Day 7: Wednesday 19th September : Littleton, NH to Milford, ME

Another day begins with me waking up well in advance of the alarm clock, but fortunately this time not 4 hours before, just the one… Still, that close to get-up time it’s hardly worth going back to sleep, so I got up and showered, then caught up with events at home whilst packing my bags and getting ready for the off. But today is a late start, with a meet in the hotel lobby at 8am, followed by a short walk to the “Topic of the town” café for breakfast. Which took a while, as this is an old-school “mom and pop” place, with a great, cheap, menu and home-cooked food. The “two eggs over easy on toast with sausage links and an English breakfast tea” was very good, although as is often the case in the US, I couldn’t get my order in without being asked a question (in this case, I asked for the sausage but forget to mention links as they also do patties!). It was therefore quite late by the time we got on the bikes and started rolling, but with only 259 miles to do today that wasn’t a problem.

The ride out of town was beautiful, the old white wooden church building resplendent in the weak sunshine from the overcast sky. Once clear of town we had a nice gentle winding ride on roads bordered by trees that changed from deep greens to bright orange and made our way up towards the mist-covered hillsides in the distance. Gradually we gained altitude and the temperature dropped from a reasonable high-60’s (Fahrenheit, I’ve still not fathomed out how to change the bike’s external temperature display to Celsius!), to mid-50’s. Enveloped by mist it looked like the ride up Mount Washington would be in poor visibility, but that didn’t prove to be the case. Once we’d paid at the entrance ($17 and I had to copper-up and use all my loose change or break another $100 bill) we started the ascent, up the steep, narrow and very twisty road that leads to the summit. With Aaron leading, and the pace set to ‘very slow’ to ensure we all made it, we rose up into the clouds and then after a short section of dirt road emerged into bright sunshine the other side, with the clouds below surrounding the mountain like a blanket of cotton wool. At the summit we parked the bikes and took lots of pictures then walked up the wooden staircase to the very summit where there is a gift shop (another fridge magnet!), a sign proclaiming this is the spot with the highest wind-speed ever recorded at a manned weather station – a staggering 213 miles per hour! – and a museum with the story of the weather station that’s been manned here since 1932. It must be very bleak, especially in Winter when the temperature drops well below freezing and the scientists have to venture out in 90mph winds to break the rim ice from their instruments with crow-bars!

After the obligatory group photo (which I’ll steal once it’s been posted to FaceBook) we got back on our bikes and headed back down, surrounded by fantastic views up until we descended into the clouds. Eventually we emerged below the clouds, now under an overcast sky and continued on our merry way riding in formation on roads that weaved gently through the trees interrupted only by the occasional town. The road signs provided some entertainment, particularly the one that read “Peru 5 Mexico 1” – at first I thought maybe this was a football score, then realized it was simply the distance to small towns with big names!

After a stop for fuel and to grab a snack for lunch, we continued on, the ride totally relaxed and the passing scenery sufficiently interesting to make the ride very enjoyable. The downside was that riding in a group meant that when we caught up with a slightly slower moving vehicle we ended up following it for mile after mile, the pace slower than ideal, interrupting the rhythm of the ride. A section of interstate for 70 miles just before the town of Milford and our motel for the night meant the ride didn’t end as well as it had begun, the monotony of the interstate dulling the senses sufficiently for me to notice the odd ache and pain from another long day in the saddle. But the motel is nice, next to the river and only a short 30-minute walk from the BoomHouse pub, which has a trivia quiz every Wednesday. This was planned, as last time Aaron led a group on this trip they came second in the quiz, and with Jeremy the current 3-time trivia quiz champion at home, and a team of 10 including an architect, a doctor and several other highly intelligent professionals (plus me!) we were in with a good chance of taking the top prize! Only that proved not to be the case at all, as the questions were ridiculously obscure (and very American-culture focused, ruling me out even more than usual!), meaning we actually finished joint last. Hey-ho, at least the local beer (Wolf Pup IPA) and the chicken salad were excellent!

The Thayer's Inn, est 1843Leaving LittletonLots of famous people have stayed here...At the bottom, before the climb up Mt WashingtonShould we really be riding up this road?Riding up the Mt Washington road Riding up the Mt Washington road   The view from the summit of Mt Washington, with the chain-driven train At the summit of Mt WashingtonAt the summit of Mt WashingtonMaking it look windy for the photo!Warning, extreme weather here!Riding down the Mt Washington road The glass says it all...

Day 6: Tuesday 18th September – Lake Placid to Littleton

After 1,750 miles in 3 days, the trip proper starts today, but not with a hearty breakfast as Aaron has warned us the brunch stop is particularly good (and it’s supposed to be my fasting day anyway!). Once again I woke early, with the 7:30am departure still over 1.5 hours away. Despite this I still got up and packed then met up with almost the whole group loading the bikes in the car park, all eager to get riding again. A quick FaceTime with Tracy and a small coffee and we hit the road again.

After fueling up we left Lake Placid and followed highway 86 before turning south skirting the shores of Lake Champlain then north again on highway 100. At some point along this route we stopped for fuel then again after around 200 miles for brunch, at the General Store in Pittsfield, where I was able to get a decent cup of tea and some oatmeal (like porridge) for breakfast/lunch. Then it was a short, but beautiful and twisty, ride to the Ben & Jerry’s factory where we took the factory tour, listened to some very bad cow jokes (“Why do cows not wear flip-flops or sandals?” – “because the lack-toes!”; “why do cows wear bells?” – “because their horns don’t work!”), and had a sample of ice cream (which was worth the $4 entrance fee). Then it was a short ride to an apple cider farm/factory where their speciality is apple/cinnamon donuts, which are very nice; and another short ride to the maple syrup farm where I bought a very small urn of syrup to take home. From here it was just 70 miles or so to the hotel, with more twisty roads and short sections of interstate completing a great day’s riding.

General Store Aaron and Jeremy relaxing The bikes outside the brunch stop Ben and Jerry's flavours Ben and Jerry's new flavours Maple syrup factory Maple syrup factory Covered bridge over the river at Littleton

The hotel in Littleton, the Thayers Inn, dates from 1843 and our room (actually 2 adjoining bedrooms with a shared bathroom) is on the top floor. After dumping our gear in the hotel and parking the bikes round the back I took a quick shower and washed my smalls – I only have a few pairs and there’s a long time to go yet! Before we headed out to the local brew pub, the Schilling, where I had a couple of pints (American sizes, much smaller than UK ones) of the rather excellent Resilience brewery’s Pompadour and a margarita pizza with jalapenos – not exactly a fasting day, but I am on holiday!

Day 5: Monday 17th September – to Lake Placid via Niagara Falls

Today is the final day of the big push to get where we should have been had the auto-train not been cancelled, with the small matter of 570 miles to go to get to our original Monday night hotel at Lake Placid. In practice, what this meant was a very early start which consisted of breakfast at McDonald’s (yuk!) whilst outside was still pitch black, then leaving town before sun up.

But what a sun-up it was. As we rode north on the interstate the sky changed from a deep dark blue to a very faint pale blue whilst over to our right (east) the high cotton-wool like clouds showed up with dark brown tops and fire-bright oranges underneath. Simply beautiful and what a pleasure to be on the road so early and seeing this whilst most sensible folk were still tucked up in bed!
The interstate took us up to the edge of the great lakes – in this case Lake Erie where we left the interstate and took the local road along the shore-line and past wooden houses with large front lawns bordering the lake, past endless fields of vines unlike any I’ve seen before with huge amounts of leaves to help capture the sun and ripen the grapes. This finally gave way to the town of Buffalo, where massive derelict dockyard buildings stood crumbling in the sunshine. Over a couple of large bridges and we arrived at Niagara Falls, where we parked up and went exploring, taking photos of the waterfalls and then buying a fridge magnet (my souvenir of choice!) from the gift shop and getting ready to depart less than 45 minutes after arriving. After all, as Aaron said “we have a place to get to!”. Only he was caught out departing the car park by a barrier system that seemed to have a mind of its own. It rose as he arrived, then came down quickly just as he was passing, clouting him hard on the head and shoulder, but not enough for him to drop the bike, the barrier coming off second best and breaking! Fortunately it was only made of poor quality wood and there was no-one around to apprehend him, so we made our escape without further problem!

Niagara Falls

The ride from Niagara Falls and back via Buffalo onto the interstate and then a further 150 miles or so was by far the most boring of the trip. It was a real slog and I was feeling decidedly in need of a break when we finally pulled off the Interstate to get fuel and take a break. I thought I was the only one feeling the pain of the ride, but Dean, Jeremy, Ram and Aaron were all bitching about is as soon as we stopped! When people think of boring American roads, I think this stretch is what they have in mind!

Fortunately, after just another 70 miles of Interstate we turned off onto better roads for the final 130-odd miles to the hotel. This stretch was beautiful, the roads gently swinging left and right through forests of trees that were showing the early signs of autumn, with patches of bright orange and deep brown in amongst the greens. It should have been a very enjoyable ride, but to be honest, the pain in my back, my knee, my ears (from the earplugs) and the tiredness conspired together to rob it of much joy. So it was a great relief to reach the town of Lake Placid, home of the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980 and the location of our hotel. Here we met the remainder of our group – Daryl, Don and Grant who had all left Florida a day before us and taken the more scenic route whilst skirting the hurricane; and Kenny and Sharif who are native Nova Scotians joining us to show us the delights of their province. So now we are 10 – with 8 BMW GS’s, one BMW S1000XR (Ram) and one Ducati Multistrada (Grant).

After checking in and a quick shower we grabbed a beer in the bar before heading to a local restaurant for dinner, where we were all introduced by Aaron – who pointed out that whilst he’s ridden with a few of the group more frequently than others, it’s me with whom he’s ridden the most miles. This got me thinking and I tried to work it out – with the TransAM (23,000 miles), UK & Ireland (3,000), TAT (6,000) – that’s over 30,000 miles we’ve ridden together. This trip will add a further 5,000 miles, which will take the total to over 35,000 miles – quite something!

After dinner we returned to the hotel, but I was too tired to complete the blog, so I just made a few notes and collapsed into bed.

Day 4: Sunday 16th September: Pounding out the miles…

After a really good night’s sleep – for me, at least, Jeremy, who I’m sharing a room with may not agree as I snore! – I woke with cramp at 6:18am, just ten minutes before the alarm was due to go off. Hobbling into the bathroom and a warm shower got rid of the cramp and I was once again wide awake and ready to go riding. After packing I had time to crab some porridge for breakfast before the 7:30am “kickstands up” departure time.

The weather was overcast and once again we were on the road as the sun rose, the temperature cool but not at all unpleasant. The day was another long ride with around 600 miles of highway to cover, so as with yesterday this was broken up into sections of around 100 miles before we would stop for fuel and fluid adjustment. The first stint was in the cool early morning and the riding similar to yesterday, long straight roads with little to stimulate the senses. After the first stop the rain started so the second stint was spent squinting through the spray as the rain poured down. This was the edge of hurricane Florence, which was responsible for us having to ride rather than getting the train, so we didn’t escape its wrath completely. As we progressed further east via Knoxville the scenery started to improve, with rolling tree-covered hills and even some curves on the highway to make life more interesting. After the second stop the rain abated a little and from then on it was only intermittent, and the views improved as we rode for mile after mile surrounded by forest. In West Virginia we stopped for lunch at a steakhouse favoured by Aaron for its warm bread rolls (which were truly delicious) but that meant I over-ate (a Philly steak sandwich with fries) and for the rest of the afternoon regretted it as my shrunken stomach struggled to digest so many carbs.

The rest of the afternoon was more of the same, using the cruise control to try and hold a steady pace and following the group as we continued at a steady 75mph, simply pounding out the miles. As with yesterday, I rode at the back so Aaron who was leading could see the distinctive lights on Mira’s bike and know the group was all together. This gave me the benefit of being able to ride at my own pace, dropping off the back of the group when I wanted more space and playing catch up to alleviate the monotony.

After around 12 hours of riding we passed through Pittsburgh and found a hotel just past town where we checked in before showering and heading to the Italian restaurant next door for dinner. As I was still stuffed from lunch I only had a prawn salad and a couple of bottles of beer. Another day done and now we are getting closer to what should have been the start of the trip. Tomorrow we head further North to the Great Lakes, before turning east and on to our hotel at Lake Placid, via Niagra Falls. It promises to be another great day!

Day 3: Saturday 15th September: “Go!”

Today was scheduled to be a short ride to the railway station at Sanford to catch the auto-train to Lorton up north near Washington D.C., and then whiling away 17 hours as the train took the strain. Only hurricane Florence has put paid to that idea, with the train being cancelled. So we’re faced with 3 long days riding in order to by-pass the storm and get up North to where the good riding is (although there is good riding between Florida and where we re-join the original route, the time challenge means we have to take the highways).

A 5:45am alarm call woke me up from a much better sleep than the previous night, my dreams barely disturbed by the gore of the Predator movie. A quick shower and a glass of water then loading the bike I’m riding with my stuff before wishing Mira goodbye as we rode off into the darkness, departing before sun up at 6:34am. The bike I’m riding is Mira’s BMW R1200GS, which is lowered, but with the suspension set for 2-up (i.e. raised) and the seat on the higher setting it’s surprisingly comfortable. Leaving St. Petersburg we met up with Jeremy, one of Aaron’s Sales Managers and the guy I’ll be sharing a room with, then hit the highways for 100 miles or so before meeting up with Graham (pronounced Gram because this is America after all) and Dean for breakfast. After a couple of eggs (over easy) and some very sweet unsweetened ice tea, we hit to highway once more, heading towards Atlanta.

Now I’d like to say that riding 600 miles on US highways is interesting and enjoyable, but the honest truth is, it isn’t. It’s boring. Very boring. Even with my music on and stopping every 100 miles for a “fluid adjustment stop” (drink 1 litre cold water – you can work out the other part!), it’s dull. Most of the route to Atlanta has little to keep the mind occupied, with a straight flat road and a big sky with hardly any clouds. Temperatures of 90+ F ( I need to change Mira’s instrument panel to read Celcius!) put the new Klim suit’s ventilation to the test and it works remarkably well. Until we get to Atlanta and the traffic jam that crawled for 30 miles through the city, and this was still the interstate. Once clear of Atlanta the scenery got more interesting with rolling hills and a forest either side of the road. The traffic thinned and we were once again flying in formation, but by now we were desperately trying to find ways to alleviate the sore parts, constantly adjusting riding position, standing up, stretching, etc. It’s on roads like these that you realise the true benefit of cruise control on a motorcycle, simply set the speed and then you can adjust your position as you try desperately to find one that reduces pressure on the parts of your body that are now screaming in pain!

After 12 long hours we finally reached Chatttanooga, our destination for the day, where we filled up with fuel and checked in to the Holiday Inn. There was no sign of the choo-choo, nor the cat that chewed my new shoes, but the restaurant next door had some very good beer and a very nice grilled chicken salad. Now back at the hotel and with the clock showing just half-past nine, it’s time for an early night. We’ve another 600-mile day tomorrow, but as Aaron isn’t a morning person, it’s a 7:30am departure. I’m promised some more scenic views from the highway, but it’s another day of covering big miles to get the start of the trip proper. Based on today’s experience, I’m going to love it either way, as despite the monotony of the riding and the lack of inspiring scenery, just spending 12 hours in the saddle riding with friends old and new, it’s been a great day!

 

p.s. For those wondering about a lack of photos, trust me, today was not a day for photos. Besides, my helmet camera is playing up, saying the memory card is full when it isn’t. I will try to get some pictures tomorrow!

 

Day 2 : continued…

This evening was typical of evenings I spend with Aaron, meeting some great people and sharing stories over food, feeling totally relaxed and welcomed. Dinner was a fully loaded burger, so I’ll have to make amends tomorrow by not eating too much or my new Klim suit won’t fit! The movie we went to see was the latest in the Predator franchise, and the only remarkable thing about it was the seats in the movie theatre, which were single electric recliners which were more comfortable than the couch I have at home! No wonder Mira fell asleep during the film!

Day 2 – Friday 14th September : Get Ready, Get Set…

After a most fitful night’s sleep, where I woke from vivid dreams of Aaron’s Tesla driving itself and getting struck by lightning, I finally crawled from bed just after 6am, a solid 9 hours after turning in. If they had been 9 hours of sleep, I would have been totally rested and fully refreshed. But they weren’t, although the extremely powerful shower did a good job of restoring some sense of feeling alive.

With no fresh clothes to put on, I think the shower may have been wasted, but with my bag still at the airport there was nothing else to do. After watching the sun rise over the bay (I told you this place was special!), and speaking to Tracy on FaceTime, Aaron and I headed out, me riding a Ducati Multistrada 1260 and him leading in the Tesla. A quick stop for breakfast and fuel for the bike and then we were at the airport, where I collected my bag without fuss. Then it was on to his Tampa dealership, where he got on with some work whilst I caught up with things back home and booked my hotel room for our TransAM reunion in November when Aaron is over in the UK.

I also got to try on the Klim Badlands Pro suit that is part of my reason for being here. This is a very well made riding suit designed specifically for adventure riding, and whilst this particular trip may not put it to the test fully, the trip next year most certainly will. First impressions are that it is (a) heavy – but not as heavy as my Rukka jacket and (b) fits very well indeed. I was also delighted to find myself fitting into the size 34” trousers – I really have lost quite a bit of weight!

After a business lunch at a local “Mellow Mushroom” restaurant famous for its pizza (I had a Caesar salad) we returned to the dealership and then grabbed our gear before returning to Aaron’s, this time me riding his BMW R1200GS so it’s ready for tomorrow. With all my gear now available, I’ve had time to re-pack stuff into the bag I’ll be taking and will shortly be heading for another shower and to get changed ready to go out and eat again. This evening we’re going out with some of Aaron and Mira’s friends for dinner then on to the movies. See, I’m already turning American. Awesome!

Day 1 : Thursday 13th September: Flights, Thunderstorms and Lightning induced baggage issues

An early start to get to the airport the mandatory 3 hours early, with Tracy giving me a lift and putting up with me ranting about my RoSPA re-test yesterday taking 3.5hours due to the examiner wanting to share lots of stories with me (when all I wanted to do was get it over with so I could get home and get ready!). She really does have a lot to put up with!

Once dropped off at the airport I passed through check-in/bag drop off remarkably quickly and then positively flew through security. All this meant that I had lots of time to kill and nothing much to do. I’d already had breakfast before leaving so avoided ruining my diet before I’d even got to the States, although I did treat myself to a bag of sweets for the flight. The flight to Philadelphia boarded without drama and was largely uneventful save for a small interruption to eat a poor cottage pie. I watched a couple of films – Deadpool 2, Early Man and Solo – which was made much harder by the terrible connection on the headphones which meant all I could really hear was a high-pitched screaming. I checked, and it wasn’t coming from the old lady sat next to me. I avoided the snack brought prior to landing, and then made my way through to the extremely long queue at US Immigration. With some 60 gates available where operatives can interview people wanting to enter the US, they manned only 4 or 5, so this took a while. When it was finally my turn I floundered at the first question “purpose of visit”, trying to get all my words out in one rush – why is it that authority figures such as these always make me feel guilty even when I’ve done nothing wrong?! But it must be fairly normal because after a little chit-chat I was free to pass on to baggage claim and get my bag, then drag it through a cursory customs check before handing it over to another baggage handler to be placed on the Tampa flight. By now I was well in to the 2-hour lay-over period before my next flight and so my heart sank when I saw the size of the queue at the security check point. It would appear that no-one designing airport layouts has yet considered that when a plan with 500 people on it arrives, they will all arrive at each stage of the process together. Having 2 security lines working (out of 5) at these times will lead to delays. Fortunately I managed to get through it with just enough time for a brisk walk – not easy with a dodgy knee – to the gate and straight on to the plane to Tampa. Another 5 minutes and I’d have missed it altogether.

