Home Europe Turkey Iran Pakistan India Nepal Tibet Asean Australia USA

Las Vegas, januari 20th, 2001

Hi There!

Officially we haven't developed a time machine yet, but until then an aero plane can do that service. Around 10 pm I took off from Taipei and around 6 pm the same day my plane landed in Los Angeles. A new continent, a new adventure! Many new things to get used to. First the right hand traffic. Since I entered Pakistan I have ridden on the left side of the road almost all the way. Even now, after roughly 800 kms I feel like going over to the wrong side of the road in the morning. It seems like changing back is harder than getting used to left hand traffic.

LA is not a real city. There's hardly any tall buildings and the housing goes on and on and on in every direction except into the Pacific. To me it appears very expensive and cold. The prices are the same as in Australia except the dollar here is about two dollars there. A bed in a dormitory together with five others costs easily 20 dollar a nigh! I don't stay here very long. Quickly I buy a new tent - my old one had cracked in Australia - and warm clothes. And then I get on the road. My first goal is to get as quickly as possible out of this city. From the place I stay that is about 50 kms - the closest point outside the built up area. Along my way I pass Beverly Hills and shortly after that Hollywood. Somewhere in the distance I see Hollywood written in the mountains but I don't get close by. It is too hilly to cycle there and back just for no particular reason. I'll get my share of hills. On the border of the built up are the real hills start. Climbing for 10 kms and over an hour later it is flat for a few meters. There I take a break and take my time to be surprised about the cars that come down. Higher up in the hills there is snow and hundreds of people drive up to load some snow on their cars and take it down. What they want to do with it I don't know; perhaps put it in the fridge in order to save on electricity? I doesn't really seem a good idea...

And then quite unexpected I'm in the desert. I thought I'd seen enough of that in Australia! This desert is however strangely cold. Every night it freezes. One more morning my tent is covered in a layer of an inch of ice! During the day it doesn't really warm up. Going uphill it's all right. I go slowly but because I have to peddle hard I keep myself warm. For the first time this trip I'm not looking forward to any descends. Although I realize that the higher I get the colder it gets. The landscape here is very wide. It is mountainous - with tops of about 3000 meters - but they are far apart. One valley is often a daytrip - 80 kms - wide. Roads aren't steep but it is semi flat for ever; either up or down. The first hour I feel like I'm flying over the road, the next I don't understand why I can't get my bike to go faster than 13 kph. It is very frustrating, also because the hills I have to conquer have lost their sharp edges. So there are hardly any ridges or ditches where I can hide my tent for the night. And going of the road so far that I will not be seen is impossible. The air is so dry that on a 15 kms distance you can easily count the number of cars on a parking lot without binoculars. So the nights I spend hoping not to get shot, camping in full sight of the road a couple of hundred yards off the tarmac. I haven't had any troubles with traffic noise. Where the cars are very quiet, the people themselves are very noisy. They talk loud; as if they all have an ear problem.

And then suddenly I pass a sign saying: "Elevation: Sea Level". And I'm still going downhill! I have entered the death valley. A very colourful piece of desert which gets so little rain that the surface of the lake is roughly 100 meters below sea level. It is for a change pleasantly warm. The night I spend here is the only one without frost.

The Death Valley is spectacular. I have never imagined so many different colours of brown so close together and than I don't speak of the red, blue (!), yellow and white rocks that shines up between the brown here and there. When I stop for lunch in front of a shop I learn something about the American city kids. On the few steps in front of that shop there's a big black bird. Two boys of about 10 years old follow their parents into that shop. One of the kids says to the other: "I've never been this close to a bird before!" Most expectedly he also thinks that milk comes from a carton and has nothing to do with a cow...

Climbing out the Death Valley is quite hard, but I expected that. It is of course uphill and at the top it is almost flat; ascending without the descend is, even if it would be very cold, isn't a pleasure. Work without a reward. Not far outside the Death Valley I get to a crossroad with one building. This turns out to be all of Amargossa. Until lately it was a ghost town. Now there is an Opera House with a motel attached to it. This all is run by a 70 years young lady who performs in the opera house. To me, this seems much more impressive than the Opera House in Sydney. Three boring desert days later I arrive in Las Vegas. This city, famous of course for its casinos, is nicknamed Lost Wages. I think the nick name suits better. It is a sick place. Casinos, who doesn't know them, are unhappy places. People starring at gambling machines unable to think of anything else and throwing in quarters until the owners of the casino can buy another aero plane. If I ever want to become rich I'll start a casino. Are people really that blind that they can't see that they are not the ones who get rich from their gambling? Also prostitution is legal in Nevada (the state in which Las Vegas lies) and the combination of gambling and sex gives every building an expression of unhappiness. It is hard to explain, but there's something wrong with the light in the eyes of most of the people that walk around here. Well, with the ones who come here more often. The daytrip tourists - 'you have to have seen it' - are fairly normal. I will also have left this place very soon.

