I only intended to spend a couple of days in Miami to get the bike from customs but my bike literally ‘missed the boat‘. It was rejected at the docks because the case it was in wasn’t strong enough. The shipper had to remake the box and put it on the next ship a fortnight later. This wouldn’t have been so bad if they had told me early enough to change my flight but I only found out a couple of days before I was due to leave. Instead of arriving eight days after the bike (to allow for any possible delays) I arrived six days before the second ship was due to dock. My riding clothes, panniers etc. were supposed to be shipped with the bike but for some reason unexplained to me all the luggage was still in the UK. The shipper sounded like he was doing me a favour by air freighting it but as it arrived on a different day to the bike and to a different cargo handler. I had to spend two expensive days running around Miami in taxis to shipping agents, customs and warehouses instead of one.
South Beach, Miami
It was nice having some sunshine after a long cold British winter but I spent a lot of time each day on the internet or phone chasing the bike and luggage. I was in Bayside beside the port. I had been told to collect the bike from there although annoyingly it went on a truck past my hotel to a warehouse near the airport. In between hounding wayward shippers I walked round the local marina, listened to numerous free Latino concerts or went to the famous art deco South Beach a short bus ride away.
South Beach, Miami
When the container with my bike in it was finally unloaded the law of sod dictated that the NLL, a branch of US customs wanted to xray it which took five days. And to round things off nicely they charged me $70 as my contribution to the examination of the container. The NLL released the container the day before Good Friday and my first bit of good news, Good Friday isn’t a public holiday in the USA. Clearing the bike through customs wasn’t straight forward and cost $300 but by mid afternoon I was riding back to the hotel.
Parking between two cars at parking meters outside the hotel I made four trips to my 17th floor room and back loading the luggage onto the bike then went to legally park it a five minute walk away. That evening I enjoyed a final Latino meal and concert knowing that at last I could start my trip.
South Beach, Miami
Even the 'Restrooms' Look Cool
Saturday morning I headed to an Everglades campsite 60 miles from Miami and a totally different world. After pitching the tent I went for a walk round the campsite lake keeping an eye out for alligators but thinking of my west coast of Scotland holiday last year where we tried and failed to see otters. Within five minutes I saw my first alligator, a big adult at the waters edge facing a picnicking family. It was less than 200 yards from my tent and fifty of those were through water! Later on I rode 15 minutes to Royal Palm, one of the oldest parts of the park and almost became blasé about seeing alligators. At one point I could see eighteen at once.
The following day I went for a fifteen mile walk to a beach. A bit of a challenge in the Florida heat although it turned out the mosquitoes were marginally worse than the baking sun. Only a fortnight earlier in England I thought I would never be warm again! Signs said not to feed or disturb the wildlife but the mosquitoes and I waged a long and bloody battle which I lost by a whisker. I had insect repellent and sunscreen lotion but fearing chemical meltdown if I used both I had opted for the sunscreen lotion.
I wanted to ride to the Florida Keys and originally intended to stay on one of the islands but the keys were expensive so opted to see them on a day trip of 280 miles instead. The road is single carriageway most of the way and busy. There were a number of roadworks on the day I went also but the scenery got better and better the further I went. I got the photos of the Southernmost point in the USA and Hemingways’ house but then lost them in the digital ether along with some others. On the way back to the Everglades I discovered that I wasn’t only camping with alligators. Although rare there were Pumas in the area as well.
You Don't Have These Worries In Northumberland, Note The Mosquito Assaulted Face
The next place I wanted to visit was Daytona. The beach was used for land speed records before they started using Bonneville. That was before my time but I remember vividly Barry Sheenes’ crash on the banked turn of the race track. I was racing at club level at the time and his 180 mph crash left him seriously hurt and requiring a number of pins and screws to put him back together. I stopped off at a state park campsite on the way. I found the state or national park camps better than the commercial recreational vehicle (RV or motor home to the Brits) sites. They will have walking or other recreational facilities on site where on the RV campsites you need to ride off camp for everything. All the camps so far have been well equipped and most have wifi, useful for me as I gave up trying to manage using internet cafes and public libraries to keep in touch and bought a small laptop.
You can ride on Daytona beach although there is a charge and a strict 10mph speed limit these days. Daytona Speedway race track allows you to see the track and visitors centre for free. Alternatively you can pay for a guided tour or a lap in an American saloon race car. I saw a couple of cars going round the oval track. There’s more sensation of speed live compared to television. Interesting but I’m not converted to oval racing.
American Race Cars
Slowly heading north up the Atlantic coast I came across St. Augustine with what appeared to me to be a castle too old to be in America. The Spanish first arrived here in 1513 and the first European settlement in America was established in 1565. The castle, Castillo De San Marcos was started in 1672 and held off a number of British attacks. There was a large oven to heat cannonballs before firing at the British to try and sink their ships. To this day the Spanish flag has flown over St. Augustine longer than any other including the Stars and Stripes.
Castillo De Marcos in St. Augustine
My last stop in Florida was Fernandina Beach close to the border with Georgia. I had the excitement of booking a flight home for a short spell in Fernandina Beach library. As I was entering my credit card details a window opened up advising that I had two minutes of my computer session left. I imagined being cut off and not knowing if the transaction had completed however I managed to get the ticket booked. I’m flying out of JFK, New York, a bad choice in retrospect as a smaller city would be easier to get to and find parking for the bike. I now have to pace myself to arrive in New York for my flight or make a detour if it looks like I will arrive too early.
I was looking forward to seeing Savannah and Charleston, two of the centres of the deep south. The weather has been hot a dry except for a couple of hours whilst walking around St. Augustine when there was a thunder storm.
Savannah has kept a lot of the older buildings and every few streets (or blocks depending which side of the pond you come from) there is an historical square with monument, trees and shady seats. This is the way cities should be designed. I crossed back and forth between a large park at one end of town that was hosting a pavement painting competition and the river front with arts and craft markets, restaurants and in the evening, live jazz.
Enroute for Charleston I stopped at the “Shrimp Shack” for lunch. The same family own the shrimp boats on one side of the road and the Shrimp Shack on the other. It is on highway 21 between Beaufort and Hunting Island, South Carolina. I met a couple on a BMW from Atlanta out for a days ride. They had their wedding reception at the Shrimp Shack. After lunch we set off to ride together but I made an accidental illegal overtake and lost them. What I thought was an overtaking lane was a ‘no go’ area to be treated like a central reservation. Whoops.
The Shrimp Shack
A better shot of my bike outside the Shrimp Shack
Charleston had a similar feel to Savannah. Narrow streets, old buildings with a number of parks round the harbour. A market sells arts and crafts where once it sold slaves.
South Carolina Campsite
I was looking forward to heading inland to the Smokey Mountains. Up till this point I had done over 1600 miles on straight roads with a stop sign or traffic lights at the end and had another 200 straight miles to travel. I could see the centre of my tyres were wearing faster than the sides. The mountains meant bends. I based myself at the Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge where Horizons Unlimited are holding a rally from 17th July to 19th July 2009 and had a great time despite seeing more than my fair share of rain. The Tail Of The Dragon is one of Americas most famous biking roads. 318 bends in eleven miles. At Deals Gap, a fuel and souvenir stop there is a ‘Tree Of Shame’ decorated with broken bits of bike from those that didn‘t make it to the end. Best ridden through the week for the first time if possible as it gets busy at weekends. I was going to wait until the Monday before riding it but as the rain finally started to clear on the Saturday A couple of Harley Davison riders, James and Bill asked if I wanted to join them on the Tail Of The Dragon for a steady ride I thought it would be good to follow riders that had done it before. Thanks chaps. The area is full of good biking roads and well worth a visit. Jack and Mary work at Iron Horse and invited me to dinner three nights in a row. On the middle night determined not to arrive empty handed I was late and empty handed as I went to eight shops looking for wine only to find out that we were in a dry county. Their hospitality was amazing.
The Tree of Shame, Tail Of The Dragon
It was poring with rain as I packed my gear away to head north on the Blue Ridge Parkway but had stopped by the time I set off following a final coffee with Jack and Mary. The Blue Ridge Parkway is 469 miles long following the crests of the southern Appalachians. Another great biking road, either enjoying the sweeping bends or taking in the scenery. Having a wet tent and some damp clothes from loading the bike in heavy rain I opted for my first night under a solid roof since leaving Miami four weeks ago by staying in a very nice but expensive B&B. When I arrived there was no one in but the door was unlocked and a notice invited anyone to come in and make themselves at home. I can’t remember coming across that kind of trust before.
The Blue Ridge Parkway rises to well over 5000 feet and some of the higher points were in cloud reducing visibility considerably. On a few occasions I was travelling with the hazard warning lights on to make me easier to see by any cars coming up behind. Nothing did come up from behind but a motorcyclist coming the other way had his hazard warning lights on as well. We passed in the fog giving the American low hand signal greeting.
It’s Black Bear country here and all food has to be in metal containers or suspended from a tree while camping. It’s a bit of a pain. I’m forever taking food out of a pannier and putting it away again but it’s better than fighting a bear over the last banana.
The first and probably last photo I ever take in a public toilet
Continuing north on the Blue Ridge Parkway the rear sprocket died. I had needed to tighten the chain regularly and noticed some wear on the sprocket but hoped it would last until the next service in 3000 miles time. 60 miles later the teeth had half worn away. My guess is that the case hardened outer skin had worn then the sprocket failed rapidly. The bike only has 8800 miles on it, a bit early for the sprocket to fail I would have thought. If I had been in Europe the repair would be covered under extended warranty but the warranty isn’t valid or transferable to the USA. I headed for the nearest town, Roanoke, Virginia. There didn’t seem to be a BMW dealership but I found a Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha and Kawasaki dealership that could carry out the repair but parts had to be ordered. I decided to get the rear tyre replaced at the same time. It had worn in the centre from the 1800 straight miles I did in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. The bike was booked in for Wednesday and I rode carefully away trying to protect the sprocket to look for a campsite. The one I was told about by the bike dealership turned out to be closed so I started phoning the ones listed on the GPS and got booked into the Alta Mons Campsite, 26 miles south of Roanoke.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Alta Mons turned out to be a one of the best campsites I have been on and the standard is much higher in America than the UK. Alta Mons has a stream running through it, a river down one side and huge grounds with a number of walking trails. I extended my stay to explore the area further before heading north again. I was kindly invited to dinner by Jason and Mandy who work at Alta Mons. Mandy is Welsh and had brought some real English tea back on her last trip. A real treat! It was the first time I had been in a house since arriving in America at the end of March apart from my single night in a B&B. We had great food and an interesting evening talking about the places we had been on our various travels.
Virginian Hitch Hiker
At the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway the road continues as the Shenandoah Skyline Drive which I intended to do but I also wanted to visit the historic sites of Jamestown, Yorktown and Williamsburg around the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. The north end of the Blue Ridge Parkway was the best place to detour although it meant doubling back for Skyline Drive. First I visited Monticello the home of President Thomas Jefferson (1743 - 1826) who drafted the American Constitution. He had a 5000 acre plantation and as many as 140 enslaved men, women and children to help run the plantation and the house, designed by Jefferson. How slave ownership fits in with his declaration that “all men are created equal and have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and that “the right to liberty was self evident” wasn’t made clear. However I believe he inherited his slaves rather than buying them although they were sold to help pay his debts after he died.
From Monticello I rode to Chippokes Plantation campsite near Jamestown and the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. Chippokes Plantation was established in 1619, only twelve years after the first settlement by the British at Jamestown in 1607. It is one of the oldest continually run farms in America. Jamestown was a short ride and a ferry crossing away. The ferry crossed the James river from Scotland to Jamestown. Local counties included Sussex, Surry (US spelling) and the Isle of Wight.
House In Jamestown Fort
Indian Village, Jamestown
Jamestown now consists of two parts. A recreation of the first British settlement of 1607 and the original archaeological site nearby. Both were worth visiting although I preferred the original site. I hoped the archaeologists would dig up some find belonging to George Percy, a member of the Duke of Northumberland’s family and one of the first arrivals while I was watching but no such luck. Jamestown is accepted as the birth place of America although St. Augustine in Florida was established 42 years earlier in 1565 by the Spanish.
Reconstructed Ship From The First Landing
Pocahontas Was Born 15 Miles From Jamestown
Yorktown is linked to Jamestown by the 23 mile long Colonial Parkway, a scenic road with Williamsburg about half way along. Yorktown was the scene for the final battle in the war of independence in 1781. The British led by Lord Charles Cornwallis held Yorktown. The French, assisting the Americans got together a fleet of 36 Navy ships and blockaded Chesapeake Bay stopping the British Navy from supplying Cornwallis or aiding a retreat. The French and American troops marched to Yorktown and blockaded the British. Using larger guns delivered by the French navy the Americans and French bombarded the British for nine days until Cornwallis requested a ceasefire to discuss surrender.
Yorktown War Of Independence Memorial (USA 1, Britain 0)
I had to leave my campsite on Chesapeake Bay, Chippokes Plantation State Park as it was fully booked for the Memorial Day Weekend. Most campsites were full but I managed to get the last available site at a ‘remote’ campsite at False Cape 30 miles south of Chesapeake Bay entrance. The camp was seven miles from the car park so I sorted out the minimum gear and hiked in. Carrying the camping gear made it a long seven miles but I eventually arrived and got the tent set up. The following morning I walked a three mile round trip to the nearest water supply and back although I later discovered that the Park Rangers carried water and would top up containers when they drove through the camp. Being a bit of a hike to get to meant there was miles of Atlantic beach virtually to myself on one side of the camp and a large bay on the other.
