The Big Big Trip Journal! If you want to make the man (or woman) upstairs laugh, just tell him your plans!

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I don't know how other people plan their trips. I don’t even know how I plan my trips because there is no consistency to the process and my experience has taught me that decisions made at home should often be reconsidered when faced with the practicalities of the road.

I’m not going to go into too much background planning on this for the simple reason that not an awful lot has been done. It suffices to say that 2018 has not been kind to me healthwise and I’m damned if I’m going to let it finish the way it started.

If at times you find yourself reading this and thinking variations of “What a feckin' eejit!”, please bear in mind that this trip was in the hands of the Medical Gods until (literally) hours before I climbed on the bike and rode off. Three weeks before departure I could barely walk. I’ve gone from a 40 odd km daily commute to hardly being on a bike for months so my physical condition is pretty poor, my practical preparation is almost non-existant. I’m either very brave or very dumb! :-)

What follows is written for two purposes;
Firstly, it is for me; I'm going to want to remember as much of this trip as possible and I hope the discipline of regular updates will make me note so many of the details that I often forget.

The second reason is to hopefully inspire someone who thinks about getting on a bike and going for an adventure. If you knew me, you’d know I’m about as unlikely a person to climb on a bike and head off.
For starters, I was born without a sense of direction and have thus far failed to acquire one. I’m a lazy bugger who really likes his comforts. I've lived in The Netherlands for twenty odd years so hills, and especially mountains, are, literally, a foreign country to me. Five years ago I couldn't fix a puncture or ride more than 10 km without rest for a ciggie. I write, with all honesty, that if I can do this, then just about anybody can.

The rough plan is to arrive in Norfolk, Virginia in early October after checking off a boyhood dream and crossing the Atlantic on a cargo ship. I’m going to fulfill an ambition to visit Charleston, South Carolina for no other reason than I fell in love with the accent years ago.. Her name was Tifffany, if you really want to know and I could have listened to that woman talk for hours. I heard her fighting with her boyfriend and even then the melodious Southern notes were easy on the ear.
Then I fulfill the musical part of the tour - off to Nashvville, stay with some friends, then down to New Orleans (if I have the time) to sit and think at Lake Ponchatrain, then into Texas (to satisfy my cowboy urges) and visit Austin for more music and a margherita in the Chilli Parlour Bar. Then south through New Breunfels and the Gruene Hall, ending the musical odyssey, until I finally drop into Mexico sometime around December.
Mexico is the food part of the trip. I want to try real Mexiccan food, not the bland, barely spicy stuff served in NL. I’m also planning on finding a language school and getting a handle on some Spanish. The way I see it, I’ll be spending quite a while in the Spanish speaking world and it can only enhance the experience. I’ll knock off the Devil’s Backbone on the way to Mazatlan on the coast before turning south.
Then I’ll keep heading south until I run out of land……
I’ll leave Antaartica for the penguins. That’s as far as I have gone in my planning.

I'd love comments and I imagine there will be times when a little inspiration and encouragement will be very welcome.. If you have questions, fire away, but please remember that I’m on the road and expect connectivity to be an issue.
In the interests of keeping this travelogue in a free-flowing format, I’ve been given permission by the mod team here to open a separate thread so that this thread contains sequential posts.

Finally, Hobbes is the tiger who accompanies me on my bicycle trips. He’s getting a bit battered by now, but he’s hanging in there. I’ve a dislike of being in photos, and the idea of a selfie to me starts to make Chinese Water Torture sound like a spa day. Hobbes fills that gap, making photos a bit more personal. He has also come to represent people I’ve known or met along the way who can no longer do the things I’m lucky enough to do.
If you’re interested in a more photo heavy presentation, Hobbes On Tour is on facebook.

Roccado the bike

The Bike - Roccado

Hobbes as a young fella, back in 2014
Hobbes as a young fella
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Day 1: September 14, 2019 Tilburg - Dordrecht 59 km.

It took all of 800 meters until I had to stop. The wobble from the trailer was just too extreme. I reorganised things and set off again, right through the city centre like I was a cheap hooker - my rear was swaying so much from side to side! Once past the mayhem of the market I pulled up again and noticed that the tyre was a little flat. A bit more pressure and this time the wobbling was less street and more elegant - but still hooker material. I could live with it.

I hadn’t planned much of a route, just fed in the campsite into and just outside the city hit the first roadblock - literally. A diversion for work along the canal that for once, had no diversion numbers or letters to follow. A quick detour through an industrial zone and I was back in the sunshine along the canal.

I knew this canal. Had cycled it many times, winter and summer. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen it look this pretty. And that was the story of the day - sun shining, everything looking pretty and nice steady progress, albeit interrupted when the trailer started to wobble.

I stopped to take a photo on a bridge and an older chap stopped to express his “interest” in my load. Too polite to question me outright, he approached the topic stealthily, eventually enquiring where I was heading.
Well, I couldn’t stay shtum! I told him I was heading for Dordrecht, then Rotterdam, so far so good, then I was catching a ship to America and after that I was heading south to ride to the very bottom of South America.

