June 9th, 2013 | Georgia
I had checked the weather channel before going to bed, and the presenter was warning of “possible flooding” and “up to 4 inches of rain in places”. She did not mention which “places” would receive the heaviest rain, but ended her broadcast with a cheerful “Look0ut Jacksonville and Brunswick !!”, as if announcing that a wonderful form of entertainment was on the way !!
Just 10 minutes into my ride, I had to stop and get the rain-gear on.
I was on the bike before 7.00 am, and zooming down the I-77, planning to hook up onto the I-20 just north of Columbia and head out towards Augusta in Georgia, keeping away from the coast and the path of Tropical Storm Andrea…
I began taking note of road-signs that one does not see very often in South Africa, and one’s that sometimes brought a grin to my face. Such as “Pass Safely” (I always do…) “No Passing Zone” (whatever that means…” and “DO NOT PASS” (probably meant for users of four wheeled motorized transport…).
And of course there was always the Big Fella’s personal favourite : “No Parking”, a sign that he seemed to be fiercely attracted to, while invoking the usual “I’m exempt !!” rule…!! It’s a foreign thing, which few Americans seem to understand !!
Although it had rained most of the night, this morning it was overcast, and humid, so I decided not to put the rain-gear on, in the hope that I would miss any heavy rain.
A very forlorn hope as it turned out. Just a few miles south of Richburg, I rode into a steady drizzle, which turned into light rain a few minutes later. I pulled over and kitted up, and then got back onto the highway.
The drizzle cleared up for a while and I followed the lead of most vehicles around me on the highway, by traveling at between 10 and 15 miles above the speed limit… I figured it was best to stay with the herd in the hope that one of them would be caught speeding rather than me…
“Bogey at 6 o’clock !!” came the sharp warning from the Big Fella. “He’s hanging back in the traffic a few cars behind us…”
I watched the patrol car holding station about 200 metres behind us, partially hidden by another car. I slowed down a little at a time and finally came down to about 5 miles above the limit, and sat back to see his reaction… The cars around me had done the same and the officer did not seem in the mood to bother anybody about it…
I pulled over into a rest area to take a break, and the patrol car followed me in… He stopped a short distance from me and the officer got out and made a phone call while I stood drinking my Gatorade and chewing on a Snickers… Then he slowly walked over to where I was and took a long look at the bike…
He greeted me in a friendly manner which made me a little suspicious. Usually traffic officers stop to chat to me about mundane matters such as speed limits and other rules and regulations which they seem to want me to understand. This guy just wanted to chat about the bike and where I had been… Or so it seemed… He was genuinely interested in where I had been and what I had seen.
After listening intently to my replies, he nodded his head and turned as if to walk away. Then he stopped, looked back at me and said,
“Say… Do you know the meaning of the term “Safety Corridor”…?? His right hand was on his hip, uncomfortably close to the handgun he wore there. I briefly wondered if he would shoot me if I got the answer wrong…
I had seen the sign a few times along the highway, and it was normally close to junctions where traffic entered and exited the highway. The speed limit in these “safety corridors” were usually at least 10 miles lower than the normal limit applicable… Under the “Safety Corridor” sign, there was usually another sign which said something about “Speeding Fines Doubled”, whatever that means…
Let’s dance !!
He seemed to be in a good mood, so I looked down at my feet with a frown and then looked up as if the answer had just come to me…
“Yessir,” I said, “The safety corridor is the stretch of carpet between my bed and the bathroom door, after I’ve had a hot curry for dinner !! It should be kept free and clear of all obstacles !!”
He let out a bellow of laughter and took his hat off with one hand, smoothed his hair with the other, and said, “You might just have made my day, fella !! You ride safely now, hear !!”
“Have a great day yourself !!” I called after him as he got into his car and drove off.
I was smiling to myself and wondering when my sense of humour would fail to impress an officer and result in more trouble than I could handle, but so far, a smile and a joke had got me out of many a tight spot, and I figured to continue in this vein until my luck ran out…
It rained steadily from there on, and just before Columbia, I got trapped in the far left hand lane alongside a long line of trucks, and missed the turnoff to Augusta…
As much as I wanted to see Augusta, the weather to the west of me seemed even worse than that to the south, so I just let the Big Fella roll on and let Gi-Gi recalculate a new route down I-26 in the direction of Charleston.
I figured I’d rather be riding down a wet and windy interstate highway, than negotiating the smaller and narrower country roads, as much as I prefer them to the multi-laned and boring highways.
Shelter from the storm. Ridgeland, South Carolina.
The rain hardly ever let up. Just west of Lake Marion, we turned onto I-95 and began the long last leg down the coast to Brunswick. We passed places with interesting names such as Yemassee and Coosawhatchie, and just before Ridgeland, the heavens really opened and the visibility was so low, that even I decided it was no longer safe to ride !!
Cars were pulling over under bridges, and traffic was crawling along at less than 40 miles per hour !! Every vehicle was driving with their hazard lights flashing. I took the turnoff to Ridgeland and stopped under the roof of a service station, seeing people shaking their heads and pointing in my direction, pity etched on their faces. I smiled back at them, pretending that I did this every day, just for a lark !!
