Des Moines city, and Owl shitty

Once again I’ve let fun get in the way of the real point of this adventure: writing blogs. This entry should have been written 3 weeks ago, but here it is now. 
The two of us were excited to get into Des Moines, not only because we knew we would have an actual place to sleep that night, but also because we wanted to see if Jack’s granddad (and Bill Bryson) was right about it being the most boring place on earth.
Through warm showers we had got in contact with Ben and his wife Kim, and they had agreed to put us up for the evening then show us the city the next day. Kim was taking her two young children on a tour of the state’s capital building, and she welcomed us along with them. We met Kim’s friend Sherry outside of the building, then headed inside to meet LJ, our tour guide (for now).

Inside the state capital

Inside the state capital

This stop in Des Moines was a chance for two unfit young men to rest their legs after cycling 300 miles in 8 days, having not ridden bikes in the last decade. So what better way to rest than to climb hundreds and hundreds of stairs? All i can say is, it was worth it. the pictures of the building really don’t do the climb, or the beauty of the building justice.

Hundreds of stairs to the top

Hundreds of stairs to the top

LJ has been working in the state capitol building for nearly 30 years, and so he was able to take us on a tour that nobody else goes on. we got to go through doors that don’t often get opened, and up stairways that don’t often get climbed, but at the top is the dome – giving a 360 degree view of Iowa.

Amazing Ironwork in the library

Amazing Ironwork in the library

Ben and Kim were heading out of town that evening, but had kindly arranged for us to go and stay with LJ and his wife Nancy; at the end of the tour we made arrangements to meet that evening, but first, we were going to go to the Iowa state fair; supposedly the greatest fair in the world.

Probably not the first time...

Probably not the first time…

So the six of us joined the hoards of people queuing to get tickets. Honestly, every stereotypical American cliche you’ve heard was there: the two ton woman in a bra and tie-dye shorts? queuing in front of us; the family who look like they’ve never shopped anywhere other than Ralph Lauren? behind us; the 6 foot, 8 stone man with a mullet and no teeth, wearing a t-shirt that said “In my store I’d rather serve 1000 Al Qaeda than 1 American soldier. I SELL CASKETS”, well we found him in the beer tent. What I’m getting at here is: everyone was at this fair. Kim and Sherry told us people drive for up to 5 hours to get here, some people even drive from different states if they’re ashamed of their own fair.

Pork on a stick

Pork on a stick

Nobody was going hungry at the fair either. That day Jack and I each ate: deep fried Oreos, deep fried Twinkies, Iowa corn on the cob, Pork on a stick, Turkey legs, and some salt water taffy. Apparently (from the looks we got from Kim, Sherry, and the kids) thats a lot. This fair seemed to mainly be about agriculture, food, and selling hot tubs. I don’t know who takes the family for a day at the fair, pays $12 for each of them to go in, probably spends $100 on food and drinks, looks at some cattle then decides, “I cant go home without a new hot tub”. There was a choice of about 100!

Fun at the fair

Fun at the fair

For what was supposed to be a day off, we spent almost every minute of it walking or climbing narrow stair cases. It was getting late and Kim had to get the kids ready to go away that weekend; we were headed over to LJ and Infancies’ house but were running a little bit late, so Sherry agreed to run ahead and stall them. We needn’t have worried, LJ and Sherry were chilling on the deck, having a cocktail; the more punctual Nancy had gone ahead to watch a band downtown.

A cow made entirely of butter

A cow made entirely of butter

We said our goodbyes to Sherry, who we’d both really enjoyed spending the day with, since she had such a dry, British sense of humor. Jack and I cycled with LJ downtown to a bar called the GasLamp. Supposedly it used to be THE jazz club in Iowa, but was taken over by new management a few years ago (plus the smoking ban had taken away some of the FastShow JazzClub atmosphere… Niiiiice). ,LJ, Nancy and their friends were watching the band as they had booked them for a fundraiser; we were all more than impressed. the whole band rotated on vocals/guitar, bass, sax, and drums. at one point the lead LEAD singer ran out into the middle of the intersection for a guitar solo. that warrants a standing ovation in my book, and the rest of the bar agreed.

