USA journal 2017
This journey had been developing in my mind since my China trip in 2009, seeing a coast to coast USA ride completing my ‘across the world’ biking experience. After a great start in Amish country the shine was taken off it by the accident and serious damage to Aggies’s arm, resulting in her returning home after less the 2 days on the road. Despite my enforced revised ‘shortest route itinerary I thoroughly enjoyed the riding experience, as I passed through vastly changing landscapes during most days. I was fortunate with the weather; virtually no rain, missed all the tornadoes, but a bit hot (46°C) in Arizona. Finding motel accommodation (standards were a bit unpredictable) was very straightforward, the downside being the location; most towns didn’t have centres as we know them so I would regularly find myself on a long wide road with no concentration of facilities, and limited sightseeing.
Planning is a great part of a journey like this, and there was plenty.
My early decision, was East to West, New York to Los Angeles, hooking up with Route 66 at some stage. A 3000 mile trip which I estimated I should allow 28 days based on 10 days riding 150 miles a day for 1500 miles, 6 days riding 250 miles a day for 1500 miles, plus 3 days New York/collecting bike, 3 rest/sightseeing days, 3 days in Los Angeles/exporting bike, 3 contingency days.
I decided to take my own bike Yamaha FJR 1300 as shipping would be a similar cost to hiring, obviously more familiar to me than the traditional Harley Davidson, and in my view, a more suitable riding and load carrying bike (two good sized panniers and a top box). The bike was booked with James Cargo, flying out Manchester to New York, returning Los Angeles by container ship to Felixstowe and subsequently by van to home. Next came bike documentation. This was relatively straight forward with 3 items. A bike Temporary Importation certificate (simple email application to Homeland Security), a months bike insurance (only one company available), and one customs document (to be completed with US customs on arrival). Total bike costs so far c.£2500
May seemed the best month for weather, So flights Manchester/New York out and Los Angeles to Manchester return.
The first step was to ride the bike, packed with both sets of riding gear (helmets, jackets, trousers and gloves), to James Cargoes warehouse in Manchester.
Not the best flight on American Airlines, Manchester to New York (JFK), although booked with BA through Dial a Flight. Limited leg room, rather noisy, below average longhaul food and overall not a very smart ‘plane. Arrived on time at 1pm Tuesday May 2nd after a 7 hour flight. Easy passage through US immigration and airport customs, despite all the warnings, and an efficient shuttle service to the Radisson hotel on the edge of the airport. Used airport shuttle twice, first to customs office to clear bike Wednesday morning. Building appeared almost empty and staff behind glass screen were unhelpful saying that form 7502 which I had partially completed was now computerised and I needed an agent, something I was trying to avoid. Fortunately a guy who happened to be there passing over some forms to customs kindly rang an agent he knew, on his phone, arranged for me to see her, and then took me in his car across the airport to her office. The agent, Cathy, was unfamiliar with the procedure to temporally import a motorcycle, so together we managed in about one hour, to answer all the questions the computer asked. The document was approved by customs who then decided not to release the bike until they had inspected it. For what I know not. It was now lunchtime so as there was nothing more we could do that day, we took the Airtrain (free around the airport and to the nearest subway) to Jamaica Airtrain station where we connected to the subway to Manhattan. $14 return. Quite old fashioned and noisy by London underground standards with uncomfortable hard plastic seats. Had a brief look at Broadway including Macy’s but no shopping as no room on bike! On return to our airport hotel we decided to look around locally, but nothing within walking distance so we took a taxi along the Beltway east, to a shopping mall. Great food hall where we had a sumptuously tasty Chinese “help yourself” meal. My first experience of a very full plate! Nearly everyone was black! Received a text late afternoon from Cathy to say customs had relented and did not wish to inspect the bike. Too late for collection that day.
