Aussies Across The USA
April 02, 2009 GMT
Australia to New York

This first entry may be a bit longer than we anticipated, but we have included the departure from Sydney and our first four days in the "Big Apple" - New York. I am sure our future entries will be shorter but they hopefully will be more regular. Internet connections in NY were hard to find. Today the damned power supply for the laptop died on me, so that created a further delay grrr lol...

Saturday 28th March 2009 - Wings to America.


Steve and I met up at Sydney’s Mascot International Airport on Saturday to begin our adventure. The night before my sons had presented me with an “Aussie” flag that has been screen printed with a special inscription as you can see by the photo. This I intend to fly off the back of the bike

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Now, the first part of any flight is the check in. Boring and uneventful in most instances, however in this case we discover we have been upgraded to Business Class from economy class. This is nothing spectacular for Steve who often travels Business Class with work, but for me this is a real bonus. We got bigger seats, more leg room and even proper china and cutlery to eat with. Not to mention the complimentary glass of champagne before take-off in proper glasses, not plastic. The meals were restaurant quality. Oh my…. How can I ever go back to Cattle class?

To say that the flight was long would be understating it…… 22hr 30 mins. Managed to watch 3 new release movies. I took 4 sleeping tablets but sleep evaded me. The highlight of the flight was the 2nd leg. We flew out of LA, over the Grand Canyon and then North East over Denver, Chicago and the Great Lakes before heading down into NY. There were many vastly differing topographies. From rivers winding their way through deep red canyons to snow covered hills...... umm not just on the hills. I am deeply concerned at the amount of snow still covering such large areas of the country. I think I’m going to need to invent the first set of snow chains for bikes, alternatively I’ve suggested to Steve that he may need to ensure that his car has a tow ball and a bike trailer.


On arrival at both LA and NY airports we were both disappointed at how unwelcoming the staff are. On the opposite side of the coin though, everyone else has been only too happy to help two dumb assed Aussies find their way around. With the assistance of a couple of the locals we managed to navigate our way from JFK Airport to our hotel Excelsior on West 81 Street, Manhattan. Because I didn’t want to spend $50 on a taxi, we finished up using the subway. It works well and the trains are regular.


After settling in, we showered and changed and headed for a beer and some dinner. We found a good little Japanese restaurant where we quickly downed a few beers and some sushi and sashimi.

Sunday 29th March 2009 – So This is New York?


Day broke early, but we didn’t. We surfaced at 9:30. Sharing a room with someone else makes economical sense, but if one of you is a terrible snorer, you have a problem. After throwing a pillow at Steve and not making an impression I knew I was in trouble. He woke me up each half hour with his snoring, and then I woke him up each half hour to stop his snoring. Finally I found the ear plugs I brought, they helped a little.


New York this Sunday was pretty bleak. Very overcast, cold and rain threatened all day. I decided that we would walk to Time Square. Steve thought the train was a good idea, but WE needed the exercise. We arrived at Columbus Circle after a half hour walk. Here we stopped to take pictures of the surrounds and the Donald Trump tower. While taking pictures, one of the police cars turned their flashing lights on so we had some to take a picture of it. I started a conversation with this cop which lasted about 30 minutes, he was ex US Army... so something in common. NY005 Steve likes the boys.JPG

A very friendly encounter with New York’s finest. We then headed into the Time Warner building for lunch where Steve made friends with wonderful big boy. He couldn't stop smiling. NY005 Steve likes the boys.JPG This was an amazing trip into the world of US shopping. After lunch we continued our walk towards Times Square. Because of the rain we retreated to a cab. We have all heard of New York cabs. This one did not fit the mould. For a start the driver was female. She was Chinese and she spent the entire trip talking to someone in Chinese on her mobile phone and had difficulty seeing over the dash board. This particular cab was a bit of a cess pit – not sure about the rest of the fleet. We were dropped at the Intrepid Air and Space Museum. This is the retired aircraft carrier Intrepid with lots of WWII, planes and space memorabilia including a Stealth Bomber.
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We spent a couple of hours going over the carrier and its planes ending with a walk through a retired BA Concord. Then we walked back to Time Square. Finally, in a place that is absolutely New York. Huge brilliant billboards and traffic everywhere. Lots of photos and a quick trip to the half price theatre ticket outlet.
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Drop off at the Virgin Megastore on its last day and then a short walk to the famous Macy’s. I needed to purchase a jumper as I had neglected to pack one in Canberra which proved to be a bit of an oversight. By this point the only thing both Steve and I wanted to do was to take the weight off our suffering feet. A $2 subway ride back uptown (or is that downtown) delivered us to our hotel. It seems that no one knows the subway system really well, or at least the people we asked.

We had dinner at a local pub with an Irish flavour. This was staffed by Irish people who were very friendly. A coupe of beers and dinner and we both retired back to the hotel where we updated the blog.

Monday 30th March 2009 – New York Day 2 – Did you know that New York has 635 miles of Subway Tracks.


Snoring Steve went to the “drug store” last night and bought some spray in an attempt to eradicate his problem (or is it my problem??). Whatever, it failed and the old ear plugs came out again. He is now going to try some strips – I can assure you it is for the good of his own health!! Grrr.


This morning started a little earlier today with a walk through the beautiful Central Park, Manhattan which is only about 200 yards from our hotel. Paths wind in and around the park and it’s approximately 6 miles around the outside tracks. At the moment it is too early in the spring for the trees to be blooming, but we can only imagine how spectacular it is.

From New York

From here we wandered on down through the upper east side and found a little cafe for breakfast. It was another cold day with winds coming from the snow. By now we are beginning to think we could have easily have left our departure from Oz by at least a month. Today, we lashed out and spent $7.50 on a “fun pass” on the subway. This allowed us to use the subway all day as much as we liked and man, did we use it!! If we didn’t catch 10 trains today, I’d be surprised. Our first one took us to Grand Central Station. This fantastic building has the largest unsupported roof you could expect to find and its marble everywhere. We eventually made our way to Penn St Station (another two subway rides) to buy our Amtrack ticket to Washington DC for Wednesday. From here we headed Downtown to the financial district. Wall Street and the NY Stock Exchange – police are everywhere and armed to the teeth, we’re talking helmets, machine guns, vests, the works. This is a bit of an eye opener for a couple of Aussies who aren’t used to such shows of armed readiness. Our legs and feet are starting to complain. Just south of here is Pier One where we board the Staten Island Ferry.... finally we find something that is FREE. This ride takes about an hour or so for the return journey and takes us right past The Lady, aka The Statue of Liberty. In the background we can see a miniature Sydney Harbour Bridge.
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On our return, we jump another train to Little Italy. We walked up onto the Brooklyn Bridge which was an engineering marvel for its time and gave us great views over the river. Then onto Little Italy where we find that it has sadly been predominately overtaken by China Town. Here we found a restaurant that gave us a superb Italian two course meal for $10. On to another couple of trains and we find our way back to Times Square to see what shows had half price tickets available.... none that we wanted, so on to M&M World. Here we find 3 floors of shopping entirely dedicated to M&M products...... only in America.

From New York

Too tired tonight to go out so I suspect an early night is in order.

Tuesday 31st March 2009 – New York Day 3 (By Steve)


I am writing this on Wednesday morning while we ride the train from New York to Washington. Very comfortable. It leaves from Penn station, not Grand Central. Make sure you skip their sandwiches.


Paul was up and dressed by 4:00 this morning. Still can’t adjust his body clock. Fortunately for me he grabbed his notebook and disappeared down stairs to work on the blog and labelling his pictures. He returned at some point to try and grab some more sleep, but it didn’t come. Last night I tried some adhesive strips over the bridge of my nose in attempt to alleviate my snoring. I really need to do something otherwise I will find myself sleeping in the hallway. This seems to have been reasonably successful, and I suspect that I didn’t apply it correctly the previous night.

We head out before 8 and return to the little cafe just the other side of Central Park. It is pretty cold for a couple of Aussies, but the locals don’t seem to mind. There are many people walking their dogs, or dogs belonging to other people throughout the park. It seems like a very social event. Breakfast has gone up, Paul is getting into this American breakfast routine and it costs us $15 today.

I have convinced Paul that we should go and look at the Guggenhiem Museum as our first event for the morning. This was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (Simon & Garfunkel sang about him). When I say convinced I am talking twisted arm. We arrive at 9:20, it doesn’t open until 10. We walk across the street and back into Central Park. We come across the Jackie Kennedy Onassis reservoir which has an exercise track surrounding it. Lots of people running and walking around the track. After a few minutes of walking we stop and take in our surroundings. A very fit jogger stops and asks if we are tourists. When he discovers that we are Australian he becomes very excited, his father-in-law is an Australian. He proceeds to tell us how great New York is and how it is the best f...ing city in the world. He is very passionate about this. We talk, but mainly listen for about 15 minutes. New Yorkers seem very friendly and very proud of their city. Any time we stop and look at a map someone is at our elbow asking if they can help. We continue to walk around the lake to get a better view of downtown, as suggested by our friendly jogger.

From New York

We return to the museum which is open by this point. A $20 entrance fee and a bag inspection and we are in. This is a truly remarkable building. The major part is a spiral ramp which winds its way up seven floors with arts works on the walls and additional rooms off to the side with some amazing art. Paul is much better at looking at art than I am as he has looked at it all and is in the coffee shops before I am half way through. I am not sure I am the right person to comment on the art in this building. The box which was covered in gold flake, The pile of Japanese paper in a Perspex box, the painting that was all black next to the painting that was all white. They did have some masters which I was more at home with. I really like the headphones that they give you where you key in the number of the art piece and they give you the background. There were a number of school groups going through at the same time. They all seem to enjoy the experience, what a great resource for them. Paul was very gracious and lasted two and a half hours.

Then it was back on the subway and down to Time Square. I think we have the system mastered now. Downtown is towards the city, uptown is away from the city. Once you have this, you’re off and running. I always thought the idea of giving all your streets ‘numbers’ for names, like west 45th Street was a very unimaginative concept. Having spent four days in New York I now think it is a really smart idea. It really helps you get around easily. Back to Times Square. We had come here to try to score some half price tickets for a show from a well know outlet called Tckts. We arrived at 1:30 and it didn’t open until 2:00. Paul volunteered to stand in line first while I rested my tired feet. 45 minutes later we had tickets to The Phantom of the Opera. This is now the longest running show on Broadway – 21 years. Now to find somewhere for lunch. I wanted to go back to Little Italy, Paul’s feet wouldn’t carry him that far. We settled on Planet Hollywood. They are not famous for their cooking and never will be. Following lunch we headed for the subway again. Sometimes the entrances are not so easy to find. We returned to 81st street. Paul retired back to the hotel while I left to visit the New York Jewish museum. Not going to make my list of must see sites in New York. I was amazed however at the life in the park. There were hundreds, if not thousands of people doing all sort of outdoor activities in the park. It was a beautiful spring afternoon and everyone was in the outdoors enjoying the rare sun.

Back to the hotel, quick shower and then back to Broadway for the show. The numbered streets are a great idea, but if you get off a train and you are disoriented, it is easy to walk in the wrong direction (maybe not for everyone), but we seem to do this on a semi regular basis. So after walking down the longest block in New York and finding we have taken the wrong direction, it was a quick reversal and back down the longest block in New York. The show was great, the cast talented and the staging very good. It reminded me greatly of the Sydney version. Both were staged on the same stages with very effective use of the area. At intermission a policeman was standing in the foyer. After the show a policeman was standing in the middle of the street outside the theatre. If there is something New York has plenty of, it’s police. They are everywhere. They are all very friendly and helpful. Finally back to the subway, again taking the wrong direction down a very long block in the very cold night. Times Square at night just needs to be seen. It is gobsmacking.


