Coming to America...
Since last night's drunken excerpt from my UKGSer Journal seems to have been well received, I'm going to transfer a copy to here.
To give you some background, I've just retired (temporarily - I wish!) from the RAF after 18yrs service (having done 10yrs as a traffic cop in a previous life :D). I decided to blow the gratuity I was given upon retirement on a trip through the USA, Canada, NZ & Australia - just to see how you're getting on without us...
On a more serious note - this is not a ride report, but a journal of my trip. I write it each evening after I've finished riding. If it covers areas other than riding etc, I make no apology, it's merely a record of my thoughts and experiences.
I don't know how long it'll take to cut/paste it all across - hope you enjoy it - if you don't, I suppose there's always Ctrl/Alt/Del...
The tale begins in the UK, but swiftly moves on to Miami...
ps It's a straight cut & paste - so apologies if some of the smilies don't work...
Woke feeling rather out of focus at 0600. Out of focus due to rather too much Champagne, beer, red wine and malt whiskey the evening before. Let’s get this right – the afternoon and evening before...
Stiff upper lip goodbye to my girlfriend, then Paul & Mandy drove me to Heathrow. Near the end of the M11, we get diverted off the motorway and wander about, lost, in Essex for 30 minutes. Eventually re-find the M25 and arrive at Terminal 3 in good time. A brief goodbye and heartfelt thank you to Paul & Mandy for their help & hospitality and I’m checking in at the ‘Upper Class’ desk for Virgin Atlantic.
Within 15 minutes, I’m though security (titanium stuff in my leg didn’t set off the detectors….) and check in and make my way to the Upper Class Lounge. Here I meet up with Mike Belch, my ticket benefactor, who’s travelling to San Francisco this morning. Superb breakfast and a haircut later (all complimentary) and my flight is called. Straight to the head of the very long queue (BA has cancelled a service to Miami this morning and the Virgin flight is packed) and I’m soon sitting next to Chris, a fund manager from the City, and wondering at his capacity for free champagne.
After we get airborne I discover why Mike always travels by Virgin. Crossing the Atlantic by air is never going to be a fun experience, but being able to sit at the bar and chat to your fellow passengers makes it as comfortable as possible…..
Land at Miami at 1610 local (2110 GMT) and start the interminable queues to enter the USA. The queuing ‘system’, such as it is, ensures that, despite being in the first 10 to disembark from the aircraft, I clear immigration among the last 10 passengers. Ah well…….
Eventually, I’m out of the airport and driving a completely nasty and uncomfortable (but cheap) Colt Lancer
and go and check in to the local Holiday Inn. Knowing I’ll fall asleep immediately if I stay in my room, I take the car out for a tour of Miami, trying, without success, to find a block without a 24hr Walgreen’s Pharmacy on it and a traffic light without someone who will approach the car and explain that he is desperately trying to get $3.25 to get home. I practise my ‘Paddington Bear Hard Stare’, which seems to discourage them. Eventually go to bed at 2200 local (0300 GMT) and go out like a light.
Had a poor night’s sleep – someone rang (no number left) on the mobile at 0330 (0830 GMT). Wake again at 0500 and eventually get out of bed at 0600 – weather is misty and 66 deg F. Forecast is sunny and 80 deg F.
First order of business is to contact my shipping agent, whose office opens at 0830.
Rang Manny and arranged to meet him at his office at 10ish. Went to the hotel restaurant on the 9th floor. Impressive views over Miami, but absolutely appalling service. Loads of staff, few customers – all of whom were pissed off. Took me nearly an hour to get breakfast and then it was time to go…..
Met Manny (GPS proving invaluable as an address finder). Something less than impressed. Despite his charm and car-dealer reassurances, I get the impression that he really doesn’t know his stuff. He’s going to try to get my bike booked in as ‘unaccompanied baggage’ and says there’s an ‘80% chance’ that this will work.
Hmmm. I though that appointing (& paying!) a Miami shipping broker was to ensure that the correct procedure was followed and there being a 100% chance my bike would be released as soon as possible…. I decide to give him the benefit of the doubt and agree to return at 1200 to pick up the forms he’s preparing (I’m going to ‘walk them through’ US Customs personally to speed things up).
Time to get a new plug to charge my laptop, a new SIM card for my mobile ‘phone and some other sundries. As ever, it’s never that simple…. A Pay as you Go (called Pre-Pay here) SIM card will allow you to make & receive calls in the USA (although, bizarrely, you use as many ‘minutes’ receiving a call as you do making one ??) but will not allow you to text to UK. The only exception to this is a T Mobile in the USA can text a T Mobile in the UK. You cannot get a ‘contract’ mobile phone without a (US) Social Security number – and the minimum contract time is 12 months. If I do buy a SIM card & phone the UK, it’ll cost $1.50 per minute. I decide to think on it.
By the time I’ve picked up the paperwork and fought my way through the heavy traffic to Port of Miami, it’s nearly 1400. The security at the gate is high and I have to show my passport before receiving a Police escort to the Customs office. I’m dealt with at a public counter which has the acoustics of a jet engine intake. It’s not helped by the customs officer I’m dealing with conducting a shouted conversation with his colleagues across the room, interspersed with him reading (aloud – but to himself, it seems) every document I’ve brought (including the photo-copies of my licence, registration document, passport, visa etc). He then asks why I’m presenting this paperwork, not my broker. I explained that I was keen to get the bike released and therefore wanted to walk the forms through rather than use the post. He seems intent on taking the piss out of my broker and quickly comes to the conclusion that he’s used the wrong forms and that I need a Temporary Import Bond (TIB). A TIB is a kind of mini-Carnet - very expensive and will take an age to prepare. I go on my way, utterly unimpressed by the day’s work. Returning to Manny’s office via the now M25esque traffic, I find that he’s away at a meeting and that his charming but long-suffering assistant Ali
is concerned and upset at the attitude of US Customs and assures me she’ll get new paperwork prepared that afternoon. Unfortunately Customs close at 1600, so I’ll be in Miami for at least another 24hrs……
Returning to my hotel (expertly chosen at the junction of two freeways - one of which is being dug up 24hrs a day - a railway and under the flight-path to Miami International) I find that a truck has turned over and, after that’s been cleared, a train the length of Nebraska is crossing the road. It takes me 50 minutes to cover the last mile (during which time I can see the hotel – which really helps)….
