Friday 14th August-Route 66 Oklahoma

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For the whole journey so far, the landscape has been familiar. Something you could see in the UK-green, hills, trees, fields. This changed when we hit western Oklahoma. It became drier and flatter. The earth is orange and you can see for miles. The sky became a paler blue to that we witnessed in Tulsa and it went on forever.

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A good introduction to the area was the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum at Clinton. It is still popular to drive the whole route from Chicago to California but much of it has been replaced by interstate highway, taking with it the romance of the 30s 40s and 50s. So many things connected with the Mother Road are iconic-the road signs, the petrol pumps, the motels with their neon and the diners. You spend a lot of time on a road trip looking for these things. They hardly exist today but when you see them it gives you a warm feeling.

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The museum had all of the icons in bucket loads. I also learned a lot about the road. It’s funny that people associate it with a simpler time as it was always commercial. Roadside diners and motels were invented to service consumers along the way. The parking meter was also invented here. I guess for me, it is the spirit of freedom and adventure that the open road represents that makes it so attractive. The USA is a massive country and for the first time, people could drive across it in a car. There is the spirit of the pioneer, going into the unknown.

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The most interesting part of the display was some old black and white images of the dust bowl times in the 1930s, immortalised by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath. This is when thousands left the centre of the country for California, forced off their land by a terrible drought. There was an unexpected warmth to the pictures, with families sitting at the roadside eating simple picnics and posing on the bonnets of their trucks. It is not what I remember from the harrowing account of the era in the book.

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Just outside the museum we were able to see the original Route 66 as it runs parallel with the interstate highway for a few miles. It was very narrow. We stopped for a cool photo opportunity. We hope to pick the route up later in Arizona.

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Tuesday 11th-Wednesday 12th August- The Prairies Begin-Memphis to Tulsa OK

We woke up in Memphis to a traditional southern breakfast, vegan style, courtesy of our wonderful host. This included biscuits, which are like very light, spongy scones that are eaten as a staple here in the south. We have eaten very well indeed over the past three or four days, too well in fact but I think that it is normal in the south to feel overfed when you leave. The conversation at breakfast, with our host and another guest, was at an incredibly high level for 7am (at least by our standards) and I am sure was fueled, almost entirely (on our part at least), by the strong coffee. Both the breakfast and the coffee kept me going all day.

The first part of our USA journey has now been completed and we are entering phase two, which involves crossing the flat prairie to arrive in the Rockies in Colorado. This should take up to a week. It is not a relished prospect as the plains are hot and flat but we are planning to make the most of it. As we left Memphis, we crossed the mighty Mississippi for the first time. We will not see it again until we return to the US in the spring. It is just as you imagine, wide, languid and brown. You cross the border into Arkansas almost immediately and the flatlands begin. We rode miles of featureless dual carriageway for nearly 100 miles. There was nothing but potato, peanut and soya bean fields. No houses, nothing. As you approach the north-western corner of the state, bends and small hills appear. There are a few settlements. It all looks quite rundown. Lots of abandoned diners and overgrown junk shops. Rusty cars in the middle of empty fields. Apart from the town of Hardy, which is the closest to a Wild West town we have seen so far, there is nothing remarkable. Sorry there are no pictures but we were keen to make ground.

I was forced to make my own entertainment as when crossing Pennsylvania. The church signs came up trumps again. My favourite were

  • Be a fountain, not a drain.
  • When you can stand no more, kneel.
  • Life without God is like an unsharpened pencil. There is no point.
  • The forecast for today-God reigns and the Son shines- Amen

I also saw a shop called Custum Fitt (I hope that is a joke)  and a hitchhiker with a sign that read Eureka (is that a place or had he been struck with an idea?)

We saw some cool place names. We passed near Pocahontas and drove straight through Bono. We also passed Egypt and we stayed at Flippin.

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The campsite was right beside a huge road bridge, over a river. It is testament to how chilled I am that I will now consider staying next to a noisy road. To be honest, the crickets almost drowned it out. By way of compensation, the site had lots of grass and a huge covered area with comfy seats and electric sockets right on the river, with its resident heron and hawks circling overhead. We tried to get a close look at the herons before they flew off and noticed two deer grazing about 50 metres away from us. When the owner went home, we had the whole site to ourselves. It was perfect.

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I guess the highlight of the day was that I got to post on Facebook that we were only 24 hours from Tulsa. My next Bacharach reference will be in California when I can ask someone if they know the way to San Jose. I have to wait about 6 weeks for that one.

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We woke up to a thick mist across the river. It was really stunning. The journey into Oklahoma was as dull as the day before but we seemed to make better ground. As we left Arkansas, I saw a huge billboard that said “It is not racist to be proud of your people-start here with White Pride Radio.” Just as we were thinking Arkansas was the least friendly and welcoming state we had passed through so far, we had two separate guys come up to us on a car park and strike a conversation about the trip and bikes and their own plans for the summer.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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…and then this

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… and a bit of this…

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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?”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.