Whilst I was staying with Jerome he said to me “I would like to show you some photographs” so I assumed they would be from his bike trip across America, where we met in Arizona. They weren’t at all, they were of a project he had taken on. In a park near his home in New York State there is a wall with a mural on. It was old, the paint was peeling and it had become defaced with graffiti and had become little more than an eyesore. He decided that it would be a good idea for him and his friends to come up with something new for the wall, so he approached the local authorities and attended a series of meetings and it was eventually agreed that they could do it. He then had to go to more meetings to get the funding for it and they were finally given $350 for the materials. Over the course of a week they stripped the wall clean and set to work with the new image that they had decided on, one that they thought that local kids who went there to get high on whatever would look at and say “Wow! That’s cool”. During the week they worked on it, other kids (terminology that Jerome uses for people around his age of 20) became interested in what they were doing and joined in and helped until eventually so many kids of all ages wanted to help that he could no longer think of things that they could do. They all had a great time, it became not only a task to complete but also a place to hang out and just talk and enjoy themselves. The task was completed in a week. I have to say I as very impressed, Jerome showed me a whole series of photographs with everybody involved. He told me “Kids complain that there is nothing to do, but there is always something to do, it’s just that they do not use their imaginations and can not see a vision”. Just the day after Jerome set off on his two and a half month bike ride from coast to coast across USA. I woke early the following morning and lay there thinking, the paintings came into my mind and I thought about the enthusiasm Jerome had shown in both taking on the task and in showing me the photographs. Then I slowly began to realise that what I was looking at was also a pictorial representation of my journey, my life over the last 3 years. When I set off my little world was a mess, it had graffiti all over it, but I decided to set off on a journey, a journey to Australia. Slowly my life, my world was cleaned down, but I didn’t do it alone, I did it with the help of so many other people along the way, people I had never met before, people who didn’t even know they were helping me. I could see them in the second photograph. With their help it has taken my journey beyond my wildest dreams, I have been taken beyond the rainbow’s end, until now my journey is almost complete and I can see the change as in the last photo, my life feels vibrant, full of light and colour. But I am about to return home and when I get home I have to look after that painting, I have to ensure that I don’t let it decay and become covered in graffiti. That will probably be hard work, but worth the effort rather than letting it return to the sorry state of the first painting. Then I thought again about Jerome’s words “Kids complain that there is nothing to do, but there is always something to do, it’s just that they do not use their imaginations and can not see a vision” and I you know I think that can also be said of so many people’s lives, you here them saying “I don’t like my job but it pays the bills”, “I have got myself into a rut” and that favourite old British saying of ours “Life’s a bitch and then you die”, but if only people used their imagination, had a vision, fought like Jerome for what he wanted by going to those meetings and getting the funding for his project, then may be their lives could be revitalised like the mural.
Jerome had also asked me to give a little talk to his Outdoor Group at the Temple University. I am not a lover of talking in public, I get very nervous, but I thought I would give it a go. About 20 students turned up and I started to talk. I had written some notes, but I thought they were boring and when I started talking I took a completely different approach. Questions were soon being asked, in fact there were so many questions that it became a question and answer session. I enjoyed it and talked for 45 minutes with ease, I think far longer than I was supposed to. It was also nice to talk to some of the people that stayed behind afterwards including Sierra, a keen outdoor enthusiast who had created the group and a guy who was about to set off on a ride this summer down the west coast. Tabitha, a friend of Jerome’s came back to the house with us afterwards and Eric, whom I had met in Globe cycling with Jerome also came over and we had a really nice evening of discussions. I once again enjoyed Eric’s and Jerome enthusiasm as they recounted some the events of their journey. As Tabitha Left she gave me a couple of packages of food and inside was a little message that read “I look for examples everyday that prove there is more good than evil in the world, I always find them”. I really appreciated that, but it’s also a nice healthy outlook on life in my opinion.
The forecast was a 30% chance of rain, but it was already raining when I left. I found it hard to say goodbye to Jerome. I had a short but wonderful stop in Philadelphia and I am so glad I came here. All the kids I met seemed to have good heads on their shoulders, or at least seemed to be in a far better place than I was at that age. As we departed Jerome gave me a booklet which had the original words from the Declaration of Independence, something I had been thinking would be really interesting to read. Progress was slow through all the traffic lights, waiting at them was even worse in the rain. I kept going into cafes in the hope that it would soon stop. It didn’t, it rained all day, the very day I buried one of my waterproof gloves and couldn’t be bothered to dig it out. I paid the price, my hands got cold and wet. My route turned surprisingly rural, just what I didn’t need as the light disappeared early. I arrived at a set of traffic lights in the middle of nowhere, yet there on one corner was St Peter’s Lutheran Church. I called in to see if I could camp behind it. Steve the Pastor said “You can camp if you like, or you can stay in the room downstairs”. With water dripping off me a creating a small puddle it was a no-brainer. I had the Sunday school area to myself, including use of the well appointed kitchen. Steve even returned with a big bag full of food of cooked rice and chicken and some really nice fresh salad and fruit. He also gave me a very old and outdated map of New Jersey and New York City which I tried to turn down as it was of little use to me, but he insisted I take it so I gave in. I would really like to have camped out for the last time, but with the rain falling all evening I wasn’t going to complain.
