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.


As I sat on the train from Seattle to Portland, I'd have to admit my mind wasn't really on my imminent arrival in the 'City of Roses', but on my arrival back home five days in the future.

Portland turned out to be just what I needed.  I had ended up booking into the HI Hawthorne hostel, a couple of miles out of downtown.  Really cool place - a big, rambling suburban house that had been converted into a hostel with a focus on sustainability.  Much more to my tastes than the city centre 'gap year' megahostels I'd stayed in elsewhere, with a really nice atmosphere.

As in Seattle, I did a lot of walking.  Not really so much by way of tourist attractions, more just chilling out and enjoying the feel of the place.

The Saturday market came with a good selection of sideshows.

And after nearly eight weeks in the country, I finally managed to see some live music (specifically, Eleanor Friedberger)

Before having a horticultural day, taking in the International Rose Test Garden...

...and the Japanese Garden.

And then it was time to go home, catching an overnight flight from PDX to JFK, a long day waiting in the airport, and another overnighter via Dublin to Birmingham.

Back to Seattle

As some of you will know, I've actually been back in the UK for over a month, although it doesn't feel like it - visiting family, taking a few days away with Sarah, starting to fix the Tenere, and going back to work haven't left much time to think, let alone catch up on blogging.  I'm going to try and put that right over the next week or so, and give a whistle-stop tour through my adventures between leaving San Francisco and flying home to the UK.  I will, at some point, write up the full story - even my rough notes are considerably longer than the account I've been posting here - but I'm making no promises on the timescale for that.

I rolled out of San Francisco on the last day of May, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge slightly faster by car than I had by bicycle.  

For the next two days I hugged the Pacific coast, camping both nights and having the pleasure of some great company from fellow campers, and a dinner of abalone fresh from the ocean and cooked on an open fire.

After a couple of days on the coast, I moved slightly inland to pass through the Coastal Redwood forests of Northern California, taking in the kitsch...

...and the downright incredible.

Into Oregon, and back onto the coast, although with a very different feel to the Californian shore.  Much more forested, and a lot of deserted sandy beaches littered with green-topped sea-stacks.  The overall impression is straight out of 'Jurassic Park', leaving you expecting to see a couple of dinosaurs amble around the corner.

I spent a night in Port Orford, the western end of the TAT, trying not to ponder what might have been.

Before taking a tour of a lighthouse, and bumping into a couple on a Goldwing I'd seen a couple of days before at the 'Drive-thru Tree', and who turned out to be Randy and Susan Powell of

Camping outside Lincoln City, OR, I had a bit of a headache during the evening, which seemed to pass with the aid of some aspirin from the campsite shop and a bit of a nap.  It wasn't quite going to give up that easily though.

It returned the next day, but I decided I was going to proceed with my plan of visiting the Tillamook Air Museum anyway.  In the end, I spent a whole ten minutes inside before throwing up behind a bush in the car park.  It was at this point I gave up, booked into a motel, and went to bed at midday.  This didn't prevent having a couple more cycles of headache - vomit - sleep before finally waking up feeling OK(-ish) the next morning.

There was one good outcome though - chatting online to friends back home triggered a memory of why I had the cryptic note "McMinville, OR" in my notebook (written, I think, as a result of a random chat in the common area of the hostel in San Francisco).

McMinville is home to the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, which in turn is home to all sorts of things which are extremely exciting from a nerdy engineering point of view.  The centrepiece of the museum is the Hughes H4, better known as the 'Spruce Goose' - the only example of the design ever made, and still the largest wingspan aircraft ever to take off, being slightly wider than an Airbus A380.

Oh, and they've also got an SR-71 Blackbird, as you do.

After spending most of a day in the museum, I hit the interstate northwards through Portland rush hour traffic and into Washington, where I spent a final night in a motel somewhere near Tacoma before rolling back into Seattle, checking myself into the HI hostel, and returning the filthy, 4300-mile-older Mazda to Enterprise.

From the desert to the sea

A lot has happened in the couple of weeks between posting my last update from a motel in Lone Pine, CA, heading south towards Arizona, and this morning, sat in a hostel in San Francisco.

The southwards journey had one more landmark of note - Death Valley - which I managed to drive through without dying, althought it did melt my shoes a little bit.

