May 09, 2009 GMT
Final Shakedown Run

I thought I'd start my blog off with our training run which we've completed over the last couple of days. Myself and Al met up at Scotch Corner services to take a cheesy photograph and begin our assault on the Yorkshire Dales.

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We wound our way from the A1 through Richmond and into the dales, stopping for the odd scenic shot.

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We checked out a couple of camping options before deciding on a spot behind the tea rooms as Hardraw where we set up our first camp.

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It turned out that setting up was going to be considerably easier than the packing up, but we weren't to know that as we set off to see the local attraction of the Hardraw waterfall. It's nice in a waterfally kind of way, even if it isn't exactly Niagara. However it did serve the purpose of being our first experience of getting fleeced during our adventure biking travels by costing £2 to get in. This is because it is privately owned and "maintained".

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The best reason to stay in Hardraw is probably the Green Dragon since it is friendly enough, has a selection of real ales and the food is good. Not to mention an open fire, which being England you're not allowed to have your own version of in camp.

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Overnight the gales and rain started, my tent just about stood up to it depite me not really putting it up properly. Al's fancy and massive 'biker' tent broke a pole on first use, but otherwise stood up OK too. We eventually got packed up in the bad weather and headed into Hawes for breakfast, decent full english at a cafe there. Due to the weather we decided to cut short the riding and head for home. Drama wasn't over though, my bike decided to cut out due to getting a very wet HT lead. We got it going again with WD40 and as we got out of the rain it dried out and returned to normal running. Not exactly a confidence inspiring start, but I guess we're heading south. It's not going to rain outside of England right???

Posted by David Newman at 01:23 PM GMT
May 10, 2009 GMT
The Route

... where we're going!

The route is basically as follows...

France
Italy
Slovenia
Croatia
Bosnia
Montenegro
Albania
Macedonia
Greece
Turkey
Azerbaijan
Turkmenistan
Uzbekistan
Kyrgystan
Kazakhstan
Russia
Mongolia

and finally back into Russia all the way to Vladivostok. From there the route is more open to change but we plan to get a ferry to South Korea and then fly ourselves and the bikes to the USA or Canada. We can then decide where to go to from there. Less than 2 weeks to departure.

Posted by David Newman at 07:07 PM GMT
May 14, 2009 GMT
You want more?

You can find more details and read the thoughts of Al, the other half of this ridiculous idea at

http://rideroundtheworld.com/

Posted by David Newman at 10:33 PM GMT
June 03, 2009 GMT
on the road

hi all, thanks for your badgering to those who have been waiting for an update. Net access not easy to find when you're doing big distances. I'm only using my phone for this so it'll be limited for now! We have made it into turkey. I'll try and upload some pictures soon!

Posted by David Newman at 07:15 PM GMT
June 04, 2009 GMT
Very Quick Summary...

OK, time is short!

Here's some pics and one liners....

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Luxury start near Brighton with Al's family

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On the start finish straight at the old Reims GP circuit

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The Milau Viaduct, southern France
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Monaco
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Camping on the shores of lake Como!
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The Stelvio Pass, broke down up here and had to free-wheel back down to the town where we got BOBOMOTO to fix it!
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Al enjoying the Croatian cuisine near Dubrovnik!
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The nice looking bit of Montenegro
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Trip mascot (and experienced international traveller) Mr Smurf is unimpressed by the washing facilities in Albania :(
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Hitting the beach in Greece!
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Al experiencing culture shock in Turkey. Getting over the border took a while, having to buy a visa and insurance and loads of different stamps. I was HOT!

Posted by David Newman at 08:37 AM GMT
June 13, 2009 GMT
Baku

hi all, we've made it to baku. Hope to do a proper update if i get some laptop time! Big ups and downs getting across turkey (damn its big) georgia (wet) and azerbijan (hot). Bikes are now in customs and we're awaiting the ferry, hopefully tuesday!

Posted by David Newman at 11:36 AM GMT
June 25, 2009 GMT
Turkey

I'm very behind the times so time for a little retrospective!

