Friday, September 14, 2007

TIME TO GET SERIOUS, AND RIDE FOR LIFE!

What a lot of fun was had on this amazing journey! I had a whale of a time, and by all accounts a lot of other people did too, who decided to be a part of it at various points along the way. As a result of what I did, it seems that some of you were inspired to pursue your own dreams, and for that I am humbled, and very very glad. It truly warms the heart to think that I've had a positive influence, especially since I wasn't even actively trying! This blog is all but finished for new entries regarding my trip across the States, apart from some padding out and the addition of new photos, which will happen over the next week or two. However, if I get enough protests and/or requests to warrant continuing it, I will carry on supplementing it with on-going details of my planned exploits over the coming summer. Register your on-going interest in the comments section, if you want More of Max...

(By the way, Denise, I finally succumbed to temptation and bought a pink jacket, like one of yours. It is extremely pink. I won't be able to ride incognito again. Ever.)

However, while I had no doubt that personal life would definitely continue to be exciting, I decided it was time to get on with the Herceptin Peaceful Protest Ride, which took place in March 2008 around the North Island of New Zealand. This project had the support of The Herceptin Fighting Fund, which comes under the umbrella of the Breast Cancer Aotea Coalition, and the aim of the event was to try and influence the goverment to do a u-turn on their decision to not fund the drug beyond 3 treatments for women who needed a full seventeen treatments. I was originally going to organise this ride to go down the east coast of Australia, but the timing of the expected decision on the current judicial review on the government's decision, to fund or not to fund the treatment, suggested that the North Island would be a more appropriate location, with the ride planned to end at The Beehive, New Zealand's seat of Parliament, in a peaceful but hopefully effectively noisy protest just before the decision was expected to be handed down. It also meant that participation would be a lot more possible for a lot more riders and pillions, and that' was the whole idea. Numbers! Bikes! An impactive, collective voice! That's what we were after., and that is what we achieved.  And, as pink is the Breast Cancer colour, we saw lots of pink bike jackets happening (and even the most macho fellas donned pink t-shirts to help champion the cause).

On 6th April 2008 a group set off from TePapa Museum on Wellington's waterfront and made the journey around the North Island, arriving at the Beehive at lunchtime on 12th April, where a petition was delivered and formally lodged, and a speech was given to the government.  30-odd big motorcycles roaring onto the steps of Parliament (we did get official permission!) created a sufficient furore to drag most of the politicians out of their offices and onto the forecourt to see what the ear-shattering noise was all about.We had TV crews there filming us for the evening news, and we had the support of various breast cancer groups who were all battling for a change in the law. 

We achieved our aim of throwing the issue onto the political table in the run-up to a general election, and making it a national hot potato.  While the existing government steadfastedly refused to change their position, the challenging party vowed to fund the full course should they be elected.  I met with John Key, the now Prime Minister of New Zealand, who personally assured me that if his government came to power he would fund the full course of Herceptin for women with HER2+ breast cancer, and would make it part of his initial 90 Day Manifest.

John Key's government WAS elected and he was as good as his word.  Not only did he make full Herceptin funding part of his 90-day manifest, he actually backdated the funding to the day he was elected.  What that meant was that thousands of women who might otherwise have had to fundraise or sell their homes and other assets to raise the money for their treatment, or face dying if they could not, were able to get treatment without begging or having to face losing whatever financial security. they may have had

I got the phone call from a government aide to tell me the news, and I was driving at the time.  I don't mind telling you all that I pulled off to the side of the road and cried like a baby.  It was a very emotional time.  All those lovely women, who now had a real chance at survival or, at the very least, more time with their children.

Riding across the States opened my mind to the possibilities of what one person can achieve if s/he really wants to do something.  What came off the back of that experienc was, The Herceptin Peaceful Protest Ride which remains one of the proudest achievements of my life.  Through the ride across America, I learned a lot about myself, and the Herceptin Peaceful Protest Ride taught me  a lot more about the generosity of others, the extraordinary spirit some people manage to cling to when faced with the most appalling of choices, and just how many people really care about making a real difference. Iit reinforced my belief that despite its challenges and the fact that mankind is riddled with self-made atrocities, the world is still an inherently good place, with many, many good people in it.  I'm privileged to have met so many of them, on my journeys, and long may my journeys continue.

Cheers, and happy riding to y'all, worldwide. 

Friday, September 7, 2007

Home Is Where the Cold Is...

This is the current view from my living room window. I took this photo through the glass two days ago. Spring is here, as the snow capped mountains CLEARLY show!!! LOL. Honestly, blog-watchers, if it weren't for the daffodils and the lambs springing about all around me, I'd be convinced I was in the depths of winter. In the space of a week I've gone from waking up in the Californian heat, and having to kick the covers off, to waking up with my nose running and my teeth chattering, and trying to delay the inevitable - that horrible chilly morning dash to the bathroom. Its absolutely great to be home, but BOY, do I miss the warmth. To console myself I keep thinking about that holy trek from hell across Oklahoma, when I thought me and the Bomb were both gonna melt right into the pavement with the heat, and all I was interested in was shade and water. Now? I'm looking for hot chocolate with a very healthy dash of Baileys in it, or a tall mug of mulled spice wine. Ah well... I'm off to stoke up the log burner, and make plans for heading into the forest this coming week, to grab another trailer-load of firewood. Methinks the sun frocks will be sitting in the closet for a while yet, as will the sunscreen...

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Koru! Koru! Koru! Oi! Oi! Oi!

The sight of the Koru - the Air New Zealand aircraft tail insignia - has always had a big impact on me. I've spent decades travelling, boomeranging to and from home on different adventures, and its always been a welcome sight at the end of each trip, because for me it represents home, and GOING home, like no other symbol can. One time back in the 80's, when I was living in the UK, I'd just flown back into Gatwick airport in London after a holiday in Greece, and my plane pulled in alongside a Koru. I saw it, across the tarmac, while disembarking, and although I was perfectly happy, and actually looking forward to going back to work the next day, I saw that Koru and immediately felt a pang of homesickness so strong that all I wanted to do, suddenly, was leg it across the runway, leap onto that plane, and refuse to budge until somebody flew me home on it!
Air New Zealand are pretty cool. I'd urge anyone to fly with them, as I've done countless times myself. I use them whenever I can because nothing is too much of a problem for the staff of that airline, for their customers, and my experiences tell me that a lot of people could learn something from that. After the encounter with Delta Airlines Domestic over my crash helmet, when I approached the militant x-ray security guy, whose pock-marked face suddenly took on all the welcoming features of a pinless hand grenade at me having - shock, horror - an extra pieceof hand luggage, the Air New Zealand people just smiled, nodded, stepped aside and gestured me on board with all three pieces of baggage. I didn't have to speak one word about it. It wasn't even an issue. I'd been expecting another small war, actually, so I was stunned at how irrelevant they seemed to think having an extra (delicate) piece of carry-on baggage was. Balm to an open wound, that was... and on the domestic flight from Auckland to Nelson, Shoei even had its own seat, and was actually seat-belted on to it, through its carrycase handles, for safety during take-off and landing! How seriously cool was THAT??? Really should have got a photo of that... if I'd been able to stop laughing I probably would have thought of it.

There is a God, you know, because the L.A. born and bred Air New Zealand staff guy who checked me in at LAX? He was a biker. There ya go! Sometimes prayers do get answered.

Anyway, after I'd installed myself with a glass of champagne and a copy of the Daily Mail, in the airline's Posh Lounge (frequent flyer - gold status), I looked out of the window, and there she was; my plane home, the Koru standing proud and tall and ready to fly. The rush of excitement at seeing that awesome symbol is always the same. I've had the time of my life, but when I saw that Koru, I knew it was time to go.