False Cape Sunset
After the Memorial Day Weekend I headed back to the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway by a slightly different route to start the Shenandoah Skyline Drive. When I arrived there was heavy fog in the mountains along Skyline Drive although either side was fine. I camped at nearby Waynesboro for a couple of days and set off in clearer weather. Shenandoah Skyline Drive is a 105 mile scenic drive with a strictly enforced 35mph speed limit. I opted to go slower than that and try and spot a black bear which were supposed to be fairly common in Shenandoah. Naturally I didn’t see one although there were deer and other unidentified creatures. When I stopped to camp 20 miles from the end of Skyline Drive I asked the park ranger what was the chance of seeing a bear. She reckoned 30% and the best way of seeing one was to quietly walk the trails or stay still in the forest and wait for one to come past. As I left the rangers office a black bear was by the side of the road about 150 yards away. A deer crossed the road in front of it then the bear slowly wandered across the road and disappeared into the forest on the other side.
Spurred on by my first sighting of a bear in the wild I pitched the tent and set off on a ‘bear hunt’. Following the Park Rangers advice of being as quiet as possible I turned my hearing aid off as I have found I do everything more quietly that way. I spent a day and a half enjoying the trails through the mountains but never saw another bear.
I had spent hours studying maps looking for a good route avoiding the larger towns from Front Royal the northern end of Skyline Drive to Princeton New Jersey. My Mother’s birthday was coming up and my brother Keith was flying from Australia to England for the celebrations. I could hardly not ‘nip across the pond’ if Keith was travelling all the way from Australia. Foolishly I booked a flight from JFK, New York. In hindsight a smaller airport would have been easier. I had met Hank Farber at the Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge and Campground in North Carolina. He lived in Princeton NJ and kindly offered to store my bike. I could get the train into New York from there.
I ended up plotting a route on the GPS taking in all the small roads I could find. Weaving around Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia with an overnight stop in Susquehanna State Park. I was the only one in the camp. The house behind was bunk accomodation and toilets. I had my evening meal sitting in a rocking chair on the veranda.
I arrived at Bulls Island State Park Campground 26 miles from Princeton. Bulls Island is in the Delaware River on the Pennsylvania / New Jersey border.
The route worked well and would have been impossible without the GPS or a navigator sat behind me. It was mainly rolling farmland with some forest. I saw a number of Amish folk in Pennsylvania. It would have been interesting to chat to some of them on their, what seems to me to be an 18th century lifestyle. Unfortunately the opportunity never arose.
I am heading into New York on Friday catching up with Greg who I haven't seen for over 20 years then flying back to the UK Saturday evening. New York will be the first large town I have been in since starting the trip in Miami.
I have done over 4500 miles from Miami to Princeton New Jersey in eight weeks. The direct route is about 1350 miles. I have avoided Interstates and major roads wherever possible and done less than 100 miles in total on these. The only built up area has been at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay around Newport News, Portsmouth, Norfolk and Virginia Beach on the way to and from False Cape State Park for the Memorial Day Weekend.
The vast majority of the roads have been very quiet and enjoyable to ride on (unlike the Interstates). I have done a couple of 30 mile stretches of dirt road and a few shorter sections. These could have been avoided but added to the variety.
I have camped every night except one when I stayed in a B&B because the camping gear was wet. Not including getting to America, cost of paperwork and bike parts (tyre, chain & sprocket) it has cost about $260 per week (185 pounds sterling). Most of this was on camping fees of between $5 and $33 per night.
When I return in three weeks time I intend to head north, mainly along the coast to Nova Scotia to do the Cabot’s Trail.
Having had a three week holiday in the UK for my mothers birthday, it’s back to the ‘day job’ of riding my BMW F650GS towards Canada. Life is tough at times!
East Fortune, Scotland
Town Moor, Newcastle Upon Tyne, England
I took the train from Newcastle to Heathrow for my Delta flight to JFK, New York. The plane was delayed three hours for some technical repairs which meant it would arrive at JFK too late for me to get to the Manhattan hostel I had booked into. The reception desk closed at midnight. The plane made up some of the lost time during the flight but it was 23:30 by the time I cleared immigration and customs. Considering the options of paying $150 for an airport hotel, wandering the streets of New York well after midnight looking for a hostel or spending the night at the airport I opted to ‘rough it’ at the airport. For the first couple of hours it was a bit of an adventure crashing out with the gap year students. However my body soon let me know it wasn’t keen on being treated like an 18 year old and started to protest at trying to get comfortable on a four and a half foot bench. Then for some bizarre reason all the mothers in Queens and Brooklyn brought their crying babies to my area of the arrivals hall. 7am slowly arrived and I headed for Princeton by train, subway and another train to collect the bike. Ben met me at the station and gave me a lift to his father, Hanks house where the bike had been stored.
The bike started without any problems and I set off for the sixty odd mile ride to Delaware Water Gap, a park on the Delaware river in New Jersey in bright sunshine. Unfortunately there was a thunderstorm and heavy rain just before I arrived at the campsite. The tent was erected while still wearing my waterproof motorcycle over-suit. Once I had dried my clothing I got into the tent to escape the rain and read. Catching up from a restless night at JFK I must have fallen asleep by 6pm and slept solidly until 4am and dozed thereafter until I got up to retrieve some food from the bear proof pannier.
Delaware Water Gap
The next day was spent getting groceries, cash from the ATM, sorting gear out and plotting a route to the Catskill Mountains, New York State. I booked into a campsite in the Catskill Mountains for the July 4th weekend before leaving for England after being told that campsites could be full.
Campsite Wildlife Pond, Delaware Water Gap
Another good days riding from Delaware Water Gap to the Catskills with a stop at Liberty, New York State where they were preparing for the 4th July parade.
Liberty, New York State, 3rd July 2009
On the way to the Catskills I saw road signs to Neversink which I thought was an unusual name for a village. Sadly the village failed to live up to its name!
Sadly Neversink Sank!!
I went to the small village of Roxbury, New York State to see their 4th of July parade.
Roxbury, New2 York State, 4th July 2009 Parade
The parade was followed by a 19th century baseball match between the Roxbury Nine and the Bovina Dairymen. I was supporting the Dairymen dressed in long black trousers, braces, white shirt, black tie and flat cap. My support wasn’t enough though, the Roxbury Nine were victorious.
Bovina Dairyman 'bowling' to Roxbury Nine 'Batsman'
The Bovina Dairymen
Roxbury Nine 'Bowling' A 'Wide Ball'
Yet another hot, sunny day as I left the Catskills, heading for the coast and Cape Cod. I passed through Woodstock and realised it was ‘THE’ Woodstock when I saw a hippy, psychedelic memorabilia shop. For the younger generations, Woodstock was the first mammoth outdoor pop festival.
After setting up camp at Mashamoque State Park, Connecticut enroute for Cape Cod I headed for the nearest WiFi café to find the location of BMW dealers. Having done 5100 miles since starting this trip in Miami the 12000 mile service is due in 900 miles.
I had the whole of Mashamoque campsite to myself in Connecticut on the way to Cape Cod.
Mashamoque State Park Camp Swimming Pool - Connecticut
On arrival at Nickerson State Park at Cape Cod I could only get one nights camping as they were fully booked. The traffic was busy and the scenic coastal roads I imagined, had a row of guest houses advertising private beaches blocking the view. I decided to see as much as possible of Cape Cod in one day then move on rather than try to find new accommodation.
I headed for Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod which is the site of the Mayflower Pilgrims first landing in November 1620.
Pilgrims Landing - Provincetown Cape Cod
Provincetown was interesting. Narrow, mainly pedestrian streets with arty shops, cafes and restaurants selling lobster dishes. There were lots of antique shops but no grocery stores. I guess if you live in Cape Cod you eat out all of the time!
Provincetown - Cape Cod - Massachusetts
Although normally avoiding the Interstates and major roads I opted for Interstates 3, 93 and 95 to get through the built up area of Boston. I was stuck twice in long tailbacks of traffic due to road works reminding me of motorway travel in England made worse as motorcyclists don’t filter through the traffic here. I don’t know whether filtering is illegal or frowned on as antisocial queue jumping but I haven’t seen any motorcyclist do it. I restricted myself to lane hopping, tempted though I was to ride between the lanes as I would in the UK.
Once north of Boston I started looking for a campsite but the first few were fully booked. All the Americans that don’t go to London for their holiday come to the New England coast. I had arrived in the peak holiday season.
I eventually found a campsite at York Beach, Maine but had missed out staying in New Hampshire.
Maine Coastline Near York Beach
Mount Washington New Hampshire, Somewhere On The Horizon Taken From A York Beach Park
Ogunquit Beach, Near York Beach - Maine
Perkins Cove - Maine
Private Beach Perkins Cove Maine
York Beach Lighthouse
I booked the next two campsites, further up the coast of Maine on the internet to make sure I had accommodation. Naturally, on arrival they had plenty of space available!
On the way to Camden State Park I passed through Newcastle. Nothing like my home town of Newcastle upon Tyne.
Newcastle Church, Maine
I trekked to the top of Mount Battie in Camden State Park which had good views of Camden harbour.
Camden, Maine from Mount Battie
On a second walk to the top of Mount Meganticook (1385’) there were a couple of snakes. One curled up under a rock in the summit cairn. The first wildlife to stand still long enough to get its photo taken!
Snake in Mount Megunticook Summit Cairn
The last full leg of the east coast of America was only 136 miles to Cobscook Bay State Park. This was just 32 miles from the Canadian border.
Cobscook Bay Camp Picnic Area With Atlantic Views
Cobskook Bay Campsite
The scenery changed dramatically. The trees were sparser, shorter and comprised mainly of conifers and silver birch.. It has also got cooler. Still warm but a cool breeze required digging the jumper out from the bottom of the pannier.
Cobscook Bay, Maine
I passed Fort Knox at Prospect, Maine. Building took place from 1844 to 1853 to protect the Penobscot River from a British attack. The river was attacked by the British during the War of Independence and again in 1812 and it was thought we might have a third attempt. The British never did attack…… or we could just be biding our time! The fort was used during the Civil War and the Spanish-American War.
Fort Knox - Penobscot River, Maine
Entering Canada at Calais, I got a six month visa and was advised that I should be able to renew the Canadian and American visas at any border point when the time arises. I can stay in America and Canada until Christmas with the current visas. I haven’t decided what to do for the winter yet. I don’t think I will have time to cross Canada to Alaska then head south to warmer weather this year. Options under consideration so far are:
1. Store the bike and fly somewhere warm and cheap for the winter
2. Ride south as it starts to get cold and miss out the North West
3. Ride south to warmer weather then ride back to Canada in the spring
4. Find a cabin to rent in Canada for the winter
I haven’t done much research into any of the options yet but don’t want to miss going to Alaska and the Canadian North West. I will probably head west and decide as it gets cooler.
Shortly after crossing into Canada I saw my first bald eagle sitting on the side of its nest. A great way to start a new country!
The first stop was Fundy National Park, New Brunswick which claims to have the highest tides in the world. The sea certainly disappears at low tide. The area is also known for its sea mists which were prevalent during my stay.
Mist On The Salmon River, Alma, Fundy Nation Park
Enroute for Moncton, New Brunswick for the bikes 12,000 mile service I stopped off at Hopewell Rocks, a coastal beauty spot. Low tide is the best time to visit to enable walking out to all the rock outcrops.
At Moncton I had to leave the bike overnight to ensure the engine was cold when checking the valve clearances. I would have preferred to remove all the luggage and the additional fuel tanks at a campsite and have ridden the bike to the garage just for the day. Staying at the C’mon Hostel, Monkton for the night gave me the luxury of a roof over my head instead of canvas for a change. I was also able to exchange the books I had read. A great place to stay if you are ever in the area.
I saw two bald eagles flying along the river bank at Monkton whilst having lunch. This makes three bald eagles, a symbol of America that I have seen in three days in Canada. I never saw one whilst in the USA!
The weekend I arrived in Canada was the same weekend as Horizons Unlimited meeting in Virginia. It would have been nice to have been there but unfortunately I was heading in the opposite direction. I won't have time to get to the next one in Western Canada in August either. Hopefully I will catch an HU meeting somewhere on my travels.
Once I collect the bike I am heading for the Cabots Trail, Nova Scotia.
Having decided to head to Petrolia, California for the Horizons Unlimited gathering on 24th to 27th September 2009 and postpone winter accommodation hunting in Alberta I headed south from Waterton Lake National Park in Alberta for Montana.
If David Attenborough Were Here There Would Be Bears Trying To Catch Leaping Salmon As Their Cubs played On The Riverbank
The nights have been cooler since arriving in the Rockies and I was heading for East Glacier Hostel just outside Glacier National Park rather than camping. I hadn’t found any other hostels on my route to California other than one near the Redwood National Park in California. However the temperature should rise as I get further south.
East Glacier Hostel, I Finally Get To Live Above An Ice Cream Shop
I arrived at East Glacier at the start of the Labour Day Weekend which traditionally denotes the end of summer. Most of the local footpaths started at Two Medicine Campsite inside Glacier National Park and about 12 miles from East Glacier.
Two Medicine Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana
I did one walk to Old Man Lake which some would say was appropriate. The footpath continued over the Continental Divide to make an 18 mile circular walk but I wasn’t carrying enough provisions and returned the way I came.
Old Man lake, Glacier National Park, Montana
There were Grizzly Bears in the area although I, as usual didn’t see any. I chatted to a number of people who had seen Grizzlies and there had been a number of sightings of a mother with triplet cubs.
Beware Of Grizzly Bears
Grizzly Bears don’t seem to obey the rule of most wildlife - "If you leave them alone they will leave you alone". Still the chances of seeing one are fairly remote and the likelihood of one attacking is even slimmer. In England we ensure there is a fence between us and anything that can eat us. This reduces the excitement but does wonders for our peace of mind.
Rocky Mountains, Glacier National Park, Montana
A couple of days later I set out to do the 18 mile round walk over the Continental Divide. A few drops of rain fell as I rode to the starting point at Two Medicine Campground and it got heavier as I arrived. Putting on the wet weather hiking gear I thought the cooler temperatures might be better than the heat of previous days for a long walk.
