Wednesday, 30 June 2010

US Tour - Final Day, 19 - Vegas - Home, 28th June 2010

Our last day. We are up just after 8am. Weather, the usual. Sounds like you are having something similar at the moment. That'll be nice and cool for us when we get back!

Mission this morning was to go to Walgreen's. Couldn't have the offices going without their sweets, eh? Got a bit of breakfast, then back to the room to pack up.

All packed we checked out. Bit of a query with the bill. They wanted to charge $67 resort fee, to cover dressing gowns, papers, etc. This had been introduced after we booked last year, so that came off the bill.

Cases were left with the bell boys whilst we spent our last day on The Strip.

We headed over to the Flamingo. They have a tropical garden there, with, yes you guessed it, Flamingos. It's quite remarkable, this little piece of greenery and water is surrounded on 3 sides by massive skyscraping buildings. Besides the Flamingos they have some Koi Carp and some other big black things that can grow up to 400lbs in weight or something like that!!!

We move on, searching out the next attraction and more importantly the shade. The sun is blisteringly hot. Up to 109F/43C they reckon.

Next stop was Planet Hollywood and the Rainstorm. As usual the attraction is about 1/2 mile walk through all the casino area. As with other hotels, the ceiling is painted like the sky and shops are made to look like old buildings, these seem to be of a Morrocan influence. The Rainstorm itself is pretty disappointing. A few flashes of light on the ceiling accompanied by some bangs of thunder and water falling from the ceiling into a large pool. You'd get more water if you set off the sprinklers! After a few minutes it was over, 2/10.

We made our way back out into the heat and over to the Harley Cafe. This is quite a large diner with a small shop attached, selling t-shirts, etc. The cafe itself has all sorts of Harley/US66 memorabilia/signage on the walls but most spectacular of all it has Harleys hanging from the ceiling in cradles and a moving track, so as you sit and eat, a variety of HDs pass above your head. They have a Fat Boy. I think of David off the trip, there's a picture for him! They also have Captain America (maybe a replica), the chopper ridden by Peter Fonda in the film Easy Rider. I take some pics, then realise it's a pay to have you pic taken with it attraction. A guy comes over but we talk our way out of any possible 'situation' and leave.

We head for the MGM Grand. They have a lion sanctuary inside the hotel. Across the road is New York, New York, complete with miniature Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty. A roller coaster weaves its way through the buildings and we can hear the screams of the punters on it.

Outside the MGM is a bronze statue of a lion. Not just any old statue but the biggest thing you are ever likely to see in your life. Indeed, it claims to be the biggest bronze statue in the western hemisphere. It is huge, like everything around here. Inside, we find the lion enclosure. There is a glass roofed passageway through the middle. On top, along with a couple of trainers are two lionesses, doing what cats do best, sleeping. There is a little talk telling you about the lions and their enclosure. They have 37 in all but bus two/three in each day from the 'ranch'.

From the MGM we took a wander into New York. No attractions here, so we just had a quick look round. Themes run through most all the hotels it seems, sky painted ceilings and walkways/shops made to look like streets. These, obviously, of New York.

Time was getting on so we started our trek back towards our own hotel, stopping off on the way for a late lunch, Subway once again. We played some more slots, then popped across to McDonalds for a McFlurry. By this time it was time to head back, collect our cases and get changed into travelling clothes. That done, we spent another half hour or so playing the slots before making our way outside for our bus to the airport.

We had already checked in so it was a quick affair to get through the bag drop. Security was pretty much the same as over here, except we had to go the through the x-ray scanner, legs apart and hands above your head. Not so much as a piece of paper in your pockets! That done, shoes and belts, etc, back on we found seats at the gate and got talking to a young Dutch lad about football.  Blow me if whilst we are talking to him, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink doesn't walk up to the gate to board our aircraft. We both look at each other. He says is that JFH. I reply I'm sure it is. Cath says she's going to ask for his autograph.

