As I left Mexico I checked out my bike as the signs instructed, but as hard as I looked there was nowhere to exit immigration. I guess I'll have to live with the fact that some Mexican official is after my butt as an overstayer....
Approaching the US border I was expecting my first 'plain sailing' crossing, having a Multi Entry B1/B2 visa in hand....., man was I in for a shock. After 1 hour roasting in the sun I made it to the first checkpoint where the bike was photographed in some wierd looking contraption. The officer thumbed through my passport and asked " Do you have a permit ? ". Thinking he meant a permit for the bike I replied no, and he directed me to park the bike and go inside to complete formalities.
My first US traffic jam - right at the border....
The door he'd pointed me towards ended up as the immigration room, so I asked another officer outside if that was really the right place to go, and he sent me straight back there. Inside I found a lengthy queue of people lining up to complete immigration procedures, so I waltzed up to the front and asked " Is this the right place for a bike permit ? " The first officer I met had now materialised behind the desk on some job rotation number, and at the top of his lungs ranted " You're just a tourist like everyone else in the room, fill out the form and join the back of the line ." - Sheesh, I was just asking. It turned out that despite the visa I had, I still had to fill out this entry form ( In Spanish ). I checked in at the DOT (Department of Transport ) office to enquire about the bike, and they said no paperwork was necessary.
After three hours I had just completed the longest border crossing of the entire trip, welcome to America I thought...
I met up with Gerry Elam after crossing the border, a fellow F650 rider who had ridden all the way from Phoenix to pick me up - now that's what I call hospitality ! We had dinner at some pensioners hangout where the waitress apologised for the lack of corn due to the digestive systems of the older clientele, and we rode to Gerry's place in Phoenix. Arriving at his place was quite a shock - his street looked like the classic suburbia scene portrayed in many American movies, a total contrast from where I'd travelled the last few months.
Gerry was a fantastic host, dropping his schedule to help me with anything I needed. We got together via e-mail after he'd seen my reports, and as a fellow inmate of the chaingang ( www.f650.com ), he'd laid out the welcome mat in Phoenix to a fellow chain driven BMW rider.
So accomodating was Gerry, that we ended in the restaurant of Al Bundy's dreams within 24 hours of me landing, a restaurant where the Owl logo surrounds you.....
Delightfully tacky, Yet unrefined - Hooters . (This one's for you Tim Hyland)
Gerry even rounded up a few BMW riders for a dinner at an English pub, talk about star treatment ! Despite my obvious embarassment at being the center of attention we had a great meal of trad fish & chips....
The crew at the English pub in Phoenix, Gerry's on the far right - click here for a larger view
While basking in the 108 farenheit (42 Celcius) heat that Phoenix was laying on, I attempted a service on the bike with Gerry's assistance. I can tell you that was thirsty work under the sun in that heat. That's the kind of temp that Gerry would describe as toasty, but still not enough to turn the AC on in his Landrover...
Getting the bike stripped for the service...
The most difficult ( read pain in the butt ) part of the work was installing a Scott Oiler for the chain, unblievably complicated with very unclear instructions. Hopefully that would extend the chainlife by a factor of 6, and free me from the daily chore of spraying. Also Gerry fabricated a new mount for the pre-load adjustment knob, a genius bit of work even if his hand grinder was mm's away from the frame....
GERRY !!!??? - you figuring on grinding out the frame ???
The service took much longer than I'd bargained for, and was complicated by stripping the head of the Oil Drain plug, and Gerry's bike lift imploding on me, covering my face in oil when it decided to give up. You have to laugh I guess. On the day of departure to the Grand Canyon Gerry treated me to a breakfast at the Waffle house with his charming daughter Robyn, and Cindy, a very cool Harley riding Grandma would you believe !
Cindy, Robyn and Gerry at the waffle house
Breaking the heat of Phoenix I headed straight for the Grand Canyon, and just driving into the village the first glance at the Canyon had me gawping. The first night there I had the priviledge to listen to Ranger Stu Fritz giving a left field perspective on the Grand Canyon Shakespeare style. Some interesting facts emerged :
- Every year 5-6 individuals fall to thier deaths off the rim, typically 3 suicides and the rest accidents. Ninety percent of the accidents fall into one demographic group, the 18-25 year old 'macho male'. Most of the problems which park rangers have to deal with come from the same group.
- Visitors spend 400 million USD every year at the Grand Canyon
- In the 1970's a New Zealander ran from the North rim to South and back again in 7 hours 20 minutes....
