Tuesday, October 28, 2008

27 Oct – Holbrook

Last night there was a dust storm and boy did the wind come up. In the morning everything was covered in a film of brown dust. The ride to Carrizozo was cold despite it being sunny and it got colder as the elevation increased. A few miles later and just before you get to Socorro there is a marker indicating that nearby is the Trinity site where the first atomic bomb was detonated in 1945. The road leading to the test site has a locked barrier as it enters the missile range so I could go no further. There is nothing much to see anyway but it would have been a good photo opportunity. The site is open to the public twice a year.
More dead stuff on the roads in the last few days so I can add further species to the road kill list – fox (2), Coyote (1) and snake (1).
Except for a couple of mountain ranges in the far distance the area is largely flat and certainly no volcano's. Which makes the presence of a large magma field all the more curious. The stuff apparently just oozed out of the ground – they use the Hawaiian name of Pahoehoe to describe the type of magma. I was amused at an American couple trying to pronounce Pahoehoe. The rest of the ride to Holbrook was largely without interest, though some of the minor 'towns' were pretty much on their last legs.

26 Oct – Alamogordo, New Mexico

The ride from Carlsbad to Roswell was a little cool but at least it was sunny. There is nothing much to recommend Roswell to anyone, it's just a service town for a rural area. Without the alien crash story nobody would ever stop. But stop they do and according to the visitor book at the Alien Museum and Research Centre, they come from all over the world. On this subject I am a skeptic but it certainly captures the imagination of a lot of people.
The ride from Roswell to Alamogordo was through a river valley which was in full autumn splendor. Down here autumn has just arrived whilst further north around Nebraska the first winter snows have already fallen. Between Alamogordo here and the San Andres Mountains is the White Sands missile test range. At the southern end is a huge gypsum deposit (the white sands) accessible to the public. It's a great visit and unlike any sand dunes I've seen in the past. A group of us stayed till night fall and did a walking tour with a Park Ranger. Hence my overnight here – I had intended to be much further north to ease the distance tomorrow.
Tomorrow it's back to Holbrook.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

25 Oct – Carlsbad, New Mexico

I followed Texas 167 to New Mexico today and the oil wells made an appearance big time. Seems this is the Andrews oil field and has been pumping oil since the late 1920's. The sign, erected in 1985, says most of the oil had gone by the late 1960's but for all that most of the wells were pumping and there were oil tankers delivering the product to refineries in the area. The general area is flat and the land used mostly for cropping. What is not cropped is fenced for cattle. There are mile upon mile of fence with split log posts and battens of a local scrub much like Manuka. Sadly the road side and rest areas are littered with years of rubbish.
Two towns were of interest. One was full of large pickup trucks for him and large SUV's for her. No sissy small cars and MPV's here. The other was mostly trashed, even the gas stations were closed down. Strangely, there were two oil refinery's in town.
I spent the afternoon at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. I was uncertain about visiting a 'cave' after all I have been through Waitomo and the caverns in Takaka but I am glad I went. The caves are spectacular and it was time well spent – all for $6. And at sun down you could get to see the bats leave the cave in their thousands.

24 Oct- West Texas

I've been away from the Interstates for a couple of days now as I ride diagonally across Texas towards New Mexico. I'm heading towards Carlsbad to have a look at the caverns, Roswell to see the aliens (yeah right) and over to White Sands proving ground to see what I can of the old Trinity site. I suspect that I will be out of luck on the trinity thing but you never know.
Well the cold spell has gone for a while – it was 85 degrees this afternoon and in general a nice days ride. The countryside is all farmland with scattered service towns, mostly in varying states of economic decline, and very little traffic. I did not see a lot of live stock but what there was were beef cattle and horses. Towards the end of the day oil wells made an appearance but most were still. I'm not sure whether they were dry or just not working on this day. Americans appear not to clean up their mess when they are done with things – they just walk away. So who knows.
I must add another food item to the never to be repeated list – chicken gizzards. No I kid you not. They were disgusting and why pray anyone would eat the raw material for fertilizer I don't know. Maybe it's a Texas thing.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

