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

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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.
limopic1
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

An unfortunate update

BREAKING NEWS: due to a terribly sad/inconvenient development, after completing the first third of the trip, we are no longer allowed to call ourselves the big old walk. I’m sure you’re aware of my ongoing foot trouble; with a broken toe in the right foot and strained tendons in the left its now pretty impossible to walk. For this reason we have switched to bikes for the remaining distance. I hope nobody feels cheated by this, and that you realize cycling 2000miles will take a lot of time, energy and willpower.
If you’re still interested, please keep following us on our journey.
Kieran

God, Guns, Feet, and Ferris Wheels

The last time we spoke, Jack told you how the next day was going to be tough, this time I’m going to tell you how it was because of me, and how much I regret pushing the two of us.

18 miles is a long way to walk. It’s a long way to walk for the majority of you reading (trust me, however far 18 miles is in your head, its further). It’s also a long way to walk for us, it just happens that we currently do that (and more) every day, and have done for the last 8 weeks; on this occasion 18 miles was probably 12 miles too far for our feet.

The night before, I swear to god GoogleMaps told me the journey was 14 miles; the next morning it had turned into 18. I don’t know how and I don’t know why it changed, but the fact was that there wasn’t going to be a chance to camp, eat, drink or refuel before those 18 miles. I decided it was best to keep this information from Jack and just press on with the day.

 

The classic American red barn

The classic American red barn

I’m not proud to say it, but I’m a pretty convincing liar. I’ve come a long way from eating some icing on a cake and just blaming it on my brother; these days id tell you that the heat given off by the lights above it caused the icing to evaporate. and you’d believe me. but it’s very difficult to convince someone who has just walked 6 miles that they have only walked 2. It’s even harder when you get onto a path that has signs indicating the miles to the next town. What I’m trying to say in an incredibly convoluted way, is that Jack was onto me. I think the knowledge that there was an Irish bar in the next town was the only thing that kept us going all day.

Getting into North Judson was a good feeling, getting into an Irish bar with the A/C on full blast was incredible.

As usual the bar lady recognised the accents, asked us where we were from and what we were doing, commented on how much I look like Ron Weasley, and then finally pulled us a pint. Now that we were in North Judson, we had to find somewhere to sleep. We’d been promised that there was a campsite in the town, there wasn’t. We’d been told we could camp in the town park, we couldn’t. Finding somewhere to sleep at night is the only thing that really stresses me out on this trip, and at that moment I was stressed.

It really was an exhausting day

It really was an exhausting day

We didn’t know it at the time, but the bar lady had disappeared to make a phone call to the bars owner, letting him know how and why we had found ourselves in his bar. A stress and Guinness filled hour later, in walked Mike Conlan who refilled our glasses, handed us a menu and told us everything was on the house. This is something I haven’t gotten used to and hope I never do. It’s probably a small thing for a business owner, but it absolutely makes our day.

Mike told us we were more than welcome to come and stay with either him or one of his neighbours, but that they all lived about 20 miles in the wrong direction. This was a tough offer to turn down, but it would mean retracing our steps, which neither of us fancied at that moment in time. As Jack and I looked at each other to try to mind-read the others decision, our phone started ringing and there was a picture of Diana Geisler. Jack took it outside, and when he returned he had the biggest smile on his face.

Diana had been in touch with someone she used to teach with; he lived in North Judson, was letting us stay at his house, and was on his way to pick us up.

I don’t believe in fate or coincidence, but Laura and Richard Strohl came into our lives at the right time, on the right day. Mike wished us well, we loaded our stuff into the car, and headed towards our temporary home.

The Strohl’s had been having a family reunion canoe trip that day, and as we pulled onto the property there were a lot of people getting out of a lot of cars. I panic in social situations; when I first meet someone I find it hard to remember their name because I’m so focused on getting my own right. When there is a crowd of people to meet all at once, I don’t even bother, I just give my name and ask them theirs again later, and I told them this upfront. It didn’t matter, everyone was so welcoming, offering us food or a beer, and luckily they all left fairly soon so I only had the four names to focus on.

Laura insisted we drank some water, had a shower and made ourselves comfortable. Straight away we both felt at home.

Apart from having raised three boys of their own, Laura and Richard have fostered almost 30 other children, and it really shows in how loving and welcoming they were to us from the minute we arrived. we sat around a bonfire in the garden and had the usual conversations about the walk, american politics, and the differences across the Atlantic.

The Strohl’s are members of a southern Baptist church in North Judson, and they had invited us to join them the next morning for sunday service. It was nice to sleep in a real bed that night, and even nicer to have a fan above my bed, keeping me cool. I woke up early to a strange voice; obviously this happens a lot when we’re sleeping in different beds each night, but this was a voice we hadn’t met the night before.

