Friday 17th July
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.