Wednesday 29th-Thursday 30th July Woodstock by Helen

woodstock 2

Having been a hippy at heart since I was 17, a visit to Woodstock was a must. I had read that it was now a gentile and funky town full of veggie cafes, wholefood stores and yoga studios, like the Chiang Mai of New York state. The surrounding area is very pretty. Very much like parts of Snowdonia, without the dramatic peaks. The first indication that you are near the town is a sign for the Tibetan Centre (always a giveaway) and then the appearance of a pilates studio. Not many of those in the rural parts of New England where we had come from.

woodstock 3

We had experienced the wholefood store on the outskirts of town, on arriving, the day before. It was very well stocked and full of customers in their 70s who were probably too stoned to find their way home after the festival. It was shockingly expensive though and our normal daily shop cost about 30% more than usual, although we did find some marinated tofu and a great loaf of 8 seed bread. On our second visit we, headed for the centre of town and found a WiFi café for the first hour so we could upload the blog and plan the next part of the trip.

woodstock 4

It was about 33 degrees when we came out about 1pm but the heat was very dry and the left side of the road was in shade. I really enjoyed pottering about and looking at the cute little shops and cafes, some painted in bright colours and some with Tibetan flags or statues of Shiva. The menu of the vegan café looked great and the place was heaving but it was a bit too expensive for us and we don`t generally eat lunch so we did not investigate. The whole place had a chilled vibe and was definitely more upmarket than the town of Glastonbury, which we found quite down at heel a few years ago. If I lived in New York City or Boston then I would no doubt come to the area for long weekends but bliss here comes at a price. It’s more West Village in the hills than Dharamsala.

woodstock harleys

Woodstock 1

Woodstock Helen

Back at camp, I was a bit jumpy after the near bear encounter. Rather than go down to the sunny but lonely meadow to practice yoga, I used a patch of grass nearer to the tent. Afterwards, on my way to the shower, the path suddenly seemed dark and slightly menacing and I could hear a low growling sound. As I walked on, a little perturbed but reminding myself that close up encounters are rare with black bears, I saw a guy flat on his back on a camp bed outside his tent, snoring his head off.

Woodstock bike

We bear proofed the bike that night before bed, by wedging it between a fire ring/BBQ and a large picnic table so that it could not be pushed over. Dave also set the alarm this time. We stored the metal panniers, containing the food separately. The night passed without incident. However, the next morning a guy informed Dave that he had just seen a bear near his tent area. He said it was a pretty big one and that they had chased it off. As we were leaving, the park ranger came by in his golf cart and informed us that a small bear had been seen that morning on pitch 25. Mmm how big was the fish (bear)? After availing us with stories of friends of his who had done road trips to Mexico on their Harleys and others who had flown their bikes to Europe, he told us more about bears. Apparently, as there had been sightings of this (small) bear, they would ask the biologist if we he wants to trap him. They will then take blood samples to make sure he is healthy and then tag him. On release, they set dogs on the bear to run him off the area and frighten him, to ensure he does not come back. If this doesn`t work then they might shoot him with a plastic bullet. This is all for the bear’s own sake as, if he becomes to familiar with humans and their food, he might end up having to be shot. He told us how they trapped two massive bears about 5 years ago. One was about 260 pounds and the other about 180. They were magnificent but also stank to high heaven, probably due to having to wear and thick black coat in the middle of a baking hot summer.

Monday 27th-Wednesday 29th July-First Bear Encounter by Helen

helen salisbury

We always planned to head to Woodstock, New York state, after Boston, on our way to Washington DC. Due to predicted temperatures of 36 degrees though, we decided to save Washington for the return leg next year. Trying to see a city in searing temperatures and humidity is no fun, as we know from living in Asia. This means we have the chance to camp for 12 straight nights across Massachusetts, New York state, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Georgia on our way to Nashville, where we are seeing Alice in Chains on 8th August.

We left Cambridge on Monday with a hangover, thanks to our night out with Simon. As a result, we decided not to go far and camped overnight at Wells State Park in western Massachusetts. This was a really pretty campground with a large lake and campers only beach. The individual sites were huge and shady so neighbours were far away, almost out of site. We spent the afternoon chilling, reading and I managed my fist yoga session of the trip on the grassy playing field.