I sign up to the ‘$9 per day High Speed Internet Access on your TV’ – to find it’s an almost complete misnomer. OK, it works on your TV (but the resolution is crap), but it’s slow, crashes most of the time and won’t let me read my email. I leave a message on the Horizons Unlimited Bulletin Board (HUBB) asking for advice re the TIB. I ring the desk and complain that the resolution on the TV is bad (it’s a fault) and they promise to send someone up. They never appear, so I decide to challenge the cost of that when I check out. The fire alarm goes off & stops at 2100 – I ring the front desk – it’s a fault & they’re working on it. It goes off again at 2130. And at 2200. 2230. 2300. 2325 – it may have gone off after that, but to be honest I was so tired I’d be happy to burn to death by then….. Not a great day. Watched ‘The Missing’ – a kind of remake of ‘The Searchers’ on pay per view – pretty good.
No reply to my message on the HUBB. Ring Manny and arrange to meet him at is office 0830 – I’m going to use his internet access to set up my own account for the laptop – these TV hotel systems are shit.
And so begins a much better day. Manny is holding a fax triumphantly aloft as I enter the office. Apparently my bike has been cleared. How did this happen? Nobody knows, it seems – goblins did it during the night.
We still have to get a hard copy signed and stamped, however, before the bonded warehouse (at the rear of Manny’s office) will release the bike to me.
We try, unsuccessfully, to get through to Customs by ‘phone for an hour. Those of you with a mobile phone account with O2 may be familiar with the experience if you’ve ever tried to ring their Customer Service number…..
We decide to drive over to the port again and visit the Customs Office in person. First we go and see the bike, which seems to be intact, wrapped in 3 kilometres of bubble wrap and in an open frame crate.
Worryingly, the ratchet tie-downs are all loose and the bike can sway from one side of the crate to the other. I’ll inspect it carefully for damage when I’m finally allowed to touch it.
Off to the Port of Miami again. Manny drives in his 2 day old Subaru Forester, allowing me to spend time looking at the sights rather than trying to dodge errant SUVs on the freeway. We arrive at the public desk again and put the paperwork in the ‘In’ tray and take a seat.
A woman officer who has slightly less charm than Margaret Thatcher visiting a centre for asylum seekers demands to know why I have an agent/broker with me and why I came in person. I explain that I want to expedite the release of my bike and brought Manny along to advise me. She tells me to sit and wait. I feel like I’m outside the headmaster’s office.
Another officer, Inspector Gregory, calls me forward. He asks politely to see my visa, then stamps the documents and tells me to have a great time visiting his country. Incredibly, that’s it. The difference in attitude is remarkable. We quickly scuttle out and leave the area before the wicked harpy finds we’ve escaped.
We return to the office and Manny arranges for the release of the bike. I pay the substantial fees ($260 to the freight handlers in Chicago, $150 to Manny) and arrange to return at 1300 to start unwrapping the bike. I sign up for a Budget pre-pay internet account, which promises a local number where-ever you are in the USA and minimal charges. I’ll try it tonight.
I start work in the warehouse. The good news is that the bike seems to be in fine fettle – the bad news is I’m dismantling the crate with a broken claw hammer and brute force. I’m soon sweating like a paedophile in a playground and the pile of wood and bubble wrap is growing. Eventually I re-connect the battery and put a gallon of petrol in the tank. After re-setting the alarm/immobiliser, I press the button and – nothing happens. The starter seems to have stuck whilst engaged. I rock the bike backward and forward in gear and then try again – success! I leave the engine ticking over as I clear the rubbish into a dumpster in the loading yard.
The only snag appears to be the two rear bolts which hold the screen on. I removed the screen for transit and replaced these bolts (& the front ones) to safeguard them. The rear ones are both seized in the threaded brass collars. Instead of the bolts turning, it seems the brass collars are. Seems unusual that they both have the same fault. I buy some ‘Liquid Wrench’ penetrating oil and use it without success. If I can’t get them out, I suppose I’ll have to drill them and get a nut & bolt through there to solve the problem.
I pack up and drive back to the hotel, via a swift half at a local bar to celebrate a good day’s work. I try to connect to the Internet via Budget to find that the number is almost always engaged. When I do get through, their modem is down. Ah well…….
Get a call from Jeff Smith in South Daytona. My Tiger Angel suit has arrived (with no Customs duty to pay – today is clearly my lucky day with Customs) and I get invited to spend tomorrow night with him & his family. I’m happy to accept and plan to be up to see him at about 1615, which, according to Bitching Betty, will mean 4hrs riding up I-95, rather than seeking out more interesting roads, but this is probably not a bad idea for the first afternoon’s ride…..
What a day!
Started well enough - I got a cab over to the warehouse where I managed to successfully cable-tie the screen into place, to compensate for being unable to undo the 2 rear screen mounting bolts (I expect I'll drill them out tomorrow morning).
Then rode the bike over to the hotel to load it. Remarkably, nearly everything fitted - just a few bits in the holdall, which I strapped to the rack.
I notice a nail in the rear tyre :(. It was holding air, so I decide to go with it and repair en-route if necessary (it wasn't). Got the hire car back to the airport & set off.
On Manny's advice, I went up the Florida Turnpike, rather than Interstate 95, which was far more direct. Unfortunately this added about 75 miles to the journey and put me through Orlando in the rush hour. Whilst filtering through nearly stationary traffic, a member of the Orange County Sheriff's department made it clear he'd like a chat..... :(
Apparently, you are not allowed to 'Lane Split' (filter) in Florida. I took my telling off like a man and climbed back aboard with no more than a slight tremble of the lower lip.
Moving in pace with all the traffic now, I continue to South Daytona. On arrival, I find that Keri Smith is home (with baby Jacob, 2 cats & 3 dogs) and that Jeff is expected in about an hour.
I unpack and receive the nastiest shock of the day. The left pannier has got hot - VERY hot.
Hot enough to warp the aluminium it's made of.
It has melted the bag liner, destroyed my heated jacket and the mouse for my laptop.
