Sunday, 25 September 2011


For a long time now I have been in denial. In denial that my eyesight is not what it once was. Reading very small text in newspapers or maps for example, has become almost impossible.

Today I found myself trying on reading glasses in a pharmacy store on 3rd Avenue in Seattle's downtown area, and enjoying the comedy value of how different I looked with them on. They certainly made it easier to read small type, but I think there was an element of the experience that frightened me. In some way it brought it home to me that I'm getting older. Almost 50 in fact.

I'm lucky though. To reach 50 with pretty good eyesight is good. In recent years I've spent a lot more time in front of computer screens, and maybe this has, to coin a phrase, blurred my vision to an extent.

Over the last 4 months I've cycled more than 4,000 miles across North America, and without wanting to sound too smug, I'm pretty proud of that at age 48. I didn't do this alone of course but had my number one friend with me all the way. Unlike my eyesight the decision to go on the adventure was always clear.

There's a lot of things I never see clearly though. Indeed I would go as far as to say that a lot of us don't. Sometimes when you're frustrated and everything's not quite going the way you want it to, and you think the whole world's against you, the person standing right next to you will be there to help you see a rational way through. You get so wrapped up in your own problems, which you often blow out of proportion, that you don't see this silent act of friendship. In essence you take them for granted without meaning to, and for some inexplicable reason they're still always there for you. Maybe they won't always be though, if you don't wake up to your ways.

There's an old saying that you don't know what you have until you lose it. I think the fear of losing the most important things in life seems to bring out irrational behaviour. It's a catch 22 though, as this can lead to you losing that which is most dear to you far quicker than you ever thought possible.

But, and another well known saying coming here, isn't hindsight a wonderful thing. We all have regrets, of course, and I am no different. Overall I've had a wonderful adventure cycling across North America. An experience and memories I wouldn't swap for all the rice in China. But I also have a number of regrets over that same time: film shots I missed; people I wish I could have spent more time with; places I wanted to spend longer in; things said and done I want to take back.

Metaphorically speaking, those were my rainy days, and there were too many now looking back. Eventually the rain usually cleared, the clouds would part and the blue skies would return. Whether I am any the wiser remains to be seen. I hope that this experience will help me see more clearly in the future, before the cloud cover becomes permanent and the rain washes everything away for good.

There isn't a pair of glasses in the world that would fix that.

Sunday, 18 September 2011


I suppose perception is different for everyone. You may think that something is great while another may feel exactly the opposite.

I repeatedly feel that I have been on the road cycling for years. That some how I was a different age when I started. Yet some friends back home tell me in email that the time has passed so quickly. That they can't quite believe I'll be home soon.

Neither can I, sadly.

Email is something which has become the accepted way of communication now. Gone are the days of the written letter. For a time I was writing the "old way" to my friend Ewan in Australia and I loved getting his letter in return. It's lapsed a bit but I think I'll start that up again. Emails often tend to get misread and people's perception of what you are trying to say gets lost in translation sometimes. To me a written letter is never misunderstood and it's a joy to see the persons handwriting.

Sometimes my perception lets me down. I'll often be shopping in a small grocery store or a large supermarket for my evening meal, confident that I am ravenously hungry and buy way too much meat, vegetables or fruit. Maybe the occasional donut too.

One of my favourite fruits that I enjoy as part of my diet are peaches. It's a hit or a miss sometimes with peaches. I get to the display and give it the ubiquitous squeezy squeezy test, perceiving that this one not that one will be most juicy. More than half the time I'm wrong, even though I feel I have built up a good frame of reference over the months.

My perception is spot on sometimes though, especially when it comes to the friendliness of the American people. Not once have I met anyone that has been anything but kind and generous. Well, maybe the odd checkout person or diner waitress. And I do mean quite literally, "odd".

Speaking of odd people, Pauline and I have had perceived many things differently as we have gone along. Sometimes it may be what we feel about a small town we are in, or what certain scenery reminds us of.

