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Seasons Greetings from Kona on the Big Island in Hawaii. My last update was dispatched from the Island of Bintan in the South China Seas. Since when yours truly has been taking a break with just 3 days on the bike.
On 16th Dec we were re-united with the Odyssey party (around 65) who flew in from New Zealand late on 15th. We are now into the final 14 days of this epic bike ride, not quite sure how many more updates that is going to take before I give this machine a break.
However there are some reflections on the past 3 weeks that need to be put into print the first is an indication of just how small this planet earth really is. The first incident was at the hotel check in at Bintan Island at the end of November where. A lady of Eastern origin who recognised one of our Odyssey ID tags approached us, yes we said to her query we are part of Odyssey 2000.
Well said the lady I met you all in Stockholm (where I now live) back in August, I know 2 of your party, I originate from Singapore and we are here on vacation.
Then one day last week we were cycling on the Island of Kauai here in Hawaii, when a car went past and pulled over. Winding his window down the American driver said are you with Odyssey 2000? Yes-replied John. It appeared that this couple were on a cycling holiday in China at the same time and location as we were.
So to change the subject, and on the day before we left Singapore for Hawaii yours truly was reading the Singapore Straits Times dated 9th December when I read an article which made me smile. Here I thought would be a topic, which any World traveller would be well, equipped to write about. I refer to
So for the benefit of those readers who may be interested I will pick out the main points of the News item that caught my eye. The paper headline was as follows;
The article continued, "In a bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games, the Chinese Capital is spending $ 37 million to upgrade public lavatories in tourist spots.
The Chinese capital is going to clean up its notoriously foul public toilets as part of its bid to host the 2008 Olympic games. It appears that there are 452 toilets in Beijing's main tourist spots, of which tourists currently use only 60. ALL of them MUST be renovated in the next 2 years.
The article went on to say that to encourage improvements we would grade the toilets from 1 to 4. It appears that to qualify for a 4 star grading the toilet must have, granite flooring, sufficient lighting, piped music, hand washing facilities, tissues, automatic flush, hand dryers, and facilities for disabled. Most of which we in the West take for granted. It appears that Inspectors will be appointed to undertake the job of grading, and they will be issued with 58 guidelines. Tourist locations that charge entrance fees must upgrade their toilet or be downgraded. So having provided you with this useless bit of pre Xmas information I will proceed with my other reflections.
So to continue, on the 10th December John Ambler and yours truly presented ourselves at the China Air check in counter of Singapore airport en-route to Honolulu.We were looking forward to a return to Western culture in the USA, (and the final 2 weeks of Odyssey 2000) but Uncle Sam had other ideas.
Our return to the USA (our 3rd in 12 months) was not going to be quite that easy, as we found out when we presented ourselves at the check in counter at Singapore Airport. The familiar question was put to us,
" When are you planning to leave the U.S.A.”? And do you have your onward tickets? (Like nice to see you but when are you leaving?).
When we gave a negative answer to the last question it appeared to start alarm bells ringing, with the comment that if we allow you on to the plane without your onward tickets it is very likely that the US immigration authorities will put you on the next plane back to Singapore.
So feeling like a couple of refugees we got on the phone to Tony at number 10, who promised to ring Bill before he left the Whitehouse. Then within the hour we had our boarding tickets.
Now the TRUTH, well we said meekly to the check in lady we do have onward tickets but they are with our travel agent in Los Angeles. This was not any help we were politely told, you must have an onward ticket in your possession.
So after further consultation and a telex with China Air in Honolulu we were advised the only way around the problem was for us to buy an open return ticket from Honolulu to Singapore. ”That will cost you 1200 Singapore dollars each,” we were told which China Air will refund when you have the correct tickets from your travel agent.
So let that be a lesson to any would be UK travelers planning to visit Uncle Sam, visa waiver or not. Then to complicate and confuse your 2 weary travelers even more, we left Singapore at 15.00 hrs on 10th December and after 2 flights of 5 and 8 hours changing planes in Taiwan we arrived at Honolulu just 2 hours before we left Singapore, i.e. 13.00 hrs on 10th December. All thanks to the international dateline.
So we are at long last back in the United States, and very impressed we were with the speed and efficiency with which we went through customs and immigration who did not even ask to see the Chine Air return ticket in my hand.
Within 90 minutes we were on an inter island flight to the Garden Island of Kauai. It has been a problem here coping with 10 hours of sunshine per day in the warmest part of the USA. the only consolation has been to think of England in December.
It is also the oldest and most westerly of the inhabited islands, there are in fact over 130.So why did the Odyssey 2000 organizers select Hawaii for us to spend Christmas? A fitting prelude to our finale in California.