On Tuesday morning we left quite early to head for The Catskills, a group of hills about the height of Snowdonia in Wales (3500 feet), where Woodstock is found. The actual festival took place in Phoenicia, another small town much nearer Woodland Valley Campsite where we planned to spend one or two nights. According to the internet, this is proper black bear country and bears visit the campground at least twice a week.

salisbury

On the way from Massachusetts to New York state we passed through Connecticut for a couple of hours. I liked it a lot. Very rural compared to where we had been, with more crops growing and a few very pretty towns, all named after places in England, like Salisbury and Winchester. The architecture here is more varied than the coastal areas of New England. The New England map is full of familiar places, presumably named by the first settlers after the towns/countries they came from. Most place names are English such as Manchester, Norfolk, Dover (to name a few) but you also come across others like China, Lebanon, Wales and Holland.

salisbury 2

At the campsite, the warden asked me if I knew about the bears and how to take precautions. I solemnly confirmed I did, having read obsessively about it on the web. There are signs everywhere on the site advising about how to ensure food, cooking equipment and toiletries can be bear-proofed to avoid attracting them to the site. This is to protect people and their property of course but also bears. “A fed bear is a dead bear”. Only black bears live in this part of the USA, not grizzlies. Black bears are timid and only come near human settlements looking for food. All food and toiletries have to be stored in the your car overnight. You are also advised not to sleep in clothes you have cooked in. Of course, we don`t have a car but we do have aluminium boxes on the bike in which we can store food etc. in. We have been religiously following these rules for the last 10 days in order to get into a routine ready for proper bear country but last night we were extra careful. We also moved the bike to another pitch about 20 metres across the way so food etc. was nowhere near the tent.

We both fell into a deep sleep about 9.30pm. About 10pm there was a noise like something falling to the ground and Dave shot bolt upright and mumbled something about the bike. Not wanting him to go out and investigate, in case there was a bear around, I reassured him it was people putting stuff away and we both went back to sleep. This morning around 7am a neighbour woke us to tell us the bike was over. Sure enough, Dave found it, wheels in the air, back box open and helmets on the ground. Nothing was taken. One of the boxes was slightly bashed in. Bears push bins over to get at what is in them and clearly a bear used this technique on the bike, to no avail. A good way to look at it is that our precautions worked. A bad way is that there was a bear about 20 metres from our tent, investigating our food, only an hour after dark. Tonight Dave will park between two trees so that the bike cannot be pushed over. Another option is to take the boxes off so the bears can roll them around, without damaging the bike. We might also put the alarm on as it bleeps when you first touch the bike and this might scare them off. An interesting night to come.

pannier 2 pannier 1

Friday 24th- Sunday July 26th by Helen

SAMSUNG CSC

SAMSUNG CSC

On Friday, we rode into Kennenbunkport, a really quaint but very touristy New England coastal town, full of clapboard houses and restaurants and wealthy looking visitors. This is where the Bush family has their summer home. We normally seek to avoid the coast in the summer and we were reminded why by the crowds and the traffic congestion but the place was incredibly picturesque.

SAMSUNG CSC

SAMSUNG CSC

SAMSUNG CSC

SAMSUNG CSC

We left Maine on Sunday, headed for Cambridge MA to meet Simon Walker who is working at Harvard University for the week. The last 24 hours in the tent were pretty rainy and although we and the tent were dry, some of our stuff was a bit damp and everything was covered in a fine layer of wet sand.

We decided to take the interstate highway to Boston to avoid traffic. Mistake. Holidaymakers returning home from the Maine coast filled the highway. Progress was slow but we still made it to Cambridge inside 2 and a half hours. I passed the time on the road reading number plates. Each state has a different plate containing the motto or nickname of the state. Rhode Island The Ocean State. Vermont The Green State etc. I wondered what we would choose for the counties of the UK if we subscribed to this method. Suggestions welcome. The furthest afield I saw was Ohio and Nova Scotia (which is in Canada). I also saw a sign to beware of moose, which had me watching the trees for about 15 minutes expecting one to leap out. No such luck.

We stayed in an Airbnb in Cambridge. We have stayed in many Airbnb apartments but never in a  private room of someone’s home. It has worked out OK. The room is comfy, there is garage parking for the bike, the bus stops outside and we have electricity to charge our devices and WiFi. Keeping our phones and laptop charged is a full time job. We have managed to overcome our natural anti-social tendencies and desire for privacy in exchange for a cheap and convenient bed for the night.

SAMSUNG CSC

SAMSUNG CSC

The centre of Cambridge, home to Harvard University, apparently the bet and richest university in the world, looked just like and English town, full of low rise red brick buildings from the 19th century. The university campus was attractive but not splendid in the manner of Oxford or Cambridge and did not ooze wealth in the way I had expected, although the list of alumni is extremely impressive. I guess Oxbridge has a good 400 years on Harvard.