The First Snow Fell As I Was Halfway Up A Mountain
Snow had been forecast for higher ground for the last three or four days but hadn’t materialised and it seemed far too hot for snow. However halfway up the rain turned to snow, the first to fall in this part of the Rockies this ’winter’. I later learned that Glacier National Park holds the USA record for the largest drop in temperature, 70 degrees Fahrenheit (39 degrees Centigrade) in four hours.
East Side Of The Continental Divide In Freezing Strong Wind Making It Difficult To Stand Up
There was a Park Ranger coming back down the path having checked that nobody was in trouble as conditions worsened at the Continental Divide. By the time I got to the top and the Continental Divide, a climb of 2500 feet, there was three inch deep patches of snow. The wind was strong enough to making standing difficult and was bitterly cold. The path disappeared a short distance on the west side of the Continental Divide in the scree and snow. I spent ten to fifteen minutes looking for the path and in that time my gloved hands went numb with the wind chilled cold, Being the coward that I am I decided to head back down the way I had come rather than continue to search for the path.
West Side Of The Continental Divide Was Colder Than The East
My fingers were hurting as they thawed out on the way back down. The only other times, and there has been many of them that I have experienced this is from riding motorcycles through the winter in England.
The weather improved for the return walk as I descended and I was fully warm again by the time I got to the bike.
Road To The Sun, Glacier National Park, Montana
Leaving East Glacier via the ‘Road To The Sun’ the mountain scenery was stunning. Unfortunately roadworks bunched the traffic up which meant I had to concentrate on the road a bit more.
Road To The Sun, Glacier National Park, Montana
There was an excellent stretch of road from St. Regis Montana to St. Maries, Idaho which included the ‘St. Joe River Scenic Byway’. The first stretch was on a dirt road but most of the route was paved and followed the St. Joe River. It might be a bit too narrow and twisty for travelling fast but it suited my pace perfectly.
St. Joe River Scenic Byway, Idaho
St. Joe River Scenic Byway, Idaho
Another good stretch of sweeping banked curves was discovered by accident. Approaching Lewiston, Idaho I took a wrong turn and ended up on Interstate 95 North. The GPS told me to make a U turn at a scenic lookout and when I pulled in I was at the top of Lewiston Hill overlooking the town. A 10 mile stretch of smooth banked turns had been built down to Lewiston as a demonstration of good road building. A great idea that Britain should take up.
Lewiston Hill, Idaho
Lewiston Hill, Idaho
Continuing South West the temperature increased and the grass turned yellow. Wild fire warning signs were set to high or extreme rather than the low I was used to seeing. After the rain in central Canada I was fully prepared to take the risk of being involved in a wild fire in exchange for being warm and dry!
Wild Fire Danger
Idaho Dry Landscape
Washington State (Or More Truthfully A Tiny Corner Of It)
I just cut into the South East corner of Washington State on the way from Idaho to Oregon. Stopping At Fields Spring State Park for a couple of days to reacclimatise to warm weather was a pleasant break.
Fields Spring State Park Camp, Washington State
Fields Spring State Park, Washington State
One leg of the journey from my campsite near Anatone, Washington to Elgin and La Grande, Oregon was a planned 110 miles with most of this on dirt roads in the Umatilla National Forest.
Troy, Oregon, The Start Of A Dirt Road Adventure
Plotting the route in the GPS had been difficult as what looked like a single road on the map was a maze of criss-crossing tracks. When I set off the GPS was wanting me to take tracks that were closed to vehicles either physically with logs or signs. Once I started recognising bits of track and realised I was going round in circles I picked a track using the GPS compass that was heading in the right direction. However this turned through 180 degrees in the direction I had came from so I admitted defeat, retraced my route back to the tarmac and came the longer route of highways 3 and 82.
GPS Screen In Umatilla Forest. Purple Line Shows The Plotted Route. No Wonder The GPS And I Got Lost!
The journey ended up being 182 miles instead of the planned 110. At least I didn’t have any deadlines to meet or places I had to be so I didn’t mind too much getting lost in the forest. The tracks were fun to ride but maybe I need to brush up on my navigation.
Umatilla National Forest, Oregon (Is This The Way To California?)
The road I ended up on instead formed part of the ’Hells Canyon Scenic Byway’. The weather was hot and the roads, as always good so I don’t have too much to complain about.
Hells Canyon, Oregon
On the way to Bend, Oregon on highways 244, 395, 19 and 26 I passed through Picture Gorge. The dark basalt rock was formed by lava flooding through cracks in the earths surface. Subsequent movements of the earth have tilted and broken up the layers and erosion has reshaped the landscape.
Picture Gorge, Oregon
Just like the old days of the wild west most of the land is used for cattle ranches.
Oregon Ranch Entrance
I was staying at Umalo State Park near Bend, Oregon when I had an email from friends Jack and Mary about a position on a cattle ranch in Montana. I would be looking after two cabins, some out buildings and fences in return for free accommodation. A flurry of emails and phone calls later and I had to make a choice. I could go to Montana for an interview or continue to California for the Horizons Unlimited meeting. I was only 400 miles from Petrolia, California and the ranch in Montana was 885 miles in the opposite direction. There wasn’t time to go for the interview then go to California without covering ridiculously high mileage for several days which wouldn’t be fun and would leave me too drained to enjoy the meeting.
Umalo State Park Near Bend Oregon
I had been looking forward to the Horizons Unlimited weekend particularly as Ted Simon, the author of Jupiter’s Travels and Dreaming of Jupiter among other books was going to be there. I saw Ted Simon’s Triumph in Adelaide, Australia when he was on his first journey round the world although I didn’t know who he was at the time. A few years later I received a copy of Jupiter’s Travels for Christmas and recognised the bike immediately. This book and the later Dreaming of Jupiter sowed the seeds for my trip.
Bend, Oregon - I Had To Visit In Case I Was Accused Of Going Round
When I first had the idea of spending the winter ‘up north’ I envisaged a log cabin on a hillside in the middle of nowhere. Dismissing this notion as unrealistic I had spent time looking at more achievable options in Alberta and intended to return to Alberta after the HU meeting. I now had the chance of that cabin on a remote hillside for free and had to go for it.
During this trip I have set off most days with no particular destination in mind, taking my time and rarely covering more than 200 miles each day using smaller minor roads almost exclusively. Now I decided to get an early start on the fastest available route and cover as many miles as possible. Whilst I would definitely choose to travel at my normal leisurely pace and see the sights on the way there was an excitement in just ‘eating the miles’ for a change. I covered 760 miles from Bend, Oregon to Big Sky, Montana leaving a comfortable 125 miles or so the next day to the ranch.
The cabin and the summer pasture it is on look amazing. Stunning views and lots of wildlife. An hour from the nearest town when the road isn’t blocked by snow and 2.5 miles to the nearest neighbour. I was delighted when I was offered the position. I am now learning my way round the ranch by checking the fences on foot and A.T.V. I’m also doing trips to town to stock up on books and food to sustain mind and body during the weeks when I’m snowed in. If I survive the winter with sanity intact I will continue the travels by heading north to the Yukon and Alaska. I aim to keep up the blog through the winter although I won’t be travelling far and will be storing the bike away for the winter at the end of October. I’m off to Yellowstone National Park next week which may be the last bike trip of 2009.
My Winter Home
I have done 15,000 miles since leaving Miami in April and had a fantastic summer. I’m looking forward to winter on the ranch and continuing the travels in the spring of 2010.
The Nearest Neighbour Is 2.5 Miles Away
I feel like a bit of a tourist dashing from one place to another in an ‘if it’s Thursday it must be Arches National Park’ kind of way. We’re all tourists really of course but some of us with illusions of grandeur prefer to think of ourselves as more worldly wise 'travellers'.
Arches National Park, Utah
In order to see everything I want to see in the western USA I have abandoned a couple of my personal travel rules I set myself last summer:
(1) Only ride around 200 miles per day which leaves time to do other things and is
the right distance for me to enjoy the travelling and not get fixated on the
(2) Always stay at least two nights when staying overnight. If you don’t you won’t
see much of the place your staying at.
The third rule of avoiding interstates I try to keep to but will use them on occasion.
Maybe my three travel rules explain why I have been in the USA so long and why the Department of Homeland Security insist that I leave in September!
Delicate Arch, Arches NP, Utah
Following my dash south to warmer weather I based myself in Moab, Utah as it had a hostel, The Lazy Lizard for cheap accommodation and a number of national parks nearby.
Underneath Delicate Arch
Arches national park has a 24 mile long road running through eroded, sculptured rock formations with a number of short footpaths. The arch most people would be familiar with is called ‘Delicate Arch’ and is at the end of a mile long uphill footpath. I returned for a second visit hoping to photograph it in the red light of the setting sun. Cloud cover muted the colours somewhat but it was still well worth climbing the hill a second time.
Arches National Park, Utah
Another arch on the footpath from the end of the road was wider and much more delicate than ‘Delicate Arch’. A 60 tonne section had fallen from the underside resulting in the park authorities closing the footpath that went under the arch. Rather than close the footpath they should erect a warning sign saying something along the lines of: “This Arch May Collapse At Any Time, Have A Nice Day”.
This Arch May Collapse At Any Time, Have A Nice Day
Canyonlands national park is huge with two entrances forty miles apart. I visited the northern section, ‘Island in The Sky’ one day and the southern ’Needles’ section another where I walked 11 miles to the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers following small cairns marking the footpath. The different coloured waters of the two rivers could be seen slowly intermingling as they flowed downriver.
Two Feet To The Bottom : Colorado/Green River Confluence, Utah
One day I took a 68 mile circular ride following the Colorado river on the scenic highway 128 then climbed up to 11,122 feet in the La Sal Mountains. I reached the snow line before returning to warmer altitudes in Moab.
The Roadsigns Confused Me But Fortunately Garmin Knew The Way
La Sal Mountains, Utah
After a week in Moab I headed for Mesa Verde national park in Colorado via Silverton and the San Juan mountains which I translated as ‘Saint Ian’.
Silverton is a Victorian ex mining town which has retained many of its original buildings. Like a lot of similar places around the world it now makes its money from tourism. A train brings the tourists into town and takes them away again three hours later. One local old timer told me he made sure he kept away as the towns population was temporarily boosted from 500 to 1500.
San Juan (Saint Ian) Mountains, Colorado
Mesa Verde has impressive ancient Pueblo ruins dated from 600 AD to 1200 AD. Many utilise difficult to get to natural alcoves and ledges on the cliff sides so presumably security was their number one priority although the cliffs also provided shelter from the elements.
Mesa Verde, Colorado
The earliest dwellings at Mesa Verde were pit houses built above the cliffs and sunk several feet into the ground. I have seen ruins in the north of Scotland built this way.
Mesa Verde, Colorado
There were more 13th century Pueblo ruins at Hovenweep national monument in Colorado, mainly built on the plateau above the cliffs this time. I saw yet more stone arches at the Natural Bridges national monument in Utah. I was going to camp here but the main campsite was full. A park ranger told me where I could legally wild camp a few miles away but I decided to press on. With hindsight I should have opted to wild camp at Natural Bridges national monument.
Hovenweep, Colorado: They Build UK Houses This Close Now
The 261 road south from Natural Bridges national monument towards Arizona was good, particularly a three mile dirt section which dropped dramatically down a cliff face with numerous hairpin bends (switchbacks for Americans). The wind was picking up and visibility looked bad further ahead. The tumbleweed was rolling across the road reminiscent of the 'Cowboy And Indian' films of my childhood. Soon I was experiencing my first sandstorm which was exciting to say the least. Wind speeds in excess of 50mph were blowing me across the road while half the Arizona desert found its way into my eyes and the other swirled in front of my visor so that I wouldn’t have been able to see even if my eyes weren’t full of Arizona’s finest.
Hwy 261, Utah Disappears Into An Approaching Sandstorm
The sandstorm was still raging when I arrived at Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, the location for many western films. I had hoped to camp here but the wind would have ripped any tent to shreds. The bike never stopped rocking whilst it was parked on its side stand. I fully expected it to blow over but there were no other parking options while I checked on accommodation. Monument Valley hotel cost an arm and a leg so I decided to risk my neck by riding to the nearest town in search of a cheaper place to stay.
Monument Valley, Arizona In Sandstorm
I took some atmospheric pictures from the visitors centre which as it turned out was all I got to see of Monument Valley as I had ridden too far to return the next day.
Monument Valley, Arizona In Sandstorm
Following the sandstorm at Monument Valley I carefully checked the weather forecast before heading for the south rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. A cool 53F (12C) maximum with isolated thunderstorms was predicted.
It snowed on the way to the Grand Canyon
As I rode across the flat lands I could see a number of what looked like heavy rain showers scattered around and hoped the road would steer me between them which it pretty much did for the first half of the journey. I stopped to put on the waterproof oversuit just in case I ran into a storm but caught some light rain which turned to sleet then snow. Some sections of road were white with slick ice sheets and my visor was building up a thicker and thicker layer of ice which got harder and harder to wipe away. As I arrived at Grand Canyon the small central portion of visor I had managed to keep clear of ice was insufficient to maintain peripheral vision for the side roads and I stopped to scrape it clean.
Iced Up Visor
I had intended to camp at Grand Canyon but having ridden an hour and a half in snow I chickened out and booked a couple of nights in a motel. The next two days were of course fine so I moved into the campsite for the remainder of my stay. The temperature the first night in the tent got down to 20F (-7C), probably the coldest I have camped in but it was fine. I awoke to what I thought was the sound of rain on the tarp but when I looked out it was yet more snow.
Desert View, Grand Canyon On The Day I Arrived
Camping in the snow isn’t so bad, it is arriving having ridden through the snow then having to unpack and put the tent up whilst it continues to snow that is grim. I was fortunate to have a café 400 yards from the tent that I could retreat to for warmth and sustenance. I might have a different opinion on camping in the snow if I couldn’t dash to a café to warm up and get breakfast. On the day it snowed it continued until 4pm. I spent the day in the café catching up on my emails and blog. I was glad I didn’t have to rely on the small tent for shelter all day.
