NB – This update also includes the ‘Suzuki’ tab
There’s something cozy and secure about being tucked up inside your tent, warm and dry, whilst listening to the wind howling through the trees outside. It’s a primeval feeling like a subconscious return to the womb; or am I just rambling on, talking bollocks…?
I’ve spent 27 of the past 31 nights in my 6’ x 3’ home and I’ve finally pitched it somewhere for long enough to write something. So here I am, listening to the sound of the Colorado River as it heads for the Grand Canyon, typing what I hope will be a worthy summary of the past…bloody hell…has it really been 5 months!!??
A Tale of two Families…Pt I
There are times in all of our lives when we have to take a step backwards in order to take two forwards and for me the past six months have been just such a time. When I made the decision to replace Lady P I contacted my old employer in the hope of securing some temporary work to pay for her replacement. It may have worked out had I wanted 18+ months work but I didn’t and it was my sister Shell and partner Paul , struggling to find trustworthy tradesmen in Jersey, that made me an offer that did us both a favor. As a result I spent 10 weeks in Jersey over Christmas and the New Year, re-modeling and replacing the bathroom, building a loft in the 6m long garage and replacing the skirting boards and architraves in what would become my new niece, Billie’s room. I owe a huge Thank You to Shell and Paul without whom Lady P’s replacement would not have been possible.
Talking of Lady P, it seems not everyone has understood the name. It’s short for Lady Penelope of Thunderbirds fame, my favorite program when I was a kid.
During my time in Jersey I made a short trip back to the UK, primarily to fulfill my ‘appointment’ at the US Embassy in London for a 6 month visa. I’ll spare you the details but it was somewhat of a palaver and included completing a form listing every country I’d visited in the past 10 years, the last two places I was educated and my last two employers!
From London I took the train to Andover (my ‘home’ town). The last time I’d been there was in April 2007 (at the end of my first year on the road) for my best mate Jez’s 40th birthday. With just a few days notice, Jez had done a great job of rounding up my friends and 20 of us enjoyed a few beers in Andover’s oldest pub, the Angel Inn before 15 of us made for a rowdy table in the Light of Asia Indian restaurant. Tony Tanner and Steve Conway were on particularly good form with the behavior, humor and conversation no different to that of The Winton School dinner table we’d shared from the age of 11. Thanks to everyone who made the effort to come out, especially so soon after Christmas, it was bloody great to see you all. I only wish I’d had more time to chat with each of you.
I spent 5 days in Andover which wasn’t nearly enough time to catch-up with everyone I wanted to even though it seemed I spent every waking moment visiting friends.
Nobody wants to read a list of Thank You’s other than those mentioned so I’ll just say a BIG Thank You to everyone who put me up during my time In England, cooked me dinner, drove me around, bought me beer and coffee, etc. You all know who you are – THANK YOU!
Whilst on the subject of Thank You’s, I need to say a BIG THANK YOU to Dean Buck and BMW Park Lane for supplying me with a new BMW Rallye 2 Pro riding suit. Mr Red, who became Mr Pink, is now Mr Blue…
And finally…thanks to Nick Muddle at Scottoiler UK for supplying me with another unit for the DR. It’s all about lubrication you know…
A Tale of Two Families…PtII
I returned to Ian & Jo-Ann’s in Milford, MA in the middle of February and was once again welcomed as another member of the family. The weather was fickle and went from snow to rain to flooding to a heatwave then back to rain and eventually sunshine. Building the DR (see ‘Suzuki’ tab) took longer than I’d expected due to many unforeseen delays but Ian and Jo-Ann were adamant that I stay for as long as it took to prepare the bike properly and for that I’m truly grateful. I spent many days freezin’ my ass off in the garage, sometimes accompanied by Jo-Anns’s 80yr old father John, but the coffee pot was as warm as the welcome.
After forcing down another of Jo-Anns FatBoy breakfasts I finally rolled out of Milford on the morning of April 12th; a little heavier than when I’d arrived thanks to Jo-Anns cooking. Even a pair of shorts I’d bought whilst I was there were tight by the time I left! There was a standing joke about me building a sidecar for Ashley the dog and as I rode away I couldn’t help thinking what good company she’d make.