SAMSUNG CSC

SAMSUNG CSC

After drinks and dinner , we walked to the Thirsty Scholar, the pub where Facebook was invented and where scenes of the film The Social Network were filmed. After a couple of hours and several beers we ended up taking part in a pub quiz with probably the cleverest people in the USA (or as Simon pointed out maybe only students who failed their exams and are doing resist are in town at this time of the year). Needless to say, we were coming last when we left about 10pm, mostly due to our lack of knowledge of baseball, basketball and American History.

Cambridge 1

Portland Maine Wednesday 22nd-Friday 24th July by Helen

So we left our lovely campsite at Harold Parker State Park and headed for Salty Acres Campground Maine via New Hampshire. Observations of New Hampshire and Maine so far.

Salty Acres

Good Things

  1. There is a lot of space in New England. They have a lot of land and it must be cheap as houses are big with big gardens and everything spreads out.
  2. Number one applies even more in Maine. As you cross the border from New Hampshire, you notice this immediately.
  3. Maine is instantly likeable. There is a funky vibe.
  4. There are lots of bars and pubs in Maine.
  5. Portland, Maine is a cool, low-rise city with a working port and a red brick downtown area full of funky cafes and new age shops.
  6. The Wholefoods supermarket in Portland actually is heaven.
  7. You can grind your own peanut butter from real peanuts in Wholefoods and buy 5 different sorts of kale.
  8. On the turnpike (toll motorway) you can ride at 75mph.
  9. Everything is very convenient here.
  10. Beer is very cold.

Bad things

  1. 55 miles per hour is very slow.
  2. All houses in New England are clapboard style. This is really quaint initially but gets very boring after a few days.
  3. We saw no bars or pubs in New Hampshire.
  4. New Hampshire should change its motto to Live Free and Die of Boredom.
  5. There are lots of out of town shopping malls. They all look the same.
  6. How much demand for drive in donuts can there possibly be?
  7. Walmart is horrible. I mean really horrible. I won’t be going there again…ever.
  8. There is a lot of food…everywhere.

Things that Surprised Us

  1. Across New England there is lots of interesting 19th century architecture, including massive mills much bigger than the ones in the north of England.
  2. A tube of Sensodyne whitening toothpaste costs $8.49!
  3. All campsites allow fires and sell firewood.
  4. Road signs do not rely on symbols but give verbose written instructions. It is hard to determine the speed limit as it is written in black in a white square, usually with accompanying messages.
  5. 85% of motorcycles are Harleys. 50% of people wear no helmets. No one wears a jacket. Some ride on the motorway in only shorts and trainers (no shirt).
  6. It is still cool in North America to dress like a badass biker, especially if you are an accountant from Quebec. A bandana and a Harley Davidson T shirt are de rigeur.
  7. Drivers don`t like it when you filter on the motorbike. One guy called Dave an asshole.

Supermarkets in Order of Preference

  1. Wholefoods
  2. Market Basket
  3. Stop and Shop
  4. Walmart

Massachusetts to Maine Friday 17th-Monday 21st July by Helen

Friday 17th July 

harold Parker 3

The flight to Boston was pretty easy. Iceland Air the new budget airline was great. We took our own picnic with us and found the time passed quickly with the sector from Heathrow to Reykjavic being only 2 hours and 20 minutes. The 2 hour lay over in Iceland was interesting as the airport is tiny and full of other travellers waiting for connecting flights to cities all over the USA. In keeping with the no frills approach, food and drink is pretty cheap but there is only one outlet offering pizzas and sandwiches so the idea of getting a hot meal at the airport fell flat.

Flying over Iceland was pretty cool. It is incredibly barren and reminded me a bit of flying over Kuwait but there are snow-covered mountains in the distance. It looked exactly like the scenes shot in Iceland in the recent Walter Mitty movie with Ben Stiller. A place we would be interested to come back to.

On the second sector, we managed to bag legroom seats in premium economy, courtesy of a family who wanted to sit together. It was very comfy and the time passed easily. By far the highlight of the flight was passing over the tip of Greenland. I was lucky to have a window seat. It is by far the most spectacular thing I have ever seen with snowy mountains, intersected by fjords and wide open ocean full of what appeared from the sky to be tiny icebergs.

