15 June, 2007

Texas to California

At the US border they spoke a sort of a form of English but seemed to lack any 'spark'. All pretty much automated responses, with some curious interjections from time to time. I was sent over at one point by the border guards at the 'in' section, to the 'out' section for leaving the US, just to see if I could get some change for my green card visa thing. I was swiftly intercepted by a border guard who demanded to know what I was doing in that area.

"I'm looking for change for the guys over there . . ." I said.
But was cut off; "you can't be in this area, sir!" left hand in a 'stop' sign, right hand on his gun, legs apart, ready to 'draw'! Nuts!
I had stopped very still, and may even have raised my hands instinctively (too many movies in all of us!) out to my sides. Everything seemed to have gone very quiet. "Well . . . ehm . . . I was sent over by your colleagues back there," I motioned behind me.
"You just can't be here, sir."
"Ehhm . . . o . . . kay . . . but . . . ehhhm . . . why not?"
"It's just policy, sir." He relaxed a bit and stood up. He must have decided I was just a daftie and no immediate threat to US border security.
"So can you tell me why this policy exists? It's just I'm quite interested in strange laws and the reasons for them."
"No, sir, I can't tell you that sir, it's just policy."
"It'll be that daft George Bush," I said, trying to lighten the mood.
"Yes, it will sir, thank you for that advice, sir."

And that was the curious bit - he thanked me 'for that advice'. I wondered if anyone further up in the US government might do the same as I wandered back to scrounge some change from some nervous-looking Mexicans. I gave them all the Mexican coins I had, while I was at it. I was through the border control quite quickly, although without any of the 'banter' you usually get with border guards. No humour, none, whatsoever. It was like when you take your driving test. Examiners have to stick rigidly to a script so as to avoid any accusation of bias. That was how they spoke, sticking to a script. No importation of the bike, no stamp in my passport. A green card with my details on, a retinal scan and my two fore-fingers photographed for posterity, and in case I ever decide to take up terrorism, I suppose. I asked how long I could stay. "You have a few days. You stay any longer and you'll lose your privileges. You might never get back into the US again!" Concerned, I looked at the card. It was stamped 12th September 2007. So now he's joking, now I'm in. What a hoot!! Not! A bit presumptious that anyone might consider it a privilege to get into his country but . . .

And no importation of the bike. Customs just wanted to know whether I had any drugs, explosives or guns and then they let both me and the bike go.

A roadsign said I 'must' take the Toll Road. This cost $2, the same as a car. I mentioned to the man collecting the money that this was only the second country I'd been in where they charged the same for a bike as a car. In a thick Mexican accent he said "Well, eef you don't laike eet, you can go back to your own countree, anee time you waaant" and added a big dramatic wink. I laughed out loud, "I'll bear that in mind, but my country's too far away just now." Welcome to the United States (sir!).

I'd seen another sign at the beginning of the road 'Laredo 20'. A quick calculation told me that Laredo would therefore be only 12.5 miles away. 12.5 miles later I was still looking at the darkening brushwood in the closing heat of the desert. Ha, of course, the only other country on earth that uses miles, apart from the UK, is the US! This could take some getting used to. I bought a map when I reached Laredo and immediately discovered that there were about three bridges across the river between the two towns. Also, the Toll road (if you pay it's a 'turnpike') had taken me along two sides of an equilateral triangle, the third side of which would have taken me straight into town in half the time!

But it was a very good map, well detailed and the next day I could settle into making good progress along smooth surfaced roads - for free! Most of the roadsigns were written, rather than pictorial as in Europe. "State Correctional Facility - Do NOT pick up hitchhikers" made some sense. Trucks ploughed along at over 80mph! I had foolishly thought the US was still plodding around in their huge cars at 55mph! I need to pay more attention. Most speed limits were around 65-75 but I saw one at 80mph, on the Freeway, and most traffic was exceeding this by at least 10mph. I stuck to between 65 & 70 and kept an eye on the mirror for trucks approaching at speed. The 'bow-waves' of air from the front of them would unsettle the bike if I wasn't prepared for them. Very strange to be overtaken so often by such huge trucks.

I'd have to say that 80% of all motorbikes were gleaming Harley-Davidsons. All doing 80mph as well. Getting overtaken by a Harley was also a new experience! This never happens at home. Although you don't have to wear a crash helmet here, only a very few are daft enough not to. But how do they keep their bikes so shiny?

