Viva Las Vegas

US101 Pacific Coast Road - Oregon

[Sally 16.8.16] Apologies up front for this enormous blog. We've been on the go pretty much non stop since we first arrived in the US - and I haven't had much time to do it, so it covers quite a few weeks.

So back in August, we're heading for ProCycle in Springfield, Oregon to do some work on the bikes. Jeff asked them if we could use some of their workshop space so we've arranged to arrive on 22.8.16. So we're meandering down the Oregon Pacific coast road US 101 in the meantime, camping at some nice camp spots along the way, stopping at Whaler's Rest and Florence. A big piece of news is that I bought a new T-shirt at Whaler's Rest - woo-hoo - my first new article of clothing since we left Sydney 8 months ago. I noticed Jeff had 6 T-shirts and I only had 4, so I felt justified in splashing out US$15 for T-shirt number 5.

The coast road was very not impressive at first but the further south we rode, the nicer it became and really felt like a sweeping Pacific coast road that you imagine.

We head inland to get to Eugene on Sunday night, and rock up at Procycle "first thing" Monday morning at 10am. They don't open until noon on Monday, but the door's open so we walk in and they couldn't be more helpful and welcoming. We're given a coffee and a tour around their stores where they keep all the spare parts for Suzukis - we're in DR650 mecca - it's the holy grail of DR650 spare parts. Sue the owner gives us a Procycle T-shirt each (yes! - T-shirt number 6!).

It turns out their workshop is not a business workshop at all - it is the private, and very well equipped, fully adult man cave of the owner Jeff. His workshop is down the road a few kms and he lets us use it all to ourselves. How unbelievably selfless it that?! The primary job is to fit steering dampers to both bikes to stop "tank slappers". We start on my bike and we still haven't finished my 7pm so ask owner Jeff if we can leave my bike there and come back tomorrow. "No problem". 

This means I have to ride pillion on my Jeff's bike, and I don't like it at all. Firstly, getting on the back is quite an effort and it takes me a few goes without knocking us all over. Then riding on the back  - nope - do not like it at all.

Jeff working on Wallace.

What have I done to Gromit?

We end up spending the week in there with one day off (for good behaviour on my part). 

A small part of the seriously well equipped man cave - belonging to Jeff who owns Procycle.

All done - time to go.

Drum fixing my side stand.

Each day we go to the stores shop and Drum comes over with us to let us in as the workshop is alarmed. We get on like a house on fire and we catch up with him and his wife for dinner one night at Plank Town Brewing Company in Springfield. Drum happens to be good at welding which is great as my side stand is not holding up to the mountain of JB Weld I plastered all over it a while back. He's kind enough to weld it properly for me.

We were going to leave on Saturday morning. Drum invites us for a BBQ at their house if we decide to stay. We end up working on the bikes until quite late on Friday night and are totally pooped on Saturday morning so decide to stay another night - but too pooped for a BBQ -sorry Drum!

On the plans for Eugene was a visit to see a physio for me to review the progress of my wrist and get advice for next steps for full recovery as it still hurts to ride. I'd booked to see him a few weeks ago and go to see him (on my day off from the workshop). As misfortune would have it (for him rather than me), at the time of my appointment he has a medical emergency of the prostate kind and says he can't treat me this week. We can't stay any longer, so I'll have to make other plans further down the road.

We leave Springfield and Procycle behind, and head back to the coast to experience some more coast road and hit a bit of the California coast. We find a country route avoiding the main roads and freeways to get to Reedsport.

We follow US101 for a few days and find a fabulous camp site among the Redwood forests -down a valley, warm and shaded surrounded by the amazing Redwoods.

Camping amongst the Redwoods.

Posh table cloth, bottle of wine, beer in stubby holders and bear spray at the ready.

"I've made FIIIIIIIRE"

Making breakfast - coffee and porridge.

"If you go down to the woods today..."

A beautiful Redwood.

Scenery en-route to Lassen Volcanic NP.

We leave the coast and head inland - our next destination is Apple Valley a few day's ride away then Las Vegas. We head through Redding, and through Lassen Volcanic National Park. With some interesting scenery involving bacon.

We want stay near the lake but it's labor day weekend and everywhere's fully booked or out of our price range. We end up in a one horse town in some run down hotel managed by a woman that belongs on the Jerry Springer show - tats and bruises all over. Plus side - there's a bar across the road. Great for a beer, and if you like ready made frozen burgers heated up in the microwave - that's great too! Thankfully we don't have to eat such tripe and there's a decent restaurant across the road.

