The road out of town we decide to take heads us back into Yellowstone before exiting South West through the Grand Tetons National Park. It is a scenic route and nice road with the trees turning yellow and orange for autumn.
We reach the town of Dubois quite late that evening for us, about 7pm. We stop in a diner we find on the side of the road. Expecting the usual choice of burgers or burgers, we are pleasantly suprised by the great choice of food which is delicious. After loading up our plates with salad from the salad bar (yes folks Darren now eats salads!) we get chatting to a local Harley/ hog rider who is an ex-marine, now he builds custom bikes for people. He is really welcoming and leaves his business card with us saying 'if we need anything in Wyoming just give him a call'.
He also recommends a camp ground nearby which we head straight to after leaving the diner. It's now 8.15pm and dark so pitching the tent is less successful than usual. We manage to get there in the end and settle down for another noisy night, provided by the locals at 'kicking out time' of the pubs - a couple arguing loudly - I guess Friday night is the same the world over!
We leave Dubois and head out south east through the Wind River Indian Reservation. At first the scenery is rolling hills and lakes as we follow the river down.
This turns to open plains after about an hour and the horizon seems to stretch forever. Its very windy and the openess of the area means you can clearly see the rain clouds tracking across the sky ahead. Manageing to avoid the downpours, we seem to ride for mile after mile in a straight line, looking on the horizon the road disapears over a small rise and you guess moves left or right, but no, on reaching the rise the road stretches out still further in a straight line and this continues for the next three hours.
At one point on the road we spot an eagle which swoops down to land on our side of the road. Darren backs off the throttle and as we approach it decides to take off, after two flaps off its huge wings it flies forward towards us as we pass, Darren moves us to the middle of the road and I manage to duck forward to avoid a collision. Wow, that was close -so close that I am suprised not to find a huge wet bird poo splattered down my back when we stop.
Finally the flat landscape gives way to a few more trees and rocky outcrops as we pass through the Shoshone National Forest. The destination for the day is a place called Rock Springs and our planned campground, on arrival however it was clear that we would have to make other arrangements - the campground was on heavy gravel and alongside the Interstate.
So after another couple of hours heading west now, we come across a much more welcoming campground in the town of Lyman. Its now after 4pm and clearly about to rain, so we set about getting the tent up before it starts. I decide to head over to the reception and check emails while Darren pops down the road to the nearest ATM about 10mins away.
Get me outta here now!
During the time he is away I get accosted by two (Ugly) sisters travelling by car for the purpose of deer hunting. These women cheerfully introduce themselves stating that they haven't washed for 5 days and can't wait to get into the showers -
how nice. This is confirmed by several flies humming around them both.
Personally, I am not a fan of hunting innocent animals and shooting them dead while they are minding their own business, then stuffing them and hanging them on a wall for no other reason except to brag about shooting it. However, I know that this opinion is not going to go down too well in America as it is a huge pastime for many people here, so I make my excuses and leave.
Before I can get to the door Ugly Sister number 1 has started bragging about shooting a deer this morning, dragging it 500 yards to her car, haling it into the boot, driving to the campground toilets where she preceded to butcher it on the bathroom floor using an electric carving knife and plenty of extra gory detail which I am not going to mention here.
This is the most revolting woman I have ever met and I resolve never to speak to her again.
Unfortunately this is not the case and after several more very odd and awkward encounters we manage to finally escape the next morning.
It is a relief to be out on the open road again, I suppose we had to meet a few nutters sometime!
I must admit, that was probably the quickest we have got packed away and on riding out of the campground I could hear Em breath a sigh of relief, it really was a very strange encounter.
New day, new destination, this time we plan to overnight in Vernal which means riding across the border from Wyoming into Utah, passing through the spectacular Flaming Gorge National Recreational Area as we do so.
As soon as you cross into Utah you notice the red rock everywhere, the roads become more twisty as we gain altitude and the wind is fierce. It starts to get colder as we ride through the forested part of the recreation area, climbing still higher we once again manage to avoid the heavy showers.
Once we reach the top of the road , we look down to the prehistoric landscape which is the area around Vernal. The road down to the town is great fun, steep downhill hairpin bends, offering views of the quarry areas either side of us - the mining is for Phosphates to be used in fertilisers.
The town of Vernal proves to be a bit disapointing, maybe it's the rain or the high price of accommodation here. The town is famous for its dinosuar finds and landscapes. Everywhere you look there are plastic lifesized dinosuars marking the postion of another tourist trap.
We head out the next day to Colorado where we hope to see some real dinosaur finds .
After leaving Vernal the next morning but keeping the prehistoric theme, we head out East and cross from Utah into Colorado, heading for a place called Dinosaur.
We had planned to visit the Dinosaur Museum which is housed in the actual quarry that the bones were found in. Or at least it would be, on reaching the museum entrance and sitting through the introduction video we were told that we could walk around the quarry and view the odd find, but the major attraction of the museum itself (that we had just seen in the video) was actually closed due to subsidence and was in fact falling down and had been for several years (I guess the 80's clothing in the video was a clue).
I asked the curator where all the fossils had been moved to, his reply "oh, they're still in there" - priceless!
We conclude that there are no dinosaurs in Dinosaur and disappointed we move on. It's now lunchtime and we decide that we can reach the town of Grand Junction by last light.
The route down was to take us through the 8300ft Douglas Pass, as we climbed higher it got colder and colder until it eventually started to snow. After stopping to put my waterproofs on in a cow field, we continued on up the second gear hairpins avoiding the odd truck as we do so, the view from the top was cool and as we start to descend the other side the snow stops and things warm up slightly as we again enjoy the twisty downhill sections of road.
As we reach the town of Loma things have really warmed back up and its now just a short run to Grand Junction, which proves to be a big town.
Stopping for our one meal of the day (well the American portions are huge) we eat in a great Italian resturant, top food, great service and feel relaxed as we put the tent up in the nearby campground.
Its then that I start to feel a little too relaxed, that great Italian clearly did not agree with me, as I was to spend the rest of the night running from the tent to the toilets, the first time I was still in my riding gear - ever tried getting out of motorcross boots and armoured trousers quickly? No fun.
While I am busy, Em has been talking to a couple camped next to us, they are from Utah and say we must visit Dead Horse Point while we are in Moab (which is our destination for tommorow anyway) and kindly give us their Utah map for reference.
Next morning we pack up early and get on the road, thankfully I am feeling better as we head south west towards Moab. The roads are stunning, little traffic and great views, the temperature is in the low 80's and the morning passes quickly as we cross back into Utah.
Gradually the road enters the canyon areas and the Colorado river comes into view, its amazing to think that this great river carved this landscape.
The twisty tarmac road continues to follow the river and steep cliffs of red rock, before finally opening out into a scene that was familiar to me - big red rocks climbing to the skys from the valley floor, this view has been used in so many westerns, I felt like I had been here before.
We turn off the tarmac onto the red dirt road to ride into the scene from the western, the track is washboarded and we have to cross a dried up river bed - all great fun.
After about 15 minutes we arrive at Fisher Towers for the obligatory photo opportunity.
We meet a nice couple from Scotland while we are stopped there and chat for half an hour. They are hiking in the area and it is nice to talk to them as we have a good laugh together whilst all sharing our travelling tales. They have been staying in Moab and give us some advice on the area.
After a bit more off road fun heading back to the tarmac we continue to follow the canyon towards Moab.
On route we pass a Ranch that is now a guest house and activity centre, they also have a museum dedicated to the films that had been made in the area, such as Thelma & Louise and John Wayne's Rio Grande.
It was a really good stop and the museum was excellent.
We reach Moab and get the tent up in the KOA campground, the tent is pitched on sand as grass out here is non existent, we also use rocks instead of tent pegs as the ground is rock hard. The temperature is in the 80's still as we decide to ride into the centre of town to get something to eat.
Moab is a good place to stop, its a real adventure junkies paradise with all sorts of wild things to do - if its dangerous or thrilling then you can find it here.
We pull into the car park of a Diner alongside a group of Harley riders who have just arrived, Em gets talking to them and we swap stories. They are from Texas and are amazed at our trip and we talk to them for a while before following them into the diner. They are on the table behind, once they had eaten they stop by to shake our hands and wish us well and we return the sentiment.
It's then that we call the waitress over to get the cheque only to be told that our bill has been paid by the Harley riders, unbelievable! I rush out the Diner just in time to catch the guy I think picked up the bill, "that was very genourous of you" I say, he replied "I dont know what you mean" with a smile. I say to him that next time Em and I are in a restaurant with a fellow biker we will pick up the tab and see if we can't get a thing going across the states. He nods then rides off with the noise only "screamin eagle" pipes can make.
We decide to stay in Moab for another night, so next day we leave the tent up and go and explore Canyon Lands and head out towards Arches National Park.