Arriving in Boston was always going to be hard. With the time difference, it was pretty late for us, although only 7pm Eastern Time. We were worried about long queues at immigration and being questioned by officials. There is always a stress that they will not let you in. Boston Logan turned out to be worse than our experience at JFK the previous year. There were so many flights landing that we were put into a holding queue for about 20 minutes with US citizens and foreigners separated, only to then be mixed up again once we entered the immigration queue. There are 5 colour-coded lanes for different categories of traveller, including purple for ESTA users like us on the Visa Waiver Programme. It looked well thought out but was badly implemented, as everyone seemed to be pushed into the same long and winding queue for the self-service machines. These machines read your passport and then photograph you and take your fingerprints, finally producing a receipt and asking you to then go to the purple ESTA line. Great idea, if this means the immigration officials do not now have to take your photo and prints. WRONG. We had been queuing for over an hour now and realised that those ahead of us in the ESTA queue were having their photo and prints taken again by the official. Of course this took some time and we queued for about 90 minutes in all. When we eventually got to see the official we had given up caring if we got in or not. He did ask us all of the questions we had anticipated, including how long we were staying, where we were going, what jobs we do, how much money we have. It was all pretty serious until the official asked if we were driving and we said we were riding a motorcycle. He looked straight at us and said “daredevils huh?” Then went on to tell us what a great country it is and that we could see both high mountains and tropical beaches. He stamped us in and wishes us a good trip.

Saturday 18th July

We had arranged a hire car through Alamo for our first few days while waiting for the bike to arrive. This meant we could camp on the outskirts of Boston and not have to pay the extortionate prices of Boston hotels. We checked into the Holiday Inn, Tewkesbury, MA for the first night. The hotel was a little old but the bed was big and comfy, there was piping hot water, loads of towels, ironing board and iron, microwave and fridge all for $109. We were glad of our picnic, as there was no vegan food on the room service menu, and by the time we arrived at the hotel, it was 2.30am British time, we were shattered and hungry.

The next morning, we set off for the campsite via a supermarket and AT&T to organize SIM cards for our phones. We were totally impressed with Market Basket, a major supermarket chain. The fresh produce was great and they had about 20 different sorts of hummus, the vegan staple. We had a car breakfast inside Herbie our little white VW Beetle, while we waited for the other shops to open. At AT&T, we organized prepaid plans with 4GB of data per month for $60 monthly. It was pretty easy but you have to get used to the fact that in the US what you are quoted is not what you pay as tax is added on afterwards. So we paid $148.00 for the two of us for the first month. We consider this to be an essential expense of the trip, as we love keeping in touch on Facebook and being able to plan the trip online.

Harold Parker 2

We checked into our first campsite at Harold Parker Forest State Park about 1pm. It was exactly what we had expected. A pretty forest with small lakes and about 90 camping pitches, interspersed across a wide area under the trees and along one of the lakes. The pitches are huge compared to your average European commercial campsite. Camping in Massachusetts state parks is the cheapest in the country at $14 a night per pitch. There is everything you need, including clean loos and showers with hot water, a fire pit and grill for cooking, if you are into BBQs. We have not camped anywhere like this before. It is completely natural. In our first day we saw gophers, squirrels and a bright red bird called a cardinal. Black bears are native to this area but visits to this site are rare. However, we still followed recommendations to put all food and toiletries in the car overnight.

Harold Parker 1

The weather has been too hot for camping over the few days we have been here so far-into the low 90s or about 33 centigrade and humid. Fortunately there is a lot of shade but this does not help with the humidity. We settled right into camping, pottering around, reading, cooking and keeping the camp clean. The people here are all pretty friendly but also keep themselves to themselves.

Monday 21st July

We heard on the night we arrived that the bike was due to arrive the next afternoon-4 days early. We set off on Monday to complete customs formalities, collect the bike from Virgin Atlantic Cargo and return the hire car (including a planned conversation with Alamo about overcharging us). These things are never easy wherever you travel so we were eager to get it over with. Navigating into and around the airport complex was the first issue. Googlemaps made this much easier but the sat nav feature stops working in tunnels which caused a few hairy moments as did my generally inferior navigating skills-in the time honoured tradition of married couples Dave would prefer to both drive and navigate (with the sat nav in one hand) as he is vastly superior at both. We suffered a little blip with voices raised for a few seconds but on the whole the tools worked well, even if the humans didn’t. Our next frustration was finding the right customs office, as the address given us by the cargo company was not the right one. A very grumpy customs officer gave us the address of a place in South Boston which when we arrived there seemed to be the dock for cruise passengers. We tried to call customs on the phone but they were constantly engaged so we called Virgin Atlantic who confirmed the address the grumpy customs officer had given us. After unsuccessfully searching for visitors’ parking, worried by threats of towing (having had our hired van towed the previous week in Germany for illegal parking), we eventually dumped the car and hoped we would not be long. We were expecting another miserable customs officer and a real grilling about the bike. We were greeted by an alarmingly friendly guy who was the double of the counsellor character in Orange is the New Black. He asked me if my name was Holiday Inn as James Cargo had put the address of our hotel in the box for name on the waybill. He then proceeded to call me Holiday while taking Dave’s passport and stamping the waybill with a customs clearance stamp. It was all of a very pleasant and confusing 3 minutes max and we were on our way. No wonder this guy doesn’t work in the airport, he would never make it there and has probably been put on desk duty for being too friendly.