Denver, February 15th, 2001

Hi There!

I don't feel sad when I leave Las Vegas. Heading again into the desert, direction South East. This way I head over the Hoover Dam in the Colorado River - yes, the same river as the one running through the Grand Canyon - which has been built there to try to prevent the people downstream from drowning. Before that dam was built they had down there either way too much or way too little. The dam itself is quite an attraction, but it doesn't make me very excited. Especially the lake behind it is very misplaced; it doesn't fit in this kind of landscape.

After a couple of days I reach Kingman. The first town I visit in Arizona - my third state. In Kingman I see to my huge surprise another recumbent cyclist. He invites me to drink something in a coffee shop. There I give an interview for the local newspaper, which places a very nice article about me, together with a picture they take next morning; all thanks to Lucia Knudson. Ten minutes later another guy on a recumbent appears! This man invites me to stay over for the night. A real bed is something much more comfortable than my tent. Especially with the decreasing night temperatures.

And suddenly I head into the real winter. It starts snowing. For two days I have to shake the snow off my glasses every other meter I cycle and I take a break at every public building I see - shop, gas station, pub - in order to warm up again. Fortunately the cold comes in steps, later I'll notice that it can get a lot worse. Close to the Grand Canyon a park ranger takes over on me. He had read my story in the Kingman Daily and invites my - in writing - to visit the Grand Canyon. So I don't have to pay the entrance fee; being famous does have it's advantages! The Grand Canyon is GRAND. It is unbelievable that something like this exists. It is too big to be real. When I walk around and through it all the time I have the feeling to walk through a painting. Like one artist or the other has imagined a painting and hung it here in giant size. They say it's real, but to me it feels very surreal. I can hardly believe it. The southern rim lies on about 7000 feet (2100 meter), the river doesn't run higher than 1600 feet (500 meter). From beginning to end the Canyon is 277 miles (453 kms) and often not wider than 10 miles (16 kms). That in combination of a very colourfull stone it makes everything very magical. It can't be captures on film; not even on 1000 pictures.

From the Grand Canyon my route first takes me a long way down. And my fear comes true. Riding down in winter-America is more annoying than riding up. The wind is so cold that I freeze stuck to my bicycle. At night it takes twice as long as normally to built my tent because my fingers don't want to co-operate. But still it can get worse, the future will tell. These days I'm cycling through the Navajo Indian reserve. I personally find reserve a weird term; like Indians are a with extinction threatened kind of animal which have to be protected by the humans. The Indians seem to think differently. This reserve is the biggest in the USA and is seen by its inhabitants as a separate nation. Well, that's what the white men tells me. While I cycle through it I don't really notice. Also here people drive on the right hand side of the road. Also here drivers find it annoying when there's a cyclist in their way and in every average village there's a MacDonald's. The only thing that isn't here is the internet; at least not in the library. In all other libraries you can go online for free in the USA. There are a few conditions such as no chatting. The speed of the internet is incredible. It seems like my emails were already on the hard disc. I ride from Arizona straight into Colorado. Via Four Corners, the only place in the USA where four states meet in one point. I take a picture where the four points I need to touch the ground without falling over standing still in a different state: My rear wheel is in Utah, my right foot in Arizona, my front wheel in New Mexico and my left foot in Colorado.

Not far from Four Corners I ride into the Rocky Mountains. This mountain chain is easily recognizable from its surroundings. Until now - apart from the Grand Canyon - I rode through a fairly flat highlands desert. Red brown ground, not much vegetation, it reminded me a bit of Australia, with that difference that here they have 10 Ayers Rock's. Without a real announcement in the form of hills a sudden wall of mountains rises from the ground. Obviously a different stone - black - and a different climate. And lots of things growing. With fresh snow the mountain range gets something fairytale like. People who see me riding warn me for a snowstorm coming up in about two days. Then I have to hurry. They think that the next three passes will be closed due to the heavy snowfall. I have to pass those before that snowstorm then! And all three are over 10.000 feet (3000 meters). So I change my plans and get up very early in the morning. My tent was on 20 inch snow and where I have slept there is a hole now. Not deep, because it was 0 degrees Fahrenheit last night (about -15 Celcius). In the first morning light I start the first long climb. The second one is longer and the descend is fantastic. Very cold, but the views are fantastic. I eat my lunch in Silverton where they advise me to cycle on non stop to Ouray, the next village, and not to camp along the way. This because this area is very famous for avalanches. The roads along the pass don't have any rails because it is too expensive to fix them time after time again. And the roads are steep; very often I go faster than 75 kph, on the downhill. On the last descend to Ouray there are speed limit signs saying 25 miles/hour which I break with close to 50 mi/h (85 kph).

