Wednesday 23rd-Saturday 26th September- Lake Tahoe to Napa Valley

We had a great ride through the Sierra Nevada to Lake Tahoe.

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The lake is as beautiful as they say. I have only seen water so blue on the coast of Thailand and Greece.

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We stayed at a campsite right on a west shore beach near Tahoma.

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We were very lucky to have direct lake access. The temperature was perfect for lying on the beach. Even Dave lay in the shade of a tree on the sand for an hour. I think it is the first time he has reclined on a beach in about 20 years.

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We had planned a long ride around the lake to Nevada but the whole road was blighted by road works that take 10-15 minutes to get through at each road block, via a pilot car. There were 5 or 6 of these just on the stretch where we were staying. They really go to town on their road works here and they are overly safety conscious in my opinion, which really slows things up.

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We decided to have a quick ride into Tahoe City and saw the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, including a very alpine look ski village.

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We were treated to some great lake views along the way.

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We left Tahoe to head for Napa and Sonoma Valleys north of San Francisco. The plan was to spend a day touring the valleys and then a day in San Fran from our Airbnb 30 minutes outside. During the stay at Tahoe, however, it became apparent that we need rear wheel bearings urgently. A couple of hours was spent at Starbucks using the Wifi and phone to source the parts. It transpired we needed to go to two different shops, one in the centre of San Fran and one in Silicon Valley and then get the parts replaced without riding too far and putting the bike at risk. This meant the whole plan had to be changed and our days in the Napa Valley and San Fran had to be sacrificed.

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We did have a night on a campsite in the Sonoma Valley and got a good feel for the area. It is very attractive, especially early in the morning when there is no traffic but is not a match for wine growing regions in France or Italy. I guess if you have never been to Europe then it is pretty nice.

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We had a crazy trip into the centre of San Francisco.  Thankfully we have a Sat Nav. I was very excited about crossing the Golden Gate Bridge but the whole thing was shrouded in low cloud and fog (as is very common) so we did not get to see much but it was still pretty thrilling. I did catch a glimpse of Alcatraz.

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Riding through the centre of San Fran was great. We went right through the historic and civic district.The Triumph shop was located in the Mission District right in the middle of the city.

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It feels quite exotic  compared to other US cities and is definitely a city I want to come back to and explore in the spring. We managed to pick up the bearings from both shops with no fuss and secured a hotel with an early check in in Sunnyvale, Silicon Valley where we had the chance to smarten ourselves up a bit and have an evening out. We really were starting to look a bit rough, dirty and unkempt so it could not have come at a better time.

Today we are heading back to Santa Cruz for two nights on the beach at a site where Dave can work on the bearings and then we head up to Half Moon Bay and back to Big Sur-all Pacific coast beaches.

Saturday 12th-Tuesday 15th September Pacific Coast of Orgeon and N. California

We left Portland on Saturday after two very relaxing nights. We liked Portland a lot but then we expected to. It is not nearly as pretentious as people make it out to be (at least not the parts we saw). In our neighbourhood near the Alberta District loads of people owned old cars (I mean from the 70s and 80s) and lots of gardens had veg patches. There seemed a real community feel.

On the way to the coast we passed an old covered bridge like in The Bridges of Madison County.

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Clint Eastwood directed and starred in The Bridges of Madison County; shame he couldn’t let the main character be vegetarian, like in the book

As the coast got nearer, the weather turned a lot colder. This part of the Pacific Coast is well known for its fog and low cloud. Many days, even in the height of summer, the beaches are obscured. It was still exciting to see the Pacific Ocean for the first time though.

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The Rhyl Pacific Coast

We arrived at out campsite, near Yachats, pretty chilly but after quite a few days in motels and Airbnbs, we were determined to get the tent out. We camped on the beach side of the road. The beach was stunning and went on forever.The next morning, we were lucky as the weather had cleared and we were treated to some fantastic views from the road which hugged the coastline for the first 50 miles or so.