We're then on to Reno in Nevada. It's still the labor day weekend and accommodation is expensive so we decide to give Couch Surfing a go. I contact 3 people in the morning and get accepted by 2 hosts before we leave the one horse town. We decide we'll stay with Bill. We ride through Lake Tahoe, and stop at Kings Beach for lunch - it's packed with holiday weekenders. We ride from there over Mount Rose and as soon as we hit the peak and start riding down into Reno - all the trees disappear - it's like a light switch has been turned off. Now we're back in desert country.

We stay with Bill in Reno. His house is really nice, has 5 bedrooms all with en-suite and he's also hosting another couple from Germany. Bill's about 70 years old, but he has a lot of enthusiasm and energy and still works at a casino in Reno. He takes us all out to Reno for Pizza and beers, and takes us to his casino to show us around. I think he's played down his role at the Casino judging by his office and the reception he gets from staff.

US395 - hot desert road

There's no alternative but to ride down US395 - a long hot desert road riding on the east side of Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. We stop in Bridgeport for the night - a quaint little place - still busy this long weekend. Our destination the next day is only a short ride down the road, as we want to make a detour to see Bodie, a preserved ghost town from the gold rush days. It's 30kms off the main road, the last 6kms on a dirt/gravel road. I'm a bit nervous as this the first dirt road I've been on since Peru and breaking my wrist. I didn't crash on a dirt road, but riding on dirt requires a bit more effort, and standing up is better sometimes and I didn't know how I was going to get on standing up. If you don't do it right you end up hanging onto the handle bars more. 

Anyway, as usual, I needn't have worried and managed the 6kms of dirt OK. It was good to have a short ride on some dirt to get my confidence back a little.

It was interesting seeing this ghost town born of the gold rush.

Ghost Town Church

Bodie Ghost Town

Bodie - stores

Ghost car

Wagon Wheel - where's the chocolate?

Saw Mill - now's my chance...

Jeff survived.

Fish supper

We head on a loop road around June lake and try to get cheap accommodation just by turning up late in the afternoon. We manage to get a $30 discount and a fish thrown in! The owner asks if we want a trout someone caught in the lake yesterday, cleaned, gutted and left behind - well, I don't mind if we do thanks. That's the sort of fishing I like! He's very kind and gives us all we need to make dinner.

In the morning I spend 10 minutes on the phone organising something we want to do in Vegas. A date with Elvis! Some people spend a year or more organising a similar event - not sure why they don't do it in Vegas!

We've got time to take a day off and the cheapest way to do that is to camp. The weather's hot down this road and we've taken a tip from a local and camp at Diaz Lake camp ground. We pick up supplies on the way at nearby Lone Pine - dinner, beer, ice and firewood. We've practically got the place to ourselves and find a nice spot close to the lake.

Arriving at camp with supplies of ice and firewood strapped on.

Our camp

Diaz Lake at sunset

In the morning we find our food has been ransacked by a raccoon - he's managed to unzip our cool bag and pick and choose what he likes: porridge? ... no, don't like the dried oats - too dry; 2-minute noodles? ... no, don't like the dry noodles - too hard; little cartons of sweetened milk? ... mmmm yum yum - I'll have all of those thanks. The oats and noodles are scattered on the grass and I can't pick them all up. It doesn't take long to attract a hoard of squirrels - they clean it up nicely. It's not great camping practice to feed wild animals but there's not much I can do - they're very determined to get all the food they can.

Diaz Lake in the morning.

We spend the rest of the afternoon in Lone Pine and sit in McDonald's for a few hours - to use and abuse their wifi and keep cool. (the only reason I darken the doors of Muccy Ds).

Next day we head for a living ghost town of Randsburg, CA. It's off the main road a bit, I haven't been able to book any accommodation and it's roasting hot. We stop on the main street outside a 'motel', but no-one's home. I go into a bar and the locals are very helpful and call the owner of the 'motel' and other places and someone has a 'cottage' - but won't be home from work until about 6pm. Nothing seems to be open and we doubt we would be able to get any food later, and we don't want to hang around for a few hours in this heat. 

Randsberg Inn (closed)

Randsberg Saloon (closed)

We decide to ride on, and find a cheap motel in Boron - a bit industrial, but it will do for a pit stop and Jeff finds some big metal stuff to entertain him.

Some shiny metal stuff for Jeff

Time to get to Apple Valley and see my old friend Sukhpal and her family. I used to work with her in Birmingham, UK in the late 1980s. It's proper desert country of California. Our navigator gets confused on a parallel road close to where she lives. I can see we just need to take 2 left turns. It's 2 left turns into sand ... booo ... we take a bit of a wobble but get to their driveway OK. We spend a lovely weekend with them, and Sukhpal and Martin take us into Los Angeles - Long Beach the next day. Nice walk along promenade and dinner at a Mexican place.  It was great to catch up - I last saw her 16 years ago. 

Sukhpal and Martin at Long Beach. Queen Mary in background.

Aaaaaaarggghhhh

And it finally happened - we morphed into each other.

Time to head for Vegas .... it's only 300kms - but too far for me to do in one go and in searing heat across the desert. So we head for Baker - a half way hamlet. It has the world's largest thermometer and a local shop that sells bacon flavoured toothpaste. Our crummy motel has a pool - which is nice to cool off a bit for a few hours in this heat. Sadly the owner told us a female biker died last week due to the heat  - she was a pillion passenger sitting behind her husband and overheated on the ride through the desert.

Baker - World's largest thermometer.

Baker Bacon Toothpaste - no, I didn't try it, or eat it.

Viva Las Vegas

A date with The King

We ride the other half of the desert into Vegas arriving Monday midday. We're booked into Planet Hollywood for 4 days for our special event - we've booked to get married by Elvis on Wednesday 14th September. Jeff proposed to me back in March around a camp fire while we were camping in Chile beside Lake Puyehue. We didn't tell anyone and thought then it would be fun to get married in Vegas, but no idea when we would get there.

Tuesday, we go to collect our marriage licence. We've filled out the necessary form on-line so hopefully it will be quick. As we approach the marriage licence bureau, there's a bunch of dodgy looking men hanging around on the street corner, looking like they're selling drugs or something. One of them comes rushing across the road towards us and we feel a bit intimidated. He shows us a leaflet, and muffles under his breath, "Need a wedding chapel? Got one cheap 'ere, love". We get accosted by 3 more hustlers before we make it to the bureau doors.

Then we hit a long queue - booooo. So, in Sally's world, when you've completed the form on-line as, and I quote "it makes the process faster", and your faced with a long slow moving queue, I expect there to be a fast track queue - like at the cinema when you buy your tickets on-line. Nooooooo, not in Vegas it seems. And what takes so long? All the happy couples have filled in their application by hand when they walked through the doors and now the bureau worker has to type everything in, get them to confirm her typed entry, then correct their mistakes, she re-enters, they confirm .... aaaarrrrrgggggghhhhh. Why couldn't they just apply on-line? You can even do it on your smart phone. 

Anyway, rant over. At least there are plenty of couples to keep us entertained while waiting longer than in Sally's world. One couple queue up in their wedding dress and tux - well, that's cutting it a bit fine, isn't it?

Next on the list is to choose our wedding outfits we want to hire. There's a hire shop down town. Jeff's sorted with a tux and bow tie outfit within a few minutes and I take 10 minutes choosing a dress. We're all done in about 15 minutes and it costs us $200 all up - what a bargain!

Then we go to the world famous pawn shop to buy wedding rings. If you've ever watched Pawn Stars - this is their pawn shop in downtown Vegas - "Gold & Silver Pawn".

Inside 'Gold & Silver Pawn'

Jeff with a Pawn Star!

Gold and Silver Pawn

Wednesday, I've booked an added extra of hair and makeup, and a Limo picks us up at 4:45 and takes us to Viva Las Vegas chapel. We both look great dressed up - fit for marriage by the King! Elvis walks me down the aisle singing "It's now or never", conducts the ceremony (legally), and finishes with "Viva Las Vegas" - what a hoot! and soooooooo easy. We have our honeymoon on Thursday, then move to a cheaper place for the weekend. I had given it a lot of thought whether to take Jeff's surname or not - being a bit reluctant to give up my ace initials of SAS. But I want to be his wife, so have decided to gladly take his name so now I will be Sally Renwick - which I have changed on Facebook (as it's easy ... when a friend gives you a hint), but I will leave the bureaucratic nightmare of doing it officially until we get back home.

With the King!