A very wet welcome to Georgia, and at this point I had I have “Staying Alive” on my mind !!
After refueling, and watching the rain until it eased slightly, I decided that if I was going to make it to the airport in Jacksonville in time, I’d better be getting on my way.
A short distance later, I crossed over into the state of Georgia, still in pouring rain. The broad Savannah River forms the boundary between South Carolina and Georgia, and empties into the Atlantic near the city named after the river.
Savannah is also a major port, and has a rich and interesting history, none of which I was in the mood to see at that point, as I was being buffeted by high winds, to go with the heavy rain !!
Storm Andrea arrives earlier than expected…
The next 100 kilometres was a bit of a nightmare to ride in, and quite soon after leaving Savannah, I realized that I was never going to make it to Jacksonville in time to surprise Patricia… Bummer !!
It seemed that the weather forecasters had got their facts wrong again, as Storm Andrea did not wait for late afternoon to cross Florida, but had made her way overland during the night, eager to make my acquaintance on I-95 !
It was quite possibly the heaviest rain I have ridden in, although as I get older, memories of previous heavy rains have receded somewhat ! Visibility was down to less than 50 metres in most places, and overtaking trucks which threw up waves of spray and water made for dangerous riding conditions.
And maintaining decent speeds was almost impossible… Almost…!! All that I can say, is that for long periods of time, we actually stuck to the 65 or 70 mile per hour speed limit !! The big trucks just plowed their way through the weather, while smaller cars and their nervous drivers were far more erratic, and needed to be avoided as much as possible.
Breaking through the spray thrown up by trucks was a bit of a lottery at times… You never know what might be waiting for you on the other side !!
If they hit a puddle of water on the highway, they would brake and then slither around for a while before regaining control, and when this happens right in front of you, and especially if you’re riding a motorcycle, it can be rather disconcerting !!
People I passed kept indicating that I was crazy and that I should pull off, but I just grinned back at them and gave them the thumbs up to show that I was dealing with the inclement weather the only way I knew how, and that was to keep riding until I got out of it !! Optimism is a strong motivator !!
I reached the turnoff to Brunswick at about the same time as Patricia’s plane was landing in Jacksonville, 90 km to the south. It was still raining, but not nearly as heavily as it was before. I rode down the main street and stopped opposite the City Hall building right outside a place called “Hungry Hanna’s”. I had not eaten since the night before, and after expending so much energy fighting through the rain, I was ravenous !
I was sopping wet, so just pushed open the door of Hungry Hanna’s and stood outside of it, hoping to attract somebody’s attention. I did not want to walk into the establishment dripping water all over their floor. An elderly lady with long gray hair tied in a ponytail, looked up disaprovingly from behind the counter as I stood there.
“Hi !!” I said, “I am very wet and don’t want to mess up your floors…”
“I can see that !” she said, looking me up and down. “You can’t come in here like that !!”
“Is it possible for you to bring me a cup of coffee that I can drink outside here ?”I enquired hopefully.
“I’m not making you a cup of coffee !!” she said sternly, and then looked back down at whatever she was reading before I came in…
So much for the southern hospitality I had heard so much about…!!
I stood outside the restaurant for another few minutes, trying to decide what to do next. It was still raining, and although I knew that Patricia’s sister Mimi’s house was just around the corner, I knew that there would not be anybody home until after 4.00 pm. I decided that there was nothing else to do but stand and wait for another hour until Patricia arrived.
While I was fiddling about with my I-Pod, a small white car pulled up to the curb and the driver called out to me.
“Ronnie ?? I’m Charles… I live at Mimi’s house. I saw your bike as I was driving past and thought that it had to be you !! We were only expecting you tomorrow !!”
Parked outside Mimi’s beautiful home in Brunswick, Georgia
I followed Charles down Union Street, and parked outside a beautiful old Victorian home, mostly hidden behind huge trees. Charles, who is a chef at a nearby restaurant, advised that the house was over 100 years old, and directed me up a flight of stairs to the first floor and the bedroom we would using during our stay.
Richburg, South Carolina, to Brunswick, Georgia. 2nd leg of my “South and Eastern US Tour” complete.
I shed most of my wet gear on the wide front porch, before sitting down to await the arrival of Patricia. Mimi’s neighbours and close friends, Rusty and Catherine, happened to have business down in Jacksonville on the same day as our arrival and collected Patricia from the airport. They arrived barely a few minutes after I had settled down on the porch.
Rusty’s southern drawl was jarringly different to Catherine’s strong Irish accent, and with my South African accent, and Patricia’s “Nu Yawker” thrown in, I was amazed that we understood it each other at all !!
Rusty suggested I park the Big Fella under the roof of their car port, where it would be out of the rain and not long afterwards, we were enjoying Jameson’s, which just happened to be Rusty’s favourite whiskey, and a brand that I am rather partial to !!