Koru, Koru, Koru, Home, Home, Home!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Thorns and Roses

This photo, of me with Mac and ToFeather (two of the gnarliest but sweetest old thorns on two wheels that ever held a place in my address book OR my heart), was taken by the Rose Gwyn, outside Manchester NH's Airport Diner, just after we'd had the calorie-soaked, cholesterol-special Last Supper (well, breakfast, actually), just before I jumped the plane to Cali before any crucifixions could take place. I did well actually, this time around! I didn't even cry, much. Not while they were all around, anyway. After M&G dropped me at the airport, the stiff upper lip and the frozen little "I'm so brave this time" smile headed south, and I allowed myself a bit of a sniffle, but I'm not going to admit to anything else, like for instance trying not to let the lower lip tremble too much in case an in-coming plane spotted it, figured it was a runway, and tried to land on it. I was at an airport, after all...
Hard to believe I won't get another chance to hug these amazing guys, or Gwyn Gorgeous, for a whole 'nother year. As far as Gwyn goes, the photo I have of her riding a tyre-puppy in the main street of North Conway with a crazy look on her moosh will sustain me for quite some time, as will her often humorous and always astute reflections and perspectives on certain "train-wrecks" that have punctuated her own life and mine. Gwyn knows exactly what kind of a brat I can be, and she loves me anyway. That in itself is extraordinary, and I love her right back, for that, and a lot more besides.
Huge thanks too, ToFeather, for the lovely gifts you gave me. See ya next year, Team Hamster.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Twilight is Dawning (or some thing like that...)

I've said goodbye to Mac and Gwyn, Gordon and the girl-dogs again (getting to be a habit, huh???) and headed back to California. I made it successfully after an epic wrestling match with the Suitcases From Hell and far too much hand luggage. Delta Airlines didn't like my crash helmet. They wanted to put it in the hold...
EEERRRRMMM, I don't THINK so...

... so I politely explained the importance of not letting it out of my sight to get knocked and internally stress fractured, whereby the first I'd know about it would be if I came off my bike at 100+kph and both the hat and my head split wide open. They considered this graphic little vision, nodded sagely, chewed their lips in contemplation for a few seconds, then said they still didn't like it. So, I argued the toss and when that didn't sway them either, I let myself get a little agitated, and then, right out of the blue, with no warning to anyone, I hit them straight in the face (so to speak) with The Look - the one that even the toughened, badass Macster lives in quaking fear of. Guess what, folks? Yep! The sea parted. The Delta people whimpered for a few seconds then stopped ranting at me, stepped aside, and let me on the plane with the helmet. RESULT. A woman's gotta do what a woman's gotta do. I wasn't gonna have a seven hundred dollar crash hat thrown into the hold to bounce around for thousands of miles like your average happy football. No, no-no-no. I'd rather succumb to that awful temptation to manipulate somebody into giving me some leeway, than risk losing my head. Although, to be fair, some might argue that such event happened a long time ago, and they may well be correct (she said, with a disturbingly insane, vacant grin on her face).

I'm reliably informed that the weather is less than troppo at home, and guess who stoopidly shipped her one and only jacket with the bike, so I'm still deciding whether or not I really wanna go, or whether I should stay here in happy Los Angeles, with the most stressed and unhelpful people on the planet, most of whom drive cars and are actively trying to kill pedestrians at every conceivable opportunity, because aside from the perils of crossing the streets, which thus far has proved far more hazardous than the worst day on the worst road on The Bomb, its warm and sunny, and the hotel has a pool and cute staff, and its close to a good shopping mall with a Macy's, where the shoe sale continues, and with a ton of yummy restaurants less than a block away, and the beach is close, and... ooops... dammit ... small detail of having reached the end of the holiday budget, happening. Ah, well, I miss all 21 legs and 7 tails of the critters at home, anyway, so it looks like I'll be taking off and landing a couple more times yet.

Oh well, better brace meeself for another round in the boxing ring over the helmet, this time with Air New Zealand. Yippee. I'm praying to be checked in by a fellow motorcyclist. What a bonus that would be...

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Max's Musical..



Shoooooes! Glorious Shoooooes!!!

Straps, Frilly and Shiny!

While I'm in the Moooood...

Heels, Chunky and Tiny!

Bright Colours and Patterns too,

Bows, Buckles and Beads,

They're Shooooes! Glorious Shooooes!

Fabulous Shoooes!!! Won-der-ful Shooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooes!!!!!!


- Please, Sir, Can I Have Some More?...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Message to Kerry

Love ya, baby!

The Breakfast Club

Here's the hardy contingent of the reunion club, minus some bods very noticeable by their absence, like Canuck, who came for a while but wasn't able to stay (sobs), and Sue, and The Caddman, who couldn't get here for the party at all (wails, gnashings of teeth), and ToFeather, who.... ??????? You guys were all VERY missed! This photie was taken this morning, outside Rosie's Cafe in Tamworth, where we dragged our tired little butts (nothing all to to do with being hung-over from that cool party over at Brian and Beth's place last night!!!) out for brekkie. After we had the platefuls of eggs and the bottomless coffee, we all set off to ride the breathtaking Kankamagus Highway,
an incredible stretch of road through the White Mountains that provides stunning scenery whichever direction you look in. Some of us have done this road before, in the rain, but today the sun was shining, and there were a lot of other bikers up there, doing the same run. After a happy couple of hours up there, Mac and I escorted Candy and Eric and Cap'n to their various highway turn-offs to head for their long rides home. Waving them off in their separate directions was sad, but I know I'll see those guys again, and it has been a really great weekend, a happy party, and a lovely chance to see one another again and reaffirm some of the friendships that have made this whole adventure so special for me. I'm chuffed to bits that you guys were all prepared to ride as far as you did, for so many hours, just to spend a bit more time with me!!!! So was the Guy in the Sky, who turned on a fabulous electrical storm of gargantuan proportions last night before we went out (we all stood out in the teepee, wondering whether we could make it to the house without getting struck by lightning!).
Eric, thank you so much for your incredible gift! This charming man hand sewed a beautiful little fringed Indian pouch bag for me, containing an authentic Indian stone arrow head he'd found. Not many people get given something that unique and special. I will treasure it.
You fanstastic people all ride home with a healthy dose of Mac-magic in your pockets from the woods of New Hampshire, and a big hug each from me.

Friday, August 24, 2007

CUTE, or WHAT???

Just exactly how gorgeous is this wee chap? The woods around Mac's place are littered with wildlife of various kinds, from mountain lions, bears, moose, deer and 'coons right through to the little guys like woodchucks, snakes and red squirrels, that randomly wander around here like they own the place. While out with one of Mac's tins of transmission fluid, slaughtering the hoardes of Japanese beetles that are trying to snaffle all the garden crops, I heard a rustling in the trees just ten feet from where I was standing. As I froze (which you tend to do out here!), to see what it could be, a little red squirrel hopped out from the undergrowth, jumped up on a log and just stared at me. I stood there motionless, admiring him, and he jumped off, grabbed a berry, jumped back up and ate it in little nibbly bites, right there in front of me. He did this three times, all the while me standing there like a comical statue, beetle jar in one hand, trying not to even BLINK, in case it scared him away. He was really very beautiful, just sitting there in the sunshine, having his snack, all the while keeping one huge, liquid eye on whether I was going to move, and poised to bolt if I did. Eventually, cramp forced me to, and he scampered off back into the forest.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Declaration of Independence...

ALL of the celebratory qualities that combine to make me the "extraordinary person" people keep describing me as, I received as gifts from my parents. The joyful passion for all things shoe-related, the love of bright colours and animals, and the desire to keep going out there to examine the world, are all sunbeams from my Mother (R.I.P.). The gun-fun, the fine line I walk between bravery and madness, the imagination to make anything I want happen, and the determination and energy to put as much of it as I can in place, and the ability to laugh at illogical stupidity when I recognise it (even within myself) all come as moondrops from my Dad. The motorcycling and the adventurous spirit that go hand in hand with it are lightning bolts from them both (biker in the womb, Mum urging Dad to "go faster" - what chance did I have?).

However, the bloody-minded insistence on doing things my own (admittedly sometimes illogical and stupid) way, and the huge fault of a very real inability to empathise with or have much respect for all the easy-road couch potatoes and "gunners" I meet in life (i.e. people who spend all their energy moaning about how crap their lives are, and blaming other people, and TALKING about stuff they wanna do or change but never actually doing it)? Well, those qualities are mine alone to own up to, and I do. I make no apology for it either because, as the intelligent among you already know, just about anyone can do any of the things I've done. I'm not, in all truth, that extraordinary. I've just made choices that pretty much anyone else can make, and some do, and some don't. The fact is, anyone can make the decision to at least TRY to find a way to make whatever it is they want for themselves happen. Anyone can be giving of themselves in some way to someone else, knowingly or otherwise. Anyone can make a conscious decision to get off the sofa and dance through life, instead of watching it all through a window or - worse - a TV screen, and anyone can choose to spread happiness around as they dance, or even spread it inadvertently, and touch someone else's life in a positive way with their own moondrops and sunbeams and lightning bolts, as they spin by. We all have those gifts, in various forms. Its up to us , whether we use or ignore them.