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The southern coast of Oregon had a really special feel to it. Too far from major centres to be a weekend destination, it is completely unspoiled. Our next campsite, near Gold Beach, had a weird German theme. We found out from the owner’s wife that her husband was from Berlin but the shop and bar were all decked out with a Bavarian vibe including oompah band music piped in. The owner made his own wurst which was for sale in the shop. He also sold German beer on draft which was truly delicious after 9 weeks of Budweiser and craft “beer”. The campsite was lovely and the beach was just across the road and was totally empty. Dave and I saw a Turkey Vulture picking over the flesh of something on the beach. I walked for an hour in the morning and saw not one person.

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On our third day on the coast, we entered California, probably our last state on this leg of the trip. This was a real milestone for us. This is the area of coast famous for the Oceanic Redwood trees. These are the really tall ones, rather than the really wide ones. We rode through the Redwood State Park on a very gloomy and cold morning. It was totally magical. Just as you thought the trees could not get any bigger a bigger one came along. I loved it.

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Helen standing in front of a fu very big tree

Our campsite that night was in Patrick’s Point State Park right on the stunning headland.

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This was our first campsite with a bear box for you to store your food away from bears and other critters. We read that bears are frequent visitors to the site.

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To be honest, if there had been decent affordable accommodation nearby, we would not have camped this night as it was just too cold and we were frozen but we knuckled down and got the job done. I was rewarded with an amazing walk on the beach the next morning and a fabulous sky full of stars when I got up in the night for the bathroom.  It has been a while since we camped in bear country so we had to deal with our renewed trepidation. I must admit that I clapped my hands as I walked down the path to the beach to warn any bears of my presence.

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When I got back from my walk, Dave pointed out paw prints on the front mudguard of the bike and much smears all over the tank and windscreen. On closer inspection and brief internet research we were reassured they were only racoon prints. Obviously too small to be a bear but we know how bears love our bike. The camera had a dirty lens but you get the idea.

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(hi ho) Silver savaged again

On our way to see Foo Fighters in concert in the bay area, were forced to bail out on our final planned beach night due to the cold weather. We ended up in another old style motel, just east of San Francisco, but this one really had the 70s vibe covered. It was like being at home as a child.

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Thursday 27th August-The Rocky Mountain National Park

It rained a fair amount overnight and the outside of the tent was a bit soggy this morning. The low cloud had really come in to obscure the mountainside but we were not to be deterred. This would be our last day in Colorado, at least for a while, so we had to make it count.

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Contact me for fashion advice (Dave)

We set off to cross the Rocky Mountains National Park road to Estes Park across a high pass at 3,700m. It was a lot of fun as the clouds made the whole thing very atmospheric.It was also good to be able to use the $80 National Parks pass we have bought.

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There were signs everywhere to watch out for wildlife but we did not see any today. There were a lot of signs of the terrible Spruce Beetle though. The mountainside was badly scarred with dead trees.

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When we got to the top of the pass, the rain started to come down in icy little needles. It is a shame there was rain on the camera lens as the views were amazing.

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We took shelter in the visitor centre cafe and took pictures thorough the window. Not a bad view from a cafe.

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Even though it was freezing cold, people stopped to chat.

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Americans, possibly the friendliest people in the world; here I am trying not to mention foreign policy in the Middle East (Dave)

Even thought was cold and rainy, it was one of the best rides we have had so far in the USA.

Later on in the day, Dave invested in some hair clippers and we decided on a motel night so we could have access to a bathroom with mirror. This was the result.

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This is my ‘tell me again what happened to your ICT homework because I’ve honestly never heard this shit before’ face (Dave)

Finally the weird mountain man has been replaced by my husband. He still has a scary stare though.

Friday 21st to Wednesday 26th August -More of Colorado

We have packed in a lot of scenery over the last few days plus a lot of camping in cool places and a night out in Boulder.

