Friday 21 December 2012

East to West

We said goodbye to Ray and Marguerite as they left for work, we’d be gone by the time they returned. We headed west towards the coast and then south and headed for Los Angeles. We’d met Pete at the HU meeting in Cambria (do you see a pattern here – meeting lots of lovely people through motorcycle websites Horizons Unlimited and ADV Rider) and were going to stay with him for a couple of days. The road down the Californian coast is stunning. That night we stayed at El Capitan campsite, just above Santa Barbara – expensive we thought at $35 for a night and the few facilities they did have were not that good! Only saving grace was getting to see a pod of dolphins playing in the early morning surf. From there we headed down through Malibu (very nice!) and then over Topanga Canyon Road – a great road to ride.  Pete and his wife Margaret moved out to the US about 30 years ago but thankfully Pete hasn’t lost his love of a good cup of tea and that was the first thing on the agenda when we arrived!
Pete on his outfit
 Whilst in LA, we visited Hollywood and Beverley Hills. I was hoping to see some bloke called Ewan Mcsomething – apparently he did a trip like ours a few years ago as we’ve had a few folk ask if we’re doing our trip because of him. The simple answer to that
We also went to a British bike meet held at Hansen Dam Park by the Norton Owners Club. We have never seen such a huge display of British bikes in one place and the great thing is that they’d all been ridden there – not brought by trailer. We then had the great privilege to spend that afternoon with Mike Parti. Mike is a bit of a legend in the US motorcycle world. We spent a few hours listening to his stories of his outlaw motorcycle club days and then his racing days. A real treat.



We said goodbye to Pete and headed for Death Valley National Park visiting the Trona Pinnacles on route. As we left the Trona Pinnacles and headed along the Searle Valley, the sun went down, making the mountain tops glow a dusky red colour before throwing them and the salt patches on the brown dusty valley floor into darkness. As we enjoyed Pete’s homemade soup for our tea, the sky was illuminated by millions of sparkling stars. More than I think I’ve ever seen. It was fabulous.
Trona Pinnacles
Our first stop in Death Valley was the charcoal kilns. They were only used for a short time in the late 1870’s and are in remarkably good condition.

There was a very cold wind blowing while we were there so we put our warmer layers on but then found ourselves melting when we reached sea level at Furnace Creek. From there, the only way was down – to Badwater Basin at 282 feet below sea level anyway.   We passed a group of folk travelling in old wagons which was great, lots of waving to each other ensued and then we headed to Las Vegas.


Before getting to Las Vegas, we ventured to Red Rock Canyon. This, for us, was the highlight of our weekend in this area as Las Vegas is just not for us. We did get a superb view over Las Vegas at night though, from our 29th floor window.


We continued our journey east, catching a small piece of Route 66, towards the Grand Canyon.
Gettin' our kicks.............
It is absolutely stunning. It’s difficult to gauge the distance to the other side but where we were was at least 10 miles, it’s further in other places. We camped that night close to the south rim and it was absolutely freezing. We left some water in a plastic cup to see when it froze – about 2 minutes after sunset. The temperature continued to drop but we were ok in our warm sleeping bags and our bivvy bags. Other campers ended up sleeping in the toilet block.    


As we continued east, we had another puncture but nothing as exciting as the blow out although we did have to buy another tyre. We rode over Wolf Creek Pass in Colorado and beat our elevation record – 10818 feet. There was a lot of snow but none on the road thankfully. We decided that it was time to head south towards warmer climes and after a few days we found ourselves in Woodward, Oklahoma. There is not much in this town but it has Boiling Springs State Park just outside it with cheap all year camping and good clean toilets with free hot showers (El Capitan State Park in California please take note).  While there we popped into a local bike shop which turned out to be Covington Customs. We got chatting to the guy behind the counter and then Dave, the son of the owner. He invited us through the back for a tour of the workshops. They do everything in house – design, machining, painting - not like some customs places who outsource all the parts and literally just put it together.


Then down to Vicksburg in Mississippi. Vicksburg National Military Park preserves one of the battlefields from the American Civil War. The Battle of Vicksburg was fought in 1863. The park has plaques to show which troops attacked and defended where. Some of the plaques are only metres apart. The park also shows the USS Cairo, a naval ship sunk in the Mississippi River during the conflict. Then onto the Old City Courthouse, which was an interesting insight to a time gone by.
USS Cairo
Old City Courthouse
Upon returning to our hotel that Friday afternoon, we received a message to phone home urgently. Iain took the phone call that we all dread, being told that his mum was seriously ill. At this point we were over 1000 miles from Miami but we covered that in 2 days and left the bike at the shippers on Monday morning and boarded a flight back to the UK later that evening. Thankfully, as I type this, she is making progress in the right direction and for this we are very grateful.