I have always said, the worse thing imaginable for me, personally, would be to be facing the end of my life, thinking "I wish I'd done .............................." . I'd rather be there saying "I'm so glad I did that thing I wanted to do" or at the very least, "At least I TRIED to make it happen" .

So whatever your dreams are, blog-watchers, just try to make them happen. Get help if you have to, preferably from people who care enough about you not to attach any kind of price or complaint to it, and GO FOR IT. Some of the things I've done in this life already have had a HUGE amount of planning, organising, re-arranging and all that stuff attached to making them work, and I've needed a lot of help at times. That's ok. If this trip has taught me one thing, its that nothing really worthwhile and rewarding is achievable in isolation. People are an important part of everything that works, and I've met so many good people, as I've gone along, that it really does bring a lump to the throat to remember their extraordinary, random acts of kindness and positive responses to requests for assistance. I want to say thank you, again, to all the friends I've made in the USA on this particular adventure, who have given me practical and emotional help at times when I really needed it. Some of the strangers I met for brief moments along the way were more kind to me than some of my so-called friends have ever been, and they don't know about this blog, so they will never know the level of my gratitude for the bright beacons of light they were to me when I found myself in dark tunnels, and the level of positive difference their contributions made. The people who drove me 20 miles to get my oil bung and get me back to my bike, the gun-toting, patched biker at the gas station who loaned me his phone to make a critical call when mine wouldn't work, the woman who gave me gasoline and water and refused payment, the office receptionist who stood up within two seconds of my asking her if I could access her internet, when I couldn't find a computer and needed to transfer funds immediately online to a bank account I could access, to pay for my hire car in LA. The list goes on and on, and it all comes back to the same thing. The importance and significance of individual people. I make a conscious choice to let people in. I get a little burned sometimes, of course, because not everyone is kind, or interested, and there are people out there who have described themselves as friends to me, but who have ultimately u-turned and attacked me, directly or indirectly, in their own small, petty ways, for reasons that say more about themselves than they do about me and my choices, but I don't let it colour my perceptions. I still believe in the inherent goodness of the human race, and this trip has re-inforced that one-hundredfold, and I am a better person for it. To all of you who have affirmed my place in your hearts... I haven't enhanced your lives by accident! The reason I'm there in your hearts is because you trusted me to give you a place in mine. We're all just mirrors reflecting back what we get, give, and get again. Its bloody fantastic, if we all do it right.

Power to the next big dream, people... yours, and mine...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

...Of Guns and Shoes, and Bikes and Money

Personally, I find all four to be rather essential.  I know exactly which gun Mac wants, and he knows exactly which gun I want, and if we can find our way back to THAT FABULOUS PLACE CANUCK TOOK US TO, we'll try to work out who gets what, when I get there.  
In New Hampshire, unless you can get to a mall, a decent department store or a TJ Maxx, (which Mac just chucks his toys out of his cot, has a full-blown tanty and point-blank refuses to do, even for me, even in the face of The Look, and even in the face of threats of point-blank something else) there isn't one decent pair of shoes to be had in the whole State.  Trust me, I've been there before, looked to the point of exhaustion, ranted with frustration and disappointment, and, with overwhelming, trembling emotion, turned to the next best thing... the gunshops, which I have to say are extraordinary in number and "range"... ha ha ha.  And Bike Shops, too.  I'll be happy in the woods for a week.  Mac, I'm not bringing the girlies.  They just didn't like the sound of you.  Thought you were a madman, rather than a Macman.  Sorry.  I know how gutted you must be.
So people, its not shoes y'all have to worry about me spending money on anymore, hehehe..........  
Any chance of someone getting out to the airport with bail money?
Kidding...
Maybe...

Monday, August 20, 2007

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN...



Just look at those palm trees a-swayin... Having dipped my tootsies in the Pacific Blue, and tasted the salt water, I've decided that its time to relax. Most of the shoes have all been bought (Macy's - GOD, what a sale!!!), and apart from one handbag that I'm still eyeing up, I'm all done, and waiting to go back to New Hampster and bake key lime pies, and sit in the sun, and have lots of puppykisses from the extremely beautiful Evie and Lucy, and harass Mac for a week. A couple of days ago I met up with two great women: Izabel from Germany and Trish from Perth. Yesterday we all went to Venice Beach together and had a blast.





We did stupid stuff, trying on mad vintage clothes and horrible hats,







and aside from doing the obligatory tourist t-shirt buying thing, and having lunch in a deli right by the beach, we tried (in vain) to find a pair of killer heels for Trish who has child's size feet. I lost the bet (50c) that we'd find some for her.


I forgot to pay you, Trish darlin, and that only means one thing - ya hafta come get it in Nelson New Zealand!!!! (No problem, I can hear her calling, from somewhere down the track). Trish, I know you will see this sometime soon. It was a complete joy to meet you, and spend time with you, and I wish you lots of happiness on your spiritual journey. I wanted to put you in my pocket and take you home, but I know you have far more exciting things planned, so I didn't kidnap you, and I really deserve some credit for my extraordinary ability to control that impulse. We're on for Perth, baby. Say when.


The heat in California is dry and very pleasant. Its a good place to be, to hang out, watch some incredible bikes chug by, and I'm now on my way to have another vanilla malt in Johnny Rockets Cafe. The last one I had was for me. Sort of a pilgrimage. The one I have in five minutes is gonna be especially for Kerry. Cheers, hon.! Slurp slurp.

Friday, August 17, 2007

THE CALIFORNIA CADDMAN

Fresno, California is where The Caddman hangs out, with his lovely wife, his lovely dogs, his lovely cats, a random assortment of fish and cars, and a very nice bike. I spent a couple of nights with that little troop, and it was a happy, friendly, restful and restorative time. Mac and Gwyn have stayed there in the past, and they say the same thing - its a pretty nice place to be. We left there this morning and headed for Los Angeles, where this particular adventure for me and The Bomb together now ends. After many days of serious thought, I have made a tactical decision, based on a combination of issues that really amounted to being concerned about my safety and Cherry Bomb's, given the remoteness of the areas I was thinking of heading into, with no company, no mobile phone coverage to even access emergency services, the relentless heat, general fatigue from the emotional burden of all of those things combined, and suspected electrical problems with the bike.
But I am ecstatically happy with what I've achieved on this ride, the challenges I have faced and overcome and been shaped by, and the friendships I have made which I hope will continue for the rest of my life. It has been a truly fantastic experience, even in the rough patches I hit along the way. Something great and shiny and positive came out of every experience, ESPECIALLY the challenging ones, and I am better and happier for it. I've got to where I needed to get to, in my mind, in my heart, and in geography. The truth is, even if I took two years, or even five, I still wouldn't see everything this fantastic country has to offer, and I've had to make many compromises en route, and not see a lot of what I wanted to, because of the time constraints. I still have a list, and what is on it will wait for next year, when I can come back with company, in a cooler climate, perhaps in the fall, when the colours will be picture-postcard spectacular, hire a Harley, and see some more!
I've had an absolute BLAST!!!!!!!!! Despite some hairy moments, every day has made me smile, I've been showered with gifts, both real and intrinsic, and I wouldn't swap or change this adventure for the world. It has been awesome.
And its not over yet!!! Cherry is safely with a DECENT shipper, and I am in Santa Monica, spending time at the beach and generally enjoying the sunshine for a few days before jumping a plane back to Mac's for a while before coming home at about the same time as originally planned. A number of happy little souls will be riding to Macs for a reunion party on 25th August, from various places around the USA, so we can have a final fling together before they all wave me off, into the sunrise and onto the next adventure.
I just can't tell you all how happy I am. I'm really, really overjoyed at what I've done. Part of me still can't believe I've really done it. Cherry Bomb did me very proud. She's a real little star and I love her to bits, and we make a good team. I kissed her goodbye today, and I told her I'll see her in Dunedin, in a month or so.
Next big ride will be to the Burt Munro Challenge, Invercargill, November this year. Any kiwi blog-watchers willing to join that one?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Rattlesnake Boogie