This flight was also fairly uneventful, with not even a meal service to break up the nearly 3 hour monotony, but on arrival the sky was flashing with great bursts of lightning. The first announcement after parking up was that due to the lightning they couldn’t bring the ramp to the plane, meaning we would have to stay put, but this turned out to be a false alarm and we all disembarked eventually. Once at the baggage carousel I met up with Aaron and we chatted whilst waiting for my bag to appear. Or any bags to appear. Then there was an announcement saying that due to the lightning the bags couldn’t be unloaded from the plane and suggesting we go get dinner and come back later, or come back tomorrow. So we did just that, heading out into a torrential downpour to Aaron’s Tesla Model X (all very fancy!) and into St Petersburg, where we met up with Mire driving their wonderful-sounding BMW M2. Dinner was at a Mexican restaurant and I was extremely sensible ordering a Tequila-flavoured king prawn salad. And a very large glass of Mexican beer. Well, I am on holiday!

After dinner we took a short drive to Arron’s place, windows down so we could hear Mira accelerating away from every set of lights in the M2. The silent Tesla not distracting from the aural delight. Back at the house I had the guided tour and it is, without doubt, one of the most fantastic properties I’ve ever had the luxury of staying at. But I won’t break any secrets by revealing more, suffice to say I can’t think of a nicer or more worthy couple to have such a place.

Before turning in we watched the electric storm across the bay. A perfect end to the first day of my latest adventure.

Time for a new adventure

As is so often the case, the best laid plans of mice and men, and me, seems to go awry. This time it’s hurricane Florence that is wreaking havoc with my plans, or rather those of my good friend Aaron who has organised our latest adventure.

Once a year he organises a motorcycle trip from his dealerships in Florida to Nova Scotia in north east Canada. I’ve been trying to get myself on one of these trips for years, but due to the pressure of running our motorcycle training business haven’t been able to make it work. This year we took the momentous decision to close the school and “retire” in order to take full advantage of such opportunities, and so I signed up and booked my flights. I depart early tomorrow morning, flying via Philadelphia to Tampa to hook up with Aaron ready for Saturday’s departure. The original plan was to catch the auto train up to close to Washington DC to avoid a lot of ‘less interesting’ riding and to get us north quickly. Only Florence has decided to batter the east coast of the US and caused Amtrack to cancel the train. So now it looks like we will have a few long days on the highways as we try to get things back on track (no pun intended!).

But that’s all for later. For now, I’ve been packing and getting ready to go. Upstairs in the bedroom my big yellow bag is packed with bike boots, gloves and my Kriega pannier bag full of the clothes I’ll need for the trip, all packed and ready to go. All ready for tomorrow. And I’m rather excited!

As always there are a couple of things I need to do before then, though, and that includes taking my 3-yearly RoSPA Diploma re-test, which is arranged for this afternoon at 1pm. I just hope that I can keep my mind on the job at hand and not start day-dreaming of my new adventure!

The return of the Just One More Mile blog!

Today is an historic day.

Just like all others.

But today is rather special, because it marks the return of the Just One More Mile blog.

For those not familiar with this blog, it’s a place where I share my thoughts, dreams, plans and adventures. Originally the blog was intended to act as a record of our (that’s my wife, Tracy and me, Paul) journey around the world, originally scheduled to start in 2008. Life has a habit of de-railing the best-laid plans and so ours turned into a journey of another kind, as recorded in the original blogs which you can find on the main website.

Now is the time to once again dream of a new challenge.

The next few blog posts will elaborate on the past few years – since we’ve unfortunately lost the blogs from roughly 2012 to the present date (September 2018) to help fill in some of the gaps.

When I’ve closed the necessary gaps I’ll start blogging again in earnest. Or at least, more frequently than recently (which won’t be difficult as I’ve not posted for about 4 years!).

If you want to follow our travels, this is where you can do so. We hope you enjoy the ride!