Curious sculptures

Curious sculptures

Right across the street from the bar was the Pappajohn sculpture garden. John Pappajohn is a local business man and philanthropist, with an impeccable taste in art. Its a beautiful (and free) park for people to come and enjoy the art, which would otherwise cost them to go and see in a gallery. We wandered around taking in the art and taking photos for about half an hour before we remembered we were on our way somewhere.

Keith Harring sculpture

Keith Harring sculpture

Kim had told us that Owl City were playing at an open air venue by the river, but that most locals just watch for free from the bridges. As we stood around outside, a couple of girls heard our accents and asked us if we wanted tickets. Just like the last time this happened we said we did but that we didn’t have the money. And once again they said they didn’t want money, we just had to take a photo with them. deal. four tickets for a photograph was a great deal, but when we got in we were told that because we had cycled to the venue, we were each entitled to a free beer.

Pappajohn sculpture garden

Pappajohn sculpture garden

For those of you unfamiliar with Owl City (as we all were, until we heard and recognized their ‘big single’) they are an American, electronica band, whose only successful song has been a very cheap rip off of the Postal Service; the entire audience was made up of families with children already dressed in pajamas, or young couples (with the males sitting bored on the ground, while the girl stood screaming) . We managed to sit through 4 or 5 songs before we all looked at each other and decided it was time to go home.

Owl City

Owl City

In our drunken state we had all agreed to get up early and head back downtown to a mass yoga session. In our sober state we all agreed to sit on the sofa and eat a huge breakfast. Nancy and LJ kitted us out with lights, and bells for the bikes, and helmets for us. We cycled in convoy as they guided us out of the city, onto the raccoon river valley trail.

Bells, Lights and skid lids

Bells, Lights and skid lids

The trail was the perfect cycling route for us. It was straight, it was paved, but most importantly, it was FLAT. Don’t ever believe someone who tells you Iowa is flat. In fact, if you’re going to be cycling across it and someone tells you Iowa is flat, slap them. After doing 20 miles, and stopping for a lengthy lunch (nursing our hangovers) we got an unexpected visitor. Sherry had cycled out to meet us, and to say goodbye one last time.

"flat" Iowa

“Flat” Iowa

We’ve given up on sleeping in our tent. Its small, its cramped, if it rains its not water tight, its hot to sleep in, and it stinks.,As an alternative, we’ve taken to sleeping on park benches, or just under the stars. For the family members i would usually reference by name at this, don’t worry. its no different to sleeping in a tent. its two pieces of canvas. Throughout the first half of the trip we became a little too accustomed to sleeping in houses, so doing this brings a bit more authenticity to the trip.

Where we sleep most nights

Where we sleep most nights

Between Des Moines and Omaha we stuck to the trail, stopping in a town each evening, sleeping in the local park, packing up and starting up again each day. Each of the towns were pretty uninteresting with the exception of Audubon. Audubon is home to Albert. Who’s Albert? you know who Albert is. No, seriously?! Fine. Albert is the worlds largest statue of a bull. Yes, that Albert.

Albert the bull

Albert the bull

Through Warm Showers we got ourselves a place to stay with Steve and his family. They had a small holding just north of the town, with the whole surrounded by cornfields, so it makes the prettiest temporary, natural fence. When Steve had listed himself on Warm Showers he had mentioned that there was a bike shop close by, what he didn’t mention was that the bike shop was in his garden (and since it was his sons first day of school the next day, we slept in there to keep ourselves out of the way). So, not only did we get a shower, dinner and a place to sleep – Steve had a hot-tub. While Steve and Jack were tinkering around with the bikes, I soaked in the Jacuzzi for almost two hours.

Our bedroom for the night

Our bedroom for the night

The next day, after being on the road for a little while, a truck pulled up alongside us, it was Steve apologizing for leaving without saying goodbye, and wishing us luck on our journey. Later in the day, after getting over the hills and far away (thats for my mum) Steve gave us a call to say he had found us a place to stay with his co-worker Courtney that evening.

The light at the end...

The light at the end…

Just before reaching Courtney’s house, we both experienced our first flat tires, right at the same time. I’m sure they wont be our last. Courtney wouldn’t be home until later that evening, but she told us her front door was open, so we should let ourselves in and treat it like home. When Courtney got home she insisted on taking us out to dinner, and it was there that we ate our first testicles. Bull testicles. Rocky Mountain Oysters. Breaded and deep fried they didn’t look a thing like we thought and they actually tasted ok, but Jack said he wished they had looked more like actual testicles.