As I was just thinking which westerns I might like to add to my dvd collection at home, the approaching town of Langtry reminded me of Judge Roy Bean (THE Law west of the Pecos!) and the top film with Paul Newman doing a great job hamming up the title role. I hadn't even known he was a real person! There was his courthouse, and the home he'd decided was also an opera house, in case Miss Lillie Langtry might ever come to the town he'd named in her honour! Click on the photie to make it bigger, mind.

I had expected most things to be a lot easier here. After all, they speak the same language, don't they? I was prepared not to like it, I was even fully prepared to be surprised and love it, I'd heard so much about the welcoming nature of 'ordinary' people (whatever they are). I wasn't anywhere near ready to be so utterly confused. Very little in the shops made any sense. I expected things to be familiar and laid out more or less the same as at home in Europe. Very little was in any way familiar and there were not even Heinz beans which I thought must be available in every corner of the planet like Coke.

Oscar Wilde said the US and UK were "two nations separated by a common language". I have to agree. Later, I heard the difference between Brits and Americans is that while we think 200 miles is quite far to go, Americans think 200 years is quite a long time. I passed through the 'city' of Klinger, population 217. Can this be classed as a city? That'll make Kinghorn a real metropolis then!

There were some very BIG people. Bob, a road worker who invited me to use his barbecue outside our rooms at a New Mexican motel, had heard on the wireless that the next generation would be the first in US history not to achieve a longer life expectancy than their parents. All because of obesity.

In three days I was across Texas, through New Mexico and camped on a Navajo campsite (free) near Canyon de Chelly in North Eastern Arizona. In the photo you can see land farmed in the traditional Navajo way, in the bottom of the canyon.This was the largest Indian reservation on my map, and took up about an entire quarter of Arizona. 'Indians', by the way, is what they seem to call themselves - collectively, but probably Navajo, Apache, Cheyenne, Ute, etc. among themselves. This just makes sense to me since 'Native' American by definition counts for anyone born anywhere from Northern Canada to Tierra del Fuego. So that makes Brad Pitt and Hugo Chaves as much Native Americans as any Navajo, and each other.

Next morning I was off to see the Grand Canyon and very grand it was too.
I was still riding alongside it late into the next day along one of the few remaining parts of historic Route 66. I got very little in the way of kicks since it mainly passed through more very hot desert and was completely straight. I stopped off to ask what was historic about it, thinking it was just mentioned in a not-very-brilliant song from the sixties (?). It seems, in fact, that it was used as an escape route during the 'dustbowl dry days' of the thirties Great Depression, and then again during the sixties, for people trying to reach the milk and honey land of California. Now it's mostly underneath the Interstate Highway.Route 66 led me to a road towards the Hoover Dam and Las Vegas. The town of Kingman thought it was just fine to wait until I was 6miles out of town before telling me the next 'gas' was 75miles away. I made the 12mile return detour as I had only about 65miles left in the tank. The heat at the Dam was incredible. Glen had told me he'd just kept going through the night to avoid both the heat and the crippling accommodation costs. This seemed like a reasonable idea since there was little in the way of large wild animals wandering about, as far as I could see. So I decided I might give it a go.

I cruised through Las Vegas at dusk and began to climb up into the Nevada Desert, heading towards Yosemite. I planned to find a campsite there in the morning and dose through the next day in the coolness of the altitude, and in the shade of some redwood trees. About 10pm, however, I changed my mind as my eyes began to droop. I'd been on the road for 13 hours and a better idea about now would be to find a motel. I skipped passed one or two that seemed too brightly lit for my tastes. In Beatty, Nevada, I noticed two motorbikes in a motel car park - not Harleys. They even had yellow number plates, but lots of US states have those. As I got closer in the darkness, they were big trail bikes . . . then I could see that both were F650 BMWs, and the number plates were . . . British right enough . . . in fact . . . it cannae be . . . Will and James' bikes!! But . . ? Wow! How on earth . . ? My bike shoogled happily (old boxers can do this at low revs!) up to its old pals and quite obviously wasn't going to go any further.After checking in, I found the lads propping up the bar across the street in the 'Sourdough Saloon' (honest - the cliches just roll off!). Even having found their bikes it was still something of a shock to see themselves. "There you are!" I said in concert with Will's casual "there he is!" James was drop-jawed as he turned, then, being roughly as daft as each other, we were all smiles and handshakes as we excitedly exchanged stories of derring-do since we'd parted, seven weeks ago in Bogota, Colombia. It turned out we'd been on almost the same route all day, they'd only been an hour or two ahead of me. This was providence doing some funny things. They had also planned to head up to Yosemite the next day.The run along through the last bit of Nevada desert in company again with these two youthful madmen was great fun. They had been seeking new and diverse ways of waving at opposing motorcyclists, and my 'cruise control' and the straight roads, allowed me more imaginative waves and greetings than normal, which amused Will (showing some leg). After a while the desert began slowly to give way to rolling hills and then we rose further up into more scenic and green mountains. For the first time since Colombia I forgot all about navigating and just followed James into Yosemite National Park where he'd already selected an excellent campsite. The Park Ranger who registered us was impressed with our trip. The air was cool and we put the tents up ready for a good night's sleep. There was no sign of Sam anywhere.