23 Oct – Texas

It was still cold and wet when I left Lafayette but the rain soon stopped however the cold didn't go away and at sundown it got really cold. There is actually a cold front coming through and will be around for a few days. I've been lucky weather wise throughout the whole trip eg thunderstorms lashed Key West 2 days after I left and here in southern Texas Hurricane Ike was tearing the place up as I was riding in the north.
I've taken to riding with a small radio and a set of ear buds to relieve the boredom of 800km days. Trouble is that half the radio stations are religious ones. Frankly this religious thing is starting to get on my nerves. I saw three people on TV the other night talking about how they are helping solved the current financial problem by praying – and they were deadpan serious. Then I met a guy at a rest area who had the most beautiful Screaming Eagle Road King. He told me God had blessed him. Seems God told him to trade his old Fat Boy and guided him to select the new bike – a NZ $45,000 item and what's more God would provide for the payments. I've heard some crap stories justifying indulgent extravagance but this one takes the cake. Oh and he was dead serious also. I have told a couple of these zealots that their willingness to suspend their objectivity and their unquestioning acceptance of dogma scares me to death. I think of this as I ride to tonights stop – Waco, Texas. Actually Waco is quite a large town and not full of nutters.
Today I bought my first gallon of 93 octane for under $3.00 ($2.64). A month ago I paid $4.20 a gallon. Now ten bucks fills the tank. The other surprise today was crossing into Texas and seeing exit 878. On the West border there is exit number 1 which means Texas is about 880 miles across at this latitude.

22 Oct – Louisiana

Today was 10 hours riding and 1,000km knocked over. Nothing special except it bucketed down between Biloxi and New Orleans and of course my tyres are on their last legs. There are a number of things I like about the US and one is their BBQ ribs. Had a bunch last night at Sonny's – yum. While on food for a moment some things I am not sure about. Scrapple (to piggy), grits and yes they were from East of the Mississippi – a little to salty but shoveled onto eggs and bacon in lieu of salt they work well, chips are crisps and catch me out every time. Scones are biscuits and about as bland as can be but with sausage as in biscuits and sausage that you get from Hardee's are great but skip the gravy which is a white sauce. White sauce needs cheese and parsley and should be poured over poached fish. Hot cakes made with butter milk are excellent. Any “pie” is good but go for the key lime if you can. Not sure about peanut butter and jelly – it really is jam on top of a peanut butter sandwich. Turned down that offer. Eggs over easy, crispy bacon and hash done till nearly crisp will see you right for the day. Filled rolls are called subs unless they are hoagies, some burgers are called sandwiches and sandwiches are called sandwiches also. Beats me. You will love any “pulled” meat sandwich but processed meat tends to taste all the same irrespective of its name and colour. They can do a million and one things with ground beef but try the “meat loaf” especially if it comes with brown gravy and mashed potatoes. Cheeses have funny names such as Pepper Jack but don't worry they all taste the same. Greens are apparently in short supply throughout the whole country – you never see them. Same goes for fruit. Fizzy drink is called soda unless you are Canadian when it's called “pop”. It comes in 1 litre size buckets commonly known as “large”. Tea is cold and sweet – the other stuff is called hot tea and is totally unknown to the person behind the counter. At best you will get a paper cup of warm water and a tea bag of undetermined vintage. English breakfast is an early morning meal you get in the UK. Coffee is usually good but don't develop a liking for half and half (milk with cream which is truly excellent) because the moment you do they will substitute something called creamer which may be either liquid or powder but bears no relationship to a dairy product. Milk is called cream and so is cream. Ice cream is called ice cream and tastes like it to but you might get it presented in a small paper cup instead of a cone. Jam is called jelly even if it has jam written on the packet. Jelly is called jello and they sometimes put it with their meat dish. Other things: Petrol is called gas and so is gas unless it's called propane. You buy gas at a gas station as well as beer. Their 5 cent is bigger then the 10, one is a nickel, the other a dime – never did figure which was which. They have a 1 cent piece they call a penny and apparently nobody knows what to do with them. There is always a little collection in a jar next to the cash register. Posted speed limits are only suggestions – no one sticks to them not even the cops. And so it goes – there is never a dull moment in this country.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