The temperature in the Mojave (Mohave) desert reaches in excess of 110 degrees farenheit in the heat of the average summer day. It was a hot trip thru here, and as you can see, its an uncompromising wilderness of epic proportions. In the few areas where water can be found or accessed, towns and cities like Las Vegas, Flagstaff and Kingman have sprung up, literally out of desert wasteland. From the air it must look strange, especially at night, random pockets of habitation surrounded by vast expanses of rock and sand. Aside from those valiant places where people live with relentless heat, alongside scorpions and rattlesnakes, its literally hundreds miles of desolate wasteland. Its boredom personified, that trip, and after several hours it starts to test concentration. On my way thru I had to skirt around a 40-ton 18-wheeler that had somehow overturned and skidded on its side along the road. I didn't see it happen, but I got there just afterwards, just as the police were setting up the road block, and before the traffic started to bank up. It didn't look too bad, as accidents go, and no other vehicles were involved that I could see. An hour down the road, though, I saw one on the other side of the freeway, same situation, only it was a lot more of a mess. The rig had managed to get itself turned thru 180 degress and was on its side, a mangled wreck, facing back the way it came, and there were other cars stopped around it. The police were there too, waving people on our side of the freeway along, and an ambulance was there, and the traffic going east was banked up for twenty miles behind it all. Nasty. I've prayed, every day, along this trip, that I wouldn't have to even SEE anything like that, much less be involved in it. When those big rigs go out of control, it can happen in the blink of an eye, and they don't tend to take many prisoners. On a more optimistic note once I got to the other side of the desert, reaching the mountains that separate it from the rest of the civilized world, it happily got noticeably cooler!

Me and the Route 1 Mail Lady!




Sue has emailed me some photos, and I thought I'd post a couple of them, especially the one of us both together, because she is one seriously coooooool biker-gal, and she deserves her rightful place on dis here blog. Check out the Thunderbike T-shirt! Wonder where she got it...
Love ya, baby!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

ARIZONA

Hello from Arizona. Cherry and I spent the night in Flagstaff at the noisy but cheerful Howard Johnson motel, right beside a railroad track with the noisiest freight train horns in God's creation, at all hours of the night and morning, (the motels sells earplugs at the check-in desk - you have to laugh!) but with the compensatory bonus of a "beer barn" right next door!, me and Cherry felt we could overlook the racket. This photo of me and Carlos The FireFighter from Florida, a biker on his way home from Sturgis (via Arizona... go figure...) who pulled into the same motel just minutes after I did, was taken in that very beer barn about half an hour after the fact. Carlos was riding with his friend Al, who declined to be sociable, owing to legitimate exhaustion, but Carlos and I had no such prudent sensibilities. As it was only 9pm, as knackered as we both were, we felt it would just be too rude not to have a couple of beers, really just as a justifiable anaesthetic against the traffic and the trains. Carlos was a pretty cool guy. He'd done a lot of miles yesterday too, and we decided we both needed alcoholic beverage refreshment. Its BLOODY hot here. REAL hot. "Hotter 'n Hades", as someone said last night. Over the last few days I've been drinking several litres of water each day, to replace what the sun and wind take out of my body. The hot wind, in particular, is a hazard because its hard to know how much moisture your body is leeching out when the wind dries you before you even know you've broken into a sweat. Motorcycling creates its own wind, of course, in addition to that around you in the air across the desert plains, and it can funnel through in peculiar weather patterns shaped by the landscape at the plains' edges, bringing dry dust with it. Dehydration is a serious hazard under these conditions, and its really critical to replenish the moisture the body loses that it really needs to function efficiently. Water alone doesn't replace the electrolytes, sodium, and other critical minerals you lose through sweat. I'm having at least three high-energy drinks each day too, in addition to the water, so my mineral content doesn't suffer. I've also been wearing a cotton bandana under my helmet, and have been soaking it in cold water at each stop and putting it on dripping wet, to keep my head cool, but within ten or fifteen minutes back on the road, its dry again. Its over a hundred degrees farenheit out here in the desert. The whole country seems to be in the grip of a heatwave, actually, that sees some places, like Atlanta and southern Texas, with extreme heat warnings advising people not to go out, except to check on vulnerable people in their area. Apparently these conditions are not unusual for this time of year, but its hard work at times. Between the baking heat and the thunderstorms, it makes for interesting travelling, especially through the plains across the desert where you can actually see the storms and where they are located...
They show up on the horizon as narrow black vertical streams pouring down from dark clouds, with lightning all around them. Its very surreal to watch, and it kind of reminds me of when I lived in Queenstown in the South Island. My apartment overlooked Lake Wakatipu, and I could stand at the panoramic window, fascinated, watching the bad weather slowly rolling in from behind Mount Nicholas and Walter Peak, and up across the lake to close in on the whole town.
On one stretch of the freeway heading west, I looked around me and saw four separate storms, in different locations, all miles away in the distance. They seemed to be pretty intense, with a lot of forked lightning all around the streams of water. It was an awesome thing to look at!!! Not so great to get caught in, though, even though its usually a short-lived experience. You can see them sweeping along in their given direction, and when they come towards you, always a lot wider and faster than you thought they were when you saw them farther away, there's absolutely nothing you can do except keep moving, and think about how nice it feels to be cool for the brief few minutes they hit and drench you for, before they move on and you get cooked again. You don't stay wet for long enough, before the desert heat engulfs you again, with its hot, dusty wind, and intense heat rising up out of the asphalt. Ah well, at this time of year its all part of the adventure. Its only a hazard if you choose to see it that way. I prefer to think of it as an interesting experience I don't get many opportunities to have. Not that I'd queue up to continue having them, but it certainly is an unusual thing to be caught up in.

Monday, August 13, 2007

RANTINGS...

I've spent the day in the delightful but expensive tourist trap of Durango, just hanging out, enjoying the stunning scenery in this part of the world, and one of the things I did was contact AT&T - the useless phone company I have hooked up with for "nationwide mobile coverage". I wanted to complain about the idiot in San Francisco who assured me I'd have coverage nationwide, who basically lied. The AT&T Manager I spoke to was unable to tell me why his staff are so ill-informed, why his "internationally recognised"company doesn't have cell-phone towers in most of the states I've ridden through, or what he could do to assist me or compensate me, other than to give me a $20 credit top-up on a phone I can't even use. He also told me I wouldn't be likely to get any AT&T mobile coverage until I was fairly well south on the west coast. Yeeha. This puts me in the continued position of feeling quite vulnerable on the road, in the vast areas of this country where there's lots of stunning scenery but few people, and no coverage, even to get hold of emergency services if necessary. That, to date, has been (aside from bloody frustrating) at times downright scary. The phone I was conned into purchasing in Arkansas when the OTHER AT&T moron told me it was my normal (kiwi) phone that was at fault, won't recognise another provider's sim card, so basically that was a waste of money (about US$110 including phone credit I paid for that is as useless as the phone that's meant to carry it), and the only way to feel safe while travelling through these wilderness areas is to go buy another phone hooked into another provider, pay for another sim card, and just hope that THAT company isn't lying as well, and, like;;; I'm made of money??? Erm... no...
AT&T, God bless their little cotton socks, also say they cannot put collect calls through to New Zealand. New Zealand have, apparently, blocked AT&T's access. I guess Telecom NZ know a thing or two. Eeee, by gum, ya live and learn...

SO DON'T TOUCH THESE PEOPLE WITH A FORTY FOOT BARGEPOLE!!!!!!!!!
THEY ARE INEFFICIENT, INCOMPETENT, AND TOTALLY BLOODY USELESS. BLOG-WATHCERS OUTSIDE OF THE USA, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. IF ANY OF YOU EVER FEEL BRAVE ENOUGH TO TACKLE AN EXTENDED HOLIDAY OVER HERE IN THE LAND WHERE NOTHING IS SIMPLE, AND YOU GO WITH AT&T,
YOU DESERVE EVERYTHING YOU GET!!!

And I'm not finished there...

I'm feeling a bit homesick, actually. That surprises me, really, as I was looking forward to getting away for a bit. Feeling lonesome has took me all unawares-like! But I miss my house, I even miss that goofy Kerry-person, I miss my mad-faced Dad, certain lovely friends who keep me sane and giggling a lot (hi Flipsy, R-man, Arnie, Chelle, Liz), I REALLY miss the dog, and I even miss the grumpy Coz-cat, and that murdering zebra finch that pretty much ate her boyfriend before our very eyes, before I left home back at the start of July. Maybe I've already been away for long enough...

hmmm... pondering, pondering, pondering the options.