The interior of the bag is scorched and I have no doubt that, if there had been a source of oxygen, I would've had a fire. Shit. :(
Jeff comes back and I find him immediately likeable, enthusiastic and helpful. He knows a local guy who custom makes exhausts for cars and feels sure he could make up a pipe to fit in the rear of the silencer which will duct the heat away from the pannier.
Still need to buy a new heated jacket, though....:( I'll try to sort the pipe tomorrow, as well as buying a new mouse (and washing everything that was in that side of the bag - it all stinks of scorched plastic).
On the up-side, Jeff removes the nail from my tyre and repairs it with an amazing bit of kit, called the Tyre Plugger. It puts a mushroom shaped plug into the tyre in about 5 minutes, with no need to remove the wheel - I'm buying one tomorrow :)
We have a chat & a beer, after which Jeff & Keri go to bed (Jacob has a cold & is teething and sharing their bedroom tonight, as I'm sleeping in the nursery).
This leaves me to unwrap the Tiger Angel suit - a custom made Goretex bike suit from Australia which has to be shipped to me here despite having initially being ordered last August.....
Don't ask, it's too complicated.......
Anyway, it's here now & fits fine! Looks like I'll have to ship the other stuff back to the UK.
Right, busy day tomorrow - fix the screen, get the exhaust repaired and - oh yes - have lunch :D......
Woke considerably refreshed and decided to get to work straight away. Drilled out the two rear bolts on the screen mount and replaced them with a couple of stainless numbers from Jeff’s ‘come-in-handy’ tin.
Re-examined the heat damage – it seems to be limited to the bag liner (which is still probably useable), the Gerbing jacket and the mouse – everything else will go into the wash and (hopefully) lose the smell of scorched plastic. After sorting the bike and some Emails out, I join Keri and Jeff for lunch at the Highlander Bar & Restaurant. By some trick of the light, Jeff appears much shorter than me in this picture.....
Jeff then takes me to A&W Mufflers, where I meet the proprietor, Steve Davis (no relation). He has a gruff and dry manner – ‘Yer not from rowend here, are ye, fellah?’ – but we get on very well.
He looks at the problem, explains how he intends to fix it and then gets to work. I’m there for 2 ½ hours or so, during which time Steve works on the exhaust, smokes interminable cigarettes and discusses music (they have both sorts here, Country and Western), cars (he drives an MG Midget) and traffic in London (he’s recently come back from a QE2 cruise to Southampton, flying back from Heathrow).
I also chat with his business partner, Danny, who has a Mach 1 Mustang that, shall we say, isn’t subtly customized.
He’s had the car for about 25 yrs and has a sign in the window saying ‘This car is not for sale’, as he gets asked so much. Danny’s also fine-tuning a model car which runs on a nitrous mix, revs to 40k rpm and will do 45-50mph.
These blokes are serious about their toys. Another customer turns up in a new Mustang Cobra.
This car develops 390 bhp. He’s in to get a new exhaust system fitted to increase the power……..
Steve removes the end cap from my standard can, angle cuts a piece of pipe to fit, welds the pipe to the can, flares the hole on the end cap, then sprays the end can, pipe and weld with high-temp paint.
I run the engine – it sounds great and the pipe now protrudes just aft of the number plate, ensuring the efflux is kept clear of any part of the bike. Total cost of this neat and expertly executed piece of engineering? $20. Amazing! Twelve quid!
I ride back to Jeff and Keri’s, where we barbeque steaks and agree to go out for a ride at about 1900. The evening is beautiful, with a full moon and warm breeze. Jeff leads me through an hour and a half of windy country roads, before returning home via local sights including the Daytona Speedway racetrack. On our return I check the temperature of the left pannier - cool as a cucumber - Steve's fix has worked perfectly :)
A shower and a quiet beer (and bullshitting session, natch) and it’s time to post the latest journal entry (I’m only about 24hrs behind at the moment), before turning in. Tomorrow probably won’t be too exciting – chores to do…..:(
Georgia on my mind...
After a couple of days getting the bike sorted, doing my laundry and all the other chores that seem to be left out of other world travellers diaries, it’s time to move on. Yesterday I met up with Andrew Ward (Aurelius) and we had a very pleasant lunch, followed by a ride down to Ponce Lighthouse (Andrew is way too cool to smile for the camera ;)).
This morning, after an excellent breakfast of bacon & eggs, I bid farewell to Jeff, Keri and Jacob and head North.
Jeff & Keri have left a deep impression on me – exemplifying the generosity and hospitality for which the southern USA has a reputation. They opened their house to me and, at their suggestion, I’ve left my tent, sleeping bag and some other kit there, to be collected when I return in some 3 weeks time for Daytona Bike Week. Jeff’s house will become the home & social centre for several other members of AdvRider, which should be a great opportunity anyway – and bike week sounds like it’s going to be crazy…..
There has been a sudden change in the weather and it’s now cold. Atlanta, some 200 miles north, experienced 27 deg F last night (I haven’t got a conversion chart, but that has to be about -3 deg C). I’m heading that way and put the thermal liner back into my jacket, and try out the thermal long-johns that Mike Belch gave me (they’re Virgin Atlantic ‘Upper Class’ pyjamas :D). Suitably attired, I head off out of Daytona, having routed the GPS through some back roads (state & county) rather than take the more obvious freeways.
The weather is fine, with some sunshine, but quite a lot of high cloud. After an hour or so, I notice a thermometer readout on a bank in a small town reads 44 deg F. The roads are quiet, dry and have an excellent surface. I make good progress, although my hands are getting cold, despite having the heated grips on. As I’ve trashed my heated jacket, I’ve no way of directly connecting my heated gloves, so I’ll just have to put up with it. I stop and take a picture of the bike in front of a general store that sells everything, it seems, from satellite dishes (huge ones) to basket case old motorcycles. The Adv looks alarmingly at home……
Pressing on, I enter Georgia at about 1430 and notice no real difference, except that all the motorcyclists are now wearing helmets. Apparently they recently repealed the helmet law in Florida (although, bizarrely, you still have to wear a helmet on a pedal cycle). The woman who championed the right to ride with no helmet was killed 2 weeks after the law was repealed, ignoring a Stop sign on her bike, whilst under the influence of alcohol. She died of head injuries. She was not wearing a crash helmet. Actually, no-one, with the exception of Jeff, Andrew & me, seems to wear a helmet. Even today, when it’s pretty bloody cold, the few motorcyclists I’ve seen are wearing a bizarre and ridiculous looking assortment of balaclavas, leather flying helmets and bandannas. Ah, well – to each his own…
It’s getting chillier as I go further North and I decide to stop at a town called Waycross. Carefully ignoring the Holiday Inn, I check in to the Pine Crest Motel, an old ‘Bates Motel’ style place, though hopefully with a less exciting shower…. $35 (£20) per night, including cable TV. I unpack and switch the AC unit to ‘Hot’ and settle in for the evening….