Bye Bye T-Town

Now, I’ve lived in NL for 20 years and South America is Zuid Amerika, but I have always had a problem with pronouncing the “Zuid” word. (Lots of others too!). Anyway, my grand declaration was met with silence, then confusion. So I repeated myself. Not helping. So then I said Argentina and the reaction was more like I would have expected. There was shoulder clapping and exclamations and he admitted he thought I was mad out for a cycle with such a load, but now he understood. We had a nice chat and went our separate ways.

When I called the campsite to check they were open I was told they were (last weekend of the season), but they were full! When I asked about a fietser met een tent, that was no problem. The campsite was delightful, a separate alley for trekkers tents with picnic tables and close to the facilities. After I had pitched the tent I decided to treat myself to dinner out and was just heading away when I met a young chap from Switzerland waiting politely to check in. He was 3 months into his first ever cycling tour having begun in Switzerland, headed north into Scandinavia, then south to Scotland and was in the process of working his way back home. I got the feeling that home was only going to be temporary as he was talking about heading south for the winter. Careful now! Bike touring can be addictive.


I was starving so headed off on a food quest and we said we’d chat later. Subway was the choice this evening, and afterwards, I picked up a six pack of beer to share with the young cyclist. Back at the campsite he had set up beside me and joined me to eat his dinner but declined the beer. No bad habits. At all.

He was enjoying himself. Seemed to be pretty much following his nose. Scotland had been tough. The weather was not cooperative, unless you actually like getting soaked and blown around. However, he found, as I have, that people are very helpful. He was offered shelter several times in people’s own homes.

As it turned out, the couple in the tent on the other side of me were also bike tourists, just making a weekend trip. We had a good chat the next morning over coffee.
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Day 2: September 15, Dordrect - Brielle 64km (Some of those on the waterbus)

I awoke and tested myself gingerly for any fallout from the previous day’s efforts and gave myself a reasonably clean bill of health.
I brewed some coffee, chatted to my neighbours, waved the Swiss chap off (no coffee for him!), packed up and hit the road.
I played around with the packing of the panniers for the trailer to see if that would improve things. It did, but slightly.
I headed for the centre of Dordrecht with the intention of cheating - I took the water bus to Rotterdam. Cheap, fast and it’s a boat! I love boats! :-)
You can pay on the waterbus if you don’t have a card and bikes travel for free!

One of the interesting aspects of the trip is that you pass a replica of Noah’s Ark. That’s right. A replica. Not a scale model (that was the first one). An actual full size, measurements-taken-from-the-Bible Ark. With a fake giraffe at the front.

Noah's Ark

The water-bus deposited me at the Erasmus Bridge and I wandered down along the river for a bit before heading out and away from the city.
My plan was simple. I needed to check in with immigration on September 17 at a special police/immigration post. After that, I needed a taxi to get me through the port and onto the ship. (Pedestrians/cyclists are a no-no in the port area - this is not the ferry area). So I was heading in the direction of Brielle to find a campsite, have a rest day, then a short cycle to immigration, hop in the taxi and the real adventure would begin!


Fuelled up on some Surinam food from a stall on the side of the road the cycle was pleasant, past some ships, into the country, along a river. There was a bit of a headwind but given my lack of physical preparation I’ve the idea that a fly could break wind in my general direction and I’d consider that a headwind! Later, when I saw some windmills they were moving, but only breaking even.
The campsite I wanted didn’t answer the phone so I rolled into another. A big one. With a party going on. Nobody at reception. I called the other campsite again. No answer. I called the number on the door. Was told where to pitch and to pay in the morning.

The pitch was on the football field so it was flat. And there you have the only positive point of this campsite. But the music went on and on. Just one mobile home. There were signs up in the wash areas that the water was not for drinking so I hoarded my water. It was not a good campsite. Someone kept driving around in a golf-cart long after dark illuminating the tent as bright as day. People walking dogs let their dogs wander over to my tent and sniff and scrabble.
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Day 3 September 16 Brielle - Brielle 14km
The next morning I just wanted to get out of there! I was not spending my rest day there! But it was raining, so with no desire to pack up my tent wet, I read my kindle and waited it out. Once it stopped, I paid, commented on the water situation (the water’s fine, just have to have signs up for the law) and headed into Brielle.
I know next to nothing about Brielle except that it is a charming little town, full of history and surrounded by a moat and it even has some cannons. Loads of boats, old and new and a few bridges that open to let the boats under.
Hungry, I wandered around until I caught a smell in the air and followed that down to one of the little harbours where there was a market in full swing. The smell was sourced from a fish stand so I parked up at a bench and a lovely, friendly lady made me some fish and chips with a delicious tartare sauce. Dessert was poffertjes (like little pancakes) from another stand washed down with some coffee. The sun was shining and all was good in the world.

