Londonistan

It’s been a while since our last blog – we’ve not been able to write as we’ve been too busy rioting outside Trump Tower…

Not really – we’ve been hammering out miles on the bike. Since we last wrote we’ve covered 936 km, all in Texas, about 90% of which has been in the desert. Check it out in the West Texas Album. There was the small matter of the election which occurred somewhere in the middle of that.

November 8th really wasn’t our day.

It started in comical fashion. One of us (it could have happened to anyone) blocked the toilet at our Couch Surfing hosts house… He’d gone to work so we were home alone. Mortified, we plunged away for an hour to no avail, then had to make a highly embarrassing phone call, and agreed to pay for a plumber call out.

We set off in the rain, on a busy highway getting splashed by cars. Cycled a highly frustrating 110km on rubbish bumpy tarmac, getting three punctures along the way. Hungry and cold we arrived (late) at Kevin’s (our kind host in Del Rio), to find we both had allergies to the cat so decided to sleep in what was essentially a horse box in the garden.

And then Trump got elected.

Watching the results on US TV was like watching X Factor, but instead of deciding who would be the next forgotten pop star, it was deciding the most powerful person in the world.

Texas is a complex state, it’s voted Republican since 1980, but the major cities, and large areas in the west especially those on the Mexican border generally vote democrat. It makes no odds however, as the 38 Electoral College votes for Texas all go to Trump.

There have been thousands of articles written about it, and this blog isn’t well researched enough to give a detailed political commentary. We can however give an insight into the feelings of some of the people we’ve met. We aren’t able to find sources for the stats others have given below, but this is what people have told us.

Most people in Del Rio the next day, were pretty ambivalent, or happy with the result. As we were taking the Trump photo above, a guy leaned out his truck and yelled “Yeah Trump!” at us. Others felt it was a good thing, or didn’t vote as they didn’t like either candidate.

Alex in Sanderson was delighted with the result:

“I’m pleased that it’s someone from outside of politics, I think he’ll do a great job”.

Shannon – a kind lady we met in Florida voted Trump:

“I was very glad that Hillary did not win, but that doesn’t mean I am rejoicing that Trump did. I am a conservative, so I am glad that we have control of the house and senate back”

Others weren’t so enthusiastic.

Kelia, a friend of a friend in El Paso has recently returned to the USA:

“I hate being back, I hate the USA – we are a racist country. Trump exemplifies this and the white privilege that is prevalent here.”

In Fort Hancock, a stones throw from the Mexican border, we were camping and some six year olds came over to check out our bikes. One said, totally unprompted:

“It’s so unfair Trump won. Our teacher told us we are not allowed to speak Spanish anymore, and if we do we’ll get put on the naughty list and she will send it to Santa. People are scared if we speak Spanish we are going to get deported.”

John in Van Horn, a proud Texan all his life is worried:

“I’m considering moving my family to Australia. I’m seriously worried that Trump is so irresponsible, he’s going to star a war with someone. When I was young I was called up to fight in Vietnam, and there’s no way I’m going to let my son go through the same.”

In addition to foreign policy, another a big issue for many American’s is healthcare. John is a medical administration consultant and was giving us his views. He’s been working in healthcare for 30+ years and has studied other systems around the world.

“We are the only developed country in the world that doesn’t have some form of nationalised health system. When people ask why we’re the only ones who don’t, the mentality is “we’re the best, they should all have our system.”

"We’re not the best, the only thing we are number one for is cost to the patient."

"People hate “Obamacare” (the affordable healthcare act which provides government funded health insurance to low income earners) so much as they see it as socialism, i.e. the government doing it for you, and a lack of “freedom”.”

We got another fascinating insight into healthcare in Austin. Our friend Sophie needs an EpiPen, which in the UK costs a £8.40 prescription charge per dose. Apparently in the USA, if one company has a trademark on the drug, then no one else can produce it and they can sell it for what they like. It costs Sophie $300+ per pen.

Trump in his campaign said he was going to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, but he’s now said he wants to keep part of it.