Another moderately chilly (41 deg F) morning. High overcast, but dry and relatively still. I’ve planned a very circuitous route ending in Savannah today, and I’m packed and on the road for 0940. Almost immediately, as I drive out of Waycross, I become aware of a State Trooper’s car behind me. No need to be concerned, as he comes past me and waves to me as he passes.
I start hitting some of the backroads leading North West and soon come across a detour around a closed bridge.
Unfortunately, the detour is down a mud road, which is wet, after last night’s rain, but has been recently graded. I set off, somewhat unsure of the fully loaded Adv, as I have virtually no off-road experience, and none on the Adv. I soon get to enjoy it, however.
The detour takes me some 4 miles, eventually re-gaining the road some 100 metres from where I left. The county roads, like many roads in Florida & Georgia so far, are often straight for long periods, but they occaisionally get interesting. I travel through some very poor parts of Georgia – some of the tar-paper shacks at the side of the road are clearly lived in, but look more like garden sheds……
I enter the town of Santa Claus – famous, it seems, for loving children. Hmmmm….. Further on is proof that even the local traffic authorities acknowledge the results of cousins knowing each other just a little too well……
After an excellent lunch at a small town diner – Spaghetti Bolognese, black-eyed peas, Mustards (mustard & turnip leaves blanched – bit like spinach), ‘sweet tea’ (iced tea with sugar) and lemon cake – all for $6 – and a short conversation with the waitress Joelene (no, really) ‘Ewer nut frum rownd heer, are yew hunny?’ – I’m on my way again.
I notice that the GPS behaves differently to when I’m in the UK. The algorythms (sp?) are clearly set for a lower expected average speed, which makes the Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) function completely useless (it calculate I’ll need an hour to cover 14 miles on a county road – it takes me 12 minutes – okay I was speeding a little, but an hour??).
I come into the city of Claxton and do a double take. I turn the bike around and check. Yes, I did see correctly. If you were advertising something in the deep deep South, would you use a wizard wearing a pointy hat to do it?……
Just around the corner, I notice that the city water tower proudly proclaims Claxton as being ‘The Fruitcake Capital of the World’ – nuff said…..
As I approach the outskirts of Savannah, I stop at a junction alongside a graveyard. Many of the trees in this part of the world have ‘Spanish Moss’ hanging from them. I’m told it’s a parasite, a little like mistletoe, and that, eventually, it can kill the host tree. These trees by the graveyard looked like they’d succumbed, they certainly looked quite eerie….
In the historic district of Savannah, I toured the old pre Civil War (ante-bellum) houses. The temperature was quite cool, although Savannah is known to roast in the summer. This time of year is probably the best time to visit. You can see the Spanish Moss on the (still living) trees that line the road. I was quite surprised to see that some of the old houses were in quite a poor state of repair.
Leaving Savannah on US 17 N, I enter South Carolina. Tomorrow I intend to visit the USS Yorktown, a WWII carrier which is a floating museum there. I find a cheap Motel in Hardeeville for the night, write my journal, ring my girlfriend using a phone card which is amazing value – 2¾ hrs to the UK for $5 - and, with the aid of a cold six-pack of Coors bought from the local filling station (now there’s something you won’t find in the UK:P), spend a quiet night in……
South Carolina - Like Norfolk, but flat...
Another bright, overcast and cool day. I decide against my initial plan to ride direct to Charleston and hit the back roads, using the GPS as an expensive compass, heading roughly North East. Almost immediately I come across a signpost for Sergeant Jasper Park – it turns out to be a pleasant woodland car park, but there is no explanation as to who Sgt Jasper was. Intriguingly, the sign shows a Union flag crossed with the South Carolina State flag*……
I continue up the back roads, and, on a whim, I head off down a dirt road. At first the going is good, but there has clearly been rain here recently and I feel the heavily laden Adventure sliding a little under me. Nevertheless, 5 miles later I find myself back on tarmac, feeling a little more confident in handling the bike on loose surfaces.
Near Holly Hill (the site of a Civil War battle) I stop and take a picture of an Episcopalian church, nestling prettily amongst the Spanish Moss.
These churchs abound in this part of South Carolina, as do Baptist chapels. They are nearly always in immaculate condition, even when in the poorest of neighbourhoods. On Sundays they are very well attended.
Another whimsical moment – I see a sign for a Wildlife Observation Park. I’m slightly bemused by a sub-notice stating that duck hunters must present their licence before starting their shoot – can’t imagine that at Slimbridge somehow…..
I follow the dirt road some 4 miles to the lodge, an empty cabin overlooking a large lake. I sit on a bench on a jetty or a while, relaxing in the complete silence. Feeling very chilled & relaxed, I get back on the bike, and, failing to listen to the sensible inner voices, decide I’ll ride on, rather than turning around.
The track looks like it’ll loop around and join the track I came in on - right? Wrong :(. The track gets progressively rougher and muddier and the bike starts sliding regularly.
I keep going, confidently using my homing pigeon instinct – confidence which proves to be completely misplaced…. As I get further into the woods (these wetlands must cover hundreds of acres), I realise that I’ve lost my bearings and, although I’ve got the GPS, I’ve no idea where the tracks which will lead me back to the entrance are. I hear the distant twang of hillbilly banjos……
Eventually, I retrace my steps, avoiding dropping the bike more by luck, sheer desperation and misuse of the throttle, than by skill. I breathe a sigh of relief as I regain the blacktop and resolve to listen to the sensible voices in future.
