Saturday, January 30, 2010


It felt great to be out on the road again. The city of San Diego, in the state of California, is in the most southern western part of the U.S. Resting next to the Pacific Ocean and just a few hours bike ride from Mexico, it was as good a place as any to start a U.S. coast to coast bicycle ride.
Firstly, I left San Diego (and all its low flying aircraft) and headed north on the famous Route 101. This is a gorgeous trip over rolling hills which hugged the Pacific coastline. Passing fancy neighbourhoods and too many restaurants that were outside my budget. The temptation was strong to just keep going north through Los Angeles and on to San Francisco, but I was supposed to be heading east not north. And besides, fly tentin' (i.e. to put up the tent illegally in some random spot) opportunities were of slim picking. After a day of biking north, I headed east. Along Route 76 through many Indian reservations. Then along past Lake Henshaw and into Anza Borrego desert state park. It felt good to be heading back into the desert. There's just something real special about heading into a desert on a bicycle.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


"So are you all ready for the big storms coming in tonight?"
"The WHAT?"
"Oh yeah, the first of 4 big storms are coming in tonight. We're expecting 20 inches of rain over the coming 5 days."
The last thing I was expecting as I venture into a desert is rain and flooding. I was advised that the storm was coming across from the west. Considering I was experiencing possibly some of the greatest tailwinds of the trip, I decided to push on north east towards Borrego Springs.
"Oh yeah, its comin' in for sure. We're expecting the biggest storm in 20 years", the locals assured me as I arrived in that next town.
The last thing I wanted was to be stuck out in some 'middle of nowhere' town. I was told a huge storm could cause flash floods which could block roads with debris. With such a strong tailwind, I decided to push on further, to push myself hard and make it on to Salton City, where the storm was not expected to hit.- The thing is I didn't make it to Salton City. A combination of the wind changing direction- It now seemed to be coming randomly from all directions. And I was foolishly wasting too much time taking photos of the extraordinary clouds that were coming in across the desert. I needed to pitch the tent on high ground to avoid any flash floods, but also in a sheltered section to avoid the strong winds that would easily blow the tent down. When I found a suitable spot, I pitched the tent using every tent peg and cable to make it as secure as possible. The tent shook violently in the wind as I prepared dinner inside. Throughout the night, the storm came and went. But between 11pm and midnight it was at its worst. Most worrying was the driving rain. Although the tent managed to keep the rain out, I sat inside, wearing my full rain gear, ready to abandon ship.
The thing is, I have gotten caught out before with flash floods. In Iran, I was camped up in a valley, when I heard, what I thought was horses galloping down the valley towards my tent. When I jumped out of my tent to check out the situation, I realised it was a flash flood coming straight towards me. My stuff had gotten wet that night but nothing was destroyed. I just lost a few tent pegs.
This time I made sure not to camp in any site that could lead to a repeat of that. But when I hear they are expecting the worst storm in 20 years and I'm on the border of a flash flood region, lets just say, I didn't sleep much that night.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


If there was one group of people that were consistently good to me, it is people of the Islam religion. I remember being regularly told the reason for this, is because they always believe in helping the traveller. As many of them hope to make a great journey at some stage in their lives; The journey to Mecca.
I had never intended to visit Mecca. But today, I unwittingly arrived there. Mecca (in the state of California) is a big truckstop in a small town full of Mexicans. Its looking like I'll be spending the night here in Mecca. The wind and rain outside is unreal. Its just too difficult to cycle in. And the entire surrounding landscape has turned to mud. So camping is out and even if I could get to a motel, the nearest one is about 20 kms away. Its too dark and wet and dangerous to cycle that distance. So this will be the first time in 14 months of travel that I didn't find a bed for the night. Tonight I'm going to sit it out in a truckstop in Mecca. And its kind of ironic. When I consider all the home invitations I received throughout the Muslim world and here I am without a bed in a town called Mecca.