Oh yeah... and poor Cherry Bomb wouldn't start this morning. Dead battery. No idea why. And, guess what? The bike shop is closed for the day! I'm getting a bit fed up, to put it more politely than I normally would. For the benefit of those with sensibilities that might be wobbled if I REALLY let fly, I'm being quite restrained...

Normal life beckons from the shadows of my consciousness. What to do... what to do...

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Full Steam Ahead...




Its fifteen years since I did a roadtrip thru the USA that took me to Silverton, Colorado. At the time, while watching a mock gunfight in the old Main Street, with a black-smoking, cinder-belching, hulking steam locomotive as a backdrop, I promised myself that one day, when I had enough time, I'd come back and take that train ride. Today, I did it, and it was worth the wait. The trip was a fantastic experience, riding that great old train through the breathtaking back-country wilderness of the San Juan Mountains. Its 3.5 hours each way, with a 2-hour stop in historic Silverton...


...once a booming 1800's mining town with no less than 300 saloons and houses of ill-repute just in Main Street alone. Nowadays, the bordellos have given way to hotels, restaurant and gift shops selling all sorts of native Indian crafts and jewellery, t-shirts etc., but most of the original buildings remain.



Sadly, the costumed gun-slinging is a thing of the past now (although I'm told they still do it on special occasions, festivals etc) but its still a really great place to visit. And I managed to get a pair of white leather beaded Indian moccasins, exactly like the ones I'd bought fifteen years ago and loved and wore literally to pieces. And, they were 40% off. And, come hell or high water, I'm going to find a place in the saddlebag or frame pack for them!
But that wasn't all, today...
Sometimes, when you don't expect it, life throws you a snapshot - a vision so fleeting you wonder if its real - that you know will stay crystal clear in your memory forever. For me, today, it was the pure magic of seeing my favourite wild animal on his own turf. As we chugged along, I looked up to the sheer wall of a canyon and there, on a rocky outcrop, was a HUGE grizzly bear. He was massive, shaggy and gorgeous. His stance was aggressive - he sat with his full weight on his widened front legs, mouth wide open, bawling his outrage at the train shattering his peace. I had no more than ten seconds - not enough time to even get the camera ready - to look at him. He was just a couple of hundred feet from the train and he was, without question, the most magnificent, incredible animal I have ever seen. I have absolutely no idea what, if anything, could EVER top that, for me.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Her Name is Rio and She's Very, VERY Grande!

I'm in Colorado. Got here about two hours ago to Durango, having ridden through the most stunning scenery I have ever seen in my entiere life, and I aint kidding! I've seen a lot of places over the decades, a lot of countries, and a lot of seriously cool stuff, but NOTHING beats what I saw today. From the Rio Grande Gorge leaving New Mexico...

...to the Rio Grande and San Juan National Forests, through Route 160 west...
... there are just not enough words to describe how beautifully, how unbelievably, the hand of nature has carved this part of the world. No photo, no postcard and no jigsaw puzzle box picture does it justice. As I made my way through that area, up and then down through winding steep roads, vista upon vista of the most incredible scenery imaginable just kept on unfolding in front of me. I held my breath to take it all in. By the roadside, about half way through, a deer stood, impassively staring at the cars as they went by. The Bomb's engine caused her to run for the trees, but before she did, I was treate to a prancing little dance from her, while shde decided which way to run, and that put a smile on my face ten miles wide. About a mile further up, there was a dead deer in the road. Sad, but a good reminder of the need to be careful and vigilant through that area. The Bomb had a wee splutter and a couple of farts along the way. I think the altitude caused her a few glitches, but it was nothing serious. It was pretty chilly up there, and after the heat of the desert, it felt kinda weird to feel cold for a while! I'd forgotten what that was like...
Once we'd made the descent into Durango it was hot again, and there was no more backfiring.
Lots of bikers on their way back from Sturgis passed me, in both directions, and all waved hello. I pulled into Durango, went to the Suzuki shop to get some oil to carry on board, as the girl does use some, and then I found a motel, where I ran into Jim and Aaron, a father and son team on their way home from Sturgis. They said something about dinner later. Sounds good. I find I'm not interested in food until the evenings. I think its the heat.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Message for ToFeather

Hey sweets, gonna call you, and will take up your invitation to call you collect. I just need to figure out how to contact the operator to do it. I'm not what you'd call a stupid person but the telecommunications systems here in the USA are not what I would describe as user-friendly. The number one toll provider - AT&T (who I hate with a gnashing vengeance now - almost as much as the Shipping Agents From Hell in New Zealand) tell me that they are not allowed to make collect calls to New Zealand. They also won't tell me who will. I'll be in touch. I made the decision not to try and get to Sturgis, by the way. I decided it was too far to go, thru 1200miles of boring windy and potentially dangerous roads all by myself, just to say I'd been, and to have to do a u-turn almost as many miles back south to see what I wanted to see. It made no sense.

Taos, New Mexico

I arrived in Taos (yet another AT&T blackspot - yawn) about 3 hours ago, took Cherry Bomb to a local bike shop for a check over and a power wash. She was looking pretty ropey after the Oil Incident, and subsequent hot days in dusty desert wind. They wouldn't touch her initially because they're Yamaha people and "don't do Suzuki" but after I explained where I was from and what I needed, they literally sprang to attention and couldn't have been more helpful. In particular, Dave D (who I secretly believe is The Most Gorgeous Man In America - believe it girls, he is TOTALLY HOT), who had been to EnZed himself, went the extra mile checking my girl over. They were all very impressed that I've done three thousand seven hundred miles already (6000km) with still a ways to go.
My motel is kinda cool. Its like a hacienda type structure, with a rampantly noisy air conditioning unit, but the staff are lovely, they put me right at the back, away from sight of the road, and apologised profusely for not being able to put me on the ground floor. After checking in and unpacking the bike, I went in search of a cyber cafe, and found a really nice one, tucked away inside a walled shady courtyard behind a supermarket, and they do really good iced coffee there. Its not the easist place to spot, but a woman in the town gave me good directions, after I called into an IT store to ask if they knew where I could go. Taos is a nice town. I came here once before, many years ago, and spent a very pleasant afternoon in the Old Town, which is very picturesque and combines architecture that's traditionally Mexican and Native American. Its quite touristy, but not in the kind of in-ya-face way you'd expect. A lot of the stores sell really good quality arts and crafts made by the Indian people, many of whom now live on reservations. I've already driven alongside a couple or reservations, and I have to say they look like pretty soulless places. Taos is set against a backdrop of stunning mountains, and its really pretty here. I feel safe in this place. The Bomb is safe too, and we've had a really good day together. The scenery in from Santa Rosa, thru Las Vegas NM, thru the Mora Valley into Taos was really spectacular, as well. I went through a mountain pass area where there's a ski lodge, which apparently gets pretty busy in winter. Not much wildlife seen around today. Chipmunks are very cool little critters, though. They're everywhere there's forest, and they always make me smile.

MESSAGERS

Just a quick thanks to those of you kiwi blog-watchers who have left voicemail messages for me. It was really great to hear your voices, especially you, Arnie Farmer! That's a voice that always makes me smile. I'm doing great but its always nice to hear familiar voices now and then, or get blog comments from people, otherwise I just have to wonder who's watching the Intrepid Adventure. Russell, honey, I have the BEST!!!!! Harley T-shirt for you! I got it in Lynchburg, home of Jack Daniels whisky, and its got all sorts of mad stuff written all over it, and it survived the Great Fire of Bomb, because, thank God, it wasn't in there...
Keep the messages coming, Team. Love y'all...

EVERYTHING'S BIGGER IN TEXAS!!!