Mr & Mrs Jeff and Sally Renwick

Throughout this week I've been to see a physiotherapist every day to get the swelling down on my wrist and to progress to the next level of healing, as it still hurts to ride. I found a fantastic place, owned by a fab woman who rides a Harley, and another fab woman who treated me who also rides a Harley - they were both very jealous of our trip. If ever you're in Vegas and need a physio - look up Karen Crawford who owns MML Therapy http://mmltherapy.com/

Lost Mojo

Time to end our honeymoon and mini holiday and move on. We're heading for the Hoover Dam first. It's been a week since we've ridden and I seem to have lost my mojo. We stop for fuel on our way out of Vegas and check our tyre pressures. When we're ready to leave, I (quite confidently) circle around the petrol station to ride out of the exit, and stop to wait for traffic, but misjudge the camber of the pavement, get unbalanced and fall over - boooo. I'm OK but we're already hot and sticky, so Jeff's not too impressed he has to pick up my bike (again). Thankfully a chap is walking by and he helps Jeff to pick it up. I get so cross with myself when that happens - it knocks my confidence a bit. The ride out to Hoover Dam is all motorway - I can't go far wrong there - point bike in straight line and keep the speed up. Arriving at a car park at Hoover Dam is another matter ... I try to reverse it into a slightly downward facing parking space, in front of Jeff's bike, but it starts free rolling and aims for a car parked next to us, and I can't seem to stop it and I go into panic mode - until I think about it a little and use the front brake ... duh. Again, I'm annoyed with myself ... what's wrong with me today? Must be the overly blonde shade I died my hair giving me blonde moments. 

Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam intake towers.

the Hoover Dam terrorist

So anyway, back to Hoover Dam - to me it's a tourist attraction and there's loads of people around to support that idea so I think nothing of the Swiss Army knife I always carry in my handbag. It's got a handy cork screw on it :) We head to where they run tours and there's a security check point xray-ing all incoming bags and people - just like at airport security. My bag goes through and comes straight back to me carried by the security guard. "Do you have a Swiss Army knife in your bag?", he says. "Yes, I do". "You are in a federal facility ma'm and you are not allowed knives. I suggest you take it back to your vehicle or we will confiscate it." Oops. Well, I don't want to walk back to my bike. We're wearing our riding gear, it's boiling outside and it's a 10-15 minute walk back to the bikes. So I have a great idea to hide it under the rubbish bin just outside. Feeling very pleased with myself and my smart idea, I go back in and the same security guard says "Ma'm, what did you do with your knife?". "I hid it just under that bin over there". "Ma'm, do you see that camera up there?". I look around, I can't see it, but just nod yes anyway. "That camera is connected to the police unit and you can get in big trouble for trying to conceal a dangerous weapon at a federal facility." Oops. I retrieve it and reluctantly hand it over .... it was a good cork screw, after all.

Hoover Dam generators.

Hoover Dam - gun turret from World War II safeguarding the dam.

Dark Desert Highway

hotel california

We end up spending 3-4 hours at Hoover Dam and it's getting on a bit when we leave. We don't like riding in the dark but we have 180kms to ride to Mesquite and it's already 4pm. We avoid motorways as much as possible and take a nice ride through a national park. The sun is setting as we join Interstate 15 for the last few miles into Mesquite and I find myself ... On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair. Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air. Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light. My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim I had to stop for the night.

If that sounds strange to you, leave a comment and go to the back of the class (unless you were born before 1950 or after 1980).

Mesquite is just a stop over for the night, and the cheapest room we've found so far - $24.

We've been told we should see Zion National Park, so we're making a little detour to go there. The ride in is very scenic, but it turns out to be highly touristy, expensive and packed. We're lucky to get a camping spot. It seems my mojo has lost me again as, trying to manoeuvre my bike at the bottom of the camp site, I drop it, again. I get cross with myself, again. Jeff soon comes to the rescue, again, and tells me what I should have done, again.

It rains all night, but thankfully eases off in the morning long enough for us to pack the tent. But it starts raining again and it's bucketing down. We were going to ride up the valley floor to see more of the Zion NP in all its glory - but nothing is very pretty in the rain and the tourist traffic was just too heavy and slow, so we decide to ride out. The road out is through the National Park also and it's still quite beautiful even in the rain and some evil looking switch backs. 

Camping at Mount Zion

A pass through Mount Zion

Riding out of Mount Zion

grand canyon

We're heading for the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. It's less touristy and it suits our route for continuing north afterwards.  It rains all the way and it's getting cold. We stop for soup at Jacob Lake cafe before riding 70kms down to the North Rim - which is a dead end and we'll have to come back up the same 70kms tomorrow.

We've booked the last room at a lodge down there and it's pretty pricey for us. We get to our room a bit before sunset, and the rain is holding off a bit, so we decide to take a quick walk to see the rim. And, boy, what timing. We get to the view point just as the sun is setting over the canyon - it only lasts for a few minutes and it sets the rocks aglow. It's stunning.