I had emailed my preferred campsite and received a reply as I ate. Yes, open, come on by. So, after a wander around Brielle (really, really charming) I cycled the few kms out the road to MiniCamping De Bark. Now, this is a campsite! On a farm, lots of trees and hedges, little corners, private yet friendly. Picnic bench for those with a tent. The owner gave a personal tour, talking about 15 mins explaining everything. A great campsite and handy for anyone heading to or from Hull. I even ordered a pizza and had it delivered! :-)
I took it easy, showered, did some laundry, exercises and devoured my kindle. I got ready for the next day, burned off the last of my meths, washed out the bottle, scrubbed the trangia, cleaned out the burner. Got my paperwork in order for immigration, sent out my goodbye messages, made a few calls and went to bed excited as a kid on Christmas Eve.
Day 4 September 17 Brielle to Oudenhove 59km.
I was up early, no coffee because I had no more fuel, packed up, cleaned the tent and pegs (I don’t want any hassle on the other side) and headed into Brielle for breakfast.
Breakfast reminded me of one of the things I have found the hardest to deal with in NL - the process.

I found the “breakfast spot” on the same harbour as my fish and poffertjes yesterday. I parked up the bike and went inside and asked to order some food. I was told to sit outside and someone would come to me. I ordered my coffee anyway much to her frustration. Then I got my menu. Then a young chap brought my coffee. I was ready to order my food, but he explained that he didn’t do food orders. His colleague did. A few minutes later he was back - his colleague was on the phone so now he could take my order.
Food was great. I tried ordering another coffee. Confusion. Could he take the coffee order? Apparently he could because it arrived a few minutes later.
Then I was asked to move my bike. So I did. He thanked me, then a few minutes later was back to ask me to move it again.
It was time! Time to hit the road, get my permission from immigration and get on the ship, so I hopped back on the bike and cycled the few kms to the immigration point.
I rolled in not really knowing what to expect. I made a joke about using my Dutch for the last time for a long time and explained what ship I was booked on and asking what exactly I needed to do.
The uniformed officer looked at me seriously, looked at my passport seriously and looked at his computer screen seriously. Then he looked at me even more seriously.

“Sir, your ship is not in port”
That took me a few moments to process.
“Sir, your ship is in Southampton”.
More confusion and more silence from me.
Slowly my brain kicked itself into gear.
“If it’s in Southampton, does that man it’s on it’s way to Rotterdam or has it already left?”
This was a delicate question with quite a bit hanging on the outcome.
“It’s coming from Norfolk,'' he said, “On its way to Rotterdam”.
I think I did a little jig of joy!
At this point his colleagues became involved. Apparently, this kind of thing doesn’t happen very often!
I clarified that the ship was on the way, so at least I wasn’t stranded. That was confirmed.
“Unfortunately Sir, I cannot process you because your ship is not in port”.
That was the least of my worries. I took out my phone to call the Port Agent to see what I should be doing. Then I saw a big sign prohibiting mobile phones, but they told me not to worry about it. So I called and yes, the ship was arriving later, probably not until Friday. Come back on Friday and do the same process.
Then they offered me coffee and we all had a bit of a laugh. They wondered what I was going to do. I said I’d head off on the bike for a few more days and come back on Friday.
Everyone who came into the office was told my story and we all had a good laugh about it. When they told me I was being very calm about it all, I just pointed out how the ship could have been ahead of schedule!

They were all very nice, very helpful. The process is the same as passport control at an airport. Quick and easy. I said my goodbyes, remembered to change the taxi reservation, hopped on the bike and headed for Germany.


(Hobbes in Germany 2014)

Well, it wasn’t Germany, but there were so many Germans on the Dutch west coast I may as well have been in Germany. I picked out another mini camping near Renesse and headed there. The wobble was still there. And a headwind. A real headwind this time, confirmed by the windmills (turbines? I think I prefer windmills) who were generating a healthy profit today. Over some flood defenses, past some windsurfers who were really moving and eventually into a campsite occupied exclusively by the Germans!

I set up, had a shower, did some laundry and popped into town to the supermarket for food. More Germans. Even the cashier was speaking German! Thankfully, I remembered I had no fuel for my stove so bought some Spiritus, some food and headed back for a lazy evening of food and reading. And just a little regret that right then I wasn’t on one of the huge container ships.
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Day 5 September 18 Rest Day 0km
I’ve been paying a lot of attention to my body, constantly scanning for any sign of disruption and I was pleased once again to note that I seemed to be fit, if not quite fighting fit yet.
I had a lazy morning reading my kindle, than I got up, made coffee and read some more. Finally, I tackled a few chores to do with the bike and the wobbling. I adjusted brakes, checked all the nuts and bolts and experimented with different ways of loading the bike.
I’m carrying some extra stuff, mainly papers, notes and some extra clothing for the ship so I’m not carrying my usual load.
Then off to the supermarket again for some more food.
The Germans in the nearest camper were playing Europop with a heavy bassline into the night. And they wonder why no-one likes them! ;-)
Day 6 September 19 Oudenhove to Brielle (again)
There was a bit of rain this morning so I waited until that passed then got up. Breakfast was coffee and bacon and egg butties, lying under the sun.
I packed up slowly and hit the road, trying to avoid, as much as possible, the way I had travelled down. A very pleasant cycle with lots of sun, a swirly wind and best of all no more wobbling! My rear is in gear!
Of course, I came back to my now favourite campsite after having had an early dinner. I checked in with the port agent by phone. It looks like the ship is delayed again and I need to check tomorrow what time I can board or if Saturday is better. Ah, the life of the wanderer!