8am Thursday morning I cadged my second ride on the hotel shuttle to the cargo warehouse on the far side of the airport. I presented the customs document 7501 which Cathy had completed for me and without any hassle my bike appeared in large cardboard box, on a fork lift truck. Three guys helped me dismantle the box and very kindly donated some petrol, as the tank had been drained by the shippers. I reconnected the battery (I had disconnected it in Manchester prior to shipping as the alarm system drained the battery) and in less than an hour I rode off out of the airport (no easy task) and find fuel. I encountered my first learning experience at the petrol (gas) station. My card was not recognised by the pump as it required my zip code, which obviously did not have, and the attendant was unbelievably unhelpful. I needed to pay in advance before the pump would work, and after what seemed to be a lengthy discussion in a foreign language the attended accepted my card. As the weather forecast was for very heavy rain in New York on Friday, we decided to leave that afternoon. We managed to pack our panniers and ride on to the Belt Parkway just after 12 noon. The plan was for a 200 mile ride to a pre-booked motel in Intercourse in Amish country. The traffic snarled up on the Belt Parkway up to and over the Verrazano bridge. Stop start for over an hour in sweltering heat was not a good start. Eventually the satnav accurately guided us onto the North/South main drag (Interstate 95, I-95) from New York to Washington. A very busy motorway style road, which in parts, had separate road for trucks. Speeds quite a bit lower than equivalent UK roads. I didn’t have readable road map and was totally dependent on the bikes’ satnav (Visual and audio), so I was somewhat alarmed when shortly after joining the I-95, the satnav died. Removing some fairing I discovered I had missed one connecting lead, the satnav one. On the road again and after about ¾ hour we left the I9 and rode westwards encountering a lot of traffic, across country into Lancaster county, Amish country, and eventually at about 5pm, arrived in Intercourse. Intercourse is very touristy village based on its Amish history and present lifestyle. Our motel, which took a little to find, is on an Amish farm a couple of miles out of the village. As soon as we had parked in the motel car park we were approached by a guy enquiring where we from. He, Bruce Kaufman, told us there was a meeting that night in the restaurant adjacent to the motel, of 150 descendants of one of the original Amish settlers (Nicolas Stoltzfus) with a buffet meal and illustrated talk. Bruce arranged an invitation for us. What a wonderful start. It was a very convivial affair, with superb food, Amish style we understood, with loads of mashed potatoes, pulled beef, salmon plus an enormous bowl of ice cream which as over polite Brits, we missed out on as it quickly disappeared. There was a reminiscing talk by one of the descendants followed by a film made by Nic Stoltzfus showing traditional annual cattle drove in Florida.
Heavy rain was forecast for Friday plus a mention of hurricanes so as we were a day ahead anyway, we booked to stay in the motel for another night. We rode into the village, and browsed the many tourist shops and cafes between showers; half of the places seemed to be owned by a Schmuker or a Stolzfus! The restaurant next the motel, being Amish, closed unbeknown to us at 7 pm, leaving us without an evening meal. So a dull dark wet evening with a below average takeaway.
Off at 9 am on Saturday, with full wet gear, on good roads, light traffic and mainly dual carriageway. After one fill up and 2 hours we pulled of the main road approaching Baltimore for a snack. As I pulled slowly out of a carpark, with visibility slightly limited by a sign, I touched the front brake with the handlebars at a slight angle and dropped the bike. Aggie hurt her elbow and was in some pain. Whilst assessing the situation a police patrol car arrived, followed shortly by two other patrol cars, a fire engine and an ambulance. The upshot was that the injury required hospital treatment so I followed the ambulance to a north Baltimore hospital (GBMC). An x-ray indicated a broken elbow with concern that there was nerve damage. The diagnosis was a fracture of the ulnar shaft with dislocation of the radial head at the elbow. Aggie was transferred to the MedStar specialist orthopaedic hospital, in the centre of Baltimore and settled into a room which she had to herself. This is a very smart hospital. I sourced a motel on my satnav, which in turn took me to what turned out to be a very downmarket motel. Too late to change. I spent sunday with Aggie awaiting developments. The operation was planned for the next day, monday. I booked a better hotel in Towson, north Baltimore, as city centre hotels were $2-300/night. I enjoyed an evening meal in Hooters near my motel, somewhere I hadn’t eaten since I was in Austin some 15 years ago. Delicious unhealthily encrusted shrimps for $16. I stayed with Aggie until she was taken down to the theatre at 3pm and waited in the theatre reception room. The op was listed on a screen indicating a 4.15 start, and into recovery for 3 hours (normally only 1 hour). I spoke to the surgeon, Zimmerman, as he left the theatre. He said all went well. A plate was inserted below the elbow. The joint was not partially replaced as he had originally thought may needed, as it only had a small chip which he had cleaned up. Aggie was very groggy in the ward and uncomfortable with very large and heavy plaster. I slept overnight in the ward on a reclining chair. Neither of us slept well!