Outside Virgin Cargo

At Virgin Cargo things were pretty easy. As we walked to the counter, hearing our British accents, the guy asked if we were there for the bike. We paid $50 and a form was stamped before we were taken to the warehouse to meet our crate. An extremely helpful warehouse employee with a strong Boston accent helped us to uncrate the bike. It was a good job we had taken a hammer, as recommended by James Cargo, as there are not tools available. A forklift driver lent us a knife which we also wished we had taken along. It took about half an hour for the three of us to break the wood and cardboard crate apart. The bike started first time and Dave rode it carefully off the pallet. The warehouse employee shared stories of other motorcycle travellers he had met coming through this warehouse, including a woman who was spending over two years riding around the world. Quite a few other guys from the warehouse chatted with us and asked questions about where we were from and where we were going. They were all impressed with our plans and seemed excited for us. The bike was in good shape except for a dent in the back box, which looked as if it had been hit with a hammer. The right side mirror had been removed and needed fixing on but we had tools on the bike for this.

The final task of the day was to return the hire car and then return to the bike. Alamo had charged us for collision damage waiver and roadside assistance, which we specifically had said we did not want. A combination of exhaustion and middle aged eyes had led to us signing the contract, agreeing to these things, as the Alamo counter guy had not explained what we were signing. Rookie error possibly but in the UK each section that you sign on a car hire contract is always carefully explained. Anyway to be fair to Alamo, when we returned the car and complained, they immediately removed the extra charges and the hire for 3 days was $119.

We jumped into a taxi to get back to the bike. Disconcertingly the car smelled of marijuana and the middle aged white Bostonian driver seemed stoned. Once we got underway though, he was a lot of fun and he loved the fact we were going to collect our bike. He also advised us on where to buy chilled beer and wished us luck on our trip.

Thoughts of a quick blast back to the campsite along Interstate Highway 93 were scuppered when we set the sat nav to avoid tolls. It was about 93 degrees by this time, mid afternoon, and we were melting in our bike jackets. We ended up in a horrible traffic jam going through the scruffy suburbs of Boston. It was grim but an interesting detour, a slice of real urban life very different to the wealthy small towns near the campsite with their huge clapboard houses, porches and lawns. We agreed never to set the sat nav to do this again when in a city as we could so easily have ended up in a really rough neighbourhood. You cannot set the GPS to avoid tolls and the hood.

Harold Parker 4

Alcohol or liquor, as they call it here, is not allowed on state park campsites to prevent noisy parties. Our first visit to a liquor store resulted in a 6 pack of German Radeberger, which we then had to smuggle into the meadow opposite our pitch in a large black bag. Beer has not tasted that good in a long time. Finally, we were here, finally the bike was here and finally the trip could start.

What’s this?

Camping with a car? That’s rubbish.

image

Nothing needs to be tidy or in its place, just throw it all in the boot. Helen loves it.

image

We (hopefully) collect the bike today. Customs > cargo > return VW to Alamo car hire (and challenge them on the cost) > back to campsite.

Final Planning

So we have been in London for three days, staying with the lovely Sarah and Jerry, in Hanwell while getting ready for the final ascent. We have been looked after really well and it has been great to have friends to ferry us around and recommend places to buy last minute essentials. The bike went to Heathrow yesterday, into the capable hands of James Cargo who have been incredibly friendly, helpful and informative over the last 18 months while we have been planning this trip. We left most of our bike gear on the bike as we are allowed to transport 20kg of luggage. We were devastated to learn that our prized miniature tin of WD40 was not allowed on and Dave is hatching a plan to smuggle it into our checked luggage as part of his toiletries. The camping gear and our clothes will be packed into lightweight holdalls to take onto the plane as obviously we are not taking any suitcases.

There was a scary moment this morning when the airline refused to check Dave in online for the Reykjavik-Boston leg of the flight as they had no record of his ESTA approval. I realised this at 7am while nursing a cider drinkers hangover and almost succumbed to panic. It turned out that I had incorrectly entered Dave’s passport number in the advanced passenger information and it did not match the ESTA. A kind Icelandic Airways employee reassured me on the phone that I was an idiot and that they would let Dave on the flight.

bike at James Cargo