Snapshots of Brielle



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Day 7 September 20
Awake early and the excitement level was high. Today was the day I’d be boarding the big ship. I called the agent but there was no answer. Then again, it was only 7 am. I got up and started to get organised. Brewed a pot of coffee and tried the agent again a little after eight.
Yep! Another delay. The ship wouldn’t be in port until late in the afternoon. Boarding was best done the next afternoon. However, the passport check still had to be done and since the nearest office was not open at the weekend I had the choice of getting processed at the local office today, or taking a trip back into the centre of Rotterdam tomorrow. I chose for today. I contacted the taxi company to change the reservation again.

Now, with no rush, I relaxed, had a leisurely breakfast and enjoyed the peace and quiet. Later, I cycled the six odd km to the passport control to get processed. None of the friendly folks from Tuesday were there, today it was a whole different crew and they were busy. There was a lot of processing going on. Photos. Fingerprints. People waiting. I seemed to be the only one to be processed for departure. The others seemed to be inbound - crew from different ships in port. Outside, a bus was waiting for one group and 2 minibuses waited for others.
There was no need for my photo or fingerprints. My passport was checked, my name on the passenger manifest was checked and I was done.
Dinner was mussels, frietjes and a beer and an early night was had.

Hobbes feeling confined ;-)
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Day 8 September 21
When I woke up this morning I wasn’t excited - I was apprehensive. I guess there’s only so many times I can get excited about boarding a big ship! Today was definitely the day! I’ not sure where the previous excitement has gone - too many false starts, perhaps.
I’d a leisurely breakfast, aired my sleeping bag and sleeping pad, organised my panniers to make sure I had what I needed handy, cleaned, dried and packed up the tent. Cleaned out my stove and tried to relax..
Since it was not allowed to cycle in the port, I had arranged a taxi to bring me there from the paspoortcontrole, and since passport control was yesterday, the taxi was picking me up from the campsite.

14:00 bang on schedule he was at the gate, we loaded the bike and bags and hit the road. Rotterdam port is big. And getting bigger! When we eventually arrived at the right quay, there was more security to go through and the next obstacle to overcome - my papers were in order, but the taxi was denied access. Because of health and safety I wasn't allowed to cycle portside -- I was stuck! Stuck, at least, until a few emails sorted the issue and we headed to the ship..

I knew it was going to be big, but, there’s big and there's big! And this was definitely big! We unloaded the cab, I paid the driver and he was off, leaving me staring in trepidation at the gangway and wondering just how this was going to work. The problem wasn’t the stairs so much as the narrowness. There were some guys on the deck waving at me to go up, so I grabbed a pair of panniers and headed up. When I got to the top I was welcomed heartily aboard, had to fill in a sign in sheet and told not to worry about the rest of the gear - they had a winch and a big tarp -- it would all be brought up for me. I had people coming up to me shaking my hand, checking my details, pulling me hither and thither.

All my gear safely aboard

I was brought to an office and handed over my passport (standard procedure), then back on deck to find a home for the bike - Rocco got his own cabin!! Then bags picked up and off to my cabin.
As it turned out, the cabin wasn't ready, but I was told the steward would be along shortly. I really don't care -- I had a view to the front of the ship and could see the containers being loaded and unloaded. As a bonus, I had a window to the side giving a view out to sea.

It’s disorientating on such a big ship. Just trying to keep track of where you are in terms of which level is tough enough.

I couldn’t wait to get out on deck and watch the loading and unloading process. Containers were being dropped into position from high cranes stretching over the ship. Below them self driving platforms carried containers to or from their pick up points. From a height, they were like an army of ants, all working in co-orddination with each other. It was fascinating.

When I got back to my room the steward showed up, shocked because I was in the wrong room, apologising profusely as we transferred my stuff to the next room. Advanage - a bigger bed, disadvantage, I lost my view to the sea. This was going to be home for the next couple of weeks.

