Bryan’s US trip, 1986

One of my favourite things about getting Eastwards and Far into the world is people sharing their adventures with me. I’ve heard from so many people about formative journeys they’ve taken, and with Bryan’s I felt inspired to ask if he’d be happy for me to share it on the blog. He said yes, so here it is.

Bryan’s US trip, 1986

So, we are three old school pals from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire (myself, Russ, and Allan).

In 1985 Russ had secured a place working at a church camp in Washington state, after which he decided to cycle down the West coast to California. He invited us to come over and do some cycling. This we duly did: I bought a reasonable bike from a student in San Luis Obispo (SLO), and Allan brought his over from England.

We set off from SLO on 1st June, 1986, and headed towards Yosemite National Park. The first night was spent next to a service area layby, where a guy in a car observed us for a while before offering us a place to stay in Fresno. This happened a few times on our trip: I think people liked to ascertain we weren’t serial killers before committing to assisting!


One of the issues we encountered early in the trip was that Allan and myself were totally unfit and not climatized to the heat, whilst Russ was fit and bronzed. We had occasions where Russ would get miles ahead, which caused problems when dealing with punctures or simply wondering if we’d ever meet up again!

The first week was tough as we just seemed to be going uphill all the time to get over the Sierra mountain range. One night, after seeing a bear in the afternoon, we slept about 6 inches away from each other! When Allan got up to take a leak and rolled onto me I went ballistic thinking he was a bear.

The bear scare

The next day we got to Tioga Pass which was chilly, then dropped 15 miles downhill into the desert which felt like a furnace.

The Desert

At the top of Tioga

The desert was a different ball game: the obvious heat, the bugs which just feasted on us, and the distances between places. More than once we had to flag down motorists for water! Then, to cap it all off, it was freezing at night.

When we arrived in Ely, Nevada, we decided to take the next day off, for two reasons: one, we needed a break, and two, England were playing Argentina in the world cup semi finals. It was the game with the infamous ‘Hand of God’ incident from Maradonna, which cost us a win, and with this in mind we went on the lash and sampled every bar Ely had to offer!

In some towns we just knocked on a few doors asking if we could use their lawn for sleeping. This sometimes worked, sometimes didn’t, but in cases where it worked it sometimes led to a meal or a hot shower! When it didnt work we’d just find a park or a quiet place somewhere.

Typical of Utah

It was tough going through the desert regions of Nevada and Utah, sleeping outside we would wake early naturally and get most of the days cycling done before lunch whereupon we would hide from the heat in a McDonalds or a public library! We would then top off the day’s mileage with a couple of hours later in the afternoon – usually hosing down at a gas station to clean up before settling down somewhere.

A gas station hose-down

Roll on to the Midwest

We thought we’d be in for an easier time, but following a straight road for miles and miles also takes it’s toll! Especially riding into a headwind, where you’re in the lower gears just to keep upright!

Midwest scenes

It was somewhere in the Midwest where we slipped up in accepting accommodation from a stranger. We stopped for a break by a bar on passing through a town and didnt have any intention to go in, but the owner came out and invited us in for a cold drink. Not wishing to miss out on a freebie, we did just that. There was a good friendly bunch of guys inside the bar who bought us some drinks, and one thing lead to another and it was getting quite late. One of the guys said we could stay at his place which was nearby and this was well recieved by us.

We had to dodgily cross a few railway lines with the bikes and pass through a shanty town where the residents literally came racing down the garden path to see what we were about, but thankfully they knew the guy from the bar and allowed us through. Eventually we came to his dilapidated house and he let us in: there was no furniture, and his wife came down the steps, swore at him, and gave him the biggest slap. The only food in the house was some bread which he wanted to share with us. We all wanted to bolt through the door and get some distance in, but we felt we couldn’t risk the shanty town without our new pal to escort us.

I dont think any of us slept, but in the morning he came down and led us to the safety of the main road whereupon he went back to the bar! There was no harm in the guy and it was quite humbling that he was prepared to share his only food, but it could easily have gone wrong walking to his place.

On some occasions we were given accommodation and the people would contact friends on our route who would put us up as well. One occasion we were given use of a scout hut for a couple of days and were just told to put the keys back in the mailbox when we left! A couple of times we knocked on doors for water and 2 hours later we came out fed and watered and on our way again!

The scout hut

The Appalachians

The last physical obstacle on our route was the Appalachian range where the humidity was something else. The sweating going uphill was like we’d just had a shower in our cycling gear! Thankfully we were managing our hydration much better at this stage as opposed to earlier in the trip where we having too many free coffee refills and McDonalds milkshakes!

From then on it was just a matter of getting the miles in to finish the trip. I think 5 weeks after we started we finished at Rehobeth Beach and, true to form, stayed on somebody’s lawn for a few days to soak up the beach life!


In recollection we had a great trip. In general the hospitality from the Americans was very good, and I’m glad we slept outdoors or by invite into accommodation. We never stayed in motels or even campsites, and feel we met people we might not have met otherwise. We even slept in the gardens of Lincoln’s birthplace in Springfield, undetected!

I think using bivvy bags was a mistake: a small tent would have been much better. It’s not easy to sleep with your face open to the elements and to bugs, and this is why we were dozing off by lunchtime most days. It also didn’t help that somebody told us snakes like to crawl into sleeping bags to keep warm! So we normally garotted ourselves whilst in the bags.

It’s important to have some decent days off on a trip like this. Some of ours were quite impromptu: sometimes calling it a day if seeing a waterslide park, for example! Other impromptu breaks were usually hangover induced.

I always regretted not taking more photos, but it was pre-digital and cumbersome cameras had to be carefully looked after. We have about 20 photos between us!

As regards cycling gear, none of us had bikes which were measured up for us. I didn’t have panniers, and just had normal trainers and shorts.

A trip like this can be done without spending a fortune on gear, but I hasten to add we did this at 22 years old, and probably the body can adapt to a bike that’s not quite right . Now, touching 60, I would definitely have a bike fit as you did for your ride across Canada. I did a ride with Russ 10 years ago to Switzerland (B&Bs this time!) along the Rhine on bikes which weren’t fitted to us and we were both wrecked afterwards, a good lesson learned.

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