English United States

‘Cheating’ my way to the West

My visa expires the 1st of June, and I think that I would really like to go to Colorado, Utah and Arizona. Since these states are too far away to cycle to in the time that I have left, I have decided to take the car and train to Denver, Colorado, and start cycling there again.

My idea was to stay two nights in Knoxville, but I believe that I had seen everything in one afternoon and didn’t feel like staying another day. Let’s go to Nashville! Jess recommended me to go to the Lilly Pad Brewery, because she said that there was a nice campground over there. After 65 frustrating miles with headwind, I finally arrived. There was indeed a very simple but nice campground. In two days, the weather switched from hot and sunny to cold with snow. The local people told me that these fluctuations were exceptional.

The next 65 miles (with headwind) brought me to Cookeville, and I pitched up my tent at a church just before it got dark. When I was having breakfast at a Waffle House, I looked at the weather forecasts and saw that the headwind was getting worse the coming days. Now I understand why most of the cyclists cycle the US from West to East…. I really didn’t feel like cycling in the headwind anymore. I decided to try to hitchhike myself into Nashville, although I wasn’t very optimistic. I got lucky at the first try. I saw a pick-up truck with a trailer at a gas station and I asked if he was going in the direction of Nashville and whether he had room for a bicycle. He was indeed going to Nashville, and of course he could take my bike. I asked him about the two motorcycles on the trailer. He turned out to be part of the Christian Motorcyclists Association (CMA-USA), and they were touring through some states. I didn’t even notice the rest of the group with their big motorcycles. Before we left, the guys wanted to have breakfast at The Waffle House. I got to know Larry, Tim and Ron. Tim asked me if I wanted to ride on the back of his motor. Of course! Before I knew it, I was sitting at the back of his huge Harley Davidson, driving in a group of motorcycles towards Nashville. Tim yelled at me that “you can still say you rode a bike all the way”. We agreed to stop at the first gas station after entering Nashville. I said goodbye to the group there and was very grateful for the ride, they saved me two or three days of frustration. In a circle, they blessed me and my bicycle and gave me a mini bible.


Because I suddenly arrived in Nashville, I didn’t have accommodation yet. I was able to arrange that pretty fast in a McDonald’s. in the afternoon, I randomly cycled through Nashville to see what there is to see. I noticed that Broadway was the place to be, the most important street of Nashville with a lot of live music. I visited broadway in the evening, and went in and out of basically all the bars to get the full experience. The next day, I visited a couple of museums and booked a car via Enterprise, because I’m driving towards St. Louis.

Broadway, Nashville

In the two days that I hired the car, I drove about 900-1000 miles, which was actually a little bit too far. Yet, I felt kind of powerful to drive a car through the United States, not bound to any places and able to go wherever I wanted to. I drove to Memphis, which I really enjoyed. I was walking in Memphis, with my feet 10 feet of off Beale. In my experience, the musical scene (Beale street) was even bigger than the one in Nashville. I noticed that there was a lot of police on the street, they even searched everyone trying to enter Beale street. Later that evening, I also took a look at the former house of Elvis Presley (and his plane).

Beale street, Memphis

After spending the night in the car, I drove to Hot Springs on the next day, the ‘boyhood home’ of Bill Clinton (fun fact). Route 7, labeled as one of the most scenic drives in the US, passes through Hot Springs. I obviously wanted to drive route 7. I unfortunately didn’t see anything of the environment, as it was already getting dark and I was furthermore driving in the middle of the pouring rain. The road towards route 7 was actually much nicer. I had to wake up at 5 AM the next morning to be able to return the car on time. The mountainous road was pitch dark and it was still raining, not the best conditions to ride in, but at least more comfortable than cycling. When it was light, I was already done with route 7 (poor time planning…).

My car for three days
I spotted a crossing turtle on a deserted road!

