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: 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

 

UK or Bust: Leaving the United States

 

Day 6: Well the Conductors have been circulating immigration forms as our train that left NY’s Penn Station this morning is about to cross the border into Canada. The scenery from the train has been beautiful. We traveled along the Hudson River (above) for about a hundred miles, and it’s amazing how quickly you get into the countryside after leaving Manhattan. We passed through towns whose names are familiar from my history books, like Yonkers, Poughkeepsie, Schenectady, Saratoga Springs, and Ticonderoga. The rails ran right by Lake Champlain with a view to Vermont on the other side. Some sort of insect is cocooning like crazy in the trees- not quite sure what it is.

 

After arriving in NYC on Sunday with relatively little sleep, I quickly caught up my sleep deficit and had a great day yesterday hanging out with my friend Dan and later wandering around Manhattan listening to my ipod and eating lunch in Bryant Park (top right), where they were showing Rocky to an enthusiastic crowd of hundreds of people.

 

I’ve been thinking more about my decision not to fly to the UK. My friend Sam says that “I am not saving any dinosaurs by not flying.” The first thing out of my dad’s mouth when I got to New York was “are you regretting your decision yet?” My cousin Jessica from London who is living in Australia at the moment, thinks I’m crazy. It’s like everyone is waiting to pounce to say “Aha! I told you so- look what a pain in the ass you’ve created for yourself! Don’t you wish you had just flown??”

 

But right now, sitting in a comfortable seat, having just enjoyed a cup of coffee in the diner car with two Colombian brothers, an engineer and a guy who works for the UN in New York, gazing out the window on a beautiful rural scene, listening to Stars (who are incidentally from Montreal) and typing in my blog, I have no regrets. I have seen the US from a different perspective, met new friends, and enjoyed the time I have to write, read, and stare out the window. Admittedly I am lucky to have the time to do this, between working for non-profits and going to grad school — I realize not everyone has that luxury.

 

However, remember that it wasn’t too long ago that all long distance travel simply took a long time, and people just didn’t do it that often. It was special, and cultures were less homogeneous than they are now. All the indications are that we are returning to such a time soon, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Often we ignore great places, simply because they are in our backyard (the grass is always greener etc……). We need to reconnect with our local communities for food, shelter, community, and energy. Technology will enable us to learn about other cultures and places without everyone physically having to visit. With 6 billion people and growing, that is a dream that the Earth cannot continue to support in reality.

 

There is a wonderful immediacy to train travel that is hard to match. You can watch people in their own backyards as you pass by. As you stop at stations in towns along the way, you find out more about those places from people who actually live there when they board the train. In the best cases, a diverse, traveling community is created, and everyone leaves the experience all the richer.

 

On an airplane you travel from one generic airport located in ugly suburban sprawl to another airport located in even uglier suburban sprawl. Both surrounded by freeways, parking lots, car rental agencies, and fast food restaurants. The only exchange with the places in between are a fleeting glimpse from 30,000 feet, a roar in the sky heard from below, maybe a piece of frozen blue urine falling in someone’s yard, and the ugly legacy of an abruptly warming planet.

 

No guys- I have no regrets for bypassing a transportation infrastructure that has no future. It’s been a tremendous adventure so far and right now I’m looking forward to experiencing Montreal, and improving my français!

 

Au Revoir Etats-Unis, et mes amis! Je vous aime!

UK or Bust: NYC: Bolivian Politics, American Imperialism, Transport Policy, and Huevos Rancheros

Day 5

New York City

Slept long and deep last night, and woke up to a beautiful, clear, sunny and warm New York City morning. Strolled down to Union Square, met my friend Dan for breakfast. Like me, Dan has traveled for the last year, and like me, he is headed to Grad school this fall– law school at NYU. He traveled to Argentina, Chile, and finally Bolivia, where he spent two and a half months living, and learning Spanish and Bolivian culture. Dan used to work for Rainforest Action Network and we discussed the political situation in Bolivia, where recently elected Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous president whose work to legalize coca leaves and negotiate more equitable contracts with western energy firms has earned him the ire of the Bush administration. Dan stayed with his friend in Bolivia, who is in turn, a friend of Evo’s, so it was really interesting to hear about the story behind the headlines. You can read more about Dan’s fascinating travels here and see his photos here.

 

Wandering around trying to find wireless internet access last night, I realized that in many ways, San Francisco is a bubble. There was nowhere near Penn Station that had internet access- only a bunch of evil Starbucks where you have to pay $10 for one 24 hour pass. I didn’t want to, but finally caved, and sat there updating my blog and trading e-mails with friends from NYC and elsewhere. I felt kinda dirty afterwards though.

 

Dan and I spoke about the coming Collapse, and whether it will be possible to maintain sustainable communities after the fall, or even whether we can change so radically on our own so as to avoid the worst of the chaos and suffering. The twin, related crises of peak oil and climate change are every day creeping closer to a crisis point. We both agreed that living in the United Snakes of America in 2006 is a lot like living in Rome before the fall. People busy distracted with the modern day equivalents of shows at the coliseum and wine drenched orgies, ignoring the barbarians banging on the doors of empire.

