Days 38, 39 and 40: 14th to 16th September. New York (part 2) and we head south.

Well hello stranger and thanks for hanging in there. Apologies about the radio silence but since the last post everything just got more hectic, the weather turned against us, adventuring got serious, days got harder and finding time to write just completely disappeared.

But that’s all changed now.  Yesterday we consigned our wonderful bikes, our homes for the last 10 weeks and the only reliable constants is this story, to a dealer in Palm Springs. We picked up a boring as batsh*t hire car, collected our suitcases from James in Claremont and will shortly relocate to an Airbnb in west Los Angeles to serve out our last few days on the USA mainland.  “Serve out” is the most apt term I can find because although we’re sitting by the pool in some semi-forgettable hotel in Pasadena, we are both wishing… longing… that we were back out there on the road, heading off to somewhere, or anywhere, or even nowhere, but here. Our achievement is slowly dawning on us, but for now there’s still quite a sense of loss. This was our first morning in more than 10 weeks that those 2 bikes weren’t waiting for us to load up and ride away.  There’ll be time later for the pride that will come with the memories.  But right now it’s all just a little bit empty.

But at least now there is time to try and catch up with the story.

And so you’ll recall the sun set on my significant birthday in New York by playing Imagine in tribute to John Lennon and a twilight walk through Central Park.

Well we awoke on the 14th September, our 3rd and final day in Manhattan, to threatening skies… and a plan.  Trust me, if you’re in NYC a plan is essential.

Along with half of humanity we just had to do that (in)famous walk over Brooklyn Bridge. Please don’t ask me why, there’s no logic to subjecting yourself to that torture, which indeed we did.

The subway took us to Brooklyn and from there we walked the mile or so to the pedestrian start. They’ve built a walkway above the traffic which is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because nobody dies but a curse because there’s no movement control whatsoever.  And everyone, yes including us, needs to take a whole bunch of photos.  Although I must say we didn’t feel the need to stop every 5 paces for a dozen selfies as hundreds of younger females from those places north of Australia needed to.

In fact, despite the craziness, or maybe because of it, the little jaunt turned out to be rather epic. Certainly a must do and certainly something we wouldn’t have missed, even with knowing what awaited us.  The entire crossing back into Lower Manhattan took about an hour which I suppose wasn’t too bad really.  And we even avoided the mini tourist cities that were camped at both ends selling every imaginable shape and size of mass produced junk to the mass produced hordes.  We didn’t need to, we had a much more significant NYC memory planned for our last night.

 

Not too far from the end of Brooklyn Bridge is one of those discount theatre ticket outlets.  We found our way there and lined up, planning to see the acclaimed Book of Morman.  However, understandably, that show doesn’t do discount tickets.  So instead we decided to help the universe deliver Janelle her new motorcycle boots (ordered 3 days earlier on the internet) to arrive before we left, and we settled on the Broadway hit Kinky Boots.

Tickets were secured at a very favourable price (thanks Jock and Elizabeth) and so we took ourselves shopping.  Hey Calvin Klein jeans for $35… Wouldn’t you?  Janelle picked up a 2 pairs of blingy sandals which unfortunately didn’t turn out to be as comfortable as they seemed. But I get ahead of myself.

Now the problem with trying to walk the streets of lower Manhattan, is that they were never designed with that in mind.  Tall buildings, narrow roads and the 2 million+ humans that travel in there every day, just don’t play together that well.  It’s an overcrowded chaotic mess, straining at the seams. But it is also exactly what it is. It’s Manhattan. Arguably the most well-known city in the world.

But then again, it could all just be a great big theme park and we are all just entrants on a pay for play thrill ride.  I’m not sure the difference is that great really.

Anyway, we finally escaped back to the tranquillity of Jersey City to prepare for the evening.  Two highlights were in store. First was our shout for dinner with Rich and Flavia to thank them for their incredible generosity. The second was the Cyndi Lauper scored Broadway show..

 

And we arrived back to the apartment to a wonderful surprise. Janelle’s very own brand new kinky boots were waiting for us.  You know we just had to take a photo.

We were going to finish in style, guaranteed.  Just one small concern… we’d invited our dinner guests to choose the restaurant and we were maybe a tiny bit worried about the potential effect on our bank account.  Ok, maybe a little more than a tiny bit… because… Manhattan, New York, New York.

As it turned out they were very kind to us and chose a lovely seafood restaurant on the Hudson shoreline aptly named Pier A. However, we misunderstood the walking distance and Janelle’s pretty new sandals started to wear holes in her feet. Unfortunately, there was a lot worse to come but we hadn’t realised that yet.  Dinner was just gorgeous, the setting very New York and the bill rather favourable considering.  A truly wonderful way to kick off the evening. Sadly we had to break it off and hurry away for the uptown train where Broadway awaited us.  The timing was very tight and it was a very fast walk from  42nd Street Station to the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on Broadway. We made the show with about 5 minutes to spare and then received a huge surprise. Not only had these so called discounted tickets delivered us the front row, but we also had a perfect view of the band. We could see every bead of sweat on the stage, but could also watch the band playing everything under it. I really didn’t know where to look half the time!  So I kinda shared my time a little either way and picked up a few professional tips and tricks that I’ll be subjecting the band to when we get back.

Kinky Boots was totally incredible and we highly recommend it. I’m not sure where it’s playing in Oz, but if you get a chance, then do yourself a favour.

