Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Outside the hostel

February 11th, 2012

Ken finally emerges into the bitter cold outside Stratford-upon-Avon’s Youth Hostel. Ribs aching..

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Early morning in the hostel

February 11th, 2012

Early morning in Stratford-upon-Avon Youth Hostel. Dry. And warm. Unlike outside….

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Running out of time

February 9th, 2012

I’d slept well. Suspecting the painkillers had helped. The fan heater had tripped out during the night but, snug in my down sleeping bag, I’d not noticed until the morning. Woken to the local radio weather forecast. Snow expected overnight, couple of inches and likely to stick, even on lower ground. But sounded like Friday – the next day – might be marginally warmer, rain or sleet. If I’d stick to main routes should be able to reach Taunton by nightfall.

But first I had to reach Thornbury, a little north west of Bristol. Expecting to meet up with old friend Pete, riding north to rendezvous with me. I’d not seen him since there’d been a bit of a send-off in an inn on Dartmoor, my last night in the UK before I’d taken a ferry to France. I’d an idea we’d meet up once more in a pub. Late lunch. Warming coffee. Less than forty miles to cover but there was Gloucester to negotiate. And with just a hundred miles or so left back to my village I was beginning to feel pretty cautious. So close…

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Up in the Malvern Hills

February 9th, 2012

Mary had said she’d be in the road. She was. I’d phoned her moments earlier to check exactly where the bunkhouse she ran with husband Bill was. Mentioned the Manor House. Very close she’d said. Very. A short distance up the hill. I was the only guest that night. Cosy room to myself. Mary fetched some tea whilst unloaded my trusty steed, especially welcome after another bitter afternoon on the road.

I slept for a while. Struggling with the pain on my right side. No swelling, guarding or visible bruising but considerable discomfort nevertheless. Deciding that if the situation didn’t improve over the next few days it’d probably be wise to get it checked out. Although if it was something like a cracked rib, and I wasn’t exactly convinced of this, I doubted there was anything that could be done.

Found myself reflecting on the conversation I’d had with Phil and Jo earlier. They’d branched out to do something quite different. Renovating and building houses replacing engineering and nursing. And their point was you could. Anticipation of change invariably far worse than the reality. Sensed it had really worked for them. Inspiring.

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Breakfast musings

February 9th, 2012

I’d smiled at the young woman. Tightly woven black hair, dark complexion. I assumed Spanish, but this was a tenuous presumption. Gone eight, there was no sign of others venturing down for the hostel breakfast. Couple of plates sitting patiently under the heat lamps on the counter. A short while later a man wandered in wearing a woolly hat, looked about and then left. Bitter outdoors, there was a chill in the dining room, glad I’d popped my fleece on.

Wondered what had happened to Nia I’d chatted to the previous evening. She’d asked me if I knew of any nice pubs nearby. Mentioned the Ferry Inn I’d seen earlier in the village. Maybe half a mile away. Added I’d not been in, perhaps it’d be worth enquiring at Reception. The man in the hat was stood outside. Smoking a cigarette.

Forty four miles to cover. Leave by 9.30, but ten would be fine. I’d be a slow start, my side still very painful, but should be finished by three or four. Off to a bunkhouse at the southern end of the Malvern Hills. The young woman left quietly. I was alone. Made myself some fresh toast.

Pondering what I’d do next. There were the obvious things. Get a job. But what was I to do? Some made understandable assumptions. Presumed I’d opt for familiarity. Perhaps I would, and that might be rewarding enough. But if I was to do something different, I knew this would be my only opportunity to branch out. Problem was I’d not returned with a burning desire for a specific job. And if you don’t know what you’re looking for, it can be very hard to find it. The man with the cigarette had gone.

I’d sat beneath one of several Royal Shakespeare Company posters. One for The Herbal Bed. Play by Peter Whelan. Felt I should have heard of him. David Tennant as Jack Lane. I couldn’t see a date for the production but guessed it was probably a while before he’d done Dr Who. But acting wasn’t my bag. Playing the lead in J B Priestly’s An Inspector Calls at school had convinced me of that.