We're starting in Turkey and amazing Istanbul! I'd recommend a visit, when you're not used to it the call to prayer here is spine tingling, another world from the west. Our hostel (as they mostly are) was located in the old city not far from some of the most famous sights. Here is the compulsory photo of the Blue Mosque!
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We visited the Grand Bazzar, which is, well, pretty Grand and full of all kinds of touristy stuff that you can haggle over and buy to take home. If you're not on a motorbike that is, I'm not sure that adding a carpet to our already heavy bikes would improve their performance much!
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There is lots going on in the streets of Istanbul, everybody seems to be making a living by selling something. You couldn't possibly go hungry here as there are food vendors everywhere and the air is filled with the smell. Some people of course have a better range of goods to sell than others, this guy (and he wasn't alone) had the most difficult pitch of all. Pay to weigh yourself on a pair of bathroom scales anyone?
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I actually prefered the spice bazzar to the Grand, it was a lot more atmospheric and less tourist oriented. I bought some Turkish delight there but it failed to win me over. Again the sights and sounds are a treat for the senses.
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After visiting the tombs of various greats, the biggest being Suleyman the Magnificent! After all that though Mr Smurf's legs were tired so he took some R&R on a rooftop terrace overlooking the Bosphorus.
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We left Istanbul and headed for the north coast which took several days to work our way along. Unfortunately we encountered the first really unwelcome interruption of the trip. This is the very anti speeding (cash collecting?!) Turkish Polis filling in my speeding ticket. 90 in a 70 sir, that'll cost you!
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First view of the Black Sea is worth is though!
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The locals were pleased to see us in northern Turkey as well. This lad didn't speak any English but explained he wanted a photo next to the bike on his mobile phone. When I suggested he got on he looked well chuffed!
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Lunch one day at a roadside cafe, this bloke was very good value and the Kofte was fantastic.
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They work hard in the countryside in these parts. You've got to carry all that and heard your cows at the same time.
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We started doing a spot of wild camping, there isn't much choice really, but it means you need to go off-road!
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Posted by David Newman at 03:20 PM GMT
Georgia

We crossed into Georgia and eventually stopped just outside Tiblisi, having had a few dodgy experiences with the traffic. Apparently its fun to serve towards bikers and see if they fall off. We like to do this overlanding stuff with style.
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How to win friends and influence people. Take your bike to pieces outside the front door :) The rain in Georgia was playing havoc with the electrics on my bike, meaning a bad misfire and making for an exciting ride, especially overtakes! We left Georgia in no time at all.
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Posted by David Newman at 03:28 PM GMT
Azerbijan

After our first slightly troublesome border crossing, as much because of the heat as anything else, we headed through Azerbijan pretty quickly as lots of it is scruffy roadside population, and its all pretty flat so there's not too much to make you stay. We had only been given 3 days to get our bikes into customs to leave Azerbijan on the ferry at Baku, even though our own visas had plenty of time. So we just stayed one night in Ganca, where we recovered at the hotel Lyuks.
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Everyone uses the main road to Baku, ducks and geece included.
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We made it to Baku and after getting our bearings found Farid, a local biker who took us to the hotel where he worked and basically went out of his way to help us find the port etc. Top bloke, look him up at the Red Lion hotel if you're ever in Baku. Our room in Baku had a picture of the Tyne in it, fate at work?! Baku is a world away from the rest of Azerbijan. All the money is concentrated here, its like a crazy version of Paris or Milan.
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For the first time, I thought I may have found a mode of transport better than a motorbike...
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This is the maiden's tower
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...and the view from the top
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We met up with fellow overlanders Nathan and Russ for a few beers. Here they are in their natural habitat ordering kebabs!
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Baku also has plenty of fountains, but they often aren't switched on! Here's a lucky moment!
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Farid and his mates took us out for special kebab. Unfortunately I had started what has become a long running battle with my stomach and wasn't able to enjoy very much of it!
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It was a national holiday and at the nighttime festivities the fountains were in much better mood.
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It was time to head for the ferry and Turkmenistan. On the way I noticed that Mr Smurf's fame was preceding him...
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After waiting all day for the ferry to dock we got underway at 3 in the morning having lashed our bikes down.
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The ferry is a train freight ferry not meant for passengers and this photo describes it perfectly.
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The ferry takes 15 hours to cross the Caspian sea but we were on it for 2 days and 2 nights because the port at Turkmenbasy was busy. The traffic jam was all too obvious.
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The crew resorted to catching their dinner from over the side. We were nearly at the stage of doing the same, there is no food or drinks provided for passengers, if you haven't brought it with you you're pretty much stuffed.
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Posted by David Newman at 03:37 PM GMT
Turkmenistan