I wandered around and found the officer's mess where passengers would eat too. In there I found the other passenger, an Americaann lady doing a round trip from Virginia to Virginia, about 35 days in total.. She had travelled as the sole passengers up to this point so I think she was looking forward to some company. We were due to pick up a passenger in Le Havre and another in Bremerhaven. This was news to me. Not that there were other passengers, but that we were going to France and Germany (And Belgium as it turned out!). Never having received a full itinerary, I had presumed we were going directly to New York and from there to Norfolk, Virginia. (I had got this organised about 6 weeks in advance - last minute in terms of cargo ships).
As it turned out, due to the delays, Le Havvre was dropped from the schedule (the containers to be loaded at Le Havre were shipped by road to Bremerhhaveen), the order was changed so that our first destination was Antwerp, followed by Bremerhaveen.

Here’s the thing about travelling by cargo ship - you have to be easy going. Changes are common, schedules are set by cargo, not passengers. You deal with port agents for whom you are a very low priority. The officers have practically nothing to do with you until you are onboard. It’s a working ship so the decks are working areas, the stairs are
steep and plentiful! Food is good, but there is no choice and times are strict.
On the other hand we have a free run of the Bridge (within reason)) and we got tours of all the main areas of the ship with explanations of how everything worked. We got to play with the electronic charts, zooming in and out on our location, checking out other ships in the area. If you like ships and are interested in how they work, I couldn't recommend this more!

We departed Rotterdam during dinner, so straight after it was up to the Bridge for the rundown to Antwerp. Then off to bed for my first night aboard.
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Days 9-23 September 22 - October 05 Crossing the Atlantic
I stayed aboard in Antwerp. I've been there before and frankly, I was terrified of being left behind!

There was a day and a half in Antwerp, then off to Breemeerhaaven, back up along the coast. This time I got to see the new pilot arriving before the first pilot disembarked. (Powerful Pilot boats pull up beside the ship and the Pilot jumps from one to the other. Ships of all shapes and sizes everywhere. That stretch of coast between Rotterdam and Antwrp is busy!!

Bremerhaven was a dawn arrival, having had to sit for a few hours due to heavy fog. With a day and a half layover, I decided to go ashore to explore. It was a straightforward process. Get a shuttle bus to the gate and walk out. I walked for about an hour too get to the edge of the city. Bremerhavven is suffering and not as prosperous as it was. A U.S. military base was shut down and 20,000 odd personnel and families are gone. Trade at the port is down, though Bremerhaven is the largest port for car transportation. There are special ships for that. And lots of cars wrapped in plastic. There were a lot of “dance clubs” with no windows and I don’t recall ever seeing so many gambling locations anywhere else in Germany. I walked to the Maritime museum and passed a very pleasant view hours looking at a restored ship from the 1300’s dredged out of the river in the 1960’s and restored over the following 3 decades. The next building over had a VR tour of a German Icebreaker/Environmental exploration ship. It may sound boring, but it wwas really interestingg. With the VR goggles it was like being in the different sections of the ship. It is currently starting a year long investigation where it wil attach itself to ice in the Arctic circle, set up a base camp and drift with the ice….for a whole year!
Across the road is a refurbished U-Boat from WWII. Now that is interesting! How 40 guys lived in those conditions in wartime is beyond me. For all the fear the U-boats inspired during the war, 30,000 GGerman sailors lost their lives in U-boats during the war years. Just in the U-boats.


I wandered around the shopping district after, had my last European food - CurryWurst,, Pommes and a cool beer. I’m going to miss Germany. This coming Christmas will be the first time in years that a trip to a German Christmas Market is not possible. I’ll be having a Mexican Christmas! :-)

With a 22:00 departure, we have to be back at least 2 hours before departure. Around 4 pm, I started to get a bit nervous about the ship leaving without me (they will!), especially since the 2 departures you up to now had not been at the scheduled time, so I hopped in a cab and went back to the ship.

Bremerhaven is on one of the Eurovelo routes. Worth a visit.

Our route took us over the top of mainland Scotland (avoiding a storm further south), south of Greenland, parallel to Canada and into New York, well, strictly speaking New Jersey.. I call it the Ryanair affect -- Sell New York, land in New Jersey!!


Somewhere south of Greenland

Safety at sea is a top priority!

View from the Bridge

Loading / Unloading

U- Boat Bremerhaven. Definitely worth a visit.

It is a fantastic way to travel as long as you have books. If you like ships (and I sure do!) it is simply fantastic! Up and down to the Bridge, out on the decks, access pretty much everywhere. Tours of the different areas, lead by the respective officers. Hobbes even got to do his Leonardo Di Caprio impersonation.

One of the things I really wanted to do was to look at the stars from the middle of the Atlantic. The weather was not cooperating with cloudy skies until the second last night before landfall in N.J. Then the clouds stayed away long enough to stare at an open sky and stars stretching as far as the eye could see. I even saw a shooting star!

Manhattan at Sunrise

Immigration was done in NJ despite me not leaving the ship until Norfolk. Picked up by a driver, driven 30 odd km to a terminal building for cruise ships and processed in a matter of minutes. Having gone through iimmigration twice before on different trips to the U.S. this was a surprisingly pleasant experience, consisting off a chat, a stamp on my visa (visa required for land/sea entry) and my fingerprints taken. Then back in the car to the ship.