One of three words spring to mind when you first see the Grand Canyon, WOW and two naughty words. Fortunately for the Horizons Unlimited censors I’m more of a WOW kind of guy. I like the way the National Parks allow you to take responsibility for your own safety. If you want to stand or sit on the edge of the canyon rim you’re free to do so.
A pair of star cross’d lovers take their life ... But Why The Dog?
The temperature changes during a day in this part of the world are extreme. On my last day at Grand Canyon I awoke at 7am feeling a bit cold in the tent so lit a couple of candles (Don’t tell the camping health and safety executive). At 8am the sun was warming the tent and the bike panniers were warm to the touch although a loaf of bread inside was defrosting and still frozen in the centre from the overnight 18F (-8C) and by mid afternoon it was 96F (35C).
The signs warned that walking was safest before 11am or after 4pm so naturally
I set off at 10am and finished at 4pm, walking in the hottest part of the day. I walked halfway down the canyon and back in six hours. This was a seven mile round trip descending 2400 feet and climbing back up. It was 96F (35C) in the sun by mid afternoon as I was returning to the rim. As the park ranger said, it is like climbing a mountain in reverse, the hard ascent comes at the end.
Its Much Hotter Inside The Canyon
The cooler weather this early in the summer is much better for walking than mid summer although the evening and night time temperatures were colder than I would have liked.
I had intended on going to the north rim as it only gets 10% of the Grand Canyon visitors whilst the south rim gets 90%. The south rim is closer to Las Vegas and Flagstaff the two nearest cities. The rims are only a mile apart as the condor flies but it is over 200 miles by road. The north rim being a 1000ft higher at 8000ft keeps the snow for longer and wasn’t opening to the public until the 15th May, shortly after I had moved on.
The Zig Zag Track Into The Canyon
My route from the Grand Canyon south rim to Zion National Park took me most of the way to the north rim using highway Alt 89 passing through Jacob Lake. Yet another scenic, sweeping road with little traffic.
I entered Zion from the east travelling through a mile long tunnel blasted through the rock in the 1930s. I couldn’t figure out why the GPS still worked with metres of solid rock on all sides when it refuses to work within normal house walls. The GPS correctly logged progress through the tunnel and showed each bend inside the tunnel.
The road and all the Zion facilities are in the bottom of Zion Canyon at a very sensible 4000 feet so temperatures were much warmer than at the Grand Canyon rim. Shorts weather through the day and evening made a nice change.
A Sunny Zion National Park, Utah
The bike was coming up to its 24,000 mile service and the only BMW mechanic and spares I could find within a 500 mile radius was in Las Vegas. I have always said that Las Vegas would be about the last place on earth I would want to visit but I booked the service for the first available date in six days time and opted to spend the time leisurely at Zion with its good weather and catch my breath from the hurried pace since leaving Montana.
Steep Zion Canyon Footpath
It’s strange that in the Grand Canyon where you start at the canyon rim there is an urge to climb to the bottom and at Zion where you start at the bottom there is an urge to climb to the rim.
Zion's Virgin River A Long Way Below
Some of the longer Zion walks are exciting. The top section of the walk to Angels Landing is narrow and rocky with a drop on one side and a chain bolted into the rock to provide handholds on the other. After completing the walk I learned that a number of people fell to their deaths in separate incidents on this section last year.
Angels Landing Footpath, Zion
At a high rocky observation point I saw my first rattlesnake. Having walked four miles and gained 2148 feet I had taken my socks and shoes off and was laid out in the sun prior to hiking back down. As I crept forward to try and get a photograph it was unanimously decided among the half dozen of us there that no one was going to volunteer to suck the poison out of a sweaty toe if I was bitten. I got to within 2.5 feet of it but it ran off or whatever the snake equivalent of running off is as I aimed the camera. The snake was apparently more scared than I was but it was a close run thing. There were lots of chipmonks playing on the rocks and it was nice to see them and the rattlesnake living happily side by side.
Chipmonk Risks Life And Limb At Cliff Edge To Escape Tourist
Zion National Park, Utah
As I was packing to leave Zion for Las Vegas I got chatting to a couple familiar with my route and they suggested I turn off the interstate and take a country road which was more interesting. Taking their advice I found myself on a good quiet road, highway 169 heading towards Hoover Dam which I didn’t know I was near so decided to make the short detour to the dam.
Hoover Dam On The Arizona / Nevada Border
I was staying at the USAHostel on Fremont Street in Las Vegas. Fremont Street is the original downtown area and boasts a pedestrianised section with the largest casino, the Golden Nugget and more neon than you could imagine. It is two miles away from the newer ‘strip’.
Fremont Street, Las Vegas
I rode down ‘The Strip’, Las Vegas Boulevard South on the way to the BMW dealership. From the elegantly sophisticated ‘Say I Do Drive Thru’ Little White Wedding Chapel which boasts hosting the short lived weddings of many a stylish celebrity to the authentic Luxor Las Vegas complete with pyramid and sphinx via the Statue of Liberty, the Eifel Tower, Treasure Island and a host of other reincarnations it was a sight to behold and my idea of hell on earth.
A Glass Of Beer Several Stories High
Up till now I have had the bike serviced by a BMW mechanic, sometimes as in Las Vegas, by the official dealer & sometimes an independent guy. I think that because it has electronic ignition and fuel injection that they use sophisticated electronic diagnostic equipment during the service. I also have a nagging doubt that they don't and I could do the work myself and save a fortune. I’m carrying the tools and expect to do my own servicing when qualified mechanics are no longer available.
Las Vegas Strip
I have now done 18,000 miles in the USA and Canada since arriving at the end of March 2009.
I made my escape from Las Vegas on minor roads avoiding the interstate as usual. I had wanted to ride through Death Valley from south to north then continue to Yosemite and through the Great Divide at Tioga Pass on Hwy 120. At 9948 feet, Tioga Pass was still closed due to snow from four feet to six feet deep across the road. My second and third choices of Hwy 108 or Hwy 4, both to the north of Yosemite were also closed.
Shimmering Heat Of Death Valley Salt Flats
I entered Death Valley from the south as planned heading for Furnace Creek Campground about half way through the national park stopping at Badwater on the way. Badwater is the lowest point in the Americas at 282 feet (85.5m) below sea level. Not a place you would want to be if a tsunami struck!
Badwater - The Lowest Lifeforms In The Americas
After setting up camp it was 95F (35C) in the shade which is where I spent the remainder of the afternoon reading my book. A night time low of 70F (21C) was forecast. The vast range of temperatures that vary according to altitude take some getting used to.
Death Valley Post Office
A park ranger told me the best route to Yosemite was via the interstate but I had spotted a narrow road running through Sequoia National Monument and ’Sherman Pass’. I could find no information on Sherman Pass, there was no internet connection and nobody I asked knew whether it would be open. The height of the other passes were shown on the map but Sherman Pass wasn’t which I took to mean it was significantly lower and possibly open. It was yet another little used twisting road climbing up into the mountains leading to the pass so I decided to ride up knowing that I may have to turn around if the pass was closed.
Death Valley Sunset
Taking this route meant leaving Death Valley halfway through. The Death Valley road further north was a dirt road which I had been told was made of sharp stones that ate tyres so at least I avoided that.
I rode through the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes on the way out of Death Valley. There were lots of snake tracks in the sand but no sight of actual snakes. I was wearing a thin tee shirt and jeans as it was too hot to contemplate wearing the bike suit.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
The road left Death Valley through Emigrant Pass at 5318 feet (1621m) which was getting a bit cool for the sexy tee shirt and jeans look. I took a short detour down a dirt road to the ghost town of Ballarat named after the Australian mining town. A sign said that the last resident had died in 1968 and was buried in boot hill however it looked like a few residents had moved back in. There was a small store and at least one other building that looked occupied.
Ballarat 'Ghost Town'
Ten miles from Sherman Pass I was flagged down and told the road was definitely blocked by snow so I turned round to try my fifth option of getting through the Great Divide and if this one wasn’t open I would have to take the interstate.
Ballarat 'Ghost Town'
Fortunately Walker Pass on Hwy 178 at a mere 5245 feet (1610m) was open and an added bonus of this route was that it took me through Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Roughly 130 miles later I was twenty miles west of where I had to turn around near the blocked Sherman Pass.
Having taking my fifth option of passes through the Sierra Nevada Mountains as the first four were closed due to snow I rode through Sequoia National Forest and Giant Sequoia National Monument climbing up into the snowline and dropping into warm valleys several times a day.
In The Sequoia National Forest Snow
Finding a campsite on the shores of Lake Kaweah, California in a lower altitude with warm, dry weather I camped for a couple of days. The lake level was rising with the melt water from the snow and ice higher up. Some of the lower camp pitches were flooded and the levels rose sufficiently that the campsite had to close on the day I left. The camp notice board warned of Tarantulas and Western Diamond Backed Rattlesnakes but I didn’t see signs of either.
Flooded Kaweah Lake Campsite
I had an extended lunch with a number of hot and cool drinks at a WiFi café sitting on a balcony overlooking a fast flowing river. At 4pm I was told that the café was closing but if I wanted to, I could stay on the balcony using my laptop and let myself out of a side gate. I was about to pack up and leave anyway but by the time I had put the laptop away the door into the café was locked. Hurrying round to the front via the side gate I told the staff who had just locked up that I hadn’t paid for all the food and drink I had. As they had already locked up I was told I could have the meal on the house which was very nice of them.
Rising Water Closed The Campsite On The Day I Left
I was back into snow by the roadside at Sequoia National Park, the home of General Sherman, the largest tree by volume in the world.
Snowy Sierra Nevada Mountains From Sequoia National Park
I remember seeing pictures of a live tree from Sequoia NP that had a hole cut through the trunk and a road driven through it. Unfortunately this rough treatment eventually killed the tree and it fell down. There is now a road through a tree that had already fallen down in 1934 instead but this road was closed to traffic due to the snow. I walked up the road through 'tunnel log' to the closed Crescent Meadow Campsite. The snow was up to two feet deep on about half the road with other sections clear.
Tunnel Log, You Can Normally Drive Through Here But Snow Had Closed The Road
A car had been trapped at the campground for the winter and had damage to most panels including the roof and the mirrors and wipers were hanging off. A window was smashed but personal possessions were still in the car so presumably all the damage was done by the weight of the snow which must have buried the car through the worst of the winter.
Car Trapped For The Winter Was Severely Damaged By Snow
The General Sherman Giant Sequoia Tree is 275 feet high and has a circumference of 103 feet at the base. Other trees are taller or wider but this one is the largest in the world by volume. It is between 2300 and 2700 years old and still looking good.
General Sherman Giant Sequoia - The Largest Tree In The World
There was a black bear 20 yards from the road as I was leaving Sequoia National Park. Fifty or Sixty tourists were trying to get photographs and several park rangers were stopping them getting too close so I decided not to stop and swell the crowd further.
25 MPH Looks A Bit Optimistic Today
All the campsites at Sequoia NP were in the snowline so I continued to Kings Canyon National Park and camped in the canyon bottom. Unfortunately it rained the day I spent there and I got a few strange looks as I walked the canyon forest wearing a motorcycle oversuit to keep dry.
Kings Canyon National Park, California
The following day I rode towards Yosemite National Park. The Yosemite campsites were all fully booked although one smaller campsite is reserved for ‘first come, first served’ campers without bookings. I stopped at a National Forest campsite a mile from the park boundary intended to get into the park early the next day and try to get a space at the ‘first come, first served’ campsite. The national forest campsite was in the snowline although most of the snow had melted leaving the ground damp. In the morning I had to strap the wet tent from the condensation rising from the ground to the outside of the panniers and get into Yosemite in search of a campsite.
Sierra Nevada Mountains From Kings Canyon NP
Roadworks in the park delayed me with numerous temporary traffic lights. It was nearly lunchtime before I got to the campsite and it was fully booked. I later learnt that people start queuing at 5:30am to get sites being vacated later that morning. I ended up riding 30 miles out of the park to a hostel. I seem to be having more trouble finding accommodation this summer on the west side of the USA than I did last summer in the east. Hopefully things will improve after Memorial Day weekend at the end of May when all the campsites should be open.
The following day on returning to the park there was room at the campsite but I had already decided to move on and had booked accommodation in San Francisco. There was a walk following the river to a waterfall, Vernal Fall which I thought would be a stroll along the river to a viewpoint of the Fall but it turned out to be a steep climb to the top of the waterfall.
Vernal Fall, Yosemite
At two places on the climb the path went through mist and water dripping from overhead rocks from the waterfall. The well prepared hiker had a plastic waterproof with them, others like myself got wet.
Half Dome, Yosemite NP
The 165 mile ride to San Francisco through the foothills and down into agricultural orange groves, walnut and almond plantations was better than expected from studying the map. There was a 45 mile or so section of interstate in the middle then the heavy city traffic built up approaching Oakland and the Bay Bridge leading into San Francisco.
Lunch Stop In Park On Way To San Francisco
San Francisco was one of the few cities I wanted to visit on this trip as I am mainly travelling between national and state parks and keeping to the more rural areas. I was here once before a long time ago and wanted to revisit some old haunts and reacquaint myself with the city.
San Francisco Waterfront
The first mistake I made was not checking that my accommodation offered free parking. I was paying $26 per night for hostel accommodation and ended up having to pay a further $12 per day to park the bike. Still, parking seemed to be extra everywhere in the city centre and if I had stayed further out I would have had to ride the bike in each day and pay for parking and probably bridge tolls (There are tolls on the Bay and Golden Gate bridges).
Alcatraz From Coit Tower
The first evening was spent wandering around Pier 39 and Fishermans Wharf. I didn’t remember seals relaxing on the floating jetties at Pier 39 on my first trip to San Francisco.