 

It really hit me today that tomorrow, by taking the train to Canada, I am leaving the United States, at least for a year, and possibly for good. It feels like a good time to be leaving, though sad to leave a country that is such the epicentre of all that is wrong with the world politically, socially, and environmentally. Yet there is a vibrant undercurrent of resistance here. I guess those of you left in the US will have to fight from within while I carry on the fight as an expatriate in the UK.

 

Tomorrow I take the train to Montreal, where I will stay with my friend Rich for a few days until the MSC Malaga arrives in port- then it’s up the St. Lawrence, into the North Atlantic, and to Continental Europe. If you’ve made it this far, as it appears that you have, thanks for reading!!

UK or Bust: No Sleep (or shower) ’til Brooklyn

3:50 EST Just outside Albany, New York. I managed to catch the evening Lakeshore Limited to New York. Another sold out, packed train. Not too bad in all, though I am looking forward to a bed and a shower at the Hotel Pennsylvania across the street where I’m splurging on a room. I probably have had 4 or 5 hours sleep the last three nights. Interesting to see Upstate New York this afternoon- the Hudson is beautiful. I am sitting talking with Kat, a nice 19 year old design student from Chicago, who is studying in Providence, RI. She is stretching and sketching, and we are chatting about the Superhero Bike Rides, global warming, bike touring, and the usual lot of gibberish…. there are so many stories on the train, people sad to be leaving, happy to be arriving somewhere, or falling in and out of love. Quite romantic really, if it weren’t for the smell of rancid butter in the diner.

 

Tomorrow I will hopefully hang out with Dan Firger of former Rainforest Action Network fame, and ride across the Brooklyn Bridge. Then Tuesday it’s a 9 hour train ride to Montreal (hopefully only 9 hours), where I will stay with Rich Dugas for a few days, a bicycle advocate who trains disadvantaged youth to do presentations to Elementary school students about global warming and bicycles. Pretty cool– I cant wait to sit down and find out more. No doubt that will be the subject of future blog entries. Stay Tuned, fellow velorutionaries

UK or Bust: Corn Fields, Coal Trains, and Coltrane

 

Day 3: Nebraska-Illinois

 

I woke up this morning rolling through the Nebraska Cornfields at daybreak- a cloudy sky spitting rain. Pulled into Omaha at about 5am, and a conductor woke up those of us sleeping stretched out on the floor of the lounge car. Gargantuan Union Pacific Coal Trains crawled by lugging ridiculously huge loads to power plants throughout the West. Not only is all this carbon ending up in the atmosphere, but UP dispatch routinely routes the sluggish coal trains ahead of Amtrak passenger trains, creating habitual delays for the railroad. Guess who’s on the board of UP? Our favorite VP Dick Cheney, who was also trying to kill off Amtrak’s funding. Hmmm…. I wonder what Halliburton and Chevron have to gain from killing passenger rail service in the US….

 

Since the California Zephyr, now sold out with people who boarded at Denver last night, has been on BNSF track east of Denver, the delays have been minimum and we’ve been cruising at about 70-80mph, now at 4:47pm Central time, west of Chicago. We’ll be about four hours late into Chicago, directly because of UP Coal Trains going 15 mph in front of us through Utah and Colorado. As a result, Amtrak could (and often does) lose thousands of dollars putting people in hotels who missed their connections. Also, delays tend to have a ripple effect through the network, magnifying the effects. And then the enemies of Amtrak in the administration and congress blame Amtrak for not being “financially self-sufficient.” Makes me want to take the lane with my bicycle going 5mph in front of Dicky’s Navigator, W’s Suburban and Ahnold’s Hummers (all nine of them).

 

It now appears that I will probably make the connection to the NYC train- the Lakeshore Limited, though they are really having to hustle to make it on time. We are again following a freight train as of 6:10pm so it’ll be close. We’ll see. Wouldn’t complain about being put up in a hotel tonight though.

 

Great guys from Chicago and Virginia I met, Maurice and Shelton, taught me the Dock of the Bay chords, and the blues scale on my guitar. Such a basic ingredient of good rock and blues. Will come in handy during the long Atlantic Crossing. I can rock out with the crew.

 

Peace out from the outskirts of Chicago Illinois y’all! Will write tomorrow from New Yawk, with any luck and without interference from the oil addicted neocon hawks.

 

ACTION: Write to your congressional representatives, and ask that Amtrak be adequately funded and given priority on the nation’s railroads!

 

7:53 pm I am sitting on the Lakeshore Limited after a direct connection!!! It is completely sold out, and Chicago Union Station was a madhouse. Nevertheless, I am on my way to New York City….

UK or Bust: Glenwood Canyon and Amtrak Community

 

 

 

 

Day 2: Reno, Nevada to Colorado

 

4:33pm We are rolling through the Glenwood Canyon at the moment, paralleling the Colorado River along I-70 and the amazing Glenwood Canyon Bike Path that was built as a mitigation for the interstate. I am hanging out with Karlene and Fernando, two friends I met on the train. Karlene lives on the SF Peninsula, and for her four day vacation, she decided to ride the train to Denver and back for the views and the experience. She’ll spend the night in Denver and then ride the train back to SF tomorrow. Fernando is returning to DC, and was visiting his friend from Sacramento.