As the day draws to a close we head out to Dead Horse Point (as recommended by the kind couple in Grand Junction), on the Canyonlands road, the sun is getting low as we reach the point and the views are simply jaw dropping - sorry America, but this place knocks the Grand Canyon to the weeds.
Em insists we stay to watch the sunset and I'm not arguing, this place is amazing and looks better the lower the sun gets.
Deadhorse point was used by Indians to catch wild horses, they would roundup and chase the horses toward the point knowing that they had no where to go, once at the edge they would not jump off and were captured instead. I find it fascinating how they used nature to their advantage in this way.
The sun setting up here is just spectacular with the last beams of sunlight illuminating the red rock canyon all around us. There are other people around taking pictures too and we get chatting to a few. You can see for miles up here as the canyon is all around you, it is very peaceful here with no noise and I am reluctant to leave. As we head back to the bike, Darren stops to get this picture of the moon.
We ride back to camp, its cooler now and the setting sun makes the red rocks around us glow, its an amazing scene and we both realise that this night will probably be one of the highlights of the trip.
Next day we pack up and leave Moab and continue to head south through Utah, the road is flanked by rocky outcrops. We keep moving until we reach "The Valley of the Gods", a dirt road that winds its way around stunning rock formations, it was great to get some gravel again.
I don't remember the gravel like Darren, just red rocks and really, really bumpy! The first part of the road was heavily washboarded and made my brain shake in my head.
Then the road winds around the valley past each of the godlike statues of red rock formations. It got hillier and bumpier as we continued with the road washed away every 100 metres or so.
Darren actually decides to stand up on the pegs halfway round as he says he can see over the hills better, but I know he is just up for some off road fun instead!
This is confirmed by him speeding up in certain places and sliding us around the various potholes and hazards on the road. We meet a car coming the other way which has stopped to take photos, they look at us like we are weird, I give them a big wave as we pass in a cloud of dust - this was really good fun!!
As the off road adventure finishes and we reach the tarmac we suddenly realise the time - 4pm and we still have to find food and a place to stay. We had wanted to ride the Moki Dugway (a famous gravel road nearby) but realising we were out of time we decide to head off and come back tomorrow.
We head off towards Mexican Hat.
This place is named after the rock which looks like a mexican wearing a hat!
We press on towards the town, this was where we expected to stop for the night, but the town proved to be not what we expected and what accomodation we found, was expensive and poor.
We leave this place and head for Monument Valley further down the road, to get there you pass through lands that have been given back to the Native Indians, I was really gutted to see that many of them did not give a hoot about their birthright - they had littered the entire area around the road, particularly with beer bottles, broken glass glinted back at you from everywhere.
We reach Monument Valley and like before you recognise the area as the backdrop of hundreds of movies. Again, we decide to head back here the next day.
It's getting late in the day and we still have not eaten and need to find a place to stay, we cross over into Arizona and the town of Kayenta.
We grab what food we can, but have no luck with campgrounds or motels, leaving us no option but to press on. This means that we have to ride in the dark - something we told ourselves we would always try to avoid.
The darkness is an issue for a number of reasons, the main one being wildlife, you just can't see whats about to jump out in front of you. Also the roads in the remote places can be rough, potholes and ruts are common and a big problem if you can't see them.
On checking the GPS it looks like our best option is the town of Page, some 180 miles away and in the dark would take us over three hours. The ride was thankfully uneventful but along the roadside you could see the eyes shining back at you from the Deer and other animals, if they had stepped out it would have been game over. We make a point not to ride in the dark and stop earlier.
As Darren says, it isn't ideal being out on a desserted road at night, this did make me feel apprehensive and as the sun set it got cold quickly, so I tucked myself in behind him as we continued. The setting sun was a beautiful backdrop to a fun day, but once it gets dark the scenery is very different and eerie.
On reaching Page we were exhausted and ready for some rest, we had ridden over 350 miles which is well above our average. This sadly means we are too far away to head back for the Moki Dugway - oh well, maybe next time.
We book into a Super 8 motel and get some rest before leaving Page for a next big destination - The Grand Canyon North Rim.
About an hour after leaving Page, the road opens out revealing more massive rock formations and dusty dry plains. We pass through Marble Canyon and the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument on route to Jacobs lake.
It was on one of these roads that we came across an 18 wheeler jacknifed in the middle of the road, some Japanese tourists had hit the brakes in front of the truck while slowing to admire the view. The truck had pushed their car off the road then jackknifed. The state troopers were now on the scene and waiting on the tow truck. Thankfully they waved us through as there was just enough room to get by.
After reaching Jacobs Lake we turn off to enter the Grand Canyon National Park, the road to the canyon is about 45 miles long and is twisty and well surfaced. Around us are the blackened stumps that were once trees before this area was hit with wild fires.
Once at the Canyon we park up and walk down for our first look at the big hole, before walking along the edge to take it all in.
I then get brave and walk out to the remote viewing platform and Em gets this pic from the main building.
If we are honest the Canyon is not as grand as we had expected, but we will reserve judgement as we plan to view it from the south rim later in the trip.
Leaving the park, we head back towards Jacobs Lake but once again our planned campsite looks very bleak, so we commit to reaching our second option which is a campground in Cedar City.
This means crossing back North West into Utah and despite our best efforts to avoid it, another hour of night riding. However the campground at Cedar City proves to be worth the journey and we decide to stay for a few nights.
This is probably the best campground we have stayed in so far and we have a cosy cabin near the main facilities. The main shower block is very upmarket with black tiles and chrome fixings, they play Country music all day and night in there, which I have to say is very relaxing and a great idea! I spend a good hour having a shower here in the mornings! I also get chatting to the lady who cleans the showers (guess I was in there alot!), Maria is from Mexico and speaks no English at all, so this is the perfect time to try out my Spanish. She seems quite impressed and says my Spanish is very good. I tell her about the trip, she replies that I must be rich to not work for a year. Thinking she means I must be loaded, I say 'no I'm not rich at all', she then tells me how much she gets paid ($7 a day).
After the conversation ends I feel very embarassed as clearly I am rich in her eyes - I have a house, a well paid job, food on the table, money to spend on travelling, a motorbike etc. It is amazing how travelling makes you realise how very lucky you are.
Having a base for a few days allows me to service the bike and fit the new rear tyre that we have been carrying while Em researchs the next part of the trip utilising the campgrounds free WiFi.
This stop is a good one and I manage to get our laundry sorted too while Darren is busy on the bike. The oil change proves to be abit of a challenge as we need a special part to remove the oil filter, after getting Darren to the local autoparts store via a taxi, he comes back with a $1.99 filter cap recommended by some truckers he met there. It is a perfect fit and does the job. After some research on the internet we find that BMW sell a filter cap tool for about $99! That evening is a late one and I order us pizza for our tea, which gets delivered to the campground.
Before leaving the campground the next day, I place a small present and note in Spanish for Maria to find once we are gone. We head off on the interstate which is very windy and nearly blows us over at some traffic lights just 10 mins into this journey.
The GPS again leads us south away from Cedar City, passing back into Arizona for a while before crosing into Nevada and the town of Mesquite. After a few hours we see Las Vegas come into view like a mirage in the desert, we plan to stop in Vegas in a few weeks time, but for now we just bypass the City while heading for Indian Springs.
On the outskirts of Vegas the fuel light came on and seeing as we were in the middle of the desert I did not want to risk us making Indian Springs with what fuel we have, so we turned around and headed into the outskirts of Vegas to fill up. If in doubt never pass a fuel stop!
Its getting close to lunchtime now and you can really feel the heat, even at speed, all the vents are open on our clothing as we pass through towns that seem to be in the middle of nowhere.
Indian Springs offered no accommodation, neither did Amargosa Valley a few hours further, it was a long hot day when we finally secured accommodation in Beatty, but at least its still daylight!
After getting cleaned up, we walk over to the local Casino (really) and eat in the Cafe there, the walk back to the motel takes us past a massive sweet shop - so Em is happy. We spend a good hour in the sweet shop getting munchies for the next few days.
Darren also failed to mention that I am happy here because it's hot!
We wake the next day and begin to prepare for the days journey, we are crossing Death Valley so precautions have to be made. With extra water on board, bike thouroughly checked and with us covered in suncream, we set off.
The temperature is in the very high 80's as we ride through the outskirts of the dessert crossing from Nevada into California as we do so, the views are impaired by the shimmering heat haze.
After about an hour we reach the centre of Death Valley and the temperature now is seriously close to three figures. I am careful not to let the engine rev too high or labour in too low a gear to avoid heat build up, the temp gauge on the bike is high and Em and I have a sweat on. Along the road there are signs to motorists telling them where the next container of radiator water is located on the road, clearly cars overheat regularly in this enviroment.