- Stu's recollections of his 'geographically challenged' countrymen
A ranger looking at lodge on the North rim gets a tap on the shoulder and asks - "Is that Canada over there ?"
"This is the Grand Canyon ain't it ?" , Yes replies the ranger....
"Then where are the faces of the presidents?"
"Is there a dining car on the mule train"
As beautiful as the Grand Canyon was, I just couldn't get to grips with it on camera. No lens seemd wide enough, and just about every angle I tried just didn't help. Still, I tried.
A budding Ansel Adams wannabe...
I trekked into the Canyon down the South Kebab trail, and seeing as I was late, had to stop at Cedar Ridge on the advice of the rangers. I spotted an interesting point on the O'Neil Butte, and very bravely I did some nose grinding climbing to what was an awesome vantage point. Lord only knows how I got down again.
O'Neil butte, the arrow indicating where I got to, click here for a closer look
Once up there of course there was the obligatory self portrait. The real laugh was running away from the camera on self timer and jumping on the rock without falling off...
Chief sitting bull...
Later the same evening I got to see a great Sunset from Mather Point, and by chance I got to see how people might fall from the rim. A group of teenagers rocked up and were challenging each other how close they'd get on the loose gravel sloping towards the edge, Darwin would call it survival of the fittest I guess
Sunset at Mathers point, Grand Canyon, click here for a larger view
From the Grand Canyon it was a short hop to Williams which sits on the old route 66. A cheap Hotel I discovered was 40 USD, so I followed a sign which said camping and found a trailer park just out of town for 6 bucks - great stroke of luck. Even better luck was stumbling into town on the day of the local farmhands rodeo. I had a ring side view of Calf Roping, Tag Team wild cow milking and bucking broncos. I mean REAL bucking bronco's....
Another one bites the dust....
This guy was out for the count, mouth full of dirt - but managed to get up when the ambulance rolled up. I was so wrapped in my scoop I didn't even notice he wasn't moving until I heard the announcement over the PA, oops....
Before returning to the trailerpark I watched the shootout for tourists the town stages every evening, and I caught my first glimpse of the post 9/11 sentiment on the back of a local :
Won't be me buddy...
At a bar I talked with Phoenix policeman on vacation in Williams, and before long we got on the subject of arms in America. Whaddya know his front-mounted bumbag happened to contain a 9mm pistol. At least he had the right training I figured. From Williams I drove via the Hoover dam to Las Vegas, almost vapourising in the heat as I rolled up to the Stratosphere Hotel & Casino. The streets were so dammed hot my boots would simply slide outwards while holding the bike upright. Although I'd reserved a cheap room via an internet offer, downed computers at reception served up a 1 hour wait for check in, and a Tow-away sticker for my bike after the head parking guy got all crotchy.
Once I'd checked in and soaked up the air-conditioning I called Bill, another Chaingang rider based in Vegas. Again I was treated like royalty by the brethren of F650 owners, who picked me in his MX-5 and gave me a spin around Sin city.
That bikes lookin' way to clean Bill.....
Bill even went out of his way and got me all the maps I needed for the entire remainder of my journey to Alaska courtesy of the AAA, took me out for lunch and dinner. Yes Bill, when you turn up in Christchurch it's on me...
Vegas was all it's cracked up to be, a city of lights action and of course gambling. I'd always wanted to see this place, and it didn't dissapoint me, although I can't say my wallet is exactly bursting thanks to my stay there. It seemed as though anything was available for a price, from driving a Humvee or Ferrari to whatever takes your fancy. Would you believe there are people out there prepared to fork out 150 USD to see Cher ?!
A view of the strip in Vegas
I took the plunge and got a ticket to see the Blue Man Group performing at the Luxor, and man was that ever a great show. Without a word from any of the three guys on stage, they had the audience in fits, covered in goop and toilet paper everywhere. At one stage they hauled a guy out of his seat, hung him by his ankles, covered him in paint and swung him against a canvas for a body splat portrait....
The Blue Man Group, bald blue headed freaks beating drums filled with light and swimming in paint....
I left Sin City before I was bankrupt, but I know I'll be back someday. Time for the Frypan ride - Death Valley....
Best Quote :
What's the definition of International News in the US ?
Whatever's happening 10 minutes up the interstate...........Posted by Jeremy Andrews at September 18, 2002 02:07 AM GMT
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