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Essentially it came down to survival. Making it through the first day only made it even more apparent how much more there still was to do. I spent much of the second day busying myself with trying to repack the bike in the hope that I wouldn't have to think about the logistics in too much detail. I was able a guest of the DeMaggio household, family friends who make me feel very much at home. And, for one of the first times I can ever remember, I felt a little homesick. Not a whole lot, but spending time with such a lovely family reminded me of some of the things I'd left behind to take this journey.
Fortunately my brain cranked itself back into the correct gear, and I remembered how lucky I was to be in this position. I sat down in the middle of all my belongings and closed my eyes. It's natural to be afraid of uncertainty, but no reason to not enjoy it. Everything that I suddenly felt I was missing wasn't going anywhere - it would still be there when I returned. Instead I have this opportunity to see the world on two wheels, the way I'd always dreamed of, and pursue a documentary project I was truly passionate about. So why was I sitting on the floor and not excitedly packing things onto my bike, ready for the off?!
I think this is what is technically know as 'having a word with myself.' It worked. The next morning I set off, butterflies still taking permanent residence within my stomach, but now in agreed co-existence with excitement. That's when the rain started.
8 hours later, I arrived at the house of Martin Novak and his mother, who I'd found on the Couchsurfing website (an organisation where people who want to travel offer a spare room or couch for fellow journeymen to spend the night on.) Every fiber of me and my belongings was wet. My waterproof gear was good, but eight hours of driving rain drops the size of golf balls is going to make it through anything. I even felt drenched on the inside, and had to shake water out of my ears in order to hear anything. Within minutes I'd been shown my dry room, place to store my things, and food was on it's way for me. The Novaks treated me like one of their own, and being welcomed into their fantastic home in the woods was supplemented by great conversation with Martin. The impending loneliness of this trip is something that hasn't really bothered me so far, and while it will inevitably be hard to live without friendships that can last longer than a day or two, I feel confident that I'll have an enriching experience being able to spend even a short time with people that have creative, innovative, and different ideas and opinions to myself. Perhaps I'll even learn something.
The next couple of days meant continued pedaling through the Catskill mountains, which lie Northwest of New York City and South West of Albany. I appreciated their beauty for a solid 30 seconds at the top of each peak, before the muttering and panting started on the way up another sharp climb. I made my way through the rolling hills and crossed into the state of Pennsylvania to set up camp beside the Delaware. The spot was special - right beside the river with a view downstream as the water smoothly split the tree cover, winding it's way past my tent onwards to a natural bend. I stared at it till my eyelids dropped; I fell asleep to the sound of the creek.
A couple more days on the bike took me out of the mountains and back into rural, regulated farmland. I'd guess it must be a natural human reaction to visiting somewhere new to try and relate it to a previous experience, but I do it constantly. In the forests and the hills I thought of the woodlands I grew up around on the North Coast of Northern Ireland, and if it wasn't for the sun and the (unseen) bears here I could have easily imagined myself transported back home. Now I was back in farm country Ireland again played on my mind, but also the borders of Scotland, where my Dad now lives. I pondered how remarkable similar the landscape and topography is as I cycled past bobcats, muskrats and raccoons. I guess there has to be a few differences to make it interesting...
I finished the first week in Syracuse, where the offer of a friendly face and a place to stay for the night in my friend Blake's hotel room was too good to refuse. On the way there, a night camped out the back of Tuff McBride's Irish pub in Windsor was followed by a delightful evening with the Quinn family, who found me in Cortland city with night approaching, and refused to see me cycle off into the uncertain dusk in search of a camp site. I feel a little like I'm constantly acquiring new families as I make this trip, and being treated to dinner by Carol, Paul and Kevin almost had me thinking I'd be in the car driving back to Long Island with them the next morning. I wasn't however, but I did make it to Syracuse after two days of plentiful food and drink. I rested, relaxed and ate some more. Blake took me to my first Monster Jam - an American experience unlike any other. 13,000 adrenaline fueled Americans, screaming for mechanical blood and as much metallic mayhem as they could handle. Throw in a few stunt jumps on motorcycles and it was quite an evening.
I filled another day catching up on emails and correspondence as I stayed with Nate, a medical student and fellow cycling enthusiast. We were also able to watch the finale of LOST, one of my vices for the last six years. I won't say any more on it except...it's finally over. I can move on.
By the next morning, I was more than ready to return to nature. I was hugely grateful for the rest time and the hospitality I received in Syracuse, but I was realising again just how much I missed the country life - the smells and sounds (or lack them) that make it so special. Since leaving New York City I'd had a taste of it, and wanted more. I crave cycling that leads me for hours without seeing anything more than birds, tress, rivers and plant life.
I rode out early on Monday and cleared the city suburbs. Dairy farms passed by as I pedaled ever onward, following nothing more than a bearing of due west. People got scarcer, cars grandually became trucks, became tractors, became...nothing. I was alone. Only nature surrounded me. I pulled over and left my bike by the road. Walking across the embankment I could see only green. I lay down and stared up - green became blue. Even the clouds had moved on. I was at peace.
Make sure to check out my Video Logs that I've uploaded -
Here's the one for www.leonmccarron.com - it's a little quick and crude, but hopefully it works as a taster - Vlog #2
Here's my first monthly installment for www.bikeradar.com - Bike Radar #1
And here's the first for http://road.cc - Road.cc #1
There also some pictures of the first week here, and well, as always, more to come.
Special thanks to the DeMaggio family, the Novaks, Tuff McBride and all at the pub who stood me a round and some food, the Quinns, Jay and Margo in the Diner, Nate, and all the other people who've helped me out in the short space of a week. I wish you all well