Afterwards we decided on the short walk up to Times Square for a final dose of NYC. It sure lived up to its reputation. Just completely over the top, huge screens everywhere, a dozen languages spoken in every direction, street sellers, scammers and roadworks right in the middle.

We took a photo or two, bought a hot dog and decided a glass of champagne was the right way to finish this chapter of our adventure.  But it had to be right, had to be iconic, so luckily Ruby Tuesdays loomed out of the glare and we found ourselves at the bar, glasses in hand, toasting each other. That’s a little strange I know but it felt that we deserved it.

By now Janelle had realised her new sandals had chewed her feet up rather badly. We took photos but I’ll spare you the details. Let’s just say that new footwear and a long walks around the night spots of NYC don’t go together too well.  Bandaids and betadine would become a daily 20 minute routine for the next few weeks. Just the thing when you’re trying to break in new motorcycle boots. Not!

After a drink, a final look around and another toast to adventuring, suddenly it was done. We escaped the masses, found the subway and with a few hops made it back to the Oculus and the train to Jersey. And just to confirm… that “City that never sleeps” thing.  Naaa, it’s crap. Lower Manhattan at midnight on a Friday night is a ghost town. Really it is!

And with that our visit to Manhattan was done.

The next day we got ourselves ready to move on, visited the quarterly Jersey City street fair which was fun, wrote some of this blog, and just generally took it easy. Then just before 5.30 we walked down to the Hudson again and took in the sunset. Surprisingly the sun had actually come out and we were treated to this most spectacular sight of the Manhattan skyline reflecting a stunning golden hue. It was just about as good as it gets.

And it was certainly the right way for us to close this chapter. Now we turn south, about as far south as possible actually. We expected to hit New Orleans in a couple of weeks.

And so next morning, Sunday (so we miss the traffic) we packed the bikes up, said our goodbyes to our amazing hosts and on a whim decided to ride over to Liberty Park and also farewell that old lady with the torch. The “no motor vehicles” sign was duly ignored, we rode up to the edge of the walk way and took a few photos. A final gear check and then, in perfect weather we hit the road on a kind of loop route to Washington DC via Gettysburg.

It felt really good to be back on the bikes again and out helmet intercoms were full of happy chatter as we rode the rather uneventful, easy and fun day with a little highlight thrown in along the way. As we rode through a little town called Whitehouse in New Jersey we clocked over 10,000 kms and stopped for a quick photo to remember it.

A few hours later we arrived in Gettysburg on one of those gorgeous late summer evenings, had an outdoor meal in the centre of town and then found the Artillery Ridge Campground. We set up camp just on dark and turned in early, well satisfied and loving this adventure we were on.

We had decided on a little civil war exploration in the morning.  Unfortunately Hurricane Florence had a sting in her tail and we woke to threatening skies and a forecast of heavy rain for 2 days.

I suspected this rain was actually training us for bigger things to come.

Unfortunately my suspicions were going to be proved correct.

Day 36 and 37: 12th and 13th September. New York New York.

Ive found it pretty much impossible to compress our New York experience into 1 post, so decided to break it up over 2.  Here’s the first instalment, and given my inability to keep this thing up to date, I don’t want to commit to any time line. The second will be soon I hope.

New York City Day 1

 

For a couple of reasons, both logical and because it felt it was the right thing to do we decided to start with the World Trade Centre Memorial, so we walked to the ferry terminal, $7 each (we wont be doing that again) and caught a ride across the Hudson to Battery Park. A 10 minute walk brought us to the memorial which is actually 2 huge square holes in the ground on the original footprint of both buildings, with water cascading down into the centre and the names of those lost engraved around the edge. There are an awful lot of names, and the really shocking thing is how many are listed as firemen or police.  There was a large crowd but we weren’t sure if it was due to being the morning after 9/11 or just because New York.  Regardless, it was a very touching place, despite so many needing intrusive selfies and starting our NYC experience there was sort of our tribute. I’m very glad we did it that way.

And then we headed over the amazing Oculus Building to start decoding the subway. An impossible task actually, but we did give it our best shot.

We’d decided one of the best ways to see the city and get a feel for it was to walk the High Line. They took an old disused elevated railway line and turned it into a pedestrian walkway, complete with artwork and musicians.  It’s close to 2.5 kms long and crosses 22 city blocks and we walked most of it.  Such a great way to get a feel for city. Here’s a selection of photos.

The High Line dropped us off at Penn Station so we grabbed a quick coffee and got our bearings.  A quick 6 block walk to the closest subway and a simple connection to the train to NJ. So easy huh? Wrong! First it started raining, then Manhattan disgorged its workforce on us, and then it got dark. We found the station ok but were completely out of our depth trying to find which train and which platform.  In the end, after a minor meltdown and a significant soaking, I texted Rich who saved the day with instructions.  It was fairly easy then, we only had to negotiate the New York Subway in peak hour.  I wont bore you with the details, but believe me there were quite a few. But a surprisingly brief time later we came up on the Jersey side, found our way back to the apartment and thought we were incredibly cool for surviving the experience without needing a divorce.

A small restaurant a block or so away completed the days adventure and we shut ourselves in for the night we again sent a silent mental thank you to Rich for the amazing gift of this apartment.

 

New York City Day 2  Somebody’s (minor) significant birthday.

As if the apartment wasn’t enough, Rich’s partner Flavia just happened to work at the New York Museum Of Natural History and she arranged us free admission and 4 of the special events thrown in.  One of those special events was a screening of Dark Universe at the Hayden Planetarium.

The museum itself is quite overwhelming but the planetarium was just beyond description.  What an amazing experience to sit in a reclining chair in a huge room where the huge domed roof is the screen. It’s a step beyond Imax and if you ever get the chance, do yourself a favour.

The other exhibit that really blew us away is the (copy of) the skeleton of a whole new species of dinosaur they called Titanosaurus.  The photos below give you some idea.

We stayed in the museum until closing time, but could have spent much longer.  A very exceptional experience that, seeing as we were in the area, we decided to follow up with a visit to the Dakota Building, where John and Yoko lived.

While it wasn’t really that big a deal, for a musician like me it was kind of a nice thing to do. So we walked the few blocks along Central Park and took a few respectful snaps.  Then virtually straight over the road is the area they’ve set aside as a memorial to him called, obviously, Strawberry Fields.

Now those who have followed our previous travels would have noted that I have formed quite of habit of borrowing buskers guitars.  And so it was there too.  And although I was extremely rusty, and although I hadn’t prepared at all, there was a busker there playing John Lennon music. So, yes of course I relieved him of his guitar and I played a very bad version of Imagine while he sang it.

It wasn’t my best, far from it. But hey, I played Imagine at Strawberry Fields in New York, on my birthday. For a crusty old musician it doesn’t get any better.  A very special memory indeed.

So then Janelle wanted to buy us some cupcakes to celebrate, and she knew of just the place, best cupcakes in New York (Magnolia Bakery) were only 3 blocks away apparently. That was sorted quickly and we found ourselves back in Central Park, sitting by the lake watching all the locals go about their Central Parky routines.  We thought to join them and so it was that as the sun set we walked around the lake in the centre of Central Park.  And got some pretty amazing photos in the process.

That was pretty much it, we found somewhere to have dinner, although that wasn’t worth the effort, navigated the subway back, we were getting pretty good at this now, and finished the day off with a nice little stroll back to Rich’s apartment.

And that was our first 2 days in New York.  A mix of sights, sounds, experiences, memories and an awful lot of walking.

A fun fact to leave you with. If you wanted to rent a 3 bedroom apartment in lower Manhattan you’d be looking at $15,000 USD a month, but that again as an agents fee for letting you have it.

 

And we think Sydney real estate is out of control!

That’s it for now.

Goodnight.

Days 28 to 35: The Lakes, The Falls and the Lights of New York. 4th to 11th September.

And so we last left our intrepid travellers with their glorious sunset over Lake Superior, comfortable in the knowledge that a red sky at night is a travellers delight.

Well… believe me, that theory is now well and truly debunked.

 

We woke to threatening skies and shortly afterwards the threat was realised and the heavens opened.  A quick pack up and we even used the road to roll up the tent as doing it on the sand was just unthinkable.  Even so we were shaking sand out of our gear for days afterwards.

We got going as soon as possible and rode the 30 minutes into civilisation, and coffee, at a town called Bayfield. We’d just parked the bikes when we were approached by Mike and Deb who started chatting and ended up joining us for coffee and a route discussion.  And even more important Mike was able to help us work out where to get Janelle a back tyre without the hassle we had in Cody.  I rang ahead to the Suzuki dealer in a town called Marquette, about 4 hours away.  We arranged a fitting the next afternoon and worked out a route.

Mike took this pic of us as we left Bayfield.

It had just stopped raining and although we had on and off drizzle the rest of the day, we rode into Marquette in sunshine just as it started getting dark.  Given how wet our pack up had been a hotel was the only option. When this happens we’ve discovered the trick of finding somewhere online and then turning up and without reserving. The savings are amazing.  And so it was with this executive suite for half the “cheap” internet price.  We got everything washed and dried, a great evening meal and the world was kind to us again.

Next morning we found out we had to wait till 2pm for the tyre so a relaxed morning, nice lunch and some supplies before heading to the bike shop and waiting well over an hour. Tip for beginners… if you find yourself stranded in Marquette needing a tyre, don’t bother with the local Suzuki dealer.

We finally hit the road around 3.30pm so didn’t expect to get that far, but it was actually a really good travelling day. We crossed into Michigan, rode down to the lake edge and hit a rather important milestone. 5000 miles and close to our halfway point. A quick video to celebrate and we rode into the sunset then turned south and crossed the amazing Mackinac Bridge. By then it was dark so we got off the tourist road and found a tiny little town with one of these classic single row family run motels.

It was only the next morning we decided to cut through Canada to Niagara Falls, so a run down through Michigan and then a small jump over to the east brought us to the Canadian Border, but not before USA waved us farewell with a horrendous toll over the bridge.

Janelle’s border experience and mine were completely different. We chose different lanes and she was waved through with barely a look, not even bothering with a passport stamp (?!?) while I was questioned about guns, intentions, money, matching passport photo to my gnarly mug, alcohol and guns again, for 5 or so minutes.  There was never any problem as such, just lots of questions. But at least I got the passport stamp.  We made an hour towards Niagara and found a campground just beyond the city of London.