Seals At Pier 39
I had arranged to have a bike mirror that I had on back order forwarded to me in San Francisco. I had hoped to get it before leaving Montana but naturally it arrived there shortly after I left. On going to the post office I had asked for it to be sent to I was told they didn’t deal with mail collection (General Delivery) and was redirected to a post office round the corner. When I got there I was told that I needed to go to the first post office! Visiting both post offices became a daily ritual.
The most crooked street in the USA, a block of Lombard Street is on one of the steeper hills at 27%. I wondered how the residents felt as hoards of tourists wind passed their doors. The garages under some of the houses looked particularly challenging to get in and out of.
The Most Crooked Street In The USA, Lombard Street
Coit Tower on the top of Telegraph Hill offers stunning views of the bay and city as well as displaying an interesting set of left wing murals inside.
Reaching the Pacific coast at San Francisco completes the crossing of the USA from coast to coast and it only took 13 months! I’m aiming for the slowest motorcycle trip on record.
Garmin And I Agree That We Can't Go Any Further West!
While heading for the Italian, North Beach area of San Francisco I was walking through the up market area of Nob Hill and stumbled across an anti Barack Obama demonstration outside the Fairmont Hotel. Barack Obama was hosting a fund raising event there for Senator Barbara Boxer. I would like to point out to the FBI that I was not taking part in the demonstration but accidentally found myself in their midst.
Anti Barack Obama Demonstration As Witnessed By Non Participating Tourist
Riding out to Lincoln Park, Haight district and The Castro district there were two holocaust memorials, the Pink Triangle Memorial for the Gays sent to the Nazi concentration camps at The Castro and the San Francisco Holocaust Memorial in Lincoln Park. The Gays had it tough as the ones that survived the concentration camps were liberated and re-arrested by the allies as gayness was illegal in those days.
The Pink Triangle Holocaust Memorial, The Castro
The Haight district was home for many of the hippy generation stars. Janis Joplin had five houses there in succession. Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead and Graham Nash all lived in the Haight as did Sid Vicious. The Psychopath Charles Manson had a house there, Patty Hearst hid from the FBI there and most shockingly, Rudolph Nureyev and Dame Margot Fontaine were busted for smoking pot there. From an earlier time Wyatt Earp, Gunman, Lawman, Journalist and fight referee lived there.
Lincoln Park Holocaust Memorial
The Palace Of The Legion Of Honour building in Lincoln Park is impressive and has one of the original Rodin’s The Thinker statues is in the courtyard. I though there was only one original and that it was in Paris but it turns out that there are about 20 scattered around the world that are classed as originals.
Rodin's The Thinker
Palace Of The Legion Of Honour In Lincoln Park
Lincoln Park has a footpath along the cliff top to Land’s End which gives some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge on the city side of the bridge. It was a nice place to escape the big city for a while.
Golden Gate Bridge From Lincoln Park
I left San Francisco without collecting my mirror that was being delivered to the Post Office (General Delivery). I eventually established that all General Delivery to San Francisco ends up at the same post office (101 Hyde St.) for collection. I will be back in San Francisco next week for a day and will check one last time then. If I ever need to have anything posted to me in future I will choose a smaller town where the post is less likely to go astray.
San Francisco Pyramid Building
I had to move around a bit to get accommodation over the Memorial Day Weekend as everywhere I tried was fully booked for at least part of the long weekend. As this is my second Memorial Day Weekend on this trip I'm almost in agreement with the Department Of Homeland Security that I have been in the USA too long! The first destination was Montara Lighthouse 25 miles south of San Francisco.
Golden Gate Bridge Sunset
It was raining quite heavily most of the morning I was due to leave San Francisco but it had fortunately stopped by the time the bike was loaded and I was ready to set off.
San Francisco Street
I arrived at Montara Lighthouse at lunchtime unloaded my bag then went in search of groceries. Returning to Montara I turned off the main highway to post a card at the Post Office and picked up a rear wheel puncture. Luckily there was a filling station nearby and I walked the bike to it so that I could make use of the filling station compressor.
My Temporary Home, Montara Lighthouse
I have to remove all the luggage to put the bike on the centre stand. I was then able to inspect the wheel and found an 1.5 inch screw buried till it was flush with the tyre. I have changed tyres and tubes before, sometimes without any problems and on other occasions I have sweated for hours. This time around I got the tube out without any major dramas but found a ¾ inch slit in the outer side of the tube and a number of smaller punctures on the inside as the screw had gone straight through both sides of the tube. I wasn’t carrying spare tubes, only a puncture repair outfit and was doubtful that a patch would seal the slit. I put the largest patch I had over the slit and two smaller patches over the inside holes and put a bit of air into the tube. The tube inflated but I didn’t have much confidence in the patches holding. There wasn’t any other options to get mobile again that day so I installed the tube, refitted the wheel and reloaded the bike by which time as I half expected the tyre was flat again. I put my helmet on, re-inflated the tyre and rode the ¾ mile or so to Montara Lighthouse on the hard shoulder arriving with only a little air left in the tyre.
Picturesque Place To Change A Tube
It took a good part of the following day to get two buses in each direction to the nearest bike shop in Daly City, buy a tube and get back to the bike. The tube was fitted without any problem but it took ages to blow up with the small hand pump I carry.
Montara Lighthouse comprises of a number of Victorian buildings sitting on top of cliffs overlooking a secluded cove beach. There is a cliff top walk to a marine reserve with seals basking on the rocks. It is possible, but only just as I found out, to walk to the nearest town, Half Moon Bay along the cliff tops. As it was Memorial Day Weekend when I was there Half Moon Bay was hosting a free music concert. A Santana tribute band were just starting their session as I arrived so I sat on one of the straw bale seats listening to the music and admiring the ocean view. Santana music seemed appropriate as Carlos Santana lived in San Francisco.
Californian Coast, Santana Music, It Could Almost Be The Summer Of Love!
From Montara I headed north up the coast spending a night at Marin Headlands on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge was busy with traffic and pedestrians as it was Memorial Day when I rode across. Marin Headlands used to be a military base but the buildings have now been leased to non profit organisations.
I saw my first otter in the lagoon at Marin Headlands on the way to Point Bonita lighthouse which has great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the city of San Francisco.
Golden Gate Bridge From Point Bonita, Marin Headlands
Point Reyes is a peninsular just north of San Francisco, it covers a large area of green hills and valleys inland as well as coastal cliffs and beaches.
San Francisco Shrouded In Mist From Muir Beach
Point Reyes was the epicentre of the 1906 earthquake which killed an estimated 5000 people and destroyed most of San Francisco. This earthquake was estimated at 7.8. Since then there has been a 6.9 earthquake in 1989 and a 6.0 in 2004. Most of the 1906 damage was caused by a huge fire started by the earthquake.
Fence Moved 16ft In 45 Seconds During the 1906 Earthquake
A section of the San Andreas fault that was the epicentre of the 1906 earthquake is marked out by a line of blue posts. A reconstruction shows where, in 45 seconds a 16 foot gap appeared in a fence during the earthquake. Feeling lucky I straddled the fault line with a foot planted firmly on the Pacific tectonic plate and the other on the North American plate, amazingly the earth missed the opportunity of my foolishness and failed to move.
Looking Down On The Mist At Point Reyes Lighthouse
There was a fair bit of fog and light rain interspersed with some brighter weather which is typical for the area. The coastal fog created interesting views as it drifted in and out especially from heights where it was possible to look down on the clouds, a bit like being in an aeroplane. It could be damp and foggy on the coast and on higher ground up on the hills but warm and sunny in the valleys a mile or so away.
Point Reyes Lighthouse
I returned to San Francisco for the day from Point Reyes to see if my bike mirror had turned up at the post office. It hadn’t. After having a look round the DeYoung museum in Golden Gate Park I decided to see if the BMW dealer had the mirror in stock. I thought it unlikely as I had the one being posted to me in San Francisco on backorder for three months in Montana, however I was able to pick one up and the bike now has two mirrors again. Having bought this mirror no doubt the one currently lost in the San Francisco postal system will turn up leaving me with a spare to get rid of.
Tomales Elk Reserve in the north of Point Reyes was a wonderful place to walk in early June with fields full of Spring flowers. As I got closer to Tomales Point the footpath was overgrown with head high flowering shrubs. There was plenty of elk but the fog prevented me from seeing the ocean views.
Flowers On Tamales Point Trail
Drake Estero (Estuary) is named after Sir Francis Drake or Captain Drake as he was known then as Elizabeth I didn’t knight him until 1581. He is credited with being the first European to have sighted and mapped Point Reyes. His ship, the Golden Hinde was beached here to carry out repairs whilst making the first English circumnavigation of the world in 1579. The whole circumnavigation, the main purpose of which was piratical took three years which looks likely to be quicker than mine and I‘m not stopping to plunder any gold enroute. Unfortunately he had sailed straight by the as yet ‘undiscovered’ San Francisco Bay leaving it to be ‘discovered’ by the Spaniard Jose Ortega many years later in 1769. I suspect the Oholone Native Americans had actually discovered it centuries earlier.
Returning from Drake Estero a bobcat was walking up the footpath towards me, when it caught sight of me it darted into the bushes and a second later a deer, startled by the bobcat leapt out of the bushes, cleared the footpath and disappeared on the opposite side of the footpath. A short while later I saw a snake sunning itself on the footpath.
Snake Blocking My Progress
The day I planned to leave Point Reyes was foggy so I stayed an extra day as I hoped to see the coastal scenery whilst riding north up highway one. The following day was clear at Point Reyes but it was foggy again once I left the peninsular. Between Point Reyes and Mendocino apart from a couple of brief hazy glimpses through the fog the only indication that I was on the coast was the pretty blue colour on the left side of my GPS screen.
I spent a couple of damp, foggy nights camping amongst large Redwood trees at Mendocino which is a nice small town with a number of arts and crafts shops and studios. It also has a number of new age hippies who seemed to be living on the beach and making a bit of cash selling homemade jewellery.
Camping Amongst The Redwoods
The weather finally cleared when I rode up to Petrolia where I missed last years Horizons Unlimited meeting as I had to change direction to meet the owner of the Montana cabin I stayed in over the winter. I will miss this years meeting at Petrolia as I have been invited to leave the country by the Department of Homeland Security. The road I took to Petrolia was narrow with tight turns and potholes with the occasional short section of dirt road thrown in for good measure. I had planned a route on a section of dirt road but it was closed when I got to it however the ‘paved’ road was challenging enough for me.
River At Petrolia, California
My final stop in California was in a Giant Redwoods State Park camping again surrounded by enormous trees. I rode through the park on a rough, potholed dirt road made up of wet, greasy, slippery clay. I kept the speed low as quick direction changes around potholes and flooded sections got the tyres sliding and, not having health insurance I can’t afford to fall off.
Bike Alongside A Giant Redwood
The impressive thing about the Giant Redwoods is that there are forests full of enormous trees rather than isolated large trees scattered through the forest. It must make a forester weep. All that prime lumber with a preservation order on it.
Another wet day with periods of heavy rain and gusts of strong wind saw me leaving California and enter Oregon along highway 101 with a wet tent strapped to the bike.
Gold Beach Oregon In The Rain
Fortunately I was heading for a friend of a friends house in Bandon. Oleh and Tina have a super cool 1952 school bus converted into a mobile home that is used for guest accommodation.
My Temporary Home, A 1952 Converted School Bus Called Maxine
Oleh is a writer and artist who had designed the Seaman’s Memorial in Bandon Harbour. An annual service is held at the memorial then the participants go out to sea in a boat in remembrance of those lost at sea.
Oleh And His Sailors Memorial
Sunny weather was finally forecast for the next leg of the journey. Although it failed to materialise it was the best day on the Pacific since leaving San Francisco. It was cool and damp at times but it was the first day where I had clear views of the coastline.
I passed a large area of sand dunes with dune buggies flying in all directions. It looked as though the public had vehicle access to the dunes and you could just turn up, unload your buggy and go.
Oregon Sand Dunes
Highway 101, Oregon
Oleh had arranged for me to stay with friends of his, Ray and Terese further up the Oregon coast. They live in a house full of character right on the beach. We did a tour of the small town after a barbecue dinner and witnessed a good sunset, my the first in a while.
The weather was finally hot with clear blue sky and ocean when I left for Astoria and Washington State.
Blue Sky And Blue Ocean, Netart, Oregon Coast
Therese took me to the old Cape Meares Lighthouse which unfortunately had the windows and prism shot out by a couple of vandals. Being the USA the vandals have access to high velocity rifles which makes me thankful that the British vandals are still in their spray paint phase.
Me In The Cape Meares Sunshine
It was nice to finally see the views I have been missing riding up the coast in the fog. In season, migrating whales can be seen from Cape Meares cliffs.
Cape Meares, Oregon
Lewis and Clark are the American explorers who lead the Corp Of Discovery expedition commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson. They made a remarkable journey (1804 - 1806) from the Ohio river to the Pacific at what is now Astoria travelling overland and by canoe. Whilst not taking anything away from Lewis and Clark’s achievements it amused me that a Native American criticised the credit given to Lewis and Clark for discovering the route through the Bitterroot Mountains when a Native American guide, a Shoshone called ’Old Toby’ showed them the pass they had been using for hundreds of years.
Fort Clatsop just outside Astoria is where Lewis and Clark spent the winter following a two year trip to discover a trade route to the Pacific from the east before returning triumphant back to civilisation.
Astoria Tower sits on a hill overlooking the town and offers great views over the Columbia River to Washington State.
166 Steps Later, Columbia River From The Top Of Astoria Tower With Washington State In The Distance
Crossing the bridge over the Columbia river from Oregon to Washington State I headed to Cape Disappointment State Park to camp for the night.
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse
Cape Disappointment was named by an English fur trader, John Meares in 1788 when he was looking for the mouth of the Columbia river and failed to find it. He would have realised how close he was if only Garmin (or was it the US military?) had invented the GPS a bit earlier.