Well the fact that a large number of humped back whales are prepared to travel over 3500 miles from Alaska to Hawaii in order to breed in the warm Pacific waters every December, will have nothing to do with Odyssey 2000. However I guess if Hawaii is good enough for two thirds of the North Pacific Whale population it must be good enough for the survivors of Odyssey 2000.
I say survivors simply because when we arrived in Singapore from Asia at the end of Nov there were approx 200 in the group. When we met up with the party in Honolulu on 16th December there were 65 riders including ourselves. Numerous factors contributed to the departure of such a large number, but the major reason was most likely the 3000 dollars surcharge imposed by the tour organizer.
Maybe for the benefit of some folks at home I should at this stage provide a little historical and geographical background to this very remote group of islands in the Pacific Ocean. The islands that make up Hawaii were born over 40 million years ago from volcanic eruption on the ocean bed. It is also the most remote landmass on earth being 2600 miles from the west coast of the USA and 3800 miles from Japan. In spite of the fact that one of the first white men to set foot here in 1778 was the British explorer Capt James Cook, Hawaii is part of the USA and became a state on 12th March 1959.
The only visible links today with the UK is the plot of land (owned by the UK) marking the spot where Capt Cook was killed, and the Hawaiian flag, which includes the Union Jack.So our reunion with the Odyssey party took place on 16th Dec in Honolulu, the following day we flew to the Big Island of Hawaii for 5 days of biking (and camping) around the island. To be followed by 3 days to celebrate Christmas at the resort of Kona on the South of the island.
The outcome of those few days on the Big Island together with our return to California for the FINAL TWO DAYS and 120 MILES of this epic bike ride will be found in my final? Update number 52.
This is where it all started; it was just 362 days ago that we crossed the border from California in to Mexico. Since when we have crossed many frontiers, and there have been 51 updates from yours truly. The fact that this is number 52 on the final week is pure coincidence. We arrived back in California at Los Angeles International Airport from Hawaii at around 4 pm local time on Friday 29th Dec, (Day 364).
It was then a 160-mile drive to San Diego to commence the FINAL 2 days cycling back to Los Angeles. Before I comment on those 2 days, there are some notes, which have been carried over from our last week in Hawaii that I was unable to cover in the last update.
We arrived on the largest and most easterly of the Hawaiian Islands on 17th Dec. It is commonly known as the Big Island, because all seven of the other inhabited islands would fit into it. That is my theory anyway. The Big Island is also the youngest of the Hawaiian Islands; it is made up of 5 volcanoes. Scientists estimate that it rose from the sea around half a million years ago .
The highest volcano Mauna Kea rises nearly 14,000 feet above sea level. If it were measured from the base on the sea floor Mauna Kea reaches almost 32,000 feet making it the highest mountain on Earth. So our pre Xmas schedule for the 65 survivors of Odyssey 2000 was going to be a 5-day (camping) ride around the island. On reflection I think there was a move afoot to reduce our numbers even more before the festivities began. After almost 3 weeks off the bike the ride around the Big Island was for me (and many of my younger companions) a personal challenge. This became more so on the second day when we climbed a modest 4000 feet into a headwind that turned to rain as we reached the summit. At this point there was an invitation on our daily route sheet (for those who were interested) the option of a 10-mile detour around the islands only active volcano.
In view of the poor visibility and rain I decided to give the volcano a miss. I was then rewarded with a 20-mile descent to the town of Hilo, and within 5 miles we rode out of the rain into clear blue skies and warm sunshine.
Two days later we were faced with an 80-mile ride, this route took us along the coast and a very scenic route towards Onomea Bay. The destination on this day was Hawi on the north of the island, but like most of the islands here there is a wet side and a hilly side to contend with. The wet side gave us 20 miles of riding in the (warm) rain, then we turned inland and towards the dry side but just to make it a challenge we had another 4000 ft climb and into a headwind again.
We arrived back at the resort of Kona on the south of the island on 23rd Dec where we spent 2 very pleasant days relaxing in the sunshine. Then on Boxing Day we flew to the neighbouring island of Maui for 2 nights. This was to be the final fling for Odyssey 2000 in Hawaii before our return to California.
I am now beginning to appreciate why the Islands of Hawaii attracts seven million visitors per year, plus many who come to settle.
I was hoping that this would be my last update, but there will be just one more as our last 2 weeks of Odyssey have been hectic. You will recall that the last update ended with our final? Fling in Hawaii with 2 days on the Island of Maui.
Each of these islands has it's own special charm and Maui is no exception. The natural beauty of Maui is the result of its explosive creation. A large chunk of that natural beauty was preserved for all time when the Federal Government created the Haleakala National Park. It was this National Park, which may have been the reason for our visit to Maui. Or was it the urge by some to cycle (climb) another mountain?