Janelle knew of this pretty little town called Niagara On The Lake, so we thought we’d head there and take stock before entering the tourist craziness of the Falls.  As it turns out, there were 2 surprises waiting for us. First it seems the pretty little town has been heavily marketing to Asia and the Sub Continent, which has worked amazingly well. It was still pretty, but we couldn’t see much of it.  The second was we suddenly lost our phone communications.  It took us some days to get that sorted with AT&T and was damn inconvenient, but we got by.

The advantage of visiting Niagara On The Lake was that we got to ride along the river which was just a truly lovely ride, albeit very slow. And then suddenly we were at the Falls.  Parking was a challenge but we sorted that, and then went for a (long) walk back to the café overlooking the main falls and spent an hour or so enthralled by them.  Well worth the hassle of getting there.

After a while, and a lot of photos, we found a campground a few miles away and paid a small fortune for a small campsite. Later that evening we rode back into the Falls and were blown away by the party town craziness. I’ll let the video describe it far better than I can.  A melting pot of humanity with a mini theme park mentality catering for the teens and 20 somethings who apparently desire such things.  What an experience! And they say the Canadian side is so much better than the American!

Next morning we rode back past the Falls one last time then followed the river all the way to the last border crossing at Buffalo (New York State).  This border experience was completely different and even the concern about Janelle not having a Canadian stamp didn’t eventuate.  We decided to use the same lane but go through separately. Janelle went first, it took about 3 minutes with the usual questions plus a rego and ownership check. She told the Border Security Officer we were travelling together and so when it was my turn all I got was the rego check.  As I pulled up I told then Officer “I don’t know what you asked her, but whatever she said” The guard laughed, wished us a safe trip, waved me through and suddenly we were back in the USA.

About 90 minutes later we had cleared most of the craziness around Buffalo and got ourselves off the interstate, found somewhere to have lunch and started working options for getting our phone comms back.  It turned out there was an AT&T shop open till 8pm that night (Saturday) a few hours down the road. So we set the GPS for a town called Horseheads (yes really) and spent the afternoon riding through beautiful backroads and a few highways and up near Watkins Glen Raceway.  We arrived late afternoon and found the shop. The manager, Eric couldn’t have been more helpful.  Even so it took him over an hour to sort out their mess and restore our phones.  It was a huge relief as without them we’re lost. He even arranged a refund of then $320 that they had taken out of our account.  They actually got an accounts person on the phone to apologise to me. He couldn’t explain what had happened but I figure someone will have a look.  We decided we deserved a hotel and booked ourselves into one close by. Nothing special but a comfortable night.

We were a little ahead of schedule and weren’t expected in New York for a few more days, so thought about exploring the area they call upstate New York, commonly known by the locals as the Catskills. (No one could explain why).  And we also thought we’d try out this accommodation page on the ADV Forum. So we randomly contacted a member in the area we wanted to head for and were invited to spend the night at his home. He also sent us a route that wound its way through some amazing motorcycle country which turned out to be one of the most lovely rides we’d had. We arrived to a warm welcome from a motorcycle racing nut who had set up his TV for us to watch the Italian MotoGP from the night before.  Rich (everyone up there is called Rich it seems) then casually mentioned the weather forecast the next day and suggested that unless we wanted to ride in pouring rain, we probably weren’t going anywhere.

He was right, we weren’t. But as his friend Melissa (who also rode adventure bikes) turned up a few hours later, and the local Walmart sold motorcycle oil, we took the opportunity to change our oil and filters and run through a minor bike service.  It turned out both Rich and Melissa were avid rock climbers and both had recently climbed Devils Tower in Wyoming.  They told us many stories and we shared a few of ours while we spent a most pleasant day staying dry.

Next morning we packed up and said goodbye, armed with another fabulous route down to New Jersey where we had an offer for accommodation in Jersey City.  We were only 5 minutes down the road when the heavens opened and we spend a very uncomfortable hour getting thoroughly soaked before it cleared and we slowly dried out.

We stopped for lunch about 90 minutes out of Jersey, contacted out host (another Rich) and received nav instructions to his place.  The ride from there was almost surreal. After a month on the road, over 5000 miles we were actually riding into New York (ok Jersey City, but it’s almost the same).  As we crested a the huge bridge on the New Jersey Turnpike and caught sight of the Manhattan Skyline we both took a few seconds to take it all in. We had arrived at the eastern leg of our trip and in doing so had crossed the continent.  I wont share the words we said to each other over our intercoms but it was a very special moment that we will remember forever.

Fifteen minutes later we pulled up outside Rich’s building in York St Jersey City. He came down to meet us and help us unload and take everything to his 9th floor apartment. Then he informed us he was going to stay with his partner in Manhattan for the duration of our stay so we had his apartment to ourselves for the next 5 nights!  I should explain that Rich contacted us from the ADV Forum over a year ago with the offer of accommodation. We spoke over the phone and everything was sorted, but to then learn we had it to ourselves, totally free, was an unexpected and very welcome gift.

So then Rich briefed us up on everything, explained the craziness of the NYC subway, options for crossing the Hudson into Manhattan and then we walked with him the 5 minutes to the Hudson shore where he caught the subway. But not before we all took in the sight of the skyline at night. But not just any night. This was, by pure chance, 9/11. The 2 beams of light shining up from Manhattan was an amazing and humbling sight. Almost 20 years ago hundreds of people stood on this very spot and watched those towers fall.  And we were here, by accident, on the anniversary of that day, that changed the world forever.

Another amazing highlight of this incredible adventure, and the one which I will leave with you for now.

Days 22 to 27: Four States, Great Lakes and real coffee again. 28th Aug to 3rd Sept.

Thanks for your feedback and comments everyone. Both here and elsewhere. I’m going to get in more pics and intersperse them with the story where I can. And if possible, I’ll include a map to give an graphic indication of our route.

 

So… Cody…

By mid morning on that Wednesday, Cody had warmed up again to somewhere near stinking hot and we were required to get creative to find shade for a little shopping trip.

Finding shade at Walmart

Then after the back tyre was fitted a quick lunch and we scooted up the road an hour to a little town called Shell to spend the night with a few other Adventure Riders. We were greeted by about a dozen boys and girls (this was only Wednesday of a weekend event) who quickly arranged our camping fee for us, offered us a lovely bit of grass for the night, and we all settled in to an afternoon of  story telling.  We had armed Lisa beforehand this trip with Long Way Down, so she was across the whole thing and held her own in wonderful fashion.  One of the group even paid for dinner for us which was an incredible gesture.  For me the whole scene was so very familiar, but Janelle and Lisa were able to see a whole other side of this motorcycle riding stuff.  It was a damn fine evening, with some dame fine people and we will remember it always.

Cody Wy to Shell Wy
A fine bunch they were too!

But the next day we had to get going, and although full of roadworks, the canyon road out of there towards Devils Tower was well worth it.  A truly wonderful days ride. Except for the bit on our own friend I 90.

Shell Wy to Devils Tower wy

So by late afternoon we arrived at Devil’s Tower and for the second time were saved by not settling for the first campground we came to.  The second was $10 more and 100 times better.  Many will remember this National Monument (ie no drone flying) from the movie Close Encounters, but I’m reliably informed there is no UFO landing base on top.   For those that wish to know, it was once an active volcano, but the the lave solidified and the mountain around it eroded away, leaving just the petrified lava.  It’s actually a huge attraction for climbers, but base jumping is illegal.  And the campground shows the movie every night, just in case.

Devils Tower behind our tent

And this was also our last night with Lisa as we had to part ways in the morning.  So we had a couple of drinks and finished the wine we’d been carrying. The weather was perfect and with that amazing tower hanging over us, we toasted the last 2 weeks. The next morning Lisa jumped on my bike, Janelle dove her car and we rode to the base of the tower and said goodbye.  She’s off to Africa for 3 months now.  Are we allowed to be jealous?

Bon Voyage Lisa. Have a ball in Africa.

We got away quite late and it was a long day, starting off rather stressful when we realised the fuel situation was not what we expected.  So we went in the direction of the closest (20 minutes away) and hoped. We were riding on fumes for the last 5 miles or so but we made it and were able to top up.

And then we were in South Dakota, the Black Hills (think the Dandenongs around Melbourne) Mt Rushmore (we rode up, saw the rock faces, got hit for $10 parking each so didn’t even turn the engines off) and the Badlands.  Now that was a sight!  Videos enclosed provides just a glimpse. They go on for miles and miles. Just amazing sand formations that must be eons old.

Badlands National Park

That night we treated ourselves to a hotel as we knew what awaited us the next day. That wonderful I90… all day…

Now I’m sure there are other ways to get across South Dakota, and I’m sure there are ways to avoid the wretched cross wind that we battled all day, but if there are no one told us and it would seem, no one actually knows.  So the highlight of our ride across S/Dakota?… Getting to the other side! It really was that bad.  The constant 80 mph (130 kph) wind dropped our fuel consumption from 55m/g (23 km/ltr) to 34 m/g (14 km/ltr).  We filled up 3 times that day (used 2.5 tanks of fuel).  Rolled into Sioux Falls just on dusk and treated ourselves to a cheap motel. A little too cheap as it turned out, but you pay for what you get.

We did however start the day with another run through the Badlands, so there was a little self induced pain at the end of the day too.

Everything changed the next morning. We rode over to Minnesota and meandered our way north east through lovely rolling farms of corn, some more corn, pretty little lakes (50,000 of them apparently) and corn, and ended up at a place called Little Falls where we threw up the tent in the State Park.  And unexpected treat awaited us as we went into town for dinner and crossed the start of the Mississippi River.

Even better, we found civilisation again!  Real coffee and not a cowboy hat in sight! No one was playing terrible country music and even the Harleys had got thinner on the ground.

Real coffee makes everything so much brighter.

The next day around lunchtime we rode into Wisconsin, found some lovely little back roads to eventually pop us out at Lake Superior and found a beach to set up camp.

And what an absolutely fantastic location to enter the Great Lakes area.  The photos don’t do it justice so I tried a little drone flight which went perfectly well until a tree jumped in front of me and instead of letting the obstacle avoidance system do its job I panicked, tried to turn and flew sideways into it.  Luckily the only damage was a broken prop (have spares) and pride. Video next time… maybe)

So Im going to leave you here with some photos of our most gorgeous sunset on Lake Superior. Our first ever sunset over water.

Days 19 – 21: The Yellowstone Experience. 26 to 28th August

The weather when we arrived in Cody Wyoming, or more precisely rode through Cody to the Wheels of Wonderment Motorcycle Campground, 14 miles on the Yellowstone side, was just perfect.  We booked for 3 nights and set up camp. The plan was 2 whole days exploring Yellowstone. However, the weather had different ideas.

Around midnight it started raining and the temperature dropped alarmingly.  Our awesome tent stayed watertight and we stayed warm, but when we got up to a forecast of heavy rain all day we decided to give Yellowstone a miss. Instead I went searching for a new back tyre which was wearing at twice the rate Id expected.  And what a search that turned out to be. Apparently unless you have a Harley, no one wants to know.  The only place in town (Cody is about the size of Goulburn) that would lift a finger was a Suzuki Power Sports dealership, and they had to put it on 2 days special order. But at least we found a coffee shop that made real coffee and was strangely (or maybe not) devoid of cowboys.

We used that shop as a base to search for Janelle’s new boots as she’s blown a hole under the gear lever. Unfortunately, she didn’t really want to ride around USA in fancy cowgirl numbers so the options for proper motorcycle boots were non existent. In desperation we finally tried the Harley shop, whose cowgirl boots even had Harley Davidson stamped across them and were 3 times the price. Alas, they were also pretty much useless for anything except line dancing, so the search remained unfulfilled.

And then we heard they had closed the East Entrance of Yellowstone because the snow had blocked the pass. We decided to wait and see as I wasn’t really going anywhere without a new tyre anyway.

Lisa elected on a motel in town that night and we bunkered down in the tent hoping the rain would stop. Which it did shortly after dark and we woke to glorious sun and the news they had reopened the East Entrance. Yellowstone Park here we come!

We arranged by text with Lisa on a meeting place, but because Cody is a kind of special place, texts were a bit hit and miss. This one was a miss so we never received each others instructions.  This turned out to be quite serendipitous as I’ll explain shortly.

Janelle and I rode the 40 miles to the park, climbing all the way with these amazing snow covered mountains getting closer and closer. We knew we had to go over them, but didn’t really get what that meant, until it happened.  The video below is a montage of that ride.  Yes it was cold. So very cold. But how totally awesome at the same time.

After the snow we hit the roadworks made of mud and slush and huge cars that insisted on driving at 5mph meaning we were continually paddling the bikes through said mud and slush.  It wasn’t fun.  It was less fun to arrive at the visitors centre (ie coffee) to discover power had been cut and nothing worked (ie no coffee). We had arranged to wait there for Lisa, and so we did, for an hour, before figuring she must have missed us. Meanwhile, she was waiting somewhere completely different for us.  And no one has any signal in Yellowstone. Lesson learned.

So we decided to head for Old Faithful and see if we could catch up there.  Even with the slow speed limit and all the tourists it was an incredible ride. Such stunning landscape and so many photo opportunities. And then, a surprise that made everything we’d gone through to get here worthwhile. The magnificent creature in the photos below was just wandering along the road with his herd of about three cows and a dozen calves.  It truly made our day. Even later when we found out they were elk, not moose it didn’t matter.  Still so magnificent to see them in the wild.

So we carried on towards another of Americas overblown tourist attractions, Old Faithful. Which was actually pretty impressive, but does it deserve the entire tourist town that supports it? I doubt it really.  However over the last 10 kms we had been slowly catching another adventure bike and we followed them into the parking lot and introduced ourselves. Greg and Cathy belonged to the same Adventure Riders group we had adopted us (those white stickers on the front of our bikes) and they invited us to a meet with a whole group of them, about 50 miles in exactly the direction we were going, on the exact day we were going there.  We gladly accepted, promising to talk more by email and left them to go check out this geyser thingy.

Did that, got the pics and then, reluctantly decided that we’d best head back incase the mud and slush got worse, incase the weather turned bad again, and to be back at camp before everything shut down and we were left with nowhere for dinner. The ride back was lovely but uneventful but it didn’t matter. That day had been everything we had wanted. Stunning scenery, amazing creatures and a ride through snow as an added bonus!

Next morning was perfect and we were itching to get moving again. We packed up quickly, grabbed a last coffee from the only decent barrister for 400+ miles, my tyre arrived and was fitted by 12.30 and we headed up the road towards a tiny 1 pub town called Shell to party with the ADV Riders…

No boots for Janelle
The East Entrance, just reopened after snow.

Old Faithful (+/- 10 minutes)
After the rain. Waiting for Lisa with no coffee.
We rode over those mountains

Days 17 to 19: The first big push part 2. 24 to 26th August

It took us a while to leave Coeur d’Alene with so many goodbyes, but we got on the road around 11 and began what was to become our love/hate affair with Interstate I 90.  A great road for getting somewhere the quickest way possible, for creating muscle aches in places we didn’t know existed, and for halving the life span of rear tyres/fuel tanks.

So after less than a day in Idaho we rode into Montana, the land of cowboys, huge hamburgers and really terrible coffee. And wall to wall Harleys with helmetless riders.  I do get the whole “freedom” thing, but at what cost? Sure a helmet provides protection in an accident, but it does at all other times too. “Freedom” vs bug splattered cheeks, loss of hearing and severe wind/sun burn. I know what wins for me. But then… I suppose we’re riding a bit further than just the next pub.

Anyway, we had been told about this little piece of magic called Lolo Pass so decided to check it out.  The GPS took us on a shortcut that the sign called a “Primitive road”. Basically just unsealed for about 10k, but the herd of goats was a bit of a surprise.  Anyway, Lolo Pass turned out to be exactly what we were told, and a quick stop at the ranger station clued us in on a secret campsite near some hot springs, down a walking track, overlooking a gorgeous valley. We were so there.