We had both admitted some time before, that we were missing riding on our own 2 wheels. We had already planned to be back in the UK just before Christmas so this unfortunate news just brought the end of our trip forward by a few weeks.

We count ourselves very lucky to have been able to take this trip and cannot thank the people who have helped us along the way enough. We have seen and experienced amazing places but the folk we have met along the way have been equally amazing. There are too many to name individually but you know who you are. It has been a wonderful experience and now we have a good basis for our next trip.  We still have a great desire to explore South America – watch this space. 

Tuesday 30 October 2012

Kalispell to California

From Kalispell we skirted the edge of Glacier Park and then south towards Yellowstone National Park.  We were travelling across high plains and Indian Reservations and there was some snow lying on the ground. The landscapes are vast here – the mountains (the Rockys in this instance) separate the miles of valley floor from the huge blue skies.  We’ve heard skies be described as ‘huge’ before and thought ‘of course they’re huge, they’re skies!’  but it wasn’t really until we saw these skies that we could appreciate the description. Montana is described as ‘big sky country’ and they’re not wrong!

We arrived at Yellowstone and were pleased to find out that all the roads were still open (we’d been advised that we might be too late for Yellowstone with a motorcycle because of snowfall) and that a couple of campsites were still open too. We spent the day riding and stopping, riding and stopping. It’s like another world in places with all the thermal activity. The acidic and mineral properties in the waters leave a colourful mark on the land.

There are signs everywhere saying not to throw anything into the water or to go into the water as you will be inured. I understand fully why they have these signs as the waters and colourful pools are strangely alluring and you do want to dip a finger in to see how hot it is. I believe many people have and paid the price. Some of the ground, while looking very stable, can be only a thin crust between you and a pool of harmful water. For this reason there are walking boards laid so you can appreciate the wonders of the area fully. 

Hot! Hot! Hot!

 We finished our first day in Yellowstone by watching the famous geyser Old Faithful do its thing. 

Old Faithful

We decided to camp in Yellowstone and upon arrival at the camp were given a big list of do’s and don’ts regarding the local wildlife. We were advised that we were in bear land and specifically, this camp was in grizzly territory.  Iain asked the attendant if they had many issues with the grizzlies to which the attendant replied ‘hell yeah’ – not my desired response to be honest! We set up camp, cooked our tea and followed the given instructions meticulously.

I did ask if humans could sleep in the storage boxes!
Bears work on smell so we washed up straight away, all foods and cooking gear in the bear proof storage boxes, no toiletries or smellies in the tent – just us and our sleeping gear. Oh and a tin of bear spray, an axe and a knife - it’s been a bit of a standing joke throughout the trip that Iain would be ok if we came across a bear because he can run faster than me so the spray and axe was actually to disable him rather than fighting with the bear!  On going to sleep I told Iain I loved him, just in case I didn’t have another chance, I pulled my sleeping bag up over my head (if I can’t see the bear, it can’t see me, right?) and I faced the middle of the tent all night, never the canvas.  Now, looking back on this, it all sounds, and was, pretty silly but I really was quite scared. I had never felt that vulnerable before in the trip. Obviously nothing happened and we’ve spent several more nights in bear country since without any episodes and I’m actually quite brave now, even venturing to the toilet in the dark by myself but always with the bear spray tucked safely in my pocket.
From Yellowstone and Grand National Park we decided to head for Yosemite National Park. On the way we found some superb gravel roads to ride. Some of these took us up past goldmines and some ghost towns, which would have been bustling throughout the gold rush but are now just a visual memory of those times.

 Crossing the top part of Nevada we rode some really long, straight roads. The highway that took us from Nevada into California was one of the longest at over 18 miles without a bend! Luckily we had the Sierra Nevada mountains ahead to keep our attention focused. We broke our altitude record on the Tioga Pass, which takes you into Yosemite Park – 9943 feet!  Yosemite is beautiful and a climbers paradise. They have one of the biggest granite rock formations in the world there. The roads too are perfectly cambered for motorcycle riding. We decided the engineer that designed them must have been a biker.  Again we met so many fabulous people in the park, from all over the world - Germany, Canada, Russia (Khaborovsk to be exact, the 2 lads were really astonished and pleased to see a sticker from their city on our bike) Wales, Scotland, England and even a few from within 10 miles of where we lived and worked in the North East of England.