I left Oklahoma City around 7am in the morning, anticipating a hot ride west. I got a couple of hours under my belt before the heat came up off the freeway and cooked us both, as usual. The ride was straightforward, uneventful and hot. On Momma Hen's insistence, I made the stop in Amarillo Texas on my way thru to New Mexico at this place they call The Big Texan. She told me I couldn't miss it, and she was right about that! Poor little Bomb looks dwarfed next to the bull in the top picture here. The place is painted a very in-ya-face bright yellow and blue, and its massive. You walk in the door and the first thing you find is that you're in the gift shop, which you have to pass alongside to get to the restaurant. Once in there, you can order a 72oz steak with all the trimmings and if you can eat it within an hour, you get it for free. I didn't even CONSIDER that, but I did treat myself to a lovely vanilla malt and a tall iced water. The interior of this place is like a big square ballroom, with railings all around the top floor area that skirts the sides, and the walls are filled with the heads of various deer, elk, ibix etc. Its a pretty cool place to hang out for a while and enjoy the air conditioning and the decor. I wasn't in a hurry to leave, and go back outside into the baking heat. I met a biker in there who recommended Tucumcari as a place to stop for the night, and as it was only another couple of hours or so away, I made for there, just really wanting to put that part of the desert behind me. I was relieved to get there, as I rode for a hundred straight miles, but what felt like 200, through a God-forsaken wilderness that stretched out as far as the eye could see in every direction, with nothing to punctuate it. No houses, no gas stations, just endless, boring, unrelieved desert. If it hadn't been Interstate 40 with plenty of traffic, I'd have been really concerned about my ability to get help if I broke down. As it was, the Bomb went onto reserve and I coughed into the first gas station over the border, just in the nick of time. So did a lot of other people, many of whom, like me, didn't realise it was a hundred miles between gas stations on that stretch of the freeway (often there's a sign to tell you that, but erm, not this time...), and that much distance is pretty much all my peanut tank will get me, including reserve. I joined the queue of ranting motorsists who were all in a state of unparallelled shock at how expensive the gasoline was in that place, and all pretty hacked off about being held to ransom. I guess with a captive market like that, they can charge what they like. Its just the fact that they were so unashamedly greedy with it that annoyed us all. Having to pay a little over the odds is expected, but not 35c a gallon more! I gassed up, tipped a bottle of cold water down my throat, soaked my bandana in water and put it back on my head, and pressed on for Tucumcari.
When I got there, late afternoon, I found the place to be a total AT&T Blackspot (God, that phone company is USELESS!!!!!!!) confirmed by the manager of the motel I eventually checked into after driving the length of the one-street town to see what was on offer. He was Mexican, and his English wasn't great, but he gave me a good room at a cheap rate (thirty bucks and worth every cent) and let me use his internet to send a couple of urgent emails. I parked up the Bomb, got unloaded and went for a leg-stretch wander back into the town to find food and an ATM. It felt good to walk. The payphone outside the local supermarket worked, so I called Mac to tell him where I was and get him to update the blog for me. Tucumcari doesn't have a cyber cafe, in fact it doesn't really have much of anything, but it was an interesting place to hang out for a night anyway. Just as I got to that payphone in the town, a tooth-jarring crack of thunder exploded in the air above me, and lightning split the sky BIGTIME, so I made a couple of calls, grabbed a shopping basket and did a record-breaking lap around the supermarket, and scurried back to the motel where I holed up with a couple of beers and a bag of shredded turkey and watched The War of the Worlds on HBO. It wasn't at all cold, but the storm was hard and heavy, so I snuggled down in bed to watch telly. There was a nice little pool at the motel, and I had been tempted to have a swim, until the storm swept on through, taking that idea right along with it. Tucumcari is on the old Route 66, and you can see by looking at it all that it was really quite special in its heyday. Unfortunately, most of the little stores, garages, soda houses etc are all derelict or boarded up now, and its a real shame, because I feel that New Mexico is sitting on a potential tourist opportunity of extraordinary proportions here, if they would only wake up and restore some of that stuff, before its too late. It felt a little sad, to me, and abandoned. Its a real shame to see so much history just falling into decay and literally dying where it stands, particularly for one such as myself, who just loved everything about that whole era in time. In my mind's eye I could picture all the little places open, neon lights flashing, rock and roll music playing from a jukebox in one of the soda houses, happy people spilling out into the streets, and old 50's cars rolling by. All very movie-romantic, I guess, but you could tell that it really had been like that at one time. That's what made me sad. Knowing how busy and thriving that little community had once been made it's current crumbling state all the worse. Still, in spite of that, it was a cool little place to hang for a night. I managed to get Cherry under cover, right under my motel room window, and all was well. Good job I like storms. I've certainly had a few goingon around me on this trip so far. Today was a good day. Long, but good. And if I win the American lottery and end up with six hundred million dollars, I'll buy Tucumcari, ressurect it to its 1950's glory, and turn it into a time warp for rockabillies just like me.








Thursday, August 9, 2007

Willin'

Willin' by Little Feat
I've been warped by the rain, driven by the snowDrunk and dirty, don't you know, and I'm still...willin'.
And I was out on the road, late at night,Seen my pretty Alice, in every headlight...Alice.Dallas Alice.
And I've been from Tucson to Tucumcari,Tahachapi to Tournapaw.I've driven every kind of rig that's ever been made.Driven the backroads so I wouldn't get weighed.
And if you give me...Weed, whites and wine.And you show me a sign.I'll be willin', to be movin'
Kicked by the wind, dropped by the sleet,Had my head stove in, but I'm still on my feet, and I'm still,In a whole lot of trouble.
Smuggled some smokes, some folks from Mexico,Baked by the sun, every time I go to MexicoAnd I'm still...
And I've been from Tucson to Tucumcari,Tahachapi to Tournapaw.I've driven every kind of rig that's ever been made.Driven the backroads so I wouldn't get weighed.
And if you give me...Weed, whites and wine.And you show me a sign.I'll be willin', to be movin'


Well Max called from a pay phone (figures)

She has requested that I tell you all she is fine and in Tucumcari New Mexico. Also she will be having a hard time calling anyone. The call was short because there was a nasty Thunderstom approaching and she needed to get about 1/2 mile back to her room on foot.

She is expecting to not be able to be on line to write here on this blog as well, so you get me translating from Kiwi to Yankee, to what ever it is your dilect happens to be.. LOL

As she needs I will relate what ever she has to say.. Mac

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Dinner Riders



Tonight I met a really nice bunch of Denise's friends who go riding every Wednesday night and stop somewhere for dinner. The weather is so hot and humid here in Oklahoma City right now that nobody was really up for much of a ride, so we just went to a Mexican restaurant and all had a meal together anyway. It always amazes me how interested people are, when they find out I'm from New Zealand, and how many questions they have. I want to take this opportunity to say "thank you" Denise, for your lovely hospitality and your helpfulness, and for introducing me to some good Oklahoma bike-loving locals. Its been a real pleasure staying in your delightfully cool house, and I really hope you get to do that ride in New Zealand next year, so we can meet again on MY little patch of dirt. You're an awesome rider, a real machine head, and my wish for you is that you always stay upright, safe, and happy, and never stop doing what you love to do.

Max signs off, mulling over the chances of making it out the door tomorrow morning with Denise's LOOOOVELY!!!!! pink and black riding jacket...

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

OKLAHOMA!


After leaving Kathy and Red Dog this morning, I made my way west out of Arkansas along Route 412 to Oklahoma City via Springdale (huge, hideous traffic-light zone I thought I'd never get out of) and Tulsa. I arrived in Oklahoma City by 5pm, phoned Denise and waitied for her to come get me, which she did, and she took me out out for dinner to Toby Keith's Bar and Grill, in a huge old converted warehouse in Bricktown, in the downtown area. I was served with the biggest rack of ribs I've ever seen in my life. Afterwards, we went to see the memorial garden dedicated to those affected by the Oklahoma Bombing in 1995, which is something I've wanted to see ever since I heard it had been built. Seeing all the illluminated chairs reflected in the water, one for each of the victims, the statue erected opposite, of Jesus weeping, and the trinkets, messages and photographs hung on the rails outside the garden, left by the grieving friends and relatives of the men, women and children killed in that act of random senselessness, was a very sobering experience that I'll never forget.

Eureka!

A really lovely ride today took us through Arkansas' Ozark Mountain region, which included a pitstop at the old soda house in Calico Rock, and a look at the Wolf House (above). We stopped in the middle of the Ozark National Forest to have lunch in Gastons restaurant which overlooks the beautiful White River. Unusually, the place is full of bicycles, hung from the ceiling (!), and the restaurant is dominated by the stunning panoramic view of the river, from floor to ceiling picture windows, where you can sit and eat and watch people in boats fishing and pottering about on the river, and the loveliest thing of all is the little dishes of treats hung outside the windows for the hummingbirds to come and take. They are delightful little birds to watch as they flit about. The food was good there! If I'm ever in that region again, its a must re-visit!


After lunch we carried on with a lovely afternoon ride, and spent the night in the historic town of Eureka Springs.
We ended up in the Cat House (read- historic whore house!!!) where the beer flowed, the steaks were amazing, the locals were game to party, and a great time was had by all.

