You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow, by evading it today. Abraham Lincoln

Following the rather long explanation of my decision to adventure 4000miles (but ending up travelling over 20,000) across the USA, with only $6 a day to spend for six months, with a multitude of natural checkpoints to see; here is an American take-out to chew through.

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Admittedly, I’m saving some of the more politically-positive items for the last instalment following this one, but bearing in mind that because this was my life for seventeen months with far too much to commentate on for a quick bath time read, I have focused on just a few of the social and environmental learnings (and mostly negatives) from my shenanigans in the USA. Here’s a list…something I made quite a few of before I began (colour coded and everything), but thankfully, apart from my blog notes, only had to make a few mental ones while I was on the move..

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AMERICANS ARE SUCKERS FOR BRITISH ACCENT.
It’s no secret, and I am completely aware that being British and Caucasian helped many interactions get off to a positive start. Race and religious culture are very mingled aspects of American society, and outside of big cities, it is noticeably divided. In my experience, unlike the impressions we get from media and pop-culture, the USA is not as integrated as the rest of the world is led to believe, and sadly, as I was leaving, the recent (race-related) killings at the hands of the police is more evidence of a desperately split nation with some serious social problems.
I did not come across violent or direct racism in the USA, but I do feel aware that it is easy for me to say that, being Caucasian with a British accent. I felt a certain “safe” acceptability amongst American society which may not have been so easy for someone from let’s say, any other non-English speaking, culturally or racially different background. However, even though there seemed very little integration in rural, northern USA, there was obvious discrimination and segregation across the country. I am not painting all sections of society with the same brush, but through no fault of their own, inner-city Americans (and city dwellers in general, with possible culturally-bias law enforcement), are much more effected by racial issues than any other bucolic American I came across – simply because the concentration of diverse race, culture and wealth is saturated in an extreme environment. Sadly, it is easy to be accepting of varying social issues when you lack exposure to them. However, on the contrary, it is hard to truly respect, celebrate and integrate social differences when people who lack exposure to them, receive embellished and racially-bias “truths”. Being Caucasian, with an English accent, was a helpful start.

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AMERICANS ARE EMBARRASSED.
ALL Americans find something (and much) about their own projected culture unappealing. Despite America being loved worldwide in some way or another due to pop culture, music, fashion, sport, even food (there I said it, not all american food is appalling), within its borders I found people and places that are just as uneducated, or blind and confused in their pride and patriotism, as they are disheartened with their own politically-offensive and convoluted, globally-projected culture.
Some food may be incredible, but no amount of persuasive ear-lobbying could convince me that Americans make decent cheese!
Many are patriotic towards international dominance, yet at the same time are disheartened with the amount the nation spends on its armed forces, its foreign wars and its federal leadership (it is proportionately outrageous when so many domestic amenities and social issues need some careful, federally-uninfluenced financing and support). It’s frustrating that so many struggle in society without being aware of what exactly they support to represent their political opinions.

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Domestically, there is little evidence of this, but travelling Americans are embarrassed over its indulgence and extravagance, and most places I visited, even remote towns, show no remorse towards excessive use of space – with people living in gigantic houses, driving gas-guzzling trucks and oversized recreational vehicles, with double garages, large yards and spacious basements, but in everywhere, there are always numerous storage companies just down the street – I was baffled (and still am) by what Americans need storage units for. I witnessed only a few pockets of American society living in ways which (compared to Europeans, Asians, Africans, South Americans and most of Oceania – that’s everywhere else in the world then) are living frugally, in conservative spaces. However, space and opportunity (and immigrants) are what America was built upon – Naturally, those opportunistic days are numbered, but it will take generations to change the assumption of entitlement.
American positivity however, is quite contagious, and even though I struggled at times to really throw my arms in the air, do a little dance and tell everyone I loved them because a cheerleader encouraged me to, it is by far much more enjoyable to interact with than an arrogant European or an emotionless Brit (I guess we have a drinking reputation for a reason).
For all it’s achievements, grasping and celebrating what its people should really be proud of doesn’t appear to be the USA’s strength, and as over-patriotic as it is, it isn’t served up without a large side of healthy humility.

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THE COUNTRY IS TOO LARGE, WITH A GOVERNMENT THAT IS TOO BIG; DRIVING AN ALREADY DIVIDED POPULATION FURTHER APART.
Having centralised power over too many and too much, has been the downfall of every empire in the history of the world. We need to start learning that because of the way humans have encompassed the globe with our differing requirements and multi-cultures – diversity and micro-culture is best. Sometimes cultures and lifestyles will surge and fade, even become extinct as people migrate towards a preferred lifestyle; but bigger, “world” domination, has never been sustainable, and this needs to be realised in countries like the USA.
Even small countries like the UK would benefit from more localised law. Despite its tiny size, it struggles with innercity politics which don’t transfer well to rural locations. The USA could easily be five or six different countries – all at least triple the land-size of the UK, all with completely different landscapes – geographically, socially and politically. Through historical immigration development, foreign trade and with an increase in wealth, education and class diversity, the USA now has a multi-culturally influenced nation, which one US government will NEVER unite. Laws on guns, abortion, benefits, medically or socially acceptable drugs, religion, and healthcare, will ALWAYS be disagreed upon in a nation so big with so much cultural and social diversity. While a growing government tries to FIX (and additionally to always BENEFIT) from any unifying laws, the entire country will remain arrogantly divided. To compound the issue, as population grows and appropriate living space for people decreases, a divided USA will only split further.
I felt that instead of embracing their differences and allowing a diverse nation to unite by celebrating, embracing and educating through its many cultures, (as well as in many other countries) the federal system is increasing the gap between desperate sections of society; alienating the public not only from leadership, but also from each other. This observation alone is enough to be concerned for such an important and vibrant country.

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EMPOWERED ORGANISATIONS ARE NOT TRUSTED.
Like so many developed countries, the political system, the media in the USA and the majority of its leaders continue to inform us that the world is a dangerous place. The American propaganda machine also compounds the problem by making the “world” as big or as important only up to its country’s borders, or where its forces are “protecting its people”. Beyond its borders is portrayed to be a deep abyss, filled with fear and treachery. We are told we should not trust to be safe without lawful protocols, which often strip us of using our common sense. Safety is advertised ultimately as being a sacrifice and an expense, rather than a respected human obligation, and unless we take huge precautions to create failsafes for ourselves, trusting what is beyond our own passport controlled boundary, is not wise.
To be frank, and also remaining BBC friendly, cods wallop! To be totally American about the whole thing – I’m calling BS on the whole thing! The media and the leaders of the developed world are lying. The biggest threat to you in this world is not what is beyond your front door – it is YOU. Assuming that the worst case scenario is “you die”; planning and making good, instinctive decisions – whether it is knowing how to or when to start a fire and build a shelter on the side of mountain, when not to walk through a snake-infested sugar cane plantation without shoes, where not to be after dark in a distinctly-notorious gun crime district, or when not to trespass 400ft away from a farm house on all fours dressed as a fox; the likelihood of death is unlikely, and the world is NOT a dangerous place (excluding war zones, but not all war-riddled nations). The majority of people DO NOT want to harm other humans, no matter what their culture, religion or race (unless when parachuting into a war zone). Even just through sheer curiosity, in desperate situations, when manners are upheld, more so in rural locations and despite what the media may suggest, people help, rather than hinder. If you find your life is being threatened (especially in enemy territory), I am certain that you made a decision to put yourself at risk. I make life threatening decisions every day; I cross the road for example, but intelligence (not a government man, back-lit by a green neon light) tells me when I should cross the road. I put myself in harms way when I hiked through freezing bear territory, alone, without bear spray, in late April/early May in uncertain woodlands in various north American wilderness, but I made smart decisions, and took a repertoire of terrible tunes with me to sing myself to safety (evidently, bears don’t like my Spandau Ballet renditions). I fear many people have forgotten what it’s like to trust their intelligence, over entertainment-news and media. I realise this summary isn’t too helpful for the armed forces – the world for you, is a very dangerous place, but even thousands of miles from your “safe home”, (and I’m not solely basing my experiences on trekking across the USA), if you make smart decisions, it is unlikely you will die.

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I AM NOT A STAUNCH ENVIRONMENTALIST.
Humans have evolved in ways beyond nature, in ways which have allowed us to imagine our wild as a commodity, rather than a necessity. We adapt and evolve faster than any other life on earth: change and “progression” will always be imminent, and sadly, we now neglect our most vital resources and no longer relate our survival to our environment. Our singular, most influential invention of all is money, which has split the majority of developed society away from our resources (not just wild ones), and repeatedly divided humanity itself. Money is not the root of all evil, but sadly in hindsight, the wild is now something we can trade in, and the only way we can conserve it, is by purchasing it.
Despite what you might assume – raising money for World Land Trust – fighting to save every area of currently-wild land is a pointless task, but it is one starting point. If we continue to fight for conservation in the same, “anti-capitalist” way, we will lose – resulting in the desperately-receding areas which remain, to be purchased by someone richer.

CONSERVATION IS NOW A LUXURY OF THE RICH.
In the developed world, for roughly the past 400 years, we have been oblivious to conservation (imagine Britain a thousand years ago, or the USA 200 years ago), we simply had “endless” resources for our populations. On most continents, before the industrial revolution, human approach towards conservation was a lifestyle-necessity (imagine Australia 300+ years ago). Now we understand our actions, and our resources, noticeably in the USA have (almost) run dry.
Sadly, the vast majority of us have now put nature below what we value most – money. We compound this problem by exceeding our immediate greed, and using wealth to continue to pillage and capitalise on natural resources (because we need instant gratification in this modern world), instead of sourcing better, long term solutions.

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Capitalising on natural, renewable resources is a positive step; we’ve just been slow on the uptake… Only money drives modern, immediate, human “progression”, but most environmentalist organisations, compared to their opposition, lack enough financial wealth to be influential. Too much money is spent capitalising on draining and squeezing the remaining resources to their absolute end: To choose just a couple of examples, we already know that fracking causes earthquakes, and deforestation destroys an unfathomable quantity of vital habitat as well as possible future human resource (medicines for disease maybe?). Approaches to human progression need to change, and alternative sources of wealth are the only prescriptions that will satisfy capitalisation which continues to profit from active habitat, including our own.
Due to our human development, we now have only three, relatively weak weapons to defend our wild resources with 1) Money: sadly, it is the best argument against money 2) Wealth: the poor must be able to afford conservation, in order to be concerned about it and 3) “Progressive” Alternatives: sadly, (and as much as I disagree with survival methods being overly profitable) in order to fight as well as satisfy capitalisation, alternative solutions need to be profitable.