We board the plane and Cath asks the stewardess is she will ask JFH if he minds giving her his autograph. A little while later, the stewardess appears with a 1st class menu, on it is written "To Catherine, Best Wishes" and JFH's signature. Cool!  Not sure what he's doing in Vegas, I guess he hasn't got any TV commitments for the world cup, else he'd be in South Africa.

Flight passes fairly uneventfully and we are at Heathrow about 14:45. By the time we clear customs, get our bags, get the tube and arrive at St Pancras it's about 2 hours later. The 16:58 high speeder gets us into Chatham just after 17:35. We decide to get a cab the short distance to Cath's, to save struggling up hill with the luggage. The driver, unlike the Americans, is less than helpful. Firstly saying he doesn't think he can get the luggage in his Vectra!, then standing and watching whilst I load it all in the back. When we arrive at Cath's I unload everything myself whilst he fumbles about trying to find change of a fiver for the £4.20 charge. In the end, although he has done nothing to earn it Cath tells him to keep the change. The drivers in the States do expect a tip but they do something to deserve it, unlike this t*sser.

We dump the luggage at Cath's, I retrieve my door keys and we then get the bus back to my place. I then drive back down to Cath's to drop her off and collect my luggage.

Back home, my US tour is finally over.

It's been a memorable 3 weeks. I have so many memories from the bike tour AND Vegas that's it's very difficult to pick a particular highlight. There's the excitement of the limo drive to the Harley dealer in Chicago to pick the bike up, the low of the Oklahoma storms, the Wild Hogs diner, baring my arse in the Mojave desert, the sheer scale of the Grand Canyon and the sense of satisfaction at having completed the ride in Santa Monica. In Vegas, the roasting temperatures, the various free shows and the size of the resorts all stand out along with the frustration the crowds caused me.

Would I do it again. The ride, maybe. maybe in reverse. Vegas, possibly but maybe when it's a bit cooler. 45C ain't much fun.

And that's it, the end of my blog. I hope it's been both informative and entertaining. I've tried to give you all a flavour of what I've been experiencing and feeling along the way. Hopefully, it's kept you entertained and not sent you to sleep.

Thanks for following me on this journey.


Monday, 28 June 2010

US Tour - Day 18 - Vegas, 27th June 2010

Barely felt like we'd been to bed. 3:50 alarm for the Grand Canyon tour. It's still dark but as we get outside it's still warm. It's quite amazing to see people on the slots at this time of day and revellers still up from the night before. Do I sound old?

Tour bus arrives about 4:55 and takes us out to Boulder airport, just outside the city. We are checked in, where we are both weighed, then given a coloured sticker to wear. Then, along with about 11 others we are called to the gate. A bus takes us a short way to a smallish aircraft. It has 3 seats across and about a foot wide gangway. They don't use the middle seat though, so everyone has a window. We belt up, put on our guide headphones, then before you know it the twin engined aircraft is in the sky. It flies out over the Hoover Dam for a photoshoot then heads out across the Mojave desert towards the west rim of the Grand Canyon. We touch down about 40 minutes later on Hulapai Indian (Native American) territory. We are transferred to a bus and then bused out to Eagle Point. This is the home of the Skywalk. For those that don't know (google it) this is a glass horseshoe shaped bridge that extends out over the edge of the canyon. We take some pictures of the canyon, then Cath and I make our way in the Skywalk entrance. We are the first. All personal belongings have to be left in a locker and we have to go through a scanner. Next we have to put overshoes on, so as not to scratch the glass. Then we are at the skywalk itself. Given Cath's fear of heights, what happens next is quite amazing. Well, next, next. First of all she steps on the glass, looks down and steps back immediately. The guy there points out that the rock is only 10 feet below. We then both move out onto the glass, Cath leading the way. I'm so proud of her. We move out over the glass and look down at the rocks below. There is a photographer with us and he tells us the floor is 3000ft below. The scale of things here means you lose perspective. Cath knows it's a long way down but it's not that apparent, so she's OK. We catch a sight of the Colorado river. It is, apparently, 3 miles away. Again it doesn't appear that far away. Cath even manages to sit down on the glass and look down. By the time we come off it, last to do so from our party, she is a little shakey but she has achieved something quite remarkable for someone with her fear.