In St. Louis, I met Jim and Sally, part of the warmshowers community. They’re a retired couple and they didn’t mind that I didn’t really cycle to there place. I’ve heard that some people actually refuse to host if you’re not coming by bike. That kind of makes sense, but I have a good reason not to cycle. I actually stayed two nights in St. Louis, which allowed me to see the history museum and zoo. I’ve seen a lot of strange species which I may encounter in South America, some of which I really hope not to! On Tuesday, Jim rode with me to the city center which I hadn’t really seen yet. After a glimpse at the well-known arch, I moved on to the north, to Quincy, from which I will take the train to Denver.

De Gateway Arch in St. Louis, symbolising the Westward Expansion of the US (purchase of Louisiana, 1803)
Bicycle route along the Mississippi

English United States

Virginia and Tennessee

After short visits in Bristol and Knoxville, I’m heading towards Nashville the coming week. Because my tourist visa expires on the first of June, I have to make choices in the States that I want to visit. I’ll probably hire a car in Nashville and head to the North-West from there. If I have enough time, I would love to see Utah and Arizona.

After a long night and a big breakfast, I was physically and mentally fully ready for the Blueridge Parkway. Bill cycled with me for the first couple of miles. After he returned home, I had to do another 30 minutes of climbing, which finally brought me to the beginning of the parkway. I was prepared for a very tough road with steep climbs. Obviously, I took a picture before I started. And that was the moment when I started to climb. And that went much better than I anticipated and hoped for. The climbs were long, but not very steep, exactly the kind of exercise that I like: endurance. I had the feeling that I could go on forever, and the view was fantastic. Every now and then, I came across a viewpoint which was just to beautiful to pass. I took a lot of pictures.

During one of the climbs, I saw a black bear crossing the road. It stood still for a moment, looked me in the eyed, and ran across the road. I would’ve liked to tell a rough story about me fighting the bear, followed by a night in the carcass of a horse, but I’ll leave that up to Mr. DiCaprio. This bear just crossed the road. At 2 PM in the afternoon, I was already at the exit of the campground. I didn’t want to stop. I knew that the weather was gonna be worse tomorrow, so I decided to continue. It eventually became my longest distance so far, which is not very logical when you consider that I cycled through the mountains. Just before 6 PM, I arrived at the first campground of my trip (where they didn’t send me away…). After a hot shower, I immediately fell asleep in my comfortable sleeping bag. When I woke up the next day, my tent was covered in snow. It was much worse than they had predicted. It was about 2 inches of snow, much worse than they predicted. The parway was closed….

The parkway was closed and I didn’t feel comfortable cycling around the gate. I decided to bypass the parkway and take a detour instead. I didn’t regret that decision because while I was cycling in the valley, I couldn’t even see the top of the mountains. That basically meant that I would’ve climbed for hours to end up in the clouds. I anticipated to cycle the parkway for three days, but this turned out to be just one. dayI was one day ahead of my estimated time of arrival in Roanoke, but warmshower hosts Will and Lyndsey were still able to receive me. It was no problem all. Not long after I met them, we went to a local restaurant for their weekly trivia evening. They’ve done it for years with the same group. I thought that they were gonna play it with a small group of people, but the entire restaurant was playing. They were pretty dedicated. They were whispering the answers to each other, or they even wrote it on a piece of paper. You could tell that they had done it more often. Except for the music category, I barely knew any answers. ‘We’ eventually became 2nd, and the group was almost disappointed because they didn’t win.

Will (left of me), Lyndsey (in front of me) and friends

The next day, I left much later than I actually wanted. Lyndsey and Will were already working. They gave me their spare key and I could leave whenever I wanted. Yesterday, I didn’t even know them. Today, they trust me with the key of their house. I like it. At the end of a sunny cycling day, I spotted a very nice church on top of a hill. I didn’t feel like cycling much more, especially because I was cycling on a pretty busy and unpleasant road. The view was very nice and it was so quiet compared to the road. Suddenly, a lot of cars arrived at the church. Apparently, they had their weekly committee meeting. I talked to an older women and after a while, I asked if it was ok if I pitched up my tent on their field for the night. It was not a problem and this was the beatuiful view that I had:

The next day was the first day that I didn’t really enjoy. I was cycling towards Knoxville and I was kind of stuck to one boring road which was near a very busy interstate road. The strong headwind didn’t make it much better. A lot of people advised me not to randomly pitch up my tent at someone’s property, since that is not very appreciated. I asked to several people if it was ok to pitch up my tent in their gigantic yards. A lot refused. They seemed to be afraid of me, or at least very careful. A women even locked her door while she refilled my bottle with some water. Eventually, I luckily found a young guy who said that it was no problem at all. I even had the luxury to use the wifi connection inside my tent, which allowed me to have a look at the potential next destination. I sent a message via warmshowers. Ben and Anne, living in Bristol, replied within an hour, saying that they were happy to host me tomorrow. I was really glad to know that I had a goal for the next day. That made the even stronger headwind bearable. Downtown Bristol was really enjoyable, it’s kind of old-fashioned and it was busier than normal, as they organize a NASCAR race this week.

Het ‘platte’ land

After meeting Ben and Anne, Ben enthusiastically told me about the history of the city. Apparently, Bristol has been really important in the development of country music. Everybody knows Nashville and its musical heritage, but the actual birthplace of country music is right here, in Bristol. They even have a museum about it, which Ben and Anne support. They received a lot of tickets for their support, and they gave one to me. Ben took me to the museum the next day, which was deserted, probably because of the summer weather. Later in the afternoon, we did a nice hike in a forest near their house. There is an owl in the garden of Anne and Ben, and Ben feeds the owl with some mice every now and then. I managed to capture a nice shot of the owl ‘catching’ the mouse.

Virginia on the left, Tennessee on the right
Anne en Ben
Ben vs. Uil

The next day, I left for my last 120 miles towards Knoxville. The weather was fantastic, so I broke the record of my longest distance so far (90 miles), because I knew tomorrow was gonna be rainy. That worked out perfectly, I was in Knoxville before the rain began to pour. Knoxville is, similar to Bristol, pretty old-fashioned and furthermore so much smaller than I expected.

English United States

The last part of the East Coast

The real winter seems to be finally over, I can almost state that spring has sprung. After paying a visit in Philadelphia and Washington D.C., I’m going to leave the East Coast and head towards the South-West. I have the first climb challenge ahead of me: The Blueridge Parkway. It will probably be peanuts compared to what awaits me in South-America, but a mountain is a mountain.

The airbnb location in Philadelphia was fine, I could easily walk to the city center. I had no idea what Philadelphia had to offer, I actually only knew it by name. I was really surprised whne I found it about the important role the city played in the US history and that it even was the capital for a decade. In the afternoon, I went to an exhibition called ‘money in motion’. It was about the history of the money in the USA and about The Banking System, pretty interesting! The tours through the Independence hall were already sold out for the day, so I had to come back for that tomorrow. I did visit the famous liberty bell, of which they don’t even know whether it actually rang when the independence was declared….

The Liberty bell

The next day was my only full day to spend in Philly, and I’ve spent it well. In half an hour, I was in the city again and immediately got myself a ticket for a tour through the Independence hall, although I had to wait for over an hour. In the meantime, I’ve seen the first bank of America, as well as the famous Carpenter hall. The tour through Independence hall was really impressive, it’s a strange idea that a group of bright people decided here to unite as colonists among each other (although in separate states/counties), apart from the United Kingdom. After this tour, I went to the Benjamin Franklin museum, the huge city hall and (inevitably) went to the Rocky Steps.

Independence Hall

I saw that Philly’s NBA team, the 76ers, played against the New-York Knicks tonight. Last minute, I decided to buy a ticket and I eventually printed it in a huge public library. I’m personally not a big fan of basketball, but I really enjoyed the experience of going to an NBA game. To me, it felt really American. The anthem beforehand, every second was used for commercial purposes and a lot of entertainment. Every inch around the stadium was filled with placed where you could buy food, but there were still lots of people that were carrying cola, candyflosses or popcorn to bring it directly to your seat. I could not believe my eyes!