“He tried to run me off the road, Laura. but I wasn’t speeding up for him or nuthin’! ya know?”. This was the voice of the man, the legend: Uncle Jack. Laura’s uncle Jack to be specific. He had left his house (20 minutes away) two hours before, and only just made it to his destination. When I walked down stairs I was met with “I wasn’t keeping an eye out for the indian, so I missed the turn, and I just kept on going, yep”. Jack rides a moped to get himself from place to place, but had been having a bit of trouble remembering which turns to take, hence why the journey took him so long. Right from the crazy introduction, Jack (Chalkley) and I loved Jack Sr; everything the man was saying had us crying our eyes out. probably not the best man for us to sit beside in church though.

For the first 13 years of my life, I went to church every single sunday, but I have only been a handful of times since then. This service was like nothing I had ever seen before. Pastor Brian was so passionate in delivering his sermon! Members of the congregation sporadically got up and professed their love for the lord, and spoke about how instrumental he was in their lives. It amazes me the level of faith some people have; it was so interesting to experience it first hand, and delivered with such emotion. There were things Pastor Brian said that I did and didn’t agree with, but it was clear he was a man who gave himself completely to the lord. Richard and Laura introduced us to all of their friends in attendance; such lovely people, and one even offered us a place to stay in Denver; an offer we’ll definitely be chasing up. The rest of the day was spent chatting inside, escaping the heat, and the swarms of mosquitos surrounding the house.

I had a rough night and not only was I having difficulty walking but I woke the next morning feeling unable to stomach water, let alone walk all day in 100F heat. Jack and Laura decided for me that id be staying in bed all day while Jack walked as normal, with Richard offering to pick him up at the finish line and bring him back to the house.

When Jack did return, he was a wreck. The local news had a severe weather warning, suggesting people refrain from doing anything strenuous in the heat. Laura made another decision that we were both to rest , and to ride out the heat-wave with them; I was feeling a little better but was more than happy to oblige.

IMG_0271

Annie Oakley, eat your heart out

After another days rest, and a cooler evening ahead, Laura asked us if we’d like to go and take a look at the county fair. As you’ve seen, we get presented with a lot of invitations and opportunities, and unless they involve mint-shower gel we are usually more than happy to oblige.

Uncle Jack had returned and we were so happy he had agreed to come with us. Richard told us how he sometimes speaks about his love of Ferris wheels, but that he hasn’t been on one since he was a boy, and that the last time he was on one people were rocking it all over the place; we promised not to do the same. The fair was huge, and we were told that this was a very modestly sized one! There was a large fairground, an arena, a dressage/rodeo area for the horses, then a massive section full of all different kinds of (prize-winning) live stock. We wandered around eating funnel cake, listening to Jack (Sr)’s stories of growing up on a farm, rearing cattle and riding horses with no saddles.

Starke County fair

Starke County fair

Devastation struck when we got into the fairground just in time to see the guy closing up the Ferris wheel for the night. I tried to ask him if we had time for one more go but he just grunted and walked away. We carried on walking around the different rides without realising Richard had run off to convince the guy to turn it back on for one final ride.

We climbed aboard, with Laura gripping my arm and telling me just how much she loved theme park rides, but how afraid of heights and carnivals she was. Unfortunately for all of us Laura’s fear was realised that night when the ride broke just as we were about to get off. It’s never nice to see a guy walk away then break into a panicked run, but its even worse when he sprints back with ten other guys tasked with trying to get us down safely. Well clearly we did get down and walked away unharmed, but not before hearing one of them say “we’ve got to take this down for good, its fucked!”.

The last ever ride from the top of the Ferris wheel

The last ever ride from the top of the Ferris wheel

Richard and Jack Sr had disappeared to use the facilities, but through the darkness we could just about see them and hear their voices. The conversation we could hear and the sight that emerged showed us that, in his desperation, Uncle Jack had pissed on the side of a police car. “When you gotta go, you gotta go. ya know?”. We decided it might be time to head home.

Saying goodbye to Richard and Laura (sadly Jack had left before we woke) was one of the hardest of the trip so far. It’s difficult to say goodbye to everyone, but these two had been so loving; caring for me when I was sick, picking up Jack, taking us places, showing us things… I apologise if that sentence doesn’t make much sense, but I’ve deleted it and re-written it over and over. What I’m trying to say is that I genuinely love the pair of them, and I cant wait to (hopefully) see them again in a couple of weeks.

Gideon and Steph's ted

Gideon and Steph’s ted

Next Stop Chicago.

Kieran

Walking on Water

I will pick up from where Kieran left off. Diana had just dropped us off. We walked for the day, it was a relatively easy day’s walk. Whilst we were walking we had a call from Sara, a woman we met the day before (her father had the beautiful bar in his house) and she had a friend, Pat, who lived in Rochester who was happy to put us up. She lived right next to Lake Manitou. We were so thankful.

We gave Pat a call, and she was happy to come and pick us up, and said we were more than welcome to stay at hers. We met Pat a little while later and she drove us back to Rochester to her house. It was beautiful.

Kieran Writing on the deck at Pats

Kieran Writing on the deck at Pats

Her house sits right on the edge of the lake and the first thing she told us to do on a hot day like it was to jump straight into the lake. Of course I was a little worried about sharks, but I manned up and jumped in. It was the most refreshing thing imaginable (luckily the sharks weren’t biting either).

We swam around in the lake as Pat and her friend finished a mural in her hot tub room (that’s right a hot tub room!) I got brave and started diving and flipping into the water. It was exactly what we needed after a hard day’s walk. Kieran’s ankle started to play up a bit that day, so a good swim was what we thought might help put him back on the mend.

After an hour or so messing around in the water, Pat and her neighbor came and had a chat with us about what we are doing, such lovely people. Pat then asked us what we wanted for dinner. Kieran and I are easy going with food, we will eat anything so said it was up to Pat. While she cooked she told us we could go out in the kayaks.

Team GB

Team GB

We paddled into the lake, down one of the estuaries, through high reeds and huge lily pads. It was a great experience, and so peaceful.

We rowed around for an hour or so before we headed back to Pat’s. Kieran was limping at this point, and it seemed his foot was just getting stiffer and stiffer, and my feet were covered in blisters, something only time and good care could solve.

We sat down to eat, and chatted about our lives with Pat. She told us how seeing us jumping into the lake, laughing and having fun reminded her of when her kids where younger, doing the same thing. It must have been such a lovely place to grow up, and we were happy that Pat was getting something back from having us there.

We discussed our injuries at the table, and spoke about how we walked through western Pennsylvania and Ohio Kieran’s other ankle was playing up, and now it’s his left one. Pat said that if we didn’t feel any better we were more than welcome to stay another day.

Before we went to bed Pat took us round the lake on her boat as the sun went down. It was such an amazing place; it would be like living at a beautiful holiday home all year round. We went all the way around the lake. There were so many different types of houses scattered around the edge of the lake, including one that was built on a small island, that turned out to be for sale (Mum…please?).

Sunset at Lake Manitou.

Sunset at Lake Manitou.

We pulled back up to the house and we were both bushed; we went straight to bed and as soon as our heads hit the pillow we were asleep. We woke up feeling refreshed, but unfortunately Kieran’s foot was still strained. I went down stairs to chat with Pat while Kieran tried to stretch it out and get ready for walking.

I told Pat that if she didn’t mind, we would stay for the day. Kieran wanted to try and walk, but knowing what happened while he tried to walk through it in Western Pennsylvania, I thought it a good idea to take the day to rest.

Pat made us a lovely pancake and bacon breakfast; she told us how she had guests coming the next day and needed to tidy the house. So Kieran and I decided to take it upon ourselves to help. We swept and mopped the entire house (it was the least we could do to repay her for her amazing hospitality).

Once the chores were done, we went back out onto the lake in the kayaks, we rowed back to the same area we went to the day before and just relaxed. As we sat there a storm began to surround us. It closed in on us from all sides, so we paddled back to Pat’s as quick as we could. We thought being out during a storm with metal poles in our hands was probably not the best idea, plus I have heard the sharks become a bit more bite-y during storms!

We got back to Pat’s just in time, the heavens opened as we pulled the kayaks back onto dry land. We sat inside and Pat set up a game of Rumikub. Now, neither of us has ever played this game, and I don’t know about Kieran, but I was not particularly looking forward to it. Well I was wrong; I’m a big fan of the board game Risk – me and my mates would spend many a night round a big map of the earth battling it out for world domination. Well not any more, Rumikub is the one from now on! Great game, especially with the great company, I won the first game, and Pat won the following two. That’s right, Kieran didn’t win any……..not one.

Any who… Once the weather cleared Pat asked if we fancied going out on the speed boat, we could have a go at water skiing or wake boarding. Kieran unfortunately thought it wise to miss out, because of his ankle. I couldn’t believe my luck; I snowboard, so I thought wake boarding must be quite similar.

Such a professional.

Such a professional.

Pat water skied herself but it was one of her sons and her daughter that wake boarded so she could only offer a few tips. She did say to be prepared to land on your face a while before you manage to get up. She wasn’t wrong.

