Memories of America #10 - Crossing Point.

This is from day 3 on the Trans-Am Trail, getting towards the end of the Tennessee section.  It's finally stopped raining, but now the water is in the rivers.  I'd been through quite a few crossings by this point, but this was something else.

I've just waded across, very carefully, with the camera in my pocket - the water only knee deep, but moving very fast, and with the concrete slippery underfoot.  I took a long time deciding whether to go through or backtrack.

Eventually, I fired up the engine, held my breath, and slowly inched into the water - no question of riding across, I walked alongside with the bike in first gear, trusting that, despite the water piling up against the engine cases, the front wheel wouldn't wash away downstream and dunk the bike under.

It felt like an age until the front wheel hit dry land on the near side.

Memories of America #9 - Final Preparations

A rainy morning (despite the appearance of blue sky) at the Hunt's Lodge Motorcycle Campground, just outside Tellico Plains, Tennessee, taking advantage of their covered picnic area to load the bike up for the first day on the Trans-Am Trail.

(It would, incidentally, continue to rain for the next couple of days)

I'd arrived the night before after a run down the Tail of the Dragon, and had a futile search round an apparently lifeless town for somewhere to stay before stumbling across this place.  $12 for the night suited me fine, so I pitched up before riding back to town for some highly nutritious (erm) fast food - in the process apparently making the girl behind the counter's day with my accent, although once again she thought it was Australian.  Also, impressively, I managed to carry a full paper cup of fizzy drink back to the campsite in one of the outside pockets of my panniers without spilling a drop.

As I was eating, a couple of lads turned up, one on an 800GS and another on a KLR650, having ridden up from Atlanta, Georgia.  Shortly afterwards the site owners invited us all down to the enormous campfire they'd just lit, where we swapped stories for a few hours before the rain started and chased us all to bed.

All campsites should be like this.

Memories of America #8 - The Tail of the Dragon

Having spent a bit too long cruising down the Blue Ridge Parkway, I needed to get myself across the state line into Tennessee and the start of the Trans-Am Trail at Tellico Plains.  Stuck it into the GPS and ticked "Shortest Route".  Some time later...

"This is a pretty nice twisty bit of road"

"There seems to be a lot more bikes around than I've seen elsewhere.  They're not all Harleys either."

"I wonder..."

I was aware of the existence of the 'Tail of the Dragon', but hadn't really marked it down as a "must see", and although I knew it was somewhere in that part of the country, I wouldn't have known where to start looking for it.  Yet it seemed I might have found it by accident - a suspicion confirmed when I arrived at the Deal's Gap Motorcycle Resort, where I stopped for a drink, the inevitable chat with strangers, and to buy a sticker before carrying on into Tennessee.

The hardest part was remembering that I was supposed to be nursing the knobbly tyres to the start of the TAT the next day.

Memories of America #6 - Odd one out

I took this photo outside Blue Ridge Riders in Asheville, NC.  I'd been trying for a few days to get hold of a small bottle of engine oil to carry with me for chain lube and in case I needed to top up the engine at any point.  As it happened, they didn't have any, but the motor factors next door (C&H Auto Factors) did have a quart of 10w-40 bike oil, which was duly tucked into a pannier.

The Tenere looked somewhat out of place parked up with the rows and rows of Harleys and other cruisers, although that did mean it was a pretty good conversation starter wherever I stopped.  Apparently they don't see many Australians riding around on tatty, heavily loaded, monstrously tall trail bikes.

(To avoid confusing people who know me and misleading those who don't, I'm not Australian.  However for some reason a significant proportion of people I chatted to along the way thought I was.  I was left wondering whether it's that I do actually sound Aussie or if popular culture has so ingrained in the American public the notion that all Brits have posh Home Counties accents that, when they encounter an English speaker whose accent isn't American, Canadian, or Stephen Fry they just file them under 'Aussie'.)

Incidentally, the ladies apparently keenly browsing the assortment of Milwaukee iron on offer are actually mannequins.  I'm not sure if this was some sort of marketing tactic to lure in customers passing on the road, and indeed, what sort of customers.

Memories of America #5 - It's a long road westwards.

This is the look of someone who's been in the saddle for seven hours or so and still has another hour to their destination.

After visiting the Wright Brothers National Monument, I spent my first night of the trip under canvas on the Outer Banks and pondered my next move.  I was now approximately as far south as the start of the Trans-Am Trail in Tellico Plains, Tennessee, so it was time to leave the Atlantic behind and head west across the length of North Carolina.  Trouble was, looking at the map didn't reveal a sensible route which avoided freeways and big cities, and looking at the guidebook didn't reveal anything that desperately appealed before the Blue Ridge mountains right at the western end of the state.

The simple solution - go fast until you get to somewhere that makes you want to slow down.  

I set the GPS for Asheville, 450 miles away, and got rolling.  I took this picture at four or five in the afternoon, pulled over on a sliproad of the I-40.  I'd stopped a few other times along the way for fuel, food, a prolonged search for a cash machine, and getting pulled over by a cop because he thought I'd been filtering along the shoulder (I hadn't, I'd just pulled out of a fuel station where his view was obstructed by a truck - happily he accepted this explanation).  This stop - probably only fifty miles short of Asheville - was simply because I couldn't go another mile without getting off the bike and getting my helmet off my head.

Ten minutes walking around, some crisps and a drink, and a chat to Sarah on the phone, and I was ready to go again.  America's a big old place, and that means sometimes you've got to make the miles.

