Friday 7th-Saturday 8th July- Crossville Tennessee to Nashville by Helen

After a night in a motel where we charged up the devices and updated the blog, we were ready to camp again. It seems weird sleeping indoors and we don`t like it much. My Vivofit 2 shows that I sleep a lot better in the tent, even with the threat of bears. Having said that, we enjoyed the experience of eating in a restaurant for the first time in the US. The food and service were excellent and the cost was as low as shopping and cooking, which was a surprise. The modern motel experience, on the huge out of town mall,  is pretty soulless though and should only be used occasionally in my opinion.


We had a huge bag of wet stuff due to the rain so we decided to go for a commercial campground with a laundry. We were cautious about declaring the Ballyhoo Campground paradise as we had done that two nights before, only to be deluged. However, this did turn out to really be paradise. I have seldom, if ever, come across such friendly and caring hosts who tend their site so well. The laundry had a whole waiting room where you could connect to the Wifi, plug in your computer, read from their library or play table football. We managed to get everything washed and dried and it was great to feel clean and ready for the next leg.


The place was built around a small pond which seemed pretty ordinary in the daylight but near dark was alive with dragonflies and then fireflies as darkness set in. By dark, the sky was completely clear as the stars came out and the crickets were almost deafening. As always seems to happen to us, we were befriended by some animals, a pair of white ducks on this occasion, that waddled about the site.

We set off for Nashville, two hours away, on a hot, sunny day. En route we stopped at McDonalds for a quick coffee and Dave saw a guy with a huge Nazi tattoo on the back of his neck. Nice. The Confederate flag is much in evidence in these parts. It’s hard to know what that means really, especially after recent events in the south. Is it just a show of southern pride or something more sinister and given recent pressure to remove Confederate flags in the south, is it a racist act of defiance or just a determination not to have the flag identified as a racist symbol (just like the Union Jack in the UK is associated with far right groups)?

A year ago, I would not have given a moments thought to Nashville as a city, being a hater of country music, but the TV programme changed all that. I can now almost tolerate some of the tunes and have a hankering for a pair of knee length, black $3,000 cowboy boots as worn by the character Rayna James.  Still not sure about the big hair and rhinestones though. Our Airbnb was located on the edge of East Nashville,  a super hip and very attractive neighbourhood of wooden painted bungalows with big porches, full of trendy bars and restaurants. It is also the home of characters like Deacon, Scarlett and some of the other younger folk in the TV programme . It looks much nicer in real life. Our Airbnb was exceptionally good there. We used Uber for the first time to get into downtown. What a great experience. Easy, cashless, cheap and with super friendly drivers. Our first two bars were pretty quiet. We started at the Riverfront Bar and then moved on to Fleet Street Pub for a great veggie burger and chips and mushy peas. 10 out of 10 for the food.

Printers alley

We wanted to find more action and headed for Lower Broadway. Like a cross between Pattaya and Blackpool on a Saturday night but with no ladyboys (as far as I could tell) or kiss me quick hats (that reference ages me). Country music booming from packed bars at 5pm and shops selling cheap ($450) cowboy boots. Hen parties everywhere. Nowhere to sit. Tacky as hell.

nashville broadway

Great to see but not our thing these days (not sure it ever was) so we headed to another quiet, cellar bar near the river and then on to an almost empty karaoke bar called Ms. Kellis (!). A beautiful black girl got up, looking very confident with the mike and we thought we were about to the witness the next Aretha Franklin. Wrong. She sounded terrible but exuded joie de vivre and was rewarded when a bunch of drunk southern girls piled in the door and starred singing along and dancing-all before 7pm.

The highlight of the trip so far was the Alice in Chains gig. The Ryman is a truly historic venue where the Ole Opry used to be broadcast until it was moved in 1974. Of course, it started life as a church and still has beautiful stained glass windows and wooden pews.


It is tiny compared to modern venues, holding about 3000. What a total privilege to see one of your favourite bands in such an intimate setting. We were on the balcony but I could see everything. It was a great gig. The did all my favourites (they always do) and we got to shake our heads, jump around and lose ourselves for two hours. We bought a veggie dog on the way home with sauerkraut. What a wonderful thing to soak up the beer. My neck hurts today and Dave is deaf (not sure how I can hear and he can’t but I think my hearing was better to start with) but at least we haven’t lost our voices. On our way out of the city, we ate a hangover brunch at the popular Wild Cow vegetarian restaurant. Berlin veggie restaurants could learn a lot from this place about how to make vegan food tasty and healthy (photo of Dave’s brunch courtesy of The Wild Cow website).

wild cow

Sunday August 2nd- Thursday August 6th- the Blue Ridge Mountains


Since we left Maryland, we have passed through West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina and we are now in Tennessee, where we will remain for a few days. We are heading to Nashville on Saturday and then Memphis.

IMAG0271 (1)

As a child of the late 60s and early 70s I have had a long-held love of The Waltons. I was, therefore, very excited to be coming to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, home to John Boy, Mary Ellen and the rest (and oh yes I can name them all). The first thing I discovered is that the series was filmed in California, but that did not deter me from seeking the perfect Waltons locations. More on that later.


We really are in the south now and my impressions are as follows

  1. People are super friendly.
  2. They really do say “you’all”.
  3. Every house has a porch with rocking chairs.
  4. The countryside is unspoiled and plentiful and not that different in appearance to England or parts of Wales.
  5. The corn on the cob is not as good here as the East coast, even though it grows everywhere.
  6. There are a lot of churches.


Our first encounter with a local on entering the mountain area was a friendly black guy on the supermarket car park who bounded up and shouted “where d’you bring that thing from?” pointing at the bike and then engaged us in conversation about where we are from and how we got the bike here. We have since met many friendly people who call us honey, and sweetheart and want to know about us and our trip. They all think it is as exciting as we do. The lovely young guy who checked me in to the motel today, asked if he could look through my passport as he had never seen one before and asked how it worked and if I got it stamped in every country I visited.


On the first night in the mountains, we stayed at the Shenandoah National Park campground on the top of Loft Mountain. For once we had grass to camp on which was very welcome. Here in the US, it is quite standard to expect campers to pitch their tent on gravel.


They take bears very seriously on this campground. We were told not to rinse tiny grains of food down the pug hole as it attracts them. In the ladies toilet there was a sign that said “ do not leave food trash in this garbage-bears will enter and become trapped in restroom.” The next morning, after a fitful sleep, I tentatively pushed open the bathroom door and peered inside before going in-no bears thankfully.


One lasting impression of the past few days is the rural churches we have passed and the messages they display outside. They keep me entertained as I sit with my own thoughts for hours. A few that stick in my mind are

  • The Lord is like tennis-serve well and you will seldom fail.
  • The best cure for sin burn is son screen.
  • Bikers welcome-ride through the Lord.


We came here to ride the Blueridge Parkway and while that was enjoyable, the 45 mph speed limit means that you have to learn the pleasure of cruising rather than blasting, which is pretty alien to us Brit bikers. The views in places were beautiful. However, I think we have enjoyed the riding that we have done off the Parkway more as there are more homes and other things to look at. One morning, riding back from the campsite to pick up the Parkway, I finally found Waltons mountain. There were so many houses just like the Walton family’s and other smaller homes with white peeling paint and ancient rocking chairs out front. We passed a lumbar yard and then, at last, a general store that could easily have been Ike’s.



We had been searching for the perfect campsite to take a day off from riding. It needed to have grass and either Wifi or a mobile phone service. Yesterday, we rode towards the Great Smoky Mountains, through North Carolina and into Tennessee and we found the ideal place. Stunningly located on a river with views to the mountains. It reminded me of Tatopani in Nepal, where there are hot springs. The weather was hot but we had a big shady tree and picnic bench, right on the riverbank for $20. We could even overlook the fact that the toilets had no doors, only curtains (!), so idyllic was it.


We settled back to read and chill. The clouds came over and wind picked up and an hour later we were in the middle of a heavy, tropical-like storm. We were able to take shelter on a porch and watch the show.


It was unnerving at times but the tent held up and the only stuff that got wet was that left in the tent porches. As the forecast was the same for tonight, we have treated ourselves to a motel for the night. After 18 nights of camping, a private shower, free Wifi and electric sockets is a real treat that we intend to make the most of.

Thursday 30th July –Saturday 1st August-Pennsylvania and Maryland by Helen

We have covered a lot of miles over the last two days crossing from New York State, heading west through Pennsylvania and then south into Maryland on our way to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and the Smoky Mountains of Georgia.

Following a realisation of how just vast the country is and how long it takes to get places, it feels good to have those miles behind us, knowing that tomorrow, we will finally be in the mountains. The long ride has tired us out and today we are having a day off to chill and explore a bit.

Pennsylvania is big. The 500 odd miles that we have crossed, all look the same. Like this…



…and then this



… and a bit of this…



That is not a bad thing. The area is very rural and lushly green. Cornfields give way to Dutch barn shaped houses and barns, often painted red. Houses all seem to display a huge wooden or metal star which is a good luck symbol, brought from Germany. A lot of the landscape is uncultivated with woods and fields of wild flowers. The first day we hardly saw a soul as we rode through the rest of the Catskills and wound our way through rural Pennsylvania.

We got wet for the first time and tried to take shelter, against our better judgment, in a McDonalds but the air conditioning was so glacial that it was more comfy to wait outside under the porch. The people in the US are pretty friendly but we started to notice them being more so. A young guy leaving McDonalds greeted us with “ I hope the rain stops for you folks soon”. People also seem to be getting more polite. Rather than just asking where you are from they say “ do you mind if I ask where you are from?” which is cute and reminds me of the Brits who say “I’m sorry to bother you but would it be possible to have another cup of coffee?”


Entering Maryland the homes instantly looked poorer than those we were used to seeing. Single storey dwellings like large sheds, some with porches and rocking chairs were dotted around. The landscape is hillier than Pennsylvania, being the start of the Appalachian Mountain chain, and thickly forested. This morning we left the campsite early to seek breakfast, as the highly chlorinated water on site was undrinkable. We happened upon a traditional diner in the middle of nowhere. This was our first diner experience. It was exactly as you would imagine and as we had hoped. You could sit at the counter or at tables. The bottomless coffee mug cost $1.50 and the elderly waitress was warm and friendly, offering us a free glass of water and telling us a story about a couple of customers in a soft top car who she worried might have got wet . When Dave let her refill his coffee mug she looked at him and smiled like her was her grandson. Needless to say there was not much on the menu we could eat. Breakfast here is the US revolves around eggs done in 50 different ways. There were also waffles and bacon with syrup. We loved the place so much that we were happy to leave hungry.


The town of Oakland is a simple place with a few historic buildings and close links to the Civil War. As we walked down tiny Main Street, every single person spoke to us. Even the policeman waved as he drove by. The accents have started to morph into a slight southern drawl too. A lady called out from her car that the railway station opened at tayen O’clock.



On the campsite here in Maryland, the people are less friendly. Mostly locals, weekending with huge RVs, some as big as a small house and equally large log piles for their campfires, they tend to keep themselves to themselves. One family had a 9 year old boy with a red Mohican. I was impressed with how wholesome it all seemed until we woke up on our second morning to find a tiny, anti-Islamic comic placed on our picnic table overnight. As I went to the shower, I kept looking around wondering who was responsible and the whole place took on a more sinister feel, which is a shame.

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.

Friday 24th- Sunday July 26th by Helen



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.





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.



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.



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.