I’m now cycling in the United States. I didn’t come here to be amongst indigenous people, to experience colorful cultures or to maintain my Indian budget. I didn’t come here because I had thrown an arrow at the map of the world. The reason I decided not to continue on from India over-land to Australia are circumstances.
I start cycling in San Diego. Out of the airport I cycle through the cracked streets of San Diego where a warm breeze welcomes me. I am brought to a quiet and tropical neighborhood in the heart of Little Italy. The streets are lined with wooden electricity poles where laundromats spread the smell of fresh washed linen throughout. An electric ‘ding dong’ sound moves through the street at each hour as if it were an old fashioned Campanile clock. Going to the innovative supermarket of ‘Whole Foods’ I see slim pastel-colored single speed bicycles and laid-back mothers negotiating in the supermarché with their confident offspring. Although USA is not so different culturally from Europe, it feels a whole lot different when you didn’t come here gradually, that is, overland by bicycle.
A few surprises come my way
I am unpleasantly surprised by the many homeless people wandering around, sleeping on lawns around the harbor, under greasy sleeping bags. Some homeless people try to collect money at a traffic light, a cardboard flap explaining for them. Most of the homeless people have a shopping cart full of their haphazard belongings, or are moving on a bicycle. I feel as if I am imitating those on their overloaded bicycle. I do as they do except that I am not. The difference between them and us is that we choose this existence, that we have money enough to go to a hotel, to eat well and seek medical help if we need to. We look like cyclists with our flashy colored lycra and fashionable helmet. Another clear fact of us not being homeless is that we are not accompanied by a dog, some sort of pit-bull.
My breakfasts last till 10 o’clock and I drink liters of chai, twice daily. While pedaling I often stop to admire the nature I am in, to watch mule deer, to laugh at road runners sprinting away, or to interact with a ruby-crowned kinglet, a bird that flashes a bright red crest from up close.
I camp every night. It’s no trouble at all to find a beautiful spot in the desert of California and Arizona. Just pick one of the thousands of bushes to hide behind, or sleep in natural hewed out washes or at the base of a giant cactus. I sleep under the stars, the Milky Way blinking at me. I sleep alongside the Colorado river and I wash in it. I fall sleep with the howling of nearby coyotes, and I wake when the day at this side of the world comes to life again.
America en route
Pit-bulls and their not less impressive counterparts, the Chihuahua, are quite an annoyance. The route often goes through Latino neighborhoods and Native American lands, sandy streets where each house is outfitted with a watchdog eager to bite calves.
These ‘houses’ are often trailers, boxes perched on flat wheels sunk in the desert sand. Many of those trailers have a large ‘yard’ filled with trash, with a fence protecting them against their neighbor’s dog, I suppose. Hardly ever do I get to see a human being in such desolated, sad trailer ghettos. Dogs only. Pit-bulls and Chihuahuas.
‘Everyone should have a gun’
A strange man approaching me outside a grocery store: ‘Do you know that your spokes are threaded wrong?’
Me: ‘Uh, no…’
Strange man: ‘I used to do bicycles, but then I switched to motorbikes, and your spokes are all wrong!’
Me: ‘Oh, well… uh…’
Strange man: ‘You’re from the Netherlands you say, you have Queen Wilhemina. They collected the guns from all over the country and stored them in the palace of the queen and then when Hitler came he gathered them easily. It took only one hour to take over the Netherlands, because all your guns were stacked in one place!’
Me: ‘Oh, is it?’ and I correct him about our queen, since she is a he now.
Strange man: ‘Arizona passed a concealed carry law, and ever since the crime rate has gone down.’
Me: ‘Ah, I can’t believe thát?!’
Strange man: ‘So I have a gun, and I come up to you trying to steal your bicycle, you will defend yourself…’
I just have no clue how to deal with such talks. In Pakistan or Yemen no one came up to me to advocate for guns, nor did they do so in Afghanistan….
Everyone else was open and friendly as I was guarding the bicycles when Ton bought groceries. They loved me up by asking about the bicycles, the Starbucks Oprah chai I was sipping, the wind direction, or about our destination.
Wanna swap some beautiful titties?!
One fine day I meet two fellow cyclists. Their bicycles are loaded with little trinkets, stickers, rubbish and self-made attachments. I notice a little plastic doll, one like truckers place on their dashboard. It’s a naked woman in a very lascivious pose. Her name is ‘slut’, says the husband of the couple. She tells me about the ‘sickness’ in her head, her four dramatic child-deliveries and her epilepsy, while she shows a tattoo above the panty-line. While she tells all this, a cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth, her husband has turned his full attention to me. He is 27 years older than his wife, and with 66 years ripe, covered in sailor-men tattoos, a protruding potbelly above skinny legs wrapped in a tight lycra, a big red nose with large open pores, he has ranked my breasts as ‘beautiful titties’. Titties like his wife’s, which he would love to swap for a night. ‘What do I think about that?’
Needles to say I am still vomiting in my mouth….
Such blunt propositions are not unknown to me. Nevertheless, cycling here is what I longed for, very much like Oman. People don’t bother me, don’t stop when they pass in the unending Mohave desert. Unlike in Oman where they would stop and ask me whether I had enough water, people here just pass by. Sometimes enforced with a honk, to let you know they like cycling too (a bicycle tight to their roof proves so). Or they let you know you’re a distraction for their massive RV’s, ‘snowbirds’ who drive a vehicle the size of a house but without having the truck-driver skills.
While cycling close to the border of Mexico I don’t go through big cities and I don’t get to see much of mainstream America, whatever that is. My only encounters with people happen when I stop for groceries. Then I ask myself how these people gain their income. Some of them are enormously fat, some are elderly with their limps in high erected white socks and some people covered in series of seemingly randomly placed tattoos.
My route continues through enormous agricultural fields, where it is absolutely quiet, where no one is to be seen, where cotton fields are stretching themselves till the hills turns to a mystic blue, where the peaks appear black by absolute dense darkness. Rain leaves a remarkably pleasant smell behind on the mesquite, that of old urine mixed with musty bat, combined with wild sage; it’s like an untamed perfume.
I cycled this part of USA in October and November 2014, to be continued…