Into the Stans! After the very long, tedious and expensive procedure of getting into Turkmenistan we slept the night in a strangely big hotel which had no water between 1pm and 6am for some reason, then set off with our guide towards the capital Ashgabat. Turkmenistan is very hot and very deserty.
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This lunch stop is prime suspect for the upset stomachs that Al and I have had since, the lamb soup and russian style dumplings were good at the time though.
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Nowhere was been as Muslim influenced as Turkey, but there are still some impressive mosques about.
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Arriving in Ashgabat is extrordinary. The road suddenly turns into a pristine 8 lane highway and you whoosh towards a glittering white city of huge white immaculate buildings. The architecture could be Las Vegas but without the neon. It looks amazing in the setting sun. You also pass by the worlds highest flagpole, so the locals are fond of telling you! The whole place is the brain child of the Turkmenbashi, and he must've like big buildings like this.
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We set off from Ashgabat north into full on sand dune desert and 40+ heat. It was very very very hard going. Camel as a family pet anyone?
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We were heading for the famous burning gas crater where russian gas prospecting created a big crater which ignited and has been burning ever since. The last 7km to the crater is on sand. There was no way we could make it on the bikes with our road tyres (and lack of talent). So we left them at a checkpoint and carried on in the toyota 4X4. Even the 4X4's with their experienced drivers get stuck.
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The burning gas crater is spectacular at night.
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The insects in Turkmenistan are huge and plentiful, especially the grasshoppers. And they will land right on you with a thump.
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That night Al was very ill and the next day too weak to ride the bike. We managed to get a local to ride his bike to up near the border with Uzbekistan, about 150 miles (for a price!). Al rode in the 4X4. Another highlight of this hard day was me having a scorpion crawl up my trouser leg and sting the back of my knee. Being a super tough overlanding biker type, I shrugged this minor inconvenience off after rubbing the sting with petrol. I did get a few funny looks dropping my bike trousers in public, but needs must. Drinking vodka is apparently the approved cure in these parts, I'm not convinced.

Posted by David Newman at 03:41 PM GMT
Uzbekistan

We collapsed over the border (harder to get out of Turkmenistan than it was to get into Uzbekistan) after a fairly interested customs official gave my bike a serious going over. The first town of any size is Nukus, and after asking the locals we found Hotel Nukus. It's the worst hotel I've stayed in thus far in my life and I advise giving it a wide berth. Unfortunately due to our various states of ill health we had to stay 3 nights. Things improved after the 2nd night when we managed to upgrade to an airconditioned room which didn't smell of crap quite so much.
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We hit the road again, despite not being fully fit. The day turned into a marathon when it became clear that the land between Nukus and Bukara is pretty inhospitable and although we'd hoped to camp and cover the distance in 2 days we would have to do it in one, over 350 miles of desert.
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We got into Bukara about 8:15pm with the light failing. Luckily we found the hotel district without too much trouble and piled into a likely looking hotel. The Amelia turns out to be a really nice boutique hotel with traditionally painted walls and modern standards of comfort. It couldn't be more different from Nukus, and I'd happily stay for many days and nights!
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Breakfast is excellent as well, fruit, pancakes, rice pudding, yohurt, potato donuts, biscuits, cheese, salami, plum jam and bread.
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They also let us ride the bikes down a narrow corridor and park them in the internal courtyard.
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Now for a couple of days of recouperation and exploring what Bukara has to offer. Bring it on.

Posted by David Newman at 03:47 PM GMT
July 13, 2009 GMT
Uzbekistan continued

Bukara old town is full of old Islamic architecture, in particular tiled mosques and similar buildings mainly with blue colouring. They're really vivid in real life, I'm not sure if the photographs really do it justice.
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This is the tallest minaret in Uzbekistan, I believe they used to throw unfaithful wives off the top as punishment, but there wasn't any of that in evidence while we were there!
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Here's a mandatory overlander shot, bikes parked somewhere inside a hotel. OK, so we're not quite in the lobby just yet but down the corridor and under the stairs is a start. The owner did seem a bit worried that we would drop oil over his nice tiles.
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Bukara's other big landmark is the castle, its pretty big but doesn't look too difficult to scale if required.
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Next day we made the shortish hop across to Samarkand. It is a bigger and more modern city than Bukara but also has its share of ancient relics. They obviously need a bit of TLC now and again, but spot the workers in this photo and see if you fancy their job!
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The most impressive building in Samarkand is the Registan. They're pretty huge and have different pictures designed into the tiles. The building on the right here has lions.
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Everywhere has its markets too. They are organised into sections so that all the fresh fruit stalls are together, all the spice stalls etc. Without knowing the local language its pretty much impossible to differentiate one stall selling only tomatoes from the next, but I'm sure there are deals to be done!
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Next day we headed for the border and Tajikistan......

Posted by David Newman at 07:08 AM GMT
Tajikistan

Getting into Tajikistan was pretty easy and friendly although it did cost us $15 each for something, I'm not sure what! Getting out of Uzbekistan wasn't too bad, we didn't get the full customs search we had been warned about but we were apparently missing a vital yellow customs form which as far as I could tell we should have picked up in Bukara. Once they finally conceded that we really didn't have one (or a carnet, the first people to mention one) they filled in some more lines in a big ledger that they're so fond of and let us out. Usually there is at least one friendly bloke who is interested in where we've come from, the map on the side of Al's bike is very useful for getting this across. First minor glitch was an accident blocking the road, but it didn't take long to get past.
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Bigger problems were not far away however, my bike had been spluttering and running badly all day, but eventually is got to the stage where it was unridable. I changed the spark plug at the side of the road but to no avail. We were forced to set up camp a few miles short of where we had planned.
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We then spent the rest of the day, all the following day and the morning after trying to fix the problem. By swapping parts from our spares and from Al's bike we eventually worked out that it wasn't the electrics (which have often been a problem!) but something wrong with the fuel/air mixture. Removing the clogged air filters helped but the problem wasn't cured. We had several attempts at stripping down the carburettor and eventually after comparing side by side with the working one, and thoroughly cleaning (including removing a small beetle!) we got it working. This involved loads of test runs up and down the road, during one of which I melted the rear brake cylinder after not reconnecting it properly. So now I have a bike which goes but doesn't stop properly. Luckily, compared to a working engine, working brakes are a minor issue! We finally cruised to Dushanbe, not that the journey was without drama. To get there you have to go through a tunnel serveral kilometres long. The tunnel is unfinished, the surface is very potholed, its full of water, there is no light and no ventilation so you can't see or breathe properly. We made it, although the throttle stuck open on my newly fixed bike, which is interesting going down a mountainside on a gravel road with only a front brake.
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Dushanbe is the capital, but a pretty small one, the best bit I thought was Lenin park at night. There were loads of people hanging about and a good atmosphere.
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Next day we're off again, into the Pamir mountains. We've decided to take the southern route after hearing a few stories of people taking pot shots at people on the northern (shorter) route. It's starting to get pretty scenic again :)
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We arrived at our overnight stop only to be mobbed by curious kids. This little fella had my helmet away before I had a chance to say no!
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We're in a massive soviet style hotel for the night. Hopefully we will change tyres for the off road ones we have brought along. Tomorrow its ever upwards into the Pamirs......

Posted by David Newman at 07:18 AM GMT
Tajikistan continued

Heading into the Pamir mountains we came across our first dodgy looking bridge. There were big holes in it and the support beams were all bent. Still, if the trucks can come this way....
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You see that across the river? That's Afghanistan that is, we followed the road long the border for quite a way. The Afghan side looked all peace and tranquility, but on our side the Tajik military are best avoided if possible.
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Enjoying dinner Tajik style at our "guesthouse". A floor to sleep on and a hole in the ground to s**t in isn't my idea of luxury, but it kept us out of harms way for the evening.
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The scenery kept on getting better and better...
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But beware stepping off the road, this area is land mined, there are warning signs and evidence of clearance attempts all over, also some old russian hardware.
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There are major problems on this road for bikes. There are some deep water crossings, one of which I charged through too fast and drew water into the engine. Thankfully it started back up after a few nervous attempts and revving it it blasted the water out of the exhaust. Then there was this fresh landslide, we helped get 2 cars across before digging a path for the bikes and hauling them through. I got very covered in mud, and had to get under a waterfall to clean up!
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Eventually we got into the Pamir highway proper, and the scenery got BIG!

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Strange place to meet up with Tiffany and Annie on a BMW R80. Thanks for the curry!
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Proof, itf it were needed that these mountains are high, soon going over passes that are higher than those we had done in the Alps became an everyday occurance!
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You would think that we would be pretty unique getting this far, but alas, when we were heading for the border with Kyrgyzistan we bumped into Tim & co on their BMW GS bikes, complete with support 4X4???
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Posted by David Newman at 07:23 AM GMT
Kyrgyzistan

The road after the border is pretty steep mud and gravel, it is another version of the Stelvio pass, recreated in more dangerous form!
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We're now suddenly in the land of the Yurt, everyone looks different too on this side of the border, like a taste of what Mongolia might be like.
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We were on rough roads and camping wild each night by this stage. At some point my number plate had vibrated loose and fallen off. I thought I'd best create a replacement for borders etc. Here's my handiwork...
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And here's a scenic place to have another carb problem, bike torn to bits on the road with snow all around, wasn't cold though.
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After a single day of riding, my new numberplate was secondhand.
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The camera really can't capture the views, but it is astonishing in real life, and lads on horseback race you along the road for a laugh?!
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We camped next to Lake Karakol and were treated to a great sunset over the lake, from our hilltop camp.
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Next day we went to the border and into Kazakstan. Mental note to self, fill out customs declaration on entry to the country or you will face being sent back to your point of entry and have to bribe your way out :-)

Posted by David Newman at 07:36 AM GMT
Kazakstan

First night in Kazakstan was another unofficial camp spot, this time in the Sharyn Canyon. I'd climbed up a cliff which turned out to be a lot steeper than it looked to get this photo and a mobile phone signal!
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Next day we made it to Almaty, the former capital, and civilization!
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It's a big place, and for some reason the war memorial seems to be the place for photos if you're getting married?
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We got the cable car up for a view of the city.
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Odd to find the Beatles at the top???
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A quality rip off, wonder where they got this idea?
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Now we're waiting to find out the extent of my bikes problems. Fingers crossed......

Posted by David Newman at 07:38 AM GMT
August 04, 2009 GMT
Kazakstan 2

OK, so we left Almaty. Bike in a worse condition than before thanks to the very accomodating but fairly useless mechanics at My Town Moto. The road was very long and flat, you really feel like you're crossing the whole of the country not just nipping up one edge as we were. The scenery looks a little bit like this....

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After a couple of nights of camping we arrived in Semy (famous for being close to the old Russian nuclear testing grounds), for what was to become one of the most unforgettable few days of the trip. We pulled up at a hotel just because we saw the sign, it looked pretty new, but not so huge or expensive.

When we got around to the entrance it looked closed. The lady cleaner looked pretty confused that we were there. We thought that if you arrive at a hotel its pretty obvious what you want! Shortly a 4X4 turned up, among those in it was Igor, the hotel owner. He said we could stay, and the hotel was indeed nice and new. We seemed to be the only guests, in fact we never actually got a key to lock our room for the whole of our stay.


Igor and friends got us very drunk on vodka and fed us with pizza.
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The next day the hospitality continued, after recovering from our hangovers we were driven out to the riverside for a picnic. Complete with fire made with the help of local trees, an axe and a chainsaw!

The next surprise was when this boat appeared from a bag in the boot of the car, with its own outboard motor! I was allowed to go off by myself riding around on the river. It was good fun although the motor lacked power so against the strong current the boat struggled to make progress.

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This one is just to prove that I got my feet wet!
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Posted by David Newman at 06:05 AM GMT
Russia

During the lengthy Russian border process we met another Dave, hence the third tent at our first camp in Russia.

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Next day we headed into Barnaul, which gives you a taste of the Soviet architecture. All very large, brutal and impressive!
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Well, most of it anyway!
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I can recommend the Altai region of Russia, very beautiful countryside. Also its got plenty of opportunities for rafting and mountain biking etc.
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We had some of the best camp sites of the whole trip, someone had conveniently left some pre chopped fire wood at this one! The next morning though it was on to Mongolia.
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Posted by David Newman at 06:08 AM GMT
Mongolia

Shortly after getting through the border into Mongolia we stopped for lunch and met these guys. They sat and watched us eat lunch with great interest. They were really keen on having their photo taken as well. One of them was riding the first of many bikes we'd come across in Mongolia. They are much more prevalent here than elsewhere since Europe.

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The scenery starts straight away, everywhere starts to look like the Mongolia you've seen in the pictures!
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This is our first view of a lake in Mongolia and we ended up camping with a very similar view.
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Tyre change with a view also. Changing tyres out here you really hope you don't damage something or that the compressor fails!
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We started to see lots of wildlife in Mongolia. Camels are all over the place, as are wild horses. The sheer number of birds of prey has to be seen to be believed. They eat the many squirrel like creatures that live in burrows and scurry off as you ride close.
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Mongolia is really great for the people. Many are very enthusiastic and interested. If you're lucky you get a go on their motorbike!
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Or even their horse. These guys were great and brought us homemade food and vodka to share!
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The sunsets can be spectacular, and they're not the only thing to see at night. On clear nights the lack of light pollution means to stars are very bright.
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These guys rode along with us for a while, and during a lunch stop they got into a bit of traditional mongolian wrestling! It looks exhausting and I wasn't all together upset that they didn't insist that we join in.
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Of course there was the usual bike swap. Helmets are a novelty and usually prompt great amusement when they get tried on.
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This is a good example of what the main road looks like on the northern route through Mongolia. It is OK in the dry but would be extremely difficult to pass on a motorbike if the weather turned wet.
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Our first puncture, caused by a big nail. Amazing that we got this far without one. Especially as the "roads" are full of sharp rocks and potholes.
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The main mode of transport out here is still grass powered.
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It takes a lot more than money to be able to get high octane fuel!
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The scenery keeps on changing and impressing in Mongolia.
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...but eventually you arrive in Ulaan Baatar. At least we did!
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This is the main government building in the main square of UB.
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And a few of the statues also in the square
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We've reached the end of the road for this portion of the trip. Hopefully I'll flesh the story out at a later date. Its OK though, its not all over yet.......

Posted by David Newman at 06:15 AM GMT
September 10, 2009 GMT
China

So with the bike no more, I made it to Beijing, a big change from Ulan Bataar! It turns out that contrary to popular belief leaving a motorbike in Mongolia is actually very easy. If your reading this and need to know how, get in touch. Beijing is huge, very busy, and littered with amusing translations, which will now litter this blog since I found it funny!

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First stop in Beijing was the Forbidden City, watched over at the main gate as always by Chairman Mao. It was very busy, as is everywhere in China it seems!

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Iíve never seen so many umbrellas with clear blue skies and bright sunshine. The Chinese have taken the sun protection message much more to their hearts than any other culture Iíve come across.

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This stone bridge and pavilion are typical of the main halls of the Forbidden City. They all have separate names and different uses in the days when the city was really forbidden.

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They get bigger and more impressive, surrounded by large squares.

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The detail on each building is really amazing to see. The buildings are constantly being restored and various buildings have been rebuilt over the years as a result of fires.

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The park at the north end of the Forbidden City has some impressive buildings of its own.

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From there you can see the north gate of the Forbidden City.

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And if you climb the hill, fantastic views across Beijing, including over the rooftops of the Forbidden City.

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Be careful of falling down laughing when climbing the hill though, due to Chinglish. Confucius say...

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Next day I headed to another of Beijingís tourist hotspots, the Summer Palace. As the name suggests China was run from here during the summer as it was thought cooler than the city. Seemed pretty damn hot to me when I was there but thereís no doubt it would be a nice place to have as your private home! Hereís a selection of the sights...

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All the ancient architecture was giving me a thirst for the modern, so I headed to the site of the Beijing Olympics. I was pretty disappointed by the Water Cube, the site of the swimming events. Apparently it is a lot more spectacular at night when it is lit up.

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I preferred the Birdís nest stadium, although the smog on the day dulled the effect somewhat. I reckon they should have chrome plated it to give it some bling!

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This is the most controversial new building in Beijing, the still in construction China television HQ. I thought that the architecture was great, but not everyone agrees. One guy came up to me in the street and started a rant about how it looks like a pair of shorts and that I shouldnít take pictures of it because itís so ugly!

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Not as ugly as the bit next door though, which they managed to burn down by accident during new year firework celebrations before it was ever occupied.

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This is Ritan Park, itís a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of Beijing.

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Itís also the site of some more cracking Chinglish!

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I needed to get some souvenirs so I went to the famous antiques market (which doesnít seem to have many antiques) to try out me haggling skills! They sell all sorts, this stall was full of swords.

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The Chinese seem to enjoy a nap whenever possible. Being in the middle of a very busy marketplace didnít bother this guy at all!

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Thereís no going to Beijing and not heading to the Great Wall. I had another foggy day but the wall has a certain mystique in that type of weather.