Waking up the next morning it was raining like we had never seen. We made excuses for as long as we could, sat and watched half of SpaceJam, but finally agreed if we didn’t get on the road there and then, we wouldn’t make it to Omaha that day.

Crossing the border

Crossing the border

I completely forgot to mention, as well as the butter cow, there was also a butter Abraham Lincoln. Everything he’d ever wanted. Until next time,

Kieran

I cant believe its not Lincoln

I cant believe its not Lincoln

 

 

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The Up’s & Down’s of Iowa

Since Kieran last signed off alot has happened. Unfortunately due to the lack of spare time and the lack of WiFi, it is a lot harder to keep everyone updated, so we are sorry for the delay in writing these blog updates.

We left you as we crossed over the Mississippi into Iowa. We spent the night in Davenport with Dustin. We decided to kick off the next day and try and reach West Branch. We had spoken to a lovely lady Kathy, via couchsurfer, who had agreed to put us up for a couple of days, which was a welcomed rest for us. At this point we had been non stop for over a week. Our legs where tight and bodies bruised.

We where told that Iowa was flat, well they where wrong, so very very wrong. Iowa is nothing but hills. You whiz down one side to climb the heights of the other, hoping that when you can see over the top you will be greeted by a flat road that travels for miles ahead. Instead you are met by miles and miles of rolling hills; and remember we are pulling trailers weighing over 110 lbs each, which obviously makes the hills a complete nightmare.

When we reached West Branch we where met by Kathy, her husband John and their daughter. They gave us a tour of there lovely house, filled with some amazing art work. We where stationed in the massive guest bed room in the basement. That first night we went to sleep early, we needed the rest because the next day was “Hoover’s Hometown Days”.

Some of my Favourites at Kathy's

Some of my Favourites at Kathy’s

West Branch is the birth town of the 31st President, Herbert Hoover. So every year they celebrate his birthday with the “Hoover’s Hometown Day”. The whole town comes to a stand still. Filled with stalls, peddling various delights from homemade lemonade to water fight competitions.

We walked into town from Kathy’s house later than Kathy and John. We had used the morning to catch up on some needed sleep. When we got to town we where met first by the “Hoover Ball” tournament. Hoover Ball is basically volley ball, accept you actually catch the ball before throwing it back over the net, and the ball is actually a 12 lbs medicine ball.

Kieran and I thought we would try our hand, and maybe show the American’s how its done, very much like our game of beer pong in Chicago (unbeaten Chicago Champions); but these guys take there Hoover Ball seriously. We where unfortunately not allowed to step foot on the court. It turns out these guys had been training all year for this competition, the only one in the country. In my opinion they where just scared, but we agreed to give any help and tips we could from the sidelines. Turns out just like volley ball, its more interesting to watch the women’s games.

We then wandered into town. Its a beautiful place. Home of Hover’s presidential library and museum, so we made this our next stop. The grounds of the library are beautiful, a huge expanse of meticulously mowed lawn, with large oak trees all around. It was also the same location as Mr Hoovers childhood house, which was a tiny one bedroom shed. His grave is also on the site, which is a lovely understated marble plaque, which has clear view across the grounds to his old house.

Hoover's House

Hoover’s House

The Museum was very interesting. A little history lesson here for you all. Herbert Hoover is remembered by most American’s as the Depression president, he was inaugurated a year before the stock exchange crashed, an inevitable disaster after the boom of the 1920’s.

Unfortunately due to this terrible timing, Hoover’s name will be associated with the great depression. BUT what we found out was that Hoover did a lot more during his long life. After the first world war Hoover set up the American Relief  Administration, and helped to feed the starving all over Europe. Alot of children had never eaten a white bread roll before, they where eating a mix of dough and wood chipping, until the Hoover Rolls arrived all across Belgium and eastern Europe. What a hero.

He was a great chap, and we both realised that it was a terrible shame that he is remembered for his Hooverville shanty towns and the dust bowls across the american prairies, when he was so much more, the Hoover Dam is a great landmark in his name. Something he commissioned to get people working again during the depression.

Hoover getting help from Steph's Ted.

Hoover getting help from Steph’s Ted.