21 Oct – Heading North

Last night was the last hurrah for the Keys. From a restaurant on a quay, an evening meal of Keys Conch (pronounced konk) chowder and the ubiquitous burger but of chicken breast with peppercorn Parmesan and home made chips (yank version of crisps) and Key Lime pie (this was worth killing for) washed down with a cold Miller Lite. All the while watching the sun set over the Golf of Mexico and the heavens slowly turning from orange to blue to black. Finally a dip in the pool. Sadly it's goodbye to the sun, the sea and Bulla shirts.
An early start this morning for the 800km ride to I10 – I made it in 10 hours. The only thing remotely interesting was the run through Alligator Ally. I saw a couple of alligators in the water but they were gone by the time I could turn back. Sadly there was one dead on the road. The Yanks seem to want to run everything down that moves. I've seen squirrel, cats, armadillo, skunk, raccoon, elk and now an alligator – all death by Dunlop. One nearly got me today – the pricks will not indicate (or look) when changing lanes. The truckies are the only ones with road manners.

19/20 Oct – Florida Keys

The further south you go on the Keys the more the environment starts to remind you of the Pacific. The palms, the flowering trees, the gentle breeze off a turquoise sea, the smell of salt spray and of course the heat and humidity. It's kind of like being able to drive to Fiji – the only thing missing is the smell of Fiji and the smiling brown faces. Key West is the town of Ernest Hemmingway and there is a tour of the writers former home and drinking establishments. It was also the preferred town of President Harry S. Truman but they are quiet on his drinking holes. The old town centre is well preserved thanks to some community endeavour and is currently eagerly awaiting the invasion that will come from Fantasy Festival this weekend. Fantasy Festival is a strictly adults only affair I am told. Being a week early, I have had to make do with cut-outs of pirates. Key West is also a very small place (about a mile by a mile and a half) and everywhere you look there is endless sea. Cuba is 90 miles away and is also another influence on this island. This morning it is eggs and bacon on Cuban bread with a cup of Cuban coffee at Anna's Cuban Cafe. Now that the past industries of plundering wreaked ships (referred to locally as “wreaking”), sponge harvesting and tobacco (the cigar industry was wiped out by a hurricane) all there is left is tourism. Some of the past glory can still be found. Tonight I am staying in Islamorada at a classic 50's/60's motel painted flamingo pink and azure. The rooms are large with panoramic windows looking out onto a pool with loungers in a centre courtyard. This has been a fine place - once. Sadly it now lacks customers and maintenance. Shades of Route 66 – nostalgia seems to be the domain of old farts wanting life to slow down and it does not appear to pay.
Key West is as far south as I can go and it stands in stark contrast to Alaska's Dead Horse with its freezing temperatures, mist and the Arctic Ocean where I was in Jun. I've now been to the most northern and most southern points of the USA. Sadly I've not joined the dots in the middle. Like academics who always recommend more research, I can see a need for more travel.
My GPS tells me I have 3,800 km back to Arizona.