On arriving back at the hotel we ventured into the bar next to the hotel for a cup of tea –yep, we are truly old sad men. We sat in the lounge area and had for company a couple who were very interested in each other. When the guy came up for air he noticed he had company. Like your typical New Yorker he started to talk to us. It turns out he had spent a couple of months on various occasions in Sydney. Well, the next hour and a half had us looking for the off switch. His friend who was by her own admission, very, very drunk, went to sleep after the introductions. We were entertained with stories ranging far and wide for 90 minutes. Every city we told him we were visiting he would tell us we were crazy. He suggested that we spend our entire time in New York, or if we needed a second city try Madrid. Finally the staff very politely threw us out and we could escape to the quiet of our room.


Tomorrow onto Washington

Posted by Paul Brealey at 03:00 AM GMT
April 04, 2009 GMT
Washington

Happy to Leave New York and head south to Washington DC


Wednesday 1st April – South to Washington DC (By Paul).

At last I finally got a decent nights sleep :-). Stevie finally got his strips sorted out and I shoved my ear plugs in good and proper.... yee har.


Today’s journal entry will be fairly simple. We caught a New York Yellow Taxi to the train station, yup he dropped us off at the wrong station but it sure beat having to walk and drag the bags behind us from the hotel.


We boarded the Amtrak train at Penn St station. We are travelling “Coach Class”. Each ticket cost us $72. To travel on the express service was going to cost us $140. How good are these yanks!! We wanted to use their train for less time and they wanted to double the cost...hmmm, I don’t think so. Oh if you want to travel 1st Class it’s $250. For less than 3 hours travel!!


The trip is really comfortable and quiet. Along the way we passed through Newark, Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore. From what I could see all of these places looked much nicer than NY City.


After checking in at the Capitol Skyline Hotel, we decide to attend their Happy Hour at the bar. We settle down with a beer and over this beer we decide that we should do one of these open top double decker bus tours of The Capitol. Unfortunately, while I’m out at the concierge’s desk Steve slips in a couple more beers and then while talking to some filly from Philly partakes of a cocktail or 10.


While I’m at the concierge’s desk, Dave (the concierge) starts asking me questions about "Ooorstralia", which finishes up with me giving him a 20 minute guided tour, by Google Earth, of Canberra and explaining how it came to be and how a ‘damned yank’ won the competition to design the place. We exchange email addresses and he’s keen to come to "Ooorstralia".


Sooooo, by the time I get back to the bar, and I am forced to shout a round to catch up, my travelling companion is struggling to stay on his bar stool. We decide to adjourn to the dining room for dinner. After perusing the menu for a few minutes, he gets up and wanders out. 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes go by and no Stevie...... hmmm I ring his mobile..... Ohhhh, surprise surprise, he is lying down on his bed. What a big girl. So I eat alone.


Friday 3rd April – Washington (Paul continuing).


To top off his poor performance of last evening, this morning we decide that we should have a bit of ‘down’ day to do washing, ironing and get the web site up to date. First of all, the damned power pack for the laptop shits itself and I’m trying to determine whether I should throw this thing away. After that I head to reception to buy a packet of washing powder, Steve heads straight to the laundry with all of our washing. I arrive with detergent in hand and he has the washing (his & mine) already in the washer. I throw the detergent in and the machine advises us that we should come back in an hour. We come back in an hour and open a clothes drier and he smugly tells me that this machine is a drier as well. I thought “wow” how good is that. I then realise that he has thrown all our clothes straight in to a bloody DRIER and not a washing machine. And the saga went on, reception didn’t have anymore powder, so I had to sprint to the local shops in my shorts in sub zero temperatures to get some. What a laugh. I haven’t run as far and as fast for some time.


We caught a cab into town ($10 taxi fare) they are cheap as chips here. The only place we can find that has a generic power supply to suit this laptop is charging something like $120 for a 16Gb flash drive which normally retails for about $50. Oh oh!! this is going to hurt the pocket. John you owe me $150 for a new power supply for your laptop, plus all the running around time. ;-) For the rest of the day, we brought the website up to date and did our ironing. Oh, did I mention that Steve had a 3 hour sleep.... poor little pet, he was so tired from last night.

When he rose from his slumber, he says “so what do WE have planned for tonight?” hmmm. I suggest that we head across to IOTA Club and Cafe for dinner and some jazz in Arlington. Great call, even if I say so myself. Great dinner for $15 and then a night of some really laid back music by a young fella named Langhorne Slim http://www.myspace.com/langhorneslim


April 03 2009. Washington Day3 - Monuments as Far as the Eye Can See. (By Steve).


We had the option of catching the tour bus at 7:30, or catching up with it later. We strangely choose later. We had a leisurely breakfast and caught the shuttle bus up to the Capital Building at 9.

From Washington

Here we transferred to one the topless double decker buses that ply the tourist trade in Washington. One slight problem – it was raining (bucketing). So for the first part of our trip, about an hour, we had to travel downstairs. For most of the trip water poured down the stairs, but by some miracle the bus didn’t fill up with water. Of course you couldn’t see much out the window and as soon as a couple of people got onto the bus the windows fogged up. After 15 minutes of playing with the controls we seem to be able to see out the windows again. It seems that these buses are built in Spain and they must not have any rainy or humid days there. Being the adventurous types we purchased the double banger tickets which included the boat ride. So after about an hour in the foggy bus they dropped us at Georgetown with the instructions take the next right and keep walking until you hit the water.
From Washington

A bit casual for my liking. Surprisingly their instructions were accurate and we did find water after three blocks. Unsurprisingly there was no boat, no promotional material, no signs, no people and when we called the number we got a voice message directing us to their web site which wasn’t much use since we were standing on a dock. I then checked the ticket which told us the fist boat didn’t depart until 11:30 and it was currently 11. Why this little gem had escaped the notice of the guides on the bus who sold us the tickets was a little mystifying. This was a crisis that we were up for! We retreated to the adjacent shopping centre and were really surprised to find a Starbucks. When they say that there is one on every corner in the US, they are being literal. So the non coffee drinker and Paul slip into Starbucks for a London Fog tea (tastes like Earl Grey) and some form of coffee. We emerge at 11:25 back at the dock and are greeted by an unchanged scene. Is this some form of humour that the folks in Washington play on the naive Aussies? Some 10 or 15 minutes later a small boat sails down the river. It docks and out comes all the promotion material. Billboards, pamphlets, you name it. Paul and I along with 4 people from one of those religions where everyone wears hats (Quakers we think) get on the boat and off we go. The good news was that the rain had stopped and the sun had emerged. This is a pleasant trip lasting around 50 minutes where we sail down to the International Airport and back.
From Washington

Our four companions didn’t have prepaid tickets and wanted to pay in cash. As we walked away from the boat the four follow travellers and the crew were discussing how they were going to complete the transaction since all they had was cash! Go figure?

We reboarded the bus and continued on our merry trip. This time we get to sit upstairs and can take pictures. The down side is that I left my cap and sunnies in the hotel when I noticed the rain that morning. After another hour on the top of the bus I was really regretting the no hat bit. I suspect that Washington has more memorials that any other city in the world. After travelling through Arlington (this is where JFK is buried, and they have 39 funerals each day, over 200,000 buried here) we departed the bus near the Washington Monument. I purchased a cap to try and avoid skin cancer and off we when on our review of the memorials (and monuments).
We did the Washington Monument,


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the World War II Memorial,
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the Lincoln Memorial,
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the Korean Veterans Memorial,
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the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
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but missed out on the Jefferson Memorial.
Back on the bus a bit footsore and we complete the tour. We make a list of the high points so that we can go back tomorrow and do those in detail. Paul has contacted the sister on a friend and we arrange to have dinner with Sheryl and Dave her husband. Sheryl and Dave pick us up, drive us to a very nice Malaysian restaurant and then return us to our hotel. This is unexpected but very welcomed generosity on their part. Thanks guys.
From Washington


Saturday 4th of April. Washington Day 4 – Museums as far as the eye can see.

Today we started with a leisurely breakfast. We then caught the 9am shuttle bus up to the city centre. From the comfort of our hotel the day looks perfect. Clear blue sky, lots of sun. On emerging from the hotel we were assailed by a bitterly cold wind. Looks can be deceiving. Today it was Cherry Blossom Festival day. There was a very large procession through the centre of town. Lots of bands, marching girls, entertainment and mustangs.

The parade was lead off by a group of Motor Cycle cops (what’s the group form for Motor Cycle Cops – Copcycle?)

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Then followed by three cops on horses – Clydesdales no less. Very big horses.

From Cops on Horses

Some marching soldiers.




















Oh, did I mention? The parade was being televised and every time they had a commercial break, they would stop the parade until the break was over. You gotta be kidding me.
As we were walking away we came across a gathering a southern belles with the outstanding name of “Eastern Shore Optimist Club – Dogwood Trail Court”. Very lady like.

From Washington

Out next stop was the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. This was just a couple of blocks from our parade vantage point. They have the original Wright Brothers plane in there. Lots of other historic air and space vehicles.

From Washington

Oh, and the biggest McDonalds I have ever seen. They have people taking the order in one place (just like a drive in, only for a walk in) and then the people proceed to the next window to pick up their food. If they order a drink they receive a cup. They then need to fill the cup with the contents of their desire, as many times as they like. This is true commercialism.

From Washington

After lunch we went to the National American Indian Museum. This seems to be funded by the government and run by the Smithsonian Institute. We went on a tour which lasted about an hour. Our guide was a South American Indian and was very informative. He really added colour to the talk. During the tour we hooked up with a lovely young lady from Pennsylvania who had been to this Museum a couple of times previously. We spent the next couple of hours walking through the building while she gave us insights to the exhibits. Another very friendly local. Thanks for your help Trish.

From Washington

Back to the Hotel on the really easy to use Metro. This system appears to be new and is run very well. Our two rides costs us $5. Their stations have been designed with hidden lighting which gives them a nice feel. This time the train was a bit more crowded as there was a baseball game at the stadium which is the same stop as our hotel. We had dinner in the hotel and Paul was forced to retire after returning to our room. I heard this happens as you get older.


By the way, It's Steve's Birthday today..... talk about getting older :-)

From Washington

Posted by Paul Brealey at 02:41 AM GMT
April 08, 2009 GMT
South to Charlotte, NC

Just trying to see if I can get the automatic advisory to work

Sunday 5th April 2009 – Down to North Carolina (By Paul)

Still there are vibrations that fill the air which cause me to be awoken by 6am on a lovely Sunday morning. No hope of a sleep in here. So while ‘sleeping beauty’ continues to belt out a symphony of ZZzzzzzz’s , I proof read his entry into our blog, fix up his spelling mistakes etc.

Today, begins a new phase. The start of our mobilisation. We catch a cab over to the Ronald Reagan International Airport to pick up Steve’s car. We already have a great discount thanks to Bill from Blue Strada Tours (where I’m getting my bike from), but I decide to press the envelope for Steve’s Birthday and suggest that they should upgrade us to a Mustang as I know this is what the old fella really wants. Well blow me down, if the guy doesn’t say we normally have four of them and rings upstairs to have them get one ready for us. Little Stevie’s heart flutters.... he is going to get want he has been hoping for. Alas, there isn’t one available so we have to be content with an almost brand new red Chevrolet Impala with 4000km on it. Indeed it’s a very nice car. Leather upholstery, seat warmers for the soft one and all the bells and whistles AND it goes!!!

This sadly is to be end of Steve’s joy for a few hours. It is the old fella’s first experience of driving on the wrong side of the road. The TomTom Satellite navigation didn’t help his cause either. We wanted to get to Arlington National War Cemetery in DC, yet it was taking us back through Washington away from where we knew it to be. After discussing this for a while, Steve takes control of the TomTom and discovers that we were heading for Arlington in New York. What a dumb arsed thing it is. Unlike in Australia where if you’re in Sydney and you type in Brisbane as your destination, it automatically plots your route. Over here you have to know what state you’re heading for and then choose your cities in that state. Grrrr.