As soon as we hit the Valley floor I opened my visor up to feel the heat on my face, which was noticably hot. The area guide leaflet I had read the night before told people to wind the windows down in their car at this point to feel the hot air too.
Things cool off a little as the road rises out of the valley and we get the chance to look back on the dessert.
View behind us
Its not long now before we see the sign informing us that we have made it through wthout issue, two weeks ago we were being snowed on in Colorado and now we have just ridden through Death Valley in 100 degree heat, amazing.
The day was far from over though, we continued past the salt lakes and with the Sierra Nevada mountains to our left, finally rode into Lone Pine where we got a motel for the night, aaah air conditioning.
Lone Pine proved a good stop, so we stayed for a second night, allowing Em a chance to get some sun by the motel pool and me the chance to grab a beer (well we had just rode through the desert).
As the crow flies our next destination was not too far away, unfortunately that crow would be flying over the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range something even the mightly GS can't do. We had originally planned to head up North to Bishop and cross into the Sequoia National Park. Realising our mistake, we leave Lone Pine and head south until we are able to skirt the mountains on a small road and head north-west again towards the Sequioa National Park in search of the giant trees.
On entering the park the roads become very twisty down to first gear at times and we get our first glimpse of just how dry California is after this exceptionally hot summer.
Wildfires are a real problem and as a result the warning signs put everybody on notice that the danger of fire is high.
It was a really nice road to be on up here in the mountains, as it wound through the forests. There was very little other traffic around, making it nicer still. We stop to take a picture of the californian hills.
The twisty road leads us eventually through the orange groves of California (Sunkist!) and ultimately our base for the night at the campground in Visalia.
After pitching the tent we head off into town on the bike to find some food, as we had been 'in the sticks' all day with nothing but munchies to get us through. We find a place to eat and just as we are leaving get approached by a local interested in our bike and travels. Unfortunately this guy has a spitting problem - yes you heard right, every 2 mins or so he would spit through his front teeth, luckily not in our direction! Darren and I giggle about it all the way back to the campground.
Some campsites prove to be great, this one didn't, facilities were not good and the noise from the train tracks and road nearby mean that we get little sleep. Also the re-occuring theme of noisy neighbours next door- we don't seem to get a lot of luck when camping!
Next morning dawns hot and we get away early seeing as we were already awake, for the first time in ages we head north toward the second area of the Sequioa National Park.
It is here that the giant trees are, but first on entering the park we are warned that there are road works taking place in the park that could lead to delays. No problem we thought, but the road works were on a stretch of windy road that seemed to climb and climb. For what seemed like forever, we were in first gear on steep uphill grades, with me slipping the clutch to keep pace with the stalling traffic. For the first time on the trip the bike was at maximum temperature on the gauge and I wasn't too far behind, meanwhile Em can feel my concern about overheating and tries to help out by making suggestions on where to stop.
Finally we get our first look at the Sequioa's, the park wardens are doing a controlled burn as we ride through, this helps regenerate the area.
On reaching the main area of the park we get to park up and allow the bike to cool down, while we are waiting we take this pic.
With the bike temp now ok we go further into the forest in search of the largest tree in the World, its known as General Sherman and although not the tallest, it has more timber in it that any other tree on Earth.
These trees make you feel so insignificant, their size but more importantly their age means they take on almost a mystical feel. General Sherman has been estimated to be 2,200 years old.
The road out of the park is once again twisty, but the downhill run is much easier as we see little traffic and progress is good.
I underestimate how long it will take to reach our campground for the night, this leads us to once again run the gauntlet of riding for an hour in the dark. We both need to take into consideration from now on, that the days are becoming increasingly shorter as the weeks tick by.
As the sun sets it gets cold and its not until we reach the campsite that we realise just how cold we are, so we get a cabin rather than pitch the tent. This is just as well as the night is a very cold one.
The reason for choosing this campground was its proximity to Yosemite National Park, meaning the next day would be easy, easy to get to the park and easy to get out of it and find a place to overnight. We had planned to head through the park and out the other side via the Tioga Pass - a beautiful mountain pass at 9,945 feet. This would then put us back onto the 395 road (the road we were originally on East of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range) where we could continue North.
Easy, well no, firstly as we set off it starts to rain, then as we get close to the park the road we need to use has been blocked by a landslide.
After taking the detour we are low on fuel and the petrol station by the entrance is..you guessed it, shut for renovations so we aproach the park entrance and ask where the nearest fuel is.
It turns out that there is a fuel stop within the park, a detour on the other side of the first mountain pass, no problem we should just be able to make it. After the warden takes our money, Em spots a sign on the ground stating the Tioga Pass is closed. We are told that this is currently shut, but should reopen in time for us to use it at 2pmish, great, we plan to get fuel then head up to Tioga for 2ish as directed.
El Capitan - The biggest piece of granite in the world
So after paying our $20 entry fee we head off past the giant piece of granite known as El Capitan and head up the mountain road towards the fuel stop approx 18 miles away (We have about 20 miles left in the tank). The clouds look threatening and its starting to rain, as we climb higher to 4000ft the rain turns to hail, big lumps of hail, bugger.
We have to pull over because as usual I havent fitted my waterproofs in my kit and as usual Em has, this means that I am behind a tree in a hail storm stripped to my undies getting my kit sorted, you can't beat forward planning. As Darren is doing this I watch on in horror - it's freezing by now and I am jumping up and down to keep warm! I spot some rather large scat by the tree (bear or mountain lion pooh?) and decide I am safer waiting by the bike.
Back on the bike we continue to climb up the pass until we reach about 5000ft, then the hail turns to snow and really starts to come down. The park rangers are out assessing the road and slowing everyone down.
We round a corner and the road is now slushy, a group of Harley riders sheltering under some trees wave us to slow down, which we do and around the next bend the road is particularly hazardous.
Eventually we reach the fuel stop and just in time too, we are very low. The petrol station is packed with bikes as some 40 or so harley riders on a group ride out are waiting for the weather to clear.
After filling up we grab a coffee to warm up while talking to some more Harley riders who were stopped and contemplating riding up the pass where we had just come from. We advise them against it due to the snow and their road tires, one guy we are talking to pulls out his ipod to show us a picture of himself and his Harley parked at the sign on the Arctic Circle. He had seen our stickers from the Prudhoe trip on the panniers and wanted to show us he made it as far as the Arctic Circle - on a Harley, fair play. His bike looked like it had done it too, but I prefered it to his mates polished pristine machines.
So we head back out into the snow, back over the pass and if anything it seems to be getting heavier, but at least the road is clear.
Gradually as we desend back into the main park the snow stops and we park up by the waterfall to contemplate our next move. We realise now that our planned exit out of the park is shut due to snow (we had assumed roadworks) and clearly it was not worth riding for the next couple of hours through the park to the pass only to be turned back. Besides we were now cold, wet and had a feeling that today was really the sort of day you should write off, so we bailed out, back to the entrance we came in at, where Em proceeded to give the Ranger a ticking off for taking our money when most of the park was inaccessable.
With our $20 back in Ems pocket we head back to the campground we left that morning, the rain is really coming down now proving that we made the right decision. On reaching the campground the girl in the office tries to charge us more than the previous night, Em tells her where she can stick her Cabin and we head out into town once more in the rain.
We get to the town of Mariposa and stop at a really nice looking restaurant, the owner is really friendly and does not seem to mind as we drip all over her carpet. While ordering our food another biker comes in, he has rode up from the Bay area on his Ducati and like us has got rained off in Yosemite.
We invite him to join us and we talk about bikes and trips. We finish eating and Em gets the bill while I continue to talk to John. If you have read the previous blogs you will understand what happens next, we make a quick exit after saying our goodbyes and just as we are about to ride off John comes running out shouting "how dare you pay for my meal!" we smile back and tell him the story of the Harley guys in Moab, he looks dumbstruck, "well, here's my number, if you are ever in the bay area, foods on me" with that we shake hands and ride off and find a cheap motel in town.
The next day dawned sunny and warm, a welcome suprise after yesterdays rain and we adjust the route for the day. Having not been able to exit Yosemite as we had planned meant that now we would be heading up Highway 49 from Mariposa towards Sacramento.
This turns out to be a stroke of luck however, as the road is a fantastic bikers road, its sunday and we share the road with the local bikers and the odd CHiP. I am riding hard, pushing more than usual my male genes on overdrive as I try to keep ahead of the other bikes on the twisty road. Probably not sensible given how loaded up we are, but theres British pride at stake here.
After a while I gesture to the guy behind to come through on a couple of occasions, but he signals he is happy to follow, eventually seeing some Deer by the side of the road I slow the group down and watch my mirror as the guys behing stop one by one, waiting for their buddies to catch up - probably in preperation to turn round and ride the road again, back home I would be doing the same.
We pull over for fuel soon after and get chatting with a local guy who is interested in our trip. On hearing that we were heading for Sacramento he tells us that his brother in law lives there and would be happy to put us up! "Just tell him Mike sent you" then gave us this guys address. Very friendly, but we couldn't impose, people are real friendly out here.
On arriving at the campground near Placerville, our stop for the night, we realised that we could get a motel for the same money as the campground was pricey. So we ride a couple of minutes down the road to a Super 6 motel for a couple of nights.
We need to be in town for a couple of days because Em had planned ahead and booked herself a hair appointment in Citrus Heights. We stay for 2 nights to get this done and Darren drives me to the mall the next day for the appointment, where I have to take off my biker gear in the carpark and stuff it in the empty panniers. All this hassle is worth the effort however.
When we leave the next day the plan is to make it to Shingletown, which is about 250 miles to the north. Following the GPS we seem to be forever taking backroads and at one point we are riding through an orchard, more importantly we dont seem to be eating the miles up as I had expected.
Eventually we reach a main highway, one that I knew we should be taking, but the
GPS says otherwise and I realise there has got to be a problem. We pull over and I take a look at the settings on the GPS and sure enough some idiot had set it to avoid highways...
Proving that navigation systems are far cleverer than the people trying to program them, our unit had managed to take us 100 miles north in Northern California without hitting a major highway, quite an achievement.
Thankfully we still made it to our campsite without doing too many extra miles and once again decided on a cabin as the temperature had dropped considerably with our journey north.
The next morning see's us setting out later than expected after spending about an hour chatting to some locals in the cabin next door. It is quite usual for us to get accosted by someone or other wanting to hear about the bike, the trip etc. These guys are here for the fishing and proudly show Darren their catches (I decline as I am not good with dead animals!).
I double check the GPS settings and we set out of the campground, through the town of Reading where we stop for breakfast on route to Eureka. This destination will be our starting point to ride Route 1 down the Pacific Coast.
Our stop for breakfast is a pancake house which is painted bright pink. Inside the pink theme continues with huge baskets of fake flowers hanging from the ceiling, with trailing flowers, you almost can't see the ceiling! This place is packed full of locals which is a good sign. The food was great and it was just as well because it was our last decent meal for a while.
The road to Eureka follows the Trinity River and so twists and turns and is really enjoyable. The only cause for concern is that the petrol stations are limited, on more than one occassion we start to get anxious, only for a fuel stop to thankfully appear.
Before too long, Em and I can smell the sea and we roll into Eureka, finding our campground behind a lumber yard, we get unpacked. A simple run into town to get "munchies" turns into a nightmare as we hit rushhour in what we now realise is a pretty big town with lots of one way streets.
In the morning I get chatting to a fellow camper, he is ex American military and spent time in Germany so has many British friends. We get packed away, check the bike over and then head south once more down Highway 101, it somehow feels better to be heading south again.
We exit off the highway to ride through the area where the giant Redwoods are, known as the Avenue of the Giants, its incredible to ride though this area with these huge trees.
Avenue of the Giants
These trees are much taller than the giant sequoia's that we looked at recently, but are not as wide, they are among the oldest living things on Earth.
To give you an idea of scale, you can actually drive a car through the splits in the base of some of the trees, or a bike..
The Shrine Tree
Not long after exiting the Avenue of the Giants, we found ourselves riding up a really steep two lane highway. The truck in front of us is struggling to haul its heavy load and I watch its twin stack exhaust pipes billow heavy black smoke.
Suddenly one exhaust stack throws out white smoke and I know instantly that this truck engine is in its death throws. I indicate left and tell Em my concern, then bang, the noise could be heard over our engine, as the internals of the big diesel rip themselves apart, forcing a large grapefruit sized lump of metal into the road, that then shot out from under the truck and under the vehicle in front of us. I look back in my mirror as the hazards come on on the truck as the driver tries to hold the rig on the incline, a close call.
A few miles down the road we turn off onto the start of the infamous Route 1, from our current location to the sea was about 16 miles of very, very twisty road. First gear switchback bends were made worse by a wet road and leaf litter and I think both Em and I were relieved when finally the Pacific coast came into view.
It doesnt take long to realise why Route 1 is such a mecca for bikers, or cars for that matter, the road is fun without being fast, enabling you to be able to take in the breathtaking scenery.
One drawback with the road is that it does take a while to get from A to B, meaning you have to plan ahead where you wish to stop. After passing Fort Bragg it wasnt long before we arrived at the town of Manchester, it was here that we put up the tent in the local KOA campground.
We ride into town and up and down Route 1 that evening trying to find somewhere to eat, but no luck, everywhere is baron and I think back to our Texas buddy who took the micky out of our cooking equipment "why do you Brits bring pots and pans, we have food!" really?, where the hell is it! We give up and once back at the campground, buy a microwave Chimichanga for supper.
We settle into the tent and play cards for a while before dropping off to sleep as it starts to rain. Its a bit chilly when I wake and its still dark outside, Em is still asleep and I lay there listening to the rain coming down. This is sunny California that is in the middle of a drought and its raining, really coming down too.
I must have dozed off, as when I wake up, Em is already awake "theres water under the tent, I can feel it" she was right, the campground was flooded and the water was running under the tent. Thankfully the tent was dry inside, we waited a while for the rain to ease off, but it didnt and not wishing to stay here another night with no food, I resign myself to getting packed up in the rain.
There's nothing better than starting the day in a tent in the rain...
Its still raining as we leave Manchester and continue south down Route 1 and grab a coffee in a nearby cafe, we decide against breakfast after accidentily viewing the kitchen. Another couple sitting behind us do the same.
The road continues to offer up some great views as it sweeps inland round switchbacks then back round to the sea again, only to return back inland at intervals. We have a 'moment' that morning involving a cattle grid covered in wet leaves and us turning at the same time, that will stop me from daydreaming on the back when I should be paying attention.
In the early afternoon, with the rain still hanging around, Route 1 turns into the 5 lane interstate 101, we pass through San Rafael and San Francisco is just around the corner. I know from looking at the map earlier, that our route takes us over the Golden Gate Bridge, but I had not told Emma. Instead, as we pick our way through the multi-lane traffic in the rain, I mention to Em to get the camara ready as we are about to go over the bridge, this lifts both of our spirits as it swings into view.
Golden Gate Bridge
Not two minutes after going over the bridge we spot our motel, one problem though, San Fran is just as you see it in "Bullit" and seems to be mostly one way streets. After a while we work out how to get back to the motel and after several detours arrive safetly in the motels car park.
This hotel is really odd with a central courtyard and the rooms around the sides. The hotel reception is a tiny box at the front of the building which you drive past to get into the courtyard.
After I try and fail to negotiate a discount, we finally get a room. Darren drives the bike in and we try to find the best place to park it. By now the Manager has come over and wants us to move it into a corner on the other side, which Darren is having none of. There are lots of 'south of the border' workmen around the hotel doing maintenence and new flooring. The Manager gets them to start moving around various drinks machines to create a space for the bike and we tuck her in safely.
The room is great, but on the second floor and there are no lifts, to make matters worse one stairwell is shut, so I end up having to do three trips to get all our gear to the room. Never mind, we are in Frisco!
That night we take a walk down the main street, San Fran has a great feel to it and we find a top Greek resturant. Em and I have a proper meal with a few glasses of wine, using our belated wedding anniversery as a good excuse to spoil ourselves for once.
With the theme from Bullit ringing in my ears, next morning we ride round the streets of Frisco as we head for the Fishermans Wharf area. After getting parked, we locked our jackets and lids to the bike and walked around the habour.
Its a lovely hot, sunny day as we try to get tickets for Alcatraz, no luck, these sell out weeks in advance, so we take a look around the harbours shops and attractions.
While we are walking around, I spot a Catermaran that is about to do a tour of the habour including Alcatraz and the bridge. Taking Em by suprise with my sponteneity, I say to her lets do it and two minutes later we are on board. For a minute we think we are part of just a handful of passengers, but then at the last minute a group of dance students and their tutors turn up, don't you just love giggling, up their own arses teenage girls?! At one point I think Em is going to throw one of them overboard as she has that glint in her eye..
The boat gets really close to Alcatraz island and we get a chance to see what it must have been like to be encarserated here.
The infamous Alcatraz
It feels really good to be doing something touristy and taking some time out from riding the bike. Em really likes being on the water so its good to see her enjoying herself.
The boat takes us under the bridge and I snap this arty shot.
Before too long its time to head back and we get a really good view of the streets of Frisco from the bay.
Back on dry land we return to the bike and start to ride out of town, no visit to San Fran would be complete without a picture of one of the historic street cars, so here it is.
Leaving San Francisco we head for Salinas, a town close to Monterey Bay, unusually for us we have actually booked a cheap motel in advance. As we get closer to the motel, Salinas looks like a very poor town, the main industry is agriculture, or to be more acurate Artichokes. This place is apparently the Artichoke capital of the World, we find the hotel which is very basic and dirty, but at least its cheap. Guess we won't be booking ahead again though.
After checking in we head into the town of Salinas to find some food. At this point all becomes clear as every sign and road name is in spanish, yes we were in little mexico... This is confirmed when we stop at the local Macdonalds (there really were no other restaurants) only to find we are the only english speaking people in there. Feeling a little awkward we head over to a nearby supermarket for some munchies (Darren is addicted to Jelly Beans) and as we go to pay the assistant is on the phone gabbing away en espanol. Darren says a perfect 'Ola' without thinking and the assistant asumes he is fluent and starts gabbing at him! We manage to work out how much the jelly beans are without looking stupid and head back to the motel.
Next day we leave Salinas and pick up Route 1 once more and head for Monterey on the coast.
We plan to go to the aquarium in Monterey, but on the way I notice a familiar sign in the road, "Lugana Seca Raceway" getting all excited I ask if Em would mind getting to the aquarium a bit later, giving us time to go and take a look at the racetrack. We then spend an hour just riding around the perimeter road that circles the track, rode into the paddock area and generally had a good nose around. There was no-one around to stop you which was great, and we watched some Mazda cars racing on the track for a while.
Having got to Monterey and parked up at the aquarium we take a few hours looking around the various displays, by far the most impressive fish on display was a Sunfish which was large and unusual. Sorry no pics as the you cant use flashes around the fish, as it scares the sharks!
Setting off again, we pass through Carmel, which is a lovely place with quaint shops 'english style' and beautiful houses spread out by the sea. Then onto Big Sur and the views are still spectacular as we continue down the coast.
Every village or town we come to seems to be going mad over "Octoberfest" or as we say Halloween. Everywhere you look there are pumpkins, lots of pumpkins.
Its slow going as the road is really twisty and I soon realise that we will probably have to ride in the dark to get to our campground. There really is no choice as accommodation along this stretch is limited. We pass San Simeon then head inland for a while until we reach Santa Magarita and sure enough it is dark as we pull into the campground.
On aproaching the office we realise that it is shut for the night, so we head back to the highway and book into a roadside motel, we hadn't covered many more miles than usual, but it had been a long day in the saddle and we collapsed into bed.
Luckily, as we leave the motel the next morning, we spot a great cafe and stop for breakfast and copius amounts of tea for Em and coffee for me. The owner of the cafe is really friendly and we chat with him for a while. We then headed back to the campsite, which is now open and book ourselves a cabin for two nights.
The plan is to use the cabin as a base for a few days, chiefly getting some laundry done, writing up some blogs and a little sight-seeing without having to worry about getting accommodation by a certain time.
That afternoon we get unpacked and I go over to the laundry for 3 hours giving Darren some space. It is a good 10 mins walk along the track and there is no one around. Nearing a corner I spot something on my side of the road. As I approach it looks like a toy spider, closer inspection reveals it is a tarantula about the size of my hand and dark grey with a ligher patch on it's body. It must have been dead and hit by a car but not squashed. I shudder and head on to the laundry.
Once there I quiz the girl in the office, saying I thought I just saw some kind of spider, but I must be wrong... 'You mean a tarantula' she replies without hesitation. Apparently there are loads this time of year, they aren't poisonous but they will bite you so steer clear of them. After finishing the laundry some 3 hours later I wander back passing well away from the spider. I get back to the cabin and tell Darren, who at first doesn't believe me. I show him it and he gives it a good look over saying 'it's definately dead, don't worry'.
By this time it is about 4.30pm and we could do with some snacks and drinks so Darren offers to head out in search of a supermarket. This leaves me in the cabin alone and I spend most of the time plugging holes in the walls with tissues and anything else I can find.
This turns out to be a nightmare for Darren as the supermarket is miles away and the roads back are rural and full of wildlife in the dark.
The next day we head out to visit Hearst castle. The building is famous for being very opulent but more for having been built by William Randolph Hearst who was a famous American multi-millionaire and Publisher at the beginning of the last centuary.
Hearst travelled all over Europe collecting things to put in or use on the construction of the castle - really a huge mansion built on a hill, by European standards it was a bit gareish, but the American tourists lapped it up.
The castle once had a zoo with wild animals in the grounds, countless lavishly furnished rooms, a beautiful outside pool and gardens and an amazing indoor pool or bath house with gold tiles amongst other things. In the car park before we leave a guy pulls up in an expensive car and asks us if he can take a picture of the bike - Darren is made up!
The route back to the campground takes us through the famous vineyards of Southern California, we dont stop but continue onto camp. Next day we pack up and are happy to be leaving this particular campsite.
Back on Route 1 we ride past Pismo Beach and Santa Maria then head inland into the hills for a while and look down on Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara Hills
Out on the coast we can see the Channel Islands National Park in the distance, before we drop back down to the coast road. Again Route 1 becomes the superhighway that is the Interstate 101 into Los Angeles and we get our first taste of what rush hour into LA can be - all six lanes of it!
We ride through Glendale and Pasadena, before arriving in Pomoma where we were planning to stay for a couple of nights.
Em had picked up a local tourist guide that had dicounted rates for motels, so rather than the campground, we end up in a cheap motel. From the motel Em gets busy on the phone trying to organise an LA tour for the next day, after working her magic we are booked on the complete day tour of LA. Only problem is that the tour company can only collect us from a posh hotel further into town.
So next morning, we ride through rush hour on the interstate, giving ourselves plenty of time to arrive on time.
The great thing about the interstate is the car pool lane on the left hand side which we can use being a vehicle carrying 2 people or more. This means we get over into the lane and bypass all the stationary traffic for about 5 miles. There are loads of other bikes in this lane and we get lots of friendly waves as they pass us. The only downside to the carpool lane is having to get back across 6 lanes of traffic to get off the interstate- Luckily they advertise exits 2 miles in advance so you have time to cut across.
We arrive on time and get changed in the hotel car park then wait for the tour bus to arrive.
The coach eventually departs and we head off to pick up other tourists en route to the centre of LA. First stop is the Chinese Theatre which has famous peoples hand and foot prints along with messages from the stars. We wander around for a while seeing which ones we can spot. Darren has this picture with John Wayne's prints.
We then wander down the Hollywood walk of fame looking at all the stars and names.
Back to the coach we head out now to Beverley Hills and the coach takes us round the small side streets admiring the very expensive hollywood homes. We ooh and ahh at Madonna's house, Tom Cruise's place, the Playboy Mansion and the Beckham's new pad. It was cheesy good fun trying to catch a glimpse of expensive cars and houses through all the big gates.
Next we head back into town to Rodeo Drive and get half an hour to wander up the street where the rich and famous shop. This also gives me a chance to drool down the window of the Cartier shop at the most beautiful diamond necklace I have ever seen...
Then it's off for lunch, and just in time as Darren is dying for the restroom. We are taken to the Farmers Market and get an hour for lunch. This is a really nice area and we find a Cheesecake Factory which is just as wonderful as it sounds - 28 different types of cheesecake for dessert - and the other food's not bad either!
You know it's good when there's 2 tools on the go
Are you sure they won't fit in my pannier?
Back on the coach we get driven round the city sights and buildings of interest. Then it's up to the Hollywood Hills for a picture of the Hollywood sign. Looking back down to LA the smog is really noticeable.
Then it's back to the hotel, changing in the carpark and back through the traffic to our hotel - what a day- we are both exhausted!
LA was really good fun, but all too soon it was time to leave, for the last few weeks we had been riding to a bit of a timeframe as we had plans to meet friends from the UK in Vegas.
So with that in mind we ride out of LA and into the Mojave Desert again and after several hours, the campground at Barstow. On the way to Barstow we spot a shopping outlet place and decide to return to pick up a few items that we will need for Vegas, but first we get the tent up.
Once the tent is up, an RV pulls in near us and a guy jumps out and immediately introduces himself, his name is Nat and is a New Yorker. For the next couple of hours we listen to Nats stories of his travels and he proves to be a really interesting guy. Nat is with the RV waiting on friends who are riding in on their hire bikes and the RV provides a base camp for their road trip.
We head off later in the afternoon back to the shopping outlet to get some bits. As we leave Nat takes this great picture of us. It is quite rare to get our photo together on the bike as we are travelling alone.
The shopping mall is a biking girls worst nightmare as I am surounded by shoe shops and boutiques with lovely things like levi's all at ridiculously cheap prices compared to England.
As we get back to the bike a young couple in a convertible BMW are admiring the bike. The guy asks Darren how he persuaded me to come on the trip - I tell him it was the other way round which makes them laugh.
