Route Map and Current Location

View South America Tour in a larger map

May 06, 2009

Welcome to the United States of Fear

"Think you'd better be movin' along now, or I'm callin' [the police]. I'm callin'!".

I was returning to my Dad's home in rural, redneck North Carolina after riding into the nearby village of Rosman to post a few packages, and I thought I'd try to find a shortcut home through the network of lanes and trails.

The gravel road twisted and undulated for a kilometre or so through the springtime forest of oaks, flowering magnolias and mountain laurel, until it came to an abrupt end with just a couple of driveways. I could see the road I needed up on Blue Ridge a few hundred metres away, but there was no way through with a bike, so I turned round and started back the way I'd come.

It was then that I realised I was being watched by a couple of women in the doorway of a nearby house. "What do you want?" "Hi, I'm trying to get home, do you know the way to..." "Think you'd better be movin' along now...".

Yes, I think I had better be movin' along now, before they set the dogs on me or get the shotgun out or something.

Continuing home, I reminisced about the hospitality of South America that I'd recently left behind.

Walking through the coffee plantations of Colombia, and being invited into farmhouses for a café tinto or a thirst-quenching agua panela.

Asking a campesino family If I could camp by their house, and then being invited in for dinner.

Camping in a pasture in the Peruvian altiplano, and being discovered early the next morning by a campesino who, rather than telling me off for trespassing on his land, sat down to share a coffee with me.

So was this woman's reaction simply a case of not wanting her privacy invaded? Or was it, as my Dad later suggested, symptomatic of a general state of fear and paranoia amongst the US population, whereby years of neo-conservative government and a complicit church and media have helped to cultivate a fear of just about anything. Fear of socialism, fear of terrorists, fear of drugs (except alcohol and nicotine; these are ok for some reason), fear of gays, fear of foreigners, fear of Islam, fear of other ways of life or of anything unusual.

But what does anyone have to fear from a skinny guy on a bike? It's not like I was wearing an Arab headscarf. Or Hispanic-looking. Or black.

It's true that a person on a bicycle, or walking even, is a rare and unusual sight around here. Even the banks have drive-thru ATMs so you don't have to get out of your SUV.

But then I must have also been an unusual sight to most South Americans, many of whom would have never seen a foreigner before, let alone one on a strange and colourfully painted touring bike. Ok, sometimes small children would hide amongst their mothers' skirts, but otherwise the people everywhere were welcoming, curious or, at the very worst, indifferent.

Oh, my final reply: "Please do call the police. Maybe they can help me find my way home".


  1. As suspected... having just returned myself, I tell everyone that I recount my cycle story to, that I would only hope that a traveller would be recieved with the same open-arm hospitality in my country as I was given in SA, knowing that would never be the case. I'd invite you in!

  2. If you come round my way I'm getting my shotgun out and giving you both barrels !

  3. Skinny, blonde guys scare me as well. Perfectly natural reaction.