The Museum is a must see, it also had a lot of stuff on the abolition of slavery, and Lincoln which again was very interested. We left the museum and wondered back into the town. We had agreed to meet Kathy and her Husband at 5 o’clock for the fireman’s dinner. Which was a annual dinner to help raise funds for the local fire station.

We met John and went and ate our dinner, which consisted of gorgeous succulent steak, lovely buttery mashed potato and  locally farmed sweetcorn, it wasn’t just dinner, it was the fireman’s dinner.

We then joined up with Kathy at the friends church for hymns and (more importantly) free pie. We boomed out the hymns really hitting each note with British pride. I didn’t have a clue what I was singing, and didn’t recognize any of the songs, until Smack my bitch up started, no I joke it was Amazing Grace. So when this tune started on the old Joanna, Kieran and I took it upon ourselves to take it to the next level, barbershop style. Kieran rocked the baritone while i kicked out the tenor. Safe to say we got a standing ovation.

We then went into the basement of the church for our free pie. We met some lovely people. We chatted to one lady for over an hour, unfortunately we didn’t get her name, she had travelled the country herself. She had a lot of advice for us.

We then did what any other person in our position would do, we went up for seconds. We approached the church helpers hesitantly, before we held our empty plates out “Please sir, I want some more.” The helper eyed up our plate before saying “ Moooooooooooooooooore?…….Yes that fine.”

Home made pie was delicious, and the company we kept was even better. Once we where finished we walked back to Kathy’s to watch the evening’s fireworks display together on her lawn.

We then packed our things up ready to get on the road the next day. We had really enjoyed our stay, Kathy had been an amazing host, and West Branch was a beautiful and interesting little town.

Us with Kathy

Us with Kathy

The next morning we got on the road early and biked through Iowa City, which is a large college town, and home of the Iowa Hawkeyes, one of the big 10 American football college teams. Which is a big deal here.

It was a cool city, which I’m sure would have been even better when college was in. Unfortunately it was very quiet while we where there. So we didn’t get to the see the city in its true light.

We rode on; our next big stop was Des Moines. It was a long ride untill then. We hoped the state would flatten out before then, but unfortunately we where wrong. Hill after Hill after Hill.

We met a few other people along our way before we got to Des Moines, we stayed with Bruce Ashton in Marengo, who we met in a bar in town. Then we slept in a baseball dugout in Brooklyn.

We then stayed with Suzanne and Daniel in Newton. We met these two through the Warm Showers website, they had a lovely home, and made us feel very welcome, buying us a beautiful Mexican dinner, and Daniel took us out with his friends.

Our Bedroom

Our Bedroom

When we woke up we planned on making it to Des Moines, it was a long push, another day full of hills, and plenty of stops.

Being on bikes has its ups and downs, literally, but we are very proud of our progress, as you know we are writing these blogs retrospectively, and at this point we have finished our ride through Iowa, which is over 350 miles. We have slept rough now countless times, we have laughed a lot, cried together, but we are doing it all for a reason that give us more determination, and fight than we ever imagined.

After Kieran’s injury we racked our brains on how we could finish this and still feel we have accomplished something worth sponsoring, and after biking more than 400 miles we believe what we are doing still is worthy of your support, we hope you agree.

Any whom, Kieran will continue and tell you more about our trip across Iowa. Please keep up the support, its has been priceless so far, and please keep sponsoring , the link to the page is below.

TINYURL.COM/BIGOLDWALK

Cheers

Jack

On yer bike!

So by now anyone who actually reads this blog, or follows the Facebook page will know that, due to my own feet injuries (some walk related, some through my own stupidity), we are now cycling the remaining 2000 miles to Santa Monica, California.

We picked back up on the Illinois and Michigan Canal trail, just south of Chicago. Where we joined it was not far from where we had left off, in Joliet. The first person we met told us “you boys are in over your heads”. He continued to tell us how it was a terrible, terrible area filled with gang-bangers and murderers; as usual we neither saw nor got any impression of the above being true. It wasn’t the nicest of places, but it seemed the same story as many places we had come across previously: a town that used to centre around an industry that had since moved to a country with a cheaper work force. We didn’t have to walk through it for long before we were back into the countryside, walking along the trail. 

