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Old 05-05-2004, 07:45 PM   #1
MikeO OP
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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 ). 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...

Mike

ps It's a straight cut & paste - so apologies if some of the smilies don't work...
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Old 05-05-2004, 07:45 PM   #2
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Miami Advice...

1st Feb

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.

2nd February

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.
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Old 05-05-2004, 07:47 PM   #3
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3rd February

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…..
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Old 05-05-2004, 07:47 PM   #4
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Heat...

4th February

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 ......

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Old 05-05-2004, 07:48 PM   #5
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5th February

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…..:(
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Old 05-05-2004, 07:50 PM   #6
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Georgia on my mind...

8th February

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 ). 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….



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Old 12-31-2010, 01:39 PM   #7
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MikeO,

I've spent a good part of this week catching up on your report, with many more hours left to read. Your prose is spot-on, the images amazing, and your general perspective on the journey terrific. Thanks for sharing this with all of us.

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Old 12-31-2010, 03:52 PM   #8
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MikeO,

I've spent a good part of this week catching up on your report, with many more hours left to read. Your prose is spot-on, the images amazing, and your general perspective on the journey terrific. Thanks for sharing this with all of us.

Oh, I've got loads of them...

Glad you're enjoying it - seems like a long time ago now...
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Old 05-26-2013, 12:09 PM   #9
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Hi Shay,

You are reading the only record of my trip.

I had some money and when it ran out I came home. I kept no track of costs or spending (other than checking my statements at the time). The whole purpose of the trip was not to plan...

The trip was 9 years ago, which means any data would be 15 years out of date by the time your trip starts anyway...

I did 43,000 miles, though, if that's any help...

Have a great trip...

Mike
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Old 02-01-2014, 12:27 AM   #10
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Well, it's been...

...Ten years...
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Old 02-01-2014, 12:30 AM   #11
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...Ten years...
good times!
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Old 02-01-2014, 12:33 AM   #12
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Time flies, it's one of the the reports that made this site.
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Old 02-01-2014, 12:46 AM   #13
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...Ten years...
just like its yesterday must be about time to do it again.

Ed
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Old 02-01-2014, 06:10 AM   #14
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So what have you been up too Mike ?, not getting old like the rest of us I hope
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Old 02-01-2014, 06:15 AM   #15
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So what have you been up too Mike ?, not getting old like the rest of us I hope
"Time is what we want most, but what we use worst"
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