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Highlights have included the ride from Gunnison to Carbondale via Black Canyon.

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The canyon plunges to 2000 ft at one point but we were going in the wrong direction for the best views so I kept having to look over my shoulder. Nevertheless it was spectacular.

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The views were a bit smoky that day due to forest fires hundreds of miles away.

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Carbondale was a cool little town with very friendly, liberal folk who stopped to chat with us. The campsite was on the Crystal River with a lovely mountain view and a great games room with leather sofas. The picture below was the view from our tent.

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We left the next day, heading for Leadville via Aspen and the Top of the Rockies scenic byway. The area around Aspen is the greenest we have seen so far.

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Aspen was interesting, full of designer shops and rich people trying not to look like they are rich.

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There was great mountain backdrop though and a gorgeous little Saturday market . It reminded me a bit of a town we visited in the French Alps last summer.

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The ride up to Independence Pass and the Top of the Rockies was stunning. There are about 20 of the highest mountains in the Rockies that can be viewed from here.

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At 3,700m, this is the highest we have ever been on the bike.

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It was pretty cold and windy and the ride up was marred a bit by the 25 mph speed limit but at least there were no RVs as they are banned. If you take your RV up there and get stuck, you have to pay $1500.

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We camped in Leadville at 3045m for two nights. We loved it here. The air was so pure and the area was totally unspoiled. There were no showers or WiFi or even grass but we totally fell in love with the place. Being told that bears did not visit the site also helped.

The site was on the banks of the Turquoise Lake.

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We returned back here after our night in Boulder to do an oil change on the bike.

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It had been leaking oil for over a week so we picked up a new oil filter at the Triumph dealer in Denver and got on with it.

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We are very relieved that the bike is now running well and no more leaking.

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Leadville is a great old mining town which came to prominence during the gold rush. There were some fabulous old buildings there.

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Including an old saloon from 1879 where we stopped in for a quick drink. No draft beer though, what a disappointment.

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The interior was fabulous though and included huge, moth eaten stuffed animals, including  a buffalo and a golden eagle.

2015-08-23 12.21.02Today we finally left Leadville to head north to Grand Lake in the Rocky Mountain National Park.

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We are told that moose visit the campsite every day but we have not seen one yet. We saw a wild fire en route and also the evidence of a previous fire.

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Tomorrow we cross into Wyoming after 11 days in Colorado. We are heading for Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks and Big Sky Montana where will be staying at the house of a friend.

Thursday 20th -Friday 21st August-Colorado Mountain Towns

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We spent three days at the Tall Texan Campground in Gunnison, relaxing, watching birds, including a woodpecker and a hummingbird, and pottering about. We have enjoyed that a lot. We like the cold.

We also had a brief trip into downtown Gunnison and a ride out to Crested Butte, a ski resort.

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Crested Butte – hee hee hee

Colorado towns really are exceptionally lovely. Resort towns are full of cool bars, cafes, yoga studios and beautiful shops selling artisan products such as green chilli peanut brittle (!)-a hipster’s dream. All of this with stunning mountain backdrops. We have ridden through quite a few and know there are more to come.

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Crested Butte would be the perfect place to spend a few days but the campsite is too far from the centre to make it worthwhile. I can imagine how stunning it must be in the winter when the place is covered in snow.

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I get the feeling it is a place that you have to be quite rich to enjoy to the full and certainly to stay here in the centre. There were some really cute cottages. Maybe in the next life.

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We found a great bar and had a couple of soft drinks and some sweet potato fries and admired the street from the 1st floor balcony while listening to reggae. It felt like being on holiday.

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We cleverly Photoshopped Dave’s hair out of this picture

Gunnison is more of a working town and the busy main road goes right through the centre but that is often the case with towns here. There were a lot of bikers passing through here, mostly on Harleys. I notice that they order Bloody Marys even though they are riding.

