Travel Through The United States of America on a Harley-Davidson

By Peter & Kay Forwood

The United States of America on a Harley (4/6/03 - 13/9/03)
Distance 26145 km (331547 km to 357692 km)

This is part of the ninth section of our around the world trip.
Complete Trip Overview & Map

Coming from  Cuba or read our previous visit to U.S.A.

4/6/03 We were at the Key West marina fuel dock by 7 am and with a series of Agriculture, Immigration and Customs officials were cleared by 9 am. The boat has a special permit to do mission work in Cuba and as such the crew had no problems on returning to the USA. Being Australians coming from Cuba we also were not subject to the US restrictions however had we departed to Cuba from the USA and were now returning we would have been subject to US laws regarding the embargo. We made a donation to the mission, equal to what others had told us was the usual charge for the passage, and said goodbye. The total cost for the crossing including Cuban paperwork being about $US 400.00, no costs to enter the US. If you want to contribute to the mission's work or find out more about what they do, the captain, Keith, can be contacted by email on A fork lift unloaded the motorcycle from the boat's deck and we rode to the southernmost beacon in the USA. It was 19 months ago when we left the beacon to do the loop through Central, to South America and up the Caribbean, and great to return. Headed up the coast to recover and regroup, at a cheap motel.Unloading in the U.S.A.

5/6/03 Inundated by choice and billboards again. We have not seen a billboard (other than political) in the last three weeks and selection of goods has been extremely limited. But it is as difficult to wade through the unfamiliar systems here. Like needing a specific discount card to get the discounts in the supermarket or a payment card in the laundromat to use the machines or having to prepay for petrol. Havana was the only place in Cuba with traffic lights and we have already been stopped by more lights here than exist in the whole of Cuba. Yes we can buy anything but it is miles between the bookshop, the laundromat and the library instead of a short walk. Both places are as extreme as each other, at each end of where we like to be, somewhere in the middle. Regrouped with guide book and maps planning the next three months of travel.

6/6/03 Rode onto Ft Lauderdale H-D and bought a new regulator, fitted it but didn't solve the electrical problem and with the battery slowly getting weaker continued on to Daytona Beach where we intended to stay a few days. After tests at the H-D dealer they were convinced the problem is an intermittent alternator (stator rotor) shorting out. With labour costs at $US 70.00 an hour we decided to buy and try fitting the alternator ourselves, tomorrow.

7/6/03 Rain outside and Kay's stomach still upset, probably from Cuba, aggravated by the rough boat crossing we stayed in our hotel room almost all day, work on the motorcycle tomorrow.

8/6/03 Replaced the alternator early morning in the hotel car park before most of the inhabitants got out of bed. About two and a half hours. It was easy to see that it was the problem, with the plastic insulation cracked exposing bare wires. Relaxed then walking along endless miles of Daytona Beach, one of the few that allow motorized vehicles to drive on. The weekend holiday makers were out grabbing the sunshine before afternoon thunderstorms. There are always H-D's riding the streets in Daytona, their owners drinking in the bars on Main St or just doing that great American pastime, shopping for something they don't need but wouldn't it look great on the motorcycle.

9/6/03 Things in the USA are expensive if they involve labour but other things are free, or cheap. Internet at libraries free, telephone calls cheap. Changed oils on the motorcycle. The isolation and spreadoutness of Americans makes casual meaningful encounters difficult. Born into two generation homes, isolated from the weather and others in motor vehicles, entertained in their homes by TV, trained to be competitive and work efficiently, casual interaction with others moving in their environment is rare. Unlike where we have just come from the streets don't throng with people, here they drive from one mega store to the next. There is rarely anyone on the corner to ask directions. People will look at the motorcycle from a distance, personal space expansive, not wanting to disturb us they leave questions unasked therefore unanswered. The sudden difference from the Latin American upfrontness and openness a little off-putting.Memphis, and its hero, Elvis

10/6/03 The second biggest American pastime, after shopping seems to be driving, interstates, packed with cars and trucks, moving at 115 km/hr (70 mph), down tree lined roads, segregated from the non travelling America. Switching to a red road in Georgia, we continued to Alabama, through some smaller towns and sat on a porch chewing the fat with a couple of southern folks in rocking chairs while they had time off from working in the pecan nut orchards. This poorer part of the USA houses its people in mainly prefabricated houses delivered complete to the site. A cheap motel for the night, now affordable since the US dollar is slipping in value and our Australian dollar is rising giving us 25% more buying power than when we were here two years ago.