Silverton is a very nice place. In summer there's a steam train and the atmosphere still breathes some of the old wild West. Wide streets, old style wooden buildings. The last climb of the day is once again long and heavy. Fortunately at the bottom of every serious climb there's a sign saying how far it is to the top. In miles of course, but it isn't hard to calculate and translate it to my speedometer. And knowing where the suffering will be over makes it a lot easier!

Ouray is fantastic. Set between two high cliffs this is the place to go ice-climbing in the Rockies. Waterfalls change into huge icicles and with nothing but a couple of sharp nails on hands and feet people climb those icicles. Spectacular to see, but not my sport. The next morning the snowstorm does indeed come. The pass is snowed stuck when I wake up, but the cloud has sincere difficulties passing it. In Ouray it is still pleasant. Some snowflakes come down from the sky, but it's not a lot. Before I leave I take a quick swim in the local open air swimming pool. I never thought that I would ever swim with snow on my head... Fortunately it's a hot spring; well pleasant warm water of about 40 degrees Celsius.

And here, I once again interrupt the story for a chilling excerpt from my diary:

Gunisson, Februari 9, 2001

Hi There,

Today was the heaviest day of my trip so far. Even the nightcycling in Tibet doesn't come close to it. This moring I left from Montrose and from the beginning my way started to climb. Not long after I had left the last houses of Montrose behind me it starts to snow. At first just a littlbit, but slowly but surely it gets thicker and heavier. The air is just above freezing so the road is wet. Every time a car passes I get sprayed with wet snow. The further I climb, the colder it gets; the colder I get because it doesn't take long until I'm soaked.

Unfortunately the clothes I have bought in LA are really good; even though I'm soaked I feel relatively warm. That is probably because I need some physical energy while climbing. But each ascend comes to an end and the descend, through heavier snow than before, is no fun at all. Two more passes like that follow and when I'm on the last descend some 8 inches (20 cm) of snow has fallen. Although the snowploughs work hard all day long, with snow at this rate it's impossible to keep the road clean. Fortunately I need to clinb less as the road gets flat; so riding becomes somewhat easier. But at that moment the snow turns even ticker so riding at a reasonable speed becomes next to impossible. Slowly I get colder. My body barely keeps itself warm and the places on my body where the snow doesn't melt anymore grow bigger every minute. It is still another 10 kms (6 mi) and already I look like a snowman. The snow on the road is hardened by the other (car)traffic which makes it very slippery. Something I didn't know was that even snow could corrugate! Top of the desaster is that the sun leaves me just before I arrive in town; when it is dark the other traffic won't see me as I don't have lights.

I have to be even more carefull and that now I cannot keep wearing my (sun)glaces - too dark - and my eyes are unprotected from the snow. Completely exhausted and frozen I arrive in Gunisson, the coldest city in mainland USA - so not including Alaska. I hope that you forgive me for not camping out and staying the night in a motel. Warm shower, heated room... Just as I have found an attractive motel I see a police car behind me. "Sir, you don't have any lights." No, I knew that already! With a friendly smile I tell him that I'm heading for the motel on the other side of the road and therefore he doesn't fine me. I'm not the only one being covered in snow. Also my bicycle is stuck with snow and ice. The last 20 kms neither of my breaks work, my rear derailleur was frosen stuck and had it worked it would have been useles as all the blades except the one I used were frozen full with ice. Also my suspension is filled up with ice and snow. When I take my bicycle from under the shower - the quickest way to get rid of the snow - an airring turns out to have broken. So I won't have any suspension...

That night I sleep very deep and I notice only in the morning that it has been very cold outside. The minimum temperature was minus 25 degrees and when I get on my bicycle in the morning it stil is minus 10. Cycling in winter proves not to be my favorite passtime. I hope it is over soon!