The Illinois and Michigan canal trail

The Illinois and Michigan canal trail

After having such an amazing and luxurious rest you’d think that being back on the trail would be all gravy. wrong. my feet didn’t seem to be in any different type of state. At the end of the first day we had only walked 12 miles, which I’m sure you can figure out is less than we would previously walk before lunch; not a good sign. Did I mention that the day we had started back on the trail happened to be my birthday? no? Well, the day we started back on the trail, the day walking 12 miles caused me excruciating pain, the day I broke down in tears (second time so far) and told Jack I didn’t think I could complete the walk – that day was my birthday. We sat on a bench in silence. 

Corn, Clouds and Church - The midwest

Corn, Clouds and Church – The midwest

We had already discussed what would happen if there was an injury, we had joked about scooters and Segways, but the idea of bicycles had also come up, and that didn’t seem like a stupid idea at all (not least because it would mean making it over the Rocky Mountains before winter).  I apologized to Jack about the state I was in, suggesting that I fly home and he complete the walk on his own. Not only did he refuse to let me fly home, he refused to let me fly home before I had seen all the things we had planned to see. Not only did he refuse to let me fly home before I had seen all the things we had planned to see, he refused to let me fly home before we had completed the journey. Together! 

Us with the unfairly named "rip-off" Roy

Us with the unfairly named “rip-off” Roy

Bikes it is then. A quick look at Google maps (thanks again to Dave Wilson and the Lagana’s(we’d be lost without the phone)) showed us there was a bike shop 8 miles away, so that was as far as we’d have to walk the next day. 
 
The Grand Schwinn Cyclery just happened to be the only bike shop for about 60 miles in any direction,  and its owner, Roy, sized us instantly and was able to tell us exactly what bikes we’d be needing. I say instantly, we ended up spending nearly four hours in the shop, but it gave us plenty of time to charge all of our equipment. Roy sorted us out with 2 identical bikes, padlock, road flag, spare inner tubes, and he sorted out the wheels on our cart for us. We’d later go to a bar about 10 miles down the road to have a late birthday drink, and be told by more than a few people that we had encountered “Rip-off” Roy. I’ve got to say I think this was a fully undeserved nickname, seeing as he threw so much free stuff in and even gave us a discount. 

Our current setup

Our current setup

Despite my original apologies, I don’t think either of us could be any happier with being on bikes. Not only was it not causing me any pain to peddle, we were also covering a hell of a lot more ground than we usually did on foot. Cycling along the canal was so much fun too. It makes so much difference when you aren’t having to contend with cars, but we quickly learned that the type of surface your on makes the biggest difference of all. Riding the 100 miles along that canal was broken up into chunks of: elation at 12mph(tarmac cycle paths), happiness at 8mph (oil and chip), and devastation at 3 mph(loosely packed gravel). 
 
The biggest difference that has come with the bikes is that we no longer get to meet as many people, or stay in as many amazing home; but that’s exactly how we expected the walk to go from the start. We had never spent two consecutive nights in the tent before Chicago, but after the bikes it was 6 straight nights before we got an amazing offer to stay with someone. Staying in the tent isn’t a problem at all, and I cant speak for Jack, but I really enjoy roughing it. The only downside is when we have a rainy night that continues all morning. obviously it’s not ideal to put the tent away still wet, but we’ve always been able to air it out at some ones house; this particular morning there was a torrential downpour and no real chance of a place to stay that night. we bundled all of the stuff into our carts and pedaled as quickly as we could to a storm drain a quarter of a mile away. we hung the tent as best we could, then spent the next two hours shaking it, trying to get it dry. Had we known the (sort of) good fortune that lay ahead of us,we needn’t have bothered. 

The storm drain

The storm drain

I must mention at this point that it was now Tuesday and neither of us had showered since Thursday morning when we left the Waldorf Astoria. So when we were cycling on a closed road and passed by an unused outdoor swimming pool, we saw an opportunity, and we took it. There was no water in the swimming pool so we tried all of the doors to the changing rooms – no luck. We started to walk away when we saw a hose reel next to a portaloo round the back.  I’m not ashamed to say that while one kept an eye out for passers by, the other had an alfresco shower. Hopefully the only time I’ll ever be naked so close to a playground. Anyway… 

Our shower

Our shower

At the end of the day there was a large private campsite/RV park, who we had been told were pretty unsympathetic towards charity cases, and charged a (frankly disgusting) $22 to pitch a tent. We walked in, paid our money and at the last minute, Jack pleaded our case. The woman behind the desk seemed to take pity on us and said we could have one of the $50 cabins at no extra charge. Result! the cabin was really basic, but it was a bed each, a roof over our heads, and the opportunity to have the first real shower in nearly a week. 

