to me.”

“Aside from that, the property prices in Texas are much lower than here so I’d get a lot more for my money, and this place has doubled in price since we bought it.”

After dinner for the second time in a couple of weeks, the AR15 machine gun came out. This time it was less of an after dinner entertainment, but a safety precaution, as we were venturing out into the back garden to look at the stars.

After a full scan for coyotes, we were given the all clear to come out.

Coyotes are sort of like to Californians, what foxes are to people in London – a bit of a pest. Jesse wasn’t taking any chances with our safety. We’re no experts, but we reckoned throwing a rock at one would probably scare it off, not sure it would really require a machine gun. Just out of interest I googled how many deaths per year there are from coyotes. No idea how reputable the sources are, but apparently it’s two since 1981. Just for context, cows kill five people in the UK per year. Still, you never can be too careful.

The beauty of a full day of climbing, is that next day we had a full day of descending. It was a glorious victory lap of 80km, near enough all downhill, right into San Diego and onto the beach to finish our USA tour. Here are our bikes at the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

We’re now staying with family friends David and Izzy from London and Fife. They are absolutely brilliant and treating us like family for the next few days.  Their daughter Alex works as a fundraiser for the Democrat party, and they have just returned from a Christmas party at the White House where they got to meet Obama. On Obama Izzy said:

“He’s just so sophisticated, compassionate, intelligent, thoughtful … everything Trump isn’t. When I met him he said, “You must be very proud of Alex, she’s doing a great job!”. He was a true gent.”

“He didn’t say much about the election, he played it pretty safe, but behind closed doors he must be gutted. The new president is saying he’s going to dismantle everything Obama has worked for.”

They gave us what is probably a more typical view of the average Californian resident:

“Everyone here is devastated with the result (of the election), we’re still coming to terms with it.”

“California would be the sixth biggest economy in the world if it was it’s own country. After the election there was talk about California seceding from the US, but it’ll never happen, we’ve just got to keep on going.”

Cycling across the USA has just been a fantastic experience, and one we’ll never forget. We’ve made much better time than we thought we would in planning, so we’re taking a road trip around California next week.

Here are our stats from the second leg:

  • Total distance cycled: 4,788km
  • Total vertical climbing: 12,100m
  • States crossed: 10 – Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and California. (Utah and Nevada during road trip).
  • Total days cycling: 40
  • Total days off: 18
  • Average spending per day: £20.72

On the spending, this is the average spending on days we were cycling, between the both of us, including accommodation and food. It doesn’t include spending on days off where we generally eat out, and spent more on bike repairs etc.

People often comment: “I wish I had the money to do that”. Hopefully we’re proving it’s a cheap way to travel – it’s making time that is the main challenge.

We tried hard to keep our accommodation costs down, and meet as many local people as possible by using travelling networks, friends/contacts and camping.

Of our 58 nights, this is how it broke down:

  • Friends/friends of friends/contacts: 18 nights
  • Travelling networks (Couch surfing/Warm Showers): 22 nights
  • Camping: 15 nights
  • Hotels: 3 nights

People often ask about saddle sores, how sore our butts are. Genuinely, neither of us has had any problems at all. We take care to be hygienic which helps, and also have Brookes saddles which are supposed to be the best and most comfy for bike touring.

As we’ve travelled across the continent, we’ve met hundreds of Americans, each of whom has had their own personality, views and values – some of which have been in line with ours, others not so much.

A lot of the blog has been about these different people, but we were thinking as we finished today, “I wonder what American’s think of us?”

We asked George as we were saying goodbye:

“I’ve never really met British people before, so it was cool to meet you guys – I definitely preferred being with you than travelling on my own.”

“I love your accents, and your sense of humour. It really cracks me up when you swear, particularly Katie as I guess you don’t expect to hear someone with that accent swear!”

“It also amazes me how many different words you guys have for getting drunk… I didn’t know that many existed!”

Whilst we’re proud of our accents, our sense of humour, and our extensive vocabulary – a comment that we really appreciated was a review left on our profile on Warm Showers (cycling network).

After you stay with someone, you’re supposed to leave them a review so people in the future can see if you’ll be a good host/guest.

It was a great pleasure for us to see this review, from Bill in Arizona, appear on our profile. Whilst we’ve relied on others peoples’ generosity and hospitality throughout this trip, it’s reassuring to know that we are hopefully giving something back – even if that something is as small as bringing a bit of positivity and excitement into an otherwise run of the mill day.

“I have not met a more positive and exciting young couple. They have put creating a life long bond through their travels as their number one priority in their life. The fact that it’s by bicycle and around the world tells you of their commitment to an amazing experience and to each other. Their stay was truly a pleasure for me and keeping up with their travels via their blogs a continuance of our new friendship.”