Pedal power to start a new life
SIX months ago he was working in Ipswich as a web designer. Today Dominic Smith is beginning a new life in Los Angeles - having completed an amazing cycling adventure all the way across America.
SIX months ago he was working in Ipswich as a web designer. Today Dominic Smith is beginning a new life in Los Angeles - having completed an amazing cycling adventure all the way across America. GRANT SHERLOCK spoke to him about his incredible journey.
DOMINIC Smith can hardly believe what he's just done.
He's still taking calls on his English mobile, even though waves from the North Pacific are crashing onto the Los Angeles beach near where he's staying.
The phone is one of the few links to home that he's carried on a trip that saw him and his college roommate Andy Robinson cycle 5,000 miles across the breadth of America.
The 5,257 gruelling miles took them across ten states, up countless hills, in to frustratingly powerful headwinds and along mile after mile of empty American highway.
The pair rode defiantly in to LA, in to the arms of waiting friends, celebrating the biggest achievement of their lives.
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Even today, a few weeks after the adventure, Dominic, 23, struggles to take it all: “It's a strange feeling. The first day seems like months ago, and now even the last day seems like such a long time ago,” he said.
“I knew it was going to be this fantastic adventure we were going to do, and it definitely turned out that way. It definitely feels like it was a huge adventure.”
The pair set out from Andy's hometown of Yorktown, Virginia on August 5 after a blisteringly hot spell delayed their departure by a few days.
They began cycling west at 40 or 50 miles a day, but gradually increased their daily distance to about 80 miles.
The ride, which they called the 'Great American Bicycle Adventure', took them across Virginia and into Kentucky, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and finally California where they took in the sights of San Francisco, before cycling 250miles in two days to make it to Los Angeles in time for their welcome party.
The friends met at college in America in 2002, where they studied at the North Carolina School of the Arts. They were assigned as roommates and have been friends since.
After college Dominic returned to East Anglia. He had grown up in Colchester, and set up home in Ipswich where he worked as a web designer for The Evening Star.
It was while he was in Ipswich that he planned the trip with Andy, 22, and together they prepared for what they hoped would be a turning point in their lives.
Dominic wasn't sure what he wanted to do with his life, but the idea of relocating to Los Angeles for a fresh start sounded like just what he needed.
“I wanted to do this before I figured out what I was going to do,” he said.
“You have a lot of time to think about what you're going to do when you're out there on the bike. I'm definitely going to try LA out now, and see how it turns out for me.”
They set out with Alaskan-born Andy's girlfriend Marcy Johnson in tow for the first three weeks, but had to go on as a pair when Marcy returned home to Yorktown to continue her studies. So they tackled the rest of the journey with just each other - and the highway - for company.
The first big task was crossing the Appalachian mountains, then they faced deserts, later the Rocky Mountains and plenty of nothingness in between.
Dominic said: “The first few weeks were definitely the hardest of the entire trip. I hadn't really done any training and my legs weren't prepared for riding 12 hours a day.
“I had a lot of knee trouble. All of a sudden I started getting shooting pains through my knee, I got a knee brace for it and it just gradually went away.
“We saw some pretty incredible places. When you're in a car everything just flashes by.
“We met some crazy people and some really nice people. Lots of people put us up. We walked into a bar once and some Harley Davidson riders started talking to us and they offered us a place to stay.
“It's amazing how nice people are to you when you're on a bike. People would just drive by us and offer us water and biscuits.”
Initially the pair slept in a tent wherever they ended their day's riding, but they threw it away after they got sick of carrying it. From then on they slept under the stars unless they were lucky enough to be offered a place to stay.
Some nights they called on the local fire station, where often they were given a bed and a meal.
Some nights people who lived along the roads they were travelling on would offer them a place to stay. But other nights they slept alone, outside in the middle of nowhere, with just a tarpaulin to protect them from the elements.
They endured nights of being soaked by the rain, and nights so cold that when they woke in the morning their water bottles had frozen solid.
But they also saw sights they will never forget.
“Utah was probably one of the most beautiful places we went through. We went through a national park there and it was just a huge desert,” Dominic said.
“Our spirits never really got terribly low. Usually you would ride for an entire day and you would just collapse and fall straight to sleep. When you've been riding your bike all day you fall asleep easily.
“I've never eaten so much food in my whole life, but I've still lost two inches in jeans size. I'm extremely skinny now, and my legs are enormous.”
The pair raised money for the World Wildlife Fund during their ride - they say it seemed the obvious cause to support when the whole purpose of their trip was to take their time to enjoy the natural beauty of North America.
Dominic now plans to try to find a job in the film industry, possibly writing, but he's keeping his options open.
He says he's both nervous and excited about his new life in the US, but like his bike ride he's sure it's the start of something he'll tell his grandchildren about.
“The ride was definitely a lot of fun,” he said.
“Everybody we've met has said 'I wish I could do something like that'. I really think more people should do it. It's a really enriching experience.”
Read Dominic and Andy's diary from the road at www.thegaba.com
You can donate to their World Wildlife Fund campaign by clicking on the 'just giving' link on www.thegaba.com
We are in Damascus, a nice little town and are nearing the end of our first state! Kentucky ho…We have been warned countless times about crazy dogs with a hunger for bicycles and their riders.
For every hill we climb it makes the next one just a little bit easier and our bodies are getting used to the high carb wholewheat filled diet.
I just can't wait to get to the west!
My left knee is knackered. I can hear it scraping as it pushes the pedals round and going up these hills is proving rather painful. Hopefully it will sort itself out soon because I hate to be slowing us down. It is slightly more hilly than we thought it would be though, it wouldn't be a problem if my knee was not being so cantankerous.
We're now in Kansas.
We rode 100 miles yesterday over slowly flattening terrain and arrived in Pittsburgh in the early evening. We are hoping the headwind is not going to hinder our efforts too much so we can soar across Kansas as fast as possible.
All told, we've travelled just under 2,000 miles. That's the equivalent of me riding back and forth across England six times! We've climbed (and descended) roughly 60,000 feet, been through rain, wind, fog and blistering sunshine - and we're only just half way across the country.
We're now in Montrose, Colorado and Andy's just picking up a new tyre (that's tire to you Americans).
We were warned about the winds in Kansas, and sure enough, they were there, but nothing prepared us for the brain freezing 20mph headwind we've experienced through Colorado.
It's like swimming through a sea of caramel, only rather than enjoying tasty caramel we get a mouth full of cutting arctic air. We are headed straight for it and it seems unrelenting. A few days ago our route turned (for the briefest of moments) eastbound and I managed to ride 40mph UP A HILL because of the tailwind.
Still, all whinging aside, Colorado has been without a shadow of a doubt the most beautiful state we have been in. The variation in landscape amazes me…