Anyway eventually we made it to the correct Arlington and it was chock a block of people. I couldn’t believe how many coaches were parked there, let alone the cars. While we were there we found President John F. Kennedy’s grave with Jackie parked beside him. DC068 Arlington.JPG We visited Robert E. Lee’s mansion on top of the hill and also the saw the changing of the guard ceremony which was impressive (not as good as the Australian Army would do though) ;-)

From here we headed south again. On a couple of occasions we turned too soon and found ourselves going the wrong way and Steve was starting to loose the plot. I could only laugh and that didn’t help too much. We had hoped to head up through the Blue Ridge National Park and take the scenic road instead of the freeway, but they wanted us to fork out $15, so we stuck to the boring freeway.

Tonight we are in a little town called Roanoke.

From Charlotte
Tomorrow we head into Charlotte at last to collect the bike.

Tuesday 7th April 2009 – Charlotte (by Paul)

Yesterday after leaving Roanoke, we continued our journey into the deep south of the Confederates. At one stage we were looking for a road called The Blue Ridge Parkway. This had been recommended to me by a few people as being a must to travel. We missed the turnoff because we busy admiring the stone bridge and taking a photo of it, instead of turning onto it.

From Charlotte
Anyway about 10 miles later, I suggested to Steve that maybe we should just check if we saw anyone. We come upon this elderly fellow out the front of his house on his ride on mower. We pull up to ask directions (see girls.... men do ask for directions.... just not when you’re about). This fella says to us “Yo all get on out of that there vehicle and rest a spell” in his deep southern drawl. He immediately holds out his big hand and introduces himself. We stand and talk to him in the freezing cold for about 15 minutes. An absolute delight to talk to him. When we finish, he says in his best voice “Yo all come back now ya hear”. At one stage we mentioned something about New York and the people and his comment was “them darned Yankies” We laughed about it as we headed up the road.

We finally found the Blue Ridge Parkway and the poor old TomTom was having dizzy fits, trying to work out where we were going, it was just sitting there spinning around trying to work out where we were. This road is way out in the “boonies” There wasn’t a stop sign or intersection for more than 150 miles and the country side was spectacular.

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We came across the occasional, dare I say it, Southern Redneck (I say that in a nice way) in his pickup truck but other than that, nobody. It would have been great on the bike.

Bill Kniegge from Blue Strada Tours joins us in the Blake Hotel in Charlotte for drinks. This is a really nice hotel and if booked through Expedia.com, you can get really great rates. After drinks the three of us head around to Mama Risotta’s for dinner. A really good meal and I couldn’t eat it all. Great service too. The only down side.... I woke up during the night on a couple of occasions with the thought that a camel had walked past me and dumped a heap of sand in my mouth.... this may have been caused by a little too much red wine. Funny, Steve doesn’t seem to be keen to drink these past few days after trying to dance with his bar stool in DC.

Today, is the day where I finally get to pick up my bike. A silver Honda ST Tourer (that matches my helmet) mmmm sweet. ;-).

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Bill not only provides extra bags for the bike, but gives me one of his really warm jackets, because I discover after just 15 minutes of riding that my jacket is not going to cope with these extreme conditions that they are having over here. He also provides me with a set of ‘over mits’ to put over my gloves and a chest warmer. On top of that, he has organised a hire car for me in LA for when I return the bike because it will be cheaper than a taxi to the airport.

I am not being paid to say these things, but I can tell you now that if you want to come to the USA and ride, you couldn’t do better than come to this bloke for your bike. He does way more than you would ever expect anyone to do. Bill, you really are a great bloke. Thanks for everything.

Another thing that he did for us was to organise a trip to the workshop of Marcus Ambrose.

From Charlotte
For those of you not into motor sport in Oz, Marcus was a dual V8 Supercar champion. Steve in his nice warm car, complete with heated seats and me on the bike drove the 100km (60 miles) across town to where he is based here in Charlotte. Man this is one impressive workshop. I’ll include a few photos. We were given a thorough tour by his PR manager. She showed us through all of the workshop, the cars, all of the Semi Trailer mobile workshops, the whole lot.
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What a great experience.

Of my first day on the bike.

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It was a bitterly cold day with strong winds, but it was good to be finally doing what I came here to do. Unfortunately, all these winds and cold weather and I find myself trying to fight off a flu or something.

Our schedule for those of you who were keeping up with it, shows that we are scheduled to head west towards Nashville in Tennessee tomorrow (Wednesday), but it had 6 inches of snow last night and today. At last check, bikes don’t do too well in these conditions. Therefore, we are going to head further south into warmer temperatures to Charleston. Everyone is telling us that this is a very beautiful place filled with history including a former slave market place. So we will head there and then the following day, skip Nashville altogether and head west from a more southern approach. Our route will take us through Athens and Rome in Georgia and then eventually into Memphis.

Ok, that’s it for now. Don’t forget to write and let us know if you’re enjoying these and if there is anything that you would like us to include that we aren’t. Remember if you don’t have our personal email address you can write to us at aussiesacrossusa2009@gmail.com

hoo roo for now

From Charleston

Posted by Paul Brealey at 10:45 AM GMT
April 12, 2009 GMT
Charlotte and Memphis

Thursday 9th April 2009 – Charleston (by Steve)

Anywhere you see a photo on the page, you can click on it and this will take you to an album with all of our photos.

Today was the first full day in Charleston. This is a really nice small city on the coast of South Carolina. There are lots of buildings dating back to the late 17th century which add lots of charm to the city.

From Charleston
From Charleston
We decided to take a bus trip today and so joined the bus at the hotel entrance at 9. Bill our driver was full of southern charm and extremely knowledgeable about the attractions of Charleston. We drove around the city for 2 hours to have its history and attraction pealed back for us.

Talking to one of the other passengers we discovered that the USA officially adopted metrics as their measurement standard in 1981. They teach the kids at school all about metric, but as far as the general population goes you certainly wouldn’t know it.

At 11 we were dropped at the city markets to look around for an hour. Here we ordered lunch. Now here's another thing that drives me crazy. I order a sandwich (which by the way comes without butter) and the Blackboard price is $4.95. I hand over the $5 and then am told I am 46c short. I point to the blackboard, highlighting the $4.95, to then be told that the displayed prices don’t include tax. So there’s a great idea, display prices that are not the real price so that people have no idea what the real price is.

At 12:00 we are picked up for the plantation part of the tour.

From Charleston
We are driven 30 minutes out of town to the old Magnolia Plantation. We spent the next 4 hours walking through the extensive garden, being driven in a tram around the plantation and looking through the grand old home.
From Charleston
From Charleston
We got back around 5 and went straight to Big K Mart for some quick shopping. Then next door for a look at the bike shop which had some very smart looking choppers.

For dinner tonight we again went into Charleston. There are loads of restaurants, all of which seem to be full and even have waiting lines. We found a parking spot and then continued our search on foot. Again we were lucky. This was the best meal so far on the trip. It was simply suburb. All three meals were just delicious. Great value, great service. Unfortunately, we can't remember the name to tell you.

Big day tomorrow, we are going to try and drive to Memphis, 11 hours. Not sure if we can do it, but we will see how we go.

Friday 10th April – The road to Memphis (by Paul)

Well we didn't make Memphis. We were well on track to get there but then we encountered extremely fierce winds. They buffeted me all over the place. One minute they were smashing me from the left and then it would turn around and belt me from the other side. I was being blown all over the place. At one stage I was almost pushed into the side of semi and another time nearly blown off a bridge and into a river. I've never been so terrified, even when I was doing my parachuting training I wasn't this frightened. Not only was it terrifying but it was exhausting. We stopped at one stage for fuel and decided that we would slow down some. Up to this point I had been travelling constantly at speeds between 85-90mph which is 140-150kph. Would you believe it, I had vehicles passing me even at these speeds. I slowed to about 75mph (115kph) for about an hour and the winds continued to grow in strength. Steve pulled over to advise that they had heard on the radio that there was a strong wind and hail warning out. "OH REALLY" What the hell do you think I've been fighting for the past hour or so?" was my response. They wanted to know if we should stop for the night at Birmingham. "Nah! lets go to Jasper" I said. What a dumb assed idea that was. I really wanted to see if we could out run it and possibly make Memphis. Instead the winds got worse and then the rain hit. SHIT!!! I dropped back to 50mph and still fought the thing. I have bruising on the palm of my hands from hanging on. Eventually we got to Jasper and Steve turned into a hotel. Thank F&^K !! I sat on the bike for a minute, absolutely exhausted.

Can you believe it, he has gone downstairs to the gym !!! I'll sit here with my bottle of Jack Daniels. Not even going to have dinner, will crash out instead. I've never been so terrified.

Other than that what an experience !! I rode out a Tornado.

Well, I got roped into going out for dinner by Steve and we found our way to The Saloon (for Pete my son who didn’t know what a saloon is, it’s a pub) with lots of character. We had our “Aussies Across the USA” shirts on. Well, we were greeted by the owners wife (Dianne), then the owner (Pat)and then we became good mates with a mean lookin’ Harley dude (Bungee) who kept on buying us beers. We were given Harley caps, a Greenhorn Saloon Tshirt, stubby holders and then Bungee’s girl started talking to me and told me they were running a Poker Run charity ride tomorrow (Saturday) and they were expecting 100 bikes. She gave me one of their shirts as well.

I’d said to Steve before we went down town that we should wear our shirts. In a small town like this we’re sure to have somebody come up and talk to us. Well I now know what it’s like to be a rock star. :-) Everyone wanted to talk to us and hear our accents. Our standard response is that we don't have an accent, they do.

They had a 4 man band on for most of the night and they were really good. Played some great stuff. The down side of this, was that Pat (the owner) had introduced me to few ladies during the night and as a result I had to put up with them wanting to dance all night. The things you do, when you’re an Aussie in the good ol’ USA.

From Charleston
I reckon we had the best night of the trip so far. But my head would probably disagree with that this morning. So if you’re ever riding from Birmingham to Memphis, y’all make sure you drop in at the Greenhorn Saloon in Jasper, Alabama. They’re mighty friendly folk.

Saturday 11th Apr – I’m going to Graceland, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee (By Paul)

After a very late night last night and the horror ride of yesterday, I really wasn’t feeling much like riding today. However, partially self inflicted wounds don’t allow for a relaxation of the programme.

After a slow breakfast, we headed back down to the saloon to say our goodbyes to some lovely, lovely people.

From there we headed on to Memphis. It’s only 200 miles today (300k).

Thankfully, the trip was an uneventful one and a fairly easy ride. When we crossed the border into Mississippi, we stopped off at the information centre. The have all these great big Information Centres at the border crossings. Not only are they good for a break, but you can pick up booklets they give you great discount vouchers for hotels in the state. I had a coffee and we had a bit of a look around. Before we headed off, I thought “hmmm, it’s a bit cool today. I’d better slip into the boys room”. So I ducked in and didn’t see the urinals, so what the hell just use a cubicle. I’m walking back out and as I’m going out an old southern woman was walking in. She yells “what y’all doing in there? Yo can’t go in there” Oh Shit!!! Of course who was outside to catch all this.... yep. What’s his comment “I reckon this is going into the blog” So I beat him to it. ;-)

Eventually, we make it into Memphis and grab a bite to eat and then head on over to the Mansion of one Mr Elvis Aaron Presley for some afternoon tea with him.

From Charleston
Unfortunately, Elvis had left the building but we were granted a guided tour of the property, which included all of his cars, motorbikes, his stage outfits and of course both of his planes. It was great to see.
From Charleston

Tonight, we off to Beale Street and hopefully B.B. Kings for dinner.

Posted by Paul Brealey at 01:39 AM GMT
April 14, 2009 GMT
ST Louis

A smallish clean city and very quiet. Easy to get around.

Sunday 12th April – Show me the way to St Louis (by Paul)

Just to briefly re-cap on last night. We drove down to Beale Street which is the social focal point of Memphis. The place was jumping. Saturday night in downtown Memphis, Tennessee. Every restaurant, pub and alley way had some form of entertainment going down. From smooth soul to jazz to rock and roll. It was pumping out all up and down the place. Something to watch out for, should you decide to come by here, is the scavengers. They are all over the place wanting monetary handouts “to buy some food”. They will use any means to win you over. Show you were there is a working ATM, where the best ribs are or how lovely your lady is etc etc. No I didn’t have a lady (lovely or otherwise). Generally, I’ve been too damned tired to even bother.