We arrive back at the campground as it is turning dark, just as we pull up so does Nat's group. They are a really friendly bunch and we enjoyed talking to them, what was nice for me, was that these guys were taking the time out to talk to Em, all too often when we meet fellow bikers the conversation seems to be directed at me.
Yes, unfortunately for me, most other bloke bikers want to talk to Darren about fuel range, tyres, panniers and storage, servicing, oil filters, tools etc... The funny thing is I actually know all the answers to these questions I would just rather be talking about girly things like 'how do I keep up with my beauty routine travelling on a bike', 'how do I manage my hair', 'what luxuries do I have?' etc... The nice thing is that they did ask me some girly questions out of general interest as to how I managed - thanks for making my night guys!
Guys it was a pleasure meeting you, keep living the dream! When's the next trip?
Our alarm clock the next morning is the sound of BMW motorcycles warming up, unfortunately we don't get a chance to say goodbye to the group as they leave early, about an hour later we get packed up. The wind is really picking up, throwing sand everywhere and making the process of taking the tent down particularly interesting.
We leave Barstow and hit Highway 40 across the Desert and the weather gets worse, the wind is kicking up a sandstorm which makes visibility difficult. We are also getting blown around alot.
There is also sand being blown onto the road and we are riding at a constant angle of lean trying to keep in a straight line. The area is very remote, the only break in the sand / rock views is the train tracks, occasionally we get to see these huge trains pass by. On one occasion Em counted 125 carriages all pulling ship containers, sometimes two high.
The wind continues to get worse but there is nowhere to stop, so we press onto our destination which is a campground in a place called Needles. This is a great campground and we get a cabin for the night thinking that it was too windy for our tent.
This proves to be a sensible move as that night it is extraordinarily windy with huge gusts every so often. We are woken at 1am by the sound of the electricity box on the side of the cabin- its door was now banging the side of the cabin in the high wind. Darren goes outside to secure the door and move the bike so that it doesn't blow over. He ends up strapping it to the fence posts at the front of the cabin.
In the morning there is sand and dust everywhere, some got blown in under the door overnight too.
When I went outside that night, my first thoughts were on lashing down whatever was making the noise - so we could get some sleep. On stepping outside I soon realised that the bike would need moving too, it was rocking on the sidestand. After strapping the bike to the cabin steps, I push a large wooden picnic table against the electrical box to secure the small metal door. It was really hard to see as the wind was carrying the sand, the really hard gusts actually hurt as the sand hits your skin, but I could still make out some other campers lashing down what they could.
I get back inside and into my sleeping bag and all you can hear is the wind, until the electricity box door starts banging again. I say to Em that the bike is secure - thats all that matters, so I stay in bed.
We do manage to get some sleep and in the morning all is calm, sand is drifted everywhere as I step out to move the bike. I then look over at the electricity box to see how it could still have made a noise, I could hardly believe what I saw - the picnic table had been moved about four inches - that was some storm.
We packed up, had some breakfast then headed for the nearby petrol station, while I filled up the bike Em got chatting to a couple who had just turned up in an RV. They told us that they had planned to get to Needles the day before, but halfway along Highway 40 yesterday the police had shut the road due to the wind and sand. Em replied "really what time was that?" the guy answered "around 4pm" - that would have put them about an hour behind us..
We were lucky, if we had been turned back on that road, we would not have had enough fuel to get back to Barstow..
Riding out of Needles we head north towards Las Vegas, along the way we see a lot of sand, more trains and some guys playing with there 4x4's in the sand, until finally Vegas comes into view.
We tackle the interstate into town, which goes suprisingly well until we get closer to our hotel. Em is getting soooo excited on the back pointing out the various hotels while I explain that I am trying to navigate and not get us killed in the chaos that is Vegas. Then we turn a corner to see every bikers worst nightmare - before us were two bikes, smashed after going down the road and one guy being worked on by the ambulance crew, now I'm really concentrating.
Disneyland for adults
After a couple of detours we arrive at our hotel "The Excaliber" basically a castle, one problem - all parking is valet. I pull up just down from reception and Em jumps off to speak to reception to ask how / where we park on a bike, I have to hand it to her, she is in her biking gear covered in sand and she doesn't flinch as she stomps through the huge door into reception.
And what a reception! I am met with the biggest space I have ever seen filled with slot machines and what seems like hundreds of people, the noise is deafening and totally disorientating. Where exactly do I check in? After approaching several people I finally get in the huge queue for check in. Our room number is 11-2710!
The receptionist tells Em that the Valets can park bikes too, "just give them the keys" yep likes thats going to happen!
So instead and by way of protest, we park the bike outside reception, where I proceed to strip it of all luggage, then leaving Em outside reception with all our gear, I ride the bike to the car park, watching the valets race each other in other peoples cars as I do so.
Half an hour later Darren returns from the parking blocks and we persuade a bell hop to assist us with the luggage. It gets brought to our room just after we arrive.
The first thing we notice about the room is the view-
Room with a view
The hotel next door has a giant roller coaster on it's roof and you can watch and hear the people on it screaming loudly on the scary bits- hysterical!
After a clean up, we head out and explore the Excalibur, then grab some food and head back.
Next day we are up early as Darren plans to do some exploring while I spend the day in the spa.
I get down to the spa and it is amazing, it feels like a million miles away from the noisy gambling floor and it is completely desserted.
There is a huge luxurious jacuzzi, steam room and sauna. You get the usual fluffy bathrobe and slippers to lounge around in and posh products to use, but the best bit had to be the powder room. Yes girls, this place had a whole room dedicated to preening - hairdryers, straighteners, make up, hair products all at seperate styling stations where you can sit and try it all!
I have to admit that I was in girly heaven and did not want to leave.
That morning I leave the hotel, happy in the knowledge that Em is getting her girly time, I cross the "drawbridge" and enter "New York New York" the hotel over the road from Excaliber. If you have read the previous blogs, then you will probably guess that given the fact I had the day to myself, I was on the hunt for a beer.
After passing through the gambling hall of New York New York I happened upon an "Irish pub" within the hotel. It really was just like walking into a "proper" pub, I pull a bar stool up to the bar and settle in. That first pint of Guiness was just spot on and the next few pints got even better, as I sat there I got thinking about Vegas.
If I am honest I had mixed emotions about getting to Vegas, I was looking forward to giving Em a break and the chance to dress up and enjoy herself - after all Em is in her element within the enviroment of hotels and eating out. On the other hand, I am in my element on the bike, on the road - and I really wasn't looking forward to having to deal with the pressure of the strip.
After a few more beers and a good chat to the barman, I feel like taking a look around the Strip, on leaving New York New York, I take in the sights and sounds that is Vegas. I pass the MGN Grand and head for the Bellagio further up the strip, we are meeting our friends there later and I wanted to get my bearings. I expected Vegas to be tacky, but as I walk past a giant Harley sticking out of the bike shop and past the Eiffel Tower, I realise that this is all done really well and I start to see it for what it is - a true adults playground.
Its early afternoon and the temperature is in the 80's and I need some shade so I enter the shopping mall known as the Miracle Mile. Now normally I would rather walk barefoot on broken glass than to go into a shopping centre, but this is done Vegas stlye and has to be seen to be believed.
I stop in an area that is designed to look like an Italian town square with painted "sky" ceiling and tables that border each of the expresso shops and restaurants. After grabbing a coffee I sit on one of the outside tables and marvel at how they created this place - inside! After a while it starts to get cold and I feel the wind pick up (I am in a shopping centre!), then it starts to rain - rain from the artifical painted ceiling into a pond that is positioned between the mall walkways - amazing.
After my coffee, I head back into the real outdoors and back towards the Excaliber, you can access the "Luxor" from our hotel so I decide to go and take a look. Same over the top decor, just different style and again really well done. On getting back to the room I see that Em is looking relaxed after her day in the spa and realise that despite my earlier reservations, I am now looking forward to spending a few days in this unreal city.
We then head out to meet our friends over from England. They are staying in the Bellagio so we meet in the bar. After a long night of drinking and chatting, we end up in the Rio. After getting back to the Belagio for more drinks we walk back to the Excalibur at 3am. My kind friends have brought over PG Tips and Galaxy chocolate as I am getting serious withdrawl symptoms and can't find anything decent here.
Next day and a hangover for all, we meet up at at midday and head off to see the sights.
First up we head over to Ceasars Palace and spend a couple of hours looking round the shops and sights.
Then we head off for lunch at the Cheesecake Factory, stop to see the show in the shopping mall, then head off to explore further. Ending up in the Venetian we all decide we want a gondola ride.
After waiting for a good half hour we get our turn, it was amazingly good fun and my highlight of Las Vegas. The gondalier sang 'Volare' for us which made me cry.
Just one cornetto...
After stopping for cocktails, we wander across the street to catch the volcano erupting! This is a fountain that turns into a volcano eruption show with fire and lights as an attraction at night.
