Reflections on bike ride through the 50 states

“America is just like the UK, only… bigger, right?”

I’d like to ask you all a favour. If you ever happen to be within earshot of such a comment, please make a beeline for the offending individual (even if it requires a Starsky & Hutch style roll across a car bonnet), cup their face firmly between your hands, lean in and scream “Nooooooooo.” It’s a common misconception. And one that I harboured myself a year ago. The truth is that our beloved countries are hugely and unbelievably different – both physically and culturally. I could write a thesis on the points that set us apart; Laws, history, work ethic, transport, environmental issues, to name but a few. My personal fave however, is language & communication.

Never before have I been so acutely aware how we British dance around our sentences – using colloquialisms, semi apologies and flowery comparisons to get a point across. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. In fact, I’m the worst offender of the prolonged prose. Here’s an example:

British: “Umm would it be possible, to perhaps, I mean, if it’s not too much trouble, to have a cup of coffee? And if there was a bit of milk hanging around in the fridge, that’d be lovely too.”

American: “Yeah I’ll take a Coffee. Milk. No sugar.”

THE GOOD TIMES

Oh my there were many. So so many. More than I’d ever hoped. Watching grizzly bears forage in the shadow of the Mount McKinley. Finding myself on the road at dawn in the desert, alone with no sound beyond the whirr of my wheels. Cresting that first pass in the Rocky Mountains. Striding through the plains of Wyoming, a herd of mustangs running alongside. Perched on a rickety bench, watching the morning sun creep above the North rim of the Grand Canyon. Finally leaving Route 50, America’s Lonliest road. Stargazing at 2am in Colorado. Looking out at classroom of excited schoolchildren, kids as young as five telling me they want to be an adventurer when they grow up too. Welling up when leaving families who’d taken me in over a storm. Eating breakfast with an 85 year old Grandma, listening to her tales of love lost and a life well lived.

THE BAD TIMES

Let it be known that it ain’t all rainbows and sunshine in Adventureville. Battling chronic knee pain for 2 months. Camping alone in Northern Wyoming, scared witless that a bear might come wandering by. Pitching my tent in a bush between an interstate and a freight railway line, a train shaking the ground every two hours. Pulling two people out of a car wreck in Colorado. Setting out to ride 120 miles in pouring Iowa rain, being soaked to the skin, verging on hypothermic and searching for a motel within 20. Riding into Cleveland on a busy road in the dark, fearing I’d be hit at any moment. A motor home passing far too close and almost sucking me under the back wheels. A campground owner treating me like vermin. Getting homesick with 6 weeks to go. Facing 30 mph headwinds.

WE, HUMAN BEANS

Are you still with me? Awesome. Perhaps pause for a cuppa, and go grab yourself a biccie? This shiz is about to get real.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the past 7 months, it’s that we’re a race governed by fear (hold those cries of ‘Steady on, love’ and hear me out). I know it makes evolutionary sense that we be wary of situations that could potentially cause us harm, but somewhere along the way, we took it too far. We began to spend our time focused on the things we can and can’t do, rather than the things we could.

I could have been attacked by a bear. Or a man. (Or a half man, half bear.) I could have been run over by a truck. Then again, at home, I could slip and smack my head on a work surface in the kitchen. I could get knocked down by the 281 as I cross the road in Teddington Town. In fact, the chances of the latter things happening are probably higher than the former. What am I do to? Stay out of the kitchen? Not go outside? Well that’s just ridiculous. Precisely. It is.

The truth is we don’t like doing things beyond our usual remit, because they expose cracks in our character. Weaknesses. Parts that we try to keep hidden from others to ensure we maintain a perception of us as a high functioning member of society. It’s only natural. I do it too. Yet nothing frustrates me more than hearing “I’d love to do that” To which, nowadays, I tend to go into bitch mode and reply: “So do it then.” It’s probably actually that you a) don’t want to do it badly enough (which is totally cool), b) it’s not a priority right now (again, totally cool) or c) that you’ve given yourself a hundred reasons why you shouldn’t. And what’s more, convinced yourself that those reasons are valid ones.

The only difference between me having spent the past 7 months blowing my mind, and having… not, was deciding that my excuses were just that. And that it was actually an option to go. Which, not having any real responsibilities and being at the point in my life that I am, it was. And I’m grateful for that. In short, when are you ever going to regret trying to do something that you really want to do? I’ll give you a clue, the answer is: Never.

