Sunday, August 28, 2011



I’d arranged a mountain biking trip in Utah with Escape Adventures before I left for the states.  I left Chicago for Las Vegas, where I spent one night.  I didn’t do anything that night in Vegas as I didn’t arrive until late, and I had an early start the next day.  The Escape Adventures minibus was waiting for me at the Hotel valet early next morning.  We set of for Utah with a brief stop at St George to pick up the rest of the group.  The group consisted of what I thought an unlikely bunch for a mountain biking holiday.  The average age excluding myself was about 50 and there were a few of the guys who seemed pretty out of shape.  I was very relieved to be honest, I was expecting some super fit 20 year olds.  Although, I later found out that most of the 50 year olds were actually fitter than me.  I had decided that as I’d been in a pub almost every day since I left the UK that I’d try and do without beer, and have some clean living during my holiday in the hills.  All the way up to the mountain the guides were asking if we wanted to buy beer when we were passing through Nevada, I later found out this was because Utah beer is only 3.5%. 

We set off for Brian Head, a mountain peak at 11, 307ft.  At this altitude, you fall short of breath just walking around.  So when the bus stopped and we get on our bikes, it was rather challenging going straight for a climb.  Fortunately the climb didn’t last long and we had an awesome decent of around 10 miles to our camp.  We then set up our tents, had dinner, had a bonfire and got an early night.  The camp site was at 8000ft so it was rather chilly at night.  I didn’t pack any jumpers as I was travelling light, so I ended up wearing about 3 t-shirts to bed.

The next day we woke up early, we got a shuttle from the minibus up to the top of a different mountain, then cycled downhill one of the most technical and pretty terrifying trails I’ve ever done.  I fell off quite a lot, but when we regrouped down the bottom, I realised I wasn’t the only one.  None of us made it down unscathed, we were all rather bloody.    We then found a beauty spot for lunch and had a welcome break.  After lunch we did another downhill section and finished off back at the camp.  I was tired, wounded and I needed a beer.  I managed to persuade one of the guides to take me to the local shop on the way home where I bought some ‘Polygamy Porter’ a very aptly named Utah beer bearing a slogan, ‘Because one is never enough’.
Me and my bike


The next day was fairly similar, although we did some climbing before we got to the downhill.  It was tough, and I had to stop numerous times on the way up to catch my breath, I was still struggling a bit with the altitude.  After lunch we moved camp and then I decided to go for the optional 20 mile cross country afternoon ride.  Most people in the group decided to stay behind and chill out, I joined a group of four 50 year old Italians.  They were doing the mountain biking trip as part of their 50th birthday celebration.  They were all 50 years old in the same year, they were also all super fit and raced competitively cross country mountain biking.  I was already pretty shattered from the morning cycle and when we set off the Italians left me for dust.  It was a difficult ride involving lots of climbing, fortunately the Italian guys kept getting punctures so it let me catch up.  We cycled round a lake through Aspen forest and ancient lava fields, it was a spectacular ride.  We finished back at the camp and I had a wee swim in the lake, which was absolutely freezing, and went back for dinner and a few Polygamy Porters.

A Big Rock

The fourth day was by far the most challenging.  For every downhill section we had to earn it, we did a massive amount of climbing, it was super tough.  After lunch we trekked a bit to check out a crazy waterfall which spurted out from a big hole in the side of a sandstone cliff.  Then came the optional afternoon ride, which involved yet more climbing.  There were so many false horizons, at the top of every summit was another hill for us to scale.  I was so glad when I finally approached the downhill but was too knackered to really enjoy it.  I had another wee swim when I got back to clean up and got ready for dinner.
Every night we had a bonfire after dinner and we’d gaze up at the stars.  We were really out in the sticks with no towns around for hundreds of miles and absolutely no light pollution.  This meant that we had an incredibly bright night sky.  This night was to be our last night so I gathered as much firewood as I could to end our time camping with a grand finale bonfire.  We stayed up late, played some silly games and talked until there was no firewood left and it started to get rather cold and time for bed.

The posse stopping for a break

The final day we did some more cross country with a final downhill section, it wasn’t too taxing and a great way to finish off the trip as we were all pretty exhausted.   We had lunch, dropped most of group of at St George, and then headed back for Vegas.

Monday, August 22, 2011



Wee Dave’s new home town was a blast.  We stayed at Dave’s new apartment which had ample space for us all to stay.  Dave had just moved into a new flat and his new flat mates were very hospitable.  Fortunately they were warned before he moved in that three Scottish guys were going to be staying in their house for a week, and they were pretty cool about it.  Ryan stayed on Dave’s floor, while Numan had a fold out futon in the living room and I slept on the couch. 