Then on to the Bellagio and we check out the fountain which is set to music. This has to be seen to be believed. It is amazing and we stand and watch in awe. Wow what a day - I love this place!
Then it's off for more cocktails and gambling and another late night...
Next day we meet up and explore the Mirage which has a baby dolphin. We spend ages looking at the main dolphin display as the dolphins play around entertaining us. One actually poses for this picture-
We head over to see the baby and get this shot
After a detour to look at all the big cats, we head off back to the Rio for a long awaited Curry. Darren has a vindaloo and is in heaven!!
Then we head off to Circus Circus and get some more gambling in. I manage to hold onto my money for nearly an hour on the Roulette table- then lose the lot! Oh well at least I got a 'free' drink! (Thats a 20 buck drink then!... DH)
I also try my hand at the biggest slot machine in the world (probably) and lose.
Em tries to win big
We then jump in a cab to downtown Vegas - Fremont Street. There is a lot going on here with street entertainment and the biggest TV in the world on the ceiling.
Then it's back to the bar for more drinks...
All too soon it's time to think about packing up, our time here has been great fun, made even better by good company - thanks guys for the Vegas experience!
Em really did not want to leave Vegas, the town had even won me over - it was a great few days. Em is really quiet on the back as we ride out of town and back into the desert on route to Kingman to the south. This route takes us over the Hoover Dam which is impressive yet not as big as I imagined. The Dam has heavy security, I guess to protect against a terror attack, we had to ride through a security checkpoint before crossing.
Its real hot as we continue through the baron landscape, theres not a lot to see for mile after mile except the odd native indian settlement.
As the light fades and the temperature drops we reach the town of Kingman and we book into a cheap motel as there are no camping areas anywhere.
That evening Em is unwell, she looks terrible and has pain and cramps everywhere, given the alcohol of the last few days and the fact that we had been riding all day in excessive heat, I guessed she must be dehydrated. I prepare several rehydration drinks and put her to bed, she still looks unwell and its not like her to complain, so I am worried when she asks where the nearest Doctors may be.
After another drink, she drops off to sleep and I programme the GPS with the local hospitals co- ordinates, just in case. Its only at times like this that you realise just how remote your location is, its a rough night as Em tries to get some sleep, while I try to stay awake to watch out for her.
Thankfully come morning Em is looking and feeling much better and we give each other a ticking off for not watching our water intake.
From Kingman we ride east towards the town of Williams which is the crossroads
town to the south of the Grand Canyon South Rim.
The view from the road continues to be baron red rock with tufted grasses, until finally as we near Williams the landscape changes to more trees and rocky outcrops.
Before finding the campground we take a look around the town, Williams is the town where the Grand Canyon Railway rolls out from and is also famous for being on Route 66. After grabbing lunch at a place resembling Faulty Towers, we ride out to the campground and get settled in, as we plan to stay here for a few nights.
Next day its another hot one as we reach the Canyon and try and find somewhere close to park, neither of us wanted to walk too far in this heat, not in our bike gear.
As we get close to the viewing areas and take our first look, we cant help but feel a bit disappointed. The park wardens are carrying out a "controlled burn" of the areas on the North side of the Canyon, the resulting smoke had settled into the Canyon and was somewhat destroying the view.
Grand Canyon South Rim
I could feel another one of my moments coming on- where I tear the warden off a strip for not telling us 20 miles down the road and taking our $20 that we might not see much and might want to come back another day. I manage to let it go and hide my disappointment from Darren.
I would just like to offer this information for anyone else travelling through America's National Parks - Always ask before you pay for entry what is open/ closed and if there is anything happening in the Park that day as they WILL NOT tell you unless you ask. This can seriously affect your enjoyment particularly if you have a short timescale like us.
Just as well we had viewed the Canyon from the North a few weeks ago, as today the view really was restricted.
Exiting the park, we had an hour ride back to Williams where we ate in an authentic Route 66 diner before returning to camp.
We decided to give ourselves the next day off from riding, so much of the day was spent on washing clothes, updating blogs and sending emails.
Next day we left knowing that we had a higher mileage day ahead, with little to see but more dry rock and sand it could prove to be a long day to Holbrook campground. After about two hours however, I noticed a sign by the side of the highway advertising "Meteor Crater Site" and after a quick chat we decided to take a look. The site is about ten miles from the main highway and as we park up I notice another BMW GS in the car park, at least we wont be the only ones walking around the museum in motorcross boots.
This detour proves to be a well spent couple of hours, we sit through a film on when / how the site was created and what happened to the meteor on impact. We then took a look at the crater and you see why this place is known as the most intact preserved meteor crater site in the World.
Nasa trained the astronauts from the Apollo missions here, and you can see why.
I was particularly touched by an exhibit which detailed the life of Eugene Shoemaker - an astrologer who always wanted to go the moon. He was unable to due to a medical problem and knew that his dream of going into space would never happen. After his death he was cremated and half of his ashes were placed in a capsule along with a poem by Wiliam Shakespeare. This capsule was put on the moon via an orbiter that crashed to the surface, his final resting place meaning that he achieved his dream. It is still there and he remains the only person to be buried on the moon.
We never did see the other biker, as we rode out the GS was still parked up, maybe the rider had signed up for the crater rim walk - something we passed on given it was 85 degrees.
As we neared the town of Holbrook the main road was littered with signs to various prehistoric sites in the area and the odd plastic dinosuar reminding me of Vernal, Utah.
Thankfully the town had a bit more going for it than Vernal, the campground was a good one and even had a food wagon on site that did all you can eat pancakes for $1.99, jubly. We stayed for two nights and while there, visited the Petrified Forest National Park which was just two minutes down the road.
The area of the park is a very strange landscape , difficult to describe but I will try, originally this area was a massive prehistoric forest interspersed with large rivers. Those mighty trees fell into the rivers and eventually were buried in the sediment - fast forward a few million years and with erosion, these same trees, now fossilised into granite, were exposed to the surface. Meaning that today, you can walk around the trees and see the amazing detail on the trunks.
As we continue to ride through the park, the landscape looks like something out of Star Wars, with unusual rock formations and vivid colours.
The rocks are very precious as they are so old, once they are polished they look beautiful.
There were many lovely examples made into book ends for sale by the National Park itself, which we found rather odd. If you get a chance to visit here you must look at the letters board. This board contains many letters (mainly from children) returning stolen chunks of wood and apologising for taking them. Alot of the letters claim to have had bad luck ever since taking the items and that they brought them bad luck - Very entertaining reading!
On leaving the park everyone has to pass through a checkpoint so that the warden can check to see if you have stolen any bits of fossilised tree. Before the area was made a national park, Americans from all over were taking huge truck loads of petrified wood away each year - hence the reason why there is so little of the forest remaining, but at least whats left is protected.
With our panniers given the all clear, soon enough we were back at camp and started to do some route planning for the next few days. Now originally the plan was to head south from here to Tuscon Arizona to get the bike serviced, before crossing into Mexico around the beginning of November.
However, after meeting up again with the Texan couple in Cody, they had expressed an interest in joining up on the trip through South America. They had also invited some good friends of theirs on the trip, meaning that there may be up to four bikes, that would now head south from Texas just after Xmas.
This meant that Em and I would have to be careful of the budget until Xmas, thankfully the Texans had invited us to stay with them for a while to try to save some money and to give us a break for a couple of weeks.
So now the plan for us was to head east to Arlington in Dallas, Texas, but there were a couple of places that we wished to visit on the way to break up the journey.
The next day we head south down routes 60, then 70 which both turn out to be great roads, after a full day in the saddle we arrive in Benson Arizona.
Booking ourselves into the campground at Benson, meant that we had just a short ride to the following days destination - Tombstone. That night we rent the movie Tombstone so that I can explain to Em the story behind the gunfight at the OK Corral. Being a bit of a closet western fan, I am really excited next day as we ride out toward the town.
Before too long the sign "Welcome to Tombstone" appears and almost immediately I look left to see "Boothill Graveyard" this is cool. After riding down the main street, Em spots a sign for the carpark and we turn off onto a mud gravel road, as we do so we look right and straight down the middle of historic main street Tombstone.
Main Street Tombstone
I quickly park the bike and we lock as much of our clothing to the bike as possible, its unbelievably hot as we start to walk down main street. Past the Birdcage Theatre, then the Oriental, until finally I spot the OK Corral, this place is better than I had expected. I was ready for something looking more like Disneyland, but instead the town is largely authentic, if anything the buildings need work to help preserve there history but instead they are just left as they are, giving the place a very real feel (and smell).
Yes this place definately smells authentic! There are flies everywhere out here and as Darren says it looks run down and doesn't take much imagination to take you back in time to the famous gunfight times. The shops are mainly touristy in the town, but the Oriental Hotel/ Saloon is a really good shop with an in house seamstress making costumes from the tombstone era in the 1800's. They have all the accessories too- hand made hats, gloves, basques, boots, belts, antique jewellery even wedding dresses!
