Challenge – epic loop starting from San Francisco
So I landed in the USA in 2008 determined to see as much as possibly could in two months. After mapping out and connecting the dots of the top 15 or so places that were highest on my list, I ended up with a big loop going around the USA and into Canada. Since San Francisco was the easiest airport to get to, that would be my starting and end point
Alarming murder and silver lining
The simplest and easiest way for me to see the maximum amount of sites, was via bus. I jumped in the deep-end and purchased a 2 month unlimited Greyhound bus pass (they have a pretty extensive network right across the USA). However, I would find out later, there is a massive variability in the level of service provided by Greyhound in different parts of North America.
The day after purchasing my ticket, all over the news a story broke of a person being murdered on a Greyhound bus (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/greyhound-killer-believed-man-he-beheaded-was-an-alien-1.1131575). it was in the Canadian Rockies where I was due to be in a couple of weeks.. After reading up on what happened I tried to change my plans, however I couldn’t get a refund and was essentially locked in. The silver lining with this situation was that Greyhound put on a lot more buses in response to some public criticism. So when I did the epic 2.5 day trip from the Canadian Rockies to Toronto, the bus was at about 20% capacity.
Overnight buses – not for the faint of heart
I have a bucket load of stories from my trials and tribulations completing this challenge. In total I spent 8 nights sleeping / traveling overnight on Greyhound buses. But in summary, the most common annoyances were: people eating on the bus, playing music through their speakers even at 2am, loud conversations on the phone, frequent bus stops (every 3 hours or so), buses breaking down (I experienced three bus breakdowns that needed a replacement), delayed or missed connections.
The worst experience was in Louisiana, the bus broke down at around 3am in the morning. For some reason the bus driver couldn’t turn off the heater in bus, he had opened the air vents for some circulation but then it started pouring rain. We were then ordered off the bus and had to stand in a torrential downpour for about 50 minutes while waiting for a replacement bus. Then they made us move our own luggage between buses!! Wow!
Unrealized fears of racism and unfriendliness
In my experience, with any country, it is hard to get a true feel for what the country is like unless you go there for yourself. Bad stereotypes and misconceptions can quickly be corrected by getting there. The USA is no exception. I had all sorts of fears of racism and discrimination, but none of them turned out to be true in my experiences. In the two and a bit months I was traveling, I didn’t have one bad experience due to my appearance, and I was pleasantly surprised at how friendly, hospitable, and knowledgeable many of the people I met were. Mind you, I was mixing mostly with a certain demographic, younger, more educated folk.
Massive diverse continent (understatement!)
North America is such a massive, beautiful and diverse continent. I can see why many North Americans don’t feel the need to go overseas immediately as there is such to see and do on their home turf. Really there isn’t any type of terrain that I don’t think they have. The favourite places I visited in no particular order on this trip were: San Francisco (esp Sequoia Forest), Seattle, Lake Louise (Canadian Rockies), NYC, Washington DC, Chapel Hill, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and Santa Fe in New Mexico – yes this was mostly a trip of ticking the big most popular bucket list items.
New Orleans Scare
The next day a Hurricane emerged that was due to slammed into New Orleans in 2 days time, it was forecast to be bigger than the devastating Katrina in 2005. The City quickly shut down, shops were boarded up, hundreds and hundreds of national guard turned up – and the local supermarkets were quickly selling out of basic foods – it was all quite alarming. I managed to squeeze out on one of the last buses. Thankfully, the hurricane ended up losing power and veering off to the West saving New Orleans from more destruction. It was notable during my stay that much of the basic infrastructure still had not been rebuilt after 2005. New Orleans felt like a City on the ropes.
Completing the loop
I returned to San Francisco, completing the loop, feeling a sense of satisfaction that I had a much better appreciation for what is in North America, how large and diverse it is, how friendly and open the people are and just overall a feeling that I wanted to spend more time here.