DIVIDED WEALTH FAILS “TRUE PROGRESSION”.
Against what I might write about later, dividing current wealth in order to fight FOR “progression”, is failing our resources. Numerous organisations with similar objectives, but with divided opinion on how to achieve, are not combatting the wealthy regimes which ignore conservation and replenishment in order to quickly line their pockets. In the USA, federal funds and resources “protect” some of the country’s most desirable wild landmarks (at the same time as running them as self-sustaining fundraisers, and funnelling funds into further oil extraction, fracking and mining) yet it’s notable that the landmarks are void of profitable excavation or farming. In fact many of them were either previously, failed profiteering attempts, or are currently under threat at becoming federal money machines (check Californian national parks to be devastated and turned into more damned reservoirs). Nature has to fight, and fighting alone in the wild is often fatal. Ant colonies thrive by fighting in numbers, dogs hunt together to avoid injury from big prey, elephants stay in a herd to protect their young, penguins cuddle together to survive their one biggest threat – the Antarctic weather…you get the picture. Although we hear of many success stories of revitalised habitat and wildlife populations across the world each year; individual environmental organisations lose their fight because their monetary weapon is weak and dissected, compared to their wealthy, “progressive”, profitable, persuasive and drastically-powerful opposition.

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WE FAIL TO REPLENISH.
Each group fighting over valuable resource (those to conserve and those to capitalise) lack empathy towards what is most important – long term, responsible “progression”, with the importance of replenishment at the forefront of every obligation. Sadly, “long term” nowadays is related to financial gain, and this only stretches to a few years (the time one government lasts in power), or maximally a few generations – for family wealth and a responsibility towards loved ones. With the planet in mind (and our home), long term needs to be thought of in terms of how long it takes a tree to mature, a resource to replenish, an ecosystem to develop or a landscape to be formed. We fail to replenish, because we don’t look beyond our immediate existence. In the developed world, especially America, indulgence and privilege are taken for granted, and when we capitalise for immediate gratification, replenishment solutions are ignored. It isn’t rocket science, replenishment now costs money, and therefore a luxury of the rich..

THERE ARE TOO MANY HUMANS
Even in the USA, which is by far not the most populated area on earth, it is easy to see over population not only ruin landscape, but effect our own saturated lifestyles. Our natural world is not the victim of resource usage, but lack of sustainable replenishment in line with a responsible approach to a managed population. This is a complicated issue combining birth-rates, food and raw materials, medicines and lifestyles, as well as human rights and our approach to death and longevity. It is one which I believe is overlooked when countries make environmental agreements, and discuss resource concerns – assuming, because it would be virtually impossible to approach the topic with any kind of overall political success. We have reached a critical point where population growth is NOT conducive to human progression – and it is why I keep using bunny ears around “progression”. It is sadly, solely a monetary benefit to institutions which thrive on growing human numbers. Keeping in line with our natural resources, the ONLY responsible “progression” (if our sole concern was our environment and home), would be to decelerate human birth rates, and lose substantial human population in many parts of the world. Clearly, not a vote winner, or a money-maker. Sadly, it is the true state of our existence, and we have not only intensely populated too many fruitful positions on the globe, but almost completely stripped it of its natural, (too-slow-to-keep-up-with-human-consumption) resources.

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Eventually, we will have no choice to but to survive on natures terms, and just to be sinister – I doubt we will have a happy ending. Much like the dinosaurs and most marriages nowadays, things will end badly. If things didn’t end badly, they would not end at all.

WE’RE TOO ARROGANT TO ADAPT
I wont make a sweeping statement that Americans are arrogant – in my experience, every culture is guilty, but resistance to lifestyle adaptation or removing an excess is extremely evident in many places in the USA. Even though we could be extinct in the time it takes a few foreign builders to finish the extension on your conservatory (let’s say, if Yellowstone erupts), humanity has reached a point where only extreme shock will force a lifestyle change. It is now naive to expect huge alteration, prior to huge catastrophe or incident – not even loss of money nowadays changes our approach to lifestyle – has anything actually changed much since the most recent failures of 2008?

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The USA has numerous examples annually (and they are not the only idiots), where continuous building occurs poorly on flood plains, over fault lines and in the path of known hurricanes. We repeatedly attempt to overcome our environment as a way of “progressing” and populating, instead of understanding, harnessing and respecting it. As a result, we are devastated repeatedly when natural forces occur, and until our “progression”, natural disasters were only occurrences, where humans did not dwell. We don’t appear to be getting any less arrogant, as we “adapt” and grow into a population that seemingly is all supportive of “accidental” suicide. Might it be a step too far to suggest we are in fact controlling our population (to a point) by continuing to be so wonderfully arrogant?

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THE USA IS TRYING…AND SLUGS ARE BEGINNING TO WALK
Sadly in the USA, many restrictions are in place on alternative solutions, to make sure government coffers are fuelled continually – check the influence of Monsanto and other giant food operators on an industry so federally controlled, or America’s domestic trade and employment laws across internal state lines. Multiple countries should be able to combine efforts to reach economical and efficient solutions, but as resource and energy are treated as such capitalist ventures, we’re missing the global humanity issue of our species’ survival and the neighbours we need. However, if we really do follow nature’s laws, maybe some people in the world should wake up to their fate? The biggest failure of leadership, is that it now comes with a self-profiting clause, and this is most evident in developed nations around the globe where police forces have been moulded into money makers. If that profiting clause is not met, attempts to work domestically and with foreign powers on “progressive” issues, ultimately never reach the discussion room. Instead of empowering our neighbours to survive together, we attempt to outstrip, and out source in order to be wealthier and stronger, yet ultimately failing humanity.
The Land of the Free is still like no other place on earth. It is varied in every aspect of life. It is a country built on damaged heritage and “progressive” foreign culture, and even though many get on their high horse about racial, cultural and environmental issues, it still manages to be a world leader and powerhouse in nearly all of its endeavours around the globe. Of course it is flawed – it has humans on it.

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I won’t make a ludicrous claim to be able to fix the issues, nor represent any political activism against arguably different working-solutions. Fortunately, alternative solutions come in many forms, and as an entire species, we are slowly realising this. The USA is making some progress, although it will take generations to change a mindset, and there is no room for arrogance in Mother Nature’s house (with maybe the exception of honey badgers, but they have no friends).

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It is mind blowing just what the USA both consumes and wastes. However, clear attempts to move with the environmental times are consistently being made in North America. Wind farms, solar farms, environmental agreements with foreign nations and noticeably-holistic, sustainable, community obligations are completely obvious if you check local media, or better still, lose yourself in this wonderfully-compiled country. Attempts by the USA’s big government are often short of what is required for long term progression, yet if we consider that alternatives are not currently profitable enough, it isn’t surprising that the capitalising nation is a bit of a slug. Of course it receives bad press on the subject, but in the developed world, by its own design, the USA is under the media-microscope more than the rest. With no exceptions, we ALL have a infinitely long way to go, and I hope wealthy countries like the USA can make the biggest steps first, but also make it easier for everyone else to board the train, without profiteering – humanity requires it.

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I feel there will a critical moment, (where the USA geographically or territorially will dramatically change over the next century) and even though it is a distinct possibility that Americans might just have to live without orange juice, hard woods and beer, with increased relative-impoverishment, the people of North America will not lose out.

I said I wouldn’t make ludicrous claims to be able to fix problems, but there might be a few more positive notes and ideas in my final summary. Despite the issues listed in this text, and all the others projected by global media, the USA is still one of the most uniquely amazing and spectacular countries on earth – with infinite possibilities of being able to offer them for the good of mankind.

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Choose Life

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Seventeen months ago, I was sat in a café not far from Waterloo tube station in London, with the noise and hustle which had become so familiar. It had been home for almost seven years – a place where, since I was maybe ten years old, I felt like I had never found. It was familiar and easy to navigate, it wasn’t difficult for me to meet new people, or enjoy everything that one of the most desirable and eclectic cities on earth has to offer. My friend asked me where I wanted to be in five years time, and even though my environment felt so overwhelmingly like home, my answer was instant – “Not in London”.

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I don’t know what the term is for being both impulsive and organised, but immediately after finishing my tea and cake (I’m British and it was 3pm), on the double-decker red bus home, I brainstormed all the places I would rather be or had yet to explore, and how quickly I could leave the big smoke.

As spontaneous as I might seem, I do attempt to avoid stupidity. However when pondering possible alternative lifestyles on a tight budget and time frame, speed of thought often results in some rather extreme possibilities. Considering everything vital in order to alter my life, including having no fixed or permanent address, no wife or children (that I know of), and no criminal record keeping me in the country, I thought it would be relatively simple. I then considered my negative financial situation, which isn’t too hard to imagine – I was tied to a job in order to pay bills, bills that kept me in a month to month cycle with almost no surplus cash. I didn’t dislike my job, yet like most wage-slaves, I wasn’t exactly fist pumping the sky or slapping my thighs over my daily accomplishments. Apart from moving debts around, I also wasn’t positively contributing to any desired, future lifestyle. Realising that I was still hungry on the bus, I noted that I was in a vicious circle of British life: work, bills, debt, tea and cake; I threw whiskey on the list just for good measure, but as I hopped off the number 176, I knew that if I wanted a different result in life, I needed to change what I was doing, and relatively quickly.

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After one night of considering a life changing event (impulsive and organised enough?), I made a decision. A culmination of work, sacrifice and determination followed, and it took me nine months to purchase the gear I needed, to pay for flights and insurance, apply and wait for a visa, to tie up all loose ends, and to raise as much extra money as I could (I estimated £2000) to pay for all my essentials while I would be away (tea, cake, etc). I gave up drinking and eating out, I cancelled my gym membership, I changed all my monthly payment tariffs as much as possible, cashed in all my grocery points, and sold as many surplus belongings as I could. I cooked all my lunches for the week every Sunday, budgeted for a train ride to visit family at Christmas, and would walk with a backpack, the six miles home from work every weekday for the next nine months to save money, and get fit. I had every penny on a colour coded spread sheet – I was that guy!

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I told people of my idea, but it wasn’t until I booked my flights (6months after I began, and three months prior to leaving), that family and friends realised that I was actually going to leave, and explore the USA. Initially I was going to walk across the continent, but quickly realised that I would miss out on all the things that I wanted to see and experience in the time frame that my visa would allow. My hair brain idea was to travel across the USA any way I could from East coast to West, via a dozen desired checkpoints – all of which were natural places of interest – I had no vehicle, and only $6 a day, for six months.

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Around the same time that my friend asked of my future, I was also asked if I fancied slipping in an application to run the London marathon for charity. There is more chance of me giving birth, than ever running a marathon.

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However, to avoid having a lazy reputation, and fantasising that I could do something worthy, I decided that I should do something for a good cause, and that my adventure wouldn’t solely be a selfish quest. The World Land Trust were the only charity out of the five to actually respond personally, acknowledging what I had written and appeared fully supportive of my hair brain idea. I felt like I was communicating and receiving responses from real people, not just an automated organisation that simply wanted me to deposit funds into their account. Sir David Attenborough says that the World Land Trust has more effect on the wild world than anything else he can think of, and a statement like that from Sir Dave is something I can get behind. Although we have never met, in my mind he is the man who through both reputation and accomplishment, is more respected and admired as an ambassador for nature – and has done more to bring the wild world into peoples homes – than anyone else in broadcasting history. If he says an orang-utan is pronounced Ooo-rung-ootan, I listen! It was an easy decision to raise funds for World Land Trust in order to conserve natural habitat and protect incredible wildlife. I know that in their continued, successful quest to purchase vital habit, their work will conserve and replenish many of the wild things I am so fond, as well as be an appreciated part of many people’s education. On a more vital level however, the work they do responsibly addresses our long term obligation towards habitats and environments that we vitally need as humans. They address commitments with sound, financial backing, and their spending can be accurately pinpointed to each important location and individual project – something many larger organisations fail to do. In summary, they are doing good work, but with all my points considered (detailed in my next two updates), they cannot succeed alone. Of all current concerns in the world and in my heart, conserving and replenishing our natural planet is one of the most vital. How we do it, is up for debate…

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I realise my introduction is a long one, and you may want to grab a cup of tea (and cake) for these last three updates, but rambling on for the last six months across North America, has pretty much been my life (and gratefully, helped raise a considerable amount of money for WLT).

