Category Archives: UK or Bust: San Francisco to Bristol Car/ Plane Free

These entries describe my 3 week overland trip between San Francisco California and Bristol United Kingdom

BBC Covers My Plane Free Journey from S F

Here’s the BBC coverage of my plane free journey from October 2006, uploaded to youtube with sound included finally…

UK Media Picks Up My Story

img_6508.jpg

 

The last few days have been a bit of a whirlwind around here, with media knocking on the door, and the phone ringing off the hook. My new roommates have been very good natured putting up with it all- two of them were even filmed riding their bikes and listening to me playing guitar as part of the feature on BBC Points West TV news, so they got some exposure out of it (yes you have nice legs Alastair I think the whole Southwest of England will agree).

 

You also may have noticed that I’ve changed the name of this blog to “On the Level- Car Free Blog” This is a reference to staying firmly rooted to the ground by deciding to forgo air travel, the pleasure of a flat grade for bicycles and trains, and of course straight talk about the reality of transport in the 21st Century.

 

Anyway, all the fuss started last Friday when the UWE Press Officer convinced me to send out a press release (ok i admit it didn’t take much convincing). Soon BBC and ITV news teams both had camera crews on the way, and the newspapers and radio weren’t far behind. It seems to have been a case of good timing , with local debate about the Bristol Airport Expansion raging and An Inconvenient Truth just having arrived in the UK. People are thinking about the environmental impacts of air travel perhaps more than they ever have before, which is a good thing. The BBC even compared me to Al Gore! (Although An Inconvenient Truth is a very necessary and timely film, why didn’t Al do more and speak out when he ran the country?)

 

All in all, I think it was positive exposure about climate change, and hopefully people took away something other than the fact that there’s this San Francisco hippie preaching about the evils of cars and airplanes. Talk about the media sensationalizing something, the Evening Post (sadly a tabloid is the major “newspaper” of Bristol) reported “green student VOWS NEVER to fly again” In reality, what I said on the press release was that I’m “giving up” flying. (much as you give up any bad habit, like “giving up” smoking, for example)

 

The most annoying question I was asked repeatedly was, “you don’t actually expect people to follow your example and give up flying entirely do you?” (I mean people HAVE to fly- it’s our RIGHT as human beings to load up the atmosphere with carbon so we can take cheap beach holidays with EasyJet!) In response to BBC Radio Birmingham DJ Danny Kelly’s question, “what would you do if a future Mrs. Hart wanted to go on a beach holiday? I mean this (not flying) would be pretty limiting wouldn’t it? I responded that it’s now an open question whether there will even BE a beach to fly to within a generation or two, because of sea level rise. Besides, I’m sure that any future Mrs. Hart would be happy to take the train with me- we could even get a compartment– ooh baby.

 

I mean, what WILL we say when the beach goes away? Oh well we had tumble dryers, SUV’s, cheap flights cheap plastic shit- I say it was WORTH it! (credit to Polyp’s cartoon)

We are working on getting the DVD of the BBC broadcast, as it far outstripped the ITV broadcast for investigative journalism and content, and will post it on Youtube eventually. For now though, you can read the two articles and the original press release by following the links below. :)

 

Media Coverage:

 

TV

 

ITV Bristol: 2 substantial teasers during the day, 1

live in studio interview

BBC Points West: Segment on Evening News

 

Radio

 

Star Radio interview

BBC Bristol in studio interview

BBC Birmingham interview with Danny Kelly

 

Print/ Web

 

 

 

Original Press Release on UWE site

Hero UK Higher Education Site

Article in Evening Post

Article in Western Daily Press

Yahoo News UK

The Green Guy: Ethical Consumer

SF Bicycle Coalition: Biker Bulletin

Venue: Bristol and Bath’s Magazine

Yorkshire Post

Dundee Courier and Advertiser

Birmingham Post

Lancashire Evening Post

Swindon Advertiser

Edinburgh Evening News

Sunderland Echo

Liverpool Echo

UK or Bust: Arriving by Bike in London!

img_6398.jpg        img_6386.jpg

Day 23

1:56pm London Time

 

 

Location: Grandmother’s house, London England Weather: Sunny, warm, beautiful London day

Speed: O knots :)

 

Yesterday afternoon, the Malaga pulled into the whirlwind of activity that is the Port of Antwerp. Surrounded by huge factories and power plants belching smoke, and huge piles of coal, we came through a huge lock, and finally pulled up alongside our designated pier. At once, a massive refueling barge pulled up next to the Malaga, refueling her for her next voyage to the Bahamas, and then to Africa.