As I enter Charleston, I stop and buy a couple of greetings cards and then visit a Post Office to send them to the UK. US Post Offices are quite different from UK ones – they deal almost exclusively with the collection & deliver of mail, rather than the ‘One Stop Shop’ approach of the UK ones. For just over $1.10 I post 2 cards to the UK, First Class. Further on I check out the prices of a couple of cheap (looking) motels, but find them a little expensive for the (rough) neighbourhood they’re situated in. I treat myself to a night in a Best Western ($49 + tax)……
I’ll look at visiting the USS Yorktown tomorrow…..
*Seems Sgt William Jasper was a hero of the Revolutionary War, killed during an assault on Fort Sullivan near Charleston, after releasing Patriot prisoners in October 1779. So now you know.
I decide to take a day off the bike today and do the tourist thing. Managing to crack the Internet problem at last, I now have access from anywhere in the USA, albeit at 26 kbps at the moment (it takes ages to upload pics to SmugMug). I post the latest entries on my Journal and, ordering a taxi from the front desk, leave the computer up-loading 20 images (estimated time remaining – 2hrs 53mins :P).
The cab turns up, driven by Bonnie, from Texas. She talks incessantly, usually making eye contact either over her shoulder or in the mirror. Now and again she glances at the road ahead and narrowly avoids a variety of hazards. Whilst she’s doing this, she uses both hands to eat a baked potato, followed by a bowl of chilli…..
At one stage she comments on the fact that another driver is clearly not taking care over his driving, as he’s talking on a mobile phone. I’m amazed, and not a little grateful that the cab has seat belts in the rear.
Against all odds, we arrive safely at Patriots Point and the USS Yorktown. Named for the carrier sunk in the Battle of the Coral Sea, USS Yorktown was commissioned in WWII, de-commissioned just before the Korean War, then re-commissioned in time to be deployed during the Vietnam War. The entire Patriots Point area is a museum to Naval & Marine Corps aviation and warfare.
From the Vietnam era, there is a PBR (Patrol Boat, River), which you may find familiar if you’ve seen ‘Apocalypse Now’.
In the main hangar of the Yorktown is a collection of aircraft detailing the history of naval aviation, including the F6F Hellcat.
On the Flightdeck (made of wood – which was one reason the US carriers were so vulnerable to kamikaze attack) is a collection of altogether more modern aircraft including the F4 Phantom,
and F14 Tomcat.
Amazingly, below decks I find an escalator installed. At first I assume this has been installed to aid visitors getting about the ship after it became a museum - in fact it was installed in the 1950s while the ship was operational, and served to convey aircrews to the flight deck rapidly…..
Crossing the Cooper & Wando rivers in Charleston Harbour are a variety of spectacular bridges. These are about to be eclipsed by a gargantuan structure which is being built along side the others. I have no idea how tall the two main pillars are, but they dwarf the current (very high) road bridge. The picture does little to convey the scale of the project, although the size of the yellow tower cranes may give you some idea….
I call the cab company and, to my dismay, Bonnie turns up again. She’s finished lunch it seems, and keeps one hand at least close to the wheel all the way back to the hotel, while she explains in gruesome and explicit detail the exact gynaecological reasons why she hasn’t ever had children. I leave the cab, feeling stunned and a little nauseous - so far into the ‘Too Much Information’ zone that I fear I may never find my way out…..
...but when I got to my room, all the pics had uploaded to SmugMug in my absence - which was nice. :)
Wake to a the sound of a heavy rainstorm. Seems today I’ll be testing the waterproofing on my Tiger Angel suit. Ah well……
I string out breakfast, packing and checking out as much as possible, but the rain continues.
I open the panniers to find a tablespoon full of water in each. Hmmm… I can’t help but reflect that, given the relatively simple purpose of panniers – to keep your kit safe & dry – Vern’s Worldbeaters have not been a success. Beautifully made they might be, but neither the Touratech Zega bags, nor the Jesse Odysseys cooked my gear or leaked….
I set off tentatively into the still torrential rain. The drivers in Charleston have decided to deal with this change in the weather by ignoring it completely. After about a mile, I bring the bike to a halt as a light changes to red. As I put my foot down, a pick up truck slews sideways into the junction from the lane to my left, all wheels locked. I give thanks that he wasn’t in the lane behind me and, as the lights change, move off.
My plan today is to ride North East to Supply, then turn left onto Highway 211 towards Lumberton. I’ve chosen this route because the 211 between Supply & Lumberton is the only road marked as a ‘Scenic Route’ in all of South Carolina.
The weather is truly miserable. My new suit performs well and is completely waterproof, but the rain is incessant and it’s bloody cold. Despite having the heated grips on ‘High’, my hands soon get cold. I reflect that the grips used to keep my hands adequately warm before the bike was rebuilt after my accident last Christmas. I wonder if fitting alloy ‘Pro-Taper’ bars affects the efficiency of heated grips…..
I ride through the rain along Highway 41 through the Francis Marion National Forest, a pretty straight road. Riding in these conditions leads one to ponder on things. Who, for instance, is Justin?
He clearly has a sense of humour if he builds gates like these to his cabin.
If you are serious about protecting your workforce in the road, could you make penalties for speeding any clearer? (I can assure you I kept to the limit here :D)
In fact, penalties for all sorts of things are pretty drastic…
Most importantly – exactly what is a ‘Solid Waste Convenience Center’?
My imagination runs riot, especially as it is signposted in Brown Village……:gosh
A little further on, I pass a field with 7 light aircraft (Piper Cubs?) lined up in it. They don’t appear to be fitted out for crop-spraying or anything and there are no signs advertising a flying school – must just be a collector, I suppose…
I stop for lunch and warm up, but resolve to stop for the day at the first motel complex I come across. It’d be pointless riding a scenic route in this weather and the forecast is for an improvement tomorrow. I soon ride into Little River and stop at the Holiday Inn, which has a very pleasant room for $39:99, with free local calls (= Internet access :thumb). I soon get thawed out again and peruse the cable TV selections, the titles of which ‘will not appear on your bill’…:eyebrow
Creeping towards Virginia...