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Gunnison is a good place to get things done. We have sourced and had a new chain fitted to the bike. We have also ordered new sprockets which we have to collect in Denver next week.

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Until then we will be staying in the mountains. Next stop is Carbondale and then Leadville,where we will be camping at over 10,000 feet.

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Monday 18th August-The Rocky Mountains at Last

So we finally arrived in the Rocky Mountains yesterday. The weather was stunning. Endless pale blue skies, no cloud and soft sunshine. The Colorado Rockies are spectacular at every turn but not at all what I expected. Firstly, as the surrounding land is so high already, the mountain peaks do not soar above you. They are not that much higher than the valley and the gradient is gentle. There are many 14,000 ft peaks but you can actually cycle up to the top of highest.

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Secondly, it is still incredibly arid at 10-12,000 feet, so not as green as you would expect.

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Thirdly, the landscape is incredibly varied. It changes constantly after exiting the high plain. There are high passes covered in pine trees, as you would find in say The Alps but there are also vast U shaped valleys, bigger than anything I have seen before, high semi-arid plateaus, covered in scrub and low undulating mountain areas, interspersed with sandy coloured rocky outcrops and gorges. The colours are more pink and gold than green and grey. We saw no snow, even on the tops.

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We crossed a pass at just over 3,000m (sorry for changing from metres to feet) which is higher than we have been on a bike before (the highest ass we have crossed in Europe is 2,600m). It was very cold but the views were stunning. The air is incredibly thin and pure. The riding here was just as we like it-steep and twisty.

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We had lunch at a gorgeous town called Lake City (population about 1,000-yes they call it a city.) All the buildings were made from timber, some quite old and there was a wonderful laid back vibe. On the approach to the town, in the Gunnison National Forest area, all of the pine trees are dead-hundreds of thousands of them or more. In places, they are clearing them, leaving the mountainside looking very bare. Later, I read this is caused by Spruce Beetle and is affected by the droughts since 2013. I was too cold at this point to take photos but the images are burned in my memory.

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Crossing the high plateaus after lunch it was very windy. We kept having to crouch down to decrease the wind resistance. We could see the highest peaks towards Aspen in the distance. We passed a huge lake before arriving at Gunnison, our destination.

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We have decided to stay here for 2-3 days as we have not had a day off from riding for a while and did not manage the planned time off earlier due to bad weather. The town has good amenities and some great day rides. On the downside, it is the coldest town in the USA in the winter and even in August the temperatures go down pretty low at night. At 6am this morning, my phone said it was 3 degrees celsius. We have good sleeping bags, thermal underwear and light down jackets and we love the cold so it suits us fine.

We have had a few issues with the bike this week. Dave has gone off this morning to get a new chain fitted and we plan to head for Denver next week to collect some new sprockets. We are also leaking oil and hoping it is just overflowing. The bike is our trusty steed and our trip is entirely dependent upon it so it lust come first. Any money spent on maintenance and repairs is money well spent. We have clocked  up more than 4,000 miles in the last 5 weeks and there are a lot more to come.

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Saturday 15th August- the Texan Plains

For the last hour yesterday we had started seeing a lot of references to Native Americans, including a weird Cherokee Subway (yes the sandwich shop). Dave had been very keen to visit the site of the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado but the site is accessed on an 8 mile unpaved road, which is hard on a very heavily loaded bike, two-up. We decided on the Washita Battlefield site instead as we wanted to learn more and pay respects.

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The site is part of the national parks service and free to visit. We already knew about the controversy surrounding whether this was a battle between Custer’s men and the Cheyenne or a massacre of Black Kettle, his wife and a hundred others, men, women and children. We watched a very informative 30-minute film about the situation leading up to the battle in 1868 and the massacre itself. We looked at a few artifacts, before riding up the site. It was on a lonely and isolated stretch of road, in a preserved area of grassland, which was really very beautiful. We hope to see more Native American sites as we move around. This was a good start and well worth the effort.