It was pleasant riding past the painted wooden houses that define New England, through farms with their age old barns and vintage machinery on display.
Another change of plan
Having spent ten weeks in Jersey working on Shell & Paul’s house and then another eight in Milford building the DR I had to re-think the next leg of my journey. When I left Peru at the end of September it had been my intention to return to South America asap, but now I was way out of sync with the weather and it made more sense to stay in North America and ride up to Alaska this summer, then aim for Mexico in October (having missed the intense summer heat) and Colombia for January 2011.
The Trans West Virginia Trail – TWVT
Whilst looking for a suitable route from Massachusetts to Georgia I came across the TWVT on the ADVRider website. The title doesn’t do it justice as it starts at Frenchtown on the New York/ Pennsylvania border and runs through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky to the Tennessee border at Jellico. Made up of as many forest roads, farm tracks, mining roads and minor roads as possible it’s a 5-6 day 1800km ride through the backwoods.
It was a day and a half’s ride to Frenchtown and being so early in the year I pitched my tent next to a deserted lake in High Point State park before tucking into the last of Jo-Anns’s home cooking – frozen beef stew J Damn’ I miss you guys already!
The following morning I picked up another route from ADVRider, The Trans New Jersy Trail – TNJT. I’d hoped to ride quite a bit of this but having left Milford a month later than I’d hoped I had to modify it a bit to suit. It wasn’t long before I was riding a dirt road through the Kitatinny Mountains when I saw something large and back cross the road around the next corner. As I rounded the corner so I saw a Black Bear bounding away up a steep embankment through the trees. It was (and still is at the time of writing this) the only wild bear I’ve ever seen. It was a magical moment.
The magic didn’t last long though as a few corners later it started raining and once out of the forest I could see there was no end to it so I bailed out of the TNJT and headed for Frenchtown and the start of the TWVT.
I’d exchanged several emails with Chip Grose (the guy who has dedicated a HUGE amount of time and effort into putting this route together) and had asked him about the possibilities for bush camping along the way. He put me in touch with another ADV inmate Mike Mullins who owns a piece of land along the route. Mike invited me to camp on his land and made arrangements for Chip to visit whilst I was there.
Mike and I got along straight away and we spent my first full day there racing around the woods in his Polaris Razor. I don’t think too many people outside the US will be aware of what this is but imagine a cross between a golf cart and a quad bike with an 800cc engine and automatic, hi-low ratio gearbox with switchable 4-wheel drive and a top speed of 63mph. Mike lives on the edge of the Hatfield-McCoy trail network which with 2000miles of trails is the largest playground for dirt bikes and ATV’s east of Moab, Utah.
One minute we were racing flat out along forest roads, sliding through corners WRC style. The next we were climbing impossibly steep hills and crossing creeks littered with vertical entry and exits over slippery rock. I was amazed at what it was capable of.
All of a sudden we’d run out of time and headed back to Mike’s for a shower before Chip arrived for a BBQ. He made a good job of the steaks and as we chatted about the final two days along his route so Mike decided to join me.
Whilst Mike got his stuff together I washed my air filter, changed the front tyre and generally tinkered about and the following day we hit the trail again.
The following two days were in total contrast to the three I’d spent riding to Mike’s. Whilst the Pennsylvania/Maryland/West Virginia section had been like a tour of millionaires homes, we were now riding through coal mines and little communities where Cletus and cousin Jed sat on the porch waiting to play a tune for an unsuspecting tourist. When it came to camping in the woods, the bears were the last of my worries!
On the first evening (which happened to be a Sunday) we pulled into a church car park to check the map for tracks into the forest for a bush camp. One of the church goers asked if we needed help and promptly directed us to a track just 100m along the road. At the top of the track we came upon a dead end (literally) as we rode into the cemetery. Baffled by the directions we were about to discuss our options when the guy who’d sent us there arrived in his truck and said “If you boys are just looking for somewhere to sleep, you can sleep in the covered picnic area behind the church”. So we did, and whilst Mike hung his hammock so I rolled out my bed on top of a picnic table (warmer than the concrete floor).