Memories of America #4 - Taking Flight

It's not often that you find yourself genuinely moved by the experience of walking around what is, in the grand scheme of things, a fairly undramatic bit of geography.  This was one of those times and one of those places.

The town on the horizon is Kill Devil Hills, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  I'm sitting on top of the eponymous hill (actually a huge sand dune until it was planted with grass by the US War Department in order to stop it wandering off, as sand dunes are otherwise prone to do). However this place is better known by the name of the town a few miles to the north - Kitty Hawk.  

At the far end of the straight path leading through the middle distance - albeit long before there was a path (or even any grass) - is the spot where a couple of bicycle mechanics first succeeded in persuading an assembly of wood, canvas and wire to take off and fly under its own power on 17 December 1903.  In preparing for that moment, they had used the slopes of Kill Devil Hill itself to carry out glider tests.

I'd arrived late in the day at the entrance to what is now known as the Wright Brothers National Memorial, to be told by the warden on the gate that I could go in, and it was actually free on that particular day, but they were closing in half an hour.  Not wanting to be rushed, I said I'd come back the next day, even if I had to pay.  It turned out, however, that 'open' and 'closed' only applies if you want to see the site from the comfort of your air-conditioned car, or to go into the Visitor Centre.  The warden suggested I should instead ride around the corner and park at the adjacent airfield, then walk into the site, it being always open to pedestrians.

And so it was that I spent a couple of hours on a beautiful warm evening soaking up the atmosphere of a place where, almost a hundred and ten years earlier, the world changed (and in the process, an entire field of engineering began). With the exception of a handful of locals jogging or walking their dogs, I had it all to myself.

(photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Memories of America #3

Chronologically and geographically speaking, a couple of days riding down the East Coast (and a ferry ride across the Delaware Bay) later.  Probably Maryland, although it might be Virginia.

Metaphorically speaking, a million miles from Irvington, NJ.  A beautiful day and a road full of promise ahead.


Memories of America #2

The first twenty-four hours of the trip were a bit stressful, and not just because of the usual mental upheaval involved in beginning any big trip.  I'd prebooked a hotel room in Irvington, NJ, on the grounds that it was:

a) cheap, and 

b) close to both the airport and the premises of the shipping agent where I would be uncrating my bike.  

It soon became apparent that Irvington wasn't exactly a nice neighbourhood - the main clue coming when I went out for a walk to try and find some food, and within a few hundred yards was accosted by a policeman who was absolutely incredulous at the sight of a white guy, from England, just walking around on his own.  Sufficiently unnerved, I bought some crisps from a petrol station and fled back to the hotel room.

I'd initially planned to stay two nights, giving myself plenty of time to retrieve the bike and get everything packed up just right before hitting the road. However after a sleepless, stomach-churning, doubt-ridden night listening alternately to sirens outside and headboard-banging bedroom gymnastics from the next room, I was in no mood for hanging around.

Returning to the airport and finding my way to the Continental cargo building, I had the bike cleared through Customs within an hour.  All I needed then was to phone the shipping agents and get them to pick me and the crated bike up, as pre-arranged by my shipping agent in the UK - except that the guy with whom it was arranged was out of the office and no-one else knew anything about me.  Several hours later, having burnt about £30 of phone credit calling the UK, LA, and the local agents, a truck finally turned up.

This is the crate containing my bike being taken out of the truck in the shipping agent's yard. This was my freedom, my escape capsule, the real start of the trip.  Everything would be OK just as soon as I tore all that cardboard off, unstrapped the bike from the pallet, put the front wheel back in, and turned the key.

For the first in this series, and an explanation of what it's all about, see this post.

Memories of America #1

Firstly, Happy New Year and all that jazz.

2013 was a big year for me - the year in which I planned to take twelve weeks off work to ride the Trans-Am Trail and generally do a bit of motorcycle touring around the USA.  In the end it didn't quite work out like that, but I did spend eight weeks out there and had a great experience.

I blogged the trip as I went along, in a fairly half-arsed fashion, determined by how much I could be bothered to type on a 10" tablet in the evenings.  I do still hope to write the whole trip up in long form - possibly even as an e-book - but I have no idea how long that will take.

In the meantime, since the New Year is a time for beginning projects, I thought I'd start with a fairly simple one - make at least one blog post a week, reliving the trip through the best of the four-thousand-five-hundred-and-ninety-nine photos I took while I was out there - the ones I'm proud of as photos, and the ones that drag me back to that moment in time.  Hopefully most of them will fulfill both criteria.

Having said that, I'm going to begin with something that certainly isn't, of itself, a particularly good photo - a hasty, arms-length self-portrait with my sixty quid 'backup' compact, taken in an airport car-park.  It's not even in America.  Perhaps it's appropriate though, taken in the year in which 'selfie' entered the dictionary.

Sarah and I have pretty much done everything together for as long as we've been a couple.  Lived together, played together, travelled together.  We spent four weeks apart during the University Easter holidays immediately after we started going out, three weeks once when Sarah went to Turkey on business, and a little over a week for me to go on a work trip to Boulder, CO.  I'm pretty sure that's all the times we've been apart for more than a few days at a time.

A minute or two after I took this, I put the camera back in my pocket, took my bags out of the open car boot in the bottom left corner, and walked alone into the terminal, to begin the longest period of time we've spent apart in our (at the time) nine-and-a-half year relationship.  The trip had been a couple of years in the making, but I still wasn't quite ready for this part.

I didn't dare look back on the way across the car park.