The Wells Fargo Center, the stadium of the 76ers

The next morning, I started with the first of three cycling days which brought me to Washington D.C. I noticed that the suburbs of Philadelphia were in stark contrast with the historic city center, it did not look very pretty. After the end of the first day, I found a very nice place along the side of a road. The road was very quiet, with horses and carriages as the only exception. I later heard that those people were Amish, I didn’t even know about them. Relatively many Amish live here (in Pennsylvania) and they live like they used to live centuries ago. No smartphones, no computer, no tv, no cars, nothing of these technological advances.

Views on the quiet road

The next day, I deliberately chose to skip Baltimore, because a lot of people have told be that it is not a very nice city. My route towards Washington kind of went through a part of the city, and I quickly realized that I made the right decision. I stopped for only 2 minutes to buy an energy drink, when a guy approached me and asked me if I wanted to buy cocaine. I thanked him for his kind offer and quickly moved on. My perfectly mapped out route went via route 29, which would bring me right in the heart of D.C. I proudly made a picture of the sign right before the entrance of the route when I noticed that bikes were prohibited…. Shit! That meant a big detour. The original 50 miles turned into 70 miles, but I made it before it was dark. I met Robert, Claire and baby Elise. I was about to sleep here for two nights and another night at an Airbnb adres.

Claire, Elise and Robert

During Easter, I walked towards the city center. The National Mall was busier than I expected. I had a good timing to visit the city, because it was in the middle of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, a festival celebrate the friendship between the US and Japan. It’s also a good indicator that it’s becoming Spring! Similar to New-York, I was really surprised about the size of everything. I decided to buy a ticket to be able to use a city bike for three days, because I hadn’t cycled enough already. In the evening, I cycled to all the memorial monuments, because they’re open 24 hours per day. Very impressive monuments.

Everybody wants to take their picture with the blossom trees.

The George Washington monument with the Capitol in the background

The next day, I transported my stuff to the next address, a fine Airbnb adres which was like a hostel with bunker beds. If I would’ve gone to the city early in the morning, I would’ve had a good chance to spot Donald Trump during the annual white house easter egg roll, but I wasn’t that keen on seeing him. I skipped. Instead, I went to multiple museums, the Capitol, a gallery and a botanical garden. With my aviation background, I obviously went to the National Air and Space museum. The original aircraft that was used by the Wright brothers for the first flight is located right here. Only a century ago. Look where aviation is right now! That’s unimaginable, right? In the evening, I went to a Michigan bar to watch the March Madness finals in which Michigan took part. Unfortunately, Michigan didn’t have a chance to win, the bar was awfully quiet during the second half of the game.

The first aircraft (that flew)

And this is where my cycling plan ends. I knew that I was going to visit Boston, New-York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C., but that’s where my plan ends. Southern Argentina is still the dot on the horizon, but the road towards this horizon is pretty open from now on. In the morning, I decided about my plan for the coming week. I decided to cycle towards the begin of the Blueridge Parkway. It’s a beautiful and challenging cycling route. If I ever want to make it over the Andes mountains, I must get some climbing experience. It took me three extremely beautiful days to get to the beginning of the Blueridge Parkway.

With -6 degrees Celsius and some snow, one last shot of winter awaits me, but I am sure that I can survive that. Maybe I will wait an extra day before starting the route, because cycling on steep and snowy roads doesn’t seem like a clever idea to me.

English United States

Visiting the city that never sleeps

After two hours of train travelling, from Poughkeepsie to New-York, I arrived at Grand Central Station. The heart of the city. It was special to meet Stacey over there, a friend from the Netherlands who was in New-York for a couple of days to work at a UN conference. Stacey stayed at a fancy hotel which was in/beside the train station. I could park my bike in her hotelroom in the afternoon as I could not yet go to the apartment where I was staying. Just like in Boston, I wanted to walk through the city center in the afternoon. It turned out to be impossible, as New-York is just way too big to walk through in one afternoon. What a huge city! The endless avenues with skyscrapers were really impressive. At the end of the afternoon, I walked through Central park towards Times Square. It felt surreal to be there. After Stacey finished her work, we met at Times Square and drank something at a fancy place. Afterwards, that unfortunately turned out to be the only moment when Stacey and I met. She had to work the entire days in the days that followed, and we didn’t get to meet each other in the evenings. Around midnight, I cycled from Grand Central towards my accommodation in the middle of China Town in downtown Manhattan. I met Eric over here, Eric’s from Michigan, studied in New-Hampshire and lives and works for a couple of years in New York as a business consultant.