I have now finished my journey, and summarising my entire challenge into a few sentences feels like I am cheaply concluding my endless list of experiences, my wild and social encounters, my survival techniques (I’m alive, so I guess I did something right), my successful and failed streetwise decisions, my questionable photography and journalism, and all the emotions I have felt through each new shenanigan. However (and bare in mind that my blog and videos are much more detailed) as cheap summaries go…

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The last six months have been an education in all things American: its geography, its bio-diversity, society, religions, politics, poverty and wealth, race-culture, immigration, media influence, historical bias, modern propaganda, its schooling, its big government “leadership”, its lawful disfunction across internal state-lines, its many frustrating traffic laws which defy (in my British opinion) common sense, its relentless (and often blind) pride and patriotism, its eager, yet sometimes unfortunate, money-driven and profit-obligated environmental pursuits, its (often noticeable lack of) successful human-integration and diversity, its food and drink, its places where tourists (and Americans) simply do not go, its weather, its accents and dialects, and on many occasions, its world class beer (for some reason, being a British chap means shouldering a reputation of being a big drinker, and therefore being handed many free, outstandingly-good beers), its incredible wildlife, its endless landscape, and so, so much more.

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I experienced all seasons, all weather conditions, all terrains and ecosystems; small, rural towns and some big city lights, sleeping spots of all temperatures, altitudes, and (dis)comfort levels; I had all sorts of wildlife encounters such as sharing a snowy, remote lunch spot with some grumbling bears, an evening sunset on the beach with rutting elk, being woken by a hoard of sinister coyotes, challenging an army of ninja ground squirrels to a game chicken, being stalked and sized up for dinner by more than one pair of bald eagles, watching a mother whale guide her cheeky child around a rocky, wet playground, catching a moose cooling his toes while having an afternoon paddle, being an evening feast on more than a few occasions for all the mosquitos that think my blood is simply the best thing since sliced bread (my blood/poison ratio must mean I’m part insect by now), and not forgetting every, single, disgruntled or overly-cuddly pet which I was woken by when staying with hospitable couch-lenders (I think I met only one American who did not own a pet, and stayed with dozens).

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I met a range of personalities from different walks of life, various races, ages, sexes, dietary specific people, people who never seemed to know, or care what the speed limit is, ladies with voices that do nothing but damage your ear-drums, drug addicts, homeless, millionaires, politicians, teachers, scientists, trauma counsellors, economists, fellow Europeans, and grown Americans who’s idea of “world history” doesn’t seem to stretch beyond the geographical borders of North America. I also met a recent state governor/presidential candidate, and a Super Bowl winner. I was taken to see Les Miserables at the theatre, dragged to some questionable comedy, I experienced my first Roller Derby, visited NASA’s mission control, fluttered like a moth towards the bright lights through Vegas (even on my budget), caught a few snakes enjoying some “sexy time” in the sunshine, had my mind blown in a planetarium, had a tree named after me, caught my humble self in a couple of newspapers….I could go on. I encountered all kinds of wonderful, as well as questionable hospitality – some on student floors, some eerily in a haunted house, some with ice-bergs floating past the window, some pragmatically on wheels, some with a ticket to see Lionel Richie in concert and many with a request to teach them some traditional British cooking – all genuine, all heartfelt, all welcome – always at just the right time.

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Ultimately, it has been a humbling experience, along with confirmation that humanity absolutely exists in a country which persistently in our media, receives bad and often embarrassing press. No matter where I found myself in the USA, generosity and spirit, kindness and (possibly sometimes) pity or empathy, were dished up in the same, over-sized, belly-busting portions that they embrace so unashamedly in their restaurants. Whether it be a mountain, a side portion of fries, a recreational vehicle, or an expressive welcome which consistently came with a beer thrust into my hand, Americans do it large. Although failing to come to terms with the notion of “bigger is better”, when it comes to hospitality, which so many people insisted I would struggle to find in the USA (as well as ask me if I was going to carry a gun for safety!), there was generosity and a smile everywhere I visited (granted, I avoided cities). With friendliness in mind, aside from their border control and the very current, unlawful proportion of the country’s 5-0, I feel the USA is sadly misunderstood.

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So what did I pick up for my big American Take-Away, and am I leaving on a jet plane, knowing I’ll be back again?
It has been my astonishing and privileged life for the last seventeen months, with no promise of what is happening afterwards, and bearing in mind I could bore you with everything in my blog, my diary, my mind and more; in my next two instalments, I will try to concentrate on, and summarise just a few political, environmental, and personal learnings from my journey, as well as a few tit bits of adventurous positivity and future lifestyle focuses…

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The End (almost)

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I hooked back up with the holidaying Swiss chaps to experience one, last, natural American beauty. A long, flat drive, through pine forest and not much else, is the approach to a volcano in south of Oregon. Crater Lake is the deepest, and bluest lake in the United States, and as with most things I hear on film reels, advertisement boards or from the majority of American lips, when information is regurgitate from cabaret-style propaganda news or signposts, I am reluctantly sceptical. It’s a shame that I often feel like I’m being slipped a few bent truths when I visit some of America’s wonders, but I’ve learnt that when anyone in the US says “the world”, or even when it appears on the front of magazines or an advertisement outside a shop front, it often doesn’t apply to anywhere beyond its borders, and the same goes for when people, or even signs that say, the biggest, the best…the deepest, or the bluest.
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Crater Lake is nothing short of spectacular. From on top of Mount Garfield (not exactly a mountain – it’s a rocky peak on the south rim of the volcano), the views are completely breathtaking. The few miles to hike straight up the side of the old lava-spitter are steep and intense, but us European striders have nailed our pace by now and we are up to the top in less than thirty minutes. Crater Lake truly is the bluest lake in the United States (that I have seen), it’s also the deepest, and intensely mesmerising. Without attempting to sound morbid (it’s nothing new to swim in volcano-heated water, and much like Mount Etna in Sicily) it really would be an impressive transformation if the spectacle was to come back to life, and I can’t help but imagine some explosive magnificence, or at least the water being warmer!
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It was so enjoyable to be able to share my last national park with Urs and Dani, and I insisted they toast the end of my trip in Portland. As they were heading north, they didn’t take much convincing – I even convinced them to do most of the celebratory cooking…I just had to buy the Swiss cheese and onions!

After experiencing one of the most influential countries on earth in the ways that I have, I do have a few “take-away items”. I have been asked to write a skit for World Land Trust and I have put aside a few tit bits with that in mind. There will be one more “serious” post.. It is impossible to summarise my journey in a few sentences, and genuinely, words (at least mine) just won’t cut the mustard to inform you of the epic adventure I have had, and what the USA now means to me. After leaving Crater Lake to reach Portland in the same day, there were a few experiences which helped solidify the reluctant end to my challenge.

“Welcome to Portland”, Dani said. So I took my pants off in a small burger restaurant. Arriving in the suburbs was an odd feeling of joy and anticlimax (don’t assume it’s always like that when I take my pants off), but only because I didn’t have a landmark or definite trigger to signal the end of my journey. I walked into a local branch of Burgerville in my ripped pants (I don’t make a habit of making language distinctions, but the pants vs trousers issue has meant that many of my underwear-related jokes in the US have gone over people’s heads, and I have looked like quite a weirdo talking about people’s trouser problems, or being a complete sex-pest by accidentally making references to peoples underwear, then repeatedly getting the “oh he’s British” look.
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Explaining anyone’s canary smugglers in a cue of people with children is rarely funny, especially when you’re actually attempting to completely avoid making any trouser jokes altogether!) anyway, I walked into Burgerville in my ripped TROUSERS, my tortured, gleaming-white spandex crotch on show for the lunchtime locals. I proceeded to swiftly remove them and ask a startled waitress if she would kindly dispose of my pants. Please don’t misinterpret, or imagine that I flashed my man-tackle while ordering a strawberry milkshake. What I’m trying to say, is that I couldn’t wait to mark the end of my trip by throwing away my damaged and worn out hiking clothes. It just so happened to result in me removing my damaged pants in front of many people eating their lunch, which after some of my experiences, wasn’t all that embarrassing. I covered my “situation”, after spending a weeks budget on some new shorts, and just as much as my finished journey, I think the end of my exposure was appreciated by everyone present.

Another notable moment to commemorate the end, was realising I had switched dramatically from constantly having my “game face” on (except when I left my electric devices in Katie’s car in Ithaca – not hilarious) to unknowingly dropping my guard and suffering from “baby-brain” when it was time to celebrate, and leap into the Colombia River. My focus had been so intense long before my trip began; I took the nine months of preparation and sacrifice just as seriously as the journey itself, and as soon as it was time to fully submerse myself into the cooling waters of the Colombia, I truly relaxed. I didn’t need to worry about what my next meal would be on virtually no money, wonder about how I was going to avoid trying to camp in a city after dark, whether there was going to be a flood, landslide, weather or animal-related issue, or if any welcoming note or ride offer was going to flake out at the last minute, putting me in any compromising or delaying situation.

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I forgot all my worries, and I stopped being concerned with the details of grinding through each day. Life really is much easier when you know where you’re going to safely sleep at night. I jumped into the Colombia with my sunglasses on my head, and now they reside as a grateful offering, somewhere at the bottom of Oregon’s most famous river. It is a small and irrelevant mistake, but I feel like it could have been so much worse if I had misplaced my knife on my hike in Glacier, my hat in the desert, damaged my tarp before a rain storm, or lost my cooking stove while stealth-camping behind a billboard in winter, or at anytime during my journey. In hindsight, it’s an irrelevant detail, but anywhere else on my trip, or something else due to a lack of focus, not only would have been completely inconvenient, but it would have ultimately been an unaffordable expense. My journey put stupidity, neglect, focus, and taking things for granted into context, and finishing by losing something that now, is so trivial, made me realise that I had drawn a line under my list of daily concerns. There’s a deeper meaning to how society has progressed to be able to alter its priorities and shift its concerns, but I think that is fairly straightforward to understand. Personally, after disregarding such simple survival concerns, I felt uncomfortable, and reluctantly saddened that those basic life-checks didn’t exist anymore.

