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

UK or Bust: Endorphins, Flying Fish, and Burning Man Rant

Day 17

10:39pm Ponta Delgada – Portugal time

Location: About 400 miles southeast of Grand Banks (where the film The Perfect Storm was set)

Weather: 1.5 metres swell

 

 

After lunch, I went up the bow, and tried jump roping and dancing around while listening to my ipod playing electronica thinking about Burning Man which is currently raging in the Nevada desert.

 

Speaking of Burning Man, I was glad to read that a group of burners is attempting to spread awareness about BM’s climate impacts, and even make Burning Man “carbon neutral,” attempting to absorb all the carbon from the RV’s trucks, cars, generators and er….burning men. As things stand now, Burning Man, fun though it may be for those attending, is no fun at all for those whose houses and towns are being destroyed by rising sea levels and stronger storms resulting from all that carbon being emitted into the atmosphere. Creating a temporary city of 30,000 people, with all their crap, in the middle of the desert for a week, can in no way be considered low impact. In my opinion (and this might change if I ever actually attended) Burning Man is a disgusting hedonist planet destroying indulgence fest for those with nothing better to do over labor day. I’m sure my burner friends will send me lots of hate mail for this, but that’s just the way I feel. When oil prices rise, and the true scope of the climate crisis becomes clear, Burning Man in its current manifestation, will be over. Likely to replace it are a series of local celebrations of music, art, dancing and culture that don’t require long distance car, air, or RV travel. Why not move in this direction now, without having outside circumstances force the organizers hand?

 

As far as attempts to buy carbon credits, to offset emissions from Burning Man, I think this is largely bullshit. Trees are planted to theoretically absorb a given amount of carbon over the course of their lifetimes. However, climate change is already killing forests, and there is no guarantee that these poor saplings will ever get the chance to absorb the sins of Burnings past. The only way to realistically deal with the looming threat of climate chaos is to STOP OR AT LEAST REDUCE THE AMOUNT OF FOSSIL FUELS WE BURN. Oh well, at the very least, the Cooling Man effort will raise awareness, and could lead to stronger efforts in the future. Check it out at http://www.coolingman.com

 

And to be fair, groups like Burners Without Borders have done great work traveling to Louisiana and volunteering to aid Katrina victims etcetera. But it’s still better not to spill the milk in the first place rather than make heroic efforts to mop it up…..

 

So anyway, it was great to get some exercise. I’ve been lying around for the past couple of days, reading and watching movies, and I began to feel a little like a blob. After dancing around on the deck, looking very silly, I went down to the exercise room and rode the stationary bicycle for a half an hour, sweating like a pig as it was warm in there, being right above the engine room. It’s easy to forget sometimes how good it feels to exercise, and I feel sorry for the millions of people out there who are missing out on that great endorphin high, sitting in a traffic jam or in front of their TV’s eating processed food. Get out there and ride your bike people!!!! It’s fun!

 

Right now I’m sitting in the crew’s lounge, with a couple of very drunk German officers, and Warren, an AB (able-bodied seaman) watching a DVD of Shakira, drinking beer and celebrating Friday Night!!!! I saw flying fish earlier- thought they were birds at first, but they disappeared underneath the sea. Pretty cool…….I’ve never seen that before.

UK or Bust: Seasick!

Day 16

8:17pm Grytviken – South Georgia time

About 100 miles southeast of Newfoundland

Speed: 21 knots

Swells: 5 metres

 

 

The ship was really rocking and swaying when I woke up this morning. I was feeling a little funny when I went down for breakfast, but felt a lot worse trying to eat the eggs and toast that were set in front of me. I left half of them, and returned to my cabin, where I lost the other half. I felt much better after that, though, thank God. Spent the day in bed, read most of Ben Elton’s Gridlock, which is hilarious- he sends up the road lobby so well. Would be really funny if it weren’t so true and scary. Well recommended though.

 

I skipped lunch, ate a peanut butter and banana sandwich from the food I brought on board, and napped through much of the afternoon. I guess I’m going to have to get used to this rocking and rolling- there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it- sometimes we roll forward, then diagonal, then left and right. Helps to look at the horizon, though this is difficult when in the stairwell without any windows.

 

The crew and officers have been very sympathetic, and all have given me their own recommended cures: drink lots of water and eat lots of food, get fresh air, eat dry biscuits, look at the horizon, and take dramamine. The last suggestion I’m holding out against unless I really need it. I’m feeling a lot better this evening, even though the swells have remained, which is a good sign I suppose.