So we found the Weir Creek carpark, the walking trail and about 100 mtrs in, the little campsite that was our home for the night.  No photos of the hot springs, but trust me, it was everything as described, a (almost) natural rockpool, halfway up a mountain overlooking a valley.  It turned out to be quite popular with a group of about 6 or so 20-somethings hiking down the track just on dark.

Another little surprise awaited us too. Just as we finished unloading the bikes 3 ute loads of big beefy guys turned up. We saw our quiet night evaporate into a beer fueled boys party, and then they approached us, told us they were Sheriffs doing drug checks and proceeded to have a sniffer dog check all out gear.  We ended up chatting to them for about 20 minutes and they were quite amused about our original impression. (And no one got arrested just in case you were wondering).

The camp site was really lovely, the squirrel investigating our gear was entertaining and the hot spring was fantastic.  And for the dronies, I flew up and down the creek which was a huge technical challenge as it was almost entirely done out of sight on the screen. The drone came back in 1 piece, but was carrying some unexpected foliage.  Still, a successful and highly technical flight.

The next morning we rode back up Lolo Pass to the dreaded intersate and we made good time till our overnight stop in Bozeman. A cute little cowboy town with a public hot spring that gave us free admission. Unfortunately it was Saturday night and it seems that every teenager in Bozeman comes to the hot springs then too. Interesting, but that was about it.

The next day was meant to be very special, and it was sort of, although not entirely as we expected.  Two of the best motorcycle roads in USA, both in the same day! Beartooth Pass into Wyoming and Chief Joseph Highway to Cody, the gateway to Yellowstone and the goal of this big push.  The ominous clouds on the approaches to Beartooth were a giveaway, and as expected we soon encountered mist, then rain, then cold, then sideways rain…  And let’s not mention those damn RV’s (Winnebago things) grinding their way up the mountain.

We made a quick stop at the lookout to stare into the cloud before pushing on over the pass. It dropped down to about 6 degrees and the wind got worse until we were riding at about 30kmh to not get blown over.  But it was also breathtaking. Absolutely amazing to have achieved that.  And then suddenly we were on our way down, the wind stopped, the snow cleared and the sun came out.

We grabbed a quick hot chocolate at the next town before turning onto Chief Joseph Highway in warm sunshine and no wind. The next hour was one of the best rides of our life. Hardly any traffic, no RV’s, a fantastic road surface and scenery that was simply stunning. It was quite possibly the best road we had found so far and easily made the trials of Beartooth Pass worthwhile.

Sadly the road ran out eventually, we turned only another straight highway and rode into Cody Wyoming. Apparently the center to the Wild West.  More like the center of nowhere, but more of that later.

We had arrived at the gateway of Yellowstone Park. Eight days of hard riding, amazing experiences, new friends and personal achievements.  We never expected this would be easy, and it wasn’t. But every minute was worth is.

And then it rained… and then it snowed.

And then they closed the Park Entrance….

Weir Creek campsite

Beartooth Pass

A quick stop at Beartooth Pass lookout.

Flying the drone down Weir Creek, Lolo Pass, Idaho

Days 13 to 16: The first big push. 20th to 23rd August.

From the redwoods we just wanted to cover distance to claw back some chance of sticking to our schedule. So we had a number of big travelling days. This was the first 4, and I’ll just give a brief rundown of the high points.

The night among the redwoods was our last in California. Another hour up the coast at a town called Crescent City we turned inland, crossed into Oregon and followed this gorgeous river valley for a while, spoilt only by… you guessed it, far too many huge RV’s crawling along.  The temperature rose again to stupid levels and we started to ride through towns with “thank you firefighters” signs and the like. And the sky turned smokey. It was pretty clear the fires weren’t too far away. Other than a few emergency vehicles we didn’t really see anything of them.

We stopped somewhere mid afternoon for a break from the heat at some random Mcdonalds for a thickshake and then pushed onto Medford for a cheap hotel.  The sky that night was orange and the moon a nasty red. It was an ominous sign. This was also the day that Lisa’s hire car finally died leaving her stranded in Crescent City for 2 days waiting for a replacement.

We were warned the next morning that there was nothing much to see of Crater Lake through the smoke, but we rode up anyway just for the brilliant road. They were right. Nothing to see. A couple of photos to prove it and then move on.

This turned out to be our longest and hardest push so far. The ride from Crater Lake to a town called Bend was long, straight, boring and very windy. It was horrible. We had a late lunch in Bend and as it was a little after 3pm decided to stop there for the night, only to discover that it’s a ski town and the prices are completely ridiculous.  We settled on a ride of 2 ¼ hours to the Oregon/Washington border called The Dalles. It was flat, achy windy ride that had us arriving around 6pm completely exhausted. That day we had ridden almost 500 kms, most of it in a gusty dry cross wind. A motel for the night was the only option.

Next morning we rode over the Columbia River and into Washington State. An amazing water way and deep valley that was so impressive we stopped and played with the drone.  I’ve attached the vid below.  The haze is smoke from the fires which was to get much worse.  That night we camped in a small town called Yakima. Lisa called us to advise the hire company had delivered a new car up from San Francisco and she was belting down the interstate to catch up.

