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Condensed: United States of Amanchester
Bennetts Biker Dream winner Pete Johnson has an 8525 mile adventure, solo across the USA in search on towns called Manchester. 25 out of 33 visited. 31 days. And some stories to tell.
New York….it’s a state of mind.
Just before the next exit from Highway 90, it was obvious that a change in the weather , back to what I had encountered for the past four days, loomed ahead like riding into the night time.
Black skies, with the low slung rainfall underneath was a few miles ahead towards today’s target of Manchester number five. The exit signs indicated that this route to another small town New York , was an ‘off’ ramp only. From my limited experience of the USA, this meant no motels, no dry shelter or fast food outlets and probably no way to get back on the freeway once I had added my one piece rain suit, over my already bulky riding gear.
Today started with rain but as I subtracted another 300 miles off the nine thousand target to visit 33 towns called Manchester across the USA and Canada, the warm humid state of New York promised a change. It is the second week in May 2011, and spring has sprung late.
My thoughts were to abandon today’s ‘Get to one Manchester per day’ unwritten rule, but it was too late to change the course, the next opportunity to get off this twin lane road was at the opposite side of what was to become one of the worst rain storms I had ever seen, never mind ridden in.
As if by magic, the only bridge spanning the highway for miles was the gateway to hell. The rain hit as the temperature dropped and what seemed like a solid wall of water filled with a million needles reduced my forward speed like falling headlong into a lake.
My riding gear was classed as waterproof, but like many off the peg, multi layered, high-tech specification biking gear, there are, in reality, many variations of waterproof.
Within seconds visibility was down to a true zero and the cold rain was finding its way through to my neck, up my sleeve and somehow into my right boot. Nowhere to stop, the hard shoulder was about four feet wide and the fact I couldn’t actually see it, or any resemblance of a white line didn’t help.
As the only bike on the road, I was between a rock and a hard place. Another 120ft long, 70 ton Peterbilt truck, came up behind me in the outside lane, the driver was not affected by the rain or the even slightly concerned about my predicament. It seemed he had not bothered to switch off his cruise control and carried on at 75-80 MPH creating an even bigger wall of fog that reduced my visibility to the edge of the screen a foot and a half away, and no further.
The wide screen on the Honda Goldwing, famed for its protection from wind, rain and flying sheep, worked to a degree, but the area behind the screen has a strange vacuum effect that collects globules of water like a scene from Apollo 13. The water floats in a slow motion dance just in front of your chest (or head if you are shorter stature than I), then without warning gets too heavy to glide and hits me square in the face. Add this to the inability to close the visor as it steams up in a micro-second if I close off the airflow, and the needles that pierce my eyes and sting my nose if I glance ahead for more than a second, and the thought passed my mind. “Which stupid arse thought this trip was a good idea”????
It was late in 2010 that I filled in an on-line competition form to ‘Win your biker dream’ from the insurance company I chose to insure my new BMW R1200GS Adventure.
Bought on a whim on one of those ‘I am a biker’ days when I wished I still had a bike.
It had been a few years since I had sold my last one to finance a business project, and with the travel bug really biting I had read all the books, bought all the videos and done the shows for too long. PeeJays Beku as the reg number reads if one squints, even had my initials (a bit).
Three months later after scanning a little used e-mail address I came across a strange request to contact Mike regarding my Biker Dream application. Thinking this was a ruse to sell me something, I eventually spoke to Mike and after a brief conversation about the concept, he dropped the bombshell that I had been chosen as one of the ‘Dreamers’.
53 years ago I was born in Salford, Manchester, and spent my life in and around the City, never living more than 8 miles from the centre. Always a car fan, and an armchair rally enthusiast, I had some experience of bikes but left it until I was in my forties before taking up the biking hobby. I am also blessed (!!!!) with being tall, heavy and big footed, so chose, as my first bike a 1500 Honda Goldwing.
Taking my test in February and passing the DAS tests, I soon got the fever and was out and about on my bike as often as possible. My first big ‘out’ was a week after my test when on a bright and as they say crisp February morning set off from Manchester to Liverpool, then Birkenhead (through the Mersey Tunnel), my final call of the day was in Chester, but having been too excited about the first big ride ahead, didn’t check the address until I set out from the previous call. Oops!