We’ve met loads of Trump supporters along our route, and none of them are the nutters, or racist people you see on TV.

Many of them are keen to point out how the media disproportionately reported negative stories on Trump, and was biased against him. A lot of people, it seems, switched off to all the negative press around him as they viewed it all as bias, as opposed to genuine news. In the same vein, people think that Clinton didn’t get enough negative press for the things she’s done.

Neither of us are political spin doctors, but some sensible advice might be that if you wanted less negative press, perhaps stop lying, being racist, sexist, denying climate change etc…

The media bias works both ways. A quite staggering conversation we had in a bike shop emphasised this. Tom was the mechanic we made friends with and was helping fix our bikes:

“So is London as bad as everyone says it is?”

“What do you mean? London’s a brilliant place to live”

“All over the news, is that London is now over run by Muslims and that your new mayor is trying to impose Sharia Law and stuff on the people.”

“ … “

“Yeah, people on the radio are saying people are calling it “Londonistan” now, and that the city is going down hill. People here are concerned - we don’t want any of that Sharia Law over here.”

That conversation, or similar has happened with three separate people, hundreds of miles away from each other. It comes from right wing radio and TV shows, like this, who portray a totally false image of London and Paris and other places the majority of American’s have never been. (20% of citizens have a passport, according to Kelia).

When Zac Goldsmith refers to Saddiq Khan as “radical” with “extremist associations”, these right wing news channels get hold of it and go to town. People here read it, get scared, and drip by drip, every time Trump says “we’re going to ban Muslim’s” – some people who don’t know differently flock to the cause.

These guys have millions of followers – media bias works both ways.

For what it’s worth, we were both surprised and gutted with the result. It’s clear that many people really hate Clinton here, and she’s got a lot of bad baggage: the emails, screwing over Bernie, lying to congress etc. Like many people though, we just can’t accept someone as divisive, and someone with values so opposed to our own being President. Clinton actually won the popular vote, so the majority of USA voters also rejected Trump. He only got in due to the “rigged” system he spent so much time complaining about.

We are such typical “Millenials”… Maybe we’re wrong, and have just been brainwashed by the biased media. Maybe Trump will be “Great”.

Anyhow… the last week’s cycling has been truly fantastic. The terrain has changed from pine trees – to beautiful desolate plains. Mountain ranges surround us, the skies are perfect blue, the stars are bright and the moon is big! The pictures can’t really do it justice.

The temperature too, is not what we were expecting. We’ve been struggling out of our cozy tent to perfect skies and ice cold wind, only to be stifling and dry mouthed by around 9am when it heats up to 25C.

Spirits are high but it’s been tough going, exacerbated by constant punctures. We had five yesterday, and probably averaged two – three/day over the last leg. We have however found a few activities that keep us amused during the long days in the saddle, see video below:

The first thing we did upon finally arriving in El Paso (after getting a humungous celebratory ice cream), was invest in some tough tires, which will hopefully sort us out. We’re right on the border with Mexico, so plan to nip across for a rest day to check it out.

The plan from here is to race up to Pheonix Arizona in time for Thanksgiving (24th Nov) where we are very excited to stay with a family we were put in touch with. We’ve then got around a month to get to San Diego (which is only roughly a week’s cycle away) so are planning on taking a road trip (with a car not a bike) up to Grand Canyon, and Vegas!

Finally to end on a happy note – we met some lovely people in a café in Alpine in the desert. Briana invited us to come to her Bible study class, we had nothing else on so went along. It was cool to meet all her friends who were all interested in the trip. One of the girls parents ran a “wellness centre” and had a spare room so invited us to stay the night there, and bought us a Texas speciality: chicken and bacon ranch pizza.

Before they left for the night they asked:

“Do y’all mind if we pray for you?”

“Of course not – we need all the help we can get!”

We ended the night all holding hands in a circle whilst they prayed for our safe passage to San Diego. It seems to be working as we’ve safely made it to EL Paso, and the weather has been stunning ever since!