From A to B. Literally.

In 2004 I travelled the most talked about journey in the world - from A to B. Literally. I cycled around 5600 miles from A in Norway to B in Nebraska, USA. It was a very very long way (especially for someone who doesn’t like cycling). I pedalled through Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, then from New York up into Canada, and back into the USA at Detroit, across to Chicago, further West through Iowa, and finally into Nebraska and B.

It was hearing people misuse the word “literally”, integral to my A to B ride - that began the Literally project.

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It was a curious trip that came out of the blue. In 2003 I was planning to join the Metropolitan Police Force, a long and tortuous recruitment process, and I had decided on a cycling trip around Europe as something to focus on other than my mundane job at a London-based subterranean mass-transit company whose name I won’t mention.

I didn’t know where to cycle to or from, and I had been emailing a friend for ideas:

“I need a reason to go from A to B… “

A light bulb appeared above my head (figuratively), and an idea was born.

“…hang on a second, there is a place in Sweden called A. It’s in a Trivial Pursuit question!”

After a struggle finding B (a precinct of Seward County, Nebraska, which includes the hamlet of Bee) I was to planning the route. At 5600 miles, it was slightly farther than I had anticipated, but I would cycle from A to B. The plan had legs. (Figuratively.)

I told my brother, Mark of the plan, and he was cynical to say the least. However his sarcastic reply of “Yeah sure, cycle 6000 miles… Why don’t you do it on a tandem, and pick up hitchhikers?” seemed like the perfect idea. He hadn’t meant it seriously, yet it was a perfect plan – cycling was a dull and lonely occupation – this way people could join me along the way! I soon gave up my job, appeared in a couple of newspapers and began to pick up a few sponsors, and appeared on TV and Radio a few times talking about it.

A was a picture perfect fishing village just inside the Arctic Circle on the end of a string of islands off the coast of Northern Norway. I stayed two nights in a wooden cabin on stilts over the incongruously millpond still North Atlantic. At dawn, at least it would have been dawn if the sun ever set, on May 7th 2004 I set off from A. For those of you unfamiliar with Norway, it is mountainous, which didn’t sit well with my total lack of cycle-touring experience.

On day 2, I sat exhausted on my motel bed, having been whisked 7 hours previously from a small road between frozen lakes on a remote mountain top by a Norwegian motorway rescue truck. It wasn’t a very successful first day. I sat there sapped of all energy and read a part of the Lonely Planet Norway I hadn’t seen before:

“Given its great distances, hilly terrain and narrow roads, Norway is not ideally suited for extensive cycle touring’”.

It wasn’t wrong.

It got easier 3 days later, when I hit Sweden. Perhaps “slightly less tough” would be more accurate than “easier”. By the time I arrived back in the UK, I may have conquered 2500 miles but I had appalling carpal tunnel syndrome from controlling the heavily laden bike on bumpy roads. My wrists were in agony, and had lost much of their strength and coordination.

Fortunately I had a little mid-trip intermission, a week aboard the QM2 sailing from Southampton to New York. Unhappy with hours in the gym on an exercise bike, I began to run around the deck, running a full marathon the day before arriving in New York: the first recorded marathon run in the mid-Atlantic.

New York saw Miss Universe join me on the bike, before heading North through Sleepy Hollow, Woodstock, over the Catskill Mountains, and then the Adirondack mountains and up into Canada.

I was briefly held in custody by an overenthusiastic Quebecois policeman for cycling on the highway, but escaped into Montreal. Then it was on to Ottawa, the place my mother takes great delight in telling people I was conceived, before Toronto, cycling confusingly along the river Thames from London past Chatham to Windsor. I appeared on TV in Toronto, calling Lance Armstrong a wimp, as he only cycles 2000 miles in the Tour de France, and doesn’t even carry his own luggage. They aired it. Fortunately he wasn’t watching.

Back into the USA, I cycled through Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana: nothing but small towns, and farmland. I had expected the worst of Iowa, always assuming Bill Bryson had exaggerated how bad it was, little did I know how diplomatic he must have been. If I hadn’t been one state from Nebraska I could have folded.

Arriving in Nebraska was sublime. I was treated like royalty everywhere I went, arguably because they were slightly grateful (or amazed) that someone had deliberately set out to travel there, with Nebraska not just as a “fly-over state”, but as a destination. As I crossed the Missouri into what I was informed was the “Cornhusker state”, I was immediately flanked by two policeman on bicycles to escort me to the Mayor of Omaha’s office. He issued a declaration making it ‘A to B day’ in Nebraska’s biggest city.

The next day I headed to Wahoo and Lincoln with my oldest hitchhiker of the trip: Chip Hackley, aged 73. I was then made an honorary Admiral of the Nebraska Navy by the state Governor, and was given a tour of the city.

On Saturday the 28 August 2004, I got on the bike for the last time joined by Mary, a resident of Bee and organiser of the “Paul Parry welcoming committee”.

My arrival in Bee was unbelievable. Fifty other bikes joined me to cross the finishing line, there were two TV stations, newspapers and radio. Best of all, about 250 people had gathered to see me – greater than the village’s population of only 200. A young girl sang the Star Spangled Banner, and the mayor gave a speech, wearing his Paul Parry t-shirt. I was presented with various gifts from the town, including the Key to Bee, and was made honorary police chief.

At this point I almost collapsed. I was wearing wrist splints on both arms at this stage, and the 5600 miles had not been kind: suntanned to the point of sunburn all down my left side, and unable to sit on anything but the most cushioned of chairs.

But I did become the first person to literally travel from A to B. Which was nice.

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A? B? really?

Some people were a little sniffy about my choice of places called A and B.

A is a village inside the Arctic Circle named “Å” - which to English speakers is an A with an accent on it. In Norse languages (where they have no accents) ”Å” is a letter pronounced “Aw”, and is located at the end of the Norse alphabet. About 2 Norwegian people got annoyed at my “appalling cultural insensitivity”, though only 2. I imagine these people were readers of the Norwegian equivalent of the Daily Mail, and I am more than happy ignoring their feedback.

B is actually Bee - a town in Nebraska, USA. This small town was named after its location - in ‘Precinct B’ of Seward County. It became known as “Bee” rather than “B” because it was too confusing a name. Bee is therefore the closest place on earth to being called “B” - having ruled out other places name “Bee”, “Bea”, Biei”, etc.

One of my friends insists on regularly asking why I didn’t travel “from A to Z”. “A to B” is a journey, probably the most talked about journey in the world. “A to Z” is an index.

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An editted version of the book on the whole A to B trip is available in chapters on this very website. How about that. If you’d like to have a read - click here for the first chapter. Enjoy!

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