Not Chester as in the County of Cheshire, but Chester Le Street as in County Durham.
I should have cancelled, I should have gone home for my car. But no, I passed within 5 miles of my front door and followed a route via Rossendale, Clitheroe, Skipton, Ripon and then the A1 to my call.
By the time I left the office it was 3.45pm and already getting dark,
I added my nylon waterproof rain pants over the top of my jeans and tracksuit bottoms. Adjusted the arm and waist straps on my jacket and hit the road.
By 7pm it was minus 3 degrees as I followed a gritter wagon across the moors and the inhospitable M62 Saddleworth Moor, in pitch darkness with only the glow from my nose and the lights of Manchester offering some respite as the knowledge I would be home soon gave me hope.
“Which stupid arse thought doing this ‘kin trip was a good idea” ????
346 miles on my first ride out, was this a sign.
The 33 Fever.
There are 36 other towns in the world called Manchester.
Simple enough message on the laptop screen as I look at a web site a potential customer was trying to sell me ‘advertising space’ on.
Thirty three Manchester’s within reach of a road-trip, 32 are in the USA and one just over the border in Canada. With the aid of a mapping web site the position of each Manchester made up what could be a really great concept.
Has anyone ever visited all of the Manchester’s? On a motorcycle?
Within a week I had set up a blog and a Twitter account, both showing a planned trip called Road2Manchester, If I am very lucky a sponsor might just see them and get in touch.
Ride a motorcycle to all the Manchester’s in the USA and Canada. Simple!
Fast forward three years to the present day.
On the 15th May 2011, I set off from Boston Massachusetts on a hired Honda 1800 Goldwing, it was raining and cool, (just like most riding days back home). Ahead of me an 8525 mile route across the states to as many towns I could manage, the only proviso, the target towns were called Manchester.
Within 500 yards of the Boston hotel, a giant 4x4 pick-up passed me as I took time to adjust to the size and weight of the Honda, as it passed the truck hit a puddle and deposited 30 gallons of Boston street flood straight at my head.
Here we go!, surely it could only get better.
Day one, I managed two Manchester’s, ending up in New Hampshire at 6pm in the first of many heavy downpours. A Facebook invite from Ben Slavin, (Young RTW bike traveller and film maker), resulted in a nice meal in Manchester’s oldest diner ‘Arrow Diner’. Things are looking up.
Day two as I headed up to Maine in the North East corner of the USA, the wet weather came and went and plans to visit Mount Washington and the alpine style road to the top was quashed by low cloud and more rain. The road was closed.
Over quiet and sweeping roads, and the White Mountains to Manchester, Vermont and day three came to a close in the Manchester Bar and Grill where the locals made me very welcome. The was mainly free along with a branded sweat shirt. 967 miles in 3 days, all on A roads in mad weather, no records being broken, but hey ho!
It was only as I emerged like a drowned rat at the end of a 40 minute storm in New York State, that I realised I had not seen another bike or biker on the road for four days. Maybe they knew it was coming, or just have more sense. I started a trend in Manchester New York, barging into the town hall and announcing myself as being from the other town of the same name. Great reception.
Friday 20th May and I arrive in Niagara Falls New York, it’s still raining. One thing is becoming apparent, not all the roads in America are straight, and all the ‘locals’ are really pleased to see and hear about this crazy Brit’ doing this even more crazy trip. Already into a thousand miles and the wet is getting me down.
After a bit of video blog and photo work on the US side I traverse the bridge to Canada with little trouble and a new stamp in my passport. Just across the control there is a tourist office where the helpful lady directs me to a small private hotel in a row of 200 corporate establishments, where I am assured of a cheap and clean room. Niagara, Canada is the Las Vegas of the falls, rather than the run down US side of the river. At just after 6pm I get my key to a typical ‘door to the car park’ room which is only $48 a night and has two king-sized beds. Within 20 minutes I hear the familiar sound of a Harley engine. Llooking outside the sun is out, the sky is blue and the temperature has crept to a balmy 78F. I get fed and watered and spend the evening on a bar terrace watching a myriad of bikes and old classic American cars cruise up and down the street. Friday night is cruise night.