18 Oct – Daytona Beach

After a days R & R in Savannah and a delightful breakfast of oatmeal, bacon and egg melt, fruit, Brie and tea I toddled off to Daytona. Today was the first wet day I've had but by the time I got to Daytona Beach for Biketoberfest it was all over. I was keen to see the new BMW 800GS so went straight to the Speedway but could not find the BMW tent so I just wandered around and looked at what other manufacturers had to offer. I liked the new Star 950 but it was the Kawasaki Vulcan 1700's that did it for me. I'll take the Nomad please.
Later on I called in to see the couple from Edgewater who billeted Gavin and me at last years Daytona Bike Week. They are well and we had an evening watching the Boston Red Socks trounce the Tamper Bay Rays. Now it is 3 all with a decider match tomorrow night. Post script: the Rays beat the Red Socks the next night so the Rays are off to the World Series final – if my cell phone worked down here I would have called Jack to see if he had got over the shock – being a Red Socks supporter and all.

16/17 Oct - Savannah, Georgia

Wilmington has a WWII battle ship monument, the North Carolina, that I took a tour of. Gavin Q and I looked over a similar one in Mobile Alabama last year bit this one is much better presented. It staggers me how complex a piece of machinery they are and the vast amount of resources that went in to building them. It was launched in 1940 and decommissioned in 1947 when the battleship era ended. The weather is starting to heat up as I ride south and the humidity is rising so it looks as if the pleasant conditions experienced up north have ended. I have made it to Savannah and will be here for a couple of nights. I have fallen victim to an invitation to drink fine red wine and Portuguese Port.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

15 Oct – Outer Banks, North Carolina

The Outer Banks is a spit of wind blown sand jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean and has three claims to fame as I can tell. Kitty Hawk at the top, the final resting place for hundreds of ship in the middle and at the bottom end on Ocracoke Island the final resting place of Black Beard the pirate after the Royal Navy done him in. Frankly there is not much to see on the way down the spit except sand dunes and the strangest 3-storey houses that look for all the world as if they were props for a horror movie complete with graying shingles on the walls and faded paint. There are some spectacular bridges connecting the spit at the northern end and a couple of ferry rides necessary to get off at the other. I have made it to Wilmingham, NC on the Atlantic coast so I have ridden from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

14 Oct – Kitty Hawk

The riding weather of late – actually ever since the blazing heat of Arizona – has been absolutely delightful and it has not rained on me yet. The mid 70's that I have been experiencing are above average temperatures according to the weather channel which won't last apparently but I am heading to Florida so should expect a continuance of the warm. The ride from Norfolk this morning was nothing spectacular and it is only now that I have any idea that I am on the Outer Banks. The sea and sand dunes are a give away. Tonight I am camped on the beach overlooking the bay and have just experienced the most delightful sun set. Now the mosquitoes are feeding on me and the light is fading fast. I had intended to make it off the Banks and back onto the mainland for nightfall but time spent at Kitty Hawk meant I would have to catch the 10pm ferry for the two and a half hour ride to .
Kitty Hawk, which is mainly the reason for being on the Outer Banks, has a National Park dedicated to the Wright brothers and their place in aviation history. The wording on the promotional brochure has a particularly pedantic style regarding what is being celebrated. I suspect Richard Pearce is not the only pretender to the first aviator crown. For all that, their story is one of single minded dedication, scientific experiment, great craftsmanship leading to quite spectacular results. These were no mere tinkers in a farm shed that stumbled upon success and probably quite rightly stand at the top of the heap. There is another monument down the road celebration 100 years of aviation milestones. There is a comment something to the effect that within 2 generations of the 1903 flight man had reached the moon.

12/13 Oct - Norfolk

The trip from Pennsylvania to Norfolk, Virginia was uneventful save for the unexpected length of the bridges and tunnels over and under the Chesapeake Bay. Oh and plus the $12 toll fee. I turned up at the gates of the Navel base for the 1 hour bus trip but was redirected down the road to the Naval Amphibious Base at Little Creek. So it looked as if I was to trade off a distant view of an aircraft carrier and submarine for something more in keeping with my army roots. I left the base at around 4 pm – so much for a 1 hour quick tour. I skipped the tour of the big ship on offer on the basis that like cities once inside they are much the same. Instead I poked my way around a Patrol Craft, visited the Seabees, Seals, river craft and played with their latest personal weapons. Then it was a spin around the harbour in the coolest 'speed' boat (a RIB) and finally a trip across the harbour in a LCU to a beach camp set up by the Marines. Here they had a couple of LARC's, a huge hovercraft and a couple of marine APC's plus misc other stuff. Everyone I spoke to had been to Iraq more then once and seemed to be having the time of their lives. They certainly had some cool toys to play with.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

