Friday, June 9, 2017

Philadelphia, PA to Rudgwick, England: Rain, a plane, and a lot of dogs

When we last left off, I was in Philadelphia staying with a friend of my sister's from college, Justicia, and her partner, Courtney. I bought my flight with a few days buffer in case of emergency, and I had used a few of those days over the past two months waiting out weather, but I still had three left. Justicia and Courtney were kind enough to let me spend two of those three with them in Philadelphia.

Among other things, I went to a great local donut shop called Federal Donuts (and waited in the line out the door), an awesome park with hammocks everywhere and a naval museum on board a ship and a submarine next door, a dumpling bar, and got to see a few local bands playing on porches for the once-a-year Porchfest. This included, but was not limited to, a Star Wars themed jazz band (complete with the tuba player dressed as Princess Leia), a drum circle, and a bluegrass accordion band (close to my heart because I played the accordion before leaving for tour).

Also, Justicia is an amazing chef. Justicia and Courtney, in general, were just really cool to be around. I'm glad I met them, I'm incredibly grateful for their kindness and generosity in letting me stay, and I hope I get to see them again.

And eat Justicia's cooking.

But, the time came for me to move on. I headed out for the two day ride to New York, with one day still to kill before my flight from JFK to London. I think I'd name the first day “towpaths and textures” – I ended up riding on two towpaths and saw lots of cool textures. It's the simple things.

I was planning on stealth camping, but the weather had also been planning on cooperating. Around dinner, the forecast changed to include a thunderstorm. I asked a friendly looking couple at the restaurant if they had space in their yard; they didn't, but they knew of a park nearby with a pagoda and suggested I head there. Awesome! Just for giggles, I tried calling a local Warmshowers host before heading out – no answer.

Just as I was turning off my route to head for the park, my phone rang. Sheri, the Warmshowers host, had gotten my message and would be happy to have me. She lived not a mile from where I was, and happened to have plenty of leftovers from dinner. On such short notice, I was expecting nothing more than space in the garage to hide from the storm, so I was surprised and flattered to receive dinner, a very, very large glass of wine (Sheri and her partner Linda said I had “catching up to do”), about five different types of chocolate to choose from, and lovely conversation. It was a great night, and I was very grateful for their kindness and generosity, especially on such short notice.

On Monday I went across the Delaware River from PA to NJ and decided to take a detour from the Adventure Cycling Route – down the river a few miles was a towpath from Trenton almost all the way to my host for the next night in North Plainfield, NJ. It would be a bit longer, but I only had 40 miles that day so could sacrifice distance for scenery.

It was very scenic, AND I met the first other cyclists of the tour going cross-country! Leo and his son Kevin had left New York that day headed for LA. We talked a bit about our routes, shot pictures, and I gave him my Adventure Cycling Maps to DC since I didn't need them anymore. It was really moralizing – I often hear about other cross-country tourists, but hadn't met a single one yet (excluding all the tourists going from Pittsburgh to DC on the GAP/C&O).

My very gracious hosts for Monday and Tuesday night were Sarah and Dave from Warmshowers. I was treated to dinner on Monday and Tuesday and lunch on Tuesday, despite offering to feed myself multiple times. Sarah and Dave got into cycling in the past few years and regularly travel with their bikes. They plan on doing a cross-country one day, but haven't had the time yet. Dave has Laotian heritage, so on Tuesday I got to see the creation of and eat authentic Laotian sticky rice. Yum!

On Wednesday Dave was kind enough to drop me off just across the bridge from Manhattan Island in New York. The ride there would have been about 35 miles through industrial New Jersey – lots of trucks and no bike lanes. He offered to take me across the bridge into Manhattan, but there's a ridiculous toll of $18 which is nearly my budget for the day. As it was, there was a small toll to get up to the bridge, which I offered to pay multiple times but Dave said I needed the money more.

So, I rode across the bridge and began riding around Manhattan Island. Another cyclist named Sanjay rode with me for a while – he had done some touring himself, in Spain and Portugal. We traded touring stories (most of his affirming the notion that stealth camping was easier in Europe – or at least that if you get caught nothing happened: one time the Spanish military came across him while he was changing...), he gave me directions and advice on getting to JFK, and we parted ways.

I took lunch in Central Park...

...stopped by Times Square (because, why not?)...

...and made my way through Brooklyn and Queens to JFK's long term parking, where there's an Airtran into the terminal. I rolled my bike onto the Airtrain and just after getting off found a place behind the escalator to take it apart and bag it up (I had stopped by a hardware store in New Jersey to pick up bubble wrap, tape, and a painter's tarp).

The flight from JFK to London was only six hours, taking off at 11 PM and landing at 11 AM. On the one side, there was Mike, who has dual citizenship between the UK and New Zealand, and travels between the two and everywhere else skiing wherever he can. On the other, there was Cara, who had been visiting her brother in the states to offer some artistic advice and was returning to her job in the UK. We geeked out a bit about bikes and travel, among other things, and it's possible I might have someone to show me around London when the time comes.

Running off of five hours of sleep, I managed to make it through customs without any trouble and out onto the patio of Gatwick airport to put my bike together. I had to ride on the highway for about a mile, but eventually there was a bike path south out of Gatwick to the nearest town, Crawley.

Did I mention that everyone was on the wrong side of the road?

I hadn't been able to get a UK SIM card at the airport, so running off of GPS and screenshots of where things were I had taken before leaving the US, I managed to find a grocery store and hardware store (for fuel for my stove, which I couldn't bring on the plane), fill up my water, and get on my way. I've been using an app called (basically an offline Google Maps) with the goal of navigating to the southwestern corner of England, a county known as Cornwall, which I'm told is “beautiful but hilly.” I made it about ten miles out of Crawley before I just couldn't pedal anymore (remember, five hours of sleep), so I took the first spot for stealth camping I could find... rested there for a bit... then decided it wasn't any good and went another two miles. Finally, I made camp for the night.

There is a tent in this photo.

The fact that I'm in England is still settling in, I think. I still make turns and subconsciously steer to the wrong (right) side of the road. I'm still not sure whether I should speak with an accent or not (I tend to subconsciously use the accent of the people around me). I paid for something in pounds today (all the notes are different sizes and 1 GBP is a coin, not a note). My web addresses all end in instead of .com. The little globe that tells me I have notifications on Facebook is rotated so Europe faces me, and Google is really, really insistent that I'm aware of its privacy policy. The list goes on.

Oh, and I passed by someone training hounds today.

Despite all the differences, and despite how sore and tired I am (I expect it will be a few days before the jet lag fully wears off), the people here are incredibly kind, the food is good, and it's beautiful.

To Cornwall!


  1. Wow! Great blog, wonderful hosts, and it's great to hear of your whereabouts in the UK. Favorite photo is the dogs! Love you, Mom

  2. The ease with which you describe traveling to a new country and just getting on the road and biking is amazing (and a little inspiring)! I'm very excited to see the next blog!