A beautiful morning. I eat a hearty (as in severely damaging to my cardiac function) breakfast, pack the bike and I’m off. Almost immediately I enter North Carolina. With my usual map reading skills, I’ve failed to notice that there are NO scenic routes in South Carolina (the one I’d spotted was in North Carolina). Ah well…
I stop at a Post Office and post my earplug monitors back to the UK to be repaired. The left speaker has gone, so Judge (cheers Andy :thumb) is going to sort it out with Ultimate Earplugs and arrange for them to be posted back to me… Total cost of posting the ‘plugs back, including buying a Jiffy bag? – 85 cents…
I ride through the warm sunshine and come across Sunset Beach Airport.
Aviation is completely matter of fact in the USA. I can’t think of an aerodrome anywhere in the UK where you can drive directly from a public road onto the tarmac.
I get to the start of the Scenic Route, which runs from Supply to Lumberton, a distance of about 70 miles. It is noteworthy as a scenic route for its utter lack of scenery. Honest – I really wanted to take some pics to make up for the ‘Roadside Signs’ edition of my Journal yesterday, but there wasn’t a single view, bend or anything worth bothering with. It’s not that it wasn’t a nice road – 55mph limit, but a continuous series of long sweeping bends which presented no challenge at a steady 80mph – it was just not scenic…
Always a sucker for trying again, I navigate over to Elizabethtown, the start of a further scenic road, Highway 242, leading North towards Virginia. I notice, once again, how proud the people here are of their local heroes. This mural celebrates local boy & Shuttle pilot, Lt Col Curtis L Brown jnr…
After noticing a law firm that would, presumably, represent you overground, underground etc :P,
I turn onto the 242 and find it to be delightful. For a start there are hills (up until now, despite being 50 miles from the coast, I always felt threatened by a high tide), as well as a twisty, well-surfaced road leading through the Bladen Lakes Forest, full of well - you know – scenery.
I continue North, heading towards the Virginia Border.
I stop to take a picture of this garden, surely a contender for ‘Gnome of the Month’ award. I also catch a snap of a Fat Boy.
I think he’s riding a Harley :D. He gives me a tentative wave – probably a bit suspicious of this weird looking bike with its hazards on and of having his picture taken…
The tar-paper shacks of Georgia & South Carolina seem to have disappeared now. In their place, low-cost housing is evident in the form of these pre-fabricated houses, little more than caravans without wheels really. On the outskirts of large towns I see them in huge parking lots, advertised for sale, either new, second-hand or, sadly, repossessed…
The big houses are getting bigger. Mostly of timber construction, some are absolutely huge and must cost a fortune to build. This is quite a modest one, but it shows the basic style…
For those who haven't ridden/driven in the USA, you must not pass a School Bus when it is stopped & has its lights flashing. This goes for traffic in both directions. You can see this bus has a fold-out 'Stop' sign deployed...
I detour into Beaver Dam. To find that there are no damn beaver…. (Although I did see a couple of white-tailed deer run across the road 100m or so ahead of me)
As I enter the town of Oxford, I spot a cheap looking motel (my favourite type ;)). I ask how much for a room - $25. Cheapest yet. There isn’t a single vehicle in the car park. Can I see the room? The receptionist’s face falls. He leads me to what, presumably, is the best room & opens the door. It smells like a wet Labrador. ‘Think I’ll give it a miss’ I call over my shoulder as I make a dash for the bike. As I ride on, I try to imagine what circumstances would’ve made me stay there. I can’t envisage them. I’d rather sleep alongside my bike in the rain than stay there. Who does he rent rooms to?...
I find a pleasant lakefront hotel, just over the Virginian border, in the town of Clarkesville (of ‘Last Train to’ fame). After a quick shower, I drop in to the local bar and meet up with Charlie, who works for AT&T and Russ, who doesn’t. We spend a couple of hours discussing a variety of subjects, including the fuss made by the US media and general public about the halftime entertainment at the Superbowl a fortnight ago, when Janet Jackson (almost) bared a boob; whether Dubya ever turned up for duty as a National Guardsman and whether anyone cares and, of course, the old favourite – where I should think of going next. The perceived wisdom is that, if the weather holds tomorrow, I should head North, then spend a couple of days riding down the Blue Ridge Parkway…
...on the trail of the Lonesome Pine...
So, true to the plan, I get Betty to look for the town of Montebello, which appears to be roughly my closest point to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and pack the bike. In the car park, I meet Mark Krogh, a carpenter from Onancock, Virginia, who asks me whether I’ve come over to see how the colonies are doing :D. He’s 3 years off retirement and is renovating an 18th Century house near South Boston (just up the road from Clarkesville). We talk for half an hour or so, and I meet his wife and son, Scott (who shakes my hand and calls me ‘sir’). Scott has just finished a history degree. After discussing the Civil War (which he calls the War of Northern Aggression), the American War of Independence (Revolutionary War) and the French (‘be honest, Mike, you guys have never liked them…’) and exchanging Email addresses, we say our goodbyes – I’ll definitely be in touch with them if I’m their area later in the trip – good people.
It’s fairly cold this morning, but the bike’s going well, I have a plan (of sorts) and the roads are quiet, well surfaced & dry. Who could ask for more? I ride through undulating countryside, sparsely populated by large timber houses, some of which are quite impressive.
Joining Highway 15, I note that the Virginia State Troopers are not averse to using unmarked patrol cars, as a car driver coming the other way has discovered to his cost… In the distance, I soon catch my first glimpse of the Blue Ridge Mountains – which really are blue – I’ll have to try to find out why…
Soon I’m climbing up into the foothills, still heading towards Montebello. The road gets narrower and the surface slightly worse – the sign, I suspect, of it being covered with ice & snow for extended periods of time. Snow appears, banked up at the sides of the road, and salt and grit make their first appearance.
I slow down and concentrate on the road surface…
I’m now getting quite cold, and wish I’d had a hot breakfast. The heated grips are doing their best and I’m wearing my warmest gloves (Gerbings, but not heated, of course :(). I eventually get to the Blue Ridge Parkway to find – it’s closed. Bugger!