The Overland Expo was a great weekend, which probably deserves its own post. It's an event which is beyond comparison with anything we have in the UK - vehicles, vendors, presentations, classes, and of course the US leg of the Adventure Travel Film Festival. The biggest pleasure though was the people I met and chatted to over the course of the weekend.

When I left the Expo on the Monday morning, I'd expected to depart Arizona the same way I entered - at speed along I-40. It actually took me a couple of days cruising along the remains of Route 66, stopping on the way at retro motels and diners, old mining towns, some rather large caves, and London Bridge.

By the time I did finally re-enter California, I'd had my fill, for the time being at least, of kitsch Americana, so I made an Interstate-assisted dash for the coast and a couple of nights in a hostel in Santa Monica. During the intervening day I hired a bicycle, and managed not only to avoid getting flattened in car-worshipping LA, but to ride all the way to Hollywood, impulse-buying a Ukulele from the Guitar Centre on Sunset Strip along the way and carrying it back to the hostel.

I left Santa Monica on the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend, which I now know to be the weekend on which the entire population of California - normally neatly clustered around San Diego, LA, and San Francisco - redistributes itself uniformly along the coast, filling campsites to capacity and allowing motel owners to demonstrate their understanding of demand-led pricing. I discovered this on the Friday, when, having passed up the opportunity of an early stop near a beautiful beach because $80 for a room seemed a bit steep, I ended up spending the rest of the afternoon and evening searching for somewhere to stop before eventually being forced into paying $120 for a room on a soulless suburban strip.

I expected the worst for the rest of the weekend, but that night turned out to be the low point. After a couple of ridiculous ($200+) quotes on the Saturday night I stopped in at the hostel in Cambria, which was full, but where the owner took pity on the ignorant Brit, invited me in and gave me a glass of water while she spent ten minutes on the phone, eventually securing me the spare room of someone's holiday home for a very reasonable rate.

I spent Sunday night camped at the Laguna Seca racing circuit. I went there chiefly to visit a memorial to a friend of mine who died a few years back (see here), and although I knew they had camping (the circuit actually being part of a county park) I expected to hear the same story as at every other campground - "we've been booked up for this weekend for seven months". Much to my surprise they had loads of space, and I pitched my tent about a hundred yards from Turn 6, before spending the evening walking round the track. There was a car trackday when I arrived, and a bike one the next day, but in the evening the place was almost completely deserted.

In between all the accommodation-related shenanigans, I was slowly making my way northwards along the California coastline, via a mixture of CA-1 and US-101, encountering not just stunning scenery, but other sights such as zebras, surfers, elephant seals, vintage engines, lighthouses, and some rather good beer.

Since Monday night, I've been in San Francisco, staying at the HI Fisherman's Wharf Hostel. I've cycled over the Golden Gate Bridge (and some way beyond), nosed around a WW2 Liberty Ship, and generally walked around a lot.

Today (in fact more or less as soon as I've finished posting this), it's back in the Mighty Mazda and northwards in the direction of Seattle, where this phase of the trip ends in one week's time.

Back in the Game

I'm spoiling the narrative a bit here since there's still a few bits of the build to be documented, but I'm quite excited (and relieved), so what the hell - a couple of hours ago, I rode the Tenere for the first time in two months, to the local MOT test centre, and returned with a pass certificate.

Of course, given I've not ridden for a while, the bike's been rebuilt from a bare frame, there's brand new brake pads, tyres, and various other bits that need bedding in, and it's now something like two and a half inches taller than a standard Tenere, I was glad that I had a nice warm Spring morning to ease myself back into it.


Still, I managed to make the journey there and back with no great drama, and for possibly the first time in my entire vehicle owning history passed an MOT test without even a single advisory.  In an amusing twist, I actually participated in the test myself, as the tester decided he wasn't tall enough to sit on it for the brake test.

The MOT certificate also reveals that I've done a mere 7,615 miles since the first of March last year, which is a bit disappointing, although unsurprising given the amount of time I've spent preparing it for the rallies last year, and lately for the US trip.  I expect the next twelve months (and indeed the twelve weeks that I'm in the US) to cover significantly more distance.