Benson Beach, Cape Disappointment
Lewis and Clark, the American explorers who were first to cross the continent in a 4000 mile canoe, horse and foot journey got their first glimpse of the Pacific at Wiakiki Beach on Cape Disappointment in 1805.
Waikiki Beach Where Lewis And Clark First Saw The Pacific
The tent was wet when I packed up from Cape Disappointment. I had intended to take a couple of loops on quiet small roads off Hwy 101 but as it was raining I headed straight for Olympic National Park. The weather improved later as I travelled north to Quinault where it was sunny and I was able to dry the tent by draping it over the bike in the visitor centre car park. I had lunch by Lake Quinault and explored the village while the tent was drying.
The Lake Quinault Lodge built in 1926 represented how the other half live to me. The grounds were nice and free to walk round though.
Quinault Lodge Gardens
Once everything was packed away on the bike I took a dirt road along the south side of the Quinault river, over a bridge and back along the north side of the river.
Crossing The Quinault River With Snow Capped Mountain On The Horizon
I didn’t do as much exploring in Olympic National Park as I would have liked but they don’t call it temperate rain forest for nothing. Temperate rain forests are rare and only found in Washington State, New Zealand and Southern Chile.
Washington State Beach
Crescent Lake, Olympic National Park
I Rode to Port Angeles without making any of the planned detours as it was cold, grey and overcast with some drizzle. Instead of staying in Port Angeles I opted to get the ferry straight to Victoria on Vancouver Island. Arriving at the port I found that a ferry was leaving in 15 minutes. There were no US customs or immigration to deal with so I had plenty of time to get aboard. A couple of miles offshore and the sun appeared.
Canada Bound, A Country With Proper Money With The Queen's Face On It
Last summer I had some fruit confiscated by US Customs as I crossed from Canada into the USA. As I hadn’t planned on crossing the border when I did I was carrying more fruit so spent the ninety minute ferry crossing eating as much of it as I could. Obviously on entering Canada the only things I was asked about were guns and ammunition and I didn‘t have any of those.
Port Angeles From The Ferry Leaving The USA
It's A Long Way From Almost Anywhere
There were rain clouds up ahead while waiting to be processed by immigration and customs at the Alaskan border. Once through the border I wanted to get as many miles as possible done before it started raining but was delayed 20 minutes at road works waiting to be convoyed through. Rather than use traffic lights at road works in the USA you are stopped by a person then a pilot vehicle takes a convoy of vehicles through controlling the speed.
Loading The Bike From Tok Arctic Tent
Fortunately I made it to Tok before the serious rain started and was able to get an arctic tent which saved having to put my own tent up in the rain. An arctic tent has four walls and a pitched roof made up from several layers of thick canvas. There was plenty of room to store gear out of the rain and room to move around, stand upright … luxury. I had planned on continuing riding the following day but it was raining steadily and looked to continue for the rest of the day so decided to stay in Tok. I was joined in the arctic tent by a cyclist who had flown his bike to Fairbanks and was cycling home to California. We discussed the pros and cons of cycling and motorcycling and both of us thought we had the best vehicle for the job which is how it should be. It rained heavily all day which produced some local flooding. Motorcyclists were seeking shelter wherever they could find it. The next day was dry so staying in Tok was the right decision.
Possibly The Best $20 I Have Ever Spent, Slana Traditional Cabin Hostel
Not wanting to get caught in the rain without accommodation I had booked into the Slana hostel which was only 65 miles from Tok but a guaranteed dry night. On arrival I found I had a traditional log cabin with wood burning stove, old fashioned oil lamps and an outside toilet. All very reminiscent of the Alaskan pioneers including the half mile round trip to the spring to carry water. I thought it was one of the best $20 I ever spent.
Slana hostel owners Steve and Joy were original homesteaders getting the land virtually free in the 1980s provided they improved it and built a home. The same criteria that applied a hundred years ago and more when the west was opened up for settlement.
Alaskans Use Higher Calibre Ammunition To Kill Their Road Signs
I was heading for friends of friends, Walter and Susie in Palmer. On arrival I had time for a quick shower and then whisked off to a barbecue across town. More amazing hospitality and great food ensued over the next few days as I visited local sights and went to Anchorage to get dirt tyres fitted.
Moose In Garden Towering Over Motorbike
Moose would come into the garden and became a regular sight which made up for last summer in Canada where they hid from me apart from a brief distant appearance on my last day in Saskatchewan.
BMW F650GS, 2006 Model With Low Seat Height Option (Susie's Dad Take Note)
I came over Hatcher Pass, a fairly rough dirt road on my way further north to try out the new tyres. It was raining and much of the road greasy and slippery so it turned out to be a good test for the tyres and thankfully they passed with flying colours. The rain and mist meant that I missed any scenery along the way. I was surprised at the number of people camping along the roadside especially considering the weather but it was the 4th of July weekend and camping on any of the long weekends is the thing to do.
Fjord Between Anchorage And Seward
Talkeetna claims to be the inspiration for the TV series “Northern Exposure”, it certainly has more than its fair share of quirky characters. There were a bunch of guys hanging around the hostel all day eating and watching films and rarely rose from a horizontal position. However rather than the degenerate youth of today as I first thought they had just returned from a 16 day successful climb of Mt. McKinley and were in fact mountaineering superheroes.
Talkeetna On July 4th
The 4th of July Independence day parade and other celebrations were held in Main Street, Talkeetna although why the USA want to celebrate separating from the motherland is beyond me. I was in upstate New York on the 2009 Independence Day so maybe I should think about moving on from North America and try to get a bit further round the world.
Talkeetna 4th July Parade
Talkeetna 4th July Parade
Alaskan ATV With That All Essential Guncase Accessory
Part of the celebrations was a Mountain Mothers contest. Contestants had to demonstrate their skill at chopping wood, shooting a bow and arrow, fly fishing and hauling water. All tasks any self respecting mother needs to survive the tough Alaskan lifestyle!
Talkeetna Hostel Owner Holli In The Mountain Mothers Competition
It rained most of the way from Talkneetna to Denali National Park. My main Alaskan ambition was to see Mount McKinley so I had booked into the nearest campsite at Wonder Lake 26 miles from the mountain and 85 miles into the park. I had met someone that had just left Wonder Lake who described it as a mosquito infested swamp but this was an exaggeration, the swamp was a good half mile away although she was right concerning the mosquitoes. Fortunately the rain stopped as I arrived and loaded a pannier full of camping gear and three days supply of food onto the shuttle bus. Private vehicles aren’t allowed into Denali but the park provides camper buses with some seats removed to carry all the camping equipment.
Mount McKinley Behind Cloud 75 Miles Away
Although I arrived an hour before my bus was due to leave I just managed to complete the paperwork and didn’t have time to grab anything to eat before boarding the bus for the 6 ½ hour journey to Wonder Lake. The bus has regular stops and also pulls up whenever wildlife is spotted. We saw wolves, caribou and moose close up and six blonde grizzly bears that were light coloured spots on the hillside unless you had binoculars and I didn’t.
Wonder Lake, Denali National Park
We arrived at Wonder Lake at 8:30pm and it was after 10:00pm by the time I had the tent up, made something to eat and fed the mosquitoes the first of many meals. Having sat on the bus all afternoon I decided to go for a walk. It is well over a week since it has been dark and I’m getting accustomed to 24 hours of daylight. I walked a six mile trail and got back to the tent in broad daylight at 1am.
Mount McKinley Almost Fully Revealed
Mount McKinley is normally concealed behind cloud any many visitors never get to see the mountain but on my last full day it was visible for two hours in the morning and two hours around midnight.
Mirror Lake, Denali National Park
Mount McKinley is more often referred to now by it’s native American name Denali (High One). It is 20,320 feet high and the highest mountain in the USA but it’s main claim to fame is that it rises from it’s surrounding plateau higher than any other mountain in the world. It is 18,000 feet from the plateau at Wonder Lake to the summit. Everest rises 10,000 feet above it’s plateau. Climbers have to climb further from base camp to summit on Denali than any other mountain.
Mount McKinley At Midnight
Having fed the mosquitoes one final time I boarded the bus to be reunited with my bike. There was a wolf cub, a dall sheep and two golden eagles posing close to the road and more grizzlies, moose and caribou appearing as moving dots on the distant hillside.
Mount McKinley At Midnight
Whether it was coincidence or not I don’t know but north of the Alaskan Range the weather got hotter and drier. Fairbanks, 200 miles south of the arctic circle was in the 80s Fahrenheit (27+ Celsius) while I was there and it wasn’t due to get dark until sometime in August.
Fairbanks Basking In 89F (32C) And Only 200 Miles From The Arctic Circle
I carried out the 30,000 mile service on my BMW F650GS in Fairbanks, the first time I have serviced this bike. There were no problems apart from dropping the oil tank drain plug into the dirty oil but everyone does that don’t they?
Chena River, Fairbanks
I had wanted to cross the Arctic Circle providing the weather was agreeable. If you were allowed to ride to the Arctic Ocean I would have been tempted but you have to complete the last few miles by bus for security reasons. I decided to just go as far as the Arctic Circle, get THE photo and head back, a round trip of just over 400 miles up the Elliot and Dalton highways from Fairbanks. I took food and camping gear in case it took longer than I thought or encountered problems partly because I hadn‘t been able to find out how much of the road was paved. 400 miles of dirt road in one day is more than I have done for a long time.
I got an early 3:45am start and had a very quiet ride seeing only 15 vehicles in both directions on the whole 200 mile trip. Six of those vehicles were in the last four miles for some strange reason. I envisaged a queue of vehicles and people at the arctic circle sign waiting their turn for photographs but I was the only one there for 20 minutes.
Time To Turn Around And Head South
The return trip from Fairbanks to the Arctic Circle took me 11 hours with a breakfast stop at the Yukon River on the way north. There are a few stretches of dirt road on the Dalton Highway but the Elliot Highway leading out of Fairbanks is paved apart from a few short sections. The road undulates over and weaves around hills with good views apart from this big pipe running alongside the road!
Leaving Fairbanks for the Top Of The World Highway from Tetlin to Dawson the rain steadily increased and I stopped earlier than planned at Tok. I was sheltering from the rain in Tok on the way north as well so I have only seen the place dripping wet. I was staying in the same Arctic tent that I used before and was joined by a father and son from the lower 48 riding BMW F1200GSs who were also heading south.
The forecast rain didn’t materialise the following day and I set off for the start of the Top Of The World Highway. When I got to the turn off eleven miles south of Tok there was a barrier across the road and a sign saying the road was closed.
Top Of The World Highway Closed
While I was looking at the map and pondering on what to do a vehicle came down the road so I flagged it down to see if they had any information. The road had been washed out east of Chicken, at milepost 67 by yesterdays rain. I was keen to ride this highway and visit Dawson, the town closest to the Klondike goldmines. I also intended to take highway 4 from Carmack to Watson Lake after leaving Dawson so that I would be returning by a completely different route to that taken on my way north. I decided to ride to Chicken 66 miles up the road thinking that I could spend the night there if necessary and the road would be repaired by the following day. However when I arrived a workman trying to clear a drainage ditch on a small localised flood said 20 miles of road had been washed out beyond where he was and the road would be closed for days if not weeks.
Localised Flood Near Chicken On The Top Of The World Highway
Reluctantly I retraced the 66 miles back to highway 2 and headed south to the Canadian border following the route I took to Alaska.
All Part Of The Adventure, 20 Miles Of Road Was Washed Away Just Beyond This Point
US customs confiscated an orange even though it had been grown in the USA when I re-entered from Canada. They then had to go into the back office to use a different computer to verify my British registered bike. An almost fruitless search was made of all my luggage before I gained entry into the land of the free by which time there was a long queue of traffic waiting their turn to be processed.
Garmin Got Me Lost In Washington State
The main road (Hwy 20) went down the west side of the Pend Oreille River through Washington State but I took the dirt road to the east of the river. I had entered the route onto the GPS and it was clearly marked on my map but Garmin took me onto ever narrowing roads with a number of unmarked railway track crossings on narrow forest tracks. Garmin had me riding on the gravel ballast alongside the rail track for 250 yards with barely enough room for a train to pass if one had come by and I had seen two whilst crossing the tracks. I eventually decided Garmin was lost and retraced my route and settled for the main road south. We both enjoyed the adventure but I have less faith in Garmin’s navigational skills now although he probably makes fewer mistakes than I do overall.
What To Do With Snowmobiles In Summer? Race Them Across Water!
It was a swelteringly hot day as I stopped for fuel in Ione, Washington State. There was lots of activity going on in the local lakeside park which turned out to be a snowmobile race being run across the lake. Competitors left in pairs and if they both made it across the fastest was deemed the winner. Riders returned back across the lake in between races and recovering sunken snowmobiles. Almost half sank either during the race or on trying to return across the lake.
Snowmobile Race Across A Lake
The only modifications to the snowmobiles was blocking up cooling vents and fitting a float attached by a length of rope to aid the divers and recovery boat in locating the snowmobile in the unfortunate event of it sinking.
They Are Both Afloat So Far
I spoke with the rider of a recovered snowmobile with its headlights full of water as he was removing the spark plugs. He said they would usually run again once the engines were cranked to pump the ingested water out through the sparkplug holes and refitting the plugs. It would take up to half an hour to recover a snowmobile during which time racing and returning back across the lake was suspended allowing plenty of opportunity to seek some shade before the next race started.
Returning From A Successful Run And Showboating With A Wheelie
The BBC Top Gear motoring program once did a feature where they attempted to ride a snowmobile across a lake. I don’t know whether they started the craze or snowmobile owners were determined to find a summer use for their machines. I guess riders can only try lake crossing in organised competitions with the recovery equipment on hand to rescue snowmobiles from the bottom of the lake if they don‘t make it.
At a National Forest Campground just west of Lolo Pass and the continental divide I met Stuart Murr and his two toddlers. They, with Mum were cycling from St. Augustine in Florida to Seaside, Oregon with the toddlers riding in trailers behind the cycles. An amazing family adventure. Their blog is www.murrbike.com if you want to check it out.