Mimi had not only offered us the run of her home, but her husband David, had very kindly agreed to let us use his car, a beautiful Audi TT convertible !! I knew that this car was David’s pride and joy, and that very few people got to drive it, so was understandably surprised and very grateful for this gesture !! Many thanks David !! I will certainly adhere to all stipulations regarding and pertaining to the usage of said vehicle, especially “Sub Section 3, Paragraph 1″, which clearly states that Patricia’s fingertips may not come into contact with the steering wheel of said vehicle, for any reason whatsoever…!!
I was looking forward to meeting Mimi’s many friends in Brunswick and on St. Simon’s Island, and listened carefully while my following few days were being mapped out by Patricia. It seemed as though our days here would be filled with places to see and people to visit !
June 7th, 2013 | Maryland
Locked and Loaded…
As the eastern sky over Port Carbon showed the initial signs of daybreak, I stood sipping my first mug of coffee, watching a small group of squirrels chasing easy other through the treetops outside Doug’s home. Two rabbits skipped across the driveway just metres away from where I stood, and a chipmunk did a few stretching exercise before it disappeared into the long grass next to the road.
The stand of tall trees in the little valley across the road rang with birdsong as I loaded my kit onto the bike, marveling again at how I had managed to get all I owned, packed and tied down onto the Big Fella… Once I had the bike outside, I fiddled with the GPS, making sure that the route I had downloaded had been properly saved.
. …and ready to Rock and Roll !!
Patricia would be arriving in Jacksonville, Florida at 2.30 pm the following day, and I wanted to surprise her by being at the airport when she arrived. This meant that I would have to cover a total distance of almost 1600 km in less than 36 hours to get there on time.
There was no time to waste, and as soon as Doug and Theresa had risen from their slumbers, I bade them farewell and hit the road. I had chosen a route that would take me southwest through Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia, all the way down the Shenandoah Valley on the western edge of the Appalachian Mountains as far as Wytheville, before turning south and crossing into North Carolina at Lambsburg.
In order to get to Jacksonville on time, there was no chance of using the “back roads” which I usually prefer to do, as this would chew up too much of my time. I decided to use the Interstate Highways instead, which can be quite boring, but allow you to cover vast distances in the shortest time.
Only in America !! These guys are BIG on advertising !!
The bike was as heavy as I remembered it, but still handled as smoothly as always, and as soon as I had cleared the built up areas around Pottsville, I entered the I-81 and let that grey conveyor belt of a highway roll away beneath me. I crossed the Potomac River that separates Maryland from West Virginia and after skirting Martinsburg, entered the state of Virginia.
“OMG… Gi-Gi, what have you done !!”
I stopped for fuel in Winchester, a short distance into Virginia, noticing that the fuel consumption was not as good as it should be. I stopped again in Salem having covered barely 300 km on a full tank, and decided that either my electronic fuel guage was faulty, or the bike was genuinely using more fuel than it should… There was only one way to find out, of course…
Into Maryland, 2nd State of the day.
“Ok gang, we’re going to go long on this next stint…” I said aloud.
“You mean we’re going to run out of fuel, don’t you !!” came the swift reply.
“Exactly !! I’m taking you down to bone dry is see why you’re guzzling so much fuel. Besides, Doug was kind enough to fill two of our spare fuel canisters, and I don’t see why we shouldn’t make use of them !! To my way of thinking, that would be downright disrespectful !!”
And with that little argument nipped in the bud, we took off down the I-81 and turned south onto the I-77, heading for North Carolina. Just before I reached the turnoff, a big black BMW tourer came sidling up alongside me. The rider gave me a thumbs up signal, and then after riding together for a few miles, indicated that he wanted to talk to me.
Authorities are going to great lengths to impede the Gypsy Biker’s forward progress.
We pulled over into a rest stop shortly thereafter, and parked next to each other. Jeff Eaby introduced himself to me, explaining that he wanted to take a photo of the the Big Fella to show his mates, who had probably not seen a bike kitted out as mine was.
He explained that he was the owner of Goosedog Bikes, and one of his passions was restoring vintage BMW motorcycles !!
We chatted for a while and then took off again, riding together until Jeff turned off, after hooting and waving goodbye. Our little “get-together” confirmed again that I was back on the road and would be meeting all sorts of interesting people without specifically seeking them out.
That is just the way it is with bikers. And being on a bike as visible as the Big Fella, drew many people’s attention !! Each time I had stopped for a quick drinks break, or to refuel, the bike would be surrounded by folk wanting to know where we were from and as usual, “if I had been to all those places that the stickers represented”…
Often, they would reappear from the convenience store we were parked outside of, and hand me a bottle of water or a soda, which I always accepted with much gratitude, and handed them my card in return so that could check out my blog.
Jeff Eaby, restorer of vintage BMW’s…
The next guy I met, was a young guy named Patrick McCusker. I had stopped for a drinks break near the little town of Buchanan, and he was refueling his bike when I rode in. He walked over to where we were parked and introduced himself to me, asking where I was from etc. He had just come off the Blue Ridge Parkway, to get out of the mist and the rain that was threatening us even down here in the Shenandoah Valley.
Patrick McCusker of Freehold, New Jersey. What were the odds of meeting a guy from my wife’s hometown !!
When I asked where he was from, his reply came as a huge surprise.
“Well…” he said, “I’m from a small place in New Jersey. You probably wouldn’t know it…”
“Try me,” I replied, “My wife’s from New Jersey !!”
“It’s a place called Freehold…” his voice trailed off as he saw the look on my face.
“You’ve got to be kidding !!” I almost shouted. “My wife’s family live in Freehold, right near Lake Topanemus !”
“I live right round the back side of the lake !!” he spluttered, a huge smile spreading across his face. “Man, what are the chances of that happening!”
“Slim at best, my friend, Slim at best !” was all I could think of saying.
Patrick was on his way back to New Jersey after a week out on his bike, and I could see that he was enjoying the freedom of the open road as much as I was. After wishing each other well, we went our separate ways, he riding north and the Big Fella and I bearing south for the North Carolina state line.
While I spoke to Patrick, the Big Fella found time to tangle with a Tiger…and win !!
Shortly before crossing into North Carolina, I stopped again to get something to eat, and met a couple of guys who were very interested in what I was doing. One of them, Jared, wanted to know how heavy the bike was and the only way to ascertain that properly, was to invite him to sit the bike. He gingerly worked himself into the saddle, getting the feel of the weight under him.
He gave a low whistle and turned to his friend and said, “This thing is HEAVY Dude !!”
Jared tries the Big Fella for size.
We chatted for a while, and were joined by the store manager, a young man of Asian descent…
“You been all dis countries ?” he asked pointing at the flags.
I replied that I had indeed and took a chance by telling him that I had probably been in his too… He smiled and shook his head in the negative, but walked around peering closely at the flags, first on one side, then the other. I watched him as he started running his finger along the Asian section, passing quickly over those of the Middle East and then slowing down as he got to India. His eyebrows shot up and his mouth hung open…
Crossing the state line into North Carolina, 5th state of the day.
“Nepal !! Nepal !!” he shouted excitedly. “You been to Nepal too ?? I am from Phokara and Katmandu !!”
He looked into my eyes, clasped his hands in front of his face and bowed to me…
“Namaste !!” he said in a strong clear voice. The word has many meanings, but is most commonly used as a salutation (“I bow to you, my greetings”…)
I returned his gesture of respect, clasping my hands together, thumbs touching my forehead, bowed to him and repeated the greeting. “Namaste, Little Brother” I said aloud.
His grin of pure pleasure warmed my heart and I felt like giving him a big hug. He was a link to one of the special places I had visited, and brought the memories flooding back through my brain… The long hard rides it took at high altitude to cover such short distances.
The ride from the Indian border to Phokara, a distance of about 300 km, had taken almost 9 hours as I recall !! Beautiful Nepal, which travelers said stood for “Never Ending Peace And Love…”
He scurried back into the sore as a small group of customers approached, and I took my leave of of Jared and his friend. I would have liked to chat to the young Nepalese to find out how on earth he had ended up in Virginia, but he never came out of the store again.
By the time I reached Statesville in North Carolina, I had covered 750 km, and my shoulders, back and backside where starting to mumble amongst themselves at the treatment they were receiving…
“Enough already !!” they cried in unison, but my brain was having none of it ! I wanted to ride and with a few hours of daylight still in hand, I wanted to break the back of my ride to Brunswick and Jacksonville today, so that I did not have so far to ride tomorrow…
Downtown Charlotte looked interesting enough, but the thought of fighting my way through traffic to get there, sent me scuttling towards South Carolina.
I had started out this morning with no fixed plans of where I would stop for the night, but hoped to get at least as far as Charlotte in North Carolina, which was over the halfway mark to Jacksonville in Florida. When Charlotte came into view, I checked in with Gi-Gi and discovered that I was only 25 km from the South Carolina state line, and the thought of managing to ride through six states in a single day was a challenge I could not slip by me…
And just as we passed through Charlotte, I came across this car whose spare tyre cover said it all !!
I took the western by-pass around the city, skirting the airport, and then hooked back onto the I-77 south and set course for Rockhill. Just before the state line, a heavy downpour which seemed to come from nowhere, lashed the area. I was caught totally unprepared and had to dodge across four lanes of traffic to get to the shoulder where I donned my rain-suit.
In blinding rain, I missed the exit to Rockhill, and rode another 30 km before bringing the day’s ride to a close in the small town of Richburg. We had covered a total of 940 km on my first full day on the road, and was more than happy with what we had achieved.
AND, we did not run out of fuel and managed almost 360 km on the last tank. Although I must add at this point that we were on fumes as I rode into the parking lot of the Motel 6 !!
It had been a great day out on the road, and as usual, I had met many interesting people, which in the end is part of what makes what I am doing, so worthwhile. It had taken just this one day to get me completely back in the groove, and confirm that I still had many a long ride in me.