And what better way to leave Mecca than out on route 66. From old Roman roads in Europe to the Silk Route across Asia and now Route 66 across the states. There is probably no road nor highway across America that gains more intrigue than the famous route 66. Sadly there are no signs left to say you are actually on route 66 as it is priority number 1 on the 'want list' of every Harley Davison rider (after he gets that 'Born to be Wild' tattoo on his shoulder). But it was a beautiful route east through massive vegetable plantations, then extraordinary rock formations and later just out of the way wilderness. Considering I only met about 1 vehicle every 30 minutes it gives you an indication to the lack of traffic on this historic world renowned route.
As I pedalled on this barren route I thought about the upcoming adventure across America and one thing that felt real good was the fact that I was finally back in an english speaking country. I've spent much of the last year communicating with sign language, picture books and hopeless attempts at whatever the local language may be. But I've faced over 15 different languages over the past year and in some cases, I've had to communicate with people who have never seen or met a tourist. Communicating with people who have never met an adult who could not speak their own language can be very frustrating. From about Greece onwards, I generally choose my food in restaurants by walking straight into the kitchen and pointing at what ever looked good. I'd often have the kitchen staff either baffled or in fits of laughter as I rummaged through fridges, freezers and cupboards and I gathered up whatever took my fancy in the kitchen. If it was a case of being handed a menu, I'd generally just point at some random dish in the centre of the list. (The first few dishes are probably starters, the last few deserts, so the middle ones are most likely main courses.) I'm not a fussy eater so it would generally work out fine. But there have been a few occasions where I've been handed a plate of some random food that makes you question the pros and cons of hunger. But now that I'm here in the states, its a case of language no longer being a barrier and the sensation of being bombarded with choice;
'And what would you like to drink with that, sir?'
'Just give us a cola please'
'Would you like a regular Pepsi ,a diet Pepsi, a Pepsi max, a Dr Pepper, a cherry cola, a Coca Cola, a Coca Cola lite..........'

Friday, January 22, 2010


As I continued along route 66, I came to Joshua Tree National Park. In total, I spent 4 days in or around here. I camped for the first night in the National Park. That was a rough night. I was using my 'Ireland' registration plate as a shovel and digging a moat around the tent in an attempt to divert the steady stream of water that was pouring down in this desert. After that, I decided to pay the extra dollars, and sit out this storm in a motel room in the town of 29 palms. On TV I watched what the media labelled the "Western Wallop". To the east of me, I had tornadoes. To the west, I had snow storms. I had come from the south and the weather channel showed neighbourhoods in Mecca taking a hammering from flooding.
But 2 days later, Mother Nature calmed down and I was back out on my bicycle. I returned to the Joshua Tree National Park. Although it was very cold, it was both magical and eerie to be pedalling around a desert that was white with snow. I camped up for the night. Tomorrow I start my journey into the Mojave desert. This was going to be a big one.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


"If you are on the quest for the 'middle of nowhere', you'll find it in the desert wilderness of the Mojave National Preserve, a 1.6 million acre jumble of sand dunes, mountains, Joshua trees, volcanic cylinder cones and sculpted rock formations. No services or facilities are available within the preserve" According to my Lonely Planet guidebook .

And so it was time to stock up. I visited a supermarket and loaded up 4 days worth of food. I then visited a restaurant and ate as much breakfast as I could. I then pedalled north into the heart of 'the middle of nowhere'. It was an amazing journey of pedalling across desert into the horizon. From 29 Springs, I headed north just outside a massive U.S. marine base. The air was filled with the sound of bombs going off as U.S. military did their training for desert combat elsewhere. Then I took a right back onto Route 66 and through the town of Amboy. I was told this town was abandoned, but here I found one old guy running a petrol station.
"Most people just come here to gas up and get out"
According to wikipedia, (,_California ) the population is 4. I continued north past the Devils Playground which is a collection of giant sand dunes. In Kelso, a retired plumber named Mike used his retirement savings to start up a sandwich and hotdog restaurant in the refurbished train station. (which is essentially used as the park rangers headquarters). I had not past a restaurant in 3 days and I wasn't expecting to see one out here. Mike told me he saw 4 touring cyclists pass this way last year. I continued north past Nipton and as I was putting up my tent, I could see an orangey haze of light in the distance. Each day in the desert closed with a fantastic sunset, but this was something different. This could only be the lights of Las Vegas. It still took me 2 more days of pedalling before I reached 'Sin City'. In total, it took me 2 weeks to get from San Diego to Las Vegas.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