Sun set over the Grand Canyon North Rim

It's pouring down with rain in the morning and we're both reluctant to leave our nice warm and dry cabin. We leave it until the last possible moment, gear up and walk to where our bikes are parked a few hundred meters away. We pack as fast as possible and ride back up the 70kms, stopping at Jacob Lake cafe again for more soup to warm us up. Thankfully the rain eases off and we have a nice ride trough Marble Canyon on the way to Page, Arizona, where we will stay tonight.

Marble Canyon

who shot dr who

There's nothing much at Page as far as we can see, but the even the cheapest motel is $200 for the night. What?! We're only here to see Lake Powell. The motel manager recommends a B&B (without the "&B") and we get a place a lot cheaper.

In the morning we ride down to Lake Powell - we want to see it because it's where Dr Who was killed by "The Impossible Astronaut", River Song. Well, I hope it's worth it, because we have to ride through some pretty deep sand to get to the Lake shore. And, yes, of course, one of us has to stack it in the sand - and with my mojo gone these passed few days, yes, of course, it has to be me. I take the wobble and drop my bike, again. Not too cross this time as it's expected. Jeff comes back to pick up my bike, again.

Dr Who is shot by the Impossible Astronaut, River Song.

An inevitable stack in the sand

Lake Powell

We spend an hour or so at the Lake and then head out to Monument Valley. It's an easy ride and I'm cruising; Jeff's out in front and out of sight. Suddenly the road surface doesn't seem right - that sometimes happens and I'm not immediately concerned, but slow down a bit. Mmmmmmm, something's not right. I pull over onto the hard shoulder, which is really narrow, and cars and trucks are pulling wide to over take. Sitting on my bike, I can just about see the front tyre which looks OK, but I can't see the rear. The camber of the hard shoulder is the wrong way and I can't get off my bike. I ride on for a bit, but it's getting worse and starting to wobble. I have to ride about 500 - 1000 metres before I can find a place to pull over and get off. The back tyre is as flat as a pancake with a big nail sticking in it.

Big fat nail in my tyre

What do I do now?

I'm at a loss what to do - I have no mobile service to call Jeff. Then I remember I've got the tyre bead breakers and the puncture repair kit, so I'll have a go at fixing it myself. It's bound to earn me at least 3 brownie points from Jeff. I take all my luggage off so I have some chance of being able to get the bike on its centre stand - I normally need Jeff's help. I still haven't got full strength back in my right wrist/arm so really working one handed - and soon realise I've got no chance of getting on it's centre stand. I flag down a passing car, a couple stop and gladly help me put it on its stand. I'm about to ask them to look for Jeff down the road - he normally stops every 50kms or so, or at the next turn off - and ask him to come back, and then I see Jeff is coming back already - he thought I was taking longer than usual - phew. I'm saved - Jeff to the rescue - Super Star Tyre fixer!

Inner tube ripped to shreds from me riding on it for a few hundred metres.

Super-tyre-fixer-Jeff to the rescue.

cowboys and indians

So it's getting late in the day by the time the tyre is fixed and I strap all my luggage back on, and we just about make it to the camp ground as it gets dark. Boy am I looking forward to a beer - stack in the sand and tyre puncture - it's been a long day and it's my birthday tomorrow so no harm in starting celebrations early. That's what I think. We're against the clock to put up the tent as the restaurant down the road closes at 9pm and we can't even find our pitch yet. It's takes us about 10 minutes riding around the camp site before we find our spot and we pitch the tent in record time. We get down to the restaurant with minutes to spare before last kitchen orders. Now we're all hot and bothered from record-breaking tent-pitching we're really, really looking forward to that beer. "What beers do you have on tap?", I ask excitedly. There's a tumble weed moment . . . . . . . . . . . then our lovely native American waiter declares, "We don't have any beer". "Oh, do you have any wine?", I ask, hope fading. "We don't have any alcohol. It's against our Navajo Tribal law". That's when I learn we're on a Indian Reservation and that they have their own laws. 

Getting up early camping with the bladder full has it's rewards looking at the views we didn't see in the dark last night. And it's my birthday - yay! Hopefully we will be off the Indian Reservation tonight.

Campground at  Monument Valley  - early morning.

Campground at Monument Valley - early morning.

We pack up and head out for some breakfast on the road, riding through Monument Valley, and head for Valley of the Gods. Jeff knows a nice dirt road route through. It's 27kms of gravel road - it's not something I would have chosen for my birthday this year, but it'll be good practice - on a safe American gravel road and not too far. It's a lovely ride and it's not too challenging.