We did have a choice from the YMCA camp at Ke'anae on the north of the island, where we spent two nights. The options open to us were a 109-mile round trip and 10,023 feet climb up to the summit of the extinct volcano of Haleakala. To obtain the full benefit of your efforts it is advisable to arrive at the summit before sunrise. So that trip is on the list for my next visit? I chose to take the more sedate route and ride along the Hana coast. It is in fact far from sedate with 30 miles of continual bends and climbs up and down. The big plus is the spectacular coastline view at every bend in the road, and lush tropical plants and flowers.
So on 28th Dec we returned to Honolulu on the island of O'ahu (pronounced oh-ah-hoo) in preparation for our 5-hour flight to LA on 29th. This gave us an opportunity for a brief visit into Honolulu. This is where it all happens, on the world famous Waikiki Beach and the City of Honolulu the most international city in the USA. TV and many movies have enhanced the fame of this location.
However for me the most memorable and moving experience of the few hours spent in Honolulu was my visit to Pearl Harbour. Most readers will know why Pearl Harbour is now an historic site, but I found it to be an awesome place to visit. It was here on 7th December 1941 that World War 11 began for the USA.
It was a massive air and sea attack on Pearl Harbour by the Japanese in the early hours of Sunday 7th December 1941 that took many lives. Many US battleships lined up in the harbour were destroyed. The principal victim was the USS Arizona and her 1,177 crew who lost their lives on that fatal day. The area is now a 10 acre cultural site, museum and memorial.
Whilst many of the sunken ships were raised or removed the USS Arizona has been left as a permanent memorial and resting place for her crew. There is now a 184-foot long memorial, which spans the sunken battleship that can be clearly seen just below the surface. This memorial is also a shrine containing the names of those who died. As I was only 9 years of age when the USA declared war on Japan our visit to Pearl Harbour was for me the most moving experience this year. It was even more ironic when I think back to our last day in Japan on 10th October last when I visited the Memorial Peace Park in Hiroshima where World War 11 came to an end. Which is where I must end this update, so if you really wish to see this project thru to the finish look out for # 54. That WILL be my final report.
This is the Final update before putting my cycle and pocket mail into storage and going into hibernation for a short period.
We arrived back in mainland USA on 29th Dec where it all began. A number of riders who left the tour at Singapore in November rejoined the group for the last 2 days, taking our number to approx 80.
There has been a large following in the USA and around the world on the ups and downs of Odyssey 2000 via the Internet and the many individual websites. Plus the local media meant that folks in California and beyond knew who we were, where we had been, and where we were heading.
Regrettably in spite of the buoyant mood of the party, 2 female riders were admitted to hospital during those 2 final days. The first was brought to the ground by a skateboard, which ran into her front wheel and was rendered unconscious.
The other female admitted to hospital was suffering from altitude sickness; this problem arose in Hawaii when a number of folk climbed the 10,000 ft volcanoes on the island of Maui. This rider is now out of hospital with instructions to take a complete rest.
The route we took north followed the Pacific Coast Highway with an overnight
stop at San Juan Capistrano. Our route on both days took us along popular
bike trails and thru' National Parks.
The Hilton Hotel at Burbank on the outskirts of L.A. was our destination
and final resting place on 31st Dec.
I arrived at the Hilton with a party of 8 companions at 3.22 pm on 31st December where we were greeted by a group of well-wishers. I could not comprehend that it was actually all over, my feelings are difficult to describe, relief ? satisfaction ? Then, what comes next ?
However it was NOT all over YET, dinner was at 7.30, followed by the usual speeches and celebrating up to midnight. That is for those still on their feet.
There was admiration for the 5 individuals (inc one female) who had cycled every mile of the itinerary. The daily route Sheet for the last day indicated a total distance covered of 28,635 Kilometres. My personal mileage was slightly less having missed out on New Zealand, Ireland and Scotland.
Bearing in mind that breakfast on new years day was at 5 AM some of us decided that the arrival of the New Year would have to take place without us. So why was breakfast at that hour when Odyssey was over? You may recall that last year on 1st Jan we were invited to lead the famous Tournament of Roses Parade.
This invitation was repeated for 2001. For the benefit of folks at home this annual extravaganza has now been running for 112 years. The parade takes place in Pasadena over a 5 mile route, it takes on a different theme each year this one being the "Fabric of America"
The event was listed in the TV guide as follows; starting at 8am the parade will include 24 marching bands, 26 equestrian units, and 52 floats all of which will illustrate the theme for 2001. There will also be a parachute drop by the US Army Golden Knights Team, and the return of the Odyssey 2000 cyclists from their yearlong trek around the world.
This was our final moment of glory, to be cheered by one million people who
lined the 5-mile route.
I now look forward to a short break and catching up with my family, I then hope to make contact with all you good folk who have been supportive of my efforts for the NSPCC.
Happy New Year to you all.
Arthur Benbow (Globe Trotting Pensioner)
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