Later I went ashore again with the crew, first to a Seaman's Centre, a religious group offering assistance to sailors. There are different organizations around the world all doing the same thing. Internet, sim cards, money transfers and all kinds of support are available as well as regular buses to and from the ships for crew. They were currently fighting a new order from Homeland Security that banned crew from going on land unless they had been travelling to the U.S. for 5 years or more. Some crew had jumped ship recently so the reaction was to pretty much stop all crew going ashore. When it was announced on the ship, the disappointment was palpable.
Then to a shopping mall to get a sim card for my phone, then back to the ship on a bus provided by the seamen's centre.
I’ve been to New York before and it's really not my kind of town- Central Park was nice, it wasn't really worth the hassle of going in. I can see Manhattan from one side of the ship. That' enough.
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Day 24 Sunday Oct 06, Norfolk International Terminal to Chesapeake Campsite

Leaving NJ at night

Today was the day! Sundays and Thursdays were special breakfasts on the ship - fresh oj, croissants and pain au chocolat as well as the usual fruit, youghurts, bread and something cooked as well as lots of coffee! I took my time, savouring the last of this luxurious feasting, then outside for one last look from the deck to be treated to the sight of a pair of dolphins frolicking in the water - a good omen, I presumed, then finished packing the bags and down to the ship’s office to pick up my passport and to watch my gear being dropped, sorry, I mean gently lowered to the quay by a crane.

I don’t know what it is with American officials. The shuttle bus that came to pick me up parked a good 10 meters away from where all my gear was sitting on the quay. The captain and first engineer were going for a run (how times have changed! Sailors have a reputation for hitting port and going on a rampage of sex and alcohol!) and persuaded her to come closer.
At the gate we said our goodbyes and I started to assemble all the gear on my bike. What I found very interesting was the fact that there were no security checks on me my gear when I got on and when I got off the ship.

Setting off, I was following a route I had made at home to bring me to a campground in Chesapeake beside the wonderfully named Dismal Swamp. The route brought me past a hardware store where I stopped to pick up some fuel for my stove. As things turned out there was no need for me to dump my fuel before I left because there were no checks!

Riding through Norfolk the route brought me through a large part of suburbia and I was very surprised to see so many squirrels running around relatively tame. I passed through middle class areas, but also some poorer areas. Lots of elderly people sitting on their porches, most waving and saluting me as I rambled by. Cycling was fine, there were even a few bike paths for a little while. I even got cat-called by a lady getting out of her car!

I had to cross a couple of bridges and while one was fine the other had no shoulder so I cycled across on the path after a car blasted me with a horn.

Most of the route was relatively quiet for traffic but occasionally I had to travel a short distance on quite busy roads. On one such road, needing to make a left turn (across the traffic) from 3 lanes of traffic, I decided to use the pedestrian crossing. I got to cross the first set of lights but couldn't manage to maneuver myself to hit the button for the second set of lights. A policeman popped up from behind an electrical box and hit the button for me. It turns out he was in hiding waiting to catch people breaking the lights. I blew his cover!

One thing I have noticed is that there are a lot of churches and churches have always been very useful to my navigation. However these churches are a little different and they lack the big spires that are useful for finding the centres of towns, or occasionally, just towns! And they were certainly busy today! (Sunday).

I stopped in Deep Creek for food - Waffle World - they really need to go to Belgium for some inspiration! I had a breakfast special of hashbrowns, Texas bacon and eggs. Then over to a supermarket for my first American shopping experience! Food’s not cheap! I picked up some pasta, sauce, bread, chocolate and some couscous for breakfast. The only couscous
I could find was flavoured - olive oil and garlic or parmesan cheese - not exactly breakfast materials. When I opened up the box though, the seasoning was in a separate packet - handy for pasta. And the bread is awful! :-)

I’m surprisingly calm. It hasn’t quite hit home yet that I am on my bike so far away from my usual base. One thing that is good, is that I am in a place where we (almost) speak the same language. It sure makes things easier!

The Campsite is big, full of incredible RVs and caravans. I’ve never seen anything like them. The friendly girl in the office had a problem checking me in - her computer system couldn’t find Ireland, so we settled on the Netherlands and my Dutch driving license for I.D. There’s a big tent section in a load of trees and it is very, very quiet. Not a bad way to end the day, stateside.

First night camping in the US of A!

Tomorrow will be further and at some point I will pick up the Adventure Cycling Association “Atlantic Coast Route”. I’ll follow that down to Charlston, then west to Nashville. That’ll be challenging for finding camping spots as well as the Appalachians!
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Day 25 Monday, October 7, Chesapeake to Bell’s Island 86 KM
Night falls early in this part of the world at this time of the year. Dark by 7 pm. That’s going to be one of the bigger challenges for me - I like meandering and taking my time, but dislike cycling in the dark. It’s bright from 7 am so thaat gives me 12 hours of daylight to work with.