I ride about a mile and a half of it, until I come to another barricade & then turn back and retrace my steps to a little town called Rockfish Gap. I have lunch at a small restaurant and plan my next move. I speak to the waitress, Dolly (no, really), while I wait the 35 minutes it takes to serve me the ‘Special’ – salmon, mashed potatoes & broccoli (I think they were waiting for the broccoli to finish growing). She asks around and comes back to tell me that the Skyline Drive – a continuation of the Blue Ridge Parkway which runs North through the Shenandoah National Park – is open to the North. I finish my meal and set off for Stanardsville, the nearest junction where I can join. After a cold, but very pleasant, ride to the entrance to Shenandoah National Park, I stop at the gate and talk to the 2 Park Rangers on duty there. Yes, the Skyline Drive is open to the North, but I’m to take care as there is some ice and snow on the road in places. They are polite, well informed, efficient and have a good sense of humour – these guys shouldn’t even think about applying to become Customs Officers…
I start the climb up onto the Skyline Parkway. It’s sole purpose is to provide a scenic drive, one it fulfils very well. There is a 35mph speed limit, which is about right as, if you went any faster, you’d miss some spectacular views.
It’s approaching sunset and I’m very aware of the number of signs warning of deer, and also that dusk will be a time when they will become more active. Having hit a small deer in the UK once whilst driving my car, I’ve no wish to try doing it on a bike…
When Shenandoah National Park was originally authorised by Congress in 1926, deer had been hunted to extinction in the area - amazingly, all the estimated 5000 deer in the Park are descended from 13 white-tailed deer released there in 1934.
There is light, but steady traffic. As sunset approaches, most of the vehicles are stopped in the scenic lookouts – it is Valentines Day, after all ;)…
I’m getting quite chilled, and shuddering from the cold now & again. It’s well below freezing up here and I know the temperature will drop sharply after the sun goes down. I slowly make my way down to the next exit (Sperryville), join Highway 211 and start looking for a motel for the night.
I cruise quietly along the 2 lane dual carriageway, until, in what is becoming a habit, a Virginia State Trooper indicates he’d like to discuss something with me. I pull over and put on my best ‘stupid Englishman’ act (imagine Hugh Grant with short grey hair & a weight problem). The (very polite) trooper tells me that he’s clocked me doing 67mph and that this highway has a 55mph limit. I tell him I‘m terribly sorry and give him my Driving Licence. He sees I’m from the UK and suddenly he decides he’ll warn me instead of giving me a ticket (huzzah!) – he admits a lot of people get fooled by the size of the highway (these 2 laners are often 65mph limits). He asks me where I’ve been today and I explain my route. He agrees that getting out of the National Park by nightfall is a good move, but says that he’d be more worried about bear than deer. Gulp :( – I tell him I’ll never ride through a forest again! He laughs and recommends a couple of motels in the local town, Luray Caverns (which sounds like a cabaret singer…). I thank him – if all LEOs are that polite (& forgiving), I’ll be OK ;)…
I check into the Best Western in Luray and find there’s no local Internet connection for my Service Provider – damn! – no mobile ‘phone signal either :(.
Rather than face the ignominy of eating alone in the restaurant on Valentines night, I get a take away burger from the place next door, type up my journal & watch TV. Hope my girlfriend’s having a better time…(well, not too much better :P…)
Might look at doing Washington DC tomorrow…
DC stands for Damn Cold...
A cold morning. I scrape the frost off the seat as I pack the bike.
It’s beautiful and sunny, with clear skies. I decide that it would be foolish not to visit Washington DC, as it’s only an hour and a half away. I set off, pausing only to fill up with fuel. Incidentally, fuel here is rather good value – Supreme Unleaded (93 Octane – Super Unleaded or Optimax in the UK) is $1.78 per US gallon. That’s under 27p per litre (£1.22 per Imp Gallon)…
I ride to Washington mostly by way of dual carriageways and Interstate Highways, including Route 66 – totally devoid of any kicks at this temperature. I could really do with my heated jacket & gloves right now…:( Riding into Washington is quite unlike riding into any other US city I’ve visited so far. There isn’t the huge rash of motels, fast food outlets and shopping centres which characterise US towns & cities. Washington, dare I suggest it, seems more civilised, as if someone has thought about the impression a visitor is going to get as he drives in. Quite quickly, I’m into the centre of town and monuments which are very familiar from a thousand films & TV shows are coming into view. As usual, there’s a slight sense of unreality when you see these things in the flesh, almost like déjà vu…
I arrive at the White House, or as close as you can get a vehicle to it. The entire block is sealed off and is crawling with uniformed and plain clothes security. I stop and take a quick picture – if you look carefully, you can see the White House in the background, far away…
Interestingly, my GPS has a bit of a fit when I’m in the immediate vicinity, showing me moving in various directions when I’m stationary and losing satellite reception when I’m clear of any obstruction. I have little doubt that there is some form of ‘point defence’ GPS signal jammer in operation (frankly, I’d be surprised if there wasn’t). I stop again, to take a picture of the bike by the Washington Monument…
I then decide it’s FAR too cold to hang around any longer (plus I really don’t like being in cities) and head on out. I wander about for a while, riding down some pleasant little country routes, before deciding I need to warm up. The temperature hasn’t dropped, but the wind has picked up & the air feels more moist – there’s a threat of snow in the air and I don’t want to be caught looking for accommodation once it starts (it’s a public holiday – Presidents’ Day - tomorrow, and motels fill up early). I make my way into Fredericksburg and check into a Super 8 Motel…
I wake, after a poor night’s sleep, feeling crap. I certainly don’t feel like riding today, which is a shame since it is gin-clear, though cold, with a cloudless sky. The threatened snow has not materialised, but all the puddles in the motel car park are frozen solid. I’m meant to be heading South to stay with Buddy & Sue Lee (Freaking RT Rider) this afternoon, but don’t feel up to the ride, so I ring them & cry off. Buddy tells me it’s probably a sensible decision, as the side roads around Richmond are pretty slippery. I arrange to meet up the following afternoon, after Buddy gets back from a meeting at 4pm. I ring the front desk, extend my stay by a night and go back to bed…
I awake feeling well-rested & much better. I check out and get on the road by 10ish. Richmond is only 45 miles away, and I’ve no need to arrive before 4pm, so I take the back roads and start exploring as I head South. I soon come across the village of Cuckoo – it gets its name from a tavern from which Jack Jouett began his famous ride to Charlottesville to warn members of the Virginia Government of the approach of Tarleton’s British Cavalry in June 1781.
Well – he’s famous here, apparently…:confused:
Further on I encounter the town of Bumpass – a name so amusing that there isn’t a single signpost or street sign to be seen. It’s a depressing place to visit anyway…
As I take a tour around Lake Anna State Park, the first few flakes of snow begin to fall.
