Irish poet Stephen Murray, 37, has chosen a way “off the beaten path” of getting to each coffee shop, literary function, and radio appearance of his American poetry tour: he’s cycling to all of them.
Biking across North America from Vancouver, Canada to Washington state and finally to New York, Murray is promoting his debut poetry collection titled "House of Bees." This is his third trip to America, but his first on bike.
So literally, Murray, whose main job is working with teenagers in an Irish literary program, has his bike, his pack of supplies, and that’s it.
Murray's trip has been eventful thus far. The hardest point in his eyes wasn't a particularly hard stretch of road, as one might think. He said that "the hardest thing that has ever happened to me" was when a portion of a bus ride from El Paso to San Antonio had no air conditioning. "And I have been through some hard things in my life," Murray joked.
According to the Star Gazette, Murray has: visited the 7th Ward in New Orleans, LA, been to the funeral of Lionel of the Black Feather Tribe, had an early-morning encounter with an alligator, hitchhiked due to a flat tire, and woken up covered in ants.
Because he’s travelling totally solo for the most part, he relies on hostels, campgrounds, and the hospitality of others to get him where he needs to be. Hospitality is indeed welcoming for a man that says he does most of his biking alone. Although his girlfriend did join him for a week, Murray says that he enjoys “that lonesome thing,” and that “it’s kind of nice.”
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Regarding the kindness of the Americans he runs into, he poet says that he thinks "America's best asset is its people. He claims that he ”found people on the West Coast to be very kind, but people in the South are just ridiculous with their kindness and their hospitality. The kindest people I have met have been here. "
Murray says that it's because of the kindness of total strangers that he has "food in my bag, money in my pockets, and I get paid the day after tomorrow."
He cites the example of how “a gang of African Americans” picked him up outside of Memphis, saw how sunburned he was, and took him out of the heat and into a church hostel where he could stay.
Other times, people will see him in stores, such as what happened when he went to a Sears to fix a flat tire. “It wasn't long before Murray was mingling with Sears' shoppers, happy to visit as he cooled off, repaired his tire and replenished both his supplies and his energy. Those present in the store took quickly to Murray, offering him good wishes, a little spending money and even an Irish blessing as they left the store,” reported the State Gazette.
However, alongside the beautiful and hospitable parts of America, Murray has also seen heartache.
"I have seen heartbreaking evidence of people who have fallen through the cracks...The West Coast, for all its wealth and beauty - it seems like there are a lot of people who have drifted there."
And this man has definitely seen heartbreak before. “House of Bees” is about Murray’s life growing up in a "world's first-ever battered wife's refuge in London." According to the poet, "We moved to London shortly after my sister was born. My poems are about alcoholism, addiction and broken homes. I have received rave reviews for (the book)."" Sponsors of his tour to promote his work include Iron Donkey, DIY Pursuits, and Imagine Ireland.
Although this is Murray’s first trip across America on bike, he’s traveled on the same set of wheels before. His first cycling tour took him from Ireland to the Sahara Desert in Africa to raise funds for the Galway Hospice Foundation. To do so, Murray said he biked from Galway to Cork, took a ferry to France, rode across the coasts of France, Spain, and Portugal, and took a ferry to Tangiers.
Murray will visit such places during the remainder of his journery as the Green Mill Jazz Club in Chicago, one of Al Capone's old hangouts. Then he's off to Detroit, Toronto, NY, and finally London (he'll be flying there). After he gets to Dublin five days later, he will bike 130 miles back home to Galway.
One thing left of Murray's list before he goes home: he wants to see a live snake or bear, something that he has been assured he will see at Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee.
No Irish Need Apply? Not anymore