I packed up relatively quickly and headed off, planning on picking up breakfast down the road. Initially, I was riding between the main road and a canal at the edge of th Dismal Swamp. Easy riding, free from the hassle of cars & pick-ups and trucks.




Then it was away from the road on a motor free road through the swamp proper, complete with signs warning of bears! Now I was starting to feel far from home!



In sunshine, my gps was reading up to 35 celcius, but there was a wind and shade from trees keeping me cool. I came to an official visitor centre where breakfast came from a vending machine, but fresh water was available. On the off cchance, more for an opportunity to have a chat, I toddled into the Tourist info offfice to be told tht there was a problem with one of thee ferries on the Outer Banks - the route I was planning to take. It seems that Hurricane Dorian has left his mark ina big way and the ferry from Cedar Island to Ocracoke is only carrrying locals with special permission. Since this is at the southern end, it looks like my journey down the O.B. is not going to go ahead.
They were kind enough to give me a map of North Carolina and I had a look for a while at alternative routes down. In any case, I decided to head on to my destination for today and headed off again through the swamp/park.

I’m following a route on Gizmo, my Wahoo Elemnt gps and when it directed me off the motor free route and back onto the main road, I decided to risk continuing on along the canal. According to the gps they linked back up later.
Oh! Foolish me! My road was a dead end, approximately 100 meters to the main road. “Ah, not so bad”, I thought to myself. I can just wade through the long grass to the road.
Oh! Foolish me!!
Leaving the bike, I started to wade heavily through the grass, stomping my feet to scare any snakes when all of a sudden something was biting my ankle. And again. And again. Looking down I could see nothing and then they started on my other ankle. I quickly started walking backwards, back to the road to discover that there were no animals biting me - but little burrs stuck to my shoes and ankles. Bending over I started to flick them off with my fingers.
Oh! Foolish me! These are nasty little buggers. With very sharp thorns! One actually stuck to my fingernail! One got under my fingernail leaving me with a bleeding finger for most of the day!
Removing them all turned into a roadside surgical operation - almost.
One thng was clear, there was no way the bike was going through there - the tyres would be in shreds!

The little buggers

Turning around, I slowly cycled back quietly cursing my inattention to detail and loudly cursing the guy on a training ride who had passed me earlier in both directions and never thought to offer the opinion that I may just be making a mistake.
There was a shortcut back to the main road, down a dirt track past, what I suppose could be called a “shotgun shack”, a building thrown together from all kinds of scrap materials, roof held down with rope and ballast in the form of tree trunks and rocks and enough old cars rusting to suggest that someone lived there. I did think of turning down, but the notion of “shotgun” would not leave my mind so I continued on the long way.

Back on the road, the shoulder was full of debris of all sorts. The road is pretty straight, pretty boring and I really have to focus on what’s in front of me in the shoulder and what’s coming up behind me. This st the tone for the rest of the day - mainly big roads, variable shoulders, constant awareness required and pretty hot sun.

I stopped in the town(?) of Sligo at a produce store for a cold drink, was tempted into buying some local honey ($13!) and a snow cone. Dumbass me thought a snow cone was an ice cream - nope - just some flavoured ice. I’ll live and learn! Israeli flags were prominent everywhere at this store and a “We’re praying for Israel” sign at the roadside.

Nearing Bell’s Island I turned off the main road at another unusual market along the side of the road and stopped to buy a dozen eggs (no smaller quantities available) and on then through some quiet wetlands to the campsite.

I wasn’t impressed on arrival. The tent pitches were fine - flat, grass, picnic benches and right beside the water. But the facilities? They hadn’t been updated in years. One shower that drained onto the ground outside, complete with cigarette butts and cotton buds, 2 bathroom cubicles, the one with a door blocked and disgusting. Drinking water was a rusty tap attached to a wall.


I took a shower (had no choice really) and cooked dinner before the sun set. An early night was had.
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Day 26 Tuesday October 8 Bell’s Island to Kill Devil’s Hill 77.5km
Falling asleep sometime after 9 pm it was no surprise to be awake at 3 am, but what was surprising was the sound on the tent! Big, wet raindrops were being hurled at the tent making all kinds of strange and unusual sounds. This went on for the next hour or so until the rain stopped, but the wind continued.

I got up at 7 to check out the lay of the land and quickly figured out that my dream of fried eggs for breakfast was not going to work in this wind! I packed up, then tackled the thorny issue of breaking down the tent...without actually breaking the thing!
Let’s just say that it was not easy and this is one of the times when travelling solo has it’s disadvantages! Once on the road, the wind seemed less, but every now and then a gust would make sure I knew it was still there.