Dave has lived in Chicago for a few years now and he was an excellent guide.  We didn’t have to think about what we wanted to do as he knew what was good to see and what events were on.  One surprising highlight for me was an outing to the baseball to see the Chicago Cubs.  I am in no way a Baseball fan, and thought that the occasion could turn out to be rather dull.  I couldn’t have been more wrong, it was a total hoot!  Nobody goes to watch baseball, they go for the carnival type atmosphere, to eat hotdogs, and to drink frozen Margaritas.  Chicago Cubs are pretty rubbish at Baseball, and unsurprisingly they were well and truly beaten.  When we left the ground we didn’t see one unhappy face, nobody cared.  At one exit there were a bunch of guys busking, using plastic tubs as a drum kit.  A group of girls with temporary ‘Go Cubs’ tattoos over their faces heard the beat and started dancing like there was no tomorrow, it was as if the Cubs had just won an emphatic victory.  This seemed like an alien culture to someone who has grown up as a Ross County fan following the Scottish 1st Division.     

At Wrigley Field with Wee Dave and Ryan

We visited the Hancock tower, which is the 3rd tallest building in Chicago after the Willis Tower and the Trump Tower.  The Willis Tower (previously known as the Sears Tower) is the tallest building in the USA.  It costs $20 to go to the viewing platform, but the Hancock tower is free to go up and is just a few metres shorter and has a bar.  We also took a boat cruise down the Chicago river and lake Michigan.  These excursions made up all of our sightseeing trips in Chicago, much like NYC we spent a lot of our time eating lots of fantastic food and drinking great beer. 

On my leaving day we’d planned to go to one of Dave’s most talked about events, ‘Tranny brunch’.  Every Sunday in a restaurant/bar in Boys Town (Chicago’s gay district) Madam X (Tranny) performs some classics (Shirley Bassie, Tina Turner etc.) while dressed up in some outrageous outfits, mental makeup and massive hair.  With free flowing mamosas and bloody Mary’s, it was a great way to finish off my time in Chicago.

Tranny Brunch with Madame X

Thursday, August 18, 2011



In August I set off for New York, I was meeting up with University friend Wee Dave.  Wee Dave has lived in Chicago for the last few years and I’d never been out to visit him.  I’d arranged to meet up with my travelling partner Niall, or Nev as he likes to be known, in Sydney.  I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to visit Wee Dave and then see a bit of the west coast of the States before flying onto Oz.  Dave’s brother Ryan and one of our friends Numan were meeting up with us in NYC where we would spend a long weekend before flying to Chicago.

My travels didn’t start well.  I hate night flights, so I arranged a daytime flight which would arrive a day before everybody else, and booked the cheapest Hotel in NYC.  Fortunately this Hotel happened to be just around the corner from the Sheraton Tribeca, the Hotel we were staying in for the rest of our duration.  When I arrived there was a major thunderstorm, the plane arrived on time but it took hours to offload the baggage due to the lightning.  After waiting for ages at the stationary carousel my bag never even turned up.  I left grumpy and shattered looking forward to a good sleep.  When I arrived at my Hotel I immediately realised why it cost just $35 per night.  There were four floors and each floor had 80+ rooms.  The rooms were tiny, just enough room for a single bed, with cardboard thin walls which fell a few feet short of the main ceiling, complete with a wire mesh cover for security.  I felt like I was a battery chicken.  You could hear everybody else on the floor, and as the Hotel was in the heart of China town, there were lots of unpleasant noises.  The main light was on the whole time, so not only was it noisy, but it was very bright.  I was prepared for this kind of eventuality and fully stocked with earplugs and aeroplane eye masks, so I did manage to get a fairly decent night kip.  The next morning I had to queue for nearly an hour for a shower, the facilities fell well short of adequate with only 4 toilet/wet rooms for 80+ people.  I checked out and left in a hurry for the luxury of the Sheraton.

I met up with Ryan in the Hotel bar, followed by Dave and Numan.  Unfortunately all the twin rooms were sold out so I had to share a bed with Numan, this would not be the last time on my travels I had to share my bed with another man.  The beds were massive so it wasn’t too bad, you’d have had to do at least two complete rolls to end up on the other side of the bed.

We’d all been to New York before so we weren’t that fussed about seeing all the sights again, apart from Numan as this time round he was armed with a fancy camera.  Dave’s cousin lived in New York, and Ryan hadn’t seen him for around 20 years, so for the first couple of days we kind of hung around with their cousin, in bars, hearing a lot of the New York banter from the punters, and abusive comments from barmen.   The long weekend passed very quickly and to be honest I don’t have much recollection of it.  We wandered about Central Park, and Times Square, we ate lots of good food and drank lots of great beer.   

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Hello my name is Iain Burness and welcome to my blog.  I’ll be travelling for the next ten months, and I thought it’d be a good idea to document my experiences.  Due to my high level of activity during my travels, or to be more honest my inherent laziness, I’m already two months in and am only finally getting round to starting my blog now.  I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, but here goes…

My route takes me across the US then onto Oz, South East Asia, China, The Koreas (both North and South), Japan, Taiwan, then the Trans-Siberian railway from Beijing through Mongolia to Moscow, ending with an overland rush back to Scotland.