So you can wander up and down Beale Street and it is going to be pot luck where you eat. We found a restaurant that was pretty quiet and sat down to a beaut meal of Southern style dry ribs. I thoroughly enjoyed them, Steve wasn’t overly impressed.

One thing that did impress us was the bridge over the Mississippi River. The top of it is shaped like an M and is lit at night so that the M is highlighted. Don’t know if it is M for Mississippi or Memphis. The city of Memphis is split in two, Memphis and Memphis West with the mighty Mississippi providing a natural border line. Memphis is in one state - Tennessee and Memphis west in another state - Arkansas. I don’t know how they get Ar Kansas to sound like Arkansaw, but that is how it’s pronounced.

One of the things that struck me riding through Arkansas was that it so very flat - green but flat. Today should have been a relatively easy ride of 4hr 30mins roughly. Unfortunately, it was another really tough day. The winds howled again and I was down on the tank. Another day of fighting the wind and changing lanes without doing anything. When we stopped for fuel somewhere, the attendant informed us that the whole area is renowned for it’s tornado’s and big big winds. It’s just one big corridor. What really annoyed me was these guys riding the really heavy Honda Goldwings and the heavy Harley’s. They seemed to be able to sit upright without being affected by it. Grrrr. Hate them. LOL.

One thing I hadn’t considered before leaving Memphis this morning was the fact that we had gone south to avoid the snow and extremely cold conditions. This afternoon heading up here, the temperatures were dropping rapidly. I had a light T-Shirt from my Sydney Harbour Bridge climb on, a light pullover and my riding jacket. Thank God, Bill had loaned me his jacket. Even with that on, I was still getting cold.

Eventually, Steve pulled into a Mexican restaurant for a very late lunch (about 3pm). We ordered our food and I got a heart warming brandy to get the heart going again. The woman (a native Mexican)who owns the place is so excited that some people from Australia have come to her little restaurant and keeps saying “that’s so cool”. Unfortunately, she wasn’t excited enough to give us a decent discount on our meal. Two of the staff came out to see us off.

I think all this driving is starting to tell on Steve. He had to pull over on the side of the highway for a sleep this afternoon and is already in bed at 7pm tonight – it must be such hard work having to sit in a nice warm car (with heated seats) and talking endlessly with his girl. People from Sydney are just so soft. ;-)

One chain of hotels that we’ve found to be very good is The Hampton Inn. They seem to be in most places and are very clean and comfortable.

Oh, I nearly forgot...... It’s his turn to be paid out on. LOL. This morning after a refuelling stop, at some little town we were heading back to the highway, when all of a sudden Stevie decides that he is back in the Land of Oz and he is driving on the left hand side of the road. Uh oh!! There’s a car coming towards him and he still hasn’t seen it. I’m blowing the bike’s horn but he is too infatuated with his companion that he is oblivious to everything around him including the on coming car. All of a sudden a light goes on in his head and he is back on the correct side of the road and misses the turn off. I make the turn and sit and wait for the wayward one. When he finally gets back to where I am, I’m cracking up laughing and all he can do is shake his head in disbelief. I’ve been waiting for him to do it. Good one old fella.

Monday 13th April – St Louis (by Paul)

A wet and cool day greets us as we step out for our walk down to the big arch. We notice as we step out of the hotel grounds that the FBI has hastily set up an office across the road from where we are staying.

From ST Louis
Come to think of it, I did notice those black vehicles peeling off every so often as we’ve been driving around. I’ve watched the tele shows, I know what they look like.

We progress down Market Street and it’s a nice wide open street.

From ST Louis
Another thing that has impressed us, has been the cleanliness of their cities. Even New York. The city is really well laid out in square blocks and they employ similar street numbering as a lot of the other cities with the numerical approach. It makes it so much easier to get a feeling where you are and how far you’ve got to go. Another thing – NO graffiti anywhere!! I saw one train carriage with a bit.

We make our way down to the major attraction on the banks of the Mississippi. It is a 630 foot high stainless steel arch.

From ST Louis
It is known as the Gateway Arch and is a memorial to the explorers who opened the western frontier from St Louis thus making St Louis the commercial trading hub of the 1800’s. Inside the arch, you have a ‘tram’ that runs up the arch to the very top where you can alight and take photos of the city.
From ST Louis
It is truly an engineering marvel. If you want to know more about how it’s built let me know and I’ll forward the information – how does it stay upright?
From ST Louis
From ST Louis

From here we just wandered town for a while and then headed over to do a FREE tour of the Budweisser brewery which finished with free pretzels and beers.

From ST Louis

St Louis is the only city we’ve found so far that has Casino’s. There are three of them and they are all big suckers... surprise surprise. There are no pokies etc in any of the pubs etc over here. Gotta be a good thing.

Ok, that's it for today. I'm off to breaky and then we are aiming down the old highway Route 66 towards Oklahoma. Ciao

Posted by Paul Brealey at 12:42 PM GMT
April 17, 2009 GMT
Oklahoma, Texas & New Mexico

We leave St Louis on Tuesday and arrive in Albuquerque on Thursday

Tuesday 14th April – St Louis to Tulsa via Lebanon (by Paul)

By now, I’ve realised that coming back up north has only ensured us more cold weather. I’ve delayed leaving the hotel as long as I can. It’s now after 9am and it’s still pretty damned cool. In fact it’s 39 degrees Fahrenheit or 3.9 C. I’ve got my layers of clothing on, so I should be right except for my hands. The first hour or so isn’t too bad but after that my hands are numb and that is even with Bill’s over mitts on. I see a bike store alongside the highway, but he doesn’t have any “road” gloves. Onya bike sunshine.

Today, we travelled along the old route 66 http://picasaweb.google.com.au/lh/photo/Nhn6wp9ErA5YMqgMG7rmKg?authkey=Gv1sRgCJGrm_Hyu9-rfw&feat=directlinkfor quite a while after leaving St Louis, but the stopping and starting at all the intersections only causes a reduced airflow through my helmet and so the visor starts to fog on this cold cold morning which means I have to ride with it open. Not a good option. Stuff it, back onto the main highway.

Eventually we make a little place called Lebanon... yessiree Bob, right smack dang in the middle of the good ol’ USA. We wheel in to our first roadside ‘diner’ though the owner Karyn advises me that it’s a restaurant.

From Lebanon
One very warm Aussie and a very frozen one wander in. A friendly chap sitting at the counter greets us as we pass him. I spy a heater and make straight for it. I’m so cold that I can’t stop my whole body from shivering. Now how is this for a piece of really friendly American hospitality!! The chap (Donald Reeves)
From Lebanon
at the counter comes over and hands me a little packet and saws to me “rub this hereya in your hands and the more you rub it, the warmer it gets”. It was a hand/foot warmer from Wal Mart. He advises me to just put them in my gloves and my hands will be fine.

We order some burgers (I wanted soup) but because Summer is on the way, it wasn’t available ??? Hello??? It didn’t matter, the 4 good hot cups of coffee made up for it. The burgers were great too, so was Steve’s lamb and mashed potato. I helped him to finish it off.

After lunch we sat around for a while (defrosting) and talking to some of the locals. We are guided to a photograph nicely mounted on the wall. It’s a picture of President Obama eating lunch in the same place as we. He called in unannounced last year during the election campaign. Karyn and the crew were given only 10 minutes notice that he was arriving. Now, we’re impressed. On top of that she pulls out a newspaper with it on the front page and gives it to me to keep. These country folk are real nice people. We also meet a couple of other blokes sitting in the next booth. One has been to Oz a few times with work and is a retired US Marine who rides a Harley. I hardly see any other bike on the road and I suspect any American found riding a Japanese bike would be deported. Obama.jpg
After lunch we come out to clear blue skies and there is some strange yellow thing in the sky above us. It makes me feel all warm and gooey. Ahhh, how good is this. As we run down the highway to Oklahoma State, we come across our only Toll road so far. I think it is a miserly $3.30. We stop at an Information centre a short while after crossing the border and they provide us with free hot coffee and some brochures on Route 66 and a couple of booklets with discount coupons for accommodation.

Steve and I agree at the information centre that we would go past Tulsa and onto the next small town, Sapulpa. However, somewhere along the road he decides to go into Tulsa. I’m sure they’ve gone in just to find Gene Pitney and ask him if he’s ever regretted going into that little cafe when he was only 24 hours from home. However, I’m not happy. I’ve been in the saddle for near on 10 hours while he has been in his warm car. Next thing he darts off into some side street while I’m in the middle of some main road. Gone!!! Lost !!! I head around the corner and wait. Nothing. 15 minutes go by and I’m a shag on a rock. Well, I’m off to Sapulpa as agreed to look for accommodation. Eventually we get back together. We finally find somewhere to stay at Broken Arrow and crash out after a long but really good day.

Wednesday 15th April – Tulsa to Amarillo (by Steve)
Morning broke on a cold but sunny day. We were up and at breakfast by a little after 8am. Our first stop was the outdoor shop that was located just below the hotel. This is the biggest outdoor shop either of us has ever seen. There is a waterfall, a huge fish pond with fish up to half a metre. There are no words.
We set off for Route 66, unfortunately we had to cross Tulsa to get to the starting point.

Our first stop was a small town named Chandler. We visited the Lincoln County Museum of Pioneer History which shows a lot of the local history. OK002 Choctaw Indian.JPG
We then decided it was time for morning tea and wandered down to the local cafe. Lots of locals in for their morning break. We munched away for half an hour and then it was back on the road. The next stop was Oklahoma City. Not really impressive, so we just motored through. Another short trip and we arrived at El Reno. Here Paul had his first exposure to Wal-Mart. His comment – “just a big K Mart”. We had lunch here and as we were running out of time hit the road again. We set out for Elk City. We have now passed a number of wind generating farms. They are really big. On the way we stopped at the Cherokee shop. Lots of Indian artefacts, no Indians. We also had a look at the bison in the paddock behind the shop.

From Oklamhoma

Oklahoma have a few toll roads and they also have the worst roads we've encountered so far. Bill, Paul may have picked up a traffic infringement at an unmaned toll gate. I gave him the $1.00 for the bike and after I went through he dropped his coin in but nothing happened. So he back pedals on the bike to allow a little old lady come through. She dropped her money in the slot and Paul quickly followed her through because he didn't have any more money on him at the time. Oh well.

Another short trip and we arrived at Elk City to have a look at the National Route 66 Museum. A tip for those planning on visiting this museum, arrive before 5pm because it is closed at 5. There were two Harleys sitting out the front of the museum but no riders. As we walked around we came across a couple who looked like they would fit nicely onto one of the Harleys. Yes, it was their bike, and they came from Sydney – Blakehurst. The other couple came from Marrickville. The two guys had arrived two and a half weeks ago, picked up their bikes and had ridden across the states to Chicago where their partners joined them. They were on their way back to Los Angeles. We talked to these four for 15 minutes and then back on the road again to complete the trip – 130 miles. We cross the border into Texas and finally arrived at Amarillo at 8pm. So we started at 9:30 and arrived at 8pm. A very long day on the road.

Dump the bags, then off to a very swish Japanese restaurant for dinner. Food was OK, but it was very expensive. Far too much food. Back at the motel by 10, but completely done in.

Thursday 16th April – Amarillo to Albuquerque (by Steve)
A very early start to the day. At breakfast by 7am. Paul wants to get the riding done as soon as possible. He thinks the winds get stronger in the afternoon making riding more difficult. We speared through Texas very quickly and then it was into New Mexico. The scenery changed dramatically today. Lots of very open plains with mountains in the background.

From New Mexico

The morning ride was very comfortable in the car, but another uncomfortable one for Paul on the bike. He is becoming quite adept at riding at a 45 degree angle to the road. We stopped in at Santa Rosa for a refuel and lunch. Not a very large town, not much to write about. After lunch we set off for a set of Indian ruins at Pecos National Historical Park near Santa Fe. We got 30 miles down the road before Paul pulled me up. He pointed to the white capped mountains in the direction we where travelling and discussed the merits of riding a bike into the snow. Paul then headed off to Madrid (more on this below) while I headed off to the Pecos Park. More astounding scenery on the way and about an hour later arrived at the park.

From New Mexico
This was a city of around 2,000 Indians which existed for hundreds of years. It was colonised by the Spanish coming in from Mexico looking for gold. They then brought the monks to turn the Indians into Catholics. This didn’t work too well for the locals. After the Spanish the local Indians made the inhabitants life a misery. The walk took about an hour and then it was onto Santa Fe. The city has some fabulous architecture in the Spanish style. The local Catholic Church is really beautiful, and there is also the oldest Catholic Church in the USA. A quick look through the local Spanish markets and then it was off to Albuquerque for the over night stay.

Paul here...... Yep, as soon as I saw those white peaks in the distance, I thought “I ain’t having any of that stuff” and I’m mighty glad I did. For those of you thinking the name Madrid sounds familiar, I can only assume you have watched the movie Wild Hogs.

From New Mexico
This is the little village where it was filmed. I rode the entire main street in about 1 minute flat at a staggering speed of 20mph. :-) I turned around and pulled up out front of Maggie’s Diner. The diner was actually purpose built just for the movie and hasn’t been used since. I noticed that there is a development application attached, asking for any objections to it being opened as a cafe/restaurant.
From New Mexico

The little village was originally a coal mining town and it also did very nicely from turquoise mining. In later years the only people that lived there were hippies eking out a meagre existence from pottery and jewellery to passing visitors. However, since John Travolta and his gang have been there, they are seeing a large increase in tourists.

While I was there I met a lovely couple Al & Finley from Albuquerque. I stood in the sun in the main street talking to them for at least an hour and just letting the sun heat up my bones. I told them that we contemplating changing our route to include El Paso and the adjoining Mexican border town. They looked in horror. This is when they told me all about the drug cartels taking over the area and regular shootings in the streets in broad daylight. Al reckons, they’d shoot me just to get the bike. So, we’ll take their very timely advice and instead head from here to Sedona in Arizona. It’s nearly 600km.

If you google it, you will find it is home to some truly remarkable landscapes. Here’s hoping that damned wind stays down. Bill, you need to send me some new tyres for the bike please. You know the ones with the tread on the sidewall of the tyres instead of the bottom. I find that I’m wearing out the wall much more quickly. Oh, and while I’m at it, thank you for the advise on all the winds. Apparently we couldn’t have picked a worse route for winds. This corridor that we’ve been riding has the worst record of strong winds and tornadoes in the country apparently. Onya mate. ;-)

Anyway that’s it for today, I just wish I knew a good physio who could give me a good rub down right now. C ya

Posted by Paul Brealey at 05:22 AM GMT
April 18, 2009 GMT
Albuquerque to Sedona

I tell you this damned God of America is throwing all the elements at us, but we're not going to be beaten. Ozzies Rule

Friday 17th April – You don’t know what cold is (by Paul)

Last night Steve and I went out to get a bite to eat and man it was a mean muther of a wind that was blowing. Really biting cold.... the kind that I got to know when visiting Thredbo and Perisher in the Snowy Mountains back home.

This morning, I flicked on the weather channel and discovered that areas close by us have had big dumps of snow, some as much as 3 feet (1 metre for you youngsters who don’t know the conversion).

Hmmm, time to drag out the thermals for today, I suspect. By the time I get in the saddle, I’ve got my Long Johns on, my thermal shirt that I bought from Kathmandu for my winter trip to Europe and the thermal pullover that I bought in New York. All thin layers but very warm. On top of that I have Bill’s great jacket. I’ve got my gloves and Bill’s over mitts. I should be ok now. The temperature is in the single figures celcuis.

I’ve failed to mention that Albuquerque is 5000’ or nearly 1700 metres above sea level. Let me put this into some kind of perspective for you Aussies. Mt Kosciuszko’s peak is only 2228 metres, so we’re talking 500 metres less than the highest peak in Oz, ok. From this point we continue our journey westwards hoping to get to Sedona in Arizona.

After about 45 minutes of riding, the temperature has noticeably dropped and unbeknown to me, we’ve also climber to 6500’. The clouds are really low and dark grey. Hmmm, what was that? It wasn’t rain drops... they floated too much.... a couple of minutes later more... shit!!! Snow flakes are floating toward me. I had seen off to my right what looked like rain and I had opened the throttle up to 90mph to try and get through this area before it got to me. However it wasn’t to be. The snow continued to fall more heavily and after an hour I was almost frozen solid. Steve is tucked up in his nice warm car with his seat warmer on no doubt.

My visor was continually fogging up which necessitated me opening the visor. This obvious impact of this was a bloody cold nose and one that wouldn’t stop running. I had to pull over I had no feeling in my toes, nose or fingers. By the time Steve pulled up behind me, I had been running up and down the side of the highway for about 10 minutes. I dumped myself into the car and sat there in the warmth for a good 15 minutes.

We noticed that now the snow had started to ease, so time to make a run for it again. I climbed back on my trusty stead and ride westwards once more with the aim of doing about 30 minutes and pulling over into a service station somewhere. This we did for the next few hours until we got to Holbrook where we stopped for a great Italian lunch of garlic bread and lasagne.

The afternoon sun broke through and from there on we had a beautiful day. It was still cold but it was great to feel the sun again and have no winds beating me up.

At some stage, we pulled over for fuel and Steve advised that there was the “worlds largest meteorite crater” nearby. Well, wooptydo I thought, a big whole in the ground. I got dragged along kicking and screaming to look into a big hole in the ground. It was pretty impressive but I won’t tell him that.

From here we have about 45 minutes to Sedona (via Flagstaff). Man, I have never seen such beauty!!! You’ve all seen the western movies with the towering cliffs sitting high above them.... my words aren’t going to be able to do justice to them, so I’ll just put up a few photos. Don’t forget, if you want to see them all, you only have to click on one of them and it will take you into the album.

From Arizona
From Arizona
From Arizona

I’ve just been notified that Colin, my eldest son is in hospital after coming off his bike. Apparently some idiot in a car did a U turn in front of him. He has a punctured lung and a broken wrist. While any injury is not good, I knew a fella in Cooma who had the same thing happen to him only he didn’t fair as well as you, Col. He didn’t survive. I love you mate and you suck up as much sympathy as you can get. It’s time Nika started to take care of my boy. ;-) Get better quickly mate.

Today, we’re off to Phoenix, Arizona I think.......

Posted by Paul Brealey at 03:42 PM GMT
April 20, 2009 GMT
Phoenix

Saturday 18th April –Sedona to Phoenix (by Steve)
We had a leisurely start to the day this morning as we are feeling a bit worn out by our packed schedule. I arrived at breakfast at quarter to nine, which was 15 minutes before I would have been too late. Breakfast available was tetra packs of juice, no cereal and some muffins. Not a great choice, especially since this is the most expensive motel since Washington. We then departed to visit Red Rock Cathedral Crossing. This is only about 15 minutes from the heart of town. Again we are impressed with the spectacular views on the way. The crossing is in a national park and is apparently the most photographed spot in the area. We have lots of photos, some of which will appear here.

From Arizona

From Arizona

After viewing the rock formation we returned to Sedona for a quick shop and lunch. Paul and I sat in the shadows for lunch today as we both got a little too much sun yesterday.

Following lunch we set off for Phoenix. On the way we stopped off at Montezuma’s Castle. This is where the local Indians built houses in the rock face.

From Arizona

Another 2 hours of travel sees us in Phoenix. Both Paul and I are both becoming very weary of being on the road. The hotel we picked was another Marriot and is a very nice. We have nice large rooms and at $79 per night really good value. Dinner was had in downtown at a nice little restaurant. Paul and I had calamari and grilled tuna. OK but not great in my view. The area around the hotel is a little ordinary.


Sunday 19th April –Phoenix and Tucson (by Steve)
Today Paul is looking forward to a down day. He is has been really pushing it hard over the last couple of days. It has on the whole been pretty ordinary bike riding weather – cold and very windy. He is going to do some shopping in Phoenix. I am driving south to Tucson to visit the plane graveyard. Here there are over 4,000 planes stored in an immense bone yard. In the spirit of the organisational skills displayed throughout the trip, I have arrived on a day where the bus tours are not running. Fortunately there is a Museum across the road with around 200 planes. I spend around four hours looking through the exhibitions and going on a tour. Afterwards I drive around the perimeter of the graveyard and take a few more photos.

From Tucson

From Tucson

Another two hour drive and I am back at Phoenix. I am really over the driving bit. We are both feeling about the same, and go for a pizza at the hotel.

Posted by Paul Brealey at 05:53 AM GMT
April 23, 2009 GMT
Grand Canyon

Monday 20th April – What A Grand Day (by Paul)

Remember, if you click on one of the photos, it will take you straight to the online album where you can look at as many of the photos as you like.

At last a perfect spring day greets us as we leave our hotel in Phoenix. I’ve even taken the inner liner out of my bike jacket and only have a short sleeved shirt on below the jacket. Ahh, what joy..... birds singing in the trees, clear blue skies and bugger all traffic. Yip Yar !!! at last.

I’ve been trying to find a way of plugging my TomTom into the bikes power supply, so that I have some chance of navigating after my support crew head home on 26th April. It can easily sit in the clear plastic section of the Tank Bag but I need to power it. We head across town to find a place called Cycle Gear. Oops, I miss a turn off and head about 10 miles further than I should have. Then the difficult task of finding my way back. I want to blame Steve for being so slow and not being in front of me when we hit the freeway, but truth beknown........ what the hell, it’s his fault somehow. Anyway, I pull into the Hilton hotel that I find somewhere and they print out a google maps set of instructions and I eventually get there. Of course, they don’t have the part I’m after. Bugger, there’s an hour wasted.

Fortunately, we only have about 280 miles (450km) to do today so the time lost isn’t going to impact greatly on our day. We finally get out of Phoenix’s suburbia and onto the highway and what a pleasure it is. NO WINDS!!! I open up the throttle and leave Mickey and Minnie Mouse behind. There is some spectacular scenery in this southern desert. The cactus plant that you will see in the photo is amazing.

From Arizona
Some of these are 20’ tall. Look at your little finger and just the section where your finger nail covers it. It takes the cactus 5 years to grow that much, so now think about how long these things have been growing. That is 10 years to grow one inch x 12 for a foot, makes 120 years for one foot or 30cm. That would make a 20’ plant about 2400 years old. Enough for the botany lesson.

Anyway, I’m having a great day riding, there are very few vehicles on this highway and unlike the other major highways in the USA, this one tends to wind around the corners instead of being straight and boring. So it is nice to be able to actually want to lean the bike over instead of doing it to survive. LOL.

Some of the things that differ on the roads over here. The speed limit on most highways is about 70MPH or around 110kph, others are 75MPH. The standard rule is S+15. That is you do whatever the speed limit is set at, plus another 10 - 15mph. The police accept it. But the big difference at these speeds is the effect the trucks have on a bike. We had two pass us the other day, big Kenworth semi’s and they were doing around the 90mph (150kph). At these speeds the trucks create some kind of vacuum and you have to work on stopping yourself from being sucked under the big muvvers. Also, coming up behind them is really rough because of the air they displace. You start being buffered around about 90 metres away from them. On the positive side though, the drivers are really considerate. Both cars and truck drivers will move into the slow lane to allow quicker vehicles to pass. Take a lesson Australia.

But I digress. We make it into Flagstaff around lunchtime and I need fuel (so does the bike). We see a very rare Sizzlers store and head in there for a nice steak lunch for about $12.

Onwards, west towards Los Angeles and then north onto highway 64 towards the Grand Canyon. We find our hotel, the Canyon Plaza. This was my choice of hotels because it was only a few minutes from the Grand Canyon but it was also the cheapest. At $130 per room per night plus tax, it was by no means cheap. If we wanted good accommodation without breaking the bank, we would have had to stay at a little place called Williams about 45 minutes away. I’ve always had the motto “you get what you pay for”....... Well we paid more than what we got. It’s a dump, so if you’re coming this way make sure you can afford to pay about $180pn for something decent.

Now onto something truly remarkable. I said the other day that the scenery around Sedona was amazing and that my words and the photos weren’t going to be able to do them justice. Sedona fades into almost insignificance by comparison. To say that this place is big, huge, ginormous is an understatement. To say that it is beautiful would be a SERIOUS understatement. Here is a photo of just a few of the statistics of the place

From 12 Grand Canyon

When we arrived at the top of the south rim, I was gobsmacked. It actually took my breath away. I watched a film clip of one of the park rangers here. She said that the first time that she came here, it had the same effect. So much so, that she fainted at its beauty. This would have to be the greatest sight I have ever seen.
From 12 Grand Canyon

To top this off, we went back up to watch sunset. I thought beforehand, “yeah I’ve seen sunsets before. Cant be all that amazing” I stood there with hundreds of other people but I was on my own. I spoke to nobody as the sun was setting into the western sky. The colours and the transformations were again breathtaking. Reds and oranges turning into evening browns, whites turning into pale creams and the sky going through blues and purples. It was truly an emotional period of time for me and others around me.

From 12 Grand Canyon Paul

Sadly for us, Steve forgot his camera. Who comes to see the Grand Canyon and forgets his camera. At least I had mine and managed to take some before the memory card advised me that it was full. So neither of us got any photos of the sunset. Fortunately, we’re here again tomorrow night.

From 12 Grand Canyon Paul

So folks, if you ever come to the USA, the Grand Canyon is an absolute must see. We are here until Thursday morning and I’m sure it is going to be a splendid and relaxing few days.


Tuesday 21st April – Grand Canyon (by Paul)

Today is a rest day pretty much. We dawdled over to the Imax Theatre to see the most watched Imax movie ever seen on the Grand Canyon of course. If you’ve ever been to the Imax at Katoomba in Sydney’s Blue Mountains then you will have some idea of what was to come. The movie not only covered the magnificence and the beauty of the Canyon but the history as well. Of the original Indians, of the Spanish explorers and then the explorers who first ran the rapids of the Colorado River. It was so good, that I bought the DVD as a momento. No doubt it will be impossible to recreate the huge screen of the Imax, but I can show you some of the beauty of this place.

Afterwards, we listened to a Ranger talk of some of the people who have been through the Canyon. Some historical facts, some Indian folklore and some stories of missing explorers.

Lunch followed in the grand old hotel built in 1905. It was built to accommodate the travellers coming off the trains to see this place.

From 12 Grand Canyon
A restful afternoon followed and another visit to see the sunset later on.

Wednesday 22nd April – Grand Canyon (by Steve)
Well we had a really busy day today. We were up by 5am to be at the airport before 6am. Fortunately it is only a 5 minute drive from our hotel to the Grand Canyon Airport. We had booked ourselves onto a tour on Monday when we arrived at the hotel. We paid for our tickets and then sat in the waiting area until 6:30. At this time we boarded a 16 seater Vistamaster plane to take a flight over the Grand Canyon. We were in the air in minutes and over the Canyon in under 5 minutes. We have been awestuck by the Canyon since we first saw it. You get a whole new perspective once you view it from the air.

From 12 Grand Canyon Paul
It is simply majestic, and huge.

From 12 Grand Canyon Paul

Our flight lasted just under an hour and we landed at a town called Page which is located next to the Grand Canyon dam. First item on the list in Page was breakfast. The airline provided a boxed breakfast which was surprisingly good. We ate this in an outside area just next to the planes.

Half an hour later we were picked up in some open backed V8 four wheel drive trucks. First stop was an Indian shop where you could buy Indian souvenirs. In this instance, the shop was actually staffed by Indians. A quick look and we were back out the front – we are bit over these types of shops now. Paul had filled up his camera’s memory card during the flight (what was he thinking with a 30 meg card?) so he wandered off to find a larger card. The shop put on an Indian hoop dance for us.

Then it was back onto the four wheel drives for the drive to Antelope Gorge. This is a Gorge which is located on Indian land and has been formed by water and wind. A truly beautiful place. See the pictures here, but they can’t possible portray the real effect. We wandered through the gorge for an hour before it was back on the truck for the trip back to town.

From 12 Grand Canyon Paul

From 12 Grand Canyon Paul

In town we transferred to buses which took us to the bottom of the Grand Canyon dam through a two mile tunnel. At the bottom we then boarded our rafts for a 4 hour float down the Glenn Canyon (which leads into the Grand Canyon). This was a very relaxing half day just floating down the river and seeing a different perspective of the Canyon.

From 12 Grand Canyon Paul

After the four hour float it was back on the bus for a four hour trip back to the airport with a stop off at yet another Indian gift shop. Dinner was at a steakhouse in Tusayan where our hotel is located. Very large meals, reasonable value.

Posted by Paul Brealey at 05:04 AM GMT
April 27, 2009 GMT
And So to Las Vegas, Nevada

Thursday 23rd April - “Viva Las Vegas” (by Paul)

Sadly we have to leave behind the magic of the Grand Canyon today. We retrace our steps south for an hour to Williams and then back onto I40 westward for a bit over 116 miles before heading north into the desert again.
So far, we have briefly travelled through the Great Basin Desert as we crossed Arizona and then the Mojave Desert in Arizona and then today back up into the Great Basin Desert as we came into Nevada. This is the largest desert in North America covering all of Nevada, most of Utah and parts of Oregon, Indiana, Wyoming and Colorado.

Needless to say that it was pretty damned warm. That wasn’t so bad, but the strong blustery winds were back up again today so it made riding uncomfortable.
During the course of the day, we noticed unusually large numbers of bikers on the road and in some large groups. At a fuelling point I asked somebody what was going on and she said something about a big rally going on at somewhere called Luflin. It wasn’t Luflin but Laughlin. This is about 30 miles south of Las Vegas and upon discussing it with another biker at lunch, he reckons it is the largest gathering outside of Sturgess rally each year. They are expecting around 25 – 30,000 bikes. These yanks don’t do things by ‘alves. I might jump back on the bike tomorrow and slip down and see what it’s all about.

On the way through to Las Vegas, we came across the Hoover Dam. Everyone is mighty impressed with it, but I don’t know that it’s any bigger than Warragamba Dam back home. Oh well. I might be wrong. One thing that did impress me about it was the new road bridge that they are building over the top. Take note as to how far the water is below. As I said these Septic Tanks (Yanks) do things by ‘alves. Sorry Bill.

From 13 Las Vegas

We continued on through the heat, wind and dust passing through Boulder City until we arrived on the outskirt of Las Vegas. OH NO!!! It’s a bloody big city!!! I caught Steve at a set of traffic lights and said as much. Neither of us were expecting this. I guess we never gave it much thought at all. I know I was kind of expecting a few streets of bright lights and tall buildings. But, I suppose they have to have the infrastructure to support it all. Oh well, just push on into town.

We arrive at the Trump Tower Hotel. Now we’re talking. I’m greeted and shown where to take the bike, while Steve has his car driven away for him. Poor pet, he’s done it tough. The chap in the carpark is waiting for me and then escorts me back to the lobby.

From 13 Las Vegas
Nice fella, but I forgot to tip him. I hate this practice of tipping just because they are there. The whole hotel is just luxurious. I’ll leave it at that. There are other photos of the hotel room, if you click on this one. Now for a short snooze before stepping out tonight to see what this place is all about.

We wandered up and down the strip for about an hour or so, well only a small part of it. Spent a bit of time in The Pallazo and also The Venetian.

From 13 Las Vegas
Both of them are amazing places. It should go without saying that the Venetian is set on Venice, Italy and fair dinkum they’ve done a great job. They’ve got the canals, the gondola rides some even with drivers singing in Italian.
From 13 Las Vegas
The have St Marks Square (minus the million pigeons), even the famous clock that is in the Square. They have even done the ceiling to represent the sky. If you didn’t know you would think you were outside with clear blue skies and some soft white clouds drifting overhead. Carol & I saw another example of this in a Dubai shopping centre a couple of years ago. They've even got the art work painted onto the ceilings in some areas.
From 13 Las Vegas

We stopped off and a nice dinner at an Italian restaurant where the waiter even boned my fish for me. Steve had a huge feed of pasta and prawns.

Afterwards, we headed outside and jumped in a stretch limo for an hour long tour of the city. That was pretty cool, I’d never done that before. $60 for the three of us. At the completion Steve and Janelle called it a night.... the old dears had even had a sleep in the afternoon. I wandered around a couple of the casino having a bit of a look. I did my whole $10 in one poker machine (oops slot machine) in about 20 minutes.


Friday 24th April – Las Vegas

Today Steve and Janelle went back to the Hoover Dam to do a tour. I decided to wander the ‘strip’ and take photographs of where we’d been the previous night.

From 13 Las Vegas
We were meant to head out to the Nascar race track but the dam tour took longer than anticipated. Steve’s comments of the tour – It’s ok. Great sight to see. During the afternoon, it was siesta time and then out to prowl the strip again. I booked into see a hypnotist comedian named Anthony Cools at Paris Las Vegas. It has been a long time since I laughed so much. Great value. In fact I used the ticketing agency that we used in New York that sells them for 50% off normal price. So great value and great show.


Sunday 25th April – Las Vegas, It’s show time

Today is the day we have a couple of things booked up. First up, it’s a trip out to the raceway for a ride in a Nascar. Bill Kniegge from www.bluestradatours.com , our very good man in Charlotte has organised for us to head out there for a high speed ride around the circuit.

We arrive to the roar of these whopping big V8’s screaming around the circuit. The guy has us kitted out in race suits and helmets and then it’s into the car. This is one very noisy and extremely fast sucker!!

As we accelerate out of pit lane, he plants his foot and my initial thought was ‘hmm, nothing too impressive’ but then he drops it into 2nd gear and my head snaps back into the head restraint. Into the first corner and into 3rd gear and I can feel my body wanting to lean out the window just through gravitational forces. Man, this thing can go. Down the back straight and “shit, where did that straight go???” Into the back corner and I can feel the tyres grabbing on the surface, then ripping up the main straight.... I didn’t even see the grandstands.

The first lap was a mediocre 120mph or 200kph, then it’s up to 160mph or 265kph and then the final lap at 175mph which is just a touch under 300kph !!

That was a real buzz. 3 laps done and dusted before I had time to get comfortable. Next time, I hope to do the drive yourself experience. Thanks for that Bill, that was great.

Ok, now to the main event. CHER, live on stage in the Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas. We’ve been waiting for this since before leaving Oz. A huge crowd filled the Colosseum and as has become her trademark, she puts on a show full of high energy, great entertainment and wild costumes. Unfortunately, we’re disappointed somewhat because she does one song and then disappears to do a costume change nearly all night, while we’re left to watch old film clips of her and Sony. So we felt a bit ripped off.

After the show we head off for dinner or as Steve put it, “the last supper”. For tomorrow he and Janelle fly home. It’s disappointing to see him go, we’ve built this trip over the past year and to see him leave before the end is a let down. I suppose when you get up the ladder in the corporate world, they own your life. Thanks Steve you are a great mate.

Posted by Paul Brealey at 06:45 AM GMT
Death Valley

Sunday 26th April – Into the Valley of Death

Today is met with great trepidation. This will be the beginning of the next phase of the trip where I don’t have Steve with the TomTom leading me through the cities and flyovers etc. It is also the first time that I will be travelling the big land on my own and without any support crew should something go wrong. So to say, that I am somewhat nervous could be an understatement.

What better challenge could I have set for my first day on my own, than Death Valley. I have been on Google Maps over night to get my driving directions from Vegas to Bakersfield, California. These now are written out and sitting in the clear Perspex window of my tank bag, sitting on top of the fuel tank. I made my way out of Vegas and finally onto the highway leading west. There is a huge mountain range in front and as I begin the climb, I can feel the temperatures of the desert starting to rapidly drop. There is still snow sitting on top of some of the peaks.

From Death Valley
This is at last some great riding. The road winds around the mountains and I can start to get into it. This is better. No winds either to fight.

This day turns out to be one of extremes. Extreme temperatures and landscapes. Nice and cool in the hills and then dropping into the openness of the desert and the searing heat. Heat hazes are coming off the road and in open spaces of the desert. Nope, I didn’t see any tumbleweed. Hopefully, some of the photographs I’ve taken will depict how varied the landscape is. This is true desert. On first looking at the photographs, they'll all look similar but watch the changing composition of the mountains

From Death Valley
From Death Valley

On the way through I pull up at to pay my National Park entry fee. This is on an honesty system where you pull off the road put your money in the slot and it issues you a ticket. There is nobody to check to see if you’ve paid it.

While I’m there 5 Harley’s ride in. One bloke says “gidday mate”...... huh?? I reply, that’s a strange accent you’ve got mate. Bloody five Aussies with flags flying off the back of the bikes. We stand around and have a yarn for a while. They’ve been to the big bike rally at Laughlin (pronounced Loflin). They are heading up into the north west corner of the country.

I head out through Furnace Creek, though there isn’t a drop of water to be seen. All you can see in the lake beds is salt. Think about it... Salt!! So far from the coast?? And at 2000 feet above sea level. I didn’t have time to stop and question it.

From Death Valley
The ride through here is great fun. The roads department has even thrown in lots of dips, some of these are really cool because as I go over the apex, it drops suddenly away and I’m often times nearly airborne. Throw in all the twisty bits and I’m having a great days ride.

I miss a turn off and finish up doing about an extra 50 miles. I head south on Highway US-395. They have a great highway numbering scheme. All highways that run North – South are odd numbers and those running East – West are even numbers. After an hour, the winds start to pick up again. Man, can’t I get a full damned days riding in without these suckers!!!! I really had to work hard, I don’t know what the capper is with all these winds, but hell they are ferocious and extremely draining.

Around 6:15pm, I’ve had enough and see a sign to California City. You beauty. I’m packing it in for the day. I take the exit and head towards town...... or city. Where the hell is it??? I drive down the main street and there’s a few shops and a garage. No high rise here. I pull over where I see three fellas standing around talking to ask where there is a hotel. There isn’t one. Can you believe it?? Not one hotel in the whole place. But one bloke is heading towards some other place that has one and offers to guide me. They all let me know that they love Aussies because we are their greatest ally. I didn’t tell them I did 21 years in the Army. I wanted to get to hotel. So I follow Chucky back out onto the highway and after a while pulls over and suggests that I continue down the highway to Mojave because he thinks the winds up to the other place will be far too dangerous. I’m prepared to take his advice and so bunk down for the night at Mojave.

Posted by Paul Brealey at 03:39 PM GMT
April 28, 2009 GMT
The Road to Yosemite

Monday 27th April – Yosemite National Park

Well, didn’t I choose a good hotel to stay at last night !! What I didn’t see in the dark last night as I arrived was ..... a set of railway tracks. I reckon every 45 minutes a whopping big freight train came through town. They weren’t satisfied with just clunk clunk, clunk clunking past. No sirree Bob, they had to blow their damned horns and not just once but constantly.... Level crossing right outside !!!! What a good choice, I never realised that I could get to watch the Santa Fe express all night long without having to pay extra for it.

Well, may as well have an early start while I’m awake. As I head west in the direction of the Pacific Ocean, leaving behind Mojave, I come across a series of mountain tops absolutely filled with wind turbines. Man, what a good place to have them. After those winds last night they must be generating enough electricity to supply the whole west coast. There were hundreds of them.

From Death Valley

From there I head over the hills into Bakersfield. What a change in scenery. Out of the starkness of the desert and into lush green flat fields. The change is unbelievable. The whole region is used for dairy farming, nuts, fruit and wines. Have you seen oranges with ‘grown in California’? It’s all here. I stopped off and bought some. I also got a packet of fresh beef jerky and a packet of honey coated almonds.

The run up to Yosemite is pretty uninteresting. Just highway running until you get into Oakhurst. I drop into Yosemite Gateway Inn (Best Western) and drop my bag off. Talking to a local biker, I discover that the run up to the National Park is a 120 mile loop, finishing back in Oakhurst.

The road is a great run. Being a Monday, there’s next to no traffic. Single lane all the way, no wind and glorious sunshine. It’s the best riding roads I’ve encountered so far and hook in. But WHOA!! All of a sudden as I’m heading up through the hills, I realise that there are no railings between me and some huge drop offs . They may not do much anyway, but they have a habit of making one feel a bit more warm and fuzzy when they’re there.

The scenery improves and I have to decide what I want to do, rip in and enjoy the ride or slow down and enjoy the scenery. Maybe I’ll have to come back tomorrow for the scenery.... ahh, I don’t think so. Slow down and enjoy it, ok. I feel as though I’m stopping every five minutes, ripping the gloves and helmet off, taking a photo and putting them back on again. It’s worth it. The area is beautiful.

This is not the gob smacking “oh wow” like The Grand Canyon, or the unusual features seen down in Sedona. This is just beautiful, fast running rivers,

From 15 Yosemite
rapids and high rising cliffs with some fantastic waterfalls.
From 15 Yosemite
As I get a bit further up, it’s obvious there is still plenty of snow about and that melting snow is feeding the rivers. What a sight.
From 15 Yosemite

After stopping to take some photographs of the Bridal Veil waterfall, I discover a few keen (female) photographers have set up their equipment behind the bike. One offers to move her equipment, I tell them not to bother, they’ve got some great equipment. Time to have a bit of a yarn, to see if they can help me with my equipment. So, I ask them about how I get the blurring effect when taking water shots. They try to help me with my basic camera, but it’s a little too primitive and are unable to help me with my equipment problem. Oh well, on ya bike fella and head back to the hotel. The run back down is spoilt by damned car drivers wanting to obey the 35 mph speed limit. Curse ‘em.

Anyway, a great day was had and tomorrow I hope to achieve the goal...... Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, coast to coast in San Francisco. Then I’ll head down to LA to see John Travolta to tell him what it really feels like to do it. ;-)

Posted by Paul Brealey at 06:26 AM GMT
May 01, 2009 GMT
San Francisco - Coast to Coast

A slightly different and abridged version of Otis Reading’s song
Sitting on the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
I'm just sitting on the dock of the bay
Wasting time

I left my home in Canb’ra
Headed for the 'Frisco bay
'Cause I had a challenge to live for
And look like nothing's gonna get in my way
Sitting on the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
I'm just sitting on the dock of the bay
Smilin.

From 16 San Francisco

Tuesday 28th April – Coast to Coast

OK, ok... so I ain’t a poet. You come up with a better version to suit the occasion :-) Anyway, I’m pretty relieved to have made it coast to coast, though my journey isn’t quite over yet. I still need to make my way down the long and windy road along the coast to LA yet (as in strong winds and bendy as well). Two days of riding left.

The amazing thing about today was that I actually found my way into San Francisco without a GPS (hereinafter referred to as either the Bay or Frisco). Bill in Charlotte sent me a parcel containing a power unit to allow me to plug my TomTom into the bike. This was meant to greet us at Las Vegas, we were there for 3 days and UPS weren’t able to get it to me on time. It was then re-directed to meet me at Yosemite, still UPS couldn’t meet the challenge. They finally managed to get their S&^t together and it has finally caught me here in Frisco.

Well done UPS. Next time Bill, you might want to consider using Australia Post even they would have done it faster. LOL.

The ride into the Bay was pretty uneventful until I got close to city. I had written out driving instructions and placed them on my tank bag and they were good until I got to a fork in the highway and I had to make a guesstimate. Next thing I have a toll both in front of me and the whopping big Bay Bridge looming in front of me. I stopped to pay my $4 to cross the bridge and ask the lady in the booth if I’m heading the right way. Yep, stay on the right side over the bridge. Phew!! My instructions were saying go left. Off I head to cross the Bay with a smile on my dial that I was nearly at my goal.

What’s that in front?? A friggin large sign reading “Strong Winds on Bridge”. I don’t think I’ll write what I thought. There were 5 lanes of traffic in each direction and I positioned myself as close to the middle as I could to try and get protection from all of the cars but they still found a way of beating me up. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally made my way down and into the streets of Frisco and to my hotel. It is the Andrews Hotel on Post Street. A boutique hotel recommended by my man in Charlotte. Now I have since uncovered the code and now know that boutique doesn’t necessarily mean ‘top shelf’ hotel. No sirree Bob. Ladies and Gentlemen, Boutique means small. Yep, I’m on the 6th floor and there are about 5 rooms on each floor and I had to walk sideways to get in the door. They used a crane that is permanently attached to the roof to lift my bags up and passed them in through the window. Nah, it’s not that bad ;-) but yes, it’s the smallest hotel room I’ve ever seen but it’s nice enough. It is was built back at the beginning of last century and has an elevator that has two doors on it. One that you open manually outwards and then inside a steel grill gate. I also have a King size bed which I am becoming accustomed to having. Now, don’t go getting upset Bill, I like it and I’m just stirring you up a little. The great thing is, that it is smack bang dead in the centre of town and easy walking distance to everything. Also, you get a complimentary glass of wine in the bar each day.

That night I ventured out for a walk and to get some dinner. Union Square is supposed to be “the” place where everyone goes. I headed there (two blocks) and came across a sign reading JAZZ tonight. It was a French restaurant with entertainment. You beauty!!! The reason I wanted to go to St Louis was to listen to Jazz and I missed out. I wandered in, ordered a celebratory half bottle of red wine, some soup, frog’s legs and a pork meal for the main. It was great. The name of the place is Les Joulins at 44 Ellis street off Powell. I've eaten too much, but it was delicious.

Wednesday 29th April – Napa Valley Wineries Tour

Today, I have reserved myself a seat on a coach tour (Yuck, that is reminding me of going back to work soon). Anyway, I’m collected at the hotel by Tower Tours and they take me to the World Headquarters. Yes folk, their World HQ. Man, I’m impressed. They probably only have the one office. I’ve not heard of them anywhere else in the US so far, let alone in another country. ;-) Who knows they might secretly own Murrays Coaches back in Oz.

There are about 25 people on 8am coach. Yep, 25 people..... that’s 12 couples and the odd one out is me. OH well who cares. The unfortunate thing is that the driver (Will) doesn’t make any effort to get people talking amongst themselves, so everyone sits there and just mutters to each other. Don’t ask me to remember the names of the wineries. I only wanted to see the Napa Valley countryside really and to compare the wines to our great Aussie wines. I think I had one wine that came close to being as good as ours. My apologies to my 6 American readers, I’m parochial. If you come to Land of Oz, I’ll take you around our wineries (not on a bike) and you can learn for yourself. :-)

For lunch we stopped at a beautiful little village called Sonoma.

From 16 San Francisco
This place is lovely and it would be worth the drive over the Golden Gate Bridge just to see it. Oh, did I mention I went over THE Golden Gate Bridge.......
From 16 San Francisco
Yeah Stevie, you missed out. And to top it off, the Bay wasn’t fogged in so we had great views of it. Sonoma is beautiful. It’s as though it’s still in a time warp (not necessarily a bad thing). Nice wide clean streets, old style buildings and even some very old Buicks etc
From 16 San Francisco
running around town. I even found a cafe who knew how to make a decent sandwich, Steve. Turkey, Bacon and some real salad stuff. It was great, sitting there in the sun watching the world pass by. I was beginning to feel very mellow and relaxed when I realised it was time to wander back to the coach for our next winery.