I followed the quiet roads back to the main road and then mixed it with the traffic again. A mist turned to rain and with the wind it was not long until I was pretty wet. Not cold, though. Temperature was about 25 C.
Seeing a 7-11 I turned in for some respite from the rain and hopefully a coffee.
I’ve never been in a 7-11 before, but I have seen the light and I am converted!! I had coffee, breakfast empanadas, bbq honey chicken and a bananna. In the dry! Although, the airco started to cool me off rapidly. I had a chat with a couple of guys, one of whom had a pistol holstered on his hip. That’s going to take some getting used to.

Back on the road, it was as yesterday, focus on the shoulder, avoid the crap and watch out to the rear. I was heading for Kitty Hawk and would join the ACA Atlantic Coast Route officially today at some point. I was looking forward to that, hoping to get away from the traffic. Silly me! :-)


Without a doubt the worst point of the day was crossing the bridge after Point Harbour.
I was incredibly grateful that I had stopped at a roadside restaurant to sample some typical Southern cooking - Chicken livers with mashed potato & green beans) because without sustenance the crossing would have been more hellish.

Interesting artwork in the gents at my lunch stop

First, there was the wind - diagonally against me. Second the shoulder - less than a meter wide with a big step between it and a crash barrier. Third the traffic. Reasonably frequent and often passing very close, the wake effect adding to the wind to throw me against the step.
I quickly realised that I had to stop whenever a vehicle was passing in the lane beside me. For a truck I had to stop, brace myself and lean in as far away as possible from the truck.
I’ve had better hours cycling! :-)

Not too long after that, I was presented with my own path beside the road for the run down to Kitty Hawk, then back to a shoulder for the run through Kitty Hawk and on to Devil Hills.


Sand along the road and at junctions was particulalry challenging.
Thinking of taking a rest day here because I’ve had confirmation that I cannot complete the Outer Banks route and I need to find a link to the mainland route south. That’ll take me by an alligator park but also through some pretty barren areas with a distinct lack of campsites, shops and other services.
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Day 27 October 09 0km Rest day Kitty Hawk / Kill Hills
I woke up about 6:30 and could hear lots of traffic on the road close by just above the sound of the wind. I hummed & hawed and thought about the route ahead of me. About 100 km to the next accommodations, minimal services and I didn't fancy a wild camp in an area that housed an alligator natural protection area. Brave I ain't! Also, my legs were feeling a bit stiff, so I thought I'd have me a rest day.

I cooked the eggs I'd been carrying for the last 2 days, brewed a pot of coffee and sat down to start this blog. It was cloudy, windy & occasionally drizzly, but not cold at all.

When that was all done, a few hours work in all honesty, I showered, shaved I've been getting some colour - sunburn or windburn I know not!) & headed off to the Wright Memorial Park. Not as easy as you'd think to get into, but eventually I found my way. It was windy there too!

There's a hill (now planted with grass) where the Wright brothers used to lug their "gliders" up to launch them - lessons that led them to their first powered flight. I say "gliders" because these were far from the light and sleek creations we glide in today! In their day the hill was sand and getting up was a labour of love, if also a great incentive to stay flying for as long as possible!

I did not climb the hill!

Mind you, I'm starting to think the whole Wright brothers thing is a bit overblown - I was practically flying at times and I didn't even have a plane!

First Flight!

At 5 I went for some food - and what food!!! The Salt Box cafe close to the campsite - delicious food. Really delicious! I'm thinking of the hardship ahead of me tomorrow! :-)
When I went in it was busy with a sign in the door saying reservations were expected - I didn't have one. As the receptionist looked me over I pointed to another sign that pets were welcome with well behaved owners and introduced her to Hobbes.That swung a seat at the bar. Of course, there were the usual questions about what a grown man is doing toting a battered tiger around the place. When I was leaving Hobbes got a big goodbye - not me!


While I was enjoying riding the unloaded bike I became aware of a slight wobble in the right crank. Turns out it was very loose! I don't know how this happened. I haven't had the chance to do any poking around down there since the end of last year. A quick tighten with my crank extractor and all seems good.

One thing I'm finding interesting is the event that Halloween is in these parts.
Tonight in the restaurant a partition between the kitchen and bar was covered with a spider web effect and the largest, hairiest fake spider I have ever seen!! When I first saw it I nearly fell of my stool!
Similarly, yesterday, I passed lots of houses with inflatable pumpkins, headstones, ghosts etc. - kids stuff really, but one house had what seemed like dozens of the White Walkers from Game of Thrones with flashing eyes. It terrified me for a moment - a house on the side of the road with the undead walking around! I can't imagine how scary that is at night!

In a similar vein, I've passed a few small graveyards just in from the side of the road. Anything from 4 or 5 to maybe 15-20 headstones. No church nearby. Maybe some houses stretched along the road. I'm normally past them before I realise, but must stop and do some investigating soon.

The campsite is quiet, mostly permanent sites. Nearly all the caravans / mobile homes are raised off the ground. There are marks on the wall of the washroom showing the water levels for two different hurricanes. I should be safe tonight!

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