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There is also important and sage advice for visitors.

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I was lucky enough to come across an ancient ritual being carried out on the wall while I was there. Or it could just be some lads creating their own Ďhilariousí photo opportunity!

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Next stop was the Temple of Heaven, more Ming architecture....

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This one was a change from the usual halls and pavilions for peace, meditation, glory etc.

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For some reason the Animal Killing pavilion is the preferred location to play cards.

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After that I went to Tiananmen Square

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But Chairman Mao hall (with his body in it) was shut.

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Not so the Drum Tower, used as a way of keeping time in imperial China.

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It neighbour is the Bell Tower, which was also used to let people know the time and well as warn of impending invasion.

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The underground is really good in Beijing, there are signs for everything.

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On my last full day in Beijing I finally got to try Peking (Beijing?) Duck. Iím told that you havenít been to Beijing until youíve tried it!

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Just time for one last instruction, before leaving Beijing for LA.

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Posted by David Newman at 04:08 AM GMT
October 01, 2009 GMT
USA & Mexico

After arriving in the USA the break from the road continued (although there was still a fair few miles covered), I met up with Helen and we had a couple of weeks enjoying Southern California and Nevada. First stop was fabulous (and scorching hot) Las Vegas, but they say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas so I'll leave it with a pic to give the general idea!

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Next we headed south and stopped off at the Joshua Tree national park. It's a nice area, still very hot in September, and there's plenty of wildlife to see. The famous joshua trees, which are actually large Yucca plants, are what its all about.

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To San Diego, where the highlight was the world famous zoo. Perfect for comparing meerkats, I particularly liked this little fella.

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This is the coolest guy in the zoo. He took chilling out to a new level.

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Never shy of adding another country to the expanding list of places visited, we took a trip over the border to Mexico. Tijuana is something of a dump to be honest, and even the tourist trap part of pretty limited in things to do. Still, you've got to go if only for the disconcerting feeling of walking out of the US without anyone looking at your passport knowing that it'll be scrutinized in detail on your way back in. There's something in the back of your mind thinking I know US nationals do this all the time, but what if as a Brit you're supposed to do something extra. It turned out there was no problem (even smuggling a few cuban cigars in), maybe its the paranoia of all those border crossings in Asia where you're never sure if you've got all the right paperwork.

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Posted by David Newman at 05:40 PM GMT
October 07, 2009 GMT
Up

So back on the road... From LA I set off up the pacific coast highway towards San Francisco. The road and the coastline are well known for their spectacular views, you can only really cruise along and enjoy them though because its fairly busy. Put your foot down for more than a moment and you'll be right behind someone pootling along.

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Before getting as far as San Francisco I cut inland towards Yosemite National Park. Its packed with people but still spectacular, this is Yosemite Valley.

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I made the drive up to Glacier Point, which was under heavy road works at the time. First off road experience in the USA! This is the view of the famous half dome...

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I even managed to drag myself from the car long enough to hike up to the waterfalls. The Yosemite falls are all in various states of dried up at this time of year.

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Final hike of the day was to see the giant Sequoia trees. The tunnel in this one is a product of early tourism attempts.

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Time to introduce the star of this section of the trip. A 2009 Ford Mustang. To be honest, if you bought one (in Europe at least) with your own money you'd never forgive yourself. But it makes a half decent GT car. Mainly because the large engine and cruise control. Not to mention the best bit of the car, the 6 CD MP3 changer with satellite radio! Handling? Er, no. Anyway, the pic is taken Utah at the Bonneville salt flats. When I was their they were busy setting up for an upcoming race event.

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Next stop I was back into the National Parks. The Grand Teton range is maybe the most photogenic of all places I went in the states.

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Coming from the south you drive through the Grand Teton park to get to Yellowstone. If you like smelly pools of bubbling mud this is the place for you. Obviously, while there you have to go and see Old Faithful erupt.

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Traffic jams are a problem in the parks. Bison control is questionable. This bad boy was in no rush.

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The north east end of the park is the most spectacular in my opinion. There are great sights at every turn, waterfalls...

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... vistas...

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... more waterfalls....

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and Yellowstone lake. The sun was setting, and the photos don't really do it justice. I still had another 4 hours to drive though. During the drive I hit a huge thunderstorm.