The next day dawned to a very grey day. With a 60% chance of rain I had assumed I was going to get wetter than yesterday, though it just remained grey. I felt so much better than yesterday and pushed along easily. Thoughts were going through my head and time and kilometres slipped by unnoticed. I passed through New Brunswick and then Elizabeth and on to Newark. Whilst I stopped in a café I overheard a conversation. Now, in America a simple “How are you?” is really just a polite greeting, nobody really wants to know how you are and what your problems are, so when the guy serving said it to a customer he got rather an unexpected answer “I suppose I am ok. Guess where I have just come from to be dressed all smart like this”, “I don’t know….church” said the guy serving, “No, I have just come from my wife’s funeral, still we all have to die sometime”. His friend behind the counter had heard it all before and was either unfazed of not listening “Oh really….Sorry I missed you last week, I was away for the day”. What I saw of Newark was not pretty, either run down or industrial, more of the latter. The roads were terrible with large area of damage and gravel to be dodged. There were also large puddles from the rain. I didn’t dare going through any of them as I had a pretty good idea the road would be broken up underneath the water. I made my way to the ferry terminal to get me across to Manhattan. I used the map Steve the Pastor had given me, it was really useful and had far more detail than mine. The ferry would have been much harder to find without it. A truck stopped in front of me a flagged me down “What’s the furthest you have ever ridden on that bike?” he asked “Well in a couple of hours I will have just about finished cycling around the world”, “Wow, that’s fantastic” he replied, shook my hand and carried on. At the next traffic lights his passenger called out “Have you ridden all the way from England on that bike?”, then at the next traffic lights “How many hours did it take?”. Hours! That made me feel so slow when I yelled back “THREE YEARS”. Manhattan is an impressive skyline on the way across. For the past two years I have been heading for New York, it had always been in the back of my mind and there it was in front of me. Strangely I didn’t feel elated, I suspect my little brain doesn’t think I am finished until I am actually back home, even though it is only a days ride from the airport. Jerome gave me some excellent advice for Manhattan so I cycled north along the very good cycle path that runs all the way around. After about 10km I had to leave it and cut across Upper Manhattan in the rush hour. I headed out for The Bronx, it was getting dark and very slow going through all the traffic light as I had to squeeze my way through the queues. I reached Westchester Ave, it was classic big city America as I rode for miles along the road underneath the metro, the trains rumbling above my head. This type of road has been used in many an American movie and probably the very one used in a car chase in The Blues Brothers. I loved it, very atmospheric. I reached the end of the road and knew I was near to my couch surfing host Don so gave him a call. His instructions included footpaths and little grassy tracks to avoid the freeways that are around here. It had long been dark. It was a struggle, I returned to where I started but still couldn’t find the little paths. The final mile took me over an hour, I was frustrated but very glad to finally arrive. Without the map that Steve gave me I have absolutely no idea how I would have got here, it would have been almost impossible, it had been a God send, literally as it came from a church. I have become increasingly turned off from the Catholic religion, a feeling that has grown along this journey, so I thought it would be interesting to Couch Surf with a retired Catholic priest. Don was really interesting to talk to and had worked for 40 years in Africa. I expected him to try and make me see “the error of my ways”, but there was none of it. He was very subjective about all the issues we discussed.
I had made it just in time to New York. The 8-14 inches of snow that was forecast was falling by the following morning. It was a horrible wet snow. I caught the metro to Manhattan, though it was much more fun cycling below it. The compressed slush turned to ice on the pavements. Drains were blocked so deep water collected at the roadside which sometimes I didn’t realise was so deep and got soaked feet. I made for the Metropolitan and spent most of the day there. The place is massive, a complete maze. By evening the snow was deep. The weight of the snow had brought 5 trees down and people have been advised to stay out of the parks. As I write this the snow seems to have been falling all night, conditions look terrible. I am due to move on to another Couch Surfer, but I do not relish even the few miles that I will have to travel. Almost the entire time of my route across America people have been telling me “The weather isn’t normally this cold at this time of year, it’s the worst winter in decades” so I shouldn’t be surprised to hear that on my first day in New York, Central Park had a record amount of snow, a record that hasn’t been broken since 1894.