We take a few more snaps and catch a bus to Guano Point. Named after 'bat turds' we are told. Here we have our breakfast, for me that's shredded beef and rice, Cath, corn, rice and vegetables. Whilst we're eating we are visited by an Albert squirrel. It's a bit bigger than a grey, with a redish back, almost matching the red rock.  

We walk out onto an outcrop and take some more photos, then we catch the coach back to the airport terminal. The flight back is a little shorter than going, as they bypass the Hoover Dam. We touch down and are transferred to the terminal building, then onward to our hotel. Back in the room and TV on, Argentina are beating Mexico and the commentator makes a statement about how will they cope with Germany. I guess we lost then. Later the humiliation becomes clear.

Cath takes a nap whilst I catch up with the blog and uploading photos. We then get ready to go out. We have a rendezvous planned with the destruction of Atlantis in the Caesar's Forum. It seems like you are walking for miles inside before you reach the spot. We take up our positions and wait. The show itself is quite stunning. Animatronic figures wave swords at each other, then dancing waters and flames ensue. Finally a beast appears to swallow everything up and there is darkness.

That over with we step into the Cheesecake Factory for our dinner. I have a blue cheese burger and fries, Cath an omelette with potato cubes and tomato. It's decent enough grub and reasonably priced. We leave there to do the rounds of the Caesar's Palace and Bellagio. The latter having a botanical garden, with real flowers and olive trees but in the setting of a giant garden. There are massive bronze ants, a huge flower pot and trowel and other creatures such as ladybirds and bees. Out of the Bellagio we stop to watch the dancing waters once more. Unfortunately some loud yank girl stands next to Cath and insists on bellowing down her ear. As the music begins Cath asks her if we can listen to the music, she replies we can hear it. Cath's retort is short and to the point, "not with your mouth, we can't" That quietens her down a bit.

Finally we make our way back to The Mirage and watch the volcano erupting again (we saw it the previous night), this time from the road side. It's better but still not up to some of the other free shows we've seen.

We head inside and do a few more slots. I win $10 on a roulette machine, then promptly lose $5 on a blackjack machine. We make our way to bed.

Tomorrow is our last day. I have checked us onto our flight, so we can guarantee sitting together. The flight is scheduled for 20:40, so we still have most of the day to do some more sightseeing, even after we've packed.

The next and final blog will be from back in the UK.


Sunday, 27 June 2010

US Tour - Day 17 - Vegas, 26th June 2010

Bit of a lie in today. It's Strip day. Weather is starting to get really boring now, hot, hot, hot.

We venture out into the sun and head across the street to Walgreens. It's a Boots like offshoot of Walmart. It's probably the only place on the Strip that you can buy anything 'normal'. Most other shops are boutique shops. We'll be back later to make some purchases but for now we make our way into the Venetian hotel.

Once again we are hit by the wow factor. As we step through the doors we are met with a ceiling covered in Michael Angelo type paintings. Wandering through, the ceiling changes to one of blue sky and fluffy white clouds. At this point shops down the walkways become old venetian style buildings. It's really quite a good effect. Just round a corner we are confronted with the canal, complete with gondolas and singing gondoliers!

We wander round some more marvelling at what we are seeing, when the walkway or street opens into a big piazza. All this inside the hotel complex. A group of singers sing some traditional Italian songs.

Before we know it we have completed the circuit and cross over into the adjoining hotel, the Palazzo. This isn't a themed hotel, so nothing to report other than more designer shops. We make our way back outside and continue along the Strip. We venture into the Casino Royale. Sounds grand but is anything but. However, at the back they have a Subway so we stop for lunch. This is a first for Cath, she's never had one before. A veggie delite for Cath and Italian BMT for me, are washed down with lemonade.

Next stop on this tour is the Paris hotel. The entrance is under the legs of the scaled down Eiffel Tower! Once inside, similar to the Venetian, the walkways are made to look like streets. Whilst in here Cath decides to have another go on the slots. This time the machines aren't so friendly and she's down a couple of dollars.