Poor Kieran and Pat were so patient with me; I got dragged quite a distance before I managed to finally get up. I remember the boat pulling off, I had to remember everything I had learnt from falling 10 times before: keep my knees bent, lean forward until I had been pulled up, then push my weight on the back foot. Somehow it all went to plan, I was up and getting pulled along. I couldn’t believe it, it was working, I was so shocked I let go of the rope and cheered, Idiot. I could have carried on going, but in my surprise all I could do was throw my hands up and scream.

Well, safe to say I had another go and…fell flat on my face. One more go I said to Pat, one more go, she was more than happy to oblige. On my last go I got it, I got up on the board, travelled a while before I thought I would try a jump on the wake of the boat, I managed to turn in, I pushed my weight down ready to try and take off, and I fell, face first into the water. That was the most fun I have had, it was amazing. Thank you for that opportunity, Pat.

We went back to the house, ate dinner and chatted a bit more. We then sat down to watch a film, Crazy, Stupid Love. I told Pat how my girlfriend loved Ryan Gosling, she disagreed, until the point he took his t-shirt off, and then we all agreed, we probably would.

We slept well again that night, and got up early to walk on to Bruce Lake, 18 miles from Pat’s place. We were both unhappy to leave Pat’s, she became another member of our American family. We have met so many amazing people along our travels so far, everyone from our family in New Jersey to Sara who we spent all together maybe 2 hours with, but nonetheless we will remember her forever. Everyone has helped us get as far as we have, and without all this help we would have gone home a long time ago.

We said goodbye to Pat and walked on. That day was hard. Like most days the morning starts off nicely, we chat about how the last 48 hours has turned out, we discuss the other highlights of the trip, and just have a laugh. Kieran’s ankle was still playing up, but he wanted to try and push through it.

We stopped for lunch that day like we usually do, around 1, before the heat of the day hits its peak, we then rest for a few hours, until the day cools. We usually get a bit fidgety around 3 and then crack on.

My little toes then began to start to give me grief, I had a serious limp and we both put our headphones on to distract us and tried to pick up the pace to get to our camp site as quick as possible.

Children of the corn

Children of the corn

Kieran marched on as I moaned about my feet. We then saw the lake and the camp site was ahead of us. We walked around the site, trying to find someone to ask if we could put up out tent. I saw a guy in baggy jeans and a white wife beater approach. Turned out he was the owner’s brother; the owner was out of town for the next 40 minutes. He told us it would be $20 dollars and we could camp on the grass area outside the front, normally they don’t let people camp in tents, but because of what we were doing they would help.

We sat down on a bench and made our dinner, boil in the bag rice with Campbell’s jerk chicken soup. Lovely. We were both so tired at this point, neither of us where looking forward to a night in a hot sweaty tent. As Kieran showered I started to put up our small two man tent, and the owner returned. He came over to me, and we chatted about why we were walking across the country. He very kindly said “Well it’s too hot to sleep in a tent, we have a few cabins free, why don’t you sleep in one of them, free of charge.” AMAZING.

We had a little cabin, with full working kitchen, a small TV and, wait for it… Air Conditioning. We sat down and watch something my dad would be proud of, Jason and the Argonauts. We both fixed our blisters, popping them (yummy) and covering them with alcohol, and wrapping them with moleskin.

We rested that night, and got up early. The next day we were heading for Tippecanoe River State forest. There was a camp site there and we left early to beat the heat of the day.

The sun was really beating down on us that day, we stopped as usual around 1 for lunch, and we sat and rested for a few hours. We had put a good shift in the morning so we only had 4 miles to do that afternoon. We trekked on and reached the campsite before 5.

They told us is was $25 to pitch a tent, but the prospect of staying in the tent with the heat was not good so we asked if they had any cabins available, which unfortunately they didn’t, luckily one of the kind ladies behind the desk told us she was trying to sell her trailer, but for $20 we could stay there, it had air con so we were sorted.

Our feet were on fire, the blisters we had patched up the night before had gotten worse, so we spent the rest of the day off our feet, and went to work on them with a scalpel, more alcohol and some moleskin.

The next day we planned to walk just 18 miles to North Judson, but our feet were a mess and Kieran’s ankle was just getting worse. We tried our best to rest well, because the next day was going to be a hard one.

Our motivation on a day-to-day basis is the money that has been raised so far (thank you), but without all the help from Pat and the other amazing people who have helped us along our way we would be nowhere.

At the moment we are staying with Laura and Richard Strohl (their story will be in the next blog) and they are just one of a long list of people who have helped us get this far. We would still be way back in Pennsylvania or worse: home, if it wasn’t for them. We are doing all the walking, but having these people to help us at the end of a long day is priceless.

So please keep spreading the word, keep telling your friends, and if you haven’t already, please donate HERE.

Cheers

Jack