Since those colder days up near the Grand Canyon, I slowly descended over the next week or so, only having to sit waiting for the snow to clear once more just for half a day. It was a great relief to arrive in Texas where my red face was no longer a result of the cold weather but instead a reminder that I needed to start applying sun cream again. It was also here that I was delighted to start experiencing American hospitality towards men in lycra as I was invited for lunch on a ranch by the owner who thought I might be hungry, and he was right. Since then I've been taken to lunch by his friend, had someone shout at me from their car for me to pull over so that they could insist that I come and stay the night at their house, been invited to spend the night sharing a room with the greatest number of bicycles I've ever seen in a living room and I was even taken to dinner with two sets of fifth cousins I had never met before.
On my way into Memphis, I got wet for the first time while I was actually riding since I left Christchurch back in January. I've had sleet and snow but somehow had managed to avoid any rain. Boy did the dark clouds try to make up for it. I crossed the great brown Mississippi river and arrived in a very wrinkled state at my motel on its eastern bank not far from the Hershey's factory. Inspired by the smell, I tried my first ever bar of Hershey's chocolate and was left greatly underwhelmed by both its taste and its lack of thickness. They have nothing on Cadbury's. My time in Memphis did improve however as I got to see Elvis Presley's bicycle at Graceland (disappointingly not mentioned in the audio tour or cared for like the rest of his possessions as it is just left rusting and hanging up in one of the out-buildings) and spent an evening enjoying both my main courses at BB Kings Club on Beale Street (because sometimes one American portion just isn't enough). Oh, how I've missed live music over the past two years.
After a couple more days riding, I arrived in Nashville and after depositing my possessions at the hostel I set out on foot to explore. Every twenty metres or so I was asked if I needed a ticket. After the third guy asked I became curious and asked what it was for. Nashville was hosting the SEC Champs. After doing my best impression of a confused Englishman who had no idea what this was or whether I was at all interested, which came very easily, the price had already reduced by half and the seat offered had moved from top tier to almost court-side. Wary of the folk offering these tickets, I watched a policeman hand over some money to one of them and so with my suspicions eased slightly went ahead and bought my ticket, entered the Bridgestone Arena, purchase the obligatory overpriced, wilted hot-dog and sat down to an afternoon of college basketball entertainment. For those of you who aren't aware, college sports are a big deal over here and believe it or not attract larger crowds than even Swindon Town Football Club.
It's taken over two years but it seems that over the last few weeks I have finally found my cycling legs. In fact cycling has become pretty easy and in the evenings my legs show no signs of having done any physical exercise during the day. Even as I've re-entered the hills, on more than one occasion I have had to look round to see if my rear panniers are still there convinced that they must have fallen off my bike because it feels so light. Maybe it's like the horses rides you get at beaches where when you are heading away from the start, they remain stubbornly slow and need plenty of coercion to get anywhere but as soon as you have turned around and they realise they are on their way back to the start they can't wait to get there and get it over with. The end of my journey now feels very much in sight as I just have 10 days left in the land of opportunity before re-entering the same time zone as my neglected guitars and pointy shoes as I fly to Morocco for Easter Day.
I will arrive in the nations capital in just a few days time and I have a couple of issues which I would like President Obama to address. The price of almost everything in America is not the actual price. You have to add tax and anything else that the seller wishes to hide from you and the final figure therefore rarely lies anywhere close to a round figure. This is not only misleading and inefficient but adds unnecessary weight to my load as the collection of loose change inevitably grows. Also, signs saying 'bicycle route' should be accompanied with a road more suitable for bicycles than others around it, preferably with a bicycle lane or even just a slightly wider road and not just like any other busy city road (Dallas requires most urgent attention here).