Thursday, 31 March 2016

To JFK and the hop across the Atlantic

It's not over, but it's close. 

London calling.
Just another big city to get out of asap. Hopefully reunited with my trusty motorbike.
I've missed my faithful travel partner. Sending it home from Australia was absolutely the right thing to do. But my journey has been lessened without it. I became just another tourist. Just another rental car on the road. Anonymous as a world traveller. The bike parked at fuel stations, cafes, camp sites and hotels was always a source of conversation. Always an illustration  of wonder and sense of adventure at the journey.

Very sad to say that this HUGE adventure is in its closing stages. I can't begin to imagine how I'm going to cope with going back to life/work and the fact of not travelling onwards continually. That I guess is something I will have to come to terms with.

I didn't set out on this journey looking for answers to unknown questions and consequently I haven't found any. I have though generated a few questions about my own life and where I go from here. With the sights and experiences I have had over the last 12 months I think my perspective has been irrevocably altered.

You are not what you own.
All the trivial things that tie us down. The obsession with personal belongings. The unimportant things that gain a higher than deserved  level of of our attention. The things that stop us from exploring everything the world has to offer and brings our focus into a narrow margin instead of raising our eyes and seeing the world for what it is and not what is reported as being. 

There are lots of fabulous, amazing and wonderful experiences to grasp hold of. Switch off the news and find your own answers. They are not in the biased views of the news reports that attempts to bring a sense of community where it is divided by cultural differences and political opinions. Different people see things differently that is inherently human. Trying to pretend we are all the same is not going to work. Russians whole heartedly believe their own country is stronger and safer than any other. So do Koreans and Australians... 
New Zealand is!

Local news gives a local bias to its reports. The UK is no different. The BBC is no less biased on its reporting than the Russian news agency.

London. It's bank holiday. It's raining. It's windy, It's grey. Obvious security at Heathrow. Trains delayed due to bad weather.It's England at the end of March. Ho hum.

A hotel near the shipping agents and my bike is available for collection on Tuesday. It might just be a damp ride north.

English breakfast. Well you just have to don't you! Sun shining on the river Thames.. Guess it's not so bad.

My bike is 'mostly' as I left it.. A few extra dings, a couple of extra scratches. The crate arrived damaged. It looks like it's been on its side at some point. But nothing dramatic. 

Putting the front wheel back in and the mirrors and screen and it started first time.

The battery had not been disconnected but was still fully charged. The oil was at minimum (another indication of not being upright?) The tyres were low on air but other than that the signs of long travel are evident and I love the used patina of the bike now.

The sense of crowds is huge. The feeling of people everywhere is overwhelming. The M25 is busy. Constant 50mph variable speed limits. Cameras everywhere. No one cares that my bike is returning from a huge adventure. No one notices the travel stickers. It feels like I need a neon sign pointing out what I've achieved. But instead I'm anonymous. Just another bike on the road. Just another bloke who obviously can't afford to run a car.

The weather is kind and cool spring sunshine accompanies me on my journey north.
Arrival at home is less appealing. It's not a place that makes me happy. No where else to go. No moving on to something new. Just back to the real world. A lack of adventure and a loss of freedom. 

Things need to change. This is my next challenge.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Hudson valley

The wide deep waters of the Hudson river are surrounded on both banks by heavily tree'd country. At this time of year these trees are leafless. I imagine during the summer and probably especially in autumn the scenery would be amazingly colourful.

The towns and villages in the area do look to have been hit quite hard by the financial crash. Huge shopping malls have lots of empty lots. There are "abandoned" business premises all over the place. I guess the cost of living out weighs the cost of a steak. Especially when you get a side order of fries, and everything that goes with it.. Most people seem to have done just that!

I've seen lots of TV series about buying and restoring old cars in the USA, but looking around it does seem that there are lots of old vehicles sat slowly decaying among the woodpile next to barns and houses. This far north salted roads are a winter fact with the subsequent corrosion issues for the local cars. Rusted sills it seems are not a road worthiness issue in New York state.