11/6/03 Crossed Mississippi and onto Memphis Tennessee, camping 10 miles south of town. Its hard to get away from mechanical noises. On long sections we wear ear plugs to dampen wind, tyre and truck noises but even at our campground all night there are aeroplanes, pumps, distant road noise or air conditioners and fans in motels. Something we all accept with progress but its amazingly quiet when finally there are only animal or wind noises, if you can still find such a place. The solitude of sailing, in an underground cave, sitting on a remote beach with the waves drowning other sounds or walking all day into the mountains the few refuges left.

12/6/03 The logistics of independent travel take up enormous amounts of time, probably more than the sightseeing. Keeping the motorcycle running, reading guide books, studying maps, buying food, cooking and camping. Plus the riding between destinations leave the short snippets of history, culture and people gems in the day. Sometimes just the logistics are enough. We didn't leave our quiet wooded campground all day. Watched holiday makers rush in and out, taking kids here and there, restaurants for breakfast, lunch and dinner, cramming life into the one or two week summer holidays.

13/6/03 Sun studios saw the start of it all in the 1950's, the start of Rock and Roll, which led to the freeing up of the baby boom generation, flower power of drugs and open sex. The fears of parents were correct when Elvis shook his pelvis on stage, the youth previously held in close by religion broke free demanding real freedom, equality and civil rights. The recording studio recorded people like Howlin Wolf, B B King, Ike Turner, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and many more, all here in Memphis. Beale St is still the centre, changed, modified and memorabiliaified, bands still come to play in the streets for tips like tonight's Big Jerry band from Arkansas playing its version of the Blues. Two blocks of the city are closed to traffic and opened to the public to wander, drink in hand, from one band or venue to the next with more than twenty live entertainment venues. After watching the imitation paddle steamers run tourists on the Mississippi, stroll the empty city streets in daylight, it was great to sit in the gutter with the mix of blacks and whites, drinking beer and listening to black and white bands of blues and 60's music in the vibrant Beale St.Jessie Jackson, at the site of Martin Luther King's assassination, a union rally for better working conditions

14/6/03 Memphis was also one of the Southern cities troubled by the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's. 100 years since the blacks had won their freedom in a civil war and yet over half of the US states still had segregation in one form or another in schools, restaurants, toilets, buses and rules made it difficult for them to vote. At the small Lorraine Hotel downtown in April 1968, Martin Luther King was gunned down and killed. Amidst controversy over government involvement or prior knowledge of the event no clear understanding has come to light. The motel is now the National Civil Rights Museum where we spent three hours learning in an unbiased factual account of events leading up to today's integration of black people into American society. Today there was a labour demonstration, mostly black workers fighting white management for better pay and safer working conditions, guest speaker, the Reverend Jessie Jackson, who 35 years ago was at Martin Luther King's side when he was shot dead at this same site during a labour dispute over similar issues. Back to Beale St for the evening and spent most of our time entertained by a captivating female vocalist, a cross between Joe Cocker and Janis Joplin.

15/6/03 Middle aged parents drag along their children to re-live the Elvis dream at Gracelands, his home and resting place. The mans inability to live up to his own image in life had to die so the fans could keep the larger than life worship going. The American quest for theme parks and memorabilia encourages the faithful. We watched crowds line up for tickets then line up for buses to his former house before buying the souvenirs and bragging rights of worshiping the man. This scene more than compensated us for not spending the US $25.00 each for the complete Elvis tour. There are about 500 churches in the Memphis bible belt each preaching their own version of worship. The Reverend Al Green has met the competition  for patrons and offerings by having a lively service that would make Whoopie Goldberg's "Sister Act" look tame. The Full Gospel Tabernacle Choir pumps out spiritual songs backed by a four piece band of drums and guitars making this church rock. The voices of the black singers matched to the enthusiastic preacher's sermon of encouragement rather than fire and brimstone, a bit of a shock to someone brought up on Protestant conservative teachings. A social gathering of comings and goings, we left the 2.5 hour service early feeling drained of energy.Take me out to the ball game Being father's day and the traditional taking of dad to the ball game, we went along to a new stadium bringing baseball back to inner cities. The game seemed to take second fiddle to social activities with half the spectators out of their seats at any one time, many down side-show alley, pitching, climbing, rides, and the biggest event of all the feeding frenzy. I could not believe the quantities of nachos, hot dogs, ice creams, coca cola, and the one use packaging garbage generated by this pastime. The result of 4 to 3, Cubs to Redbirds seemed of little interest, two home runs. Most excitement was generated when the ball lobbed into the crowd, held aloft by the captor.