Things will be better tomorrow.
Manchester, Oshawa is about 130 miles North East, I know nothing about this outcrop other than it is near Whitby and is not on my map or my sat nav.
In 80F and rising, I head for the freeway that will take me past Toronto, a massive city with a five lane Saturday driver circus, hundreds of bikers, boaters and off roaders heading for somewhere.
The sun is out with vengeance as the temperature hits 100 degrees by lunchtime and I am at the side of the road looking for any evidence of the existence of this Manchester. It turns out to be just a set of lights, a diner and a gas station……. OK brunch and then back to Niagara Falls.
The second week of my trip sees me heading south for Pennsylvania where I join in on a Bike Blessing with about a thousand bikers. A ride out and a BBQ until 3pm then 260 miles to a sleep over invitation with an English family in Maryland. Chris Popple found out about me on the BBC News website and via Facebook a roast beef dinner and Boddingtons was enough to make the extra effort. Both a soul and heart lifting visit I managed to do my laundry and found a good place to leave the 4x3ft Union Jack I had brought. Many thanks to Chris and family.
Heading south for Deals Gap and the famous Dragon’s Tail was one of my indulgencies and fortunately en-route, though Washington DC in the rush hour, in a rain storm was not too welcome. Six lanes all doing 90 mph with no rules, inside lane overtaking, and a definite lack of rear view mirror use by my fellow travellers, made this section a heart stopping interlude to the open road.
Next morning after a thunder and lightning storm in Waynesville, I headed for Deals Gap. Via the ‘real’ biking roads that span the Appalachian Mountains.The approach is on The Blue Ridge Parkway a 600 mile switchback route that goes north to south in some of the best biking countryside in the USA . The king of them all is the Dragon’s Tail, an 11 mile B-road that boasts 318 bends and is at a height of over 5500 ft above sea level. On wet roads, the Dragon lived up to its name, offering very few straight bits, and some really crazy bends that last for ever. No police, a few bikes, and some great video later, I was ready for more. 50mph speed limit ???? Not quite.
Manchester, Kentucky where a very nice chap confirmed to me that the Americans are the most friendly people I have met, gave up his hotel room so I could have a day off. In the evening we were joined by one of his work mates, we shared , steaks and stories and I got my own room for Sunday and my first proper day off. Well I did ride a few miles to get some food.
South to Manchester 10 & 11 in Alabama. I was warned that “this is not a safe area for you, sir”, and escorted back out of a deep forest where the Manchester was just a metal sign in a real ‘Hillbilly’ enclave. Enough said. I made a quick exit.
Georgia was as far south as I was to travel on the trip, a week of tornados in the Mid-south had caused havoc and resulted in missing 7 Manchester visits, I was not going to 33 after all.
Arriving in a typical Manchester armed with a video camera on a big red Goldwing that I had added Bennett’s badges, Road to Manchester signs, and union jack flags, was not enough. Every chance to tell anyone about my trip included barging into town halls, fire stations, even a truck sales shop (nowhere else to go!!) became normal practise.
“Hi, my name is Pete and I am from the other Manchester….. In England. Just passing through the country visiting all the towns called Manchester.”
T-shirts, pin badges, booklets, pictures and invites to events and meals, BBQ’s, day out on a boat, all added the welcome and despite my tight deadlines, I tried to accommodate.
Heading North for Michigan the distances between towns called Manchester became larger, some days I could visit two, others just one. The big gaps were ahead of me in the mid-west, but more invites for a bed for the night, and food kept coming in as the media interest and facebook friends joined the 6000+ visits to my blog since leaving the UK. Two new friends in Michigan, one in Wisconsin offered welcome breaks from motels and lonely night.
Thanks to Red in Manchester Michigan, Missy Covill the Iron Cowgirl (singer and Harley rider) who invited me to stay the night on her tour bus.(alone I hasten to add). Not before I had shot a ten gauge shotgun , heard a bull frog and saw fire flies for the first time. And of course Cory Clark the teacher who introduced me to horse shoe throwing .