Given the nationalistic stance of most Americans I have been surprised by the quantity of Japanese vehicles. It's true there's lots of Chevrolet's and Jeeps and the HUGE GMC and Ford F150 pickup trucks and Sport Utillidy ve-Hickles are mostly US branded (even if  some of them are built in Korea), but they seem to be greatly outnumbered by foreign cars. In fact looking back around the whole journey, Japanese cars have a huge presence all over the world. I'm just surprised that the average Joe in stars n stripes allows his wallet to override his sense of national duty!

Then again I guess price, reliability and equipment will override nationalistic beliefs. 

Up into the Catskill mountains there is a huge silence hanging in the trees. Out through Pheonicia and out into the hills. An overpowering sense of stillness. (strangely - not even the sound of bird calls) With ice still lingering on a pond. The silence broken by the sound of a falling tree somewhere on the hillside.

And then by a Subaru roaring past with the exhaust hanging from its tail end. Modern life just won't stay out of the way.

A twisting road past a "famous " waterfall that it was impossible to get close to. Apparently 19th century painters and writers flocked to the area, but the "view" was nowhere near anything envisioned in the old painting.

This is also the land of Rip Van Winkle.. sleepy old man! I think sleeping out the travel through america might have been a nice idea ! 

The actual town of Catskill is standard fare again for these New York state towns, which have that slightly down at heal feel. A main street with lots of empty stores. Peeling paint on the wooden built houses. Groups of unemployed watching the world go by. I've tired not to be "down" on the USA, but its obvious to me that there are lots of issues with loss of business and industry. 

In huge contrast, the little town of Highland Falls is an image of affluence. Shiny new cars on the streets and several car and bike dealers with stacks of stock of big trucks and shiny cars. The reason? The town is also home to West Point. The US military academy. The war machine obviously pays well. 

Back to the ever present still waters of the Hudson river. With the temperatures warming up the number of people sitting by the waters edge increases as the afternoon sun brings a feeling of spring. 

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

1969 Aquarian Exposition (Peace Man!)

Lots of "kills" around here... Murderkill (!!) river, Broadkill and Whorekill (!!) river, also Catskill, Peeskill, Fishkill The list goes on ....
Less entertaining than the names is the explanation. A body of water, a kill is a creek. The word coming from the Dutch kille meaning riverbed or water channel. So now you know!

Also Leeds and Stockport. Chelsea and New Hamburg to name only a few. Places that didn't grow to the same proportions as New York, but never the less originated from the Europeans who moved to the new world. 

A trip up towards the Catskill mountains brought me to a couple of places that live on the 60's hippie mantra (man) of peace and love and music and whatever else sells to bring in the visiting tourist. 

New Paltz is a small town on a hillside with a brown meandering tributary of the Hudson river flowing at the bottom of the main street. There are significant Irish influences with a couple of Irish themed pubs and the shamrock in evidence in most places, only outdone by the number of peace symbols.

Given my earlier thoughts about the American way  and the "thanks for your service" speech to a uniformed soldier. I wonder how the "peace" thing sits with the American conscience. I've read lots about that era and the friction between the factions. I guess that issue still sits there under the bubble of the "World Police" psyche 

THE gig to be at at the end of 1969. Unfortunately I was only 6 years old at the time!
But the spirit of the age lives on in the sleepy little town nearest to the venue of the last big hippy event of the 60s. A few of the local inhabitants it seems are clinging onto the event. An old guy in flared and patched rainbow dungarees, his matted grey beard to his chest and seemingly his befuddled brain still seeking inner equilibrium wanders around the town singing at the top of his voice to accompany a barefoot chap playing the didgeridoo on the benches in the centre of the village. Tie die clothing, art, music and cafes all cater for the visitor seeking enlightenment from the heady days of the peace movement. 

Maybe business isn't always what it should be in the sleepy corner of upstate new york.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

New York! The winds of winter

Americans! (A generalisation)
Its nothing personal, but really!? 

I've experienced lots of cultures on this trip. Maybe my own opinion is affecting my view, but why are they all so GODAMN LOUD?!

Airport announcements (I can kinda understand need to be, but) are delivered in a high pitched female wail like she's on amphetamines. S-l-o-w down and people might just have a chance to understand you love!