Only the next day the snowstorm really comes through. This is the day that I cycle from Montrose to . The next day the road still is not free of snow. The snow is turned into ice by the other traffic and that makes it dangerously slippery. I don't only have to be careful not to fall over or slide away otherwise, I also have to pay very tight attention at sliding cars. And all of that when the next ascend is about 60 kms. 40 kms is fake flat, the last 20 kms is almost 6% up. Yes, once again I go over a real pass. For me it's the last one in the Rockies. I cross the continental divide. By four pm I'm finally at the top (with a day max. of +15 Fahrenheit, -10 Celsius) I stand on the water divide between the Atlantic and the Pacific. In theory I don't have to go uphill anymore until I get home. Unfortunately that is not the truth... And the descend is the worst I've had so far. The first 20 kms I have to stop every 5 kms because of painfully cold fingers. All the time I feel like they are about to fall off and time after time again I get tears in my eyes because of the pain. After a five minutes break with my hands between my family jewels until they're back to a pleasant temperature. But five kms later I really can't go on anymore. Fortunately I pass a campsite which is open. In the snow I build my tent and I step under a warm shower. It seems like something did get damaged in my fingers because for the next two days they seem blue and feel very painful. But every day I get closer to sealevel so it should get less cold. Slowly the snow melts and I keep a day break - well, I don't count it as a cycling day, I ride only 25 kms - in Salida. There I am invited by a traveling artist who has his home here. His favorite country is Thailand; it should be clear why we connect.

I roll further down the mountain through a gorgeous Canyon. A new road has been built which leaves the canyon - Royal Gorge - before it arrives at Ca?on City. The old road still exists however and crosses the canyon via a very special bridge: 300 meters above the river. However they want me to pay 14 US$ to cross that bridge on foot. I find that way too much money and watch the bridge from a distance before I turn around an continue towards Ca?on City. Two days later I continue north. The road is annoyingly hilly - the road from before Istanbul was hardly worse. To the left I can see the Rockies - I prefer this above a 10.000 feet pass - and to the right the prairie. The prairie I leave for what it is for a couple of days. The past 14 days I have cycled 1500 kms and I have only had 2 days break since January 14th. I think I deserve one now. And because I'm having a very good time at the Van Heldens living in Aurora (Co.) near Denver I allow myself to catch some breath. The Van Heldens have read my story on the internet already while I was traveling through India and have contacted me back then. Now I finally meet them. And they show me around the sights in Denver like a village named Nederland. I also spend some time downtown cold Denver where I visit among other things the railway station and the cinema...

New York, March 15th, 2001

Hi There!

In Denver I thought that I had had the worst/heaviest part of the USA. That turned out to be more of a wish than truth. The first two days on the prairie were fantastic weather wise. But then the wind turned east and with that the weather turned evil. It became as cold as in Gunisson and now I had a strong headwind with that. And I was racing east. Highway 36. Another 800 kms straight ahead. Kansas lies on the prairie so it is fairly flat. Here and there a river has cut itself into the soil so I have to climb a bit, but it never is so steep that the road should make a curve. All the way I see mowed cornfields to the left and to the right of me with on them huge rain machines. In the middle of the field there's a huge pump with attached to that a pipe of some 500 meters which can turn around and sprays the water over the land. All the way I see here and there a oil pump in the landscape and the road goes straight all the way. According to the map this road is one of the windiest in the area; roughly every 5 kms there is a slight curve in the road... But that is hardly visible.

In a whim I decide to turn left, into Nebraska. This day it is foggy and later it turns to rain. As if the wind had been waiting for me to turn, it turns from east to northern wind, so I still have a headwind. The wind gets stronger the further I peddle and the rain, when I am soaked and got cold to the bone, turns into snow. The last ten kilometers of this day seem to last forever. I know where the village is supposed to be and it is at the speed I have now another half an hour. But the wind gets stronger and stronger and the snowfall gets thicker and thicker so I slow down. Two kilometers further on I am still at a schedule of about half an hour! The last 6 kms take, even though the landscape is flatter than a pancake, the full thirty minutes. That night another 30 cm of snow galls from the sky. The next morning it is fantastic weather. Under a cool but pleasant sun I walk through the Pioneers Village in Minden (Ne). Mr. Warp has built here an open air museum where the technological development of the USA comes to life for all generations. A little further on over Interstate 80 they have build the Archway. This monument has been erected to honour the first pioneers who crossed this continent by ox-cart. Like the Donner party which got stuck in the Rockies in Winter. One after the other froze to death and the food was getting less and less. The survivors got a brilliant idea: They ate the ones who had frozen to death. There are a few that have survived this adventure! This and many other stories are told in a very interactive way. For me it was almost 200 kms extra, but it was definitely worth the effort. Well, were it summer.

