United States of America

This is going to be my last post for a while as the time has finally come for me to go home. With no visas to continue the adventure into Asia and my 90 days in USA coming to an end, I am now sat in a friend’s house waiting to go to the airport.

The USA has been awesome and I’ve only achieved a tiny fraction of what I wanted to see an do, but I’ve still done loads and I’ve seen so many amazing places that I didn’t know about before coming here. USA is a vast country, and as such I’ve taken a silly amount of photos to share with you, so its best I shut up and you can have a gander at them using the fancy new layout I’ve only recently realised I can do (what a difference typing the word “rectangular” can make. Although it might cause your browsers to crash!).

I crossed into the border from Mexico at Laredo. It was late in the day and I had a quick scout around to see how much a motel would cost. Prices were high as it was the 4th of July weekend but even the normal prices would take the majority of daily budget. That isn’t really a problem in USA cos if there ever was a place to camp, then this is it! American is hugely into outdoor living, which is obvious when we consider all the amazing American wilderness that there is to enjoy and explore. There are camping sites everywhere, ranging from completely free and basic to highly equipped and expensive although I spent my first week on the road mostly free camping wherever I felt like it, which although is much safer than anywhere I’ve been before, its still illegal with the added danger that land owners can shoot you without warning in certain states (Texas for one) and, according to some American friends, would look forward to doing so! In general though I’ve liked most of the people I’ve met in the US and its been great to be speaking English again, even if not everyone understands what I’m saying and thinks that I sound Australian or Irish.

I spent my first few days in Austin Texas with Andy, another Brit who I had met in Ushuaia over a year ago before riding west to Santa Fe, New Mexico to see my friend Kelly who I had met in Thailand back when I was a young early twenty-something. After the dry scenery of Texas and New Mexico I rode on to the snow capped mountains of Colorado to catch up with Fletch, the rider I had met in Argentina and Chile and I stayed with him and his friends in the ski town of Crested Butte which is a cool place to be with a young crowd who have moved there to enjoy the snow in the winter and the mountains in the summer.

I had a ton of contacts to hang out with in Colorado, as quite a few of bikers I had met in South America had put me in contact with their friends. I stayed in Denver with Charles, a rider I had met while backpacking in 2009 in La Paz Bolivia. His journey in South America ended in disaster when he crashed into a fire engine on the Chilean island of Chiloé. Although hes fine now, he spent several weeks in hospital with broken bones and his bike was completely destroyed as it burst into flames, with the Chilean firemen deciding not to put it out! Also in Denver, I stayed and hung out with Peter, a friend of David who I had met in Cartagena, Colombia. Peter was super-generous and let my use his flat while he was away to host my British friend Richard who kindly came to visit me from Seattle, being the first friend from home I’d seen since seeing Ben in Buenas Aires just after I arrived from Africa. Also thanks to Wheeler for putting me up in Aspen.

As ever I had a whole list of jobs to do on my bike. The drive chain had come off several times and had chewed up the rear sprocket to the point that it had no teeth. This was due to a knackered cush drive bearing and I had replaced this in Crested Butte along with welding up a massive crack in the frame (thanks to Skyhigh Offroad). Amongst other things I changed the fork oil, chain and sprockets, cush drive rubbers, greased the swing arm linkages and changed the swingarm bearings. The swingarm bearing was a bastard of a job and I waited until I was somewhere comfortable to work before doing them. John from Villa Carlos Paz had put me in contact with Lu, who lives in Boulder and I stayed at her place for a week not only fixing up my bike but also fixing up her and John’s little dirt bikes that had been lying idle for quite a while and needed some care.

My bike was feeling like new after all this work and I headed off to Utah to try it out on the trails of Moab. The United States has a great off-road scene and technical trails that rival anything I’d seen on my journey so far. Most of the bad roads I’d ridden elsewhere in the journey were still intended to be roads and in general are transited by vehicles, but the United States has trails that where never intended to be passed by anything more than a horse and cart and are absolute heaven for off-road enthusiasts. There are so many of them too. I would be riding through a place when I would bump into other riders who would recommend more and more trails to be ridden. It was in this way that I ended up riding the ‘Slickrock’ bike trail in Moab. There were only cyclists on it when I was there but I have been told that it was initially set up as a track for dirt bikes. ‘Slickrock’ means smooth sandstone and although I dropped/fell off the bike many times I was having a fantastic time right up until my last crash that broke the clutch lever and smashed the fairing up to the point that I couldn’t steer the bike anymore. I had to take the fairing off and carry it out of the track and retrieve the bike the next day. I ended spending best part of a week in Moab fixing the bike up to make it road legal again.

The bike had been getting quite a lot of attention in USA. The original 600 Ténérés were never imported to USA and loads of riders came over to have a look. Many also asked about he new 660 Ténéré which also isn’t available in USA, so come on Yamaha sort yourself out, people want to buy that bike, just look at how many KLRs Kawasaki sell in USA (Oh, and how about some sponsorship for me?). Most US riders however are Harley riders and they mostly tend to keep to themselves, like its a different sort of vehicle or something. True, heavy large engine bikes with fairings make much more sense on the US roads than my bike does but as Charles said, “they are heavy, underpowered machines that basically convert fuel to noise”! A Harley-riding friend in Austin actually offered to lend me a Harley so we could go riding together. He meant well, but I’ve already got a bike thanks!

After all the fun in Moab (White Rim Trail, Shafer Trail, Long Canyon, Slickrocks), I went off to explore more of Utah. I had been planning to go to Yellowstone and then out east to see more friends before my visa would run out but with the extra delays due to the Slickrock crash and spending a whole month in Denver, it was better to relax and take my time with Utah and it was a decision that I’m very glad I made. Southern Utah is full of cool stuff to do. My friend Joel in Salt lake city described it as ‘a huge outdoor playground’ and I got to see Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park and Lake Powell. Joel also told me about ‘The Wave’ a group of mad rock formations in the North Coyote Buttes. Access to the Wave is restricted to twenty people per day, with ten of the places allocated daily through a lottery at the national park office in Kanab and I was jammy enough to win one giving me a truly special experience that I’ll never forget.

I’d been camping for over two weeks when I arrived at Lake Powell and I’d been mostly showering in rivers, or at one point in a waterfall created by a flash flood! so it was nice to bathe in the lukewarm water of the lake and chill out. It was while I at the lake that I found out that my dear friends in UK who run the pub where I had my leaving party in 2011 where moving on to run a new pub elsewhere. I’d been dreaming for 3 years of coming back there to see everyone and it just wouldn’t be the same without them, so I decided to cut my journey short and head for home (I’d only be missing an extra week anyway). What? No Grand Canyon you say? well I saw the Grand Canyon with my family when I was about twelve and although it would have been good to see it again as an adult, flying over it in a light aircraft (as we did) would be pretty hard to beat. Besides, the rest of Utah had given me enough canyon action to last a lifetime. I made it through the hellish deep sand at Lone Rock (see video below) and on to Las Vegas where just one expensive night out was enough to tell me that I couldn’t afford to stay there any longer and once the hangover cleared I rode through Death Valley to California and through Yosemite to San Francisco where I had arranged to leave the bike with Gautam, a rider from India that I met in Moab.

Gautam has been great and its a shame that we wont be hanging out for long before I fly, but obviously I’m coming back for my bike so I can make the most of San Francisco then.

I said that this will be my last post for a while but who knows? I don’t plan to stay in UK for all of the winter. For one I cant afford to! but I’ve been looking at this little break from life on the road as an opportunity to possibly travel without my bike (traveling as a break from life on the road, gotta love my logic!) so maybe there will be other adventures to write about in the meantime.

Still, with continued travel or not, this still feels very much like the end of something huge for me. The end of 3 years on my bike away from home to be precise and I’m totally ready, happy and very emotional to be going home.

Many thanks to everyone who has helped make this journey happen for me so far.

UK people. Anyone fancy a pint?