16/6/03 100 years ago yesterday, Henry Ford started his motor company, cars for the working man, production line assembly. But he could not have foreseen the change to the American landscape that would follow. 4 million miles of sealed roads with flyovers on flyovers. Over 40,000 people each year dying in road accidents, a quarter of the world's fuel being used in this country, people spending more time with their motor vehicle than their families. The road has come to own many of us. We rode 600 km, mostly wet from drizzle, to a cheap hotel in the middle of nowhere in Oklahoma.

17/6/03 The "Main Street of America", Route 66, crossed from Chicago to Los Angeles, almost 4000 km's, through eight states. Officially beginning in 1926 it became famous for adventure and freedom in the 50's and 60's. Almost all of the road has been covered up, side tracked or bypassed but the section through Oklahoma state still links small towns. We joined the road at Tulsa and onto Oklahoma city, lunching at the Rock Cafe, turning out burgers for decades.

18/6/03 Dunlop had two tyres waiting for us at Harley World and we fitted them and greased the wheel bearings. About a month ago an internet reader of our site invited us to dinner in Oklahoma, last night, and from that contact we learnt of the Wednesday get together of 300-400 motorcycles at Joe's Crab Shack. What had started three years ago as a small group of riders grew rapidly, the cheap beer helped. All brands of motorcycle, dominated by Harleys, people showing off their latest modifications, meeting friends or travellers. The motorcycle gained a couple more stickers and us souvenir T-shirts.Fellow rider and mechanic generously repaired our leaking rocker cover gasket

19/6/03 Ray and Jessica Acker of Ray's Custom Cycles spotted our motorcycle's rocker box cover oil leak at Joe's last night and offered a free bench, tools and help in solving the problem. This morning, working together, we replaced the broken gasket, and fixed the oil leak. Ray has been working out of his garage for a few years and is moving to a shop front next weekend. There are many such shops in the US, often working on older Harleys, generic brands or doing custom work that the H-D dealers don't tend to do, nor want to do. However with the high cost of labour, often $US70 an hour at the Harley dealers and the isolated, regimented workshops they often have, some owners are turning to the more personal owner run custom shops, particularly if their motorcycle is a few years old.

20/6/03 There are some great museums in the USA. Funded by corporate and generous personal donations the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum covers the history of the cowboy, both the real and the big screen version. It covers western art, weapons, the cavalry and has a full model town. A good few hours spent here before the 8th Annual Blues Festival in redeveloped Bricktown. Two days of local bands play in a downtown carpark.Route 66, mock up memorabilia along the old road

21/6/03 The I-40 runs parallel or merged with the old Route 66 right across this section of the USA. Many small towns failed to survive being by-passed. Others create museums to the road or get involved in the nostalgia. Left Oklahoma state, traversed Texas and slept in New Mexico.

22/6/03 New Mexico, the 47th state, is a newer addition and still has a Mexican frontier feel. Large areas of land are owned by the Indian Nations, sort of independent they are allowed to run casinos. They also do a roaring trade in Indian (made in China or Pakistan) artefacts. You can visit many pueblos (villages), open to the public, free or for a fee, but most of the adobe houses are mud coloured concrete built in the traditional thick walled flat roofed design. Los Alamos, where the first nuclear weapon was built under enormous secrecy in the second world war, has a great science museum showing the past and present research at the city. Just to the south is where over 1000 nuclear bombs were exploded in tests before they were banned in 1992. We camped in a forest reserve in the cool high mountains.