 

I waited patiently for about an hour to get clearance to disembark- it was about 2pm by this time, and I was thinking about making it to London that day rather than having to stay a night in Belgium. I hurriedly said goodbye and thank you to the crew of the Malaga, and finally carried my bike, guitar, empty suitcase, and 4 panniers off the ship, waiting patiently for a shuttle to drive me to the Port entrance. While I waited, a huge crane rolled on tracks within inches of me and my luggage, already getting in place to offload our 1000 container cargo. All around me, huge cranes transferred containers, huge machines on stilts rolled rapidly around amongst piles of containers like ants carrying their precious bread crumbs. And the Port stank- I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I felt in the way, and out of place amongst all that massive machinery.

 

The whole Port operation was staggeringly huge and looked like an alien invasion, or some scene out of star wars (the container port cranes were actually the inspiration for those big walking mechanical beasts in Empire Strikes Back). Very surreal. I was about to mount my bike and ride through the chaos when a van finally pulled up, loaded my bike, and drove me to the Port entrance, giving me directions on how to ride into Antwerp Centrum, and get a train.

 

I rode out of the Port with my heavy load, taking the lane on a two lane roadway with container trucks passing fast and furious on my left. Finally, a concerned guy in a Ford Fiesta leaned out his window and suggested I take the adjacent bike path. He was clearly worried for my safety, so I thanked him, and moved over to the pathway, which I had thought was just a sidewalk. The bikeway became better surfaced, better marked, and featured bike traffic signals as I neared the center of Antwerp. All in all, about a 10 mile ride. Fun to be in Europe riding my bicycle around.

 

As I entered the city, I smiled and asked directions of attractive girls on Dutch style bikes sharing the bike lane with me, and eventually found the station, where I was told that to take my bike on the Eurostar from Brussels to London, I would need to check in at least 24 hours in advance. My heart sank, as I just wanted to get to London at that point and see my family.

 

I decided to tale a train to Brussels, and see what I could do to get to London that evening, knowing I would probably have to find accommodation there. I hopped on a clean, fast, quiet train to Brussels (they leave every twenty minutes) and was on my way past tidy suburbs, quaint villages, and rolling fields and medieval churches. What a difference from the aged, slow Amtrak! I got to Brussels and bought a ticket on the Eurostar leaving at 5pm- no problem about the bike- just cost 25 Euro extra. Then I was on the train flying through Belgium at an incredible 300km/hr, through the tunnel, then pulling into London, which was leafier and greener than I remembered, the feeling of coming home, and a journey about to be completed. I claimed my bike, popped on my Ortlieb panniers, hoisted my trusty guitar on my back, and then I was flying through London traffic, joining the thousands of other bike commuters on their way home, and trying to remember to keep to the left.

 

Over the Vauxhall bridge, by Victoria station, passing by Buckingham Palace, then I was on familiar ground as I made my way through Hyde Park, waiting with a crowd of about 40 cyclists, as American suburban tourists gaped in awe from tour buses at the unfamiliar transport mix in the capitol city. I felt buoyant and invigorated, a bit wild as I tried to stay in my lane on the pathway through Hyde Park, sometimes unsuccessfully (as oncoming cyclists yelled at me- so sorry old chap!). Then it was out onto Edgeware Road and pulling into my grandma’s street, I had arrived! I pulled up to my grandmother’s house, she threw her arms around me, and said, “I can’t believe it!!!”. It was so good to see her, and now I am in London, building a new life for myself, excited about starting my Masters program in a week.