Highway 12 Follows the Clearwater River In Idaho
I also met Ron who told me about the Lolo Motorway. I was heading for Lolo Pass because I wanted to see where Lewis and Clark, the explorers who were the first Westerners to travel through what is now the western USA to the Pacific coast crossed the continental divide. I was going to go to the Lolo Pass visitors centre on Hwy 12 and hoped I would be able to see their original trail by walking from the visitors centre if that was possible. Ron told me that I could take a rough dirt track off Hwy 12 up to the summit ridge where I could join the Lolo Motorway, another rough dirt road that follows the original Lewis and Clark route. This would eventually bring me back to Hwy 12. Taking the Lolo Motorway meant missing the next petrol station which I had intended visiting but I thought I had just enough fuel for the detour.
Lolo Motorway, Idaho
After days of hot, dry weather I packed the tent up in light drizzle and headed for the dirt track that would take me up to the Lolo Motorway. The tracks were ok apart from a couple of rocky bits on a steep downhill section where I had to inch down on the front brake as it was too steep and rocky to rely on using first gear to control the speed. The rain got heavier once on the ridge which meant the views weren’t as clear but looking down on misty clouds in the valleys was atmospheric. Rain getting on my visor or my glasses if I lifted the visor reduced visibility which was tricky with so many rocks and occasional loose gravel to watch out for on a road which dropped steeply down the hillside from the edge of the track.
View From Lolo Motorway
I eventually found my way back to Hwy 12 and continued on to the next filling station rather than backtracking west to the nearest one. I had done 442 miles since the last refuelling and the bike has a theoretical range of 450 miles. A bit of a close call although the actual range is probably more than 450 miles as there is always a bit more fuel than I expect left in the tank.
Indian Post Office Lake, A Sacred Nez Perce Native American Site On Lolo Motorway
The next scheduled stop was to be Great Falls, Montana, another Lewis and Clark destination. On their expedition they were travelling up the Missouri River in a fleet of boats when they encountered a stretch of river with five waterfalls and they had to portage the boats and all their supplies and equipment overland for 18 miles. It took almost a month to get everything transported overland. I hoped to see the waterfalls and the riverbanks in as near the same condition as Lewis and Clark had in 1805. I was to be disappointed. Three of the waterfalls have hydro electric dams towering above them including the largest which gave it’s name to the town of Great Falls. One of the waterfalls, Colter Falls is now submerged as the river level has risen due to the dams.
Great Falls Dwarfed By Hydro Electric Dam
From Great Falls I returned to the ranch in Montana where I spent the winter. I had seen it when the land was yellow in the autumn and when it was white with snow through the winter and now it is green and full of livestock.
Montana Ranch Now
The first thing I did was thoroughly clean the bike of the accumulated dust and grime from the Alaskan trip.
Montana Ranch In The Winter
It was nice to get back to the Montana ranch I stayed at over the winter and meet up with the friends I had made. I carried out a number of little jobs on the bike including making fork seal guards and extending the hand guards by cutting up a flexible chopping board. A set of tyres had been ordered but only one had arrived so I decided to do a side trip to South Dakota then return to the ranch to change tyres and carry out another service. I should have everything with me to carry out the work but it’s reassuring to have a workshop full of tools just in case.
I got my first opportunity to try canoeing when I was invited to ‘float’ down the Yellowstone River one hot afternoon. Always one for continuing round the next bend or over the next hill I wanted to keep going when we arrived at our destination although I gather it is quite a long way to the ocean.
I did a number of the walks I used to do on the ranch in the winter. It all looks so different now that everything is green rather than covered in snow. Also the distances seemed shorter now that I don’t have to wade through deep snow.
I left the ranch later than intended as my laptop was still showing USA Pacific time and it was an hour later than I thought. The first destination was Pompey’s Pillar in Montana where the only physical evidence of the Lewis and Clark expedition across the USA, the signature of William Clark carved onto a sandstone butte (isolated hill with steep or vertical sides and a small flat top) and dated July 25th 1806 when he was returning from the Pacific. It was a hot afternoon so I spent more time than I would normally have in the cool visitors centre. I hope I'm more acclimatised to the heat before I get to the really hot stuff as I travel south.
Pompey's Pillar, Montana
From Pompey’s Pillar I rode to the site of the battle of the Little Big Horn where General Custer and the 7th Cavalry were defeated by the Northern Cheyenne, and Lakota Native Americans on the 25th and 26th June 1876. The first book I remember owning and reading as a child was about Custer and this battle which I read at the time as an exciting ‘Cowboy and Indian’ story. Thankfully, myself and the USA Government are more enlightened now. In recent years a memorial to the Native Americans who lost their lives in the battle has been erected and marker stones indicating the location where Native Americans died have started to be placed alongside the soldiers marker stones. Most of the Native American dead were removed by their families shortly after the battle so research is on-going to identify exactly where they died to add further marker stones.
Cheyenne Marker Stone, Little Bighorn Battle Site, Montana
Part Of The Native American Memorial, Little Bighorn Battle Site, Montana
It was 7:30pm when I left the battlefield in search of a campsite. I was heading east on Highway 212 and intended stopping at the first campsite I came to which wasn’t until 9pm in semi darkness when I pulled into a Custer National Forest campground. As far as I could tell in the increasing darkness I was the only one in the campground which was free and consequently classed as primitive. While unpacking the camping gear, all alone in the darkening woods I spotted something on a low fence marking the end of the campsite parking bay. Investigating with my head torch I saw an eerie image of Marilyn Manson staring back at me on a book cover. Very creepy. I recovered my composure sufficiently to start reading the book once I was tucked up in my sleeping bag inside the tent although it wasn‘t really my kind of reading material.
Devil's Tower, Wyoming
The following morning I continued east to Devil’s Tower, Wyoming, an enormous butte or rock outcrop that was used in the Steven Spielberg film ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’. I was told that sixteen minutes of the finished film was shot at Devil’s Tower and further scenes used a model of the tower in a Hollywood studio.
Sturgis, South Dakota
I arrived at Sturgis, South Dakota, home of one of the largest motorcycle gatherings in the world four or five days before the rally officially started although there were a lot of bikes around and vendors marquees going up on every available bit of land. It looked like rain so I sought shelter just before the sky really darkened and very heavy rain started to fall. This kept up most of the day and when I checked the weather forecast on the internet there was a travel warning saying that ping pong ball sized hailstone could fall causing damage to property. By late afternoon the skies brightened and the rain stopped so I headed into the black hills towards Mount Rushmore where the roadside had an inch or two of what looked like snow but was obviously ice from the hailstones.
Mount Rushmore, South Dakota
Mount Rushmore was impressive, I walked a short footpath which gave different viewing points of the carvings and passed a display area showing how the carving was carried out. Fortunately the sky clouded over as I was about to leave making the afternoon a bit cooler as I rode through Custer State Park and saw buffalo, deer, prong horn antelope and a herd of donkeys.
Custer State Park, South Dakota
I left Custer State Park on Highway 87 which sweeps up through a range of needle point peaks, passing through a number of single lane tunnels through the mountains. A Sturgis Motorcycling Road Guide said that this road required the “Highest Skill Level” which I thought an odd way of rating the local roads however on turning a corner I saw a biker and his pillion picking up his Harley Davidson having dropped it at low speed approaching the following bend. Passenger and rider looked fine although I suspect the minor chrome and paint damage to the bike would cost a fair bit to put right.
Needles Highway (Hwy 87) Is Well Worth Doing, South Dakota
The Crazy Horse Memorial, an ongoing mountain carving on similar lines to Mount Rushmore but on a much larger scale is an amazing project. Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski was invited to design and commence the carving by Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear after winning an award for some previous work. After designing the carving of Chief Crazy Horse sitting astride a horse pointing to the Lakota land where his dead lie buried he spent the next fifty years and the rest of his life carving Crazy Horse‘s face. The face was completed in 1998. Seven of his children are continuing work on the carving and although they won’t speculate on how long it will take, based on what has been completed and what is left to do it must be well over a hundred years worth of work left to do. I think there is something highly commendable in working on a project like this knowing that you will only see a small portion completed in your own lifetime.
Crazy Horse Memorial, The Finished Model With The Real Work In Progress Behind
Crazy Horse Memorial, South Dakota
I Stopped for breakfast at Newcastle, Wyoming as I am from Newcastle upon Tyne, England. Seven miles from Newcastle there was a coal mining camp where alcohol was forbidden. The miners would travel into Newcastle to party which reminds me of my younger days working in a coal mine and going into Newcastle on a Friday night to celebrate the start of the weekend.
I returned to the ranch via the Big Horn Mountains and stopped at the summit on Powder River Pass at 9666 feet. Climbing a nearby rocky hill must have taken me over the 10,000 feet level.
Looking Down On Powder River Pass In The Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming
I got back to the ranch in Montana by mid afternoon and set about changing the tyres. I wanted to do the job using only the tools I carry on the bike but couldn’t break the bead of the tyres with the tyre levers I was carrying and couldn’t use the bike side stand when I had a wheel off. I ended up using a leg of the heavy workbench in the ranch workshop which did the job straight away. I carried out the service the following day which went ok but there is a lot of stuff to remove to gain access to the rocker cover to check the valve clearance.
Before The Haircut ...
I got a severe haircut before a second farewell party to say goodbye to the friends I made in Montana. After two farewell parties it would be embarrassing to turn up again on this trip but it would be nice to get back one day.
... And After The Haircut. I'm Concerned About What The Man Through The Window Is Up To
'My' Montana Ranch
I left ‘my’ Montana Ranch heading south to Lewis Lake in the southern part of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. I had been to the north of Yellowstone National Park twice but on both occasions the roads to the south of the park were blocked by snow. On the first occasion in the autumn of last year one road was blocked by snow and the other by a wild fire which made me think some greater power didn’t want me to get to the south of the park!
Lewis Lake, Yellowstone N.P.
I hoped to camp at Lewis Lake which is a ‘first come, first served’ campground. Being peak season I thought the chances were slim but I was lucky enough to get one of the last sites. The popularity of camping in Yellowstone may have taken a dive as the previous month one person was killed and two others injured when a grizzly bear with yearling cubs dragged them from their tents through the night from a Yellowstone campground. When I first heard of this attack I hoped to hear that there was food in the tents or they had broken the camping in bear country rules in some way but it appears they did everything correctly, as I have always done and were just unlucky. Bear attacks like this are extremely rare but grizzlies are unpredictable. I was glad that I only had a few more nights of camping in grizzly bear territory.
Yellowstone Lake, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
The following day a biker from Arizona was riding round the campground unable to find a vacant site so I invited him to share mine. Each site is big enough for several tents and you pay the same whether there is one person with a small tent or half a dozen with a number of tents and a large mobile home. He was heading north to Glacier National Park, Montana on the Canadian border.
Grand Teton, National Park, Wyoming
The park roads were very busy going from Yellowstone to Grand Teton National Park, this being the peak holiday season. Each campground I passed was full including Jenny Lake where I had hoped to camp. Not only was the campground full, the car park was overflowing and vehicles were parking on the side of the road leaving plenty of space for me to get through but a motor home (R.V.) of which there were plenty would have had difficulty.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Grand Teton Mountain at 13,770 feet (4197 metres) towers 7000 feet (2134 metres) above the surrounding plateau, the greatest plateau to summit rise in any mountain range between Canada and Mexico.
Grand Teton Mountain
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
I continued on through the Wind River “Indian’ or First Nation Reserve to Boysen State Park near Riverton, Wyoming. The campsite was by a lake and I was the only one there the first night. The following day I met a local who said I should have gone to Sinks Canyon State Park near Lander which is much better. Sinks Canyon has a river that disappears underground and emerges again quarter of a mile away. I thought about detouring via Sinks Canyon when I left Boysen S.P. but I had already booked a hostel in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado which was over three hundred miles away and decided there wasn’t time. I’m still keeping to a schedule that gets me to Mexico before my USA visa expires which means sticking to a reasonable pace.
Boysen State Park, Lakeside Campsite
I had a large motor home (R.V.) join me at the campsite for the second night. They kept a generator running until after dark then their dogs woke me early the following morning. At least this gave me an early start from Boysen State Park as I packed up and headed towards my Rocky Mountain National Park hostel. The route crossed the continental divide three times and was as usual scenic with little traffic apart from twenty miles on the I80 interstate after a breakfast stop at Rawlins, Wyoming.
Having crossed the continental divide (again) at Willow Creek Pass (9683 feet - 2970 metres) I continued on towards Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. I was in Colorado in April but it wasn’t possible to get up to Rocky Mountain National Park that early in the year due to the snow and low temperatures. I had only been in the south west corner of Colorado to Mesa Verde National Park and coincidently Silverton and the San Juan Mountains where Horizons Unlimited are hosting a meeting towards the end of August (26th - 29th). As I have an invitation from the Department Of Homeland Security to leave the USA on or before the 9th September 2010 I am unfortunately unable to attend the Silverton meeting but I‘m sure all that do will have a good time.
Crossing The Continental Divide Again
I was staying at Shadowlands Hostel overlooking the lake and town of Grand Lake and stopped at Windy Gap just outside Granby to relax in the sunshine before the last leg of the journey.
Windy Gap, Colorado
The hostel is a traditionally built log building with a veranda on two sides giving views of the lake and town. It was a great, relaxing base to explore the Rocky Mountain National Park. At 8367 feet (2550 metres) it must be one of the highest hostels I have stayed in. The town of Grand Lake was picturesque with parks along the main street and at the lake shore. A bit too touristy for me perhaps but not completely over the top.