23/6/03 Out of the forests heading NW on the 550 through many different indian reservations. Crossed the continental divide, oil change, internet, enroute to Durango for groceries and on to Mesa Verde National Park to camp. Into the holiday areas and holiday season we are surprised how many same sex couples or groups are travelling together and how few families. Men on motorcycles or RV's, fishing, women with children camping, where if anywhere are spouses.

24/6/03 Mesa Verde is a couple of plateaus separated by erosion gorges. Indians have lived on the plateaus for thousands of years but about the 11th century they started building cave cliff dwellings. Stone houses crammed into the cave some built four stories high and with sub-terranean meeting rooms. Dozens of these cave communities dot the cliffs housing up to 150 people. For some reason in the 12th century the occupants left the area never to return leaving many of the ruins intact till today, preserved by the overhanging cave. As usual in the US, there are excellent displays and interpretative information throughout the park allowing the thousands of visitors insight into the history. We wandered and absorbed information before camping again in the park.Mesa Verde, civilisation living in caves

25/6/03 A morning ranger tour of another abandoned cave dwelling and a short ride into Cortez. It's high season in this short summer season town and hotel prices are high. Motorcycles are everywhere, the centre of the USA, with people leaving the hot surrounding flatland states for the cooler mountains. At first appearance you would think there was no recession but our van park is filled with working class and poorer retirees. The National Park campground was full of working families.

26/6/03 Four Corners, the only place where four states meet, a popular stop over in this canyon, mountain region. We looped through and onto Navaho lands to Kaytena. The Navajo are famous here not only for ancient history but for coming up with an unbreakable code using their native language. Deployed in the front lines in WW2, messages could be relayed quickly over open radio lines using the code, they were the "Code Talkers". The region of Monument Valley made famous for those cowboy and indian movie scenes of boxed canyons and tall pinnacles rising from the desert's floor. Bright red flat topped mesa each side of the road as we finish the loop back to Cortez.Monument Valley, grand eroded formations

27/6/03 There seems to be a need to modify every natural product in the USA as if nature wasn't good enough. Not just the latest GM modified foods but it's almost impossible to find basic produce. The last straw, meat, "may contain up to 12% solution," will last two weeks in the refrigerated cabinet, has preservatives, salt, flavour enhancers and tenderizers. Not speciality meat, the only available "fresh meat" at the Walmart Super grocery store. Grapes, in small print, "may have been sprayed with preservative to increase shelf life." Low fat yoghurt, corn starch thickened. Almost every product has large amounts of salt, cheap and weighs heavily. These are added after production. I wonder what chemicals, growth promotants, antibiotics etc. are used in production. McDonalds recently took a major stance on its meat, informing suppliers it would not be buying any meat where antibiotics were used in the feed or where hormones or growth promotants were used, to be phased in over the next two years. Hopefully the trend will swing back to "real" foods. Travelled the magnificent mountain road from Cortez to Montrose, snow still on the peaks, over a 3,000m pass with stunning scenery to camp in Black Canyon NP. We bought the National Park pass, valid for one year, giving free entry to all National Monuments and National parks and just $US50 for a car/motorcycle irrespective of the number of occupants. A great deal.

28/6/03 A rest day at Black Canyon, 2500m above sea level, the air dry and the quiet almost solitude of the park appealing. There is a policy of no showers at most National Parks in the USA. Water, cost conservation, or a means to limit people's time in the parks. A few days without showers or only a sponge bath is enough. It is cheaper for many retirees to N.P. hop than to live in a house. With 50% discount for camping, thus usually $5-10 a night, many RV's (motorhome) across the country, meeting people, enjoying the outdoors, moving with the seasons, catching up with family and friends along the way. The 600m deep canyon, narrow vertical sides, appeals to rock climbers and scramblers. We looked from the top viewpoints.

29/6/03 Dry desert canyon valleys to wet tree covered mountains as we crossed another pass and back down to Wellington. The national forests are used for all kinds of recreation. The hiking, fishing and swimming variety plus horse riding and quad biking. People trailer their horses and bikes into the forests to ride the trails, away from the noise and super highways of cities.