After wolfing down a KFC dinner (sorry Darling, but it was the closest place to the hotel !!) I switched on the television to discover that Storm Andrea was battering Florida and was due to reach Jacksonville and Brunswick the following afternoon !! I was 550 km north of Jacksonville and if I had to ride through heavy rain, getting to the airport by 2.30 pm to surprise Patricia was going to be a far tougher task than today’s ride was !!
Port Carbon to Richburg South Carolina. A long day in the saddle…
By 10 pm it was raining steadily, and I went outside to make sure that the cover would not be blown off the bike. After checking that all was well, I patted the Big Fella, who was spending his first night without shelter in over 8 months, and mentioned that there might be a little rain to deal with the following day…
“Beeee-youtiful !!” he replied.
I am not entirely sure, but I think he was being sarcastic…
June 6th, 2013 | North America
I am delighted to advise that my kit still fits me, and for the record, it actually felt a little baggy !! So to Robert and Vince I say “Eat my shorts, Brothers !!”
Long before Doug and Theresa had stirred, I had crept downstairs into the basement, and sat quietly astride the Big Fella. As strange as it may sound, I wanted some “alone time” with the bike.
The day before, I had hardly had a chance to get a proper feel of what it was like to sit the bike for more than the few minutes it took to “meet and greet” him again. I find it difficult to explain the strong and almost physical attachment I have to this machine, that has carried me safely around the world, and with whom I have shared so many long and rather enlightening conversations with…
During those lonely weeks and months on the road, the bike was my only constant companion, one that I relied on completely. We “spoke” at length about what I was feeling on any given day; the thoughts that were running through my head and the decisions I was making; and the things I was trying to let go of.
Monument to Mothers everywhere. Thinking of you, Mom !!
This morning I felt compelled to have a short conversation with the Big Fella before we set out for our ride through Pennsylvania…
Perched in the saddle, with the bike up on its centre stand, I felt that I was transmitting the information about the new few weeks directly to him, just by picturing the route in my mind, and the places I intended to visit. In order for me to get into the groove of riding again, I felt that the bike had to get into the self-same groove with me.
I had a good feeling about the ride we were about to make; I was not at all as nervous as I thought I would be; just excited about being back on the road so soon after arriving in the USA…
By 9.00 am, Kevin had arrived on his Honda “Magna”, and Doug had got his Moto Guzzi “Norge” ready to roll. We left Port Carbon and Kevin led us to the nearby town of Ashland. I had no idea where exactly we were going for the day, except that we would be looping around north central Pennsylvania, and making a stop at Kevin’s cabin near Pine Creek.
In Ashland, we stopped to walk around the Mother’s Memorial; a bronze reproduction of Whistlers famous painting, and dedicated to “All Mother’s Past and Present”… I was very appreciative that my friends had brought me here first. I spent a few minutes thinking of my mother back home, and the last, tearful few minutes, we spent together. I mumbled the promise that I had made to her before I left,’ that I would look after myself; ride safely and carefully; and last but by no means least,’ bring her daughter-in-law back to her as quickly as possible…
“Duckie” and I at the Mother’s Memorial in Ashland, Pennsylvania.
We were quickly onto our bikes after a short photo session, and headed out towards what I could only assume was the “wild, blue yonder”… I was riding a much lighter Big Fella than I was used to, and with the fully extended rear spring free of any load, my feet barely touched the ground whenever we came to a stop. And with my left ankle still hurting (not only from my fall in Alaska almost a year ago, but another fall into a 20 foot storm water drain just a few months previously, in which I tore ligaments on the self-same foot !!)
I had to be extra careful whenever we came to a halt and I put all my weight on my left ankle. Once I had that well-balanced feeling on the bike, I began looking around me to enjoy the scenery, and search for omens… Yes, omens…!!
I have over the years had so many little things happen so often on a ride, that I have come to see them as omens of either good luck, or bad luck. Mostly good luck, I am happy to add…!! The first omen appeared in the shape of a dead deer and a large red Harley-Davidson lying on it’s side in the long grass next to the roadside…
After hitting a deer and skidding for over 30 metres, all the guy in the blue t-shirt had to show for his indiscretion, was a scratch on his thumb !!
The rider had collided with the deer as it came bustling out of the thick bush next to the road. The bike had gone down on its right side and skidded for over 30 metres before ending up in a shallow ditch. The accident had happened barely a minute before we got there, and we stopped to render assistance. We hoisted the bike upright again and surveyed the damage… Apart from a few deep scratches on the fairings and bodywork, it seemed to be in good shape.
A patrol car, lights flashing, arrived on the scene just as we were preparing to leave. I indicated to Doug and Kevin that we should get going as soon as possible, not because I was in any great hurry, but because the sight of the officer reminded me that I had no insurance and did not want to be chit-chatting with someone who could make life a little difficult for me…!! Some officers can be quite inquisitive, I have found…
I took a few positive “omens” from the above incident:
1) If we had not stopped at the Mother’s Memorial, one of us might have collided with the deer, so my guardian angel was still hard at work !!