We start to make our way back to our hotel, via the Forum shops at Caesar's Palace. Again this is a themed building. Fountains with prancing horses and massive roman serving wenches holding up the 3 floors are what greet you. Like everything in this place it's grand and way over the top.

There's another visit to the slots on our way through our hotel and we book a table in the BB King's restaurant for 8pm. There's some blogging and photo downloading before it's time to get ready to go out again. This time we are off to the Treasure Island Hotel to see their show but first we re-visit Walgreens and buy some snacks and root beer.

The TI show lasts about 15 minutes. Story goes; pirate gets lured to ship by sirens. They hold him hostage and his crew mates sail up in another ship to rescue him. Sirens won't let him go, so there are a few blasts of cannon fire, which the sirens ignore. In return they sing and dance and that stirs up a storm that sinks the pirate ship. Pirates end up swimming to siren ship and everyone lives happily ever after. Firework finale. We again have a quick go on the slots in TI, then get the tram back to the Mirage in time for dinner. BB King's has a live blues band playing. It's a bit noisy for us oldies but very entertaining none the less. I have a pulled pork sandwich, with fries, Cath a baby spinach leaf salad. A large blue moon beer sets me back $10!!

After dinner there is another play on the slots. It's my turn to play this time. I'm up nearly a dollar when the wins dry up. I decide to quit, retaining my dollar stake. Cath says she'll buy me out and gives me the dollar, then precedes to win $4. Who's a mug, eh?

Winnings claimed we head back to our room. We have to be up at 3:50 for our trip to the Grand Canyon, pickup 4:35.


US Tour - Day 16 - Vegas, 25th June 2010

Well the tour may be over but now I and Cath are gettin' our kicks in Vegas.

Today was car hire day. I rented a Mustang and we drove out to the Hoover Dam.

Weather was pretty damned hot (no pun intended) when we left the hotel at 8:45, the overnight low was only 79!

We took the short walk to the Wynn hotel, completed the paperwork and were soon pulling out onto The Strip in our electric blue mussa! There wasn't much fuel in it, so we had to look for a gas station. Navigation out of the city was a piece of p*ss, as I'd already printed off directions from google maps. We pulled off the interstate following a sign for gas and ended up in a supermarket car park. We decided to make a quick visit. Round the corner we fuelled up and then joined the interstate again to head for Boulder City and the Hoover Dam beyond.

We drove through Boulder City and past our planned lunch stop, the Boulder Dam Brewing Co. This is a micro brewery or brew pub. Basically it means they brew their own beers on the premises and that's what they serve. Shortly after Boulder we rejoin the highway to be confronted with a 4 mile queue of traffic to the Dam. There is a new road/bridge being constructed and I had thought it was finished but it's not. Not sure if this contributes to the queue or not but certainly the security checkpoint does. This is a bit like a customs check at a border. Every car is stopped, then either waved through or directed to an area for a search. Soon as I open my mouth (foreigner) they wave me into a bay. I have to turn off the engine and open the bonnet and boot. I pop the buttons and get out. I expect the woman to lift the bonnet but she says she's not allowed. I tell her I don't know how to do it as the car is rented!! I manage though and she seems quite happy that there is no high explosive strapped to my engine! The boot is empty, so we are waved on our way with a cheery have a nice day. F U assholes! Once past these, the traffic moves swifter and we soon pull into the visitor centre car park. The temp gauge in the car is registering about 107. We park up and make our way to the centre.

Security in the centre is very tight. no food allowed, no drink, except water. It's like the airport, everything having to go through the scanner. I have my camel back and wonder if that might prove a problem but it's Cath that gets turned back with a carton of juice. Ticket bought we walk about 15 feet before someone else wants to check it!!

Once past the stiff necks, there is a short film about the building of the dam. Next a guide takes you down 54 stories into the inside of the dam itself. Here you see the massive pipes, 30ft in diameter, that the Colorado water rushes through, from Lake Mead. Next stop, the generator house with 8 massive generators. Finally we are deposited at a viewing overlook, giving a superb view over the dam, lake and the river the other side.