 

So did I achieve my goal of getting from San Francisco to London without the use of a plane or a car? Yes and no. For my basic journey, I only used a vehicle when required by Port staff at Antwerp and Montreal to get through the Port areas safely. But I did hop in a car once on a side trip for Vietnamese food in Montreal (what can I say? its my weakness), and once to get a cab back to the Port of Montreal after being out late. But I walked ten miles the next day as penance for my sin.

 

Nevertheless, I am so glad that I had this adventure, meeting so many great people along the way, and experiencing the geography between SF and London in such a different way than I usually do. Now I’m starting a different kind of adventure, one that will bring me into contact with some of the best minds in the world working on our biggest transport problems, and I can’t wait to get started!! Thanks for following my adventures, and keep posted as I will continue updating this blog regularly.

 

Cheerio for now, everyone!

UK or Bust: Land in Sight!!

Day 21

Time: 6:43pm Antwerp, Belgium time

Location: About 14 miles NW of Cherbourg France

Weather: Sunny, swells about 1/2 meter, breezy

 

 

 

After the fog cleared this morning, a brownish haze replaced it, along with tankers, sailboats, and other cargo vessels visible to Port and to Starboard, a dead seagull floated by and I knew we had entered the English Channel and arrived in European waters! We arrive tomorrow at port in Antwerp around 2pm, and my plan is to make a break for it on my bike and try to catch the train (through the Channel Tunnel) to London.

 

At the moment, I am sitting in the crew’s lounge, typing in my blog while the crew riotously watches Weakest Link on BBC 1, which we are receiving onboard, being about 40 miles from the English coast. It is pretty hilarious listening to a roomful of Filipinos trying to imitate an English accent. We just passed the Channel Islands to Starboard.

 

In retrospect, it is pretty amazing that we have arrived and are watching BBC. In some respects, it is even more amazing than when you arrive on a 747. Traveling from America to Europe at bicycle speed (about 21 knots) gives you a new appreciation of the true distances involved. Airplanes, like cars, tend to exaggerate distance and make travel seem impossible by any other mode.

 

Speaking of bikes, Elec brought me down to his workshop in the engine room to pump up my flat tire (I accidentally shipped all my tools-oops). We successfully pumped it up to about 30 psi- not ideal- but hopefully it will get me and all my luggage to the nearest bike shop, and then to the train station. Even though I rode in a car in Montreal, it was only a secondary trip. I’m still trying to go car-free for the primary legs of the voyage….

 

To express my appreciation for the crew and the officers, I burned them a mix CD with many of my favorite songs, with one CD dedicated to dance songs. The Malaga’s next destination after Antwerp will be the Bahamas, and then Chile, so now they can get down and groove on their way to South America. I’ve developed some close friendships with the crew, and I will definitely miss hanging out with them. Several of the crew have invited me to visit them in the Phillipines, which I may take them up on one of these days.

 

Tomorrow I will disembark from the Malaga having learned much about seafaring and the container shipping industry. As such, I’ve decided to list the top eleven things I’ve learned, so here goes:

 

 

Top Eleven Things I’ve Learned About Seafaring and the Container Shipping Industry

 

11) Even large freighters are tossed around quite a bit even when the ocean looks relatively calm (5 meter, or 15 foot swells don’t look like you’d imagine them)

 

10) The ship has its own desalination plant (who knew?).

 

9) Even freighter vessels have swimming pools (though no women in bikinis unfortunately).

 

8) The ship has an emergency submersion beacon that sends an alarm if the ship sinks so fast that no one has a chance to send an SOS.

 

7) The massive compression engine has no spark plugs- it simply compresses the bunker oil until it explodes- no spark required.

 

6) Throwing glass, cardboard, and food waste overboard more than 25 miles from shore is legal (never plastic).

 

5) You can open one of the portholes in your cabin, and there is a rope ladder in case of emergency evacuation.

 

4) Freighters sink down about 20 feet when fully loaded.