2) The sight of the traffic officer made me make a mental note to get my insurance in order as soon as possible, which I did the very next day !!
3) I was reminded of the brotherhood of bikers by the fact that neither of us had hesitated to stop and assist the fallen rider, and even though his appreciation of this was very evident, I felt that I done so just as much for myself, as I had for him…
This all got me even deeper into the riding mode I was quickly settling into…
Pennsylvania back of beyond… Kevin leads us up into the mountains of north central part of the state.
We rode down narrow country roads, through small towns, and deeper into the mountains, crossing fast flowing rivers and always surrounded by lush green forests. We passed many road-kills along the way, proof that the forests in these parts contained any number of critters, all dying to get run over by a vehicle of any description…
Doug’s t-shirt brings many a smile… We visited the Ugly Oyster in Reading the following day, where I bought a variation of the same theme, and will feature it here soon.
We saw as many porcupines as we did , possums, raccoons and a few more deer to go along with the first one.
We also narrowly missed a large rattlesnake, which lay coiled in the middle of the road. As Doug passed it, the snake made as if to strike out at him !!
Both Kevin and Dave experienced “bird strikes” along the way. A large dove crashed into Kevin’s arm, in an exploding ball of feathers, and another bird came to grief when it met with Doug’s leg.
The fact that I did not collect a feathered friend along the way I also later took to be a good omen…
The lush countryside we rode through was a huge change from the drab winter landscapes we had come from back in South Africa.
Spring had long ago sprung in these parts and Summer was well on its way…
After stopping for lunch on the banks of Pine Creek, we rode on to where Kevin’s cabin lay nestled on the banks of a small river, among a grove of large trees. This is where Kevin and his mates come to get away from it all. Sometimes to hunt and fish, and other times just to sit and watch bears and deer wander around in the back garden. I could see why they had chosen this spot. It was a place I could easily spend a few weeks at a time in…
Kevin’s cabin on Pine Creek…
I think I found the bike Patricia really wants…
Our Pennsylvania warm-up ride. The lower arrow indicates Doug’s home in Port Carbon, and the upper arrow, Kevin’s cabin up in the mountains of central Pennsylvania.
After a quick refueling stop, we made the ride back home in one single stint, covering almost 200 km and completing a 460 km round trip that had gone a long way to getting me into a good riding rhythm again.
Later that evening, Doug swapped his Norge for his other Moto Guzzi, a Le Mans, and Kevin changed his Honda for his trusty KLR 650, and together with Kevin’s wife Sandy, and Theresa on her BMW 800 ST, we rode over the hills behind Port Carbon to have an ice cream at a nearby dairy that served the best ice cream in the district.
We sat watching the sun go down and relating aspects of our ride to the ladies, before heading home so that I could start preparing for my ride down to Georgia.
Before going to bed, Theresa looked at all my gear scattered around the room, and wondered how I was going to fit it all on the bike !! We even started making suggestions about leaving some of it behind for me to collect later, or even calling in UPS to haul the things I would not need, to New Jersey…
I decided to let the packing of it all wait until the following morning, but before I fell asleep, I managed to fill the dustbin in my room with all sorts of junk, including about 20 pens that I had been carrying around since riding through South East Asia almost two years ago !!
Once I got rid of that, a host of other smaller items followed the pens into the bin. I fell asleep satisfied that I had made a good start to getting all my gear onto the bike.
June 3rd, 2013 | New Jersey
Mrs. B arrives in New York looking like she just stepped off a safari vehicle…
After a flight lasting a little more than 15 and a half hours, Patricia and I finally arrived in New York. We were both excited for a number of reasons. Not only were we looking forward to seeing our family and friends again, but we were also looking forward to our trip down to Key West and New Orleans, via Georgia and other places in-between.
While Patricia waltzed through Immigration, I joined the long queue of “foreigners” and did the zig-zag walk for half an hour before I was finally summoned to the Immigration officer’s cubicle… He shoved my passport under the scanner, peered closely at the screen, and then asked me a question which took me completely by surprise.
“Did you enjoy Alaska ?” He asked, and then followed up with, “Man…, you’ve been all over !!”
“Er…yes…”, I replied, “but for the record, I had nothing to do with the stuff that happened in Egypt, Libya and Syria !! but yes, Alaska was amazing !! Why do you ask ?”
“Well my buddies and I want to ride our bikes up there but we only get a few weeks leave a year and don’t know how to go about it.”, he answered wistfully.
“Well, you could fly up to Fairbanks and then hire bikes to go north from there,” I advised.
“North ??” he queried incredulously, “Who the hell want to go north of Fairbanks ? It’s wild up there, man !!”
“Yeah, it is !” I laughed, remembering our “wild ride” up and down the Dalton Highway to Dead Horse on the Arctic Ocean. My left foot twitched involuntarily at the memory…
“We’re HOME Baby !”, exclaimed Patricia. I wasn’t quite sure where home was anymore !!
We chatted for a few minutes until he noticed that a small crowd was forming behind me. He quickly stamped my passport, wished me luck and waved me through to collect my luggage.