 

We passed through Grand Junction about two hours ago, and said goodbye to Rich and Cheryl :( but got my hands on some luscious local peaches from a fruit stand at the station which were tasty!

 

The scenery is gorgeous, the company is fun, but the drawbacks of Amtrak are starting to wear. The train is 4 hours late, which means I’ll probably miss my connecting train in Chicago. The food is pretty awful I hear, even though I’ve managed to make it so far with my own food. And the restrooms could use some maintenance. Overall though, it’s been a great trip. At least there’s plenty of leg room! Even though Amtrak is not what it could be, it’s all we’ve got, and a lot better than nothing!

 

7:27pm Awesome blues jam session with Maurice and Sheldon……

UK or Bust: SF to London- No Cars or Planes??

photo-32.jpg

Day 1: San Francisco- Reno, Nevada

So today I leave San Francisco for a year to go to grad school in Bristol, England. I am challenging myself to get all the way to London without getting in a car or on a plane. I left my apartment in San Francisco by foot, boarded a historic F-line streetcar down Market St, then I met my friends Rich and Cheryl who are traveling on the same train to Colorado. Together we rode the Amtrak bus to Emeryville, crossing the Bay Bridge, observing the new East Span Bike Path being constructed as I bid farewell to SF for a year. Goodbye everyone!! Sad to say goodbye, but exciting adventures are ahead.

 

Right now I am sitting on the Amtrak California Zephyr, about to depart the Emeryville station having just left San Francisco, on my way to the UK. At the Amtrak SF Ferry Building station, I checked in at the counter, and overheard that today’s Coast Starlight train that runs between Seattle and Los Angeles was 7 hours late. The Coast Star”late” has been experiencing chronic delays, due to precedence given to freight trains on the tracks owned by Union Pacific. Of course the root cause is that the Bush Administration has been trying to kill Amtrak so that Americans have to support Halliburton and Chevron by driving their cars more, but corrupt politicians haven’t managed to overcome popular support for the beleaguered rail system. The woman at the Amtrak counter and I agreed that the delays on the Coast Starlight and the general neglect of the nation’s passenger rail system is a disgrace for a supposedly civilized country.

 

4:30 pm Reno, Nevada

 

We are stopped at the Reno, Nevada train station, which is basically a concrete canyon surrounded by casinos. Unfortunately no wireless access here, so you’ll probably have to wait until Chicago to read this… The Sierras were beautiful, with wildflowers and a great view of Donner Lake. As we made our way up the mountain range at a leisurely 15mph, about bicycle speed, Rich, Cheryl, and I enjoyed frosty brews in the observation car with large panoramas across the mountains, and an historian from the California State Historic Rail Museum was giving a running commentary, letting us all know about the Chinese immigrants who built the rail line and the hydraulic mining that destroyed much of the natural landscape in the Sierra Foothills. The train is pretty full- many families- and it’s good to see that there is still a healthy interest in rail in these United States. We watched road cyclists cruising on the highways around Reno as we approached through its suburbs. Saw evidence of forest fires, which scientists say have increased massively over the past decade or so as a result of global warming. Many SUV’s and RV’s on I-80, and the pulse of the interstate highway organism continues spewing waste into our atmosphere… meanwhile I am speculating with another passenger (Maurice) about why our departure from Reno has been delayed and we’re still here in this concrete canyon…

 

4:56pm They just announced that we are waiting for a bus load of people coming to meet the train from the Coast Starlight which is predictably late– they’re probably stuck in traffic!

 

Train travel is such a pleasure. There’s room to walk around, socialize, get a bite to eat, and go about life while on the train. And because railroads share rights-of-way with rivers, roads, and trails, there is an interaction with other travelers, as we waved to people rafting on this hot summers day, or riding their bikes on the American River Trail through Sacramento.

 

Driving on the interstate you get this selfish feeling and the driving motivation is to get ahead of everyone else without getting killed yourself. Think about it. There are seldom friendly interactions between cars. When the threat of death and murder lurk over an incidental contact with a stranger, as they do constantly when driving, things can go south quick. The interstate highway system breeds enemies and alienation. Rail and bicycle networks give birth to friends, lovers, and ultimately community.

 

(Speaking of the symbiotic (fertile) nature of trains and bikes, human beings are really extremely lucky that the two least carbon intensive forms of transport, bikes and trains, are also the most enjoyable. One more reason why carbon cuts won’t be as painful as some people say… more on that later)

 

I love trains. On an airplane or a bus, you are crammed in there, and it’s basically about having to put up with it. Cramped quarters, air and traffic turbulence, strange noises coming from the engine…. riding the rails is elegant, peaceful, and lends itself to thinking…… maybe that’s one reason why the Bush administration is so opposed to it- can’t have the populace thinking for themselves….