It is baking hot. There is quite a breeze blowing but it's like the blast of air you get when you open the oven door. We take a walk out onto the dam. The middle is the state line between Nevada and Arizona, so we cross into Arizona on one side then back on the other. Cath is feeling the heat, so we seek out shade asap before she passes out. A quick visit to the gift shop follows, then we are back in the car heading for the brew pub at Boulder City. Traffic coming towards the dam is still backed up for about 3-4 miles.

We have our lunch at the brewpub, a salad and some fries for Cath, a bratwurst hotdog for me. I try a small glass of one of the brews, Raspberry Vice then have a root beer to dilute it, as I'm driving. Cath has iced tea. The waitress directs us to the hotel across the road. It's a landmark, as it's an original building from when the city was built to house the dam workers in 1933.

From Boulder we head back towards the dam to take the lakeshore drive. This is quite pleasant, affording some lovely views of Lake Mead. We stop at a few viewing points along the drive to take pictures. I get a fresh roasting each time I get out of the car. We have seen the temp gauge in the car hit 114!

Our final destination in the car is the Gun Shop. I had planned to fire a gun here since I first discovered you can. I have to say though the whole experience was a tad disappointing. Pretty much like a production line. You walk through the door and are invited immediately to sign a form if you want to shoot. Then shuffling along the counter a guy asks you what you want to shoot. He suggests a Glock 17. I say I want to fire the Dirty Harry .44 Magnum as well. He asks me to chose two targets. These are paper targets on the wall. Numbered 1-18 they range from basic target type images to several of middle eastern chaps. He unashamedly suggests the one of Bin Laden. I chose this and one of a Nazi zombie, given our upcoming game against the Germans. Racism rules in the Gun Shop. We choose goggles and ear defenders, then wait in line for an instructor to become available. When he is, we are taken to the ranges. There are about 8 shooting bays, with guys, women and kids even, shooting machine guns and all manner of hardware. The floor is littered with spent shell cases. I'm led to the booth. The guy attaches the first of my targets and winds it down the range. He loads the Glock and shows me how to hold it then tells me to line up the sights. That's my tuition done. I take a few shots but have to stop to put my reading glasses on. I can't focus on the sights. Glasses on I can see properly and empty the clip into Osama. The guy loads the next clip and I have another 10 shots at the hateful terrorist. One down, the magnum to go. The target is retrieved and I think I only missed once. OBL would definitely be dead and the world at peace once more. The next target is wound down the range, the magnum loaded and the same drill run through. I pump all five shots into the Nazi zombie. Once more the world can rest easy. And that's the experience over. Probably from walking through the front door to walking out again was no more than 20 minutes. Not quite the experience I was expecting but still something to remember. It's a bit surreal really. Another first in my life though and they say life begins at 40!

We ran the car back, then headed back to the hotel for a rest and freshen up before going out again. We walked up the strip to The Bellagio to watch the dancing fountain music show. Each performance is different, with different music. Our performance was to some USA forever, God bless the yanks type anthem. The water and light show is pretty spectacular though. We make the walk back to the Mirage. I have to say I'm not really that happy in the crowds. You can barely move for people, half of whom seem to be drunk or on the verge and carrying huge glasses, yards of ale, etc, full of beer or cocktails. I like to walk fast and you just can't do that I'm afraid. I long for the open road of R66 and my Harley again.

Back at our hotel, we get a table at the pizza restaurant. An all meats pizza with a root beer fills the gap for me.

Cath dips her toe in the gambling waters by having a go on the 1 cent slots. Loading up $5 she plays for a little while, ignoring my advice to 'bank' when she got over $6, finally retrieving her $5. None the richer or poorer but having had a good time none the less.

Bedtime. No alarm set, DND sign on the door, that's all for today.


Saturday, 26 June 2010

US Tour - Day 15 - LA to Vegas.