Monument Valley

Valley of the Gods

Valley of the Gods

However, Jeff also mentions he wants to do Moki Dugway, a few miles after Valley of the Gods - a 5km gravel section on an otherwise paved road, Utah Route 261, with even more evil switch backs carved into the side of a cliff of Cedar Mesa. Again, it's not something I would choose to do as a birthday treat - but I agree - thinking of a champagne treat at the end of the day. I hadn't done any research into this Moki Dugway, I could just see from google maps that the switchbacks were really tight. Well, tight's not the word! Sheer cliff drop off is the main horror. The type of road where you dare not look anywhere but where you want to go. "Don't look down","Don't look down","Don't look down", becomes my mantra. Jeff pulls over at one point to see if I'm OK. "Sorry, Sally."

Moki Dugway

Moki Dugway

Jeff put together a 12:30 minute video of our ride through the Valley of the Gods and up the Moki Dugway - so you can share some amazing scenery and splash of terror with us.

I later find out it's rated one of the world's most dangerous roads - with car wrecks down the side of the cliff to prove it. Thanks for my birthday present, Jeff. Elvis said you weren't allowed to be mean to me.

Well at least we're out of the Indian Reservation where there's no beer, and heading for town called Blanding, Utah. Just a convenient stop over in an el-cheapo motel. Unbeknown to me we've landed in Mormon country and the whole of Blanding is a dry town - boooo. That on the whole wasn't very good timing for my birthday. We'll make up for it tomorrow - we're booked into a nice hotel and a fancy pants restaurant in a town which sells beer and wine, Moab.

It's a short, easy ride to Moab the next day through some desert country. We have time to stop and take a walk up to Wilson's Arch which we happen to pass on the way.

Wilson's Arch

Wilson's Arch

Wilson's Arch

We arrive early at the hotel to make the most of a nice room and relax. There's a micro brewery across the road so we head there for one first before dinner. We get chatting to a local at the bar, who happens to be a private tour guide and he gives us a few good tips on visiting Yellowstone National Park. We have dinner at the fancy pants restaurant, Desert Bistro. I try the special main course on this evening - Bison. Wow - it is the best piece of beef/bison I have ever had - beating the previous best which was from The Meat and Wine Company in Sydney 5 years ago. What a beautiful, tender piece of meat. 

We head to Salt Lake City, Utah over the next 2 days. It is, of course, the last place we want to be, being the headquarters of the Morman church. Alas, the need for tyres always pushes us to a major city. I get a new rear tyre which we get sorted as soon as we arrive in Salt Lake City.

We're out of the city as fast as we can the next day. We're now heading to Yellowstone over the next few days. We were going to take a few days break somewhere before then, but have just checked the weather forecast and a cold front is coming through with snow expected on Monday. So we decide to fast track to get in and out of Yellowstone by Sunday - I'm sure all other road conditions pale into insignificance compared to icy roads on two wheels. No thanks.

The Hideout Motel, Cokeville

For our next stop over, we choose some half way point, just over the Utah border into Wyoming. A tiny place called Cokeville (Coca-Cola should build a factory there). We choose a long way round on a lovely biker's recommended route US89, passing by Bear Lake and it's great to see trees and rivers again. We arrive at Cokeville and its only motel, The Hideout Motel, just before 7pm. We had been told there would be a food truck outside until 7pm (being the only place to get food in town), but it wasn't there. "There's a fund raising BBQ down at the school football game, so the food truck packed up early for the day so she wouldn't be competition. If you hurry you can get a hot dog down there". So we ride down there in time to get a hot dog, a virgin piña colada and watch mini-men in macho American football gear playing their game.

Leon the Cowboy at the football game.

A man starts talking to us about our travels and we get chatting. He tells us he's a cowboy and his ranch is just down the road - we would have ridden passed it on the way in. He also tells us he's a Morman and this is a Morman town (just when we thought we were safe over the border in Wyoming!). I ask him what being a cowboy entails and he invites us to his ranch tomorrow morning. He's a beef farmer and has 800 head of cattle to rear and care for.

Jeff is reluctant to visit his ranch in the morning, expecting a sermon in typical Morman style, as Leon had told us he'd spent some time doing missionary work in Switzerland when he was younger. I want to see a ranch anyway and am interested in what he has to say. He takes us into a field to feed his horses first and he spends some time telling us about his life as a cowboy.

Leon's Ranch

Down at the Ranch

Lake Lucerne, Switzerland.