Aggie was very uncomfortable and in some pain the next morning despite being drugged up a bit. The process for her release started around 2pm. I had recognised the importance of obtaining complete medical records from both hospitals as Aggie’s insurers (Direct Line group through Nationwide) would not take action until they had assessed them. Both hospitals said they would be available in a few days, up to a week. This clearly presented a problem in getting Aggie home asap. The nurse in charge of the release very quickly recognised the problem and grasped the nettle by harassing MedStar Records until they agreed to produce them that day. After much signing and being taken all over the hospital I was given a 33 page file. The nurse, Felicia, gave the same treatment to GBMC Records, for whom she previously worked for, telling them in no uncertain terms that she knew it was possible, they agreed to email them to me. I followed Aggies taxi to the Towson motel. I took a 2 mile bike ride to a Staples shop where a very helpful guy scanned all 33 pages into a file and emailed them to the insurers .Aggie was too tired and uncomfortable to go out to eat, so Hooters for me again.
The promised email from GBMC did not arrive, and a phone call to them on Wednesday revealed a change of mind – they would only release them to Aggie in person. A $20 taxi ride and they passed them to Aggie immediately. On the taxi ride back our driver, Ken from Iraq, took us first to a charity shop where we bought a large suitcase ($40), and then to Staples again, who similarly scanned and emailed GBMC records. At last the insurers sprang into action saying they would contact BA (as our return was with them) and try and change Aggies return flight. Lunch in Subways and evening meal in Hooters, Aggies first experience Fish taco and Buffalo shrimps. Delicious, washed down with cold lager.
Thursday started badly with the insurers booking Aggies flight from Los Angeles despite knowing the location of both hospitals and our motel full address and zip code. By mid afternoon on nonstop flight from Washington or a 1 stop from Baltimore were offered, and the nonstop accepted. Another Subway lunch (delicious shared foot long sub) and Hooter taco fish with steamed shrimps in the evening. Aggie not hungry. Friday was a hanging around day until a very smart car arrived at 5 pm to take Aggie to Washington airport. Heavy traffic forecast but arrived in plenty of time. I then did some journey planning in the knowledge that Saturday was likely to be wet. I filled up with petrol – always a nightmare as pumps are only self-service and require a zip code. Paid $20 up front with the cashier and only debited what I used.
As I hoped it wouldn’t be on Saturday morning, at 7 am it was very wet. The forecast suggested slightly better later so I dressed in bike gear and had a regular Days Inn scrambled egg and 2 sausage and a cup of coffee breakfast. Making my own waffle was a step too far. I wet suited up and waited for the rain to ease, which it did by 9 am, so off in a light drizzle west along the busy beltway, to pick up the I-70 towards Uniontown some 200 miles away. Worryingly a yellow light lit up on the dashboard and stayed on for about 15 minutes. I’d no idea what it indicated but as all systems appeared to be working and no unhelpful noises, I had no option but to carry on, but with some trepidation. I rode on dual carriageway with light traffic through flat wooded country, the rain came and went a few times for about 50 miles, and then, despite very dark clouds, remained dry for the rest of the journey to Uniontown. I rode for about 80 miles over a mountain range’ very steep gradients and quite high but light traffic with only a few trucks. I left the 1-70 for 50 miles on single carriageway where there were odd houses, small hamlets, loads of small independent motels. Very little open countryside, woodland the whole way. I had made a list of probable motels on a sheet of paper, and as I entered Uniontown I asked the Satnav for nearby motels and it came up with Super 8, which turned out to be a new looking very clean very well-appointed motel for $68, including breakfast. I was in real need of my tank top map carrier, forgotten, as I was totally dependent when travelling, on my satnav. The helpful motel manager tried to locate a suitable bike shop/dealer for this and my yellow light problem, but Saturday and all closed. The instruction book said the light indicated an electrical malfunction and go to a dealer. No chance here today or presumably tomorrow, Sunday. Mexican supper next door, chicken salad with peppers, onion, courgette and cauliflower on a bed of rice plus a guacamole salad for $10.
Time to get some mileage. Sunday plan, completed by 1 pm was a 300 mile ride to Drayton. The 7.30 am start was a 30 mile ride to the 1-70, unexpectedly on a toll road. I couldn’t quite work the toll system out. I assume there was number plate recognition as you were directed to a fully automated toll on a slip road and then straight back on to the main road. I drove passed and ignored a couple of these tolls but stopped and paid at the one just before I was due to leave to re-join the 1-70. Motorway style road, steady volume of traffic all travelling 60 to 75+ including trucks. One passed me when I was doing 75!. I stopped twice, once for a leg stretch in a rest area (no UK service type areas) and secondly for fuel and coffee. It was virtually flat all the way, with some very large fields which were cultivated but no sign of crop growth. I saw one cereal field, a few which could have been very poor crops of oil seed rape and a few which I took to be maize stubble. I had, unwisely as it turned out, booked into a Travelodge on the outskirts of Drayton. An awful rundown motel, not many staying and the characters I saw didn’t impress me. Also nothing around of any interest, but two decent places to eat. Lunch was a quesadilla snack in obviously a Mexican restaurant. Two large family groups left together with 1 or 2 large doggy ‘boxes’ each. Chinese in the evening of stir fry beef onion peppers with rice washed down with refreshing Tsingtao.
A sparrow fart start on Monday took me about 30 miles south of St Louis. A 400 mile stint guided faultlessly by my satnav, particularly through a maze of motorways and roadworks in the centre of St Louis. I saw a bit more farming today and concluded that the bare cultivated fields were for maize as I saw two drills in action. One about 10 m wide. Very impressive. Motorway roads so difficult to stop to take photographs. Not much volume of traffic except around Indianapolis and St Louis. Truck still hammering on which explains why the roadside is littered by so much tyre debris. Significant road kill, mainly deer. The road systems in the cities (Columbus, Indianapolis and St Louis) are magnificent. The traffic flow at the same speed, about 70, with minimum speeds in places. 40 mph in St Louis. Overall a very good standard of driving, and particularly polite at junctions, always giving time for someone to pull out and allowing space and time for pedestrians. There is a bit of lane hogging , which I use to my advantage, sticking to the centre on 3 lane roads, keeping all my options open as although motorway like, you may have to leave left or right. The road signage is rather confusing as the large signs above the lanes virtually never refer to major destinations ahead, but to places off the road which have no meaning to me. The satnav was brilliant at giving me audible warning usually 1 mile ahead of any turns, giving me notice to look for the sign. I found a Super 8 on a side road adjacent to the 1-70, thinking it would be similar to the Uniontown motel, but, wrong, it was tired and in urgent need of a refurb. A bit like me after 400 miles. I now realise these motels are all franchised so much depends on who is running them.
A 7.15 am start on Thursday, straight on to the 1-44 all the way to Springfield, 200 miles. I was in Route 66 country, supposedly alongside my road but I didn’t see any sign of it. I found a convenient Best Western motel which the receptionist informed me, was actually on the old Route 66. There were non of the iconic original buildings left, but there were a number of the trademark Route 66 signs along the road. I was proudly told that Elvis and his mother stayed in the motel in the 60’s when Elvis was performing in Springfield. I rode into a square in downtown for lunch of a great burger with chicken, egg, bacon and spinach. I also unsuccessfully, on guidance from the motel receptionist, sought out where the old Route 66 left the city in the direction I planned to go the next day. This was an excellent motel and good value for money. Complimentary cookies and coffee mid afternoon. Three Harley bikers arrived from South Carolina saying 450 miles was a normal day for them. The friendly one was beard, belly and ponytail and looked ancient, but was only 62 and ex military.
Wednesday morning started wet, reasonably heavy rain, so I waited until 9 am and successfully followed the revised directions to the old Route 66. It was dead straight for about 15 miles, identified on my satnav, and then after a few bends and turns I came across an old garage next to an ancient bridge. Then I lost it, and myself, and took 15 miles to get back on the I-40 which I took for 40 miles to Vinita where I picked up the old Route 66 again to just outside Tulsa. Again, none of the original left. I stopped at a café for some lunch which had poster of Marylin Monroe in the loo. Next door was a gun pawn shop. As I entered Tulsa I was confronted by an unmanned toll barrier, which only wanted 50 cents, which was 50 cents more than I had. Whilst working how to get round it a motorist pulled up behind me and paid for me. It was in the middle of nowhere so it could have been a problem. The mainly cross wind which had built up during the day, was horrendous slowing me down to 40 mph, sometimes on the outskirts of Tulsa where there was a minimum speed of 50 mph. My pre-booked Tulsa motel was a rather upmarket Best western in the downtown business area, and proved very difficult to find. There was nothing around of any interest other than a very sleazy pool bar, and only one place to eat, which fortunately next door to the motel. My evening meal there was a sumptuous quesadilla chicken and an obligatory beer. Overall, a disappointing stopover.
I was regularly checking the weather on the TV and my tablet, so made a hasty exit at 7.45 on Thursday morning as tornadoes were shortly expected in Tulsa. I headed off for Oklahoma city, planning to travel as far as Elk city or Amarillo. The wind was strong again, but a headwind so a little easier to manage. The I-44 was mainly turnpike to Oklahoma through a mainly flat featureless landscape. The satnav directed me very well through Oklahoma city. There were 3 coin only tolls which were a pain. At the last one a truck in front of me obviously didn’t have sufficient money so he drove off through a red light leaving me to pay his debt and mine. I hadn’t enough coins so I also went through on red. The weather was very cloudy, but no rain. I stopped in Elk city for lunch in a McDonald’s and was warned to look out for tornadoes. I entered Texas and the scenery changed initially to a rocky undulating barren landscape and then to flat land with large fields, many with very large circular irrigators. Clearly less populated just small filling stations at junctions, not the shops and truck-stop ones seen previously. When filling up I was again warned to watch out for tornadoes. Nobody suggested what action I was supposed to take. At 4 0’clock my satnav took me to a Super 8 motel listed as in central Amarillo, but nothing around of much interest other than the HQ and museum for the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) – just my luck, the museum closed. The evening proved to be more rewarding. Almost next door to the motel was the Western Horseman bar and disco where Pat and Butch Rich (vocal and guitar) played live Country and Western music and the old (and obviously quite infirm) hobbled/shuffled around the dance floor. Butch obligingly played his version of ‘Show me the way to Amarillo’ for me to video which subsequently went on Facebook. Butch gave me his C&W CD. I thoroughly enjoyed a very home style meal in a family orientated shop/restaurant of turkey, cranberry, apple, stuffing, beans, corn bread and biscuit.
Off at 8 am Friday morning after my waffle breakfast. Every motel has a waffle maker and I have made one every morning. Lashings of syrup. Cooler than I had anticipated and after half an hour I stopped to put on a fleece under my jacket. The flat rocky landscape changed to low scrub and then to pasture. I passed a beef lot which must have covered 100 acres and saw 100’s of wind turbines. Very thinly populated. The road, I-44 all day, was then undulating on a 2-3000 ft high plateau and very cold. I caught up with an extremely large black cloud and was subjected to some serious hailstones for about 10 minutes. I couldn’t chase clear of the cloud for about an hour, with a sunny road always ahead, which was always under cloud when I got there. I crossed into New Mexico and was amazed at the difference from Texas. The first 100 miles was barren and scrub, and the petrol station was run down rubbish everywhere and half the pumps were out of action. I had chosen but not booked, to stay in a Best Western in Moriarty, as I thought to size would give me a chance to see some local life. Wrong. No centre whatsoever, just a wide open long street with sparsely scattered fast food, garages, banks…but sadly no beer. And it used to be Route 66.
I started Saturday by filling up with petrol, and appropriately for Route 66, drawing cash from a Wells Fargo bank. Re fuelling is always a lengthy process as the self service card only pumps always reject my card. I have to go into the shop and ask the cashier to charge to my card, say $10. I the fill up using say $8 and drive off as my card will only be debited the quantity I have used. I took a few photos of an old stagecoach and wagon, and at 9 am rode west on the I-44 through Albuquerque, a mountain range and then on to unproductive undulating treeless low scrub. In the last part of New Mexico and the first 50 miles in Arizona the landscape was dominated by red stone outcrops of rock and caprock escarpments. A train track ran by the roadside for a large part of the journey with freight trains at least half a mile long with 2 engines at each end. Weather warning on TV of horrendous storms, hailstones and tornadoes in Tulsa where I had been 3 days ago. I planned to stay at a Days Inn in Chambers on the I-40, but my satnav took me 25 miles out of my way down a rural road. The road for most of the way was very fresh black with temporary signs reading “Fresh Oil”. It wasn’t sticky! I eventually found the Days Inn – it was seriously run down, next to a restaurant that was closed (no water) and in the middle of nowhere. I rode another 40 miles to Holbrook to a Super 8 motel which looked fine on the outside, but much less so inside. A McDonalds was the only place in walking distance and was OK for an afternoon snack but not for my evening meal. Two workman smoking outside the motel recommended an Italian restaurant a couple of miles up the road. ‘The road’ was a typical American wide road with business spread very thinly along its length. Excellent Italian meal at night but no alcohol – just as well as had to bike there.