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I don’t have children, but since college, I feel I have moderately succeeded most things in very early adult; interviews, substantial time in employment, generally being qualified to work, owning a property, being able to drive, not killing anyone.
Sadly, those qualifications mean absolutely diddly squat when you’re surviving in the middle of a frozen forest, trying to stay warm in the dark, with questionable winter gear, no phone signal, and no one within a ten mile radius as you listen to bears ripping the bark off trees a few feet away. Nor do they come in handy when trying to catch a ride by the side of a sun-scorched highway, wearing a pair of pants with your crotch torn out. I feel I have accomplished so much more as an adult than just commuting to work and paying the bills. We forget what small accomplishments are and what so many in the world don’t have the privilege of experiencing.

It feels like my biggest accomplishment of adult life, and even though I know there is so much more on the invisible table to achieve and strive for, I also know that accomplishing things in the ways that many expect me to, is not something I am interested in – and ultimately incapable of without some serious psychological consequences. Realising other people’s expectations would not contribute to a healthy or progressive society. I would be a mushroom, a sheep, or a tree – fertiliser, herded or stationary – and even though we need sheep, I would rather choose to be a wolf (note to self, I am not actually a wolf, that’s just crazy talk).

To be focused on a goal for well over a year, which has personally taken every ounce of effort and sacrifice, influencing every decision I made for sixteen months, which went against every action suggested by the norms of society, and to succeed, says a lot for how we look at, and how we might live our lives – especially if you have the time to read this, what you do with life is a choice.
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To end my journey, reaching no symbolic landmark, or with no specific line to cross, I had only one important act to complete to fully understand how far I had come, what I had achieved, and what was the most important thing to me on reaching “The End”.

I made a promise to a friend, that I would visit her in Portland within three years of saying goodbye in the UK. I remember calling her, almost two years after waving her off at the Eurostar in London, and I let her know that I would be visiting the following year (keeping my promise), and I added “but I’m going to start in Boston, and it’ll probably take me six months on $5 a day”. Whether she realised it or not at the time, I wasn’t joking. You should take note if I ever say something like this to you in passing…I think my parents now realise that their daydreaming boy, isn’t dreaming – he’s making plans.

I made it to Portland within my three year deadline, and the most significant moment on my journey, was the hug I shared with my friend. It was not only a promise fulfilled, it was confirmation that I can achieve something fairly substantial, as I had promised to travel around the world when I had no expendable income and rather a lot of debt. As hugs go, it was most epic. I have seen hugging bears this year, and I have taken note. Nothing begins, or ends more poignantly than with the support, the understanding and the commitment of true friendship, and a proper hug.
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Immediately after our hug, Lauren handed me a glass of bubbles, and a knife. Three years of not seeing each other, and I was immediately cooking in her kitchen for twenty people to celebrate my own welcome. I know my place…
More importantly in adult life, I’ve learnt that human resourcing is an important skill, as is delegation… whilst pouring myself another large gin and tonic into an oversized mason jar, I put the Swiss chefs to work and my challenge was over.
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I decided to do something fairly extreme with my time this year, and in the beginning, responding to people when they asked “why?” or “for what future?” was probably the hardest question to answer. WHY NOT!?
I know what kills my spirit, drains my energy, and sucks the life from how I want to work to live, and not live to work. Eventually, after hearing about other peoples adventures, its about time to actually have some yourself!
Feeling perfectly happy tied to a bank loan or bills, employment, a cell phone contract, a rental agreement or lease, a dependent person who refuses to make you feel good about you living your own life (I realise this one isn’t so simple), a TV schedule, a commute, a relationship which doesn’t entertain either happy time apart or not having a geographical base is, for most of us, not pleasant. Remaining still, attempting to live life in one bubble, failing to have the option to be instantly manoeuvrable is the worst feeling my soul experiences. Contributing to society is relative, and even though I may not throw thousands of pounds every month into a government pot, or repeatedly put what money I do spend back into a specific local community, if you’re seeing what contributes to society in solely monetary terms, you’re living your life in the wrong way. I wasn’t born to pay bills and then die, and I’m saddened by anyone feeling that they have chosen that situation, but frustrated when people say they have no choice.
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Living like this seems commitment free, it appears liberating, it sounds romantic, maybe even rebellious, but being the kind of character who desires to only dip their monetary-toe into society when it’s needed is not always an easy option: It is viewed sometimes as anti-society or non contributing. Mainly, it’s often lonely, unplanned, with regular moments of pressure to move house, change social circles, and make hard decisions. It’s isolating, difficult to strike up lasting romantic connections, and the effects on my bank balance are barely noticeable.
I realise the negative aspects of this lifestyle are often unsettling – not just for me – and it is extremely difficult (socially, psychologically, romantically and financially) to maintain, but the alternative doesn’t allow for opportunities to be grasped with both hands – which devastates me – many of which can be life changing for anyone concerned. I believe we make our own opportunities in life – luck doesn’t exist – but we desperately need to be able to take them more often. I know what kind of life I need to avoid, to be able to make and take opportunities, and for now that is enough to understand “why”.

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The next adventure is already on the invisible table, and that might change on any day, in any moment – but at least in my heart I know I am living and experiencing the world from a point of view that is never stagnant or without possibility.

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The End? No, I wet my feet, and just cry instead

1) With a little over a few weeks left, I have time, and “budget” to…
2) See A LOT of the very long Pacific coast
With its intricacies, it stretches well over 1400 miles, through Washington, Oregon and California). I also have in my mind that simply reaching the coast will not be enough to appropriately end my challenge, and I’m undecided on where and how to stop my currently challenging, slightly sadistic, but beautifully surreal life.
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I realised two things before reaching the coast.
Following my ankle-injuring shinanigans (not my first) around sleeping bears in Lake Tahoe, and after at least four hours in a car, I saw the ocean briefly, but sadly not the Golden Gate Bridge or any other major landmarks on my way through San Francisco. As pre-warned, crystal clear views of the city are rarely possible. Unlike London’s cloud of smog, which hums over the influential colossus as it oozes history and eclectic Britishness from its dark and infectious streets, San Francisco sits beneath its rather unique weather. Although city-polluted, the most obvious landmark at first glance, is the notorious “constant fog” trapped by the mountains, and washed in from the ocean. It is a stark contrast to the clear and scorching weather literally, just a mile away as you travel towards it, over land. You can see it like a giant ball of cottonwool, moistly-stagnant, and perched so invasively over possibly the most expensive US city outside of New York. When I meet the locals, they appear smirkingly proud of it, and being British, with the ability to shrug off a few rain clouds myself with just a cup of tea, I think I know how they feel.

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Photo by Simon Christen (he’s better than me)

I am thrown from the back seat on some concrete side street, and I attempt to find the couch which I have been invited to stay on. I am welcomed in, offered a snack, a shower, followed by maybe a quick nap, and then a fish dinner – which puts a few swooning sparkles in my eyes and makes my belly growl in anticipation. I take a bite on a cookie, drink my entire bottle of water and hit the showers like a winning jock after a game – whip that towel – I’m in San Francisco!

I take a nap on the carpet, with a cotton sheet and my sleeping bag resting over my tired body. Suddenly I feel my hips weigh heavy into the hard floor, darkness take over my painful eyelids, and seventeen hours later, I wake up wondering why I can’t smell any fish.

I was informed later that while Sleeping Beauty had “a nap” (although more likely resembling The Beast from the other Disneyfied fairytale) I was checked on by a nine year old chap who asked mum, “Is he dead?”. Not quite dead, but I did feel like I had just hibernated through winter; now hungry, quite disorientated, and after an entire litre of water before I fell asleep, in desperate need of the bathroom.

With every intention to explore downtown San Francisco (which is 30minutes on a bus or train), but clearly more tired than I thought, and in need of a budget check after Tahoe, I decide to rest and write. I don’t have any distractions, the wifi is broken and my host is also in bed with a lurgy. I think it is my first “day off” since Texas, and it is completely welcome!
(This time around) I skip through San Francisco and avoid spending any money. However, I do plan to revisit before I leave the states, and my opinions on the Bay Area, I’m sure will be voiced.

I’m avoiding writing about it, because I am sad about its arrival, but the end to my challenge is near. I have become slightly accustomed to living on next to nothing, meeting and greeting with instant discussion points, and admittedly, (even though it most definitely is not always offered) on the strangeness, the unpredictability and the variable hospitality. I’ve come to realise that often, interaction IS hospitality, in some basic but stimulating form – and it never fails to act as a catalyst.

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Following interaction with the trees…

I have caught a ride after my sloth-style sleep and I am hopefully heading to camp in the Redwoods National Forest in the northern part of California. It’s a six hour drive up the coast to reach “the trees”, and it’s a tiring, winding ride to a quiet campsite, a couple of miles back from the beach.

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Cough please

After a standard night of restless sleep, Redwoods needs to be explored. A ten mile hike along the Irvine trail took me through an enchanted, redwood-filled forest. Uprooted and resting, reborn-but-decaying woodland behemoths ly next to towering giants, covered in knarled bark, fungi and beard-like moss.

It verges on rainforest, and even though ferns and moist soils crumble underfoot, it isn’t quite the rainforest so synonymous with a tropical climate. At the end of the trail, just before the coast, is a picturesque but too well trodden fern hallway. A gem of a beauty spot, with a small river flowing through is basin, the ferns growing on the vertical sides of the canyon and the floor itself, are reluctant victims of human inconvenience. Otherwise tricky to access through the forest or back from the beach, the fairytale ending to a long hike, has a car park between it and the coast. Upsettingly, this tiny section of the trail is over used, and has sadly been stripped of its romance, its quiet seclusion, and its untainted, naturally-quaint stature.

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The woods behind the ferns however, were not over-walked. Almost five miles from the visitor centre to the coast were surprisingly quiet and I passed only five other folk on the hike. Much like the trees in Sequoia National Park, they are majestic, tall, regal, often bearded and wise. Redwoods are taller than sequoias; more slender, more athletic. Where the Sequoias may be the stoic Generals, Redwoods are the more active Colonels.

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The forest is silent apart from the quiet shuffle of the ocean that creeps through the pine needles forty meters over head. Despite knowledge of nature, it is hidden under foliage, under a decaying floor and a dense bush-growth. It seems scarce, or maybe just shy. The cooling temperature off the shimmering ocean a few miles away keeps the fire in any footwear from melting a quick pace, and any magical noises that drift through the trees are quickly met with the abrasive, loud and spray full breezes from the sea. The waves seem aggressive and break quickly on the dark sand, as if they have some version of “short man syndrome”…come on, you’ve all heard of it..

The rest of the redwood forest is too large to explore in just another day (you really could spend years wandering around it), but the highway up and down the coast is a memorable one for me. Ever since leaving San Francisco and one on Highway 1, I am transfixed with watching the sea from the back seat, along almost its entire length.