The days went from 45 degrees F in the mornings, to 118F in Alabama, in a traffic jam. (Thanks to the very nice man in a 4x4 offering me a cold bottle of from his cooler.)
The bike ran faultlessly and allowed me to ride great distances averaging out at 300 miles a day. The big gaps between target towns started from here with 800 miles, 760 miles and some of the infamous very long and very straight highways. The ‘big skies’ of Montana, where a 7.00am blast on empty roads saw me cruising along at 120mph without even knowing. (Oops!)
The Badlands, the Devils Tower from the film Close Encounters and Sturgis, all passed as I visited one horse towns settled hundreds of years ago. Many diners, gas stations and motel staff heard about my trip, and a chat to a couple on a Harley three weeks earlier resulted in a very excited lady running at me across a car park to have a photo taken next to the Mad Manc’ . She had met 2500 miles earlier in Kentucky and was very pleased to see I was still safe and getting there.
An invite to the Manchester Pub in Manchester Washington, and a ‘Party for Pete’ was enough to warrant a very long day 748 miles in 13 hours from Livingston at the gateway to the Yellowstone Park, to Manchester near Seattle. Six tanks full of petrol at $20 each (another bonus of USA travel), and a quick shower and change at the home of my host John L, and I was entertained for Saturday evening in one of the nicest pubs/ towns visited. I stayed Sunday night too, before the last leg South on Highway 101 and Highway 1 the west coast to the final Manchester just north of Point Arena and my flight home from San Francisco. California.
Highlights were the people of America from Facebook and blog invites and overnight stays, to strangers in the street, the homeless guy I shared my lunch with, the hikers, the bikers and the gas station and diner folk. To Lawrence the ‘Elk’ fraternity gent who opened his heart in a long conversation over breakfast, I regret not stopping for his clubs memorial day service.
So, to Manchester California, a small coastal village where my arrival at 8.30pm was a quiet affair. A few pictures and a bit of video with a tear in my eye. I had made it to the final Manchester.
As the sun set I returned 13 miles north along the ‘1’ that hugs the Pacific Coast and is on many a riders bucket list, to the only place to stay, Elk, and ironically the most expensive place I had slept in for a month. Over a meal at the bar, the dulcet tones of one diner seemed too familiar. I was tired and had no time to shower and change before the kitchen closed. A few well deserved s and a full belly, and despite my unkempt state, I wandered over to the ‘voice’ in the corner.
“I guess you’re not from around here. A bit further north maybe” ????
“No mate, ‘I am from Wigin, what the bloody ‘ell are you doing round ere?”
Two days later and 32 days since leaving Boston, I was taking the bike back to Eagle Rider, in Frisco. 8525 miles added, another new front tyre needed. Stickers removed and a good wash.
Adventure Biking per say, does not need an off road bike, the route does not have to be off road, or in a dangerous or difficult country. Language does not have to be foreign. The adventure is what you make it, and as my natural tendency is to start up conversations with anyone, anywhere, the stories happen because I opened up to strangers and they responded. Usually favourably, always with surprise.
26 travel hours later and after just 5 hours sleep, I was on my BMW R1200GSa, in the City of Manchester, England riding back to town in the Manchester Parade. The only motorised vehicle in the parade, jet lagged, and at walking pace for two hours both the bike and I were overheating. 60,000 Manc’s lined the streets to see floats, bands, dancers, and looking puzzled, a fat old bloke on a motorbike. Most had no clue who or why, but before you ask……..
Yes “I am the stupid arse that agreed to do this bit, too!
Thanks to Bennett’s Biker Dreams. HC Travel, Eagle Rider and the Yanks and Manc’s on the road to Manchester
Book pending: Manc or Yank.
Having been on the road for 4 yrs after leaving Mcr this was a interesting tale, we have to come home in about 2 wks we are curently 120km south of durban RSA, maybe we should have a
Pete n Brucella
|33 manchesters, bennetts biker dreams, pete johnson, road2manchester|
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