11 Oct – Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

Breakfast with scrapple – a sort of pork like substance. A product to close to the pig for me – they have managed to make it taste like a pig smells. Toured Rough and Tumble tractor and engine museum. They had a live steam-up of traction engines, demo's of corn processing machinery and sawmill operations. Took an Amish buggy ride with a dopey driver so learned nothing but got a couple of good pictures en route. Visited an Amish farm and the rail road museum at Strasburg and yes I took the train ride. Sort of a busy day really. Have decided to skip Washington DC partly to do with high motel prices this weekend (it's Columbus Day weekend) and the thought that it might be more of a weeks experience rather than a couple of days. Instead I am going to tour the outer banks of Virginia and North Carolina. That means Norfolk Navel Base and Kitty Hawke.
Politically it's all about the stock market collapse despite the bail out plan. The elections are just starting to get down and dirty - the Republicans seem to have lost control of their interest groups and McCain had to defend Obama at one rally. Not good. Also not good is an emerging story of voter enrollment fraud by an organisation call Acorn. Acorn has an unhealthy association with the sub prime mortgage affair and Obama once had a close association with Acorn. An unflattering report on Palin has just emerged - seems she cannot separate her private life from her public role. Three weeks to go and three weeks for McCain to find his bollocks. Petrol has just dropped to below $3 - I've paid as high as $4.20 so $3 is good news.

10 Oct – Amish Country

I am not sure quite what I expected to see in Amish country but it certainly was not what I got. First off their farms are picture perfect as are their houses but it is hard to tell which farm is Amish and which is not. There are some tell tail signs such a buggy in the garage where you might ordinarily see a car and washing flapping on a clothesline – no self respecting American would do this no matter how much sun there was. And at the moment fall harvest is in full swing and some houses are decorated for the harvest festival. These are no longer shy retiring simple folk down on the farm. They run tourist enterprises of some considerable size and complexity focusing on their industry (dairy) and craft (lots of quilt stores, preserves and hand made furniture) none of which is at all hokey. And they will take you on a buggy ride, show you over a farm and explain their lifestyle. And the tourist industry is buzzing for them. Other things of interest: they harvest crops with horse drawn machines but there are internal combustion engines driving the shears that mow the crop. While some mow their lawns with a push mover others seem to prefer motor movers and weed eaters, though to be fair the latter could be Brethren. Oh and there are hitching rails at the local supermarket. Their buggies are a work of art and while at first glance they appear to be all alike they are not. What is most interesting is that they conform to an on road standard in so much as they have rear view mirrors, head and tail lights, stop lights and indicators. In town the buggies mingle with other traffic, stop at the lights and indicate their intention to change direction. A most specular sight was a buggy pulled up to a drive through facility at a bank. On the busier highways there is a dedicated buggy lane but I have not observed other drivers cutting them much slack. Americans aren't that tolerant of 'different' but when the gas runs out, the Amish may well be at the forefront of transportation.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