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It slithers and wriggles in and out of view as the road blurs itself in my peripheral, and I can’t quite believe I’m so close to the end of my challenge. Winding the window down, a slightly cooler air hits my face, tickles my now much longer whiskers, and it’s the first time I have smelt the ocean since I left Boston at the end of March. Sat in the back, I’m able to covertly cover my tears. I can’t help but reminisce over my journey, breath deeply as I contemplate a finish line, and catch myself thinking of everyone that matters to me back home, and how I wish they had experienced so much of my journey with me. I feel like should be rejoicing and doing a dance for the ocean, but it’s my quietest moment, full of fear, reluctance, loneliness, and my most tearful time on my trip. Maybe this is why people don’t travel, maybe this is what they like to avoid. I am suddenly scared of not knowing what to do when I can spend a week’s budget on a bottle of whiskey (let’s keep things in perspective)… I genuinely feel petrified and isolated, yet totally free! Briefly, while hiding behind the back pack on my knees and spying on the ocean through the breeze-allowing window, I am tearfully fulfilled.

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Although technically over (the Pacific Ocean is touching my feet), I’m not ending this deal until I am fully submerged – and you need photos as proof, right? So, as “coastal” as I am, I have decided to continue to Portland OR, where the necessary end to a celebrated six months shall be served up in a more appropriate fashion. Before I began, Portland was the only place in the USA where I knew someone. It feels fitting.
As for an environmental end to my journey, with the unexpected and seemingly unusual experience of watching rutting elk on the beach, Mother Nature emphatically delivered a moment of gratitude which will never leave me. Again, a few emotional buttons were pressed.

Before reaching (and writing about) Portland, and the true end of my challenge, I have made a few plans to explore a little more of the western US. Leaving the magnificence of the tree-lined coast, it is time to head inland, and north east, to Crater Lake…

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When a Bear is a bird, and when Beards do battle

Without attempting to be The Riddler, waking up in Yosemite for the last time was like waking up on the first morning of a new job – much less exciting than waking up on the last day of your old job, and even though there is a reason you must start work, quite unsure and a little anxious of what it might entail. The only reason I must start the day, is to begin the last leg of my journey, towards the coast, yet at this moment (the one where I feel like I need some recuperation time, some grooming, and some consistent sleep) I’m not looking forward to, or excited about seeing the ocean. I love the vision, the aura, the smell, and the unsettling size of the sea. It should never be disrespected or taken for granted, and someday I would like to explore it more, but right now, even though I know I have plenty of time to meet the Pacific, she signifies the end, and I am not ready.

Detours have been a common theme on my journey, and not just in America. Life’s scenic routes should always be explored, and days should be put aside to wander them. As much as I would like a hot bath, a gin and tonic and some spectacular seafood, I am sure there will be other adventures where the end will be desperately needed more than now, and I am in no hurry

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It is a six hour drive to Tahoe – and earlier in my trip, somewhere that I had been invited to a wedding. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it, and although I’m sure the bride would have loved me in her wedding snaps, I didn’t want to turn up in a faded t-shirt, “casual” underwear, or with my lycra-clad crotch exposed due to my ripped pants. However, with my two Swiss friends at the helm, it was their request that we swing by (Lake) Tahoe, before going any further.

South Lake (on Lake Tahoe) is another, more westerly version of Boulder, CO. It’s a tan-tastic, flip-flop wearing, famously-branded, and relatively expensive American holiday trap. It is also a sun-haven and a beauty spot, which many can’t resist visiting and indulging in. On initial contact, driving through the traffic jams, seeing the parking-lots full of hectic, arguing families buying supplies for their holiday, and catching glimpses of campers swarming the campsites with massive RV’s, some with cinema screens hanging from their awnings; I wasn’t looking forward to this “relaxing”, tourist Mecca.

However, clinging to the edge of a campsite close to the heart of the main drag, and being surrounded by half of Mexico that seemed to have booked the entire campsite for a family-orientated, weekend reunion (it genuinely was an impressive get together), we pitched our tents, and locate a rather boozy affair on the lakeside. It’s a free funk evening as the sunsets, and everyone seems to be enjoying a few local beers.

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When in Rome! And I treat myself to beer. I wouldn’t say I believe in luck, but when a bartender almost reaches the top of the glass with her pour, and says she’ll have to change the barrel – as well as then giving you that “almost pint” for free, it’s clearly a day to enjoy. I’m also not sure if it was me she was talking to, or another young chap stood next to me, so although our eyes fought momentarily over the “not quite pint”, my beard won the battle.

Luke was rather gracious in defeat, so I introduced him to the Swiss. He is a New Yorker with some traditionally-pale, Irish heritage, and after travelling across the US himself a few months ago to find a more fulfilling, warmer, outdoors lifestyle, and one which he can enjoy while he’s young (we’ve all done it, I ended up in Greece for a couple of summers when I was 17), he’s working in a nearby bar to earn his keep. He hikes, kayaks, snowboards, skates and swims, and Tahoe is perfect for them all; season permitting. After sharing a few stories, he hospitably invites us to where he works for a pint on the house…I’m beginning to like Tahoe.

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While being treated to a couple of drinks, I meet a man who has just left a Bruno Mars concert. I inform him that a ticket wasn’t needed, as I could hear the whole thing from over the wall, clear as day, from my bar stool. Ted is the owner of Base-Camp Pizza, one of the most successful pizza restaurants in the busy hub of Tahoe, and he is a little taken aback by my tale of reaching my barstool on my budget. He leaves his wife (I assume) and his group of friends and instantly wants to know a lot more. People often share what they can, and as I entertain him with a few quick titbits from my travels, along with woeful tales of how everything is regularly not all rosy, he slips me his card and tells me to visit his restaurant – to spend as much of a $100 tab as I like, and to bring my Swiss friends! I assure you, this kind of generosity from successful business owners is rare, not because they are not generous, but meeting them and being able to socialise with them while I trek through rural locations is not common. They are normally working, and they normally are not restaurant owners.

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I wouldn’t mention Base-Camp Pizza, or be complimentary if they were not deserving. Two days later, the service, atmosphere, hospitality, live music – and (the hopefully-ironic) blinding-silver shirt of the singer – as well as the spectacular pizzas at Ted’s, were on the house. The Swiss couldn’t quite beleive it, neither could I, and so they extremely tipped well on my charitable behalf. Ted was a gracious, and true-to-his-word amongst a super-busy restaurant. His staff were exemplary and it was a real treat.

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Luke showed us the state border, just north of South Lake. On one side, there is Californian “conservatism”, and on the other, is the hedonistic, gambling and liberally-famous world of Nevada. Crossing the street to the casino is what the boys have in mind, and I’m tagging my soberness along. However, as we make our way down the relatively busy strip, we bump into a colourful character, making balloon animals outside of a convenience store to entertain “all the pretty girls” as they wander by. It’s hard to miss this eclectic clown, and it is quickly apparent that Luke knows him well. The meeting becomes stranger when I find out he is Welsh, and from The Valleys, which I know fairly well. Not one to avoid an opportunity to practice a home grown accent, I offer my best southern-welsh twang and he’s happy for a slice of home. So happy in fact, that he offers me a toke on his Camberwell Carrot, and thankfully I have no plans to gamble once I cross the street! Of all the people I thought I would welcome me to California, I wasn’t expecting an ageing, welsh, balloon acrobat, sharing his home-grown on the streets of South Lake.

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Maggies Peak overlooks Lake Tahoe, so a mornings hike and she was briskly conquered. It is always handy to have a local in tow, as they normally know a lot that I don’t! Luke had always wanted to try and explore the small lakes around the rocky ridges, and although Granite Lake is on the beaten track, just south of the peak and definitely off trail, both Snow Lake and Azure Lake are hidden gems – well worth a little climb. On a ten mile “hike”, we enjoyed a lonesome swim, some epic views, and a few wooded areas, full of wild raspberries.

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There was a lot of evidence of bears enjoying the berries, but sadly, we didn’t see any while we were frolicking in the fruit-bearing forest. As well as ambling and scrambling around the rocky heights, we put in some mileage around the coastline of Lake Tahoe. It is always a slightly strange feeling as a Brit, to be at the edge of such an expansive pond, to not see land across its waves, and for it not to be salt water. We simply don’t have lakes that large.

Rubicon Bay, around the coast from (the greek island mirage which is) Emerald Bay is a fairly popular area, but after walking through Bliss State Park, it wasn’t hard to find a quiet sun spot to take a well earned bath.

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When meeting strangers, and possibly, lovely ladies in any establishment, I may currently look terrible, but at least after an attempted bath, I don’t smell like the carpeted interior of a rusty Volkswagen after someone spilt milk in it a week earlier (plenty of which cruise around South Lake – Vdubs, not milk-spillers).

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Another short evening in “Luke’s” bar leads to a longer, possibly inebriated night hike…maybe something which isn’t advisable without appropriate equipment. I however, have a warm hoodie, a top up of free coffee, and let’s assume a little dutch courage; It’s time to “see” a couple of trails by night.

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Linley and Nicole are the lovely ladies that decide to join us on the hike, and we are also drunkenly tagged onto by an enthusiastic German couple, replaying their honeymoon. The ladies are close school friends, now living in Connecticut and LA respectively, and after both coincidentally quitting their jobs on the same day, decided to take a holiday together…and crash my American adventure.

Reason number one for not night-hiking without appropriate planning: you can’t see where you are going, and someone is inevitably going to sprain their ankle (me).
Reason number two: it is possible you may stumble across a sleeping bear…
Although we didn’t actually see the said bear, it is terrifying to not know where exactly the load snoring is coming from. “Bearing” that in mind (see what I did there?), and after the ladies had done their best to convince everyone that what we were doing was a completely terrible and irresponsible idea, we helped them understand (I think) that the snoring was in fact, a bird. A feasible explanation, and I don’t think any of us felt guilty…

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Much noise was dutifully made before a half hour hike (with a few stiff “coffees” in me), and four miles from the glittering town on the horizon, we lay on a giant boulder amongst the sweet smell of pine on the breeze; and watched shooting stars and travelling satellites decorate the dark sky over the silent lake. Luke also managed to bring his hip flask – it obviously wasn’t his first rodeo.

Only a morning of daydreaming follows a late night of stargazing, and after strapping up my ankle and popping a few painkillers, a few hours drive or a rather long hike: Somewhere on the coast, – and possibly the end – is next.

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Loyally-protected: My gleaming-white, lycra-wrapped groin

It began like grinding teeth, dragging nails down a blackboard or maybe, sitting handcuffed to a chair while someone tries to tune in a radio without any available channels behind you, and force you to stare at a television screen with only images of traffic jams on a loop.
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It took over an hour to drive to the first available campsite in Yosemite – and that was without a traffic jam once in the park. She really is a large beast.

Despite time spent travelling through and up the valley to a seemingly peaceful camp spot, Yosemite still evokes an emotional and tranquil awesomeness in the mid day sun. Surrounded by pine trees, granite cliffs, boulders, and dusty tracks, it would be a fairly peaceful place if it were not for the constant traffic, vocal ravens, tourist hoards and the incessant, loud and fearless, scavenger, blue jay birds.