Patricia was waiting for me, trolley fully loaded and minutes later we were in the arrivals hall. As usual, despite my protests, Patricia refused to leave the airport without a Starbucks fix, something she had been talking about since we took off from Johannesburg !!
Relaxing in Freehold, after almost 16 hours sitting in a tin can…
She left me to push our 3 tons of luggage to where Karen was waiting for us, while she went off to satisfy her craving for “real coffee”…
While Patricia brought Karen up to date during our drive back to New Jersey, I sat quietly thinking about the rides ahead, and more to the point, the machine that was waiting for me in Pennsylvania.
I wondered how the bike would feel under me again; fretted about dealing with the weight of a fully loaded, big ass BMW after nearly 8 months of not riding.
I took a few deeps breaths to calm my nervousness, telling myself that it would not be any problems despite my current misgivings. I was “in tune” with my bike as much as anybody could be, and was certain I could swing into the saddle and take up from where I had left off last September.
I had packed all the kit I thought I would need over the next few months and had left all the tools and other pieces of equipment on the bike.
After spending a few days in both Freehold and Monmouth Beach, and being welcomed back by family and friends, I drove Patricia and I to Port Carbon in Pennsylvania, where my good friend Doug McIllwain and the Big Fella were waiting.
Patricia’s brother Jack, had lent us one of his cars; a sporty Subaru, and driving left hand drive, gear-shift, on the “wrong” side of the road, took a little getting used to ! I once again thought about the difficulties Patricia must have faced doing the same thing on our roads back in South Africa !
It took us a few hours to get to Pottsville, the closest large town to Port Carbon, where Doug lived.
Who knew what Pottsville was famous for…!!
Doug and Theresa were in fine form and as happy to see us as we were them.
Doug had resolved all parking issues while I was away…
Kevin and Sandy arrived shortly thereafter and I remembered how he had used his pick-up and trailer to come and collect the Big Fella from New Jersey, after Hurricane Sandy had temporarily put him out of action. He had never met me before that day, but went out of his way to come to the assistance of a fellow biker.
After a few minutes, Doug could see I was itching to get downstairs and get re-acquainted with my bike. We all trooped downstairs, and try as I might, I could not hide the excitement I felt… My heart rate shot up as I saw the Big Fella standing just where I had left him all those months ago.
“About time !!” I thought I heard him grumble, as I ran my hand over the tank and took hold of the handlebars for the first time in ages. It was a surreal moment for me, and while my wife and friends stood quietly by and watched me grinning from ear to ear, I felt the strong bond I had developed with this machine; remembered the many long and lonely rides we had made together to the furtherest corners of the earth; the many tight spots we had got into and out of; and the fact that we had got through it all together, in one piece (more or less !!)
I felt Patricia’s hand on my shoulder and turned to look at her. Her eyes were shining brightly, and I could see in their depths that she fully understood what I was feeling…
“Let’s get him out into the fresh air !” shouted Doug, throwing open the garage doors. I pushed the bike outside and got it onto it’s centre stand before gingerly stepping up and into the saddle. It felt like I was getting onto the back a wild horse for the first time !! But as soon as I leaned forward and took the handlebars in my hands, I felt the bike mould itself to me again. It felt as though I had stepped off it only yesterday… And it was all good !!
After going out for a long lunch with the gang, Patricia and I said our goodbyes…
“See you in Georgia !!” I shouted after her as she drove away to make the three hour ride back to Freehold. Then Doug, Kevin and I sat down to plan a quiet ride up to his cabin in North-central Pennsylvania, just to get me “back into the swing of things…
Kevin ‘Duckie’ and Doug share the frame with the Big Fella and I. (Doug’s BMW t-shirt was in the wash…)
The jury is still out on which hands the Big Fella missed the most…
Doug and Theresa had stocked my room with all the necessary items to keep me fit and healthy…
I was thankful for the suggestion, as I was keen to ensure the bike was in good shape before I took off for the wild blue yonder again.
The new rear drive had only done a few kilometers when Doug had gone out on a short ride a few months ago.
The Big Fella had been stripped of all his panniers and Doug had replaced broken locks and catches, and by the looks of things, done a bit of panel-beating too !!
I attached the top-box to hold the rain gear that we all agreed would be a good idea to take with us the following day, and spent some time fiddling with all the switch-gear to make sure that everything was in good working order.
It took a while to get GiGi out of hibernation mode, but she finally awoke from her long coma, and came to life with a static filled squeal, and a terse instruction “Turn left in 150 metres…!!”
I must have interrupted her last route plan, before I switched her off…!! I re-assured her that we would not be making any turns until the following morning, and instructed her to re-aquaint herself with the “Garmin Map of North America”, which was tucked away deep in her memory banks, while I went upstairs to prepare for bed…
Tomorrow would take care of itself, and I planned to make the most of our “Test Ride” before I began the long haul down to Georgia the day after that.
