“What a thoroughly miserable day!” This is what I thought to myself as I loaded my pack and headed for the start line. The start line was an imaginary one that went across Times Square. I wanted somewhere iconic and memorable. I certainly got that. The team and I had spent the previous 48 hours attempting to get our bearings around this concrete jungle of a city. New York oozes cool from every corner. The coffee shops are not just some little pantry that your granny goes too, they are chic boutiques that sell wheat grass incensed with camel urine. Each coffee shop is trying to outdo the others in their race to be the next great place. For me, I just want to sit down and drink a coffee. Simple. Maybe that’s the miserable Yorkshireman in me, I don’t know, but whatever “it” is, New York has “it” and it has “it” by the bucket load.
Craning your neck up as you navigate the city you get a real sense of how massive this city really is. Not just by surface area but as the skyscrapers tower above you, you feel dwarfed and unbelievably inconsequential. They drive out of the Earth like an alien form, shuddering and barging their way to the heavens. We all did touristy stuff while in New York, taking in as much as possible but we barely scratched the surface. I am not a city boy, in fact quite the opposite, but New York is different. It sucks you in, like a good blog it leaves you wanting more. You need to see what is round the next corner because it could be the Flat Iron, the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Centre, Brooklyn Bridge or even the Statue of Liberty and even afer seeing all of these, you have barely scratched the surface.
New York is every stereotype you have ever heard about America. Everything is massive; the people, the buildings, the food and the personalities. They are huge, larger than life, but not to see it and just to believe what people tell you is a huge mistake. Yes, they are big and brash but my God are they brilliant. New Yorkers have an air of confidence that is almost arrogant and yet, at the heart of it, they are truly warm and wonderful people who want nothing more than for you to see New York for what it is, a festival of culture. New York is an eclectic mix of languages, races and religions. On every corner, there will be a street vendor selling, performing or even just standing completely still.
New York Times Square Map Photo Gallery
As we traversed the streets of New York, I couldn’t help but notice how amazingly warm it was. We had arrived into JFK late on the Saturday afernoon. Jeans were not my greatest choice of travel attire and I stood outside the airport and sweated while we hailed a taxi. As I think now of the sweat trickling down my back and my jeans sticking to me in a way that made me feel like I was suffocating, I realise that this moment was a miniscule prelude to the heat and discomfort that I would experience for the vast majority of my six weeks in America. I remember vividly feeling scared at this moment, the challenge was very real as we stood waiting for that taxi, very real.
It was early on the 24th of July 2017, I was in New York City, New York, America and I was already soaked. I had made the decision earlier in the planning to run to the bottom of Manhattan Island and then cross over the bridge. Now, those that have been to New York will know that there is no such bridge. This became all too apparent after I was staring at the Statue of Liberty wondering
how the heck I could have been quite so stupid. I can understand the odd wrong turn during the 3,000 miles but I had only done 8 miles, I was drenched and already I had run in the wrong direction! To anyone who saw me or maybe more to the point heard me that morning I apologise, my language was somewhat choice. I stood for a good five minutes, holding back tears but also with a little smile on my face. “Sam, you plonker!” I said it to myself many more times on the trip, always trying to sound like Del Boy off of Only Fools and Horses.
Afer a swift about turn I headed back up Manhattan, hugging the water’s edge towards The George Washington Bridge. The bridge loomed far in the distance quite often engulfed by the mist of the early morning drizzle. The skyscrapers that are normally the skyline of the city were shrouded by cloud that morning. Only half of Tower One was visible from the ground and the rest were cloaked in an eerie smog. As much as I cursed myself for going so badly wrong I also loved seeing downtown again. The rest of Manhattan passed without incident, runners passed and cyclists whipped by, no pleasantries were made just people going about their daily lives. They probably weren’t even aware of my wry smile. As they each passed they had no clue that I was running for any other reason than they were, however, 32 days later I would be in LA in the baking sun.
As I arrived at The George Washington Bridge I was immediately struck by the enormity of it. This huge iron beast spanning the water. Getting onto the bridge as a pedestrian is no mean feat! Small streets, crossing large roads until finally your feet hit the mesh on the iron bridge. The water below a dark, mucky colour, looks lifeless. “There wouldn’t be much of you left if you fell in!” I thought to myself as I slid my feet carefully across the bridge. Vertigo kicked in, If I haven’t already mentioned, I hate heights, hate them I was actually debating as to whether to get flat on my stomach and commando crawl across the bridge when the heavens opened (a little more). “Sod this!” I thought as I powered over the bridge and on towards New Jersey.
The team had already headed to New Jersey to collect the RV. The RV was a mystery, we had bloged it and we knew it was pretty big but that was about it. We could have a collected a shed-on wheels or some 2-bed minivan, instead what we got was luxury on wheels. OK, maybe not 5-star luxury but it was pretty amazing. Firstly, I am six feet three inches tall and I could stand up in it. Secondly, I could have a poo in it and my legs were not round my ears while I was sat on the toilet and thirdly it had air conditioning (or something they called air-conditioning in the brochure). Our mobile home was ready, 5 weeks of luxury…….?
We had made the decision to communicate with short-wave radio. In planning, this was a great idea, the team would never be too far away and I could be navigated through the streets by them as they went ahead. As with many plans on this adventure, it didn’t quite go as expected. The radio waves were filled with truckers, nannies, emergency services or they were out of range. I stopped outside a house not really paying much attention to who was round me: “Hey dude, you got the time?” the voice said with a gangster-like rasp to his voice. As I looked up from screaming at my now pointless but apparently much needed radio, I saw what can only be described as a gang in front of me. Maybe they preferred the title posse or crew, whichever it was, I was currently on their turf and I was complete unaware of it – until right this second. Not only that but I did not exactly blend in, I was definitely the only tall, ginger, white bloke in the area and even worse I am unquestionably English and I was dressed head to toe in Lycra. As with many things in America your eyes are drawn to the differences, and the differences for British people are the guns. These fine young gentlemen must have been members of a gun club or some other fine community help group as many of the seemed to be quite heavily armed. I squeezed the broken radio hard in my hand, cursing the stupid decision not to buy an American SIM card. A thousand different thoughts were running through my mind, “I can’t die here,” I thought, “I haven’t even managed one day!” Wow, how profound! Once my mind had calmed, I was able to swallow the sick that had appeared in my throat and quickly check my underwear to make sure I had not unconsciously sent out a brown alert. I then managed to muster in the most pre-pubescent voice imaginable a – “No, I’m fine thanks”. I didn’t even answer the original question but I didn’t care. I was gone, a blur of black and ginger speeding through the streets! My calls on the radio were no longer calm, pleasant calls, now it was, “COME IN, HELP! HELP! HELP!!!” Eventually, the mayday calls were answered, the team had tracked me via my GPS tracker.
The first leg on the journey was a 96-mile slog down to Philadelphia via New Jersey. Once I had met up with the rest of the team, I collected my bike and caught some of the mileage up that I had lost while taking the scenic route around New York. It was hard for the RV to stay close to me in the city as the traffic was manic and we became somewhat of a hazard. The rain as it had done all day lashed me and beat me, trying its hardest to defeat me. I had been moving for 15 hours when a car pulled out in front of me at a junction. As the car pulled out, lightning clattered a lamp post near by producing a deafening crack – I was done for the day. I rolled into a retail car park, tail between my legs, desolate and at that moment the most alone I had ever felt. An alien in New York.
Day 1, Setting of from New York, Times Square.