The very lovely Kathy, who can charm the birds right out of the trees, had the locals driving us all over town, and after enough beer we even had Red Dog dancing!!! I found it a little sad when it came time to say goodbye to those two lovely people. They had gone out on several limbs for me, and had shown me their Arkansas - a hidden jewel in America's heartland that I had previously known nothing about. They have told me I'll get the chance to do the same for them when they turn up in New Zealand. They have no idea how much I'm looking forward to that.

Monday, August 6, 2007



This is a picture of Kathy and Red Dog, my hosts for the last couple of days. I wanted everyone to see this picture as I think it shows them in their true light - happy and doing what they love best. THANK YOU, guys for the angels that you are and the other angels around you that you shared with me. My life has been enriched by spending time with you and your friends and family, and the hospitality extended to me by all of you has been extraordinary. I look forward to seeing you in New Zealand, and having the opportunity to reciprocate! Don't leave it too long!!!

AT&T

While in San Francisco last month I went to a very nice young man in a little AT&T mall kiosk to ask him about a pay as you go sim card for my mobile phone. AT&T are internationally known, and I figured I was doing the right thing by getting one of their cards. The one he sold me, he assured me, would give me national coverage. Hmmm. Not really... While AT&T merge with Cingular and all kinds of teething problems ensue, coverage is random and unpredictable, and I can't stop my bike on any freeways en route to anywhere to see if I have coverage. I check it at stopping points and since I left the East coast there's usually been no signal. However, as everyone around the world has that number now, and its got about thirty US dollars credit on it, I'm not about to change it with only a month left to run. Those of you trying to contact me by phone will just have to bear with me, please, until such time as I get west enough to get better coverage to respond in any way at all, which I have been assured will happen. All I can say is keep watching the blog for updates, and when I can I will send texts out.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Hot Summer Night!

Hello from Arkansas! This picture was taken about an hour ago while I was in the pool with Kim and Kathy, at a barbecue at Kim and Chad's in Mountain Home, West Arkansas (correction -Central North Arkansas, I'm told). Today has been one of relaxation, cool tubs, carp fishing, barbecues and smiles. Jay, the angel that rescued me last night, has checked over the Bomb and pronounced her fit for the next leg of the journey, and all things loose have been tightened and battened down. Oil has been topped up, filter has been checked, and tomorrow its back on the road with Red Dog and Kathy as escorts as far as Eureka Springs, West Arkansas. I have been given clothes by the lovely Kim and the equally lovely Amy, to replace what got burned in yesterday's fire, and we've driven though some really amazing scenery today, including Norfolk Lake and the dam at its head. What a day! The ankle is rested now, too, and I'm raring to go.

The Tennessee Three...

It was with much relief that I left the state of Tennessee yesterday, after a few days there with plenty of drama. The spill on Cherry earlier in the week when I arrived in the state was the first thing to hit me. I sprained my ankle quite badly, although I never realised it until later in the day, and it really didn't help that it took a full 36 hours to be able to get a bandage on it. The second thing was yesterday, after I'd topped up Cherry's oil, and was too distracted to remember to put the bung back in before I set off. I left it in the driveway of the place I was staying at, and drove ten miles to a gas station to find, of course, oil everywhere, the bike covered and smoking with it, and of course I couldn't ride back to get the bung and couldn't get anyone back at the house I'd left (just ten minutes earlier!!!) to answer the phone. I was pretty much stranded and panicking and, in the end, a Kind Stranger (No.1) and his wife saw what was happening and took me the 20 mile round trip back to get the bung and go back to the gas station.

I got cleaned up, hit the road, then a few hours later, in rolls number three... one of my leather saddlebags caught fire and ended up totalled at the side of the freeway, along with its contents, which luckily didn't amount to more than a few items of clothing etc. The saddlebag hadn't been sitting on the exhaust but a few inches above it, and as I'd come very many miles already with no drama on that score, it never occurred to me that any oil would have sprayed up onto the underside of it, after the episode with the bung. It did, of course, and acted as a heating agent, as oil tends to do. The saddlebag would have got progressively hotter until the contents ignited, which was inevitable, as some of it was synthetic flamable fabric. A car overtook me with a woman gesticulating wildly at me, but they didn't stop. They simply carried on and left me to it, so I pulled over onto the hard shoulder and noticed the bag smouldering away with flames licking out of the bottom of the bag. After a few seconds where I felt suspended in a stunned state of disbelief, I acted quickly to take off the frame pack that sat on top of the saddle bags' interlacing straps, and unlaced the bags, whipped off the burning one, and laid it on the side of the road to smoulder away from the bike and the rest of my gear. That was a task straightforward enough, and I felt a lot better after I'd made sure the fire couldn't spread. The big problem was trying to get ANYONE to stop and help me! I'd used up all the water I 'd started out with, to keep me hydrated as I was riding. I tried to get at least two dozen cars to stop, but nobody would, even though they could all clearly see what was happening. I thought if someone stopped quickly with some water, I could maybe save some of what was in the bag. It felt like a nightmare, trying to get anyone to stop. I was just beyond a slip-road too, and cars were slowing right down to pull off, but still none of them came to help. Just as I was shrugging my shoulders, and resigning myself to having to write off the entire contents of the bag and figure out how to repack everything to continue, Kind Stranger number two did an illegal u-turn on the freeway and pulled up behind me. He leapt out of his truck and used lemonade to put out the fire. I was game enough to open the bag at that point, and I managed to rescue just a couple of things, but we came to the conclusion that the bag itself and most of what was inside it was toast (so to speak!). He helped me to repack my remaining stuff safely back onto the bike, made sure I was ok, and waited until I set off before he did another illegal u-turn to resume his own journey. He was from Arkansas. Not Tennessee. Nobody from Tennessee would stop, which I found incredible, but he was from Arkansas, and he did, and he wasn't surprised that nobody else did. He told me that there's a lot of crime in the area where I'd stopped, and people are just too suspicious of others to want to help them. I was disgusted about that, and incredibly grateful to him for stopping and helping in the most practical ways possible. I pulled away and left the saddlebag on the freeway grass verge, with the contents wrecked beyond saving, rode with relief out of what had started to feel like a pretty hostile Tennessee, across the border into Missouri. I was philosophical about the loss, apart from mourning the demise of my beloved black and gold paisley velvet and lace dress that scrunches into a tight ball and always comes out of a bag looking shiny and gleaming and fabulous. Not this time, it didn't. It was a tangled, melted lump of smoking, holey, blackened fabric. Its an irreplaceable item, and I was totally gutted. But, mindful of the fact that it could all have been horribly, hideously worse, I just resolved to keep my eye out for something similar in the future, and put the whole experience behind me. I did actually laugh, when I remembered dragging out several pairs of lacy undies in pretty much the the same condition.

And did things get better? Not immediately, no. Gas stations off the freeway in that part of Missouri are few and far between. I picked up a signpost to a gas station, left the freeway to look for it, and when I found it, several precious reserve-tank miles away from anywhere else I could get help, it was derelict and boarded up. U-turn, on the last thimble-full of fuel, to cough up to a farmhouse, where the third Kind Stranger of the day gave me water and gas. I'd called in there to ask directions, because I was pretty disoriented at that point, with no clue where the nearest gas station could possibly be that I could make it to, and she refused to take any money. Instead, she plonked me into a knackered old golf cart and drove me around the back of the farmhouse to the gasoline tank, filled a container, and drove me back down the long driveway back to my bike, with two bottles of water as well.

Luckily, this was one rare place where I could get mobile phone coverage, so I called Red Dog and Kathy to let them know what had been happening. I made it to their place in Arkansas after dark, having been met 100 miles down the road by Jay, Red Dog's mate on his beauuuutiful bright yellow beamer and escorted back. As I rolled up the driveway, splattered with bugs and with wobbly knees after negotiating their gravel driveway in the dark (me and gravel aren't best buddies, even in daylight!), and quite traumatized by a long day of thoroughly surreal experiences, a bunch of people there in the driveway were leaping up and down, waving, cheering and holding out their arms to me. I got off the bike to huge hugs, an ice cold beer, a garage area for Cherry and a hot bowl of spaghetti - the first thing I'd eaten all day. That welcome was extraordinary, and much appreciated. All those beaming faces, with every single person just waiting to hug me, is something I won't forget. I had to pinch myself toconvince myself I'd actually made it! Today is Sunday. I'm doing very little today, apart from letting Jay check the bike over, resting the ankle, and hanging out with these nice people at this lovely house, where Red Dog has been known to stroll out of the den into the carport and shoot a venison dinner without having to go any further. There's a small lake on the property that is stuffed with fish (Kathy is a keen fisherwoman), and there's a cold tub in the garden! During the week they call Dog Days here - the hottest of the year - what a blessing that tub is. I'm headed there right now!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Yeah! I Do Know Jack!!!