In a Taco bar, one guy complains because he doesn't like what he's ordered. Spoken at a volume just so everyone sitting at the tables can hear. Guess you just picked the wrong item off the menu. shouting at the poor girl at the till wont help!

The false over excitable positivity is positively wearing!

A teenage girl says to uniformed soldier "thanks for your service". Now while that is a worthy statement, it just comes across as overly false to me. (thank god we're all safe in the world!) 

I've overheard so many "private" conversations both between two people or like one guy on the phone all held at a volume so that everyone can hear. The guy on the phone actually looking around the shuttle bus as he spoke - Just checking everyone is listening?

Subtly is lost on them it seems. 

"God bless 'Merica" (y-all)

In a New York minute.
After 11 months of summer its bloody freezing back in the northern hemisphere. Winter is lingering along with patches of snow. 

Getting outta town was my primary target on arrival at JFK. Queens, The Bronx. All names that have conjured up images of New York in mostly less than luminous light! Its not a pretty place in the most part. Lots of streets under a constant shadow of the steel support for the overhead train lines. Steam venting from the grates in the road, Yellow cabs with no English speaking drivers finding their way by satellite. Everyone pre-occupied with their own little bubble of existence. Not wanting to encourage conversation or even interest. 

The world is so much more open outside of cities where globally it seems to me, the self centred, the self important and those driven by opportunity, money or ambitions of power seem to gather in their millions.

It's an old story. "Where the streets are paved with gold"... And it's still being played out today at the channel ports, the Mexican  border and in the Mediterranean. 

Give me the open smile and interested conversation of someone who sees beauty in open spaces and blues skies. Those are the real human beings. Those are the people who can see the world for what it is and not the dumping ground of human waste that so much of our planet has become. 

On a lighter note!

The Catskill region in "up state new Yoyk" is a very nice area to be.. The Hudson valley hugging the wide waters of the Hudson river. Classical old style wooden houses clustered around small towns and huge bridges spanning the cold waters. No sign of leaves on the trees, but the weather forecast is for milder temperatures.. In fact "record" temperatures for the time of year.

My long hot summer has come to an abrupt end. But it was amazing while it lasted. The days are clear, crisp and actually beautiful in their own way. Winter is on the wane. but from what I have seen so far there's little in the way of signs of spring in the slow to react flora. The trees, still naked branches and the grass around so many of the houses brown and obviously recovering the the harshness of the northern winter.  

Just another American observation.
Drive through burger joints... Ok.. 
I've seen drive through beer sales in Australia..
But a drive though ATM! Has to be the ultimate in car culture laziness?

Monday, 7 March 2016

Welcome to Arizona,"where summer spends the winter and hell spends the summer"

Tucson Arizona
"Get back, get back, get back to where you once belonged!"

After the Ponderosa pine covered mountain town of Flagstaff, modern Tucson is a sprawling mass of low rise buildings filling the flat valley floor as far as the eye can see.. Surrounded, on the horizon by a low mountain range heavily populated with enormous cacti. From a vantage point on sentinel peak the view is less than appealing.

"Standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona, and I'm quite sure I'm in the wrong song"

The apparent misspelling is explained on an information board. In the native American papago language .. Styuk-son ... Styuck meaning black spring and son for the foot of a hill.

So it's not the Koreans that got it wrong with the Hyundai Tucson!

So "Too-sohn" ... Not much to write home about really...

Just outside town in a valley wonderfully blessed with iconic desert scenery is Old Tuscon.
A western town used as a movie set for many cowboy films and tv series'. Including Rio bravo, The outlaw Jose Wales and Tombstone. The dusty street, the boardwalk store fronts and saloon, the town hall, sheriff's office and every other clichéd western scene is here. All have been walked by people like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.

Staged gunfights, informational demonstrations and shops selling native Indian and related gifts. The buildings are complete and not just fake fronted props.

Wandering into the desert later, the size of the cactus have to be seen to be believed! With desert plants, cactus of all shapes, small lizards and probably lots of snakes this of the real wild west and away from the sprawling modernity of 21st century Arizona, the real country is still alive, well and probably unchanged since the native American Navajo tribes wandered this land.