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Each evening around 7.30pm, I begin to dream of a soft cushion, a soundtrack that doesn’t include mosquitos buzzing around my thin, nylon walls, temperatures which don’t drastically change each night and over the course of the last few months have ranged from the 30’s down to -3 centigrade. Although I came well prepared, it would be a dream to avoid possible dust storms, hailstones or just to wake up and not be in the rain. I imagine a room where railroad trains clinking down an old track or honking their horns just feet from my tent are not near by, or a torrent flow of water which may seem relaxing, but intermittently, is just as bad as early morning traffic. I dream of waking up without the noise of other disrespectful campers, squabbling squirrels or energetic birds enjoying some love making before dawn. I crave not to wear my earplugs to attempt to block out such a hectic world, and although nature truly is helpful at resetting your natural body clock, waking up at dawn is a ritual and feeling sleepy at dusk is quickly a natural feeling. It is hard to escape all of man’s influences, but even in the very rural locations where I have slept, it has been hard to find any rhythm or sleep peacefully for more than a few hours.

Three days in Yosemite are planned. On the first, my Swiss friends and I hike the few miles up the steep, concreted climb to Vernal Waterfall. It isn’t a long hike, but for the unfit, unhealthy and elderly, it’s quite a stressful walk. It is however accessible, and close to the overwhelmed and busy visitor centre in the historic Yosemite valley. Most of the walk is spent zigzagging around families and photo-grabbers – of which I must remember I am one of.

Patience is one of my virtues, so even though it doesn’t feel like the great outdoors, the experience is still pleasant and it’s difficult not to appreciate the grandeur of the “wild” canyon. Us young striders walk quickly, and even though crowded, the spectacle at the end of the trail is well worth it. Part of me wants to see these kinds of wonders in the wet season…but we can’t have everything in life as instantly as we can send a text. We may have gone off trail a little (of which there are no instructions to avoid), but the enthusiastic chaps and I river run and boulder hop from the waterfall, down stream for a few hundred yards. We all feel pretty childish again, but while avoiding falling in and breaking any ankles, we realise that we are all sleep-deprived and in need of an afternoon nap!

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With a budget as tight as it is, I haven’t been able to buy or replace many items of clothing on my trip. I have been given a couple of T-shirts, a pair of socks and a cap by few friendly individuals, but the one indulgence which I haven’t been able to spend on, is trousers (American pants). You may think that there are a load of US stores with pants for $10, the type you might just kick around in, even wear as pyjama bottoms – and that these would be suitable for a chap on the cheap. It’s true, wallet-friendly pants are everywhere! However, cotton between the legs or around my shoulders when carrying my bag is the worst material for any active hiker, runner, Footloose-lover or just your average social lunger. Despite my lycra underwear taking quite a beating, it has held things together rather well – but my hiking trousers/zip-off shorts sadly haven’t been so loyal. Without being made from cotton, they wick moisture away from my legs, breath more efficiently, resist holding moisture and dry quickly. Most importantly, they are lightweight. Hiking around rocks and steep trails, wooded areas and essentially, just wearing the same two pairs of pants for the same five months does mean that by now, my stylish, ripped crotch has been repaired three times with superglue, and most people I have strolled past or sat next to in a café have been the reluctant recipients of a flash of my gleaming-white, lycra bollocks. Most people have been quite polite, and the rest haven’t minded that I have been wearing my “casual” underwear as temporary shorts – my lycra-clad man-zone loyally protected beneath.

The tourist hoards in Yosemite are relentless (maybe they’ve heard of my tightly-wrapped, bright white groin), and if you can’t get off the beaten trail, they are just something that this wild comes with. One thing that many busy parks have in the US are busses. Initially, I disliked being shipped around like a bearded sheep, but on reflection, while being snuggly seated next to a sweaty student, sporting a white man’s “soul-glow” hair do, the busses do avoid over-polluting and unnecessary traffic from intensely visited areas for the park. They also funnel the tourists to desired areas, rather than have them simply wander around willy nilly, and keep the hoards safely on the move, sharing them between the concentrated areas of interest.

One thing is never certain, but even if you wet yourself in childish glee when it happens, it is still welcome! Seeing a bear is something people dream about when wanting to visit the great outdoors. Blessed with not only (my last pair of unholy) dry pants, but spoilt with seeing two bears in Yosemite, for me it was beginning to be a wonderful habit. Unsurprisingly, they looked a little thin after their long winter, and while “snappin’ their fingers and shufflin’ their feet” they were looking to fatten themselves up.

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After all the leg-busting wonderment, I know how hungry they feel, and a first for my Swiss friends was on our menu as we sat by our evening campfire – awful American, just-add-water, macaroni cheese. How it is not sold in the plastics section in the grocery store, is a mystery, but it is, as many americans have told me, “the flavour of their youth”. We’re all hoping for a better nights sleep, although a couple of sleeping pills seriously help.

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Within Yosemite, Touloumne Meadows is almost two hours drive away from our camp spot, and we head there to begin an eight mile hike to Cathedral Lake.
With awesome views and a tough trek up the stoney and sandy path, the lake is sat on a granite and grass plateau, with pine trees woven between the rocks and into the moist crevices. Urs, Danny and I are getting faster as shuffling hikers, and I think we’ve come to resemble the marching elephants in the Disney’s Jungle Book, one behind the other. The hike was merely up, and then rather slippery under foot on the steep trek down again. Incredibly, my body has adapted to the fire that I keep putting in my shoes, and at this point in the trip, I’m going through plasters and Vaseline like I am water. My skin has never been dryer, hair never longer, feet never tougher, hands never rougher, muscles never tighter, sleep patterns never been so out of rhythm, dust, sweat, dirt and grime have never been quite so engrained as I fall asleep at night and it’s all spectacularly tiresome. Showers are a luxury; time spent grooming has increased simply because each day I am covered in skin-sores, sweat and deet. I think I reach an acceptable cleanliness state so that my skin doesn’t start falling apart, but it’s quite an unpleasant, daily feeling. It is however, even more paralysingly-appreciated to jump into lakes, rivers, or even under a water bottle’s trickle to clean any part of myself!

Some people have asked what necessities I would not leave home without if I had to do a similar trip again for any lengthy activity; a tent, a sleeping bag, good socks and boots, things to handle mosquitos and without a doubt – lycra underwear! To be detailed, when I reluctantly have to wear the the only cotton pair I brought with me as “casuals”, or when I don’t pull my lycra ones up far enough, I chaf as raw as a desert-dried fish, and certain personal areas, somedays resemble the thrashed backside of a bashful baboon. Apologies for the image, but this is reality, and it is ALL worth it.

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On my final day in Yosemite, it is fitting to seek out a(nother) view which hopefully will be epic, but also not be too much of a hike. Sentinel Dome is a couple of miles from the roadside, and we extend it to make an easy, six mile loop before having a relaxing, last afternoon back at camp. It feels appropriate to take a moment, recline, and breath in the eventual, peaceful tranquility of Yosemite.

Often while I am concentrating on taking photos, writing notes or trying to speak, read and learn as much as possible as a nosy neighbour, it is hard to focus and reflect on anything that I am managing to accomplish. Not just from an environmental or fundraising point of view, but on a personal level; I have visited over twenty national or state parks in the last five months, as well as seeing and staying in some beautiful natural and remote places around the USA. I am repeatedly told that “I have seen more of America than most Americans” and although most of the country which I have experienced has been away from intensely populated areas, I can’t express in words (or through interpretive dance) just how humbled I feel to have been able to adventure and see so much of what is a completely diverse and beautifully-big country.

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It isn’t hard to “escape” and lose yourself in the USA, and even though many feel like they are tied to a governed existence, or often have their lifestyle choices dictated to them by what society expects – North America does, and hopefully always will, harbour wild environments like no other country on earth. I sincerely hope similar American experiences are available for many more in the distant future, and that those who I have interacted with will explore more of what is on their extremely near, and very accessible doorstep.

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Yosemite may be my last national park before the coast, but I’m hoping to reach a few more epic, natural areas before I am able to buy some new pants!

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Mischief, giants, a receding hairline and a massive chocolate cake

Even from a sweaty back seat of a low-slung hire car, being driven by two trail mix-loving Swiss chaps, the views driving up the steep valley of Sequoia National Park were beautiful to behold. A six hour drive from Vegas and after some pretty dry scenery, I’m beginning to day-dream about a possible favourite National Park, or pinpoint just one stand-out natural wonder from the many I have been privileged to visit. It’s virtually impossible, and as we continue to scale up the winding road, it’s clear again that I’m edging closer to more of nature’s spectacular structures. The trees are like no others I have ever seen. Magnificently colossal, they’re from a different world.

Regal, majestic, massive, old and strangely characterful towers, you travel under them as they look over on the rest of fledgling forest like they are the wise guardians of a nursery of infants. Like wonderfully-magical, wizardly-grandfathers with unfathomable primal powers, it is their forest, and thinking anything else would be like sitting on the side of a live volcano and assuming you control it.

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Each trunk is an epic display of titanic proportion, suspending belief for a moment as it’s a little difficult to comprehend that these gigantums are real.

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They are impressive, and passively huge and unhindered. Like light-fingered giants, in an environment teaming with imagined fairytales and childish shenanigans, they make friends with pixies and associate with mischief – it makes sense that they too love a practical joke…

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Exploring Sequoia is like walking to through middle earth on the way to Mordor, only with a few less Orks. The “majesty” of the valley and the forever stimulating forest only induces imaginations of storybook critters filling their normally mundane, chore-filled days with miniature adventures and fulfilling explorations. The views are lung-emptying in both the effort it takes to reach them, and the humbled breathlessness that they leave you in. It isn’t hard to see why the famous writer and environmentalist, John Muir made (the now sadly, completely damned and used as a reservoir for San Francisco) Hetechi Valley as his family home.

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Getting lost in these hills is one of the most memorable, and natural experiences I have had this year. One of the hikes was over twelve miles, across the rocky valley and sun-drenched forest, and (due to the terrain) the longest day walk I have completed within a national park. It is also one of the most tiring (they’re starting to add up) as well as most rewarding. I am glad I have youthful and enthusiastic company.

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Green tree-lined canyons, boulders, granite cliffs, creeks and lakes all flow around our footsteps as we near this weeks bath time, and swimming in the melt water of Pear Lake at “9000ft” is nothing but freezing. I do however enjoy mocking my mountain-dwelling Swiss friends for finding it much colder than me (probably due to a little weight gained in Texas and Las Vegas).

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A couple of days sat behind the Swiss: Dani and Urs’s English is rapidly improving. Mainly due to confidence, and that we share a similar sense of humour, we quickly find it easy to negotiate tricky conditions, navigate correctly, share the duties of carrying our back pack, and remember where they parked the car!

After gaining some weight, my feet and shoulders are struggling more than usual – and by this time on my trip, it’s not surprising. I have gotten used to many aches and pains; hiking with my pack, nights spent sleeping on couches or floors, having the eating habits of a caterpillar grazing in a blacksmiths, and throwing my body clock around like I’m playing catch with a muzzled dog are really starting to add up. Foot care is (as it always has been) an absolute daily priority, and it’s also nice to finally share an understanding with some fellow hike-lovers. Almost hourly, I feel that I have fire in my shoes.