Then we start talking about religion and it feels like he's preaching a little, but not too hard and he's a lovely man. I tell him my Dad had searched for years for the right religion for him and the meaning of life. I don't know if Dad ever found the meaning of life, but I recall a story he once told us of an RAF comrade he was based with in barracks in the North of England during WWII. His comrade had told him he had found the meaning of life. My Dad questioned the man, but he would only tell him that he was in the middle of Lake Lucerne in Switzerland when it came to him. I think if you're going to find God or the meaning of life then I'm sure that's where God lives - it's such a beautiful place. 

As for religion, my Dad chose the Bahá'í Faith, but he didn't thrust religion upon his six children. He allowed us to find our own way, both my parents giving sound moral guidance throughout our lives.  Jeff and I both have the same outlook and believe in the wonder of the universe and don't put any religious label on it. We both know how to behave as human beings. We don't need religious dogma to guide us on how to live and treat other people.

Still, you can't blame a Morman for trying  - it's in their genes I think!

yellowstone national park

We spend a night in Jackson, just south of Yellowstone ready for our first ride through the next day. It has been on Jeff's bucket list and something we've been looking forward to for ages. We were going to camp in Yellowstone at first but it's just too cold and wet. The tour guide we met in Moab recommended some good priced motel to us in West Yellowstone. So we ride through the south western corner of the park the next day visiting Old Faithful, a famous geyser of Yellowstone which has very regular and predictable blowing periods of about every 90 minutes. 

The Teton mountain range in Yellowstone

It even has its own sign!

Old Faithful blowing off

Bison - yummmmmmm.

Jeff getting friendly with Bison

Elk

We spend 2 full days riding around Yellowstone and are delighted to see Bison and Elk, getting caught in Bison traffic jams as all cars in front slow down and stop to see the wild life.

The day we leave it's pouring down with rain and cold, but we've got to push on. It's too expensive to stay and we need to crack on to Toronto before winter. It's a beautiful ride out of the eastern part of Yellowstone, just a pity it's raining so much. We stop in Cody for 2 nights, the home of Buffalo Bill, giving ourselves a riding rest day and catch up on some laundry - YAY, clean socks!

Our next and last tourist destination is Mount Rushmore, to see the 4 presidents carved out of he rock face. It's too far to ride in one day, so we stop at Ten Sleep, a quiet country village - so called by American Indians as it was rest stop 10 days' travel from key settlements. It has a micro brewery - so good enough for us - we have a burger and a good pint of the micro brewery ale in the local saloon. We've been really impressed with the micro brewery scene in the USA and Canada. The last time I came to the States the stock beer was Rolling Rock and Budweiser (US bud' at that and not Belgian).

Ten Sleep Saloon

Ten Sleep Mirco brewery Stout

Bikers Welcome (and hunters)

We want to ride another biker's recommended route over some mountains en-route to Mount Rushmore, but there's snow on the mountains and Jeff's rear tyre is pretty bald. We can't afford to take unnecessary risks so we take the safer option of a longer route around the mountain. I'm not overly keen on riding on snow and ice so am happy to take to the longer route.

Mount Rushmore is pretty impressive learning about how the carving's were achieved - it's quite incredible they were mostly carved with dynamite!  The sculptures are of significant US presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

Mount Rushmore. From left to right: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln

a little ride through the prairies

From here on it's a long ride through the prairies of South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan to get to Toronto before the end of October and winter setting in. We want to get back to the southern hemisphere and summer.

We have some very windy days, sunny days, warm days, cold days, wet days .... many days and hundreds of miles of corn fields. We avoid major highways like the plague - they're too fast and furious - and we're not.

Prairies

Corn Fields across the Prairies

Through the prairies of Iowa.

Cornfields

We visited a nuclear missile historic centre not far from Rapid City, South Dakota, and one of the nuclear missile launch facilities. It was very sobering. One of these missiles was destructive enough to flatten New York.

The ICBM launch site - 1000 of these around.

An ICBM in it's launch silo - enough to flatten New York.

Top of the ICBM launch silo.

One of the listed "Close Calls" during the cold war.

Bacon Bloody Mary

One notable cafe we stopped off at for lunch one day was The Lucky Pig in Ogden and I was hoping that the reason it was "Lucky" was not because there was no bacon. I'm pleased to say they celebrated bacon at this little jewel so much so they make a Bloody Mary out of it. The owner was very interested in our travels and not only gave us both a stubby holder each but also treated us to our lunch - WOW - thank you very much Randy at The Lucky Pig.

 

It's lovely riding through rural USA. The autumn colours in the trees are spectacular. 