But one perception we both share is that this is a wonderful experience cycling across America.

Sadly it's almost at an end. And that's not just my perception.

Monday, 5 September 2011


Whenever you travel to another country other than your own you have to accept that the culture and and it's people will be different to what you are used to. I think the world sometimes doesn't view America as being foreign, as so many things we have in our lives come from the US, but foreign it is and a tourist I am. To quote a line from my visa application: I am a non-resident alien in the United States.

Throughout my time in crossing the United States by bicycle I have come to understand the American way of life, but some things I just can't come to terms with, and probably never will.

Take RVs for example. To quote the author Bill Bryson: why would you take a house on vacation? In a world where energy supply is becoming scarce these things hardly help, as most only achieve around 4 miles per gallon! Once they get to their campground with their RV (some also towing the family car) THEY will not walk from their site to the bathroom 50 yards away. Instead they use a golf buggy! I'm not making this up. I see it all the time. Sadly I also see that most of these people are anything but slim.

But this is not the subject of my blog today.

Hunting wild animals for anything other than feeding oneself has bothered me for a long time and it is huge in America.

Back in Montana I learned a few things about hunting from someone who had shot elk. At first I was disturbed by this, especially as the stuffed heads of the magnificent beasts adorned the walls of his home. However, as he elaborated I understood and accepted his reasoning. This wasn't hunting for hunting's sake. The meat from just one of these animals can provide food for many meals for a family, and times were hard and money was scarce. It was also hard work and a challenge to find the game and bring it to a swift end. He would then have to butcher it on site and walk many miles back out, carrying the large quantity of food.

This I understand.

Back in Scotland we charge high prices for the idle rich to shoot red deer on certain estates, an annual cull which is vital to control numbers as the red deer no longer have a natural predator. This I also understand. Just a few years ago the UK government banned fox hunting due to it's level of cruelty bestowed upon the quarry and the pointless nature of it other than to entertain the idle rich. Some argued that it was part of our heritage and should be preserved. Funny but I wasn't hearing the argument for the fox.

What gets me with hunting in the States, and makes me very angry, is those who adorn themselves in military-style combat gear and arm themselves with weapons that would down a T-rex, never mind an elk, and the only thing they want, and this is the problem, is a trophy. To stand there with gun in one hand and a dead animal at their feet, grinning in their achievement of mindlessly blowing this animal away for no purpose other than to satisfy their testosterone personality, so they can swig a few beers at their local bar and brag about what a hero they consider themselves to be.

Some will read this and disagree with me. Well, that's OK. This blog is, after all, just my opinion. But consider this: hunting also includes the slaughter of bears. These magnificent animals pose no real threat to us and I do not believe that the vast majority want to shoot bears for the meat. I saw a petition the other day to try and extend the shooting season by two weeks in the spring and fall. Why?

On one occasion a number of weeks ago we got to know a nice family who themselves hunted. At first they were talking passionately at the beauty of the wild animals both in the vicinity of their home and those they had seen abroad on holiday. Then in the next breath talked about killing them! Ending the life of the very animal they admired. I was speechless to say the least.

There are definitely two different breeds of hunter in the States, and the one I refer to and have a problem with is clear I think. What possesses someone to want to do this? To have a desire to go out and kill another living thing for the fun of it! To have a stuffed head on their wall, or a rug to walk upon, all for a single second of pulling a trigger and taking a life that has more right to be in the area it lives in than we do.

I've met many Americans who feel the same way. One felt so strongly that they wanted the trophy hunter to be strung upside dpwn by their toenails in the town square and shot themselves.

I'm not sure that's a cure but it is encouraging to know there are those who have a conscience toward killing animals just for the sake of it. But this is not my country and it could be argued that I have no say in the matter and it is none of my business. However, at the end of the day we, the animals and the flora are all part of a delicate balance on this planet, the only place we all have to live and need to share responsibly.

Now that is my business.