We take a look at the gunfight spot and watch a re-inactment of what happened with local actors playing the parts of the Earps and the Clantons, the OK Corral itself was really interesting with lots to see and the local guide brought all the stories to life.
Gunfight at the OK Corral
A top day out and well worth the 300 mile detour.
I'm your huckleberry
Back at Benson we try to get something to eat on the way back to camp, unfortutetly Benson is another of those towns where food is scarce, unless you want something fried then smothered in cheese. Thankfully we find an ok Mexican which seems fitting as we are only a stones throw from the Mexican border.
About 10am next morning we ride out of Benson onto Interstate 10 and into New Mexico, for about four hours of playing with the trucks and 4x4's, I still cant get used to being overtaken at 80mph by an 18 wheeler. Stopping for lunch at Las Cruces, we get chatting to some fellow bike travellers, these guys are riding older Harleys and have the greasy paws to prove it. Just one bag is bungied to each bike, they too are on their way to Texas, but they dont know why yet - a true roadtrip, nice meeting you guys.
For the next few hours we ride through the biggest, widest valley I have ever seen - White Sands Missile Range. Once again the war on terror means we have to pass through quite a major checkpoint to proceed. A young squaddie stops us and asks where we are from (theres a ruddy great Union Jack on the front of the bike) "England Great Britain" I reply "Germany?" shouts the soldier, "Great Britain!" I shout again, I might as well have shouted Afganistan as he clearly still didnt understand as he waves us through..
After stopping the night in Alamogordo we ride through the nothingness that is Area 51 and Roswell. Home to all things alien, we expected the town to have a bit of a UFO feel, it did a bit I guess with crashed UFO's in the sides of buildings, but basically was just another town in the middle of nowhere.
After a coffee in an alien cafe we leave Roswell and head east for the Texas border. You can see where the stories of UFO sitings come from, honestly we rode for 3 hours without seeing anyone or making one turn or stop, with nothing to look at around you - your imagination kicks in, in my case dreaming of a bend in the road.
To find a town big enough to have a small motel, we had to ride through New Mexico and an hour into Texas.
Just after the Texas border we were riding along when I noticed something by the fence on the side of the road. Thinking it was a Deer, I slow right down and its then that we realise that the animal is in fact a very large Wild Boar. The big pig then runs out in front of us for a while before trying to force his way through a fence on the other side of the road, speechless.
Close to the New Mexico/ Texas border as far as the eye can see are cotton fields mixed in with the odd oil pump.
Stopping in the town of Post, we unpack while watching the local news, the local Sheriff is talking about the drive by shooting that occured that afternoon and he had every confidence that his team will find the gunman without delay. Its then that I notice the three dead bolts on the motel room door and the scuff marks on top of the chair thats been wedged under the door handle too many times. Suddenly I am not as confident as the Sheriff.
After a night where I check the bike a few dozen times, we check out and hit the road, heading south east toards Abilene then finally after a couple of hours on the interstate, we arrive in Arlington and the home of Curtis and Janet.
These guys had kindly offered us their basement to stay in for a while so we could take a break and also get the bike serviced and basically get ready for Mexico down. Its a very strange feeling being stopped, its almost like we both realise that the trip is now half over and we both feel quite sad at the thought. The trip so far has been a blast and I just dont want it to end, but increasingly the worry about money creeps into the trip, as does home and what we do when we return - basically real life is catching up and all I want to do is ride to keep ahead.
With 15,000 miles behind us, we have rode throughout Alaska, down through Canada and travelled quite extensively throughout the US. We are now halfway through and completed "the easy bit" while spending 65% of our budget. This means that we face the "hard bit" of Central and South America with less money than we had originally planned.
Em and I sit down and have a heart to heart and address what the trip means to us both, thankfully we are on the same page. This trip is our adventure to get from the top of the world to the bottom and neither of us was going to settle for anything else but Ushuaia Argentina. If this means that we have to speed up and complete the trip quicker then so be it, if we have to skip the resort style places that we had hoped to stay at once in awhile so be it, if we have to pass some of the attractions that we had hoped to visit, so be it, - we can always return to visit places that we ride through at a later date, but this is our one opporutnity to complete this journey as one ride, one adventure.
Curtis and I take ourselves off for a few days ride out while leaving Em to relax with Janet, we ride down to La Feria close to the Mexican border that we will cross after Xmas. Taking the scenic route back to Arlington, we even manage a couple of hours on the dirt before rolling into the garage after covering 1650 miles in four days, good fun, but I thought I was suposed to be having a rest?
While Curtis and Darren are off being boys, Janet takes me under her wing and shows me around Dallas. We meet up with her work colleagues for lunch, then a tour around downtown Dallas - which has a really nice feel about it. We stop to admire the bronze sculptures of a cattle drive set around a stream right in the middle of Dallas. This cattle drive has 50 individual bronze sculptures of cattle and 3 cowboys herding them, it is a lovely piece of art in an authentic setting.
Cattle drive in Downtown Dallas
We also pass the Kennedy memorial fountain where a cross on the ground marks the actual spot where Kennedy was assasinated.
Janet also sets about getting me organised for Christmas with lots of visits to local shopping malls and interesting things to see.
After returning, we service the bike after getting the 20,000 mile schedule from BMW Fortworth and work through the service sheet in the garage, all oils, filters, brakes, valves, tire swap and general check - the result is a different bike. I didnt realise how much the Beemer needed the TLC and we saved a bundle on labour costs too.
Two days later Curtis and I once again get the bikes out, this time we are heading for the home of one of the other couples joining us from Mexico down. I have agreed to look after their home and dogs while they are on holiday for two weeks - earning some much needed petrol money in the process.
One problem, their home is in Alabama, meaning that we ride for 14hrs stopping only for fuel and coffee and cover the 750 miles in one hit to ensure we get there before they need to get to the airport. This is the first time in 4 months that Em and I have been apart as she stays back in Texas with Janet. After the initial thoughts of its nice to have your own space, I must admit I really missed her and the bike feels all wrong on my own.
While in Alabama, I strip the bike to thououghly clean everything and check tension and settings of everything. I also fit an extra power socket ready for my heated vest (hopefully now Em will stop nagging me about it!).
The weather out here had been unseasonally hot, until the time came for me to ride back to Texas, now it was cold but thankfully dry. Leaving Alabama about 3pm I eventually stopped for the night at 11pm, as I could no longer feel my hands and feet. Next morning I woke early to get a head start on the traffic, from my room I look out at the bike which is covered in heavy frost, as is the car park and surrounding areas. The first 100 miles the frost is still visible on the side of the road before it finally warms up a bit, I arrive back in Arlington around 11am after covering over 3000 miles in seven days of riding - I was really enjoying the rest.
Whilst Darren is gone Janet pampers me and organises a massage, facial and several evenings wallowing in the hot-tub eating chocolate.
We also go to see the Nutcracker performed by the Russian Ballet in Downtown Dallas which is great. We go to 'Bunko' which is a ladies group that meet once a month to play a dice game, this is a really fun night and I come away with $20 more than I started with!
Although my highlight has to be going to see the Dallas Stars (ice hockey) play the Los Angeles Kings. I get kitted out in a Dallas Stars sweatshirt and we head downtown on the train. The stadium is huge and we have a good view of the action.
Lots of quirky things happened that I wasn't expecting like everyone standing to sing the National Anthem before the game started (all the fans shout 'stars' really loudly when it is mentioned in the anthem!). During the interval lots of fun things happen on the ice and around the stadium with a 'kiss cam' catching couples out in the audience, a hot air balloon that drops food vouchers and interviews with local servicemen/ women where they are thanked for their service and the whole stadium stands to applaud them for their courage.
The game itself was great too and nowadays not as violent as I remember.
During the time Darren is away, Thanksgiving Holiday occurs. This is an extra holiday to us Brits, which is pretty much like Christmas Day (without the presents), lots of food brought by everyone and a real family occasion.
We stay with the Texans for one more week, before finally the road is calling again and Em and I head south to South Padre Island in southern Texas.
This place is to Texas, what southern Spain is to the UK. Holiday homes, beaches and restaurants as well as multiple hotels everywhere, this is good news to us as the competition drives down room prices. Also the motels do weekly and monthly rates for those that wish to winter in the sun.
After staying here for a while we head out back to La Feria about an hour away, where we stay in an RV / holiday home park, again the guests of the Texans.
Its from here that the four bikes will leave for the border just after Xmas. Our time is spent route planning and loading GPS software as well as organising Mexican insurance and currency, I also fit another set of tyres on the Beemer and ensure we are set for the second half of our adventure.
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