30/6/03  We added just 140 miles to the 7 billion miles Americans travel every day in automobiles (about a trip to the planet Pluto and back). Through more scenic canyons to the hot Mormon city of Salt Lake City. About 150 Mormons crossed from the east 160 years ago looking for some land that no-one else would want. At first they were right, hot and desolate they built their temple (church) and laid out a city, which eventually became overrun by its own success.

1/7/03 The Temple Square, in the middle of the city, is open to everyone. Missionaries from all over the world come here to help the church and convert non believers. A guided tour, couple of films on the church's short history and beliefs and a tour of their genealogy reference section, the largest in the world. All services are provided free within Temple Square, missionaries and staff are not paid. A seemingly young religion, its prophet, Joseph Smith, living less than 200 years ago, yet the hard to grasp concept of the Book of Mormons having been formulated in the Americas 2000 years prior, at the time of Jesus.Free camped, allowed anywhere in national forests

2/7/03 The salt lake, for the name of the city, is the second saltiest in the world, after the Dead Sea. We rode and walked its shoreline, seemingly undeveloped for any sporting activities. Visited the Mormon Pioneer Museum, and amazing collection of memorabilia donated by the close family oriented community. Items dragged across the plains in the 1840's, magnificent lacework woven during long winters and photos of the town's officials.

3/7/03 Headed back south, more desert, more mountain forests. Coming into the 4th of July weekend everyone of the hundreds of campground spaces at Fish Lake in the National Forest was full. Motorhomes towing, horses, boats or quad bikes crammed the spaces. We wild camped, allowed in national forests, away from the road, shady spot away form the noise. Utah and Colorado seem to be the "getaway" states, for valid reasons, beautiful scenery combined with high altitude and cool summers.

4/7/03 Short trip to Capital Reef National Park. Surprisingly empty this holiday weekend. A 100 mile fold in the earth's crust has created desert canyons and deep winding river valleys amongst red rock walls. We dropped below 2000m and the temperature rose to 35 centigrade, walked a watershed canyon and learnt about the original inhabitants, Indians who left petroglyphs, again great interpretive information in the National Parks.

5/7/03 An early morning walk, another canyon, one used as a road early last century, pioneers drawing water from pools in a side canyon now only used by the few hardy animals living in the desert. Squirrels, birds and dragon flies come down to the tadpole filled pools to drink, as we rested in the shade. The rest of the day hot and we did little but sit in the shady campground.Bryce Canyon, eroded spires

6/7/03 200 km along the scenic road 12 to Bryce Canyon. Resupplied with food for the next two days, a hot shower, first in three days, and a load of washing. Camping always takes a lot more time than motels and restaurants. Quiet but busy our campground was full, as was the ranger led talk on the park's geology.

7/7/03 We walked into the canyon between the white, pink and apricot coloured hoodoo's (spires), towering above us, with hard rock caps and eroded columns. Formed with sediment on a lake bottom 20 million years ago, uplifted over two miles by earth movement and eroded by water freezing and thawing all for the 1.5 million people who come here each year to see. We try to walk a few km's each day for exercise and remember slogging the pavement back home and compare it with the magnificent scenic walks, we have done over the last couple of weeks, almost a reason to travel in itself.

8/7/03 The popularity of Zion Canyon, 2.5 million visitors a year, has led to the introduction of a shuttle bus system to its main attractions. Propane gas powered they have reduced pollution in the valley by 75%. Running every 6 minutes and pick up and drop off at many viewpoints it allowed us to walk trails one way and shuttle back, something impossible with your own vehicle. The enormous rock formations used to be massive sand dunes, compacted and solidified, now eroded leaving sandstone mountains. Water slowly permeates, 1000 years, through the stone, constantly feeding rivers and hanging gardens under rocky overheads whilst surrounded by barren desert.

9/7/03 Temperatures at our campsite have been over 108 degrees Fahrenheit (40 centigrade) each day making afternoons uncomfortable. Today we took the "ranger talk" shuttle bus to the top of the canyon, walked the mile long path and then walked up the canyon base for another two miles crossing the river many times and walking in the cool waters. The canyon walls gradually come closer shading the river and even at midday the air is crisp. The later afternoon spent at the air-conditioned library avoiding the worst of the heat.

Move with us to the next section of the U.S.A.


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