A stunning view from Tioga Pass

Half Dome in Yosemite

Us and the roots of 'The Fallen Monarch'

On our way to our next planned destination, the Horizons Unlimited meeting in Cambria, we had a rear tyre blow out. We use a wheel adapter along with a car tyre on the back as we get far more mileage out of a car tyre than a bike tyre. When it went, we were all over the road but lain skilfully kept the bike under control (mostly) and brought us safely to a stop at the side of a cotton field. He jumped off the bike, threw his arms in the air and yelled ‘we didn’t crash!’ which we were both very glad of.  One guy stopped after a while to help us get the bike up onto the centre stand and then Iain set about inspecting the damage. It had smashed our rear mudguard, taking with it our tail lights, number plate and our pannier rails. We hoped it hadn’t twisted the rear sub frame or damaged the swinging arm. Iain replaced the wheel with the bike wheel and tyre that we carry spare and at least we were able to move. A Harley rider in his jeep stopped and showed us the way to the local bike shop where they didn’t have anything in stock that we needed but phoned around and found us a few things. 

The next day we were on our way to the HU meeting as planned. It was a slow ride, mainly due to the clutch slipping but we made it. We rode down Highway One which takes you down the Californian coast, which is quite beautiful. On arriving at HU we met up with Craig and Sharon from Oz, who we’d last seen in Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) and also Will, who we’d left the UK with but not seen since Georgia, nearly 5 months ago.  We had a great weekend, meeting a lot of interesting people and listening to their adventures and also quite a few folk on their ‘big trip’ like us. At night you could hear the seals barking on the shore and California even rustled up a little earthquake for us on the Saturday night!  On leaving the meeting we travelled with Craig and Sharon, about 30 miles to Paso Robles where Ray and Marguerite live. We were camped beside them and they had invited us to stay over that night. The next day we travelled up to Vallejo where we were going to see Pete Nesbitt, who we’d also met at the HU meeting. On seeing our issues with the bike after the blow out, he kindly offered Iain the use of his fabrication workshop (Bulldog Machine Inc), where we could repair everything. He had everything Iain needed to do his repairs. Iain and Craig were like kids in a sweet shop, with all the machinery and tools around.

Debz, Iain, Pete, Scott, Craig and Sharon
From Vallejo, we headed down to San Francisco for a couple of days where we took a touristy bus tour and visited Alcatraz. We didn’t want to do the bus tour but it was the only way we could get tickets for Alcatraz at such short notice. We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, which the folks of San Francisco are very proud of. Personally, it left us a little underwhelmed – we thought the Bay Bridge was better. Alcatraz was soon beckoning and we were all looking forward to going there and this did not disappoint.  Those of you who know me from my younger years will know I liked to read a lot of crime stuff so it was interesting to be walking up the same paths and corridors as Al Calpone, Robert Stroud (the Birdman of Alcatraz – although he didn’t actually keep any birds while in Alcatraz) and the likes.  The audio tour was very informative and the narration was by a former prison officer on the island along with former inmates.  
Alcatraz Island
From San Francisco, we headed south, down the coast for one last night camping with Craig and Sharon before parting and going our separate ways the next day.  A few hours into our days ride, we were happily travelling down the road when we lost all power! We coasted into the side and luckily managed to roll down the ‘on’ ramp and came to a halt in the underpass, where we had shade, as it was very hot. Iain set about fault diagnosis and eventually discovered that a tiny screw had come loose and then ripped off the pick up for the ignition trigger, which had caused the loss of power. It was not something we could fix at the side of the road quickly or easily. A couple pulled over in their jeep to ask if we needed any help. Doug and Veva are bikers themselves and wanted to make sure we were ok. We borrowed Dougs phone and called Ray and Marguerite (who we’d stayed with the previous Sunday) and asked if they could help us out. They lived about 50 miles away and kindly drove up with a trailer to collect us and took us back down to their house, where we are now.  Iain phoned John Rayski at Euro Motoelectrics (, to order a replacement part and he kindly said he’d send one out that day, free of charge – now that’s what we call great customer service – thanks John! So, the part should be us tomorrow and then hopefully we’ll be back on the road in a couple of days.   
Doug and Veva came to our rescue

The wonderful Ray and Marguerite
We cannot thank the folks that have helped us over the last couple of week enough, it has been a pleasure to meet and spend time with you all. 