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Austin-tacious

January 8th, 2012

Austin had been all I’d hoped it would be. For Christmas that is. I’d arrived late on Christmas Eve, cold and wet. A reservation that’d slowly crept right a few days. The hostel had been very accommodating, but I feared they thought I might never actually turn up. Bit like the navigator in The Ascent of Rum Doodle.

There’d been the usual collection of characters you oft find in travellers hostels the world over. I say that with especial confidence now. Youthful individuals, vibrant. A few yet to refine their social skills. Older types. Usually more seasoned. Stoic. Odd one who aspires to earlier times. All very middle class.

Spending much of my life outdoors, I’d found inside to have an attraction all of its own. Cities per se rarely inspire, preferring the smaller places. Exceptions of course. San Francisco for example. And there’d been plenty to do around the hostel before my return to the road.

Finding comfort in doing stuff – a warming sense of accomplishment – I’d joined a few local volunteers help prepare Christmas Dinner in the hostel kitchen. Stacks of calls on Skype to family and friends to wish all a festive greeting. Catching up on the blog. Eager to keep the writing fresh. Perhaps a bit more edgy.

And giving my trusty steed a quick overhaul – just enough to keep her running smoothly until I reach the Florida coast in about fifteen hundred miles or so. If it ain’t broken don’t fix it…. Hard lesson to learn. And a realisation that this’d be the last decent service I’d be doing before arriving back in the UK.

And I was about to start the final push. Complete my traverse of North America, from top left – Alaska – to bottom right – Florida. Over six thousand miles. Fourth continent. Still leaving me a few hundred back in the UK to bring cycling solo around the world to a conclusion. But I was already beginning to smell the coffee. Putting out tentative feelers for what I might do next. The transition back into more conventional living.

I’d made a little list, as I often did, of things to mull over in the saddle. Some straightforward stuff. Amusing statistics from the last few years. Memorable moments. For better or for worse. That sort of thing. And more challenging questions. What had I really learnt. There’d not quite been any Road to Damascus encounters but I’d certainly a few changed perspectives. For one thing, the World is now a much smaller place.

But if I was ever to get too engrossed in self-analysis, a trip to the local supermarket is often a good cure-all. I’d wandered up to the local ’H-E-B Plus’. Intrigued to see a vagrant decline the offer of some small change from a few passing shoppers. Just when you think you’ve seen most things…. Time now to go and sew one of my boots back together. Been waiting for it to dry out…

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Batteries included

January 7th, 2012

Late forties. Maybe early fifties. Fellow cyclist also heading for Florida, albeit a far lesser pace than mine. Funding his travels by buying up used watch batteries from shops and then selling them on to a dealer. Presumably, I thought, to extract the silver or other precious metals from them. But I was reluctant to enquire further. He’d offered to show me the ropes and I’d already struggled to decline without offending.

He was staying in the dorm next to mine in a travellers hostel in Austin, Texas. Friendly enough, he’d invited me to join him at a local church on Christmas Day. I’d declined. Once more. There was dinner to prepare, I’d explained apologetically.

He intrigued me. Never saw him without a jacket of sorts on, even indoors. Sometimes a black quilted affair, often a bright safety vest. And the hats. Either a thin black woollen one, or a bright red Peruvian. Torn between whether this was to mask baldness or an ill-judged grasp at youthfulness. Eager to play chess with the unwary. I’d declined. Again.

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Festivities

January 7th, 2012

Christmas day. Travellers hostel in Austin, Texas. Unable to sit on his hands, Ken volunteers to help prepare dinner for fellow guests. Alas, an extraction fan louder than a 747 taking off makes the sound a bit dodgy in places, but that’s not as bad as his contribution to the proceedings – stuffing balls – or his efforts at carving the turkey….

[With a big thanks to local volunteers Susan, Jen, Kelly and Alan, and fellow resident and cyclist Francis]

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Bohemian stop

December 13th, 2011

Hostelling International hostel in Phoenix, Arizona. In the 60s it’d be described as hippy, in the 70s hip, and today, Bohemian. It’s a culture thing..

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Phoenix nights

December 13th, 2011

Ken, together with trusty steed Emma, spends the night in a trailer in the grounds of a Phoenix hostel. Not the YMCA of course…

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