I read an article about Arizona and in it was a section about water shortages. It stated that there is just the right amount of water in the desert. The problem comes when people decide to build a city in it!

Winter is coming
This will be my last glimpse of this eleven month long summer. After Arizona's warm sunshine its time to head to the chill of March in more northerly latitudes. Best dig out the extra clothes I've carried just for that occasion. Hopefully by the time I get back to England the winter will have eased its icy grey fingers and signs of early spring will be in the air... I can only hope!

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Time traveling man....

Bidding a sad farewell to New Zealand after returning the camper van to Auckland it's time to move on again.

"If we could somehow... harness this lightning... channel it... into the flux capacitor... it just might work. Next Saturday night, we're sending you back to the future!"

Although its not a Delorean...a Boeing 777 flies me to San Francisco.. A three hour change before a couple of hours flight to Phoenix.. About 18 hours travel time and I arrive two hours before I left Auckland on the same day... I've got a day back of my life... 

Time travel is a reality !

San Francisco... Whatever day it is, or was... I'm not wearing flowers in my hair.. And didn't get to meet any particularly gentle people either.. Just passing through man!

Phoenix, Arizona
Cactus. Warning signs for snakes. .. This is cowboy country. Bike riders are 90% Harley or Victory mounted. Cowboy boots, denim waistcoat and no crash helmet is the order of day it seems. Not sure how much protection a bandanna provides. Enough to look cool I guess.

Driving out of the valley in my rented Korean badge engineered  Chevy Trax the road rises from the valley into the mountains. Fir trees line the badly surfaced road and snow still clings to the banking.

The measurements have gone back in time to. Miles I'm used to in confused Britain that mixes metric and imperial. But fuel is by the gallon, fruit is sold by the pound, liquid by the quart and temperature in Fahrenheit.. I hadn't realised how much I accept metric measurements until there are non.

While we're on the subject. One US gallon equals 3.785 litres.. Filling up at $1.79 a gallon. Which I work out to be roughly 33p per litre. Hmmm! no wonder there so many HUGE pick-up trucks around.

At seven thousand feet altitude (that's two thousand one hundred metres) Flagstaff will be my base for a couple of days.. I'm on Route66. A quick view of the grand canyon is an easy drive from here, before I move on to seek out some iconic Route66 memorabilia. I'm into US tourist mode.. Doing one sight and moving on to the next. Hot damn!

Put me on a highway, the interstate. 
A dirt road to any place

Long as I'm looking gone. 
Chasing down some blue skies, 
in my old truck, tune the world out, 
turn the radio up
 and sing along to my freedom song

Holes in the ground
Grand canyon ... It's an iconic symbol of America, but unlike lots of icons it lived up to its billing. More than lived up to it.. I was genuinely stunned by the scale and immense natural beauty of this wonder of the world. The layers distinctly highlighting what geologists see in lumps of rock. 

Getting away from the built up visitor facilities shows the area at its natural best.. And as usual I appreciated being away from other human beings, especially when they are excitable "jeewudchalookatit" Americans!

A bit further down the road is a Meteor crater showing what the impact of a small rock can have given enough velocity. The information at the site says the crater is 1200m diameter and suggests the meteor was approximately 50m and the speed of impact at 12.8km/second (28,000mph) with an impact of about 10 megatons. The meteorite was mostly vaporised on impact.

Quite an amazing sight.

The "mother road" "America's high Street" all the other clichés that apply. 

In reality Route66 is little more than a collection of towns along the remains of the old highway to California surviving by means of memorabilia and tourists keen to live the legend. 

The modern interstate 40 allowing free flowing modern traffic to bypass once thriving businesses. But the romanticism of the migration of the population from recession hit east to the golden west coast along a road bridging the continent continues to draw travellers to the dusty remains. 

And there is something that makes it worthwhile. A vision of what was, an escape route to a better life. 

The human belief of being in control of our own destiny is as bright today as it was a hundred years ago.

Moving on!