Our second day took us across Kentucky on a lot of good forestry tracks. As per yesterday I was amazed at the mixture of homes on some of the backwater roads. Shambolic trailers (mobile homes) with the yard full of old cars on blocks, disused domestic appliances and every kind of junk and a scattering of kids toys were often overlooked by brand new 5+ bedroom homes with manicured lawns and new cars.
The amount of dirt roads on the Kentucky section, and a cock up whilst navigating one of the three possible ‘alternative’ additions to the route, made for a long day in the saddle. When we rolled into Jellico’s supermarket early evening I was ready to grab some supplies and head for the forest. All Mike could think about was a hot shower and a comfy bed and he was soon on the phone to Days Inn. The deal was done – Mike got us a room to share and I provided dinner and so with the curtains drawn so not to upset anyone I cooked up Spag Bol.
Next stop – Cogent Dynamics
Mike had been good company, always smiling and joking, so the possibility of meeting up with him out west later in the year is something to look forward to. For now though it was time to go our separate ways. With a leaden sky I donned my waterproofs and rode south through Knoxville, Tennessee and over the Smoky Mountains in the pouring rain (I later learnt from Mike that he’d looked at the sky and stayed another night in the hotel – call yourself a dirt biker; poof!)
Cogent Dynamics in Fletcher, North Carolina are the company that modified my rear suspension unit and supplied the parts for my forks. Having read many good reports about them on ADV Rider I had a long telephone conversation with the owner Rick, at the end of which I was convinced they were the right company for me to deal with. After my previous problems with Ohlins I wanted a company that kept every part in stock and was prepared to send them anywhere in the world. Rick not only makes all the parts (so they’re always available) but he put together a spare seal kit for me to carry and relayed several stories of other travelers he’d helped along the way.
After an afternoon in the workshop chewin’ the fat, Rick and his wife Joyce invited me to spend the night . First stop was a roller shuttered warehouse in the, dare I say ‘hippy’?, town of Ashville which, once the shutters were up, became the Green Man pub and had IPA on tap! The next stop was a newly opened Indian restaurant (which I think will do very well) and the evening was finished off with a tour off some of the Art Deco and neo-Gothic architecture of the town.
The Legend that is …Jim Brannon
Jim is only the second person that I’ve given ‘Legend’ status to and I’ve looked forward to seeing him again for many years. I first met Jim back in 1995 when I was racing Triumph Speed Triples in the one-make series in the UK. Triumph UK had invited four of us to attend the inaugural running of the series at Road Atlanta, Georgia and chose me along with Paul ‘Marra’ Brown, Ian Cobby and Alan ‘Batty’ Batson. Marra had taken the place of Scott Zampach’s injured teammate whilst the rest of us rode bikes that had been supplied by Jim Brannon and his ‘Freewheeling’ dealership from Douglassville near Atlanta.
With limited practice time we were disappointed to learn that grid positions had been decided in the order in which the entries had been received. Marra was on the front row in his role as replacement rider but Ian, Batty and myself were on row 11.
With two laps to go I passed American Tripp Nobles for the lead but with just two corners to go I had to roll off the throttle to avoid a fallen rider on the blind exit under the bridge and Tripp passed me back. I got a good run on him through the last corner and pulled alongside him as we passed the checkered flag. Tripp got the win by 1/1000th second – my closest ever finish and a truly memorable race.
Jim and I hit it off instantly and he cordially invited me back the following year to ride at Daytona and Loudon, NH where I finished 2nd & 4th respectively. Loudon was the last time I saw Jim and I recalled him saying he was 56yrs old which would make him 70 now.
Freewheeling was easy to find and had expanded somewhat since I was last there. Jim was at lunch but the manager agreed to play along with my surprise and plied Jim with a story of an irate customer that would only speak to him. My back was turned but as I heard him approach so I turned to face him and fortunately he was as pleased to see me as I was him.
