We’re going the wrong way across America. Most people head from West to East – the wind is more likely to be behind you and if you time it well you can avoid searing heat and snowy cold. But this ride was never about easy or quick – it was about what felt right.
This is why we find ourselves on the blustery tip of Cape Cod in Provincetown, Massacheusetts, about 300 Miles East of New York.
Provincetown was incorporated in 1727, and is now a thriving holiday destination, famed for it’s arts scene and welcome of the LGBT+ community. The 2010 US Census revealed Provincetown to have the highest rate of same-sex couples in the country, with 16.3% of couples being in a same-sex relationship.
But we’re not hear for the tourism. We’re not here for the art. We’re not even here to gently stroll down Commercial Street, looking to see if there is a seat in Scottcakes or the P-Town Cafe.
We’re here because 400 years ago a ship with 102 passengers, about 30 crew, and 2 dogs found shelter in the natural harbour of Cape Cod after sailing across from Plymouth in a ship called the Mayflower.
They weren’t the first people to visit this coast by a long shot. When the Pilgrim’s landed they encountered the Nauset tribe, who spoke Massachusett – like most of America settlers from Europe were arriving in a country that was already occupied. Nor were the Pilgrims the first European visitors – Cape Cod was originally called Shoal Hope in 1602 by Bartholomew Gosnold (although he renamed it the same day after discovering it wasn’t an island and that it’s waters teamed with cod). Many of the Nauset the settlers discovered spoke English, having grown used to trading with European fishermen.
Nor were the Pilgrims the first Europeans to establish a colony in America – the Virginia Colony was settled in 1707. But the Virginia Colony was established by a company with the aim of profiting off this virgin land. The Pilgrims were the first Europeans to settle America looking for freedom – a value that remains central to the identity of the USA today. Whilst they harboured in Cape Cod they drew up the Mayflower Compact – setting out how they would govern themselves. It’s possible to draw a line from this declaration of self-governance to the writing of the Constitution in 1789. This was a radical act – there aren’t many countries which can trace their foundation to a populist declaration of self-governance.
So here we stand, on this historic peninsula. We’re standing in Pilgrim’s First Landing Park (which is in the middle of a rotary, aka roundabout) – where we think the Pilgrims first stepped foot in America. We’ve already dipped our wheels in the Atlantic Ocean – an act we’ll repeat in 4000 miles on Lands’ End beach in San Francisco. The weather is fresh – it’s only 6° and it’s not going to rise above 10° today. But it’s dry, and the wind is coming in off the coast, exactly where we want it.
There’s nothing left to do – we’ve prepared physically, mentally, and emotionally for this moment for two years. From a mental health breakdown in 2017, to running the London Marathon, everything has led to this moment.
We do a final check that all our bags are secure on the frame. We take a sip of water. We hug the friends who drove us here, and embrace our wife. We step over the frame, clipping our right foot into the pedal.
We pause briefly, remembering why we’re doing this ride – for our mum, who lives with MS. We press start on our cycle computer, check over our left shoulder, and gently pedal out into the road, trying to hide the tears in our eyes and the wobble in our chin.
Obviously this is a fiction – but just because I can’t do the journey in real life doesn’t mean that I can’t share the trip with you. I’m inviting everyone to donate their miles – whether walking, running, or cycling – to our virtual trip across America. You can share these automatically on Strava, or log them on my Virtual America web page. I’ll regularly update where we’ve been and what we’ve seen here and on my Facebook page.
I was hoping to raise £10,000 through this ride for the MS Society – but my fundraising isn’t the only adventure on hold. Like many charities, the MS Society is facing a significant gap in it’s finances – and Multiple Sclerosis hasn’t magically disappeared during this lockdown. If you could spare a few pennies for charity – whether it’s a one off donation, putting some small change in a jar every time you contribute miles, taking part in an online quiz, or inviting your friends and colleagues to sponsor your participation – it would be greatly appreciated. You can do this at https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/VirtualAmerica.
Take care, stay safe, and see you all soon
Antony Butcher – 6th May, 2020