 

3) I saw birds every day, even in the middle of the ocean (don’t they get tired?)

 

2) Ping Pong is far preferred to billiards as a pastime, for obvious reasons

 

and the number one thing I learned aboard the Malaga:

 

1) Karaoke on board a freighter vessel is even worse than I imagined……

 

All in all, I’ve had an incredible time onboard (well….except for the Karaoke and Day 5- see the Challenges at Sea entry). What an incredible way to travel. And surprisingly I was almost never bored, unlike sitting on an airplane, which can be 12 hours of torture. I’ll definitely travel this way again, and recommend it to anyone with a sense of adventure.

 

University of the West of England, here I come!!

UK or Bust: The Great Fossil Fuel Burning Beast

Day 20

Time: 5:06pm Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)

Location: 380 nautical miles SW of Land’s End, Cornwall

Weather: Sunny, 2 metre swells, slight breeze

 

 

I made peace with the German engineer crew, and went down to the engine room this afternoon to get acquainted with the beast that is powering us, and our 1000 container cargo, to Antwerp. Holy shit. It is a behemoth. I had to wear ear plugs as well as larger ear protectors (affectionately called Mickey Mouse ears by the crew) before entering the engine room, a cavernous expanse of gleaming steel, whirring motors, dials, switches, and the constant smell and sheen of fuel oil coating almost everything, despite the crew’s best efforts to keep things clean.

 

I asked the head engineer how much fuel it takes to power us from Montreal to Antwerp, and he told me about 60,000 litres of bunker oil PER DAY, so 9 days x 60,000 litres is about 540,000 litres of bunker oil needed to get 1000 containers and 23 people between North America and Europe. 540,000 litres is roughly 135,000 gallons. Assuming (conservatively) that each gallon equals 25 lbs. of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere when burned, this equals out to 3,375,000 lbs. of carbon for our crossing. That’s 135 gallons of bunker oil, or 3,375 lbs. of carbon dioxide per container.

 

Also this figure does not include the massive fossil fuel consumption at the ports, getting the containers on and off the ship, and to and from their final destination by road or rail.

 

The Malaga has six massive fuel tanks, and contains enough fuel for a roundtrip between N. America and Europe, so it only has to refuel in Antwerp. All that fuel most likely comes from places like Iraq, Nigeria, Venezuela, and Iran, where it contributes to corruption, political instability, environmental disaster, and human suffering. And that’s not even mentioning the refineries, which are typically located in neighborhoods that are home to low-income, people of color. So fucked up.

 

It’s pretty clear that the international shipping industry contributes massively to global climate chaos, and our collective dependence on fossil fuel. And it is largely hidden from public view. Yet most of everything we consume, from toothbrushes, to food, electronics, and clothing, passes through the container shipping network, and each item has its own share of the overall massive impact of this power hungry industry.

 

Think about that the next time you go to the mall or the grocery store. Supporting locally made or grown goods is not just a hip lifestyle- our lives truly depend on it- Planet Earth simply cannot take another fifty years of “free” trade and globalization. Now what we need more than ever is LOCALization.

 

One glimmer of hope in the intl. shipping industry is that a German company (not NSB, who owns the Malaga) has plans to supplement the oil powered engines with giant sails that would take advantage of trade winds. While not entirely replacing the oil needs of container ships, these gargantuan sails have the potential to significantly reduce the fossil fuel consumption, and thus carbon dioxide emissions, of international shipping. Not enough in and of itself to solve the climate crisis, but a piece in the puzzle to be sure.

 

Tagay and Prost to that!!! (Cheers in Tagalog and Deutsch)

UK or Bust: Refuge at the Bow

Day 19

8:20pm Reykjavík – Iceland (GMT) Time

Location: About 450 nautical miles west of Spain

Weather: Whitecaps, about 4-5 metre swells

Speed: 21.4 knots

I spent the morning out on the bow of the ship with my guitar. The only sounds up there are the waves crashing against the hull and the wind whistling. In fact, it’s the only place on the ship where I can tune my guitar, as the vibrations of the engine interfere with my electronic tuner back in the accommodation. It’s also the only place on the ship where you can’t smell gasoline, oil, or exhaust. It’s really peaceful, and hardly anyone else comes up there. Leaning over the railing, gazing down at the ship gliding over the water passing underneath, it feels as if you are flying. Kinda cheezy, but it reminds me of that romantic scene from Titanic, except on this voyage, Leonardo (ha! hardly…) is going solo….