 

At dinner, I was sitting with the Electrician, Ariel (or Elec as everyone calls him), pictured above. He is such a nice guy, and has made me feel right at home onboard. One of the officers, a guy named Bernie, extinguished his cigarette and came to sit down next to us. He is from a border town between France and Germany, and he was happy to have someone to speak French with. It turns out he served in Algeria and Vietnam for the French forces and witnessed some pretty horrible things that he still has nightmares about til this day. The Algerians killed three of his friends in front of him, stabbed him repeatedly, and cut out one of his “eggs” as he put it. Ouch. When he decided to withdraw from the Army, he was given a dishonorable discharge, and says he will never fire a weapon again in his life. Though he understands why the Algerians wanted to have their freedom, he still says he hates Muslims, and started going off on religious hatred, when Elec, the Jehovah’s Witness, calmed him down, reminding him that killing in the name of religion is a bad thing.

 

Bernie left us, and I asked Elec whether there were ever fights onboard. He pointed to a scar on his forehead, and explained that he had tried to break up a fight amongst drunken crewmembers, and had been attacked himself, long ago.

 

After dinner, I wandered up to the bridge, to ask if I could walk out to the bow. They said no, that it was too dangerous, that it was evening and that there wasn’t any crew up there to help if I got into trouble. I hung out outside the bridge, taking in the vast expanses of ocean on all sides, and watching the huge ship rolling over the swells.

 

I haven’t seen much sea life- the seagulls have disappeared now, but I did see a couple of what looked like starlings gliding and flirting around each other in the wind. I think they may be using the ship as an “island” as I saw them hanging out near the bow.

 

It’s pretty amazing that 2/3 of the planet is covered by ocean, yet most of us have little direct experience of it. Being out here gives me renewed appreciation for the early mariners who lacked all the safety, communications equipment and weather info we have at our fingertips today. Such a vast expanse of water- it must be terrifying to be out there in a lifeboat on your own.

UK or Bust: Tagalog, Table Tennis, and Open Ocean

Day 14

9:28pm Nuuk Greenland Time

 

I woke up to a dreary, grey, rainy day at the mouth of the St. Lawrence. Yet still the sea was calm, and there was hardly any motion of the ship. I saw a family of dolphins this morning jumping out of the water alongside the Malaga. At breakfast I ate with the Filipino crew, in the crew’s mess hall. They set a place for me with in the officers mess, but the German officers are more reserved than the crew, and I find I’m more comfortable, and have more interesting conversations with the crew. I’ve been slowly learning names, as well as some Tagalog, like salamat for thank you. The electrician, a man named Ariel (we call him Elec), is quite intelligent, and speaks good English, and was telling me about being a Jehovah’s Witness. I’ve also had good conversations with Joelas, Cirillo, Regner, Warren, and Mario. I played my guitar a little, and the cook especially was fascinated- he’s saving up for an Ibanez electric himself.

 

This afternoon when it got sunny, I took my thermarest, a bottle of water and beer, and headed up to the bow, where it is quiet because it is far away from the engine, and the refrigerated containers whose fans make a lot of noise. There’s never anyone up there, and it’s a nice place to reflect. It’s a wonderful feeling of freedom feeling the salt spray and the wind, leaning over the railing and watching as we glide across the water. It’s also a little unnerving to think that if I fell overboard, most likely no one would ever notice and that would be that. I fell asleep in the sun on the deck for a while, and then read some of my Ben Elton book, Gridlock. I decided that a week at sea (the captain estimates arrival in Antwerp on Sept. 5th) won’t be so bad, quite relaxing actually.

 

After dinner, I joined the crew for a few games of table tennis downstairs in the gym. They’re quite competitive, but very good natured, and I shared my case of beer with them. They tell me they will fill the pool with sea water tomorrow, so I can go for a swim (just gotta watch for sharks).

 

I can stop by the bridge any time I want, and they have multiple printers and faxes spitting out the latest weather conditions in the Atlantic, and computers plotting the course. It’s like having your own personal NOAA.

 

We are passing just to the south of Newfoundland, and there are now swells in the ocean. I began to feel a little queasy, so I put on my anti-nausea wristbands, and ate a couple of ginger candies. Hopefully that’ll do the trick. Tomorrow when I wake up, we’ll really be out in the Atlantic Ocean.