I decide that the best course of action would be to get as close to Buddy’s house as possible in case the snow gets worse, then find somewhere to wait until he gets home. I make my way down some side roads through the, now steady, snow flurries. It’s not pitching on the road surface yet, but the temperature has definitely dropped and I’m once again getting cold. I follow Buddy’s directions and, about 2 miles from his house, find a Burger King to wait in (any port in a storm – plus the coffee refills are free :D). The front of the bike has got quite a healthy build-up of slushy ice, as have the front of my Cordura trousers…
I meet Wanda, a schoolteacher who has stopped off on the way home from school to grab a bite to eat. She used to be married to a US Customs Inspector and shares my opinion of them :D
Eventually, I make my way through the wind blown snow to Buddy & Sue’s beautiful house. Buddy greets me with a beer, shows me to my (enormous) bedroom, and I unpack. I put everything (it seems) into the washing machine, then have a shower and, feeling warm & slightly more human, join Buddy back downstairs…
Buddy worked in IT until relatively recently, but has just trained as a Real Estate Broker. Seizing on the opportunity to get some free IT help :D, I ask him if he can help me get my wireless network card working. I’ve stayed at a couple of hotels which have clearly got a Broadband wireless network, but have never been able to access it…
No problem – Buddy loves a challenge and he’s soon hard at work. Unfortunately, in trying to connect my laptop, he somehow crashes his wireless network and, at one stage, his internet connection. I’m mortified, but, to Buddy ‘This is what makes computers fun’. He continues to attack the snag (without any major success :() until Sue comes home. It is decided that we’ll go into Richmond for the evening, so that I can give them the verdict on an ‘English Pub’ called Penny Lane.
Well, Penny Lane is pretty authentic, but then it should be. It’s run by Terry, a scouser who has lived here for 20 yrs, and was 10 yrs in New York before that. He came over in 1958, when ‘they didn’t worry about Green Cards too much…’ He runs a pretty good pub. I drink far too much, as does Sue (who, unlike Buddy & me, has to be at work tomorrow). To my amazement, Sue matches me pint for pint – Boddingtons, Newcastle Brown, Old Speckled Hen etc, and remains compus mentis. We enter the pub quiz and don’t come last (close, though :D). We eventually get home at about midnight when, it seems, it’s time to open a bottle of single malt….
I’m woken by the sound of the automatic garage door opening downstairs. Its 9ish and Sue is going to work. I try to turn over and go to sleep, but the need for coffee and ibuprofen overcomes my tiredness. I stumble downstairs and meet up with Buddy, who apparently sorted out his computer glitches at about 2 this morning!
I’ve another snag with the exhaust. The extension to the pipe that Steve welded on in Daytona has come loose. At first, I thought it was Steve’s weld that had cracked, but it turns out to be a BMW tack weld that has fatigue-cracked under the additional weight of the extension. Buddy rings around a couple of places to see if we can get it fixed. I remove the pannier, as well as the extension pipe & end cap, and we set off on the bikes into town where we find Chester Muffler & Brakes. The guy on reception, Polo, says it’ll take 10 minutes and cost $15. His estimate proves entirely accurate, and we share the reception area with the owner’s 2 dogs while we wait for the job to be done.
Virginia, it seems, has a very high proportion of ‘Vanity Tags’, or personalised number plates. I notice that one of the guys at the muffler shop has the ultimate redneck’s plate…:P
Buddy, a keen golfer, has PUTT 1 on his VW, and this on his RT…
Before we go home, Buddy takes me to the local Chopper Shop. These are definitely not my cup of tea, but I can always appreciate high quality engineering when I see it. All the bikes are based on Harley Davidson engines (natch). The chrome and paintwork is dazzling…
We then return to the house and refit the pannier, before departing for ‘the 10¢ tour’ of Richmond. Buddy & Sue both went to school here, and Buddy proves to be a keen and well-informed tour guide…
This part of the USA is the cradle of their struggle for independence, as well as the focus of the Civil War. We ride down Monument Avenue, past several impressive tributes to local heroes. The first is to Arthur Ashe, a tennis player who won Wimbledon in 1975, but was unable to play tennis in the local club when he was a child, because he was black…
His statue has its back turned to the other memorials –all of which commemorate Civil War heroes. This is not by accident – Ashe hated the prejudice in this town and refused to attend the dedication ceremony…
We then come across Maury, naval navigator…
…Stonewall Jackson, killed by his own troops…
…Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy…
…and, finally, Major General Jeb Stuart, Cavalry Commander.
We then visit Hollywood Cemetery, which is a pleasant and tranquil home to, amongst many others, 80 thousand Confederate soldiers and 2 Presidents (three, if you include Jefferson Davis).
They all have an excellent view of Richmond’s skyline from here. The city is undergoing enormous amounts of work restoring the older and neglected industrial areas. Buddy admits that it bears little resemblance to the place he grew up in…
It’s now pleasantly warm, a major change from this time yesterday. So warm, in fact, that we sit outside for a cup of coffee – tomorrow is forecast to be even warmer. I don’t think it’s time to pack away the thermals quite yet, though…
Another point on the tourist trail, the State Capitol building. You can see Buddy (successfully) negotiating with the Policeman at the security desk to let us ride into the grounds (the legislature is in session, so we can’t enter the building).
The members of the legislature, who meet for a total of 60 days per year, have licence plates with their seat number on them. The Governor has No 1, the deputy No 2 and so on – the lower your number, the higher up the pecking order you are…
We leave Richmond via one last historical landmark. This is St John’s Episcopal Church, famous as the place where Patrick Henry made his ‘Give me liberty or give me death’ speech in 1775…
As the sun moves towards the horizon, we leave the city via Route 5, a series of long sweeping bends through the woods, which allows us a little spirited riding and helps to clear the cobwebs formed by creeping about in bad weather for the last few days…
That evening we go out to a very pleasant Italian restaurant. The decor & food is excellent, the wine’s good and the service is friendly. We are the only customers in the place, so are a little surprised that they choose this time to vacuum the restaurant…. I ask the young man to stop, which he does. What happened to my British reserve? Am I becoming American…:confused:
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