Up earlyish and packed in plenty of time. Texts from Cath tell me that her flight has been delayed by 4 hours. BA are useless. By the time she clears customs in Vegas it will be gone midnight.

Weather once again is sunny and warm, though it’s a bit cooler here near the coast, still high 70s though.

I leave the hotel just before 10am to get the airport shuttle bus to LAX. I miss one by 30 seconds but it’s only about a 5 minute wait for the next one. That takes about 10 minutes to drop me off at Terminal 1. I am wearing my Union Jack t-shirt and it draws some comments from the women on the check in desks. I check my case in, at a cost of $20 and then have to wheel it myself over to a guy who puts it through a scanner. I clear security with a couple of comments about how we have scraped through with the US to the last 16 of the World Cup. I get myself a light lunch, i.e. a bottle of water, a packet of ‘chips’ and a Hershey bar, my first chocolate of the tour. I have about 2 hours till boarding time. I find a seat and wait.

Turns out the flight is overbooked, so they ask for volunteers to wait for a later flight. They give a $200 voucher to those that do, so not a bad incentive. Aircraft is small, so they then decide that we can’t take medium sized hand luggage on board. I have my laptop, camera and crash helmet in mine, so I have to take the electricals out and hope they don’t chuck the bag about with my helmet in.

Flight is only about an hour long, just time enough to have a free soft drink. The stewardess has the sexiest voice I’ve ever heard on a stewardess. She’s not a bad looker either, if you like the Sarah Palin lookalikes!  I get talking to a guy in the seat next to me. An ex marine and a big bloke but a proper Jessie, he doesn’t like flying. I talk to him as we come in to land at Vegas to take his mind off things. The landing is rough, so that doesn’t do anything to help allay his fears. Nice guy though.

The heat hits me as I walk out of the aircraft door. It’s hot, very hot. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it’s 100+.

Whilst waiting at the carousel  for my case I notice a slim black guy, with a suited guy and a minder. I recognise him as a boxer but can’t for the life of me remember his name. If I do I’ll let you know. He’s well known though. He won’t be fighting for a while, if he isn’t retired, as he has his arm in a sling.

Outside the terminal, I buy a ticket for the shuttle bus. You can buy a return but can’t use it the same day. Only saves a dollar, so no sweat. Have to wait about 15 minutes in blazing sun for bus to arrive, then it’s a 10-15 minute journey to the hotel, The Mirage. I check in and then make the journey, yes that’s the only way to describe it to the elevators. It’s a 5 minute bleedin’ walk, through all the slot machines. Room is on the 16th floor. View from the window is rooftop and interstate, though the Trump hotel is off to the right.

I watch a bit of TV, then head out to find out where the Hertz car rental place is in the Wynn hotel. That’s about  10 minute walk up the strip. When I get there I again have another 5 minute walk through the interior of the place to find the Hertz desk. It’s closed but at least I know where we have to come in the morning.

I then take a walk back down the strip to look for something to eat. I end up in McD’s, the first ‘junk’ food of my trip. It fills a gap and doesn’t break the bank, so it’ll do. I head back to the hotel and wait. I have about 2 hours to kill before I have to go to the airport to meet Cath. I watch one of these travelling chef type programmes with some fat bloke eating all sorts of disgusting stuff in Bangkok.

I go down to the lobby and decide it’s probably quicker to get a cab than wait for a shuttle. I’m not sure how often they run anyway. I get a cab, something I’m not usually prone to doing. After the driver drops me at the wrong place, despite me double checking with him (b’stard), I have to get the inter terminal shuttle to international arrivals. Luckily Cath hasn’t come out of the customs hall by the time I get there. 15 minutes later she’s in my arms. It’s been a long two weeks and I’ve missed her, despite the distraction of the ride.  We get another cab back to the hotel,  a much nicer chap this time and we finally crash out at about 00:30. Car pick up is 9am, so I set my alarm for 7:30 and turn in.


Friday, 25 June 2010

US66 Tour - Day 14 - Victorville to Santa Monica