View From Shadowland Hostel, Grand Lake, Colorado
The Trail Ridge Road running through Rocky Mountain National Park climbs to 12,183 feet (3713 metres) and even in August rises above patches of snow lying in sheltered pockets on the mountain sides. The scenery is naturally stunning and I saw a couple of elk on my way to Estes Park and Bear Lake. As it is so mountainous there are few passes so the only viable option was to return to Grand Lake via the Trail Ridge Road but that wasn’t much of a hardship.
Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park
Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park
Heading south once more I stopped at Leadville, Colorado the highest city in the USA at 10,152 Feet (3094 metres). I had travelled up Fremont Pass with a few drops of rain occasionally falling but on reaching the summit at 11,318 feet (3450 metres) the descent was dark grey, shrouded in swirling clouds emitting thunder and lightning with rain hard enough to leave water pouring across the road. This continued for over an hour but eventually eased off as I left the mountains behind.
Leadville, Colorado, The Highest City In The USA
My next stop was at another friend of a friends in Salida, Colorado. Karin runs an Estate Agency (Real Estate Business) and is actively involved in local politics. I was kindly invited to tag along to the business and political meetings meeting the great and the good of Salida. Visiting some of the properties from upmarket homes to traditional mountain cabins was interesting and enabled me to see a lot of the local countryside as we toured round. We were at one large property to discuss water rights with the property owner and the county water commissioner which seems to be a very complicated subject to almost everyone.
View From 'My' Salida Home
I was introduced to Don Adams, a famous motorcycle and car racer in the USA. He has competed in the Paris - Dakar Rally in a works car and has an impressive collection of race bikes and cars. The bikes were mainly British Nortons and Triumphs.
Traditional Log Cabin In Colorado Mountains
My last destination in Colorado was Great Sand Dunes National Park in the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The dunes are the highest in America with the tallest, Star Dune rising to 750 feet (229 metres). The sand can reach 140F (60C) on summer afternoons.
Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
Arroyo Seco, New Mexico
New Mexico appears on first impressions to be a very gentle easing into Mexican culture. The adobe houses, Spanish sounding place and street names and Mexican food make it stand out from the other parts of the USA I have visited. My first New Mexican home was in Arroyo Seco, a short distance from Taos. The narrow twisting main street is much more European in character than the typical broad, straight USA main streets.
Arroyo Seco, New Mexico
Taos Pueblo is the oldest continuously inhabited community in the USA. Some of the buildings are believed to be over a thousand years old. The Pueblo people use an unwritten, unrecorded language called Tiwa and claim to have a detailed oral history tracing their existence back to the evolution of man.
Taos Pueblo, New Mexico
The original San Geronimo Church was built around 1619 by Spanish priests and ‘Indian’ labour. The locals were forced into Catholicism and slavery by the Conquistadors in order to ‘civilise’ them. As more settlers moved in from the east Charles Bent was appointed Governor of New Mexico Territory and made his home in Taos. During the Mexican / USA war Bent was killed in an effort to overthrow the US Government. In retaliation US troops hung several Taos Pueblo leaders in the town plaza and destroyed the church leaving only the bell tower standing. Many lives were lost in the church, the bodies were the first to be buried next to the church to start the cemetery.
San Geronimo Church Bell Tower Following The Churches Destruction By US Troops In 1847
The Rio Grande Gorge a few miles to the west of Taos on Highway 64 is spanned by one of the highest bridges in the USA at 660 feet (201 metres). The river continues south to El Paso, Texas where it forms the USA / Mexican border from there to the coast at Brownsville, Texas.
Rio Grande, Canyon, New Mexico
Vertical View of The Rio Grande Canyon, New Mexico
On a bike ride around the scenic “Enchanted Circle Drive” I stumbled across some live music playing in the park of a town called Red River. The main activity had been a Chilli cooking contest but this seemed to be over before I arrived. The music was naturally County And Western by a group from Texas. The singer, from the Texas coast was blaming the altitude for getting out of breath and needing a few moments longer between songs.
Country & Western Rules
It was raining when I went into the town of Taos but fortunately the historic part where I was had covered walkways making it easy to remain dry and get around. The traditional Pueblo waterspouts coming from the buildings at roof height were pouring rainwater down onto parked cars so I made a mental note never to park under one. Taos, not to be confused with nearby Taos Pueblo was established around 1615 following the Spanish Conquest and has been home to an artists colony for over 100 years. D. H. Lawrence, Dennis Hopper and Kit Carson used to live here and actress Julia Roberts does live here.
Town Of Taos, New Mexico
From Taos I rode to Santa Fe as it has a BMW dealership and I wanted to get spare filters and sparkplugs for servicing the bike through Central and South America. I’m sure I would be able to find parts when I actually needed them but it’s a lot easier when everyone speaks English and it may save me from having to detour into a major city to find a BMW dealer which I would rather avoid.
Three Rivers National Forest Campground, New Mexico
When I started this trip in Miami, Florida at the end of March 2009 I always endeavoured to stay at any overnight stop for at least two nights in order to have the time to see something of the area. I would use the bike or walk to see the local sights which slowed the pace of travel and made the journey more relaxing. For most of this summer I have been dashing around trying and succeeding to get to everywhere I wanted to visit on the west side of the USA and Canada before my final USA visa expires which has been a bit hectic. Now that I’m close to the Mexican border I have slowed to a more leisurely pace for the remainder of my time in the USA.
Seven Foot High Cactus, Three Rivers National Forest
The weather has been good for the last few weeks with afternoon temperatures usually between 80F and 85F (27C - 29C) and very dry apart from a couple of afternoon thunderstorms. I was worried about the heat as I got further south as the 95F (35C) temperatures in British Columbia sent me seeking the shade. That is the hottest I have experienced so far this summer and temperatures are starting to drop off now. My route from Montana to New Mexico has all been above 5,500 feet (1676 metres) which is why it has been cooler.
Casinos in the USA were once restricted to Las Vegas and Atlantic City but since a test case was won by the Native Americans against the Federal Government many of the semi autonomous ‘Native American Reservations’ are building and operating them.
Apache Casino, Near Ruidoso
White Sands National Monument is a place where sunglasses are most definitely required. The 275 square miles of drifting dazzlingly white gypsum sand dunes that form the National Monument are in the middle of the 4,000 square mile White Sands Missile Range used for testing experimental weapons and space technology. The National Monument is closed on average twice a week while tests take place. The worlds first nuclear explosion took place just to the north of White Sands National Monument with a test explosion on 16th July 1945 by the United States Army. Just over three weeks later the ‘Fat Man’ atomic bomb was detonated over Nagasaki, Japan. My mobile phone camera couldn't cope with the brightness and under exposed the pictures I took.
White Sands National Monument. The Sand Is Much Brighter Than Shown In The Photo
Lincoln, New Mexico once had the most dangerous main street in the USA during the Lincoln County War between 1878 and 1881. Billy The Kid was the only person tried, convicted and sentenced for his part in the violence. He was due to be hung in Lincoln on 13th May 1881 for the murder of Sheriff Will Brady but killed two guards and escaped from the courthouse on 28th April 1881. I remember the film “Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid” with the Bob Dylan soundtrack which I have at home in England on an old LP. The music has being playing in my head all day!
This Was Once The Most Dangerous Street In The USA
From Lincoln I travelled to Carlsbad Caverns in the south east of New Mexico. When I first heard about Carlsbad Caverns I wasn’t particularly interested, a big hole in the ground isn’t very exciting to an ex coalmine fitter. However a number of people said it was well worth the visit and I’m glad I listened. It is a mile and quarter walk, descending the height of an eighty story building to get to the bottom of the caverns then an additional mile to walk around the huge chamber called the ‘Big Room’. Fortunately there is a lift to take the British back to the surface and an elevator to do the same function for the Americans.
Mouth Of Carlsbad Caverns
The last glimmer of daylight descending into Carlsbad Caverns
I decided to enter my last state, Texas by a series of back roads including thirty miles of dirt road. The dirt road had long sections littered with large stones and went through a number of dry creek beds making it second and third gear terrain for me, a rider without health insurance and too old to bounce down the road and expect to stand up afterwards.
The Road To Texas
A Backroad Into Texas
Texas is my thirtieth and final state of the USA on this trip. I entered Texas from New Mexico on a series of back roads to arrive at Dell City, a small quiet place built around a road junction which qualified it as a two street town. I bought some fruit and a cold drink at one of the two stores for lunch then headed on to Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Nodding Donkey Oil Pump Sucking The Black Gold From The Ground
I have seen more “Nodding Donkey” oil pumps in Texas than any of the other states. They churn away twenty four hours a day sucking from the depths of the earth the raw ingredient to lubricate and fuel my bike which I‘m very grateful for despite the odd pang of guilt about my carbon footprint as I leisurely cruise (hopefully) around the world.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Guadalupe Mountains N. P. has Guadalupe Peak, the highest mountain in Texas in it at 8749 feet (2667 metres). I normally would have been tempted to hike to the top, an 8.5 mile walk with 3000 feet of elevation gain but it was far too hot for anything so strenuous so I settled down in the shade with a book instead.
Guadalupe Mountains NP Campsite
Having successfully arrived in Texas on back roads I decided to stick to them for the next leg of my journey south. The roads, a mix of paved and dirt were clearly shown on my map and GPS but after forty miles just as the dirt road was due to start there was a barrier across the road. It looked as if someone had built some kind of oil pumping plant right across the road. There was a narrow dirt track running around the plant but it was signposted as a private ranch road with threats of $2000 fines and a year in jail for trespassing. Risking my liberty and bank balance I ventured onto the track and rode round to the rear of the plant to see if the road continued. The ranch track did head in the right direction and the GPS was indicating to follow it but there were more threats of fines and jail so I decided to make a tactical retreat. The only option left was a large sweep to the east making the days ride a lot longer than originally planned and gave me a taste of the long, hot straight roads I had heard about in Texas.
Heading South On A Backroad Of Texas
Garmin And I Think We Should Be Able To Ride Straight Through Here
I arrived at Davis Mountain State Park at the start of the Labour Day Weekend when all the campsites can be expected to be very busy. The sensible thing to do would have been to stay at Davis Mtn. S.P. for the weekend but with the days of my USA visa trickling rapidly away I gambled on leaving on the Saturday for Big Bend National Park on the Mexican border. Two young couples turned up at my campsite after dark claiming to have reserved it for the weekend. Assuming that the park rangers had accidentally double booked the site and taking the stance that possession is 9/10ths of the law I wasn’t moving but invited them to share the campsite as I was leaving in the morning. As there were no empty sites they accepted my offer, lit a campfire and sat around it talking and keeping me awake into the early hours!
An overhauling of my security procedures was required before entering Mexico. I had been carrying my passport, driving licence and bike documents inside my ‘Filofax’ diary which was usually left on the bike. I wanted somewhere to carry the documents on me at all times without having to transfer them to different pockets depending on what I was wearing. I hit on the idea of a document pouch worn round my neck and fashioned one from a pair of trousers bought at a charity (Thrift) shop for $1. By cutting everything away except the waistband and a large rear pocket I had what I was looking for although I found it more comfortable to wear it bandolier style with my head and one arm through the waistband rather than round my neck.
Big Bend National Park Campsite
I headed for Big Bend National Park in the middle of the Labour Day Weekend and although I was tempted to stop for something to eat on the way thought I had better press on and try and secure a campsite. The park is huge, encompassing 196 miles of the Rio Grande on its southern boundary and has three campsites as well as a number of back country areas where wild camping is permitted. I got the last campsite that had a sun shelter built over the picnic table and the few available sites exposed to the sun were taken within two hours of my arrival.
Rio Grande With Mexico On The Far Side
I was somewhat surprised and disappointed at the size of the Rio Grande, it hardly lives up to its name. I could easily have thrown a stone across the river into Mexico but didn’t want to risk initiating a tri-state diplomatic incident. I met my first proper Mexican as apposed to the numerous ones I have met previously who live in the USA. Victor had paddled illegally across the river in his canoe to sell souvenirs and if you didn’t want a souvenir he would sing you a Mexican song for a small donation. The border seems as porous as a sieve although I will stick to my original plan of crossing at Presidio, the nearest authorised crossing point to Big Bend National Park.
Canyon In Big Bend N.P.
Big Bend N.P.
Big Bend N.P. Sunset
Highway 170 follows the Rio Grande from Big Bend National Park west to Presidio running through Big Bend Ranch State Park. The road and scenery were great, I stopped at Contradando, an old adobe film set on the banks of the Rio Grande used for western films. All the buildings looked genuine from the outside but were just timber studding and plywood on the inside apart from the cantina which had adobe interior walls and a bar so it must have been used for interior shots as well. I had been comfortable in my bike suit until 11am but changed into thin trousers and left the jacket off as the temperature rose up to 91F (33C).
Old Western Movie Filmset On Banks Of Rio Grande
There is a bunkhouse in Sauceda which was recommended to me but to get there I had to go virtually into Presidio then take a dirt road for 30 miles into the heart of Big Bend Ranch State Park. As I only had one night left on my USA visa and wanted to cross the border into Mexico reasonably early in the day I decided to find somewhere nearer Presidio. The best I could come up with was an RV (mobile home) park about four miles from town and six miles from the Mexican border.
Film Set For 'Streets Of Laredo', 'Uphill All The Way', 'My Maria', 'Rio Diablo', & Others
I have done almost 33,000 miles in the USA and Canada in two summers and had the bike in storage for seven months through a chilly Montanan winter. I have only had one puncture but had to replace the chain and sprockets twice, replace a fork seal and the steering head bearings.
Big Bend Ranch State Park, Rio Grande
I was hoping for more up to date information on the border crossing and the situation on the Mexican side as I got further south. I met a number of people in May who have second homes or live in their RV (mobile home) in Mexico through the winter and they all thought it was a wonderful place and had never had any trouble. The opposite extreme was the couple who thought there were only two possible outcomes of going to Mexico, death or kidnapping. I’m going to feel very foolish now if I am killed or kidnapped! More up to date information hasn’t been forthcoming as everyone I have spoken to said they stopped going to Mexico several years ago because of the border problems!
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