The rain failed to dampen the excitement of turning on Flamingo and riding on up Las Vegas main strip. Truly a city like no other, bright neon lights, giant casino complexes scattered left and right based on the most outrageous themes. The Luxor is based on an Egyptian theme and comprises of a huge tinted glass pyramid with giant Sphinx outside. The New York, New York casino has a massive Statute of Liberty outside and the sounds of guests screaming as they enjoyed the hotels roller coaster. Further up, I passed the Eiffel Tower of the Paris casino. The Venetian casino offered gondola boat rides through its replicia of the canals of Venice. There was Caesars Palace, the Sahara and the Excalibur Casino was basically a giant multi coloured castle. Where else would you find a city where such excess has become standard. My accommodation was a hostel about 30 minute walk from the main strip. The 'Funky Monkey' is clean, cheap and comfy, it was excess enough for me after spending much of the last 10 days out in the desert. My Dad, Jim and his brother Tom are both recently retired and decided to fly out to see what Vegas is all about. (There goes two pension plans.) Their arrival date is February 2nd, so I have a few days to toy with and get familiar with this crazy city. Their plan is to stay 2 weeks, so that gives us plenty of time to tour around Vegas and the surrounding sights. So once again, I'm taking a break from cycling.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


U.S. Immigration official: What was the purpose of your visit to Iran?
Mark: Tourism.
U.S. Immigration official: I beg your pardon sir?
I excepted plenty of attention from U.S. immigration officials when I arrived into the Hawaiian islands, U.S.A. I had passport stamps for Iran plus 3 other countries that has borders with Afghanistan. But I had everything in order to increase my chances of getting through U.S. immigration. I had exit flights booked, photocopies of receipts of hotels booked and car rental within Hawaii, photocopies of recent bank statements, a copy of a letter from my previous employer saying I had a job to return to in Ireland. And so after plenty of questions, the understandably inquisitive, but polite U.S. immigration official granted me a 90 day visa to cross the U.S. with. Its worth mentioning that when I visited an outdoor store, later that day, to purchase a part for my stove than needed replacing, I'd seen more guns on my first few hours in Hawaii than the entire 21 days I spent in Iran. And when I decided to pick up a bottle of wine in a liquor store, I was asked, (for the first time in about 15 years) for proof of age identification. 'HAVE A NICE DAY'. Considering you are questioning if I'm over 21 years of age, I certainly will 'HAVE A NICE DAY'.
Now, let me tell ye about Hawaii. I'm sorry but there is no easy way to talk about Hawaii, without unintentionally (or otherwise) making any one, just green with envy. I'm real sorry. It just can't be helped. Its Paradise. And so if you feel this next paragraph is not going to help your PCBS (Post-Christmas-Blues-Syndrome), then just skip it and pick up that credit card bill instead. Its more likely to cheer you up.

It was December 22nd. The beach was full and the waves were big and the sun was beaming down. But there was no sunshine in Ireland. Genevieve's plane was stuck in Heathrow due to heavy snow. But 24 hours late, she arrived in these islands that label themselves Paradise. During our 2 week stay here, we toured 3 of the Hawaiian Islands - O'ahu, Maui and the Big Island. There was fun times on beautiful black sanded beaches as we were battling against some of the world's biggest waves. 3 days hiking through a National Park that is home to the worlds most active volcano. There was big, big portions of food and plenty of cocktails with fat chunks of pineapple and generous portions of alcohol. Although we camped for 3 nights, we did manage to do an occasional splurge. Using my credit card and Genevieve's wisdom, we managed a 4 night stay in a 4 star beach front golf resort. (Not my usual choice of accommodation, but if you check out, ye can see how such hotels can be picked up reasonably cheaply.) We even rented out bicycles and free wheeled down from the lunar like landscape of the Haleakala Volcano. The fact that Genevieve managed to overtake me on the final hill is proof that my left knee is finally shot. There was whale watching tours on board multi-million dollar speed boats and catamaranas we gazed out at humpback whales doing the full breach in the Pacific. We went snorkelling a few times in calm secluded bays that were full of so many colourful fish, you'd swear you were snorkelling in a giant aquarium. And even on Christmas Day the priest performing the service had a multi coloured Hawaiian shirt visible through his vestments. This is Hawaii. It seemed a hundred million miles away from some of the regions I had pedalled through only a few months previously and these tropical islands are so full of pineapples, you could pick one up in the supermarket for cheaper than an apple. Again it seemed a hundred million miles from where my final destination is- Ireland. When I get emails from home about Ireland, I hear they are no longer measuring rainfall in inches. They are measuring it in feet and even metres. And it seems the only it stops raining, is when it starts snowing. As a tourist, Hawaii is about as good as it gets. Date of departure was the 4th of January. It seemed like we had only just arrived. Not easy saying 'Goodbye', I reckon it will take me about 4 months to cycle across the United States.