For several months Jen Offord was Standard Issue’s official sports taster in her series Let’s Get Physical. Now she’s in the USA. On a 2,500-mile bike ride. Yes, she’s batshit. And the Department of Homeland Security is suspicious.
My American adventure isn’t off to the best start when, on arrival in Boston, I’m held by the Department of Homeland Security. For an hour. With no explanation. In a weird little office with a bunch of people whose bags they are searching and, quite loudly, publicly commenting on the contents of. Apparently it’s OK to treat people like criminals on the basis that they have a Green Card rather than citizenship/flew in from an Arab nation/claim they are cycling across America. I’m asked to prove myself – the enormous inconvenience of bringing my own bike with me not being enough to persuade them that I’m not in it for the Obamacare. I advise him to Google me, which definitely makes me an arsehole, but seems to do the trick.
Fair play to the guy; this does not seem to be the cyclist’s country. I mean, it’s bloody massive. Everything is geared towards driving, just out of convenience, and if I had to travel 20 miles to get to a ruddy supermarket, I’d probably feel the same. I do wonder, however, if a man might have had the same treatment. “Don’t you think that’s pretty dangerous?” he asks me. “Well I rather hope not,” I tell him.
There’s a lot of paranoia here. People seem to greet my mission with enthusiasm, which is ace, but they definitely think I’m mad and want to know if I’ll be carrying a weapon with me. And it doesn’t end here: we’re stopped from cycling through a dodgy road in Newark (which leads us to an even dodgier road of massive trucks) and I’m warned about getting stabbed in Philadelphia. I’ve slept on a bench in Sao Paolo airport and my travelling companion, Sophie, has traversed South America on her own – we’re not completely clueless – but once something’s in your head it’s hard not to start worrying. I don’t know if the issue is that we’re women or people think London is this quaint little village, or just that there are genuinely scary areas we need to avoid.
It’s a shame there isn’t more cycling going on here: for a start there would be fewer ‘curvy women’ on Good Morning America being advised to only ever wear black clothes. Avoid print and bright colours, they tell curvy women, whom they love, by the way. But aside from this, it’s a beautiful, beautiful country, and this is a great way to see it.
My main concern before getting out here was the lack of cyclists and the massive vehicles, but drivers are a damn sight more considerate than many I’ve come across in London. That said, Americans are, generally speaking, the nicest, friendliest, most hospitable bunch I’ve come across. To the extent that a cynical Londoner like me is nine times out of 10 working on the assumption that any helpful person must clearly be a psychopath.
Lovely, paranoid and paranoia-inducing people aside, it’s been a tough old slog the last 10 days, and I have more than once doubted whether or not I can pull this mission off. I don’t seem to be getting any faster, even as I get used to the weight I’m carrying on the bike; the days are long and my arse is in shreds. But. There are inspiring women to be met – such as Andi in Cape Cod who runs an organisation helping women to get through life’s troublesome bumps in the road, and Mo’ne Davis, a Little League superstar – and a senselessly over-complicated point to be made…2733 Views
Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen