I haven’t mentioned much about the preparation for this trip, and won’t in any detail, because let’s face it, it’s time to cut to the chase. However, I have to mention and thank someone who assisted me greatly in that preparation. I have been regularly attending the gym for the past three years, but a few months ago decided I needed extra assistance in terms of building some strength to handle the bike with its heavy load. I wanted to at least be able to get the thing off the sidestand, otherwise I wouldn’t be going anywhere. That’s where Jamie, who is a personal trainer at the gym, came in. Those sessions made a world of difference, so thanks Jamie!
I arrived in LA on a Sunday morning to be greeted at Customs and Immigration by Mr Surly, Customs officer of the year. He could not understand why I was visiting the US for five months, rather than the usual four week package tour bullshit. I call him Mr Surly, because he was, but I also empathise with these blokes. It’s not their job to be bright and cheery to hordes of tedious tourists, it’s their job to keep undesirables out of the country, and I reckon they do it well.
Anyway, got through okay and decided to rest up at the hotel for a couple of days before collecting the bike. Have to admit I had some trepidation at the thought of navigating the LA freeways, and more than once looked out at what (I thought) was one of those freeways; four/five lanes each way and mad with traffic 24 hours a day. I later found out it was only a bloody boulevard, one of the “smaller” roads! As it turned out, the freeway I needed was easy to find, but the most traumatic day of my life started once I hit that freeway.
Anyone who has used these freeways will know where I’m coming from. From memory, the speed limit is 75 mph. Well, everyone was doing at least 120 mph, and if you’re doing 119 mph they all whizz past you, and you have to stay in the far right, or “slow” lane. Guess I survived by going flat out like the rest of them, but for once didn’t enjoy the speed.
The first three days of the trip were not that pleasant because of the wind – very gusty and up to 50 km/h. From LA to northern California is dead flat, and I was on the main highway, Interstate 5. I had planned to follow the coastal road up, but finding how to get there was beyond me and anyway I just needed a few boring riding days to get used to the bike and the heavier weight. I have most of my gear in a large Touratech bag and it’s pretty heavy. At first I was at a loss about how to secure the load onto the bike; because of the weight the good old occy straps weren’t going to cut it and I would have lost the lot in no time. Anyway, the solution was to get some strong rope and tie the bag down using truckies hitches – and I thank my Navy days for educating me in how to tie knots. Here’s a pic of the load, this is somewhere north of LA:
Something I noticed, and this seems to be peculiar to the US, is the amount of food everyone eats, and the amount of fast food places everywhere. Any place you go, the quantity sizes are massive. Went into a sandwich shop somewhere along the way and asked for a corned beef and cheese sandwich. Now, I was expecting one slice of corned beef, two if I was lucky, and a piece of cheese. Well, when I opened up this…thing…there would have fair dinkum been at least FIFTEEN slices of corned beef, with a great wad of melted cheese on top. It was a good five inches thick. I had to remove three quarters of it.
Not only that, at every exit along the highway the first advertising sign would be headed by the word “Food”, and followed by pictures of McDonald’s, KFC, Taco Bell, etc etc. After that came the advertising signs for other essentials such as gas and accommodation, but the food signs always appeared first. Williams, California, is a very small town with a tumbleweed literally rolling down the main street, but did it have a McDonald’s and a Burger King? You bet!
Something else I saw quite frequently were these (hmm…how to describe) massive caravan-type things. They’re caravans but they’re more like buses. Also, often there’s a car being towed behind this arrangement. First time I saw that I thought, “Bloody hell that bloke’s tailgating that bus, pretty dangerous”, then upon getting closer it’s actually attached to the bus thing. I don’t know what these massive vehicles are called, but seemed to be driven by retirees. All were heading north. I suppose they holiday in Canada/Alaska and stay in campgrounds. In hindsight, they need the cars, because there’s no way those buses would fit in the Macca’s drive-through.
Somewhere in northern California the flat plains ended and I started to see a few hills and mountains.
There’s not a lot more to say about the trip up through the US, as I said it was all highway and what I needed at that particular point. I’d like to see more of the US away from the highways, and will if I have time, but never again am I riding my bike in LA…never.
By 9 May I was in Bellingham, Washington, just a short distance from the Canadian border. Today I crossed into Canada, signalling an anticipated end to vile highway coffee and massive quantities of food. The scenery immediately improved, huge mountains, the tops of which were covered in snow, and the general atmosphere changed too. They’re more laid back up here, not so manic/hyper.
Tell you more about Canada tomorrow. The priority today was a) getting to Vancouver Island (success), and b) finding a Tim Horton’s for some coffee (also success).