Hitchhiking in the USA

Hitchhiking in the USA

Apart from a couple of short, cheap flights and bus rides, I covered all my miles in the US in cars, either hitchhiking or ridesharing through Craigslist (the US second-hand website, where you can find anything). Very simply, hitchhiking/ridesharing is slow and cheap; but most importantly, it’s a very interesting way of doing things. Above all, I feel as alive as I think it’s possible to feel when I’m out there, thumb out and waiting for a ride, or jumping in a car and meeting new people. There’s nothing else other than you, your bag, and your intent to get the next ride. No choices to be made, no screens to distract you, nothing to shield you from the constant rejection of hundreds of cars passing right by you. This choice-less focus and full exposure is a beautiful thing, and one that forces you to stay present. I definitely want to do more of it. Here’s what I managed in the US so far! Journey 1: Craigslist rideshare from San Francisco to Portland (11 hours) Get picked up in the morning by Lee, who I quickly discover speaks very little English indeed despite having lived in Canada and the US for 10 years (he’s Chinese). We get on very well anyway. It’s amazing how well you can communicate with people without using words. We can certainly both agree that the scenic hills of Northern California and Oregon are “beautiful”. 11 hours later, he drops me off at a bar in Portland. Success. Journey 2: With a hostel friend from Seattle to Vancouver (3 hours) Having met Zach at the...
The Pacific Northwest: Portland, Seattle and Vancouver

The Pacific Northwest: Portland, Seattle and Vancouver

The Pacific Northwest is a region of North America that very much has its own thing going on. By this point, you’re far enough north that the mentality has shifted to a colder temperament. Less relaxed, more polite – a lot more like British people. Portland My approach to arriving in Portland was a novel one: go directly to a bar as soon as I arrive in the city around 7pm, turn up to the Couchsurfing event there and see what happens. After quite a while talking to people, it seemed that no one would host me, so I ended up booking a hostel, only to be offered two places to stay immediately afterwards. I ended up regretting it because I didn’t enjoy the vibe at the Hostelling International place I stayed at. Apart from expensive, it seemed very clinical and straight-laced (quiet time starts at 10pm?!). Apparently there isn’t much of a hostel culture in this part of the US. Lesson of the day: patience. The politeness in Portland is legendary, and it really lived up to its reputation. Cars would stop in their tracks to let me cross pretty much anywhere. At the bar, people kept asking me if I was waiting to order, despite standing a solid metre away from the bar and having a full drink in my hand. It was amusing. Speaking of drinks, that’s another thing Portland is famous for – microbreweries. I took a brewery biking tour and indulged in plenty of ales, with some beautiful riding around the city in between. Mostly flat ground, beautiful weather, great company. The Old Knucklehead...
Yosemite: Without Words

Yosemite: Without Words

Because sometimes, it’s better to let the pictures do the talking…ladies and gentlemen, I give you Yosemite National Park.               Love, Joe...
San Francisco: Hiking, nudism and a Jacuzzi

San Francisco: Hiking, nudism and a Jacuzzi

Much like my university city of Brighton (England), San Francisco has vibrant hippy and gay scenes, as well as being a hotbed of cultural and ethnic diversity. Being on the Pacific Coast, it’s had a lot of immigration especially from Asia. Also like Brighton, the city is cut into steep hills and has excellent public transport (for the US). However, unlike Brighton, San Francisco is a big city with a large tech/law/business side to it these days, which has given it a more serious, professional edge and had two unpleasant consequences. First, the rent prices are the highest in the US, having now surpassed New York (average rent for an apartment is $3,871 per month as of January 2017). Second, some say it has diluted the hippie glory of 60s San Francisco. Something is still in the air; there is a sense of freedom and curiosity that you can see from the hub of innovation that is Silicon Valley to the wild S&M hedonism of the Folsom Street Fair. Nevertheless, San Francisco is now the hippie that grew up and got a serious job. More than in most other cities, my time San Francisco was very much coloured by my Couchsurfing hosts; thanks to them, I saw three distinct sides of the city. So, who were they? Roger: The hiking My first host was Roger, an older man who has hosted hundreds of people and now lives in Larkspur (Marin County), which is north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Roger was kind enough to pick me up from the airport, and what ensued for the next three days was...
Grand Canyon, Twice: West Rim and South Rim

Grand Canyon, Twice: West Rim and South Rim

Round 1: Bus tour to the West Rim Imagine that you wake up at an ungodly hour before dawn so that you can get picked up by your tour bus and get on the road for several hours before arriving at this fabled world landmark for a once-in-a-lifetime view…then you arrive and you see this: That’s right – almost zero visibility. The helicopter ride I was booked in for is cancelled. It looks like this is going to be it. It’s cold and it’s still a few hours until we head back on the bus, and there’s nothing to do but wait. Then, in the last hour or two, the sun breaks through. And you see this: Well, that was pretty much my first experience of the Grand Canyon West Rim. Despite the undeniable beauty that eventually revealed itself, the whole thing had felt muted because of the slow reveal rather than shock-and-awe from the start, plus I had heard that the South Rim was much more beautiful whereas the West Rim was more touristy, probably because of its greater proximity to Las Vegas, a popular destination from which to take a Grand Canyon tour. As such, I didn’t feel like I was done here – I resolved to return. (By the way, this may sound strange, but the bus journey was possibly a better experience than the views. The bus driver, Thomas, was hilarious – he entertained us every step of the way by joking around, singing bits of what he was saying, and just generally enjoying doing his job with great panache. I love meeting these people...
Las Vegas: Debauchery and Canyons

Las Vegas: Debauchery and Canyons

When I first thought about going to Las Vegas, I wasn’t so sure it would be my thing. Most people agreed that it was a great place to spend a lot of money on partying and gambling and not much else – like some sort of adult Disneyland – and my scene is a lot more towards the cheap travel, hostels and Couchsurfing end of things. But I had thought about passing through anyway, since I wanted to go and see the Grand Canyon and Death Valley…and I was curious. So I went. Here are some impressions of Vegas: I won’t go into detail about what happened that Saturday because I now truly understand why everyone keeps repeating the old adage, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”. It’s exactly like The Hangover – a place where everyone has carefree anonymity and where anything can happen. If you ever express surprise at anything you have seen or heard, people will shrug, smile, and say “It’s Vegas!”. The strip of hotel and casino resorts is a mirage specifically set up to make you spend all your money, and the Vegas ideal is that you don’t feel bad about it. Sin City is not just a crazy place – it is a sanctuary from guilt, because everyone is in on it. Note: I will say this. If you go up to a good-looking girl who is alone at the bar and start talking to her, even if you think you’re rocking it because the conversation is good and you’re both smiling, EVEN if you’re now conversing in French because she’s Belgian...