Our image of the US has changed a lot in recent months. Seven months ago we were not very impressed with the culture in the south. Since we are more northerly, our opinion has changed. There are still a lot of Americans with too much weight, but we've seen a lot of active people in the last few months, very often in old age. It seems like there is something healthy in the air in the north, because everyone is much older than they look. The food is much less fast food and we see more healthy families, although it remains relative to the south and home. On average, sugar and sauce consumption is still very high. A simple restaurant in a small village mainly serves fried food, or pizzas with too much fat that they complement with a generous load of ketchup and extra cheese. Incidentally, it is etiquette in the US to clear plates when someone has finished eating. Strange for a European, but the American will think that when he eats in a restaurant in Europe.
In the south we were regularly welcomed with open arms. They called it Southern Hospitality. With a grin they often said that we should not expect such a treatment in the north. Unfortunately for the south, luckily for us, the people in the north are at least as hospitable. No matter what state we were in, the Americans are incredibly hospitable and friendly people. The American spirit always comes up in a conversation. They love adventures, entrepreneurship and people who have ambition. They do not hide that appreciation, but express it with their typical enthusiasm. "Good for you guys", "you are amazing", "this is so great", "you are rocking the world". Sometimes it feels a bit unreal, but usually it is wonderful to be honoured this way.
The rivalry between states is comparable to the rivalry between countries in South America. An Argentinian would say that Bolivia is unsafe and full of thieves. The Bolivian then said they would steal our bikes in Peru if we didn't look for a second. So everyone had something contemptuous to say about the neighbours. The same applies in the US, but for us as a traveler, every state or country feels unique, welcoming and safe. That does not mean that we feel at home everywhere. The heat and air conditioning culture in the south is not really our thing, while the outdoor mentality and vast forests in Maine have stolen our hearts. One thing is the same everywhere in the US, the car culture. In the remote areas in the north there are at least as many large pickups as in the south in Texas. The lawn mowers have been replaced by snow blowers, but machines are in their DNA, preferably one that you can sit on.
So far, we still have not found the country where we could live. Fort Kent comes very close with the beautiful surroundings, all the outdoor sports, the warm community and the small scale. But only two weeks of vacation in a year, the car culture, the bizarre high medical costs and the possession of weapons are a downside. On the other side of the river, country number 21, Canada awaits. The Canadians don't want to be American at all, so maybe everything is different there?
Carl cycles with us across the bridge. We get a stamp for six months and cycle the first meters in Canada. It is the beginning of December and the winter has arrived. This morning it was -15 degrees on the thermometer so we are packed in warm clothes. The gardens are covered with a thick layer of snow and large slabs of ice float on the river. The road is snow-free and a warm winter sun makes the temperature a lot more pleasant. Two heavy trailers are bumping behind our bikes, filled with far too much gear. It are the trailers that we will use for the following adventures on skis and skates. We still have a lot of canoe equipment and a pile of new winter gear for the harsh winter in Canada. Carl cycles quietly in front of us while we feel like an old tractor. It isn't more tiring than normal, we just go so much slower with the same effort. That is frustrating, certainly because we know that we normally go much faster. It seems to be endless before we are halfway and then it is already past one o'clock. "We'll never make it before dark," says Olivier. The last hours we cycle in the dark with -12 degrees.
Our main rule number one on the bike is 'don't cycle in the dark'. We are not prepared for it and two small LED lights from the Dollar Store are not so useful on an unlit road in the US. First of all, we can hardly see the road ourselves, second, cars do not see us which is a much bigger problem. We cycle almost in the middle of the road because the side lane is full of snow. Cars are honking at us, not as an encouragement this time. It is anything but fun and we wonder why we do this.
Relieved we cycle into the snow-covered driveway of our host for the evening. She sees our little lights in the distance and walks towards us, slightly worried because she feared something had happened. With numb hands and feet we enter a warm house. We have already forgotten the misery of the last hour when we warm our hands to a hot cup of tea. "We won't have this luxury on skis in a month," Zoë laughs. In the meantime, a fragrant aroma gradually fills the house, the turkey is almost cooked.