I'm now hoping the weather clears up a bit so I can put a decent shakedown mileage on it before, a mere three weeks from yesterday, it gets dropped off with the shipping agents to be boxed up and flown across the Atlantic.

Overland Expo

This evening I've mostly been dispatching a fistful of (electronic) dollars through Paypal to secure myself a place at the 2013 Overland Expo, to take place near Flagstaff, Arizona, over the weekend of 17-19 May.  By then I expect to be about half way through the Trans-Am Trail, somewhere around Colorado, making it a relatively (for the USA) short diversion down to Flagstaff.

I became aware of this event while following Motorcycle Adventuress Extraordinaire Tiffany Coates' latest excursion around the States last year (sticking quite a few other interesting looking pins in Google Earth for my own trip in the process), and thought "that looks pretty cool", but didn't think seriously about the possibility of attending.  

Some time later I realised that, although I'm going to be back in the UK by August, I'm not going to be able to make it to the 2013 UK installment of Austin Vince and Lois Pryce's Adventure Travel Film Festival (which I attended and thoroughly enjoyed in 2012) due to a clash with another event (of which more later).  While mourning this fact and double checking the website in the hope I had got the date wrong, I discovered that the US installment of the festival actually takes place at the Overland Expo.

Attending what is probably the biggest overland travel gathering in the world, with a speaker/instructor list that reads like a "Who's Who?" of motorcycle travel; five thousand miles from home while in the middle of the biggest adventure of your life; AND get to see some great travel films in the process?  I'll have some of that!

Happy New Year!

So here we are in 2013, and it's going to be a big one.  For a few reasons, but mainly this:

The T-shirt was a Christmas present from my sister Helen and brother-in-law Andy.  This is what is on the front (it reads "I do my own stunts"):

Although my departure is only a couple of weeks closer than it was before Christmas, it feels a lot closer now it's no longer 'next year'.  My list of things I need to do seems to be getting longer rather than shorter.

I've not been entirely idle while we've been away visiting family over Christmas, ticking off a few useful bits of preparation.  I took advantage of being at my parents' to fire up the big lathe and make some mounting bushes which will form the basis of a new luggage rack setup for the Tenere.

Not the most appealing of 'workshops' to be stood in on a miserably wet December morning, but it will do.  There is actually a new workshop built and waiting to house it, which has glazed windows, a door, and even some insulation, but my dad and I decided that it wasn't really the day to be moving well over a tonne of lathe across soft ground.

Work in progress.

These four will fit into the pillion peg mounts on each side, giving me a nice solid point to weld the rack tubing too - much more robust than flattening the ends of tube and drilling through it.

While these two will do the same at the rear mounting point on the frame, replicating the mount for the Yamaha OE panniers.  The Yamaha pannier rail shown in the picture, it's partner, and the panniers they belong to will soon be leaving me to go to another member of the forums.  I've already purchased the luggage which will be replacing them, which will be revealed in another post.

I also put a few lazy (and too-rainy-to-venture-outside) afternoons at the in-laws to good use by finishing off entering the TAT waypoints into Google Earth.

The green line isn't, in fact, a line.  It's a very large number of individual pins, corresponding to every turn instruction in the TAT rollcharts. By the time I leave, these will be transferred onto my GPS unit.

I've also arranged to acquire another bike, which will play a crucial role in making the trip happen, even though I will be taking the Tenere to the US.  More on that next weekend when I pick it up.


Happy New Year to all!

Special Delivery

When I got home from work today, there was a parcel waiting for me on the kitchen table.

A very well travelled parcel, in a US Postal Service box, all the way from a Mr Sam Carrero of Corinth, Mississippi.  Sam is an American motorcyclist who is rather enthusiastic about trail-riding.  So much so that he spent years linking together a series of trails leading (almost) the entire way across the United States, from Tennessee to the Oregon Coast.  He called this route the Trans-Am-Trail (TAT), and produced a set of maps and a roadbook/rollchart so that other people could ride it too.

The reason I've bought a set of maps from Sam is that next year, I will be spending twelve weeks in the US, accompanied by the Tenere, the first 4-6 weeks of which will be riding the entire 4,800 miles of the TAT from east to west.  The remainder will be returning to the east coast by whatever route takes my fancy.

I'm really rather excited.