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Posted by David Newman at 10:29 PM GMT
Across

Time to head east. Leaving Wyoming I took a detour to go and see the Devils Tower national monument. Native american legend goes something along the lines of 2 girls being cornered by a wolf. They prayed for god(s) to save them and the ground shot skyward so they were safe. Then they became stars I believe, which I assume is a good thing :)

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The same day I also dropped into Sturgis, home of the famous biker rally. It was already long gone by the time I got there. It's a fairly unremarkable place really. Nothing to really mark it out as a great place for having a rally.

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Although it is in the Black Hills area, which takes us on to Mount Rushmore. It's quite big in real life and you can get up close to it. I'm not sure why but I've always wanted to go. One annoying thing about the national parks and monuments system in the US is that they always seem to give you a weeks access for 10-25 dollars. When you only want to look around for a few hours and move on it is a tad on the pricey side!

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Interstate 90 stretches right across the top(ish) of the states to Milwaukee. I drove along it pretty much uninterrupted for 3 days. The third day, the run into Milwaukee was over 500 miles. It's strange to arrive in a big eastern style city after being in the less populated north west. Most of you reading this will probably have guessed that the reason I went to Milwaukee, is that it is the home of Harley Davidson. Their new museum is not bad if somewhat overpriced. These two bikes seemed the most appropriate to include, replicas of those used in the classic road movie, Easy Rider.

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Posted by David Newman at 10:44 PM GMT
Down

Time to head south. The east coast is way too busy to visit unless you have to in my opinion! First stop was Indianapolis. Famous for the Indy 500. The Hall of Fame is OK, but the best bit is getting taken for a lap of the track. OK, so its by bus but you get the idea!

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From Indianapolis, I headed for Nashville. On the way you can visit the town where all Corvettes are built, and check out the museum. I'd like a stingray, a bit like this one...

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I'm not really into country music but hey, when in Rome. So I tried to educate myself at the Grand Ole Opry House.

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After that it was time for something I am into. A pilgrimage to Lynchburg, Tennessee, the home of Jack Daniels Whiskey.

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This is the original building where Jasper 'Jack' Daniel ran the distillery. It was run from here until as late as the 1950's. No free samples on this tour though, prohibition is still alive and kicking in these parts!

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Continuing south, I stopped in Talledega near Birmingham, Alabama, for a track tour of the Tri-oval superspeedway. I got a one on one tour which was good, I got to stand in victory lane, if i could have got the mustang in there it would've been a better photo! Talledega is the fastest track in NASCAR, and the only one to ever hold a race with no caution flags due to accidents. Remember, speed kills!

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Final stop heading south was New Orleans. Some people call it the most northerly carribean city. It's a strange mix of carribean, american and french. Although the french quarter as it is now was built by the spanish. Confusing. It's famous for the balconies etc shown below. But it really comes alive at night, along Rue Bourbon, where there is live music on every corner!

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Posted by David Newman at 10:50 PM GMT
October 08, 2009 GMT
Back

My route west from New Orleans took me through Dallas and on to Amarillo in just a few days. Near Amarillo the Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest in the USA, and would be my canyon of choice for this trip. Unlike the Grand Canyon you can easily drive a nice road down into it and have a look around.

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Although I don't think its as spectacular as the Grand Canyon, its still pretty big, and it makes a change to be able to get away from the crowds of the big name attractions.

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Continuing west, roughly along the lines of old Route 66 I took a detour north to see something which was always a top priority and should be part of every all american road trip. Monument Valley looms out of the heat haze like a true western icon should.

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No less impressive close up. You can imagine coming across this place when it was unknown and there were no roads here.

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Dropping back south to Flagstaff, the scenery continues in the Sedona area. The red rock strata makes an impressive scene against the deep blue sky.

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From Flagstaff its an easy cruise along to Laughlin, Nevada. Like a mini Vegas, Laughlin was my base to relax for a few days before the final stretch back to California and LA. My hotel was shaped like a paddle steamer....

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and justifiably so since it backs onto the mighty Colorado river.

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After soaking up some sun LAX beconed. This is pretty much the end of the trip. On the USA leg, I drove 7150 miles using 257 gallons of fuel at 27.8 mpg and an average speed of 57 mph. Mustang, The Mother Road and blue skies.

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Posted by David Newman at 05:18 PM GMT
The Route

This is a rough overall route of the USA leg. It is only point to point of overnight locations so detours to sights etc are not included!


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Posted by David Newman at 06:12 PM GMT
 
 

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