I had made a lot of ground so I was in a position to slow down a bit, so Sunday morning I planned a short 100 mile run to Payson, across country. The first section was flat with tufted grass and very low shrubs. I hadn’t realised I was so elevated as I surprisingly quickly dropped a long was down to a flat plain populated with thinly spaced short (10’) trees. To my further surprise having already dropped quite a long way I started a seemingly endless 15 mile steep descent down a forested mountain. Spectacular scenery down a dual carriageway that I thought would never end. Payson was another of those long drawn out towns with no centre and thinly spaced out facilities each with a large carpark. The Comfort Inn was excellent and reasonably close to a bar/restaurant and a Walmart where I bought another paperback (from very limited selection) and had a haircut. I had a chat with a truck driver in the Walmart carpark, and a guided tour of his cab. American trucks look bigger than their European counterparts but are limited to 80,000lbs (c.36 tonnes). The driver said that typical long distance truckers could be away on the road for 2 to 3 weeks at a time. He only went away for a few days and took all his own wife-prepared food with him. Too expensive to eat out all the time. His cab apart from his bed had virtually a full kitchen with sink, fridge, freezer and microwave. I was overloaded with my Mexican evening meal next to my motel. I had a steak with rice, sauce and trimmings, plus 4 fajitas but only 2 eaten.
Fox TV news is full time on the Manchester bombing. The thrust seems to be anti-Islamic supporting the speeches Trump has made about the evils of Islam, and at the same time criticising Obama. Farage was given some prominence, saying Trump was a great statesman. A reporter said Farage was a great friend of the US and would help him all the help they could. The implication is that Islamism is increasing in Europe and made vague reference to ‘no go’ areas, and making great play of ISIS fighters returning to the UK. They criticised the Manchester police saying they were not prepared and many mentions of the spread of radical Islam in UK.
Monday did not start well. As I attached the RHS pannier, I broke the mechanism which both locks the pannier and secures it to the pannier to the bike. By pure chance and good fortune there was a car accessory shop next to the motel, and at 7.30 am, it was open. I purchased a couple of ratchet straps and half an hour later I was on my way. The first section of the road (to Blythe) was through a densely forested mountain range. It was a fantastic fast dual carriageway with sweeping bends. At the bottom was Phoenix. The 25 minute ride through Phoenix’s 5/6 lane dual carriageway system, with left and right hand junctions, was at breakneck speed not dropping to less than 70 despite heavy traffic. I felt I was on an F1 racetrack. Another faultless satnav performance. As soon as I was out of town I stopped for water and took the lining out of my jacket. The next 50 miles were dead straight and almost flat, through a seriously hot Arizona desert.
On Tuesday I decided to take an indirect route from Blythe to Indio, not along the I-10 Los Angeles road, but via Brawley, and what a great idea it was. Hot from the start. The first stretch was flat and cultivated large irrigated fields Lucerne, cotton, barley. There were large stacks of tonne bales everywhere. I spoke to a guy who said the area was over 100,000 acres all furrow or overhead irrigated with water from the Colorado river. The bales, which were Lucerne, were sold all over the US, and some to Saudi Arabia to feed the world’s largest dairy farm which was owned by the Saudi who owned much of this land. The landscape rapidly changed to rock and dry looking bushes on a very undulating road with severe blind dips. Amazingly I then came into a desert with spectacular sand dunes for about 10 miles. For reasons not clear to me, in the sand dune area, there were regular notices saying stopping was illegal enforced by aerial surveillance. The Best Western in Indio was extremely smart and upmarket. I asked for a downstairs room to be near my bike and the girl on reception (on her first day) gave me an upstairs room. The manager very apologetically changed it to a suite downstairs, with separate lounge, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and two aircon units. The temperature was 43 C. I decide I would go for a cooling spin on the bike to find some lunch as nothing near the motel. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t lift the bike off it’s side stand. The reason was the stand had sunk through the hot tarmac. The bike metal controls were too hot to hold without gloves and my legs (in shorts) were burning as I rode for my lunch. I swam in the motel pool in the afternoon.