Jim is a racer through and through – still is. The first time he won the infamous Baja desert race on a quad was in the millennium year when the race was doubled in length to 2000miles – he was 62yrs old and has won it again since. He’s still the local ‘Masters’ enduro champion but his real passion these days are Karting and cycling on his variety of ultra-trick recumbent bicycles – he cycles 100 miles a week to keep fit for racing. And race he still does. Last year he fitted a Suzuki GSXR1000 engine into his kart and has been timed at 180mph in it. Unfortunately for Jim only a few circuits will let him run it as kart tyres are only speed rated to 145mph!
At home by the lake I met up with Jim’s wife Becky and youngest son Lance and after an early evening meal in their favorite Mexican restaurant we headed off for an evening at the Barrel Races. This involves horse riders racing into a rodeo arena and following a set, figure-of-eight type pattern around three barrels. Jim’s granddaughter Sydney was racing and won her division – I guess racing is in the genes.
The following evening Jim invited a friend over and we spent much of the evening in Jim’s trophy filled workshop talking shit, tellin’ lies and suppin’ the finest drop of homebrew this side of Hazard County.
It was a pleasure to see Jim, Becky and Lance again after so many years. And talking of many years I hope Jim has plenty more in him. As Steve McQueen once said “Racing is life…everything else is just waiting around”.
Both Mike Mullins and Jim Brannon had told me not to miss the Barbour Motorsports Museum. Included as part of the world class facility that is the Barbour Motorsports Complex just outside Birmingham, Alabama they have on display approximately 600 of their 1200 motorcycles in a five storey museum overlooking the racetrack. By skipping through many of the modern bikes that I was familiar with I just about got to see everything else in the four hours I was there. There were only a handful of visitors thanks to the NASCAR event at Talladega Raceway just up the road and it felt like I was the only one there. I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in motorcycles and will try (time allowing) to add a photo gallery dedicated to the museum.
Trans America Trail – TAT
I continued west, bush camping through Alabama and Arkansas until I reached the Oklahoma border. A guy called Sam Correo has spent many years piecing together as many dirt roads as possible to make a trail ride across the US. It is something I’ve fancied doing since I first read about it some years ago but the $300 cost of the maps has put me off doing the whole ride (that’s what I’ve spent on maps for the rest of the world!). Some reports say there is too much tarmac in the eastern sections and a look at the road atlas suggested it would be easy to find pleasant minor roads through Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas – which it was. Oklahoma though was/is a different matter. The road atlas shows a grid of straight lines and nothing of any interest could be drawn from it – so I bought Sam’s maps for Oklahoma, transferred all the info to my GPS and picked up the trail on the Arkansas/Oklahoma border.
It was mid-afternoon when I picked up the trail and was pleasantly surprised to find a twisty, undulating dirt roads through forests and streams. I spent the night at Snowdunes State Park (herin- SP) where I met four guys who were just about to finish the eastern leg of the trail having ridden the western leg last autumn. The first 250km or so of day 2 were similarly enjoyable but then the country turned flat, the trail headed straight for the horizon and the south westerly wind tried its damndest to knock me off my bike. The wind alone wouldn’t have been a problem but on the often loose and sometimes sandy sections it constantly tried to take my front wheel from underneath me. It was similar to what I’d experienced in Patagonia though fortunately not as bad.
For mile after mile I searched for some kind of shelter to stop and make coffee but it was mid afternoon before I found such a place. As the trail crossed Hwy 132 I detoured north to a collection of buildings I learnt was called Manchester. “Bollocks…I’ll have to lock everything up” I thought but the place was deserted and I parked up behind and old warehouse for a brew. It wasn’t deserted enough though and soon a pick-up truck pulled up and out climbed an old fella wearing a ‘Retired Reservist’ baseball cap. He was soon talking about his commands etc then noticed the list of countries on my screen. “How’dya get on in all them crazy Muslim countries” he asked. ‘What crazy Muslim countries?” I replied facetiously before adding that they were in fact full of friendly, helpful, loving people trying to put food on the table like everyone else. “The fundamentalists are a minority but give the majority a bad reputation” I told him. “They are?” he replied questioningly.