UK or Bust: First Day at Sea (Well River Actually)

Day 13

8:58pm Halifax Nova Scotia Time

I was shaken awake this morning in my cabin at about 5am as the MSC Malaga was helped out of the Port de Montreal by a tugboat, pushing its nose against our side, as the Malaga’s massive engines took over, moving us downriver toward the mouth of the St. Lawrence, and out into the Atlantic. Goodbye North America!

 

At breakfast, I met Joelas, a Filipino crew member, one of the pilots who steer the ship. He was very friendly, and we talked about life at sea, and what it was like to be away from friends and family nine months out of the year.

 

The officers are mostly German, and with the exception of Chris the fourth mate, seem a little cold and distant. The crew is much friendlier, and I took the chance as I boarded yesterday to recommend Gussy’s cure for hiccups to a grateful crew member. (eat a spoonful of peanut butter- it actually works– Thanks Gussy!).

 

All day, we proceeded down the St. Lawrence, passing small fishing villages, and eventually Quebec City, whose castle was beautiful from the water. I explored the ship for the first time, walking up to the bow, and along the gangways.

 

There is an ample supply of beer, wine, and spirits aboard for sale at ridiculously cheap prices. I just got a 24 pack of Warsteiner for $10US I don’t know how the crew gets any work done!

 

We set our clocks forward one hour tonight, and this should continue almost every night until we reach Antwerp– therefore no jetlag! I found out today that we are adjusting our route south to avoid bad weather and big waves in the North Atlantic- though we all have our eye on Hurricane Ernesto to the south, which may be a factor as we head into open ocean…..

UK or Bust: Police Brutality and Resistance: Montreal Critical Mass 25 Aug. 2006

As it was the last friday of the month, I decided to ride down to Philips Square to check out the monthly Montreal Critical Mass ride, which gathers at 5:30 and rides at 6pm. The sun was shining, and attractive Quebecois were going about their day, buying flowers from the kiosk in the square, going home from work and passing by, observing the growing crowd of cyclists. There was a guy in a Bush mask and a suit who riding with us, and two sisters, Fanny and Marion, had made stencils out of old t-shirts, and were handing them out to the assembled massers. I pinned one to my guitar case that said “vive le velorution”. Thought that was appropriate….(my e-mail is velorution@yahoo.com)

 

We pulled out of Philips Square, about 40 cyclists, some with plants draped around their handlebars and some with papier mache palm trees. I think there was some sort of Earth theme going on, as it was Katrina- Climate connection ride, organized by the climate justice group Rising Tide North America.

 

A police car drove close behind us, announcing over his loudspeaker: Envoye En n’avance!! (Get going- get a move on….) (What a great name this would be for a new Montreal based bike direct action campaign along the lines of Times Up in NYC…..vous ecoutez les Montreal velorutionaires??)

 

Everyone was in high spirits, cruising down St. Katherine, exclaiming in French and English: “A qui la rue??? A NOUS la rue!!!!! and “Whose streets? OUR Streets!!”. The mood was light and people were chatting and socializing as we rode along. All of a sudden, word was passed forward that a woman was being arrested by the police. Everyone turned around and weaved back through traffic to see what had happened, and it turned out that the police had picked off a rider who was passing out flyers to passersby at the back of the ride. There was a crowd of shoppers gathered (as this was the main shopping district) and as the ride rallied around the woman being arrested, the police lunged for two more riders (who happened to be non-white) and threw them to the ground, knees in the back, arms wrenched behind them, simply for riding their bikes, and enquiring what had happened to the woman being roughly shoved head first into the police car.

 

In total, I believe that 3 people were arrested. The three were transported to the police station, and the rest of us rode on, sans police company. Many people on the street, and in windows above, waved and cheered, and later one guy in a Humvee yelled at us, “get a job!” We yelled back, “get a bike!” We ended up in a park, where we held a leaderless, mutually facilitated debriefing in a circle, consistent with the tradition of Critical Mass, where everyone shared their observations about the incident, and what was to be done about it.

 

Many thought that it was important to write to the papers about it and let others know this is happening.

 

I shared my experiences riding San Francisco Critical Masses almost monthly since 1997, and suggested ways to deal with police repression, as San Francisco, and most other masses throughout the world, have dealt with violence and intimidation tactics from police forces in the past.

 

A man from Winnipeg, Manitoba shared that the Critical Mass there was badly brutalized a couple months ago, with people being beaten as they were arrested, and then later while being held in jail. The next months ride swelled to 300 riders in protest. You can seen the video of the Winnipeg incident here.

 

And here I was thinking Canada was so progressive and environmentally friendly. Police, even in Montreal, are beating up peaceful cyclists riding lawfully and environmentalists speaking out against climate change.