The ride to Los Angeles next morning was quite a challenge. I set off on the I-10, very busy with trucks and cars, initially flat, heading for a gap in the mountains ahead (snow on the tops). I could see some wind turbines ahead, as it turns out, a lot, approaching the numbers I saw in the Turpin basin in China. I was beginning to realise why they were there as the headwind was increasing to almost alarming proportions, slowing me down allowing trucks to pass and seriously buffet me. I turned left off the very busy I-10 to head for south Los Angeles for a pleasant 20 mile winding stretch of road and then I met heavy traffic again. Fast moving trucks and cars (all at 60 – 70) on 6 to 8 lane dual carriageways with frequent left and right exits, and then my satnav audio disconnected. Guiding by the screen only in such traffic was a nightmare. I kept trying to reconnect, with difficulty with gloved hand, but eventually to my great relief it reconnected, only to fail again 5 minutes later. Fortunately I was able to reconnect straightaway and no more trouble again, and the satnav took me to my modest motel in Gardena, southern Los Angeles by 11 am. After a shower and a Thai snack I ordered an Uber taxi to take me to the bike shippers, Schumacher Cargo, about 3 miles away, to start to sort out my exporting documents. Met two Brits from Kent who clearly had more trouble than me getting their bikes into the US, in Dallas. They nearly had to give up , and had an outright refusal to stamp their documents. A window slammed in their faces. Now they were having trouble getting their bikes out and had already made several journeys to US customs 15 miles away. This did not bode well for me as my documents were not stamped my New York agent had assured me the new electronic system did not require a stamp. With advice from the Brits I contact Rachel in the office who gives the first bit of news – Los Angeles customs do not do electronics! With Rachel on the case, I am told my paperwork is OK and I am in the system. Rachel says I have to go to customs, 14 miles away to get my form stamped, and she will take me tomorrow. The customs office closes at 12 noon, and as it is National on Monday, my flight on Tuesday, I have to wrap it up tomorrow without fail. I returned to my motel and took a Uber to a Walmart to buy a case. To call Uber you require WIFI/internet so I had a coffee in Starbucks and availed myself of their WIFI. Great system. My evening meal in a Korean restaurant was an adventure in itself. I ordered a $10.99 beef, pork and chicken. Each table had two built in gas BBQ’s, 4 for each, but I had the one for my sole use. For your money you get a plate of marinated chicken pieces, 10 large thinly sliced beef, ten small pieces of pork, a bowl of rice and a salad. I ate all the chicken (tasty), half the beef (chewy), one piece of pork (with difficulty) and washed it down with a Japanese beer. Not a gourmet meal. Rather than a doggy box I invited the four Mexican neighbours at my table who had just eaten all of a similar meal if they would like some more. They demolished the lot in short order. In the evening I packed my panniers with all the items I no longer required, in plastic bags in case the shipping container was damp. Experience from containerised items all going moulding when shipped back from China prompted me.
On Thursday morning I took my last ride, 3 miles to Schumacher Cargo, to meet Rachel at 10 am to go to US customs at Long Beach. Problem. Rachel informed me that the dreaded US customs form 7502, completed by my New York agent, had a code in one box indicating the bike was a permanent entry to the US. That need to be corrected before going to customs so Rachel rang the agent, who at the second attempt, faxed a revised 7502. Rachel consulted one of her senior colleagues to check the form over, and he said that as the New York agents name and address were printed on the form, it did not require a customs stamp. Job done, bike left. By 11 am my phone was ‘hot spotted’ by a helpful guy in the office, and I was able to Uber my way back to my motel. With the bike gone and all it’s attendant gear and paraphernalia (helmet, riding jacket and trousers………) gone, I felt rather flat and deflated, with the rest of the day empty, so with ‘pressies’ in mind I googled Macy’s. A non-downtown one was nearby, so for $7 I Ubered my way to it, only to find very surprisingly it was a female only store. Very fortunately, a small mainly fast food mall was nearby where I was able to have lunch and a beer. I returned to my motel and spent the rest of the day planning how to investigate/explore Los Angeles in the next few days.
A 10 am leisurely start to Friday with an Uber pool car (chance of sharing) to the Wyndham by Wingate hotel next the 405 Freeway near the airport and on the city tour bus route. I checked out the city tour routes and bought a 48 hour ticket with Starline allowing me the next two days to investigate the city. In the meantime, on Google maps, I plotted a route to downtown via 2 buses, ½ an hour straight down one road (route 177), and at an intersection, ½ an hour in another straight at right angles to the city centre (route 745). Both buses gave me very bumpy ride due to a combination of knackered suspension and rough road. Hardly any other white passengers!. No complaints though as an hours ride cost $1.40 , the old folks rate! Via Starbucks coffee and WIFI, I found the real Macy’s and invested in a couple of scarves for Helen and Aggie for starters. On the bad advice of a guy in Starbucks I took the train partway back (part underground and street level) which turned out to take more time, more walking and I still had to take the bus for the last ½ hour.