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The rest of the day was a traveller’s dream. Empty roads, strange and unfamiliar landscapes and a real, old school motel at the end of it (as well as some terrible Mexican food in a restaurant without beer.) It took us back to days riding across India in 1996-7.

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The main highlight was crossing into Texas from Oklahoma. The gently undulating plains and red earth immediately changed to become more flat and pale. The roads got worse. It got hotter. We saw our first real cowboys wearing Stetsons, jeans and spurs on their boots. We sat in a diner eating nuts and listening to the new but familiar accents (maybe from old western films, maybe from Dallas on TV).

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The roads were dead straight and you could see for miles along the road in front and what looked like hundreds of miles across the plain either side.

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Hawks soared overhead. We began to see a few oilrigs, small ones, then more, including nodding donkeys.

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The only other vehicles were tankers. There was the odd cattle ranch but nothing else. We saw very few homes in 200 miles. Why would anyone live out here anyway?

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For some reason the speed limit on this single carriageway road was 65-75mph. We bombed along, making good time. Towards the end of the journey to Dalhart, we began to see oil refineries and it became more industrial. At road works, we had a “pilot car” drive in front of us at 5mph so we could follow it through-a bit like the safety car in Formula 1.

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At our destination, we were met by a lovely, old school, Indian gentleman, with a thick Indian accent, who told us he came from London. Later his wife sought us out for a chat about the old country. She told me she was from England and had lived in the US since 2003 but she hardly spoke a word of English. We shared how much we missed Indian food and she told me about how much easier life is here in the US. Her motel is old school, with flowery curtains and walls painted orange but spotless and welcoming.

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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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Sunday August 9th-Tuesday August 11th- Walking in Memphis

grace 1It has been such an amazing 36 hours in Memphis that it is hard to know where to start. This is the most interesting city that I have visited in a long time. A place where even Dave and I, who hate sightseeing, have been prompted to visit museums and tourist attractions and enjoyed each and every one of them.

This is the furthest south we will come until we hit southern California in the autumn and there is a definite feel of the south. The weather is hot-about 35 degrees with humidity making it feel nearer 40. The hospitality and friendliness is ramped up even more from what we have come to expect of the south and accents are even harder to understand. We arrived at our stunning Airbnb pretty tired, after a late night out on Saturday, in Nashville, and a very hot 200-mile journey down the interstate highway. The area, east of the city, near Memphis Zoo and the historic Greenwood District, is full of large 1920s bungalows and houses and is surrounded by trees full of deafening crickets. Our home for the stay was beautiful and homely with original parquet floors and a screened porch to sit out on. The room was luxurious and the hospitality unprecedented.

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We are big Elvis fans and came to Memphis, originally, only for Graceland. This is a must do for us while in the USA. We did not know it was Elvis Week, it being the anniversary of the king’s death on Saturday. We had tickets for the mansion tour at 9.15 and were expecting hideous, hot queues and to be herded like cattle. We were pleasantly surprised. Helped, maybe by a heavy storm at 7am, which may have kept people in, we were only the second group to arrive at the site and collected tickets without queuing. We were put on the first shuttle bus of the day up to the house. Only a small group is allowed in at any one time. The tour is by iPad, which works well.

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Impressions of Graceland

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  1. It is a very moving experience. You can sense Elvis and his family about the place.
  2. It was a real home. It still feels like one.
  3. It is small compared to present day mansions and, while luxurious, is pretty reigned in compared to the homes of other wealthy people.
  4. It is a fantastic retro experience of the early/mid 1970s with everything being kept just as it was when Elvis passed away.
  5. It is a pretty sad experience on the whole- and you are reminded of what a tragedy it was that Elvis died so young.