Our neighbours were four ladies who had heard us checking in. They were leaving in the morning and invited us to dinner in order to finish off as much of their food as possible. In exchange, we were to entertain them with stories of the trips. Melody, Doreen, April and Dorrine had some excellent food, from salmon to steak as well as top cheeses. Two had gone shopping, each without telling the other so that they had far more than they could reasonably handle. We did our best with tales of daftness and adventure as we 'sang for our supper'. The weirdest thing had been our meeting the previous night. The ladies were interested and quick to laugh and we all got along well, which made it all the more fun for us. In return we also heard some adventures from them, as well as some amazing stuff in Europe.This helped dispel another myth - that only a tiny percentage of US citizens even own passports. Everyone I've met so far has travelled pretty well. At the end of the evening we'd hardly made much of a dent in the food, so what was left got wrapped up for us to enjoy the following evening. These welcoming strangers fed us well for two nights in a row!

Meanwhile James, Will and I chilled out and did a little walking and talking some more highly entertaining nonsense. "If you could only have three bikes in the whole world . . . " began James. Hmmm, a hard one! Then we packed up and rode off down the scenic green valley. At a certain point I had to head west towards San Francisco, while they would turn north for Lake Tahoe, Canada and Alaska. A friendly petrol station attendant took the posed photo and we all decided this was a far better parting than waving at or from a wee, yellow, Colombian taxi at 5am! On our bikes, with our boots on . . . A few miles further down an amazingly smooth and twisty road, in a flurry of beeping horns and waves, I turned west and the boys headed north. We'll catch back up in the UK, I'm sure.

The lonely run through the hills and down into the stifling heat of the desert was interesting and highly scenic. The road had a near perfect surface. This heat was at least dry, which meant that perspiration could do its natural job of cooling me down. After the spectacular hills, I slogged further west through much flatness until I stopped for coffee at Gilroy, the 'Garlic City' True enough, a fair pong filled the air.

From here it was only a short run through some more hills to the coast. Getting into these was very cool and I had to stop and replace summer gloves with winter ones. To my amazement, as I came through these hills and saw the Pacific again, the coolness didn't warm up. It was chilly on the Californian Coastline. It was too late to bother my chums in Aptos, so I booked into the Bayview (couldn't resist) Hotel.

I was directed into the bar and was soon joined by Michael, who had seen my bike sitting outside with its funny number plate and decided to investigate. He had an old BMW K75 and gave me good tips on where to go and get my bike looked at. He also invited me to stay at his farm, should I be unable to secure further accommodation less expensive than this hotel. Very kind!

The lady at the hotel had originally said the room cost $130. I apologised that this was a little out of my expected price range, and so she immediately lowered it to $90, but without breakfast. When I went into my wallet and she realised I was going to pay in cash, the price dropped a little further and breakfast was back on the menu! Funny place, and with the thickest mattress I ever saw!


At 13/07/2007, 10:06, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mick, I like the picture taken in the Yosemite camp site. Is that a standard BMW sidestand you are using?

Cheers, Enfie.

At 13/07/2007, 21:27, Blogger Dorrine said...

Mick, seeing those Yosemite photos brought back all the positive feelings about that trip. Something much-needed as I sit trapped in my office.
Great job with the blog!

At 23/07/2007, 21:41, Blogger Mick said...

Aye, Enfs! Well, you know what they say about the Stone Age design!

Thanks Dorrine, the kindness of you guys certainly enhanced our stay in the mountains. Get out of that office!! :-)

At 21/08/2007, 02:02, Blogger Matt said...

G'day Mick,

I hope you had some luck with your bike in Longreach. I am sure you will enjoy your time in Darwin as I did, great place for a beer. Make sure you go to the Darwin sailing club for a Beer, it is right on the waters edge. Anyway next time your passing by make sure you call in.

Good luck,

Matt Cameron


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