The last night I get back to the US 36 a heavy northeastern wind comes up and while I sleep sound a nice layer of some 50 centimeters (almost 2 feet!) of snow falls down. When I start cycling it is still snowing. Fortunately it is still another 30 kms straight south which means a tailwind. That direction, wearing all the clothing I brought with me, it works out quite alright. It is quite difficult cycling because the high winds blow the dry snow (real feel temperature is about minus 40!) straight behind the snow ploughs back on the road. Three kms before I get back to the US 36 there is a monument a mile off the road. That is exactly the geographical center of mainland USA. I have skipped that point in Australia because it was 300 kms off the road, here I think it'd be something nice to see. The way there is alright. Heading west with a northeastern wind is not too difficult. But heading back! I'm unable to cycle. Even on a recumbent the wind can get too much! And that means I need both hands on my bicycle all the way. While cycling I could switch them: one under my armpit and the other on the wheel. That until the one on the wheel starts hurting when they switch places. When I walk I can do that. During that mile I have to stop twice to warm my hands up and even that turns out to be too little. On my right hand my pointer- and middle finger suffer a frost-nip. The tip burns painfully and in the morning I cannot touch anything with those fingers without quite some pain. When I get to US 36 the police picks me off the road to take me to the nearest motel. And from this point on the weather starts getting better, and it keeps getting better. The first couple of days it stays fairly cloudy but the temperature doesn't drop anymore to minus 40. The feeling that my pointer finger has half an inch of hard skin on top stays for a long time. When I type this (in Dutch, three weeks later) I still don't feel much in it.

The past couple of days I have seen the signs 'Oregon Trail' at regular intervals. This was an often used path for pioneers to head west. Almost 30.000 carts went over it every year. Every person was equally eager and hopeful. Not everybody was equally lucky. So many people died along this route that on average every 110 meters there was a grave. Nowadays the roads don't follow the trail anymore and many of the graves lie hidden in the wilderness. Every now and then, for example when a new road is being built, one of those graves is discovered. When I personally would start a trip like that and along the first 100 kms I would have seen 900 graves I would have turned around. Too dangerous! Kansas state doesn't have a lot to offer for the tourist. Apart from very nice people, the two more or less interesting cities - Topeka (the capital) and Lawrence - are less interesting than more. Kansas City, just across the Missouri border attracts some attention but to me it seems like a very boring city.

A visit to the United States cannot be complete without using the mode of transport that made this country great. Nowadays they prefer to use the car, but the first real development started when the train came to the states. From Kansas City I travel via Chicago to Washington D.C. Chicago is a beautiful city. Many impressive buildings (among others the Sears tower, the second tallest building in the world). Unfortunately it is very cold so that I am not sad to get back on the train after four hours leaving for the capital. And then I suddenly am there. In front of the Capitol, in front - and behind - the White House, in front of the Lincoln Memorial (where Forrest Gump held his speech about the war in Vietnam). All famous places where I suddenly cycle past in person. That stays a very strange experience.

But now time really starts to be pressing. My plane from New York is leaving soon so I'll be on my way after only a short break. On to the coast, but this time the Atlantic coast. Arriving there does something to me; now I have cycled around the world! The only thing I need to do now is cross the water. There, across the water lies my fatherland that I haven't seen quite a while. But first I have to head north. When the last bit of a trip is good the whole trip has a good feeling over it. And the weather helps me to keep a good feeling about this trip. With a strong tail wind and a very pleasant temperature (15 to 20 degrees) I cycle north. What doesn't help me much is the mentality of the people living in the east of the USA. There is a certain tension here that I haven't felt in the west and center. A kind of competitiveness that shuts out all human compassion:
'How are you?'
'I'm dying of cancer.'
'Oh, great have a nice day.'

Rough camping is illegal in this area, but the people will definitely not accept it if I stand in their garden; of course I ask that politely. Once they say that it is no problem, but by the time I have built my tent and get ready for sleep the police comes and kicks me out: They have called the police to prohibit me camping out there! This mentality badly damages my mood when I enter Manhattan by boat the ext day. Still I'm once again impressed by the places I cycle: past all sorts of famous places which I've seen so often on TV and in the movies. This is New York!

And this is where my travels end. I hope that you have enjoyed reading all this as much as I have enjoyed experiencing - and writing - it. Not a moment I have regretted leaving. But now it has been enough. I don't feel sad about being home again. For the time being...