View over the Hudson river during the train journey to NYC
Meeting Stacey at Grand Central
Some leftovers of the snow storm in Central Park
Times Square

I spent the first full day in New-York as a real tourist. Early in the morning, I got my hop-on-hop-off ticket for one of those red sightseeing busses. I’ve been on multiple busses for a long time, and I think I got an information overload, as I fell asleep during the last bus tour that I wanted to do. Furthermore, I’ve been to Wallstreet and to a couple of national museums.

This picture made me realise that my journey just started

9/11 Memorial

After a strange Chinese breakfast with Eric, I took the last remaining bustour which went towards Brooklyn. While I was waiting for the bus to leave, I met Emi, an Indonesian women. She spent a couple of days in New-York before continuing her journey towards the Niagara Falls and California. We started talking and eventually spend the next days together. After the bus tour, we had a nice lunch and went to the 9/11 memorial site. Very impressive. Emi is pretty addicted to social media and she wanted to take selfies of basically everything. I didn’t want to take a selfie of the memorial because I think it’s not appropriate. She didn’t seem to hear me and continued her selfie-session. At the end of the afternoon, we got to the top of the One World Trade Center. We took the perfect day and time, because we could see NYC between while it was still daylight and while it was pitch dark. The helicopter perspective gives you a clear idea of how big New York is.

View over Manhattan
View towards the sunset, over New Jersey

After this impressive view, Emi, Eric and I went to a local restaurant with a lot of supporters for the Michigan basketball team. It’s currently March Madness, a well-known basketball tournament with teams composed from universities.

Emi and I met the following morning to go to the statue of liberty, we got our tickets yesterday. As Emi bought them earlier on the day, she also had the right to go to the the pedestal, including a small museum. Luckily, I was able to bluff myself to the pedestal. Every day, only a couple of hundreds of people are allowed to actually climb the statue, that’s something you have to book months in advance. It’s already sold out until August! After we had seen Lady Liberty, we took the ferry to Ellis Island, the location where millions of immigrants used to arrive. In a register, I checked whether I had distant relatives that sought their happiness in the US. Unfortunatly, no hits…. After we arrived in Manhattan, I said goodbye to Emi. I wanted to plan a couple of days in advance. I was leaving the next day, and I still had no clue where I was going. The last evening, Eric, two friends and I went out for dinner. I’m starting to get better at eating with chopsticks. It’s pretty ironic that I’m learning this in New-York.

Emi during one of her selfie sessions

The next morning, I thanked Eric for the great time in New-York. It’s too bad that I didn’t take a picture of him. I told him that, besides the touristic attractions, I really have the feeling that I know what it’s like to live in New-York, or at least in China Town. He had to go to work at 7, I left his apartment not much later. My plan was to take the ferry to Belford. The information signs at the terminal didn’t make any sense, so I eventually boarded the wrong ferry. I was afraid that I had missed the last morning-ferry to Belford, but I was still able to make it. And another blessing in disguise, I met the kind NY Waterway’s employees Kevin and Illario on the wrong ferry. Kevin took some pictures of my entire gear with the New-York skyscrapers in the background. Great memories!

I unfortunately lost one of my gloves on the ferry, but let’s assume that I won’t need them anymore! I had a big tailwind, so I could’ve reached Philadelphia in one day, but I had booked my Airbnb location for the next day. I decided to pitch up my tent in the Rancocas State Park, the last opportunity before it gets too busy. I’ll stay here for the coming two nights before I’ll make a big detour towards Washington D.C.!