9 Oct - Pennsylvania

Today was dedicated to visiting the HD factory where they build their touring bikes (Electra Glide series, Road Kings and the Softail). The tour takes you through the building that manufactures and assembles the touring bikes, the Softail range is built in a factory next door and closed to the public. Thank God it was free – it was so brief you almost felt ripped off. For all that it was interesting watching robots do some quite complex laser cutting on rear fenders and polishing springer front forks. Aside from fenders we watched as petrol tanks were pressed, kick stands forged and got a look at a sample of the 2009 custom colours. One thing that is interesting is that they build bikes to order. As Ivan at ANZA will tell you, he has to order a years supply of bikes in advance. They build what he orders. On the production line we saw bikes of multiple colours and configurations including bikes destined for Mexico, Japan and Canada. It takes 2 hours to assemble a bike and the building is actually the old AMF assembly plant. No pictures allowed.
This is as far north as I go. Tomorrow I head south but not before I investigate why Lancaster smells so much of horse do do. Tonight I am in a motel run by the Amish and it has the most exquisite quilt on the bed.

8 Oct – Gettysburg

One of the goals of this trip was to visit Gettysburg. Gettysburg was a battle in July 1863 and had it not been won by the Union Army it would have allowed the Confederate Army under General Robert E. Lee to march down on Washington. The loss was a major blow to the Confederates coming as it did the day before the surrender of Vicksburg on 4 July 1863. The park is a huge 6,000 acre affair with the town of Gettysburg slap in the middle – in fact the Union army on day one of the conflict withdrew through the town streets. By day three it was all over. Pickett's Charge with 12,000 Confederate infantry failed to dislodge the Union forces from Cemetery Ridge and in one hour Lee lost 5,000 men. This was the bloodiest battle of the whole war with 51,000 dead, wounded or missing and the towns folk of Gettysburg were left largely to clean up. By November most Union dead had been reinterned in a dedicated cemetery at which Lincoln was invited to say a few works – the Gettysburg address was all of 272 words and took about two minutes to deliver. The Americans consider it a landmark speech.
This is all in Pennsylvania of course and just up the road from Gettysburg is York, the place where Harley Davidson build some of their motorcycles.

7 Oct – Shenandoah National Park

The road that goes through the park butts onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and is better known as Skyline Drive. It was a dull overcast day today and really quite cold on the ridge line and I was glad to get down to lower levels. For all that it was a very pretty ride. The Park Ranger suggested I take in the National Battlefield at Antietam and I am glad I did.
This was an early battle, 17 Sep 1862 and should have sounded a warning for future battles. In one day 23,000 men were killed, wounded or were missing – the bloodiest day in the whole war – and both sides fought to exhaustion and neither side could claim or secure a victory. Some of the original farm buildings, around which the battle raged, are still standing.
Many of the buildings in the nearby town (village really) of Sharpsboro predate the war, have all been preserved due to local body insistence and is the prettiest town I have ever seen. The only thing modern in the town is the gas station and the cars.
This ends two great rides in America – Natchez Trace and Blue Ridge Parkway. With the Skyline Drive it has been 1,000 miles of the most beautiful traffic free road imaginable. It does not get much better then this. For the moment I am in Maryland or Merlin as it seems to be pronounced. As Gavin Q knows, this is the place where there M R ducks with wangs.

6 Oct – Blue Ridge Parkway

I some how made a 600 mile journey out of the 460 mile parkway but now it is at an end. I did the last 200 miles today. The Blue Ridge Parkway would have to be one of the best rides I have done in a very very long time. You could lie on the grass at a picnic spot in the autumn sun, eat your apple while looking out over the mountains and for a moment kid yourself that it came from one of A.P. Carters original trees. It has been a most delightful way to get from Mississippi to Virginia. Sure, the 45 mph speed limit made it a slow ride but it would have been a waste to have gone faster and the beauty was that there were very few cars and lots of motor bikes. No matter where you stopped, another biker would pull up and a conversation would ensue. Tonight I am holed up in Waynesboro (no WIFI) and a young boy with a broad Kiwi accent spoke to me – they moved here from Auckland. His father still has his NZ drivers license and there are pictures of NZ in the office along with portrates of an Indian spiritual leader. Tomorrow I will make it to Sharpsboro via Skyline Drive. In the meantime I must brush up on my civil war history.