We aim carefully to take a very wide berth south around Chicago and north around Detroit. It would be great to follow a Blues trail around Chicago, or see Motown roots in Detroit, but the urge to avoid high density cities is overwhelming so I forsake the Blues and Motown roots.

Yay! Back in Canada - Walpole Island. St Clair River in the background.

We choose a small border crossing from Algonac, Michegan into Canada, across a tiny ferry to Walpole Island, an Indian Reservation. We've chosen this route, not only to avoid Detroit, but also to spend a day at Chatham-kent where Jeff's Mum and Dad used to live in the late 1960's, and where his two brothers were born. We visit a couple of old haunts his parents used to frequent and we visit 2 addresses where they used to live. It's a nice town and we're lucky enough to have a good restaurant next to our cheapo motel.

Chatham-Kent by the River Thames

Strapping on our new tyres.

We stop at Twisted Throttle in New Dundee, on our way to Toronto to pick up tyres we've planned to get for Africa - Heidenau tyres - which have come highly rated and should last us through the whole of Africa. Twisted Throttle seem only to stock the best of gear and equipment - good to know. Unfortunately they don't have a workshop due to their small town regulations and restrictions, so we have to strap the tyres on the back.

We ride the last 100kms into Toronto on the freeway, which feels fast and furious after our leisurely ride across the prairies. We arrive on Monday 24.10.16 - 2 days ahead of our latest schedule to get ready for shipping the bikes to South Africa. We're staying with Lee-Ann, a friend who we met at the very beginning of our trip in Buenos Aires 10 months ago. She's made dinner for us. What a luxury to have a home cooked meal.

Fitting new chains at Randy's

No rest for the wicked. The next day we start on maintenance for the bikes. We need a garage with some tools and a vice. Jeff asked the DR650 FB group if he could borrow a garage and Randy and Ivana put their hands up, so we ride over to their place on Tuesday morning. We work outside in the garage, it's cold but we're kept busy all day with oil changes, new brake pads, and Jeff wants to replace the screws in my carburettor from ones made from butter to ones made from a harder metal. Randy and Ivana look after us well with hot cups of coffee and some lunch. Second day we get the tyres fitted at a local bike shop and spend the rest of the day at Randy's fitting new chains and sprockets - heavy duty ones to see us through Africa. Thank you Randy and Ivana for letting us use your garage and looking after us - you are wonderful people.

I've been responsible for sorting out shipping to Cape Town and have a crater and freight forwarder recommended from the Horizons Unlimited community. Topax for building a crate and W.G.Mckay for air freighting the bikes. They've both been great companies to deal with - very responsive to emails and the many questions I've had. We ride the bikes over to Topax on Friday afternoon, and they build the crate base while we are there so we can roll the bikes on to the base to get them ready for packing. We remove the front wheels, loosen the handle bars and remove the wind screen - all to lower the height in desperate efforts to make it as small as possible. We're pleased with the result - both bikes on the base, nose to tail, and all of our luggage stacked around them. It's costing about half of what it cost us to fly them from Lima to Vancouver.

Neil from Topax measuring up for the crate height. He's good enough to give us a lift near home.

How we leave the bikes stacked on Friday.

And final packing by Topax

And that's it - we made it to Toronto before the winter hit, and now the bikes are dropped off for their flight to Cape Town we can relax and do some sight seeing around Toronto.

It's Saturday and Lee-ann drives us to Niagra Falls for a day out, visiting a winery on the way. I was quite shocked to see the location of the falls - I had always imagined them in a national park, but no - they're right in town. You just walk along the promenade along the river and right up to the falls - they are amazing, with a gazillion gallons of water falling over the crest, and I can't believe how close up you can see them. 

Niagra Falls - the Canadian Side - Horseshoe Falls

Niagra Falls - The American side on the left, and the Canadian side on the right.

Niagra Falls with Lee-ann.

There's a small brick wall with small railings separating you from the top of the falls and certain death. And people stand on this wall taking selfies - I can't bare to look. This is really how close you get to the top of the falls and it scares me just looking at this ... 

The rest of our shipping goes very smoothly and we have tracking confirmation that Wallace and Gromit are on their way to Cape Town, South Africa. We're going to follow them tomorrow and meet upon Thursday.

Goodbye USA and Canada, we've loved you. And a big thank you to Lee-ann for her great hospitality - putting us up for 2 weeks while we got our shipping organised in Toronto. It's been a massive help to us - you are a very kind and generous woman.

Now time to start the next part of our epic journey and ride through Africa - hopefully we will make it to Europe in the Spring.