I won’t relay the whole conversation but the highlights were:
“Obama is a Muslim”
“What!!!” I replied incredulously … “What makes you say that?”
“He’s got a Muslim name”
“I’ve got a Welsh surname, that doesn’t make me a Taffy!”
“He (Obama) can’t prove he’s American – his birth certificate can’t be found”
“He’s (Obama) a socialist”
“All his people he’s putting into government are Communist”
I’d stopped for a rest but my head was ready to explode. I got back on my bike and took my chances with the wind…God bless middle America!
I spent the night at Alabaster Caverns SP where I was the only camper. That was lucky as there were only two spots out of the wind and I listened to it howling all night. Everything around was fenced off farmland so bush camping wasn’t an option.
Day 3 on the TAT and the wind had changed direction to a westerly. No longer dangerous but it sure did make the DR suck some gas. I detoured into Liberal, Kansas for fuel, supplies and to visit Dorothy’s House (Wizard of Oz) and ate my lunch in my shirtsleeves in the shade. The following day I got snowed on in New Mexico – WTF!
A few sandy jeep tracks made the TAT a little more interesting in the western end of the Oklahoma ‘pan handle’, other than that there was nothing to write home about. I spent my last night on the trail in Black Mesa SP and crossed into New Mexico the following morning.
The terrain was just an extension of Oklahoma grazing land until I passed I-25 whereupon the scenery changed dramatically. Hwy 58 through Cimarron was beautiful but there was a storm in the distance and I added an extra layer of clothing and my waterproofs when I stopped for a brew. It was the right decision and as I climbed away from Eagle Nest Lake headed south on Hwy 64 so it began to snow. My thoughts flitted between ‘It’s chuffin’ May tomorrow!’ and ‘What would I pay for a log cabin with an open fire and a huge bowl of Jo-Ann’s beef stew and dumplings!’
The snow slowed me down somewhat and I was late finding a place to camp. I ended up at the very picturesque Fenton Lake SP (only to find numerous bush camping opportunities just a few km’s further along the following morning). It was the first busy park I’d encountered – fishing in the lake being the big draw – and it was also my first sub-zero night back in my tent. Around -4 or -5°C judging by the volume of ice in my 5l containers.
Next on my list was Canyon de Chelly NP on the New Mexico/Arizona border. It was now May 2nd so I was somewhat surprised to awake to an inch of snow! After being confined to my tent for much of the morning when the snow turned to rain, I took advantage of a break in the weather to stretch my lags around the campsite. Walking past a camper (RV) I overheard English voices and later joined retirees Paul & Jan from Bisley, Surrey UK for coffee and supper – more of them next chapter.
Also on the campsite I met Pascal and Ed from Santa Fe. They had some good suggestions for routes near Monument and also told me I could camp FOC in the Valley of the Gods.
My trip the USA west will be pretty much a dot-to-dot of National Parks and Monuments and so it was that I left Canyon de Chelly NP and took a ride through Monument Valley , Valley of the Gods, Natural Bridges NP and on to Moab, Utah where I’d spent a week mountain biking and camping 15 years ago.
My first full day in Moab was a Friday so I decided to get some trail riding in before things got busy over the weekend. It had been hard enough to get a campsite on Thursday afternoon as I rode in and out of ever BLM (Bureau of Land Management) along the Colorado River east of Hwy 191. Eventually I found a secluded spot, too small for most but ideal for a solo motorcyclist. Later on in the Information Centre I overheard that every commercial campground in Moab was full.
Why is Moab so popular? It’s got both Arches and Canyonlands right on its doorstep, sensational mountainbiking and an unrivaled network of trails through the Canyonlands region that are open to OHV’s (Off-Highway Vehicles). People ride motorcycles, quads, side-by-sides and all manner of off-road machines from jeeps to buggies.
So until next time, I’m off riding….!