From Yakima we took highway 2 up through Washington State, heading for Spokane for their camping store so we could buy a new coffee maker cause some gumby left a part behind in Manchester.  As the day wore on it became more and more smokey until we were riding in a gloomy haze with features appearing out of nowhere as we approached.  The world was cut off to us and I couldn’t help thinking this could easily be post apocalypse. It was really that bad.  We stopped for lunch at Billy Bobs Burger Bar, or something like that, which surprisingly wasn’t quite a heart attack on a plate.

Spokane turned out to be a rather large city and we needed to escape, so working on some local knowledge from some days back we headed for a place called Coeur d’Alene about 40 minutes up the road.  It turned out to be a lake surrounded by resorts, but at the very far end a couple of campgrounds. The first was a shocker, even before considering all the RV’s, but the second was simply gorgeous.  So with Lisa quickly catching up, we put in an order for that nights dinner and drinks, which she picked up shortly before rejoining us.

We met a number of lovely people who came and introduced themselves when they saw the bikes. Janelle especially continues to be a huge hit because it seems, very few women actually ride here.

Our big push to Yellowstone continued for a few more days, but Coeur d’Alene is a lovely spot to leave off this story for now.

A well deserved hotel in Medford, Oregon.
Crater Lake. Yes really
Wizard Island in Crater Lake

 

Day 12: Avenue of the Giants – 19th August

We packed up from Manchester Beach in a coolish morning, looking forward to a break from the heat of the previous few days. But not before taking a walk along what should have been the beach, but was instead a thick fog, not unlike one of London’s finest. Because California… summer… who knew?

Anyway, off we went north planning to make the giant redwood forest that night.  About 20 minutes in we hit a bit of a milestone when we ticked up 1000 miles on the road. I got the clock over on the gopro but haven’t edited it up yet.  Anyway, it took us about another hour to find a Starbucks for decent coffee and a supermarket for supplies, and we pushed on.

After another hour we had to turn inland and found this amazing mountain range to ride over to a tiny backwood town called Leggit.  A quick fuel stop was about all it could offer, so we found a late lunch further up the road. But we were back in the heat. It wasn’t fun.  This was California hippie territory, think of Byron Bay hinterland and you wouldn’t be far wrong.

Finally after another sweaty and uncomfortable hour we turned onto the aptly named Avenue of the Giants.  It was a 30 minute ride through an amazing forest of huge redwoods. I’ve attached a sample video below.

The first campground we tried wanted to charge stupid money for Lisa to sleep in her car, so we turned around and went back to a beautiful little spot we’d passed, right in the middle of the forest.

It was an experience to be remembered. I managed a few photos before dark, and we set up a riding shot the next morning. I don’t really know what else to say, the photos and video do such a better job than I could.

So I’ll leave it there and let you image how it was for us. The vid below was taken by Janelle, you can spot her bike by the small screen addition.  And apparently mine is faster while hers is prettier.  So Im told. Im not sure, but there’s no doubt she is the one getting all the attention whenever we stop.  I suspect it’s because we’ve seen very few female riders here.  Most seem content to grace the back seat of Harley Davidsons. Go figure.

Here’s the redwoods. Enjoy.

A non stop, amazing 6 State week.

So this is the first day we haven’t travelled since leaving Lodi.  And what a week it’s been!  I’ll apologise again for not writing sooner but our days have just been so full on there’s been no time to write anything.  Here’s a quick rundown of how each day pans out.

We get up pretty, 6.30/7 or so) take care to eat a good breakfast and then get everything packed up.  If we’re in the tent that takes nearly 2 hours. Don’t ask why, it just does.  And there’s no shortcuts without risk of loses.  So then depending on how many friends we have made it can take some time to say goodbye and get on the road. We have been managing between 250/430 miles most days although we crossed Oregon in 1 day, nearly 700kms! Usually 2 stops for an hour or so and usually a fuel stop as well.  We’re making sure we eat as well as possible and we need to give ourselves a break to make sure we stay fit.

So we tend to arrive at whatever campground (or hotel twice since SF) in time to set up and eat before dark (8.30 ish). There’s a ways friendly neighbors and a little socializing, gear checks and route planning, so rarely in bed before 11.  And then off again the next morning and repeat.

But we are absolutely loving it. We are really just enjoying every foggy coastline, every boiling hot day, every smoke filled sky, everyone we meet and just everything.  Although the freezing sideways rain over Beartooth Pass into Wyoming yesterday was a tad unwelcome, the snow that closed the entrance of Yellowstone today could have been a few days later, and our first days rain in the tent proved a little boring and those bloody RV’s that infest everywhere here are just horrid. But a day off the bikes was welcome.

So we’ve in Cody Wyoming, centre of the wild west, Buffalo Bill and cowboy hats for 2 more nights, hoping that the back tyre I ordered today arrived here by Wednesday, and we’ve exhausted every shop in town looking for non-cowboy boots for Janelle as hers have developed a little hole under the gear lever.

This campground has a massage chair and after a few false starts Ive worked out how to type while being pummeled.   So with a little spare time (it’s 6pm on Monday afternoon), Im going to try and sit here and write up the story of how we covered nearly 3500kms across California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and now Wyoming in the last week.

But I must first attach 1 more picture from our Yosemite visit that Im told was very remiss not to include previously.

Also, Im told some of you are having trouble commenting. Im really sorry and Im trying to nut out why.