Urs turned 26 while in Sequoia, and to celebrate, we hiked almost 10 miles to see 25 of the largest sequoia trees on earth. Our feet on fire again, and no shower to clean ourselves, Dani and I forgot our worries, and spoilt Urs with the biggest chocolate cake we could find!

California is proving to be hotter than expected, but at altitude in Sequoia, it is a small oasis away from the rest of the struggling state. We leave the National Park and for the “six” or so hours in the car, driving through the sunshine state it isn’t hard to notice that rural farming towns, the edges of urban sprawl, the abundant hillsides that the car incessantly rolls around, in fact the entire landscape, is dying of thirst. The once green pastures and lush agricultural lands are now brown and grey. Horses and cattle swish their tales to keep cool, and dust flies around them in the dry air. Water sources seem pitiful, crops seem desperate, and any wealth that plant farming may have experienced in this part of the country, seems to be drying up too. I saw the Colorado river in its infancy while travelling through it’s origin in the (Colorado) Rocky Mountains. It is almost 1500-miles long, it supplies water for 30 million people, it is one of the most famous, utilised, built-upon, diverted, damned and controlled rivers on Earth (most notably at the Hoover Dam in Nevada). It faces problems associated with increasing population, declining ecosystems, drought, and climate change. It would normally grow larger as it nears the coast, however it is drained of its flow through multiple American states, and is a baron, empty trickle which has failed to deposit even a sorry offering into the Sea (of Cortez) since the 1960’s. It continues to cause huge controversy, and as California’s main water source, she’s almost dead.

Although not without its beauty spots, busy and expensive west coast cities, new-world wine industry, coastal marvels, and its attempts at progressiveness, California seems sadly on its last legs as a fruitful state. Like many areas in the USA, her boom time is over, and many Americans are migrating north into Oregon and elsewhere. Like an ageing Hollywood man’s hairline, the bountiful growth is quickly receding, exposing an expansive desert-forehead. Trapped between a salty coastline, a roasting desert and under the accelerating heat of climate change, California is struggling to age with dignity. As with all things Hollywood, the “forehead” is reported on with much controversy, and unfortunately isn’t looking too sophisticated. Dehydrated and over-furrowed, its hard to find the energy for a young man’s schedule, and being over-worked with a bald patch, in need of a sun hat, California could do with a retirement home.

Checking out America’s vast countryside, even the Midwest, is always eye-opening. It’s educational, inspiring, curious to get off the beaten track and intriguing to see how life is, away from tourist hoards. However, as lovely as it is, it’s always more enjoyable to reach a checkpoint.

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As this is my last before the coast, as well as the second most famous national park in the country; Yosemite evokes possibly the most emotional reaction in me yet – more so for what it means to reach, rather than the spectacle of arriving. I only have one place to go next – the coast! Sadly, my emotions are quickly overcome by reality, and the entrance to Yosemite is more like queuing for a drive through movie, rather than being confronted with the imagined oasis in the hills which might be expected. Rather than concentrating on the back of the vehicle in front, or the crowds, or the campsites that are full, or the high number of signs which inform exactly where a bear was killed by a car in recent months, while someone else is driving, its easier to just stare at the trees.
Not one for being a pessimist and always finding beauty somewhere, in something, there is a silver lining to my dark entrance…

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An erection, leading to half an hour under a hotel

Back in the cake-loving, bohemian, neighbourly company of Bryce Canyon, under some growling and rather volatile grey skies, I watched two young men in their colourful board shorts, puffing away, agitatingly on their cigarettes as they attempted to erect a new tarpaulin between a few trees. Amusing as it was, and although they appeared to be constructing something on the same magnitude as a second Golden Gate Bridge, they managed to do a fairly decent job – and then proceeded to not use it, sitting back next to the fire and simply admiring it from a few yards away.
Unable to pin point their language, my sidekick Amanda and I gambled on where they were from. I guessed it was a extremely rural dialect of German, and as educated as she is, Amanda’s strong point is not language; she guessed some sort of Arabic. We approached with smiles and complimented them on their attempts at an erection.
They were Swiss, and although it was insulting them (like someone asking me if I am “from cockney!” – Yes, that happened), I was clearly much closer geographically than Amanda. I mean, Arabic! One of them was simply bearded and tanned!

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The two gentlemen were friendly company, and we used our best, pigeon English to all communicate. It turned out that shortly after Bryce Canyon, they were driving to Las Vegas and then into California. My sheepish (cheeky), “if you don’t ask, you don’t get” approach kicked in, and they said they had enough room on the back seat, should I meet them somewhere near Vegas.

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Never taking anything for granted, and often as I attempted to plan my travels on the hoof, I contacted the Swiss gents to see where they might be after my first 48hours in Vegas. I didn’t have a back up plan to leave, when I reached the city, but not only was my host so generous in offering her spare sponge mattress in her single roomed apartment, but she also wouldn’t allow me to leave town on foot across the desert. Although I am grateful for her stubbornness towards my health and safety, hiking a thousand miles in desperate temperatures was also not something I was looking forward to. Moreover, I am constantly aware that to outstay my welcome anywhere, is the last thing I want to be guilty of, and often on my trip, it has played on my mind. Constantly being on the move is a much healthier alternative (for all concerned), than upsetting a host – even if they aren’t comfortable with me just hiking out of town when there’s a break in the weather.
My Swiss friends and I didn’t spend time together in Las Vegas (they were having a much more expensive, indulgent time on the strip, compared to my varied shinanigans), but luckily they agreed to meet me when they were leaving town, and the offer to ride in the back seat was still open.

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Well known for their mountain range, their chocolate, their cheese, their clock-making and goats, not forgetting Heidi, the Swiss can also boast one of the most expensive cities on the planet – Zurich, and as a small, land-locked country, a fence-sitting neutrality throughout modern history, which only seems to have led to their surprising wealth. What they cannot currently boast of, is an impressive, short term memory. Even as a collective, my two new chums can’t recollect much of the last few days, which on reflection, I suspect happens a lot in Vegas. However, after parking their car beneath their hotel just three days earlier, four of us spent thirty minutes searching, and pressing the unlock button on the key-fob to try and find it. I did wonder what kind of company I had chosen to keep, while travelling into California…

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I picked her up and hugged her like a small bear in the parking lot, as an unsuspecting Laurianne and I avoided a teary goodbye. Grateful and astounded again of hospitality from not only one person, but half a dozen in a city that I really didn’t expect to be so neighbourly; I left Las Vegas (which surprised me like the not so obviously-attractive girl at school that nobody fancies, but secretly I now have a crush on) in a slightly sad mood.

Into California, and even though there is a plethora of people-made places as well as natural wonders which I could spend months exploring, I only have one more official checkpoint before the coast – Yogi Bear’s home – Yosemite. However I also managed to see this magnificent waterfall urinal on route, and as he sign says – Enjoy!

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The Swiss chaps and I are heading in that direction, but first, after about a six hour drive, I’m ecstatic to report from the back seat, we’re heading to Sequoia National Park…

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Moths, Wild Horses, Desert secrets and a Wookie

I assumed it would be like any other large city – diverse, busy, loud, fast paced, ignorant of the issues beyond its boundaries, and typically isolating even when surrounded by people.
The tourist brochures, the posters, the movies, the gossip and the stories that Vegas conjures and gregariously flaunts are all accurate – it’s an indulgence Mecca unlike anywhere else – and it’s extreme in its extravagance. I thought I would detest Las Vegas for all the credit its lavish, overspent reputation gives it. However, my opinion has rapidly been changed.
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I try to avoid highly populated cities as being instantly welcomed into a busy hive without knowing anyone is often a rare occurrence. You may think that it’s easy to stroll into a bar, be friendly, talk the talk and make friends – and it is for someone who is gregarious and able to overcome their innate introversion. However, add to the list of challenges of needing somewhere to sleep that same night, having less money than it costs to buy one beer, and carrying everything you own on your back, and the task is infinitely more difficult. The pressure is high, and the likelihood of sleeping on the street is almost a sure one. I’d rather take my tent to a remote field, behind a billboard or farmers barn on a rural back road, than to the streets of a sleep-depriving, noisy city, with plenty of authorities or unsavoury characters, seemingly unhappy or too interested in my presence.
Too often in a city, people operate at such a pace, that trust and hospitality are not priorities. Assumed money tends to be the first detail that people react to, and unless you fit the criteria of looking and sounding like someone who is going to pay for a welcome, it is hard to base an opinion on a city. I find comments and actions of relaxing locals are the best clue, but on the Vegas Strip, they’re hard to find: Tourists “relax” and locals work.
A few miles from the famous strip, locals find me, and the way they behave and treat a stranger (through this blog and a rather loose introduction) is like they are in a much smaller town than a city of two million people. With the feeling that the strip is a million miles away, hospitality, generosity, and the sense of community upon arrival is noticeable – which is absent in other large cities.

One thing I quickly learnt about Las Vegas, is that NOBODY here, is from here. With the large majority of its citizens working in the tourism, restaurant, gambling, hotel or nightclub sector, its unsurprising that so many people in Las Vegas are living in some kind of transient state: job to job, house to house, city to city. Nobody seems to have roots in the here, and everything moves at a rapid pace.

Everyone is either a tourist, a worker that never escaped, someone who’s life was a little too much to handle and somehow, Vegas provided a safe haven, or they came like a moth just to see the bright lights, and are still here forty five years later, fluttering around the place, a little unsure as to why.

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There is one exception who found me. Her father is a committed, life-long Vegas stage hand; her mother’s whereabouts are unknown after she found the bottle during an arguably successful dancing career in Vegas. Her relationship with her father is strong, constant and happy; the other, without being over dramatic, is virtually extinct. I don’t think I could have been welcomed by anyone “more Vegas”. Typically streetwise and more knowledgable about the city’s extremes, smart about its indulgences, conservative over its extravagance, lenient towards its liberalism, and more loving of its qualities, Deadre has Vegas in her beautiful, infectious soul.

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I told Deadre that I prefer to see a raw Vegas, a version that tourists don’t get to see, one that doesn’t involve losing my $6 a day fortune and the one that she loves, or hates, to be home. I really didn’t have to wait long before the desert city threw down a few surprises.

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What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas…apparently. So I won’t go into too much detail about time spent amongst the bright lights, the strippers, the extravagance, the hedonism, the flash cars, the fast women, the fancy dress, the gambling, the lightning-storm during a roof-top pool party, the excessive drinking and drugs at a free saki tasting night, the impulsive shopping, questionable outfits, setting fire to myself, waking up in my clothes with “chicken” written across my chest, swimming in the Bellagio fountain, being taken go-carting, being thrown out of the rainforest café, being propositioned by two men, being poked in the eye by a wookie, finding the secret pizza bar, bottom tattoos, or being forced to drink a hot chocolate and watch a terrible episode of True Blood. Some (or all) of those items may be true…

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Here is a little taster of what Las Vegas is not so famous for, and what I definitely did (or did not) enjoy while galavanting through with less than $6 a day.

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There are ski resorts less than 15 minutes from Vegas. In the desert! The natural landscape around Las Vegas isn’t sandy desert to the horizon – there are ranges of vast, drastic hills and mountains, creating and effecting the weather all year round.