If there’s one precious secret I’d like to share, it’s this: When you put yourself out ‘there’, way beyond your comfort zone, indulge in endeavours that cause your heart to beat fast and your chest to tighten – amazing things happen. Doors open, opportunities arise and most importantly, the painful chinks in your armour heal. The cracks that threaten to make you fall apart – they seal over. You become far stronger than you’d ever imagined. You grow, immeasurably. You surprise yourself, and you find it a far easier process to meet your own gaze in the mirror. We’re animals after all. In testing circumstances it will always come down to fight or flight. And you’re not very well going to lay down, are you?

I, A HUMAN BEAN

So what have I learnt about myself? Well. There are a few things I always suspected to be true. And then there’s a few new faces at my personality party.

Accept help where help is offered: I really don’t like asking for help. But what dawned on me through the trip is that sometimes the best experiences come from letting others save your British Bacon. If a stranger walks across a campground at breakfast time, and offers you coffee and a banana – newsflash, they want to give you coffee and a banana. In fact, it’d be ruder not to take it. From here in in I will be doing my best to accept all offers of coffee and bananas, among other things.

Please yourself, and only yourself: I’ve always held the belief that you should only really satisfy yourself in this life. I don’t mean be selfish, being proud of who you are and the way you behave goes hand in hand with treating others as you would like to be treated, after all. I’ve got two star based tattoos about my person, because I love stars. And I love stars because they remind me how marvellously insignificant I am. And that in the grand scheme of things no one really cares what you do, so you may as well do as you darn well like. That’s not changed.

Cut the comparison: We’re all so hard on ourselves. Constantly criticising and comparing the way we look, act and what we achieve with our peers. Facebook and Twitter can turn to tools of self destruction, and it’s exhausting. I do it a lot, and I’m trying my best to let it go. It’s incredibly difficult. And I know I’ll lapse from time to time. But I also know that comparing yourself to another person is downright ridiculous. It’s verging on insane. If you’ll excuse the cheesy trumpets and rousing theme music – there is no other like you. So please stop it. And I’ll try my best to do the same.

There’s a difference between being alone and being lonely: I haven’t really been lonely at all on the trip. In fact, I’ve felt more lonely at times in London, surrounded by people, than I have on my tod in the middle of the desert. I could be biased, but to spend time in your own company, you’ve got to be pretty good friends with yourself. I mean, you can’t have too many anxieties or insecurities, or they’ll eat you up from the inside out. So I think a little alone time is a great thing. It forces you to reevaluate whether you’re truly happy with what you’re spending your precious time on the planet doing. And that’s why so many people shy away from it. Because they’re not.

There’s a difference between being a bad ass, and a dumb ass. Pushing on through pain, bashing out 130 miles, dragging yourself out of bed when all you want to do is sleep – that’s badass. Winding up on a busy road at the mercy of trucks, ending up soaking and freezing with no shelter in sight and heading out to ride in a big storm – that’s dumb ass. And it’s been one of the greatest learnings of the trip. Dumb ass actions will only get you, and possibly others into trouble. And for what? So it’s bad ass action only from here on in.

WHAT NOW?

I’m going to write a book. Because, well, I’ve rediscovered that I love writing. And that there’s a real joy and art in sharing a good story. I hope some people will read it, but at worst it’ll be a record for any sproglets I have in years to come. I have no doubt it will be a tortuous experience, and don’t be fooled into thinking I have the faintest idea what I’m doing, but it seems to me like a marvellous new challenge for the next 6 months.

I’ll be refashioning the www.thebigfive-o.com into a historical record of what went down in Five-O town, and starting up a new blog – to host tales of all future adventures. If you’ve enjoyed following this one, don’t let this be the end of something beautiful. I’d love it if you made a mental note of the highly original www.annamcnuff.com. You’ll find me waiting for you all there with open arms in the very near future.

Tomorrow sees a return to work at Sky TV. To a bunch of people I love spending time with, and a job I do actually really enjoy. I doubt it’ll be too long before I’m off again somewhere for an extended period, but in the meantime I’m throwing myself back at working life 100%. And cramming every spare second around it with mini adventures. Adventure is a state of mind, after all. And my brain is addled forevermore.

Lastly, I can’t thank you all enough for sharing this trip with me. For the support, kindness and untold levels of awesomeness you’ve wafted in my general direction. Whatever future mischief lies in wait, you guys will always be my first adventure army.

One love.
Peace out.

McNuff xxx

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