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My favourite parts were

  1. The mid 70s kitchen. Carpet on the floor. A retro blender. It is the same size as the kitchen in a normal home.
  2. The media room. 3 TV sets, comfy sofas, 1970s Hi Fi with some records from Elvis’s collection. You could imagine Elvis sprawling there.
  3. The racquetball court where Elvis played just before he died and the adjoining lounge where he played piano to some friends following his last match. Very sobering and sad.
  4. The clothes on display that were worn by Elvis, especially a midnight blue suit worn in the film Speedway. It was as if he was still wearing it. The suit oozed sex appeal.
  5. In Vernon`s office, they played a video of an interview with Elvis, from that same office, after returning from the army posting in Germany. Man that guy was magnetic. You cannot take your eyes off him. I watched it through 3 times.

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Buoyed by our great experience at Graceland, we headed for Sun Studios in downtown. It is hard to take in the importance of this site in the history of rock and roll. The transition from blues to rock and roll took place here. The first rock and roll record was cut here (and featured Ike Turner of Ike and Tina fame). Elvis was discovered here as was Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and others.

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The first great thing about the site is the retro diner they use as a waiting room.

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The tour itself is one of the best things I have ever done. The guide`s eyes shone as she talked you through the transition from blues to the first rock and roll hits and the start of Elvis’s career. She knew her stuff and clearly loved it all. In the museum, before entering the studio itself, she played us snippets of important blues tracks cut at the studios, at a time when black artists could not get recorded elsewhere. She described Elvis’s first visit to record a single in his lunch break, when he was 18, and how he waited a year before he was contacted, as the owner of the studio thought he was a ballad singer. There was some great memorabilia including the DJ booth used by Stu Phillips, the influential Memphis DJ, who helped break Elvis onto the scene and original telegrams sent to Elvis when he rose to fame so meteorically.

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On entering the studio itself, there was initially a hushed awe. This is real hallowed ground. We saw where Elvis sat behind the piano, on the famous Million Dollar Quartet picture, taken with Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, in December 1956 . We saw the spot where he stood when he made his first real single, That’s Alright Mamma and we touched the microphone he sang into. It was all tiny and ordinary looking but it oozed atmosphere and history.

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The day was only just beginning as we headed to Beale Street, to see the street where blues artists flocked from the rural Mississippi delta, to play in clubs and bars, in the early 20th century. We found an amazingly authentic diner, serving southern soul food, where we sampled the famous iced, sweet tea. We happened upon an amazing photographic exhibition of stunning black and white images detailing the civil rights struggle and assassination of Martin Luther King. We visited the Gibson guitar factory and pottered around the retail shop and foyer.

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Our last museum of the day was the National Civil Right Museum, located in and behind the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was shot and killed on 4th April 1968. We were pretty tired by now and could not get the full benefit of this amazingly comprehensive museum but it was well worth the visit even so.

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Impressions of the museum were

  1. The location is brilliant. Being able to visit the room where Dr. King spent his last hours before his death is a real privilege.
  2. The museum does not leave any stone unturned. It is a true record of the civil rights movement and the injustices leading up to it.
  3. While very sobering and depressing at times, the optimism and determination of the campaigners shines through.
  4. It is a real testimony to what people power can achieve.
  5. Although there is a lot to read, you can listen to personal narratives and touch interactive maps as well as board a bus with Rosa Parks, experience a whites only café from the perspective of a black person and watch original footage in several small cinemas.
  6. Looking out from Dr. King’s motel room to the balcony where he was shot is very moving.
  7. There is so much here that you could return several times and see something different on each visit.
  8. Reflections on how segregation and injustice continues in modern day America is very dispiriting.

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Our final stop of the day was The Cupboard, another, more ordinary, traditional, soul food diner. This one served vegan side dishes and we were able to sample two different kinds of beans, turnip greens, squash, cabbage and fried green tomatoes all served with tiny, crispy corn breads (like Yorkshire pudding). The whole thing is like a Sunday dinner in the UK and for meat eaters the traditional main course would include fried chicken or steak. It was hearty, simple and tasty, srved with more iced, sweet tea and we ate every single morsel.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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