A ¼ mile walk on Saturday morning took me to the starting point of the Orange city tour bus at the La Quinta hotel, at 8.45. The Orange section was a 30 minute ride to Fishermans Village, now not a village, but a rather attractive upmarket marina. A Brit, living in New Zealand but was brought up in Winterton near Scunthorpe (where I lived for 3 years and started my working life), was good company on the bus. One fascinating fact (to me) was that Scunthorpe steelworks he used to work for is a highly profitable steel manufacturer because it is a specialist maker of railway lines, in high demand worldwide, particularly in India where they are the sole supplier. I then took the Yellow route, followed by the Red around Beverly Hills and Hollywood, stepping of for a Subway lunch on Hollywood Boulevard, and eventually via the reverse routes, back to my hotel by 7 pm. Serious traffic delays and two nearly hour waiting at route interchanges didn’t help. The whole trip was not inspirational, based almost solely on which movie star or stars, stayed, lived, died or screwed in a range of pretty well nondescript houses/hotels, or where the said building used to be before there were knocked down. Not a repeatable journey and it had made me late for my Saturday night out which Carol Slater had arranged for me, to be a VIP guest of Tanya at the Saturday night Cinespia event in Hollywood. Previous VIP’s included David Beckham! This is an outdoor cinema event, organised by Tanya, showing classic Hollywood films in the Forever cemetery, a grassy area about the size of two football pitches. I took a ¾ hour Uber ride ($18) to Hollywood, and when I told the guys at the gate that I was a guest of Tanya, a golf buggy arrived and I was whisked to the event. Tanya met me and took me into the seated crowd, introduced me to 3 friends, provided me with a floor level chair, a blanket, a glass of wine and popcorn. We watched, projected on a large white wall, Hitchcock’s ‘North by NorthWest’ starring Cary Grant and James Mason. A great film. A burger appeared from somewhere during the film, and it was gratefully received as I had missed my evening meal. After the film Tanya organised a camera shoot (for VIP’s!!) where the 4 of us were asked to make a pose against a mountain backdrop. They took up my suggestion and we all posed as Usain Bolt. A $30 Uber ride took me back to my hotel by 12.30
Whilst not being particularly enamoured by yesterdays hop on hop off rides I felt I should complete the final Purple route around Hollywood so 8.30 Saturday I took the bi-pass non-stop Black route to Hollywood. The Purple route sadly did little more than go the rounds of star’s ex residences, finishing up in downtown. To complete my shopping experience I visited the Grand Central Market, where to my surprise I found it to be a vast eating hall full of small individual stalls cooking all the ethnic foods you could think of, exemplifying the Los Angeles multicultural population. It was exceptionally crowded so it took me while to grab a stool at one of the bars. I enjoyed a bowl of mussels and oysters and an obligatory beer, plus, from the very gregarious and friendly owner, the gift of a glass of his proudly homemade ginger all and a cookie. To return to my hotel on the hop on/off buses would entail the Purple. Red, Yellow, Green and Orange routes taking at least 4 hours and seeing nothing new so it was a no brainer to return by my trusted 745 and 177 service buses.
My last day was open for offers. I made the most of an Egg, burger, waffle, fruit and coffee hotel breakfast. I Google mapped a route to Santa Monica, clicked on ‘bus’, and discovered if I walked about a mile to a bus stop the R3 (R for rapid and it was but again suspensionless) would take me there in ¾ hour. The bus dropped me off in a familiar style shopping mall where I searched for, and found a handbag for Aggie. Not the $3500 one in Lois Vitton!. I had a walk along the iconic 100 year old pier which I have been told has featured in a lot of films and TV productions. I hadn’t realised that it is billed as the end of Route 66 so an unexpected photo opportunity. Back to the hotel where after a few false starts I printed out my return boarding pass on the hotel’s computer. A short walk to an upmarket Westin hotel for my last evening meal. On the strongest recommendation of a very friendly real estate guy from Washington I eat the best Buffalo wings ever. Now I know why they call this dish Buffalo wings when they are clearly not wings from buffalos. It’s the sauce which originally was made in Buffalo, near New York.
Why are electric light and plug switches upside down?