The historic little town of Lynchburg, Tennessee, is the original and surprisingly low-key home of Jack Daniels Tennessee whiskey, and it is still made here, in refreshingly understated fashion, from the originally filtered springwater that it started out from - the purest water in the world. Nothing needs to be done to treat it in any way at all. The tour took us all over the plant, nestled into the Lynchburg hillside, where the process - which is surprisingly simply, but long - was explained. The end result is... well... I guess those who are interested already know! It was a fascinating experience, especially the bit about Jack coming to work one morning, being unable to open the safe, kicking it, getting gangerine in his foot, never recovering from it and dying 4 years later from blood poisoning. Ironically, it is said that had he stuck the offending foot in a nearby vat of what starts off as 140 proof whiskey, it would have cured it. He died at 61, unmarried but very much a ladies man, by all accounts - even at just 5'2' tall he was evidently quite a package - having made and sold whiskey since age 13. The distillery was left to languish, decay and rust for 29 years of Prohibition before being ressurected by Jack's visionary nephew (then in his late sixties), to whom Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey owes its survival. Various warehouses and holding facilities in the immediate area hold around 7 million gallons of JD at any one time, in various stages of fermentation. Its all farmed out for bottling now, too, as the plant is not equipped to deal with the volume. All that is bottled on site now are the special reserves, hand bottled, hand labelled, and hand packed. Samples are not available anymore, and its a "dry county" but the Company has been recognised as historically and commercially significant enough to have had special legislation written for them to be able to sell a very small amount at the visitor centre. But, in the nearby town, the little square - charming in its originality - hosts shops bulging at the seams with JD merchandise, including the whiskey itself. Huge thanks go to Avery and Keith for taking me down there, for what will no doubt linger, in my memory, as one of the most fascinating experiences I'm likely to have on this whole trip.

Friday, August 3, 2007

RE-TAYLE FERAPY...


Oh Lord, its hard to be blinkered... when there's shoe sales on, every which way...

Nan's two daughters took me shopping yesterday. They succeeded in LOSING ME!!!!! in a vast shopping mall, for more than an hour and a half, which was an adventure in itself, and made me feel worryingly like the small kid whose mother tells it to STAY WHERE YOU ARE!!!!!!!!!!! AND DON'T PANIC!!!!!!!!! IF YOU GET LOST!!!!!!! BECAUSE I WILL FIND YOU!!!!!!!!!!! and that actually didn't work very well at all, as it turned out, because they were charging around like headless chickens at one end of this mall while I was loitering at the other. However, with a relief that nearly made us all cry, we all found one another in the end, and while looking for them, I did feel quite safe, guided gently by The Hand (y'all know the one...), which only hauled me into a few places in all. Several interesting purchases later (including two pairs of shoes and one pair of boots, she-said-very-quickly-so-that-everyone-would-be-convinced-they'd-misheard-what-she-said) we headed for a pub that served, to my delight, Newky Brown, and we had a swift recharge of batteries before heading home, where I promptly got boomeranged back out again by Nan herself who, having finally been able to offload the grandchildren, took me out to The Huddle House in Shelbyville for coffee so we could talk in peace about some important but all-good stuff.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Tennessee Traumas


Another long day, too long really, and I'm aiming not to repeat being on the road for pretty much twelve straight hours! I made it to Nancee's place just south of Nashville, after riding a long day in heavy traffic on the Interstate 81/40. The circumnavigation around the city of Knoxville was particularly hair-raising, and the freeway was five lanes wide in places there. I was pretty relieved to put that behind me! By the end of the day I was exhausted, reaction times probably at zero, and luckily Nan came out to get me from where I'd pulled off at the Kangaroo gas station north of Murfreesboro, so I could follow here to her house (which I was otherwise unlikely to find through a combination of exhaustion and it going dark, and her living on a back country road). It took her a long time to find me though, and by the time she did I was on the tail end of my very last reserves of energy. Riding behind her pick-up, following her home, I genuinely felt that I was putting myself at serious risk by riding so tired, and I never want to feel like that again. A freak, five-minute downpour had caught me, earlier in the day, too, which led to a bit of a "whoops!". I'd come off the freeway to find shelter and get my rain grear on, and just as I was pulling into a gas station, down we both went, bike and rider, on an oil slick heading into the entrance-way. BOOM! No warning. Never saw THAT one coming!!! I was nearly stopped by that time, so no harm was done, apart from a slightly skewed handlebar and light sprain on my right ankle, but it taught me something about maneouvering in the wet at low speed with a heavy load on. Even after the fact, while I was riding out of there a few minutes later, I felt the slippery surface snatching at the wheels, it was like riding on an ice rink, and it made me wonder how many other bikes had gone down there, and likely would, before the day was out. I just didn't see the oil thru the pouring rain, no way I could have.
It was great to see Nan, and I wasn't at my best, (read - on the verge of exhausted hysteria at the prospect of having to ride any further) but she hugged me anyway and escorted me home, where I collapsed in an uncommunicative heap. I dredged up enough energy to unpack the bike, had a bath and a half hour chat with Nan before I literally lost the ability to function and crawled off to bed. I'm going to be here for a few days, just to recharge, rest the little ankle - which isn't swollen but throbs like an SOB - and give the bike the once-over before continuing on to Arkansas. I've been promised a shopping day with Nan and her daughters. Mental note to injured little self - remain sitting down while trying on shoes!

Virginia



On Monday I had the most joyous ride of my whole life, in three decades of riding. After I left Sue and Terri at Frederick (after a mad dash to replace my wet-weather riding trousers which I'd burned and melted on the exhaust about 6 different times while refilling Cherry's gas tank), I headed south out of Maryland towards the state of Virginia, en route to Tennessee. At one point just inside the Virginia border, I crossed over the Potomac River, which is rather unusual in geological formation and quite spectacular, amd then rode alongside it for a short distance. I then dropped down to enter to Shenandoah National Park and pick up the Skyline Drive, a hundred or so miles of spectacular, winding road, incredibly well maintained, and punctuated at various points along the way with overlooks of the stunning Shenandoah Valley. The Skyline Drive is the perfect name for that road, which really did feel to me like riding towards the sky. It wasn't crowded, and Cherry and I danced our way happily down the length of it in perfect weather. At one point I came across a young doe, just out of infancy, all leggy and beautiful. I saw her in enough time to slow right down and watch her as she sauntered into the road as if she owned it (which she probably thinks she does) and she only got spooked when I slowed right down and the sound of the engine changed. Still, she didn't rush off, even then. She just zig zagged around 60 yards away and stopped to stare at me. She was so gorgeous. Seeing here made my day. The roadsides all the way down the Drive were also littered with dancing butterflies and slow-circling hawks. At the end of that, I pulled into a gas station to get us both a well-earned drink - oil for her and water for me - and we then continued on where the Skyline Drive becomes the Blue Ridge Parkway.


The mountain ranges seemed to go on for many miles, ridge upon ridge, for as far as the eye could see. It was breathtaking. I took that route also, as far as Buena Vista, where I spied a motel with several bikes parked up and decided to call it an early one and relax. It was around 5.30 and I had thoughts of going on to Roanoke but those bikes meant company, and relaxation. So, I made an executive decision, checked in, unpacked my girl, found a liquor store, got some food and sat on the verandah outside my room. I'd not long got settled when a huge rainstorm came in, soaking poor little Cherry completely, and there was no way of sheltering her from it. I actually couldn't bring myself to go inside and leave her out there in the pouring rain all on her own, after we'd had such a spectacular day, so I sat as close to her as I could, under cover, sipping my beer, until the rain stopped. I met four different couples on bikes that were staying there, along with Nick from Kentucky and Don from Florida, who were also travelling solo, and we sat together a while and chatted about the trips we were doing, the reasons why, and our lives and people and pets we love back home. It was a civilized and sociable end to a perfect day.