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I was taken out of the furnace and in to the washing machine. It was raining, and amongst the grumbling skies, it is eerie, foggy and cold. While being drenched in a storm as if I was standing on a hillside in West Yorkshire, I could see Vegas gleam in sunshine less than a dozen miles away. Not all the resorts have ski centres, but the hotels operate all year round, and I’m told all the lovers (adulterers) go here to escape the city. The ranches, restaurants, canyons and hillsides are all soaking wet, muddy and some wait for snow, but the hiking, camping and outdoor “pursuits” in the area are stunning.

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Wandering around the warm hillsides and small, wealthy towns on the outskirts of Vegas are wild horses and burros. There is argument (with prehistoric fossil examples) that wild horses did exist prior to western settlement, and that American horses were eradicated to stop native tribes leaving U.S. government land. Fitting with history, there is no evidence that supports this eradication, but it isn’t too difficult to believe that some horses could have travelled west and survived the ice age. Technically the horses and burros that roam now are ferrel animals, but called wild by anyone who needs to advertise that they are there. They were used by the conquistadors, and over time either escaped or were cut loose.

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Roaming the desert and indulging on lush areas of human-watered grassy spots, the burros are a rather rustic bit of history that nobody holidaying on the strip would even hear of. As well as the Equidae roaming around Vegas, there are desert tortoises, desert bighorn sheep, a multitude of desert reptiles, humming birds, and burrowing owls.

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I have found it impossible to understand places, cities and rural towns without local knowledge, and as I desperately wanted to learn about American culture and people on my trip, the only way I could really get to love or hate Vegas was to see it from my new friend’s eyes. Deadre is somewhat of an awesome foodie, knowing every back door and secret food spot in the city. With her, every meal is a treat, and as Vegas is open 24/7, it doesn’t matter if you get peckish at 3am. Surprisingly, both of us did on a few occasions and for me, it’s rather odd to see how many people around town eat in the middle of the night! Deadre also knows where and when every happy hour is, where her friends are who DJ in strip bars on “free-pizza-Sunday”, and where the best bar managers are, who she may have worked with; I really didn’t spend much on extravagant plates of food.

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Deadre wasn’t the only foodie I met in Vegas, and it’s never a shame to say that when you meet a food lover, and they wish to share their hospitality, it ALWAYS means a fine feed. I was treated to a meal by Claudia, the first non-Caucasian American I had received hospitality from since the week I arrived in the country. For a more in depth chat about my experience of race and culture in North America, see my recent post “Diversity and Division”. Claudia is Mexican/Italian, so if I pay attention to any sweeping statements on racial stereotypes; the fiercest, most passionate, most argumentative and volatile woman on earth! Indeed, if all those things are focused on food, she takes no prisoners, and picks out the best ocean chowder in town before I’m “forced” to drink a pineapple cider and attend a free saki-tasting evening… I have to put my best shorts on for the occasion!

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My feet might be well used and in need of some time on a podiatrists table, but in Vegas, my belly is in fine fettle. I didn’t think I would be on the verge of gout on this trip, but when on such a tight budget and when people offer food, I’m only eating a few meals a day, and then again on a whim at 3am because I assume I’ll need the energy. It’s also rude to turn down any offering – and when they lead to lifelong friendships, all are welcome!

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There is no absence of hiking in Vegas as trekking from one end of the strip and back again, via a plethora of colourful, mind boggling and overindulgent sights is no stroll in the park. It takes hours and has just as many ups and downs (if you take the stairs to the many shopping floors) as any hike in the hills, only with a few more, easily accessible water sources. However, don’t assume I’m enjoying the strip. On $6 a day, it really is just a sightseeing hike, and it’s a long and loud one. I prefer my indulgent trips to the hills, and not because I have experienced any of the affairs that the locals do…

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One experience which can’t go unspoken about however, was the vision of the Bellagio fountain. It’s a Vegas must-see. While all the tourists stood, all taking their photos from the usual walkway, I enjoyed it in a secret spot, where there are no tourists, hidden from view and with a true “Lass Vegan”. No other details needed – I’m not sharing Deadre’s Vegas secrets, and if I indulged everyone, hotel security may want a word…

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On my last night in Vegas, I find myself in a country club. Not the type you might imagine, with the average age over 70, a stock of Bentleys in the parking lot and everyone with a sweater draped around their shoulders, but a country club – a nightclub, playing only country music. I have never been to a country-nightclub before, at least one where they take their country dancing so seriously – all night! It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced and to say the dancing is impressive would be an understatement. EVERYONE knows the dance moves, and EVERYONE can dance with a partner. Ok, so some are more impressive than others, but it’s a little daunting going anywhere near the dance floor. Normally I’m flying there after a few beers, but not on this occasion as it’s too hypnotic, and rather than ruin it with my two left feet, I’m sat in awe. In an odd way, amongst the usual nightclub vibe; alcohol, bad outfits, men’s “elevator eyes” wandering up and down as their girlfriends react: its all very entertaining, but I find it completely romantic. I wish I could dance like the country dudes as I’m completely envious…but not of the ones being beaten by their cowgirls.

She may be extravagant, over indulgent, ludicrous to the point of being sickly sugar coated with “forced good times”. She may be an expensive date to the usual traveller, gambler or shopaholic, but Las Vegas showed me some true colours of what a city can be, away from her hypnotic and horrendous façade.

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In my last post, I mentioned that it appears that the sustainability of the Las Vegas is almost at a crucial point, but for this “prefers rural” tourist, I am overwhelmed with the sense of community and hospitality from the real people of Las Vegas. I’m not one for a bold, loud, tactless and tacky flirt, but under her guise, she’s converted me.

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An epic Bust in Vegas

“left to enjoy a peaceful morning with humming birds, a flask of warm water, dry granola, and my map with no drawn line west of where I am. I’m dreaming of reaching Vegas soon, and can only wish that it is not just Hope that will get me there…”

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It was no coincidence that my last post ended with Hope by the side of the road, as I was picked up by a couple of bikers (in a car) aptly named Mcgiyver (real name, Hope) and Runway. I have already mentioned that travelling and meeting different people, repeatedly reminds to not judge books by their covers, and a couple of tattooed, leather clad, alternative bikers, were the epitome of gentile humanity. Runway – named because he works at Vegas airport – is softly spoken, and possibly the calmest, most placid and relaxed biker you could imagine; maybe not what his beard and rugged exterior personify. Hope, is rather matter of fact about life, and humorously approaches any subject raised in conversation. I asked her “why Mcgiyver?” and without hesitation she told me, “Because I can fix anything with duck tape and a tube sock” – I wish I could! It would lighten my backpack! She is a lover of old country music, biker lifestyle (obviously), intriguing, slightly bizarre, and adventurous personalities, she’s a karaoke fan and a sci-fi expert – writing tv scripts and reviewing such things in her freelance career. When we reach Vegas, I find out that “slightly bizarre” is just the ticket.
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After only knowing Hope and Runway for a few hours in the car, I am instructed to make myself at home after a shower, meet the family , some rather large dogs, be coerced into contributing – with my artistic flair – to a world-wide scavenger hunt, be taken to a local karaoke evening on my first night in Vegas, and I am also to fulfil my “life-long dream” of constructing a bust of John Barrowman’s head out of duct tape. I may now die happy.
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During some excellent (and some really not so excellent) karaoke, I meet a hoard of Hope’s friends, and I’m introduced to Laurianne – who offers me a floor space to sleep on while I am in town – something I am always a little concerned about bagging, before going to a bar. Judgement call though, Hope assured me it is fine.

Bars, nightclubs and pubs are not places I have frequented on this journey; a combination of budget, needing a safe place to sleep, and that it is difficult to ascertain what is drunk banter, and what is true hospitality late at night in a crowded or possibly volatile environment. It’s reason enough to stay off the sauce – unless encouraged. I think I have done a good job of assuming a sober status while travelling…at least that’s what people have assumed.

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A drink here and there doesn’t seem like a lot, and often one is offered just to hear a story. However, I am repeatedly amazed at how much people give, especially when people have so little. Wyith a little help from supportive friends, Laurianne is succeeding to find her feet and design a healthier life for herself in Vegas after too many abusive experiences. I’m also often surprised with how much people have shared with me about their personal life on my journey. Maybe it’s an American openness that us British lack, maybe it’s my unshifty demeanour, maybe I attract nut jobs that need to share everything that’s in their head, or maybe I’m a Nosy Parker and I ask too many questions…I’ll let you judge.

Laurianne seems to have more reason than anyone to be nervous, shy or apprehensive about letting a stranger into her life and her home, yet all I have received from my smart, gregarious and quick witted friend, is hospitality, happiness, trust, support and liberal amounts of generosity. She told me that nothing comes back to you the way you need it to, unless you give it yourself. I haven’t felt more humbled, grateful, or wealthy, than when I have been given someone’s heartfelt friendship and generosity – and those who have surprisingly, repeatedly and consistently given more, have tended to be the people who have less to give.
I thought I would quickly detest Vegas for the same reasons I avoid all large cities, and for all the things it is famous for (apart from Elvis, the Rat Pack and a little gambling, I like those). Except in less than 24hours in the city, I am astounded by the sense of community which I have found.

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Las Vegas is famous for its legal gambling (and legal prostitution outside of the city), its 24/7 operation of indulgence, its extravagant buildings, hotels, restaurants, light shows, water features, replicas of famous monuments around the globe, its glamour, its lavishness, its ability to make or break your fortune, its long, famous list of synonymous entertainers, and even ones that never made it out alive.

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People will likely expect wild tales of hedonism, never ending parties, gambling, and hangover-induced anecdotes, but even though I was indulged and shown what Vegas is famous for by some friendly locals, if you want those tales a) maybe I’ll put them in the book, and b) I’m sure you can imagine the strippers, sleepless nights, memory failure, estranged tattoos, gambling faux pas, loud outfits, over indulgence and Elvis…it’s Vegas! Outrageousness has taken place before me, and more will follow.

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Las Vegas is home to two million people, and despite its extravagant exterior, it is deeply troubled. It’s no secret that the city’s lifestyle is not sustainable as it’s simply running out of water. Lake Mead’s levels are dropping and the Colorado River is dying – agriculture twinned with a harsher, natural desert being created, the south west of America is simply drying up. With seemingly little desire for the city to reduce its indulgence on top of a 14year drought as its population continues to grow, Vegas is aware that a critical point is imminent.

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Aside from tourists being ignorant of the issues, or worse – disregarding them to satisfy their vices, “saving the planet” or “hugging a tree” (which you won’t want to do in Vegas, as they’re mostly Joshua’s), is something that the people of Vegas need to embrace. As well as the environmental concerns, the city has many attractions which I’m sure 99% of tourists on the strip, and most of its residents, are unaware of.

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While you’re trying to imagine my experience of Vegas on $6 a day to be full of debauchery and hedonism, extravagance and indulgence, in the next instalment, I’ll delve a little into my experience of Las Vegas, and why it is – and I hope the locals will appreciate this – more than just its strip, and the stories which it is famous for (even though they are all true)…

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