 

Apparently, Montreal police are known for being aggressive, so watch out if you come to Montreal and want to ride a bike or speak out!

 

Those who witnessed this incident should speak up and protest these heavy handed tactics.

 

Envoye en n’avance!!!!

UK or Bust: Montreal Je T’aime!

Day 9

Montreal, Quebec, Canada

I arrived in Montreal on Tuesday evening after a 12 hour train ride from NYC. For the third time this week, my Amtrak train was delayed at least 3 hours. But I made it to the cultural center and capitol of French Canada eventually, schlepped my stuff onto the metro, and then a connecting bus out to the North Montreal suburbs where my friends Marianne and Richard Dugas live along with their sweet kids Maxim and Celeste. They were so nice to host me, considering Richard only met me for 10 minutes at a bike educators conference last year in NYC.

 

For the last three days I’ve been exploring Montreal by bicycle, which has been incredible. I shipped my touring bike to Richard’s house and put it together out of the box the first day I was here. Such a feeling of freedom to be riding around on it again. Poor thing has been stuck in a box since I returned from Vietnam….

 

I am sitting at an outdoor cafe in the Marche Jean-Talon, a beautiful outdoor market in the hip area of Montreal known as the “Plateau.” There is an amazing spread of fresh produce and any food you could possibly want.

 

While in Montreal, I visited Velogik, a great organization that Richard runs. The program trains disadvantaged youth, aged 16-30, to assemble and repair bicycles, to pass this knowledge on to younger kids in elementary school, while also teaching kids about climate change, and other environmental ills resulting from car dependence. Like the program Recycle-a-Bicycle in NYC, the kids can build a bike for themselves, which many of them would be unable to afford otherwise. The 10 or so young people who are hired by the program, while being trained by Richard, assemble and repair bikes that are later sold as bike fleets for Montreal area companies. What a great formula for job training and environmental education, by pairing environmental education with the means to actually do something positive about our grim situation. As someone said, sentiment without action will destroy the soul (or something like that).

 

Velogik is (partially) funded by the Quebecois government, and deserves to expand, not only in Montreal, but in all cities across North America, and the world!

 

As you can see from the photo above, most bike lanes in Montreal are actually on-street, two way bike paths, which isn’t quite as disastrous as I thought it would be at first. It seems to work if both drivers and cyclists are aware of the conflict, yet I did see many near misses, and hear about numerous collisions at the complex intersections created by these sidepath facilities. John Forester would spin in his grave (oh sorry John you’re not dead yet are you?). Despite the potential safety risks, carving out car free space, separated from the road by a curb or bollards (European style) seems to have encouraged a whole lot of people out on their bikes (which in and of itself has improved safety for all citizens). There needs to be a thoughtful analysis of the benefits and drawbacks of these type of facilities, and I doubt they can be successfully introduced singly as a trial without causing a lot of collisions.

 

Despite the number of cyclists, and innovative bikeway designs, Montreal like most other big cities is plagued by insufficient accommodations for bikes, impatient drivers, and car-oriented sprawl. Yet there is a delightful network of greenways along canals, the St. Lawrence River, and some streets, and there are many many cyclists here who enjoy these routes.

 

I am boarding the freighter Malaga on Sunday afternoon, and it will likely depart from port Tuesday morning at about 6am.

 

Critical Mass Montreal is tonight and I am looking forward to that. It is such a beautiful day I can no longer sit here typing on the computer. I must go ride around! I will write more when time allows. Au Revoir, mes amis!

 

UK or Bust: Remembering a Bittersweet Goodbye Party in Dolores Park

Leaving the US has made me again sad to be leaving such a bunch of wonderful people behind in San Francisco. Speaking of wonderful people, I want to mention two blogs of my friends that I think are particularly interesting. Warren’s blog is all about creating local economies, and he’s even more obsessed by extreme weather and global warming than I am, if that’s possible! My friend Jon Winston maintains a blog and podcast called Bikescape, where he interviews various people (including this blogger) about bikey issues. Both fascinating, and regularly updated blogs. Check them out!

 

On Sunday, August 12th, many of you and your trusty steeds came to see me off and drink beer in Dolores park, where our little merry band found its way to our blanket with a skull and crossbones flying high. Thanks for coming to say goodbye y’all. I’ll miss you!! Sad….. :(

 

And when the sun had gone

We said goodbye to the day and then

We carried on

We carried on

We carried on…….

 

-Stars