I ran into the engine crew in the officer’s lounge right before lunch and patched things up. I have a tour scheduled for 3:30pm tomorrow, and all is good.

I was hanging out with the crew after dinner, and they were smoking and singing bad karaoke, and I just couldn’t hang, so I’ve retired to my cabin to read my book.

I’ve been listening to Metric, a great band from Montreal. In addition to some great music, they have timely, relevant lyrics:

“buy that car to drive to work

drive to work to pay for that car….”

and “buy less- use less- we’re asking for too much I guess…”

I went to the Metric show at the Fillmore in SF, and the place was packed with teenieboppers. You know when teenieboppers are bopping to lyrics like these, that the movement has gone mainstream…

UK or Bust: Challenges at Sea

Day 18

7:04pm Mid-Atlantic Time

Location: About 150 miles northwest of the Azores

Weather: about 4 metre swells (relatively calm, though the wind is blowing and it has been overcast all day, and has just started to rain)

 

 

This has been the most challenging day so far at sea, to be honest. First of all, I partied with the crew last night which was actually really fun- we watched Guns n’ Roses and Shakira DVDs and sang karaoke, and I probably had one too many Becks…. and then before I fell asleep last night, I opened the window in my cabin in order to get some fresh air. Well I woke up at some point in the morning gasping for breath, as my whole cabin had filled with noxious smoke from the ship’s smokestacks. Apparently the wind shifted, and it must have taken me a while to wake up, because I felt really poisoned when I finally woke up and shut the window. Ugh.

 

Even with the window closed, in the accommodation block there is always at least the hint of fuel oil exhaust. That, combined with the cigarette smoke from the officers and crew (some of the crew and most of the officers smoke) makes the air quality less than pristine in the best of circumstances.

 

I ate dinner with the German officers this evening, and they and the other passenger Barbara were speaking in German, so I decided to read my book and keep to myself. I’ve been giving the cook veggie burgers to replace the pork and beef with, as I usually don’t eat much red meat. Well I’ve run out of veggie burgers, so I was forced to eat their beef, which wasn’t the best.

 

Yesterday, I had asked one of the engineers about touring the engine room. They told me the best time to come down was 2pm. Apparently they considered this an appointment for a tour, whereas I understood it as simply a possible time to come by for a visit. Anyway, being poisoned the night before by said engine, needless to say I was not too enthusiastic to get closer to the great fossil fuel burning beast (albeit a beast that is powering us to Europe) so I decided to give it a miss. I probably should have told them, but I didn’t.

 

At dinner, one of the engineers who looks a little like a member of the Addams Family, suddenly switched into English: “Hey YOU! Where were you this afternoon for your tour of the engine room???” I said, “oh sorry I thought I told you I would maybe come by..” He replied in a gruff tone, “no MAYBE about it blah blah blah…..”

 

I was pretty pissed off that he was speaking to me like some junior deckhand. I said, “I’m sorry I missed the tour but I think it’s inappropriate the way you are speaking to me. I’m paying a lot of money to be here and the least you can do is to treat me with respect!” I felt good about standing up for myself, but at the same time, a little apprehensive about rocking the proverbial boat when we still have 4 days out in the Atlantic together.

 

Ultimately it was just a misunderstanding, and I will speak to the guy and hopefully smooth things over, but the German officers can be quite gruff at times. The Filipino crew are generally very friendly, and I have been getting on very well with them.

 

We’ll see how it goes the next few days- I guess this is the midpoint of the voyage, so we’re getting there- hopefully the remainder of the trip will be more pleasant than today!