Did I mention that nobody was talking to anyone else...... Well by the end of the next winery, people were starting to loosen up and by the end of the last one, welllll everybody was everyone’s best friend. By the time we got back to the Bay, one young school teacher lady was talking about ditching her boyfriend to me and the Canadian couple across the aisle, the couple from the Netherlands had loosened up and started to smile a little, the two pommie couples actually talked to me at a photo stop on the way back and so on. LOL

Overall, it was a good relaxing day and I copped an invitation to join the Canadian couple for dinner. This turned out to be a really fun night too. I met them at Eddie’s and Joey’s a bit after 7pm and the entertainment had already begun. A trio of two fellas and a chick doing Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Louis Armstrong etc. They were brilliant. Frank even dressed like the real Frank did in his time. I hadn’t felt like going out for dinner after being on the vino all day but I’m sure glad I did.

Thursday 30th April

Today had a leisurely start to the day. I had a 10am pickup from the hotel to do a 4 hour city sights tour, again with Tower Tours. The driver was a Latino and I found him a bit difficult to comprehend at times but man, he sure impressed me with his knowledge of this place. Everywhere we went he knew it inside out. Little things like San Francisco has 800,000 people living in the city but 32% are Asians, 28% are of European descent, 16% Latino and remaining 24% are of middle eastern and African descent. He pointed out places in the hippy area where Janis Joplin lived,

From 16 San Francisco
where some of the Beatles stayed for a while, Mrs Doubtfire’s house, the house used in theTV show Full House
From 16 San Francisco
and numerous other facts and figures. He was brilliant. I love their coaches as well with the steerable tag axle, that is - the rear wheels steer as well. This allows for far greater manoeuvrability in tight turning situations.

At 2:45pm he dropped me at Fisherman’s Wharf, I was promptly arrested by the local police. Without hesitation, I was whisked away to the a wharf, brusquely man handled onto a waiting police launch and unceremoniously deposited on an island I later came to know as Alcatraz.

From 16 San Francisco
While in detention there, I learnt that “you are entitled to food, clothing, shelter and medical attention. Anything else you got was a priviledge”. Rule 5, Alcatraz Prison Rules and Regulations, 1934. We should employ that rule in Australian cells.

Previous house mates to the island have been Al Capone, Robert Stroud “the bird man of Alcatraz” and plenty of other colourful characters. There was never a successful escape between the time it operated as a goal between 1934 and when John F Kennedy (attorney general at the time) closed it in March 1963.

Before that it had been used as a fort by the army and after the closure it was occupied by Indians who claimed it in the name of all “Indians of All Tribes”. This occupation lasted 19 months from November 1969.

Since 1972 it has been named a National Recreation Area.

Fortunately for me, I managed to make the only successful escape from the island and swam the 1900 metres through freezing waters to make it back to dry land.

I hid out in the Buena Vista Cafe while drying out with a couple of warm Irish Coffees. This cafe has remained unchanged for 100 years and is the home to the Irish Coffee in the USA.

After warming up, I made an inconspicuous exit out the side door to a waiting ‘trolley car’ (a tram).

From 16 San Francisco
These aren’t really vehicles because they have no power of their own, ie no motor. There are actually three separate braking mechanisms for each of these heavy cars: the main track brakes are operated by the red lever in the front of the car, the front wheel brakes are operated by the foot pedal in the front of the car, and the rear wheel brakes are operated by the crank at the back of the car. Every cable car is pulled along its hilly track by an underground cable. The cable is gripped with a vice-like mechanism that is operated via a grip lever in the front of the car. Really interesting. This device came about after an accident with the very early cars which were being pulled by horses. Apparently one got out of control and ran back down the hill killing the horses.

Currently, I’m laid up in a seedy hotel where I have a good view of the road and a fire escape ladder out the side window.

Tomorrow, I plan to head down Highway 1 along the coast and get half way to LA. The following day, I hope to finally make it to my destination of ‘the city of angels’.

Posted by Paul Brealey at 04:53 AM GMT
May 02, 2009 GMT
To the Finish Line

Friday 1st May – “he looked down, said it is finished and was well pleased” Book of Genesis

It’s done. Finished. All over red rover. I’m stuffed.

I was planning to stop off at old Cambria which is about half way between San Francisco and LA but when I got there some bloody Porsche rally had taken up every damned room in the township. So I pushed on to LA.

It rained all morning and I was soaked to the bone. The Gods of America had not finished with me yet. When I left San Francisco it was a clear sunny morning, albeit a bit cool. The further south I went, the cooler it became. I thought ‘this isn’t right, it’s meant to be getting warmer’. Next thing I look up at the skies and there are clouds rolling in everywhere. “mother of mercy, leave me alone”. Within 15 minutes the rain had started, but there was no damned way this rain was going to bugger up my last two days.

I had the minimum of riding gear on and before long I had to stop and put on warmer gear. After a couple of hours I pulled into Carmel-by-the-Sea for coffee and a piece of hot apple pie to recharge the batteries. This is a delightful little seaside village where the cop sets his speed sign and then walks away and leaves the car while he does something else. Probably having coffee somewhere. :-)

After a short break, I head back out into the rain and continued south. I am hoping to get to Cambria, just past the Hearst’s castle. Along the way, I come across the most incredible sight I’ve seen so far.

From 17 Los Angeles
A colony of Elephant Seals parked up on the point of Piedra Blanca. There are hundreds of these huge things as far as the eye can see. The Elephant Seals first started arriving here in 1990 and within 2 years the first pup was born.
From 17 Los Angeles
Since then births have steadily increased to 1700 pups a year. This is pretty amazing because these creatures normally prefer isolated areas where there are no threats. At the moment they are malting and that takes about 3-4 weeks.

Trying to compete for the attention are cute little squirrels. They even come running up to me and sniff my hand, no doubt looking for food morsels. They incredibly fun to watch and cheeky enough to let me pat them a bit.

From 17 Los Angeles

As I said earlier, I had hoped to stay at a pretty little village called Cambria. It’s even painted like the houses in the Italian villages. But as I started to make enquiries for accommodation, it quickly became apparent that these Porsche types had snaffled up everything. It doesn’t matter, Santa Barbara is just down the road a bit and that only leaves a hundred miles to finish off tomorrow.
When eventually I arrive at the outskirts of Santa Barbara, I check the time and decide...”stuff it, let’s push on”.

The run down the old Highway 1 is a great riding road for bikes. There are plenty of twists and turns and hills to climb. Again, you need to decide whether you want to ride for some excitement or just cruise along and enjoy the scenery.

At 1800hr on 1st May 2009, I pulled out my battle weary Australian Flag that I had made repairs to, hoisted it onto the back of the bike and proudly drove the remaining 10 miles (16km) into the City of Angels. Within minutes of the flag going up, I had another Aussie from Perth yelling out his window at me and a coach full of passengers giving me the thumbs up. It was so great to be an Aussie finally crossing the finishing line in LA.

As I sat down at the bar after checking in, I felt a huge wave of relief come over me and a great sense of satisfaction. I had come here fully expecting that something would go wrong on the trip and that I’d come home in a box. Not only did that not happen, but I achieved a goal that I didn’t fully expect to realise.

All that remains now is to get the bike to the drop off point somewhere here in LA and then to relax for the remaining few days before heading home.

I’m not going to do a web update for my days here until I’m heading home on the plane on 6th May. So thank you everyone who has taken the time to follow our journey and particularly those who have written to us during the trip. We had over 50 people subscribe to follow our journey, some of those we met during our trip across America, some I have no idea who you are but thank you for writing to us. It’s been great. Just a short mention to the Wake Up Club on radio 2CA in Canberra. Apparently Hayden. Larry and the gorgeous Jane have been following the trip and occasionally mentioning it on air. Thank you guys for doing that. Hayden once went way out and drove all the way from LA to Vegas. Go you legend.

For the next four or five days, I’m just going to chill out and relax. However, I have instructions from the grand daughters to make sure I bring them something back from Disneyland.

Next instalment should be a wrap up from both Steve and I.

Bye and Thank you for your support

Steve & Paul

Posted by Paul Brealey at 06:34 AM GMT
May 06, 2009 GMT
The End

Tuesday 5th May – LA
I have 5 days here and thus far, I’ve not done a whole lot. I’ve been at the Sheraton Downtown LA. For the Aussies that is yank speak for the CBD. It’s certainly not the flashest place in town but it’s been a great spot to finish off. All the people here have been fantastic. The fella on reception, who commented on my helmet as I was checking in and asked what I was doing thought “I was a bit crazy but a legend” and then gave me an upgrade to their executive floor and free parking instead of $26 a day. To the older Asian concierge who wanted to talk about Australia all the time and the bartenders who got to know me pretty well because I didn’t feel like going out at night. Fantastic people here and I highly recommend the place.

Saturday was a ‘down’ day – laundry, haircut from a lady from Ecuador who gave me a head massage for 5 minutes and not much else.

Sunday, was a bit of a fun day. I booked a tour of Hollywood, LA Downtown, the beaches, Beverly Hills etc.

From 17 Los Angeles
Yep I went shopping on Rodeo Drive. I bought a coffee.
From 17 Los Angeles
I met another guy from Oz. He was Cairns and a public servant who must have won the lottery or something because he was travelling around the world in business class. Also had a lot of fun with two African American ladies, Sheila and her sister, Denise. Denise is an ex NYPD Officer and they’ve both promised they are coming to Oz for a holiday soon. Yeah right.
From 17 Los Angeles
The three of us went out for dinner on Rodeo Drive last night and got lost because my damned TomTom charger wasn’t working. A note of warning though. If you come to LA and decide to do a tour, do not use VIP tours.
From 17 Los Angeles
From 17 Los Angeles
The coach was filthy before we boarded and then the driver reminded us at least 6 or 7 times about giving him his 15% tip. Needless to say, nobody did. Some people even got off and gave him nothing.

Monday I had to fix a flat tyre on the bike. Can you believe it, I travelled over 6,ooo miles and nothing went wrong the Honda and then I pick up a screw in LA. Yeah, a screw in the tyre!!! At 3pm I finally handed the bike over at the drop point in Costa Mesa and I breathed a huge sigh of relief that both bike and rider were in one piece.

Tuesday, (today) I drove down to Disneyland at Anaheim in a Chrysler PT Cruiser. I arrived at 10am and was outta there by 2pm. This is not a venue to go by yourself. It’s a fun place no doubt but an old fart wandering around on his own...... I did my shopping for the kids and got out of the place, which was the only reason I went there.

From 17 Los Angeles

Wednesday (tomorrow) I’ve decided not to bother going to any of the film studios but to an auto museum, something less touristy and then it’s back on the Qantas A380 Airbus for the trip home.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here in America, it has had its challenges for sure but all character building I’m sure. I’ve seen some fantastic sights from the glitz of New Yorks Times Square to the unbelievably beautiful Grand Canyon. Of the cities that we’ve visited, Washington DC was my favourite, but tonight I learnt that it’s the murder capital of the country. Bugger. This is one great country to see and the people are wonderfully friendly. You only need to pull out a map and somebody will be at your shoulder offering assistance. I had an instance on the bike where I had missed the off ramp and was trying to work out where to go and a bike pulled over to offer assistance.

I must make a very special mention to Bill and his lovely wife Deb Kniegge back in Charlotte, from www.bluestradatours.com. If anyone is coming over here and want to hire a bike, you won’t find a better bloke to do a deal with. These two have helped us all the way across the country. From loaning me gear on the bike and clothing to keep me warm to organising things like a ride in a Nascar, to recommending hotels and great things to see. Thank you so much you two and if you get down under, I’ll pull in all the favours I have outstanding to ensure you guys have a great time in Australia. I am sure that had I told him that I hadn't ridden a bike in over 20 years, he would have had some reservation about hiring one to me. So Thank you for ensuring we had a truly memorable trip.

So that’s it from me guys. I hope this has provided some entertainment and some useful information to those who might be planning a similar trip.

Asta la Vista Baby.

Posted by Paul Brealey at 05:35 AM GMT
 


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