May 30th, 2013 | Africa
In less than 12 hours, I will board a flight back to the USA to begin my final long ride through the Southern and Eastern states of America. During my ride, I will complete what is known as the “Four Corners” by American bikers. I have already been to the two corners on the Western seaboard and will ride down to Key West in Florida and then up to Madawaska in Maine on the Canadian border.
I am trembling with excitement (and perhaps a little apprehension !!) at the thought of swinging back into the Big Fella’s saddle. I cannot wait to back into the rhythm of the long rides I will be making and over the last few weeks have asked so many questions of myself. Doug has confirmed that the Big Fella is raring to go and is mechanically, as sound as ever. I on the other hand, may not be as physically or as mentally sound as I was a few months ago ! But then, many people believe that I was never mentally sound anyway, so I guess that part I don’t have to worry too much about !
The physical part is another matter altogether. It took a week or so of long rides to become completely accustomed to the physicality of holding onto a big bike for hours on end, when I first set out in 2010. I have never been off the bike for more than a month or so during my ride around the world, and I recall that even then, it took a day or get used to the bike again. Those first rides after a “layoff” were usually filled with little errors, that served to remind me that riding a big bike is not child’s play !
But, in the spirit of all that has gone before, I know that I will take whatever comes my way, in my stride, and during the 15 hour flight to New York, I will have ample time to prepare myself mentally and emotionally for what lies ahead. I plan to make this last ride as enjoyable as possible, and not let it become too much of a “mission”… And to assist me with the enjoyment part of it, Patricia will be joining me on the Southern part of my ride ! She will be on four wheels though, and we will meet up in the evenings, or at pre-determined places such as New Orleans, Key West and other spots we want to visit together.
I look forward to once again feeling the freedom of the open road; the grunt and roar of the big engine beneath me, taking me to places I’ve never seen, and may never see again; the wind on my face; the smells in my nostrils; and the sights that will be recorded in my brain by a wide open set of eyes (and my battered old camera which has now shot over 38 000 photos after the first one gave up after 30 000 pics !!).
Yes, it all makes my pulse race, and I am embracing the “Quickening”…
See you on the road !!
May 6th, 2013 | Africa
It hasn’t been All work and no play !!
Patricia and I managed to take a few days off and spend them at a private game reserve in the north eastern part of South Africa, on the border of Botswana. Our days here were spent taking early morning and late afternoon game drives to view the animals in this 75 000 hectare reserve; lounging around the pool with a full view of the waterhole only a few metres away; and enjoying home cooked meals prepared for us by the camp staff.
After weeks of non stop work back at the Tulisa Park facility where the relocating of two large furniture factories was taking place, this was a welcome break for me, and allowed Patricia to see more of a region of South Africa that she not not visited before.
I have included a batch of photos taken while we were there…
The “Old Boys Club” held regular meetings at the waterhole…
No shortage of Rhino at our waterhole either…
We were usually woken at 5.30am for a quick cup of coffee, before leaving the lodge to do an early morning game drive.
Elephants have the right of way…
Patricia chats with the elephants…
With few trees in Madikwe, Giraffe have to feed off low bushes…
Impressive horns on this male Kudu.
Young Ellie giving us a rev… There are almost a 1000 elephant in this reserve and we spent hours watching the complex interaction that takes place between various members of the herds we encountered…
We followed a pack of Wild Dogs through the bush… There are only two packs in the entire reserve, a total of 23 dogs in all. We were very lucky to see this, the smaller of the two groups.
Old Buffalo bull gives us the hairy eyeball… He was part of a massive herd of over 200 animals that crossed the road in front of us.
Back at the lodge, we took our meals either under or in what is known as the Treehouse. A great dining experience, complete wit roaring fireplace…
Patricia on our patio.
…and showering with an Ellie in the background…as one does in Africa !!
Ellies in our front garden…
“Is the fence strong enough, Honey…!!”
Pajama party at the waterhole.
A huge troop of Baboons drank and then explored the camp.
Brothers on patrol….
Black-maned Lions of Madikwe put in an appearance…
Normal feeding position for a Giraffe.
Rhinos squaring off in our front garden.
This old boy came out top of the pile, and then came over to where we were sitting to accept his applause…
Chilly dinners in the boma around a blazing fire. Madikwe was freezing cold…!!
Patti and Miss Piggy…
- Elephants came down to drink every few hours… A few lone bulls with decent size tusks, as well as large breeding herds with protective mothers and their calves…
This particular Lion walked a few metres past our room and woke us at 3.00am with his roaring !! I had taken this photo the afternoon before and at the time he was heading directly for our camp. He kept us awake right until it was time for our morning coffee, walking around in the camp and calling for his pride of three lionesses, who were playing hide and seek with their lord and master…
One of the few larger waterholes in the park. Madikwe is situated on the edge of the Kalahari Desert, that extends into Botswana, and rainfall here is not as high as in other parts of the country.
Giraffe at our waterhole.
Patricia says farewell to the warthogs that frequented the garden.
The four days we spent in Madikwe came as a welcome break for both of us and was something of an “appetiser” for the days we would spend at Lion Sands just a few weeks later, before our return to the USA…