A campsite that doesn't like charity, but LOVES badges

A campsite that doesn’t like charity, but LOVES badges

As i headed back to the cabin a guy was stood beside a bike, looking like he’d cycled a few thousand miles. we got chatting and it turned out he was cycling coast to coast too, but from Seattle to NYC. Like us he didn’t seem too enamored with the price of a pitch and was going to head a few more miles down the road. I told him that we still had one spare bunk in the cabin which he was welcome to; he was incredibly grateful but did warn us he had been known to snore (he did warn us). After we chatted about each others journeys, where we’d been and what we’d seen, Jacob told us about a service called WarmShowers. Much like CouchSurfer but for, you guessed it, showers. He said it was specifically for bikers to get a place to wash, but more often than not he had been cooked dinner and invited to stay for the evening. We downloaded the app straight away and found a guy who was willing to let us crash at his the following evening in Davenport, Iowa. 

The snore shack

The snore shack

Seeing as it was the first bed we had seen for a while, Jack and I were ready to crash out; Jacob had other plans. I snore, my brother snores, my dad snores, children scream, dogs bark, bears roar! None of this compares to Jacobs snoring, nor would it wake him. He fell asleep and started snoring instantly. We put up with it for about 20 minutes, then Jack and I looked at each other and started laughing. We quickly went through a range of emotions, then Jack decided the best solution for him was to wrap his head in clothes so he couldn’t hear it anymore; no luck. I couldn’t take it anymore. I shouted his name five or six times, nothing. I flicked the light on and off whilst shouting, nothing. I left the light on, shook Jacob whilst shouting his name, nothing. it wasn’t until i did all of this as well as slapping him on the forehead that he began to stir. When he came to, he apologized profusely and agreed to try sleeping on his side (it probably doesn’t help that he wears ear plugs to stop himself from waking up). Despite a few random snores during the night,we managed to sleep loosely until morning. We said goodbye to Jacob the next morning, with Jack warning him that the girl hes headed to meet in NYC probably wont put up with that noise for too long. 
 
When we used to contemplate the days walk ahead of us, I rarely remember either of us seeming excited, but these days we are genuinely anxious to get going each morning. Even more so that  day because we knew that we would be crossing the Mississippi into Iowa that afternoon. The whole day went without a problem, we peddled hard and fast, excited to make it to the river as soon as possible. It had only been a week on the bikes but we both agreed that was by far our favorite day of riding; it was beautifully sunny, but not too hot, there was a breeze but it didn’t slow us down, and we knew that we had a real bed in a real house that evening. 
IMG_0452We both got really excited when we saw the Mississippi river! It had never been a milestone in our heads, but as we approached it we were both punching the air and cheering. This only made me more excited for what its going to feel like when we do eventually reach Santa Monica. After stopping to revel in just how far we had come and to take a photo of the teddy, we carried on down to the Centennial bridge where we could officially cross the Mississippi and the state border into Iowa. As we crossed over to the other side there was a guy who seemed to be waiting for someone. That guy was Dustin, and the someone was us. 

A huge milestone, for us

A huge milestone, for us

Dustin was from WarmShowers and had been kind enough to let us stay with him for the evening. He’s a graphic designer and his home is an amazing work/living space above a newspaper office. his walls are covered in amazing art work, all of which (i think) he had done himself. We headed out for dinner and chatted about WarmShowers and how many people Dustin had had to stay with him (a lot) almost all nice, some very strange. We obviously told him all about our almost identical experiences with CouchSurfer. When we got home that night he showed us his photos of riding his floating bike through rivers, taking it out in the deep snow, and the album of every cyclist that has stayed with him. Somebody commented on our photo that we were “the first HOT guests, somebody with great taste. 

Dustin with his sunflowers

Dustin with his sunflowers

Well i think I’m nearly caught up on the backlog of blog updates, but unfortunately seeing as we’re now camping more often the entries will have to be fewer and further between.  
 
until next time, 
 
Kieran

From a distance this looked a lot like a puddle

From a distance this looked a lot like a puddle

 

Sometimes the trail just disappears, we found a way around it

Sometimes the trail just disappears, we found a way around it

Chicago, Chicago

When we were planning this trip, there were a few things that I never thought would happen: I never expected to go to a baseball game, I never expected to stay in a suite at a five-star hotel, and I certainly never expected to spend half an hour in a steam room, chatting to Hollywood highest paid actor.