Monday 8 October 2012

Vancouver is a lovely city and the weather when we were there was sunny and hot – perfect for mooching around the marina, dreaming about winning the lottery and deciding which boat we would buy and where we would moor it. Although at present, we are ‘living our dream’ there’s always room for new dreams but I guess we’ll have to start playing the lottery if we want to stand a chance of winning it!
From Vancouver we got the Greyhound bus over the border into the United States of America. This meant getting off the bus with our luggage and going through passport control then getting back on the bus. They ask the usual questions but there were no problems and we were soon on our way.  We had a slight delay at our change over in Seattle but that’s just another opportunity to people watch. Arriving in the city of Tacoma, we were met by Ned, who, along with his lovely wife Donna and 2 dogs (Lucy - 10 year old black Lab and Kirby 3 year old black Schnoodle (Schnauzer/Poodle mix)) had kindly offered to host us while there.  The next day Ned took us down to the port where we would get the bike back. From walking into US Customs to getting the bike out and cleared through customs and riding away – 2 hours! We were expecting it to take much longer.

Tacoma sunset and Kirby swimming
We then took part in the 2012 Volcano Run, which is organised by Wayne and took place in Guifford-Pinchot National Forest.  We set off with Ned (who also rides a BMW outfit) and headed up into the mountains.  Arriving just before dark on the Friday, the meeting was already in full swing and Wayne was cooking tea for everyone so tent up, homemade brew in hand, we enjoyed an evening of delicious food, tasty beer and incredible company.  The next day, after a tasty breakfast burrito, Iain did a little work on the bike with some help from Ron and then we went for a small run out to Olallie Lake and then Takhlakh Lake where we enjoyed a fabulous view of Mount Adams (volcano) and fed the ‘camp robbers’. These are blackbird sized, black and white(ish) birds which will happily fly down and sit in your hand and eat the food you offer them and I’m guessing the food you don’t offer them too given their name!  Back at camp, Wayne had been out on a mushroom hunt and had made a huge pot of tasty cream of mushroom soup with his haul.  I’d also just like to mention Judy’s carrot cake – Ned, did we mention it was delicious? Over the course of this weekend, we were lucky enough to meet and spend time with wonderful people and I sincerely hope that our paths will cross again. After leaving the camp on Sunday morning, we headed to see Mount St Helens. Some of you reading this may remember when this erupted – 18 May 1980, with the loss of 57 lives. You can see clearly where the whole side of the mountain slid away and with this explosion, the mountain lost over 2000 feet in height. The damage to the surrounding landscape is still very clear, with scorched trees still standing or lying in the position they fell.

Wayne and the breakfast burritos

Tahlhakh Lake with Mount Adams in the background

Mount St Helen - the right side where it slid away

On our return to Tacoma, we met up with Darren and Leigh, who we last saw in Georgia, the day before we entered Russia. It was great to catch up and swap stories of our adventures. We also all visited the LeMay ‘America’s Car Museum’ where we were treated to cars from 1903 right through to 2013. Mostly American cars, it was really interesting to see how cars have developed and the different shapes they have taken through the years.  There were a handful of bikes on show too. We also visited DMC Sidecars ( in Enumclaw. We had met Jay, the owner, at the Volcano run and he kindly offered to help us out with a few things.

We left Tacoma with Ned and Kirby and headed north again and rode the Mountain Highway Loop which was terrific. We spent our last night with Ned in the town of Winthrop and in the morning we went our separate ways – Ned heading south again and us heading towards Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks.  We would like to take this chance to say a huge thank you to Ned for looking after us so well while we have been in Tacoma, for taking us on the Volcano run and for running us around to get stuff. You are a star!

'Are you sure it's left?' - riding buddies
Ned had suggested a route for us to take and boy was it worth riding! The weather was still holding so it was bright and clear so the views were never ending.  Further along the road we stopped at a viewpoint and we got talking to another couple. We told them where we were heading and they invited us to stay with them! So, we arrived at Russ and Rose’s house just before dark and enjoyed a lovely evening chatting with them about all our different travels as they themselves have travelled extensively. The next day, we were invited to stay another night (which didn’t take much persuading) and we took a trip to Glacier National Park in the car. Again, the weather held so we were graced with amazing views and the sun sparkling on the rivers, lakes and the freshly snow capped mountains. Unfortunately the road across the park (Road to the Sun Highway) was closed for repairs before the big snows arrive but we were still able to get right into the park and enjoy a walk through the woods and down by the river. The trees are so tall and the waters so clear.
View from Hungry Horse Dam

Looking out over Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park

That evening we went across to Russ and Rose’s neighbours, Rod and Sandy. Rod makes arrows so showed us the process and has a great collection of bows dating back to the 1950’s.
As I type this, I’m looking out over the plain where the town of Kalispell is, towards the mountains in Glacier National Park. There are squirrels running up and down the trees and deer and wild turkeys roaming the meadow. Sandy told us there had been a bear mooching around her house last week, shamed we missed that...........Rose then added that at this time of year the bears are desperate to get the calories they need for hibernation so will eat anything........and we are back to camping tonight!