When we told people that we were walking into Chicago, everyone warned us about the south side. We’d been told statistics about how it had more murders annually than Iraq, so we decided it might be a better idea if we took a train into the city.
The Chicago skyline

The Chicago skyline

Having spent a working-summer over here a few years ago, my brother still has a few friends in the area, and two of them were kind enough to let us stay in their apartment whilst we were in town. During their summers, Josh and Adam were counsellors at the camp my brother was working in, but these days they both have grown up jobs in the city, and an incredibly grown up apartment to go with it. They live with two other college friends in a great building, in an even greater neighbourhood of Chicago.
 
We sat outside the building on west Huron street waiting for Josh to finish work; it was 100F outside and when we met up with him he told us off for not sitting inside where there was air conditioning (and probably because we looked like two tramps begging outside the building). An apartment that sleeps 4 people was never going to be small, but this place was like a whole house at the end of a hallway! Better still, up on the roof there was a gym, swimming pool, BBQ area, sun loungers and a terrace with an incredible view of the whole city.
Overlooking the city

Overlooking the city

It was on this roof terrace where we spent the majority of the evening, chatting, drinking, and waiting for midnight to come, to celebrate Josh’s impending birthday. To call Adam and Josh’s housemate ‘a big guy’ is an understatement. Matt is a mammoth of a man, and he’s also a nightmare to drink with!
“Shot.”
Drink.
“Shot.”
Drink.
“Shot.”
NO!
Neither me, nor Jack could keep up, and when we noticed that nobody else was even trying we knew that it was ok to stop.
 
 
One of my favorite things is bumping into someone you know in another country, and even though I knew my brother was due to arrive at any moment, it was still amazing. Besides Jack’s, I hadn’t heard an English voice in almost two months but hearing Joseph’s didn’t seem strange, after all it’s a voice I’ve heard constantly for the last 24 years; it wasn’t until his friend Emily got out of the cab that I felt a very long way from home. While the Americans headed out for the evening, we sat on the sofa catching up then grabbed a (much needed) early night
 
 
The following morning we headed out to Josh’s parents house in the suburbs, where they were hosting a birthday brunch for his 24th birthday. Kevin and Robin were so welcoming to us, treating us like we’d been friends of Josh’s for forever. We sat and chatted about the walk, what we had seen so far, and what we were still hoping to see. When Josh’s sister Jenna and her husband AJ arrived, they bought with them huge platters of bagels, fruit, fish, vegetables and doughnuts; the sort of breakfast I’d been dreaming of for so long. After eating, chatting, singing happy birthday, and playing with Jenna and AJ’s dog Buddy for a few hours, we said our goodbyes and headed back into the city. There was a long night of drinking ahead of us and everyone needed to rest up.
 
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A party trolley had been organised to take us to a few different bars in different neighbourhoods, with our final stop being a retro disco (I’m pretty sure nobody managed to make it this far). The night started with “pre-game” at the boys apartment, and also a few games of beer pong. The Americans seem to play a lot of this and are pretty cocky about how they play, but let it be known that we were unbeaten all evening. Everyone had been drinking steadily by this point, but things got messy very quickly. There were litres and litres of spirits on the trolley, but nobody seemed to be wasting time with mixers, and we were encouraged to follow suit. Joseph and Emily seemed to be behaving a lot more sensibly, drinking in moderation, but  for me and Jack, by the time we got to the first bar the flood gates were open. Luckily, it seemed everyone else in the group was in a much worse state than us; when we reached the second bar people began dropping like flies, by the third bar people were dancing on tables, and after a certain someone in the group decided he could use the female bathroom we got kicked out of the bar.  We’d also run out our time with the trolley so had to find our own way to the club, which by the time we arrived had a huge line out front and we decided it was best to call it a night.
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My hangovers seem to be intensified by a couple of things: not sleeping in my bed, not getting enough sleep, sunshine/heat, and loud noises. Lucky for me this hangover ticked all of the boxes. Obviously I was sleeping on someone’s sofa, we didn’t get home until 5, then had to be up and ready at 11 to make our way downtown to sit in the sun at a baseball game. We met up with Ross(whose dad had hooked us up with some great tickets to go see the White Sox) Koby, and Brian down at Brian’s incredible loft, then headed further downtown to Cellular field.
 
The game was something I had really been looking forward to, and for that reason I told myself I wasn’t going to drink too heavily so that I could fully appreciate it. Too much of a good thing I guess.  Sporting events here seem to be totally different to at home; when you go to a football match you go to watch the game, and you’d probably get annoyed with people shuffling past
you every ten minutes to go for a walk or to get some food, but here it seems like a whole day out, where eating and drinking is just as big a part as the actual game.
Play ball!

Play ball!

We had amazing seats in the ball park, right behind the batting plate. Unfortunately, the fat, shouty, sweaty, drunk man behind us had equally great seats. The eight of us spent our hung over afternoon with this guy heckling any opposing player who got up to bat.
“A, B, SEEEEEEEEEEEEE YAAAAAA!” seemed to be his favourite one, and he repeated it over, and over, and over! I must admit it went full circle from funny, to irritating, to aggravating, back to being funny, and we found ourselves repeating it long after we left the game.
The Bean

The Bean

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering back up town, through Chicago’s amazing parks and outdoor music venues. We stopped to take some obligatory photos at ‘the bean’.
Catching up with my brother

Catching up with my brother

My brother, sister and I all grew up on Home Alone 1 &2, and I think Joseph had been planning on visiting the house where it was filmed for a very long time. Please don’t think this is a regular tourist attraction, it isn’t! It’s just someone’s house on a regular street in a sleepy (affluent) suburb of Chicago. It’s so far off of the beaten track that we had to take an hour and a half round trip just to get there. I have to say, I wasn’t to excited about going to the house, it was more about spending time with my brother, but when we got there I have to admit I was actually pretty excited. I’m sure Joseph’s next goal is: to someday buy the house and recreate the scene where Kevin sledges down the stairs.
"You've got till the count of ten, to get your ugly, yellow, no good keester off my property"

“You’ve got till the count of ten, to get your ugly, yellow, no good keester off my property”

Not only was I fortunate enough to rendezvous with my brother in Chicago, but as luck would have it, my cousin Amy-Jo was in town on business too. She was staying in a suite at the Waldorf-Astoria and had been kind enough to let us CouchSurf with her. Now I must admit we have stayed in some pretty incredible hotels on this trip (Super8, DaysInn, Motel6, look them up) but this was something else! I don’t need to go into too much detail because you’ll see it in Jacks video. Amy is always fun and interesting to be around (even when she’s jet lagged), so It was a shame I didn’t get to spend as much time with her as I’d liked, but she was there to work after all.
 
The next morning we said goodbye to Joseph and Emily as they headed off on their 3 week tour of route 66, and the plan for the rest of the day was for me to rest my completely battered feet. By this stage I already had a suspected stress fracture and strained tendons in the left foot, but later that afternoon I managed to break a toe on the other foot by kicking the marble shower!
 
We decided to make use of the hotels spa facilities and headed down there dressed in hotel robes

We decided to make use of the hotels spa facilities and headed down there dressed in hotel robes

As I was putting my stuff away in my locker, Jack appeared over my shoulder and hissed, “Channing Tatum is behind us”, and he was right! There he was, Mr Step-up himself. I headed off to the steam room and Channing decided to follow me. He noticed my accent and that I wasn’t local, then asked what I was doing in the states. After the usual question and answer session he seemed more interested than most people and confessed that he was currently reading a book about a guy doing exactly the same thing. He also said how he’d love to do it himself and asked how he could get I contact. We exchanged email addresses and he said that at the very least he wanted to let as many people know about our cause as possible; still no tweet Channing…
Still a long way to go

Still a long way to go

So that was that; after a weekend full of partying and meeting new people, catching up with family, then a few days relaxing in luxury it was time to head back out on the road (but still with two feet pretty much out of action).
 
 
This blog entry is massively abridged. There were a lot more sites that we saw, and more importantly there were a lot more people we met; i suppose that will all have to wait for the book.
 
 
Next time we: swap our feet for pedals, cross a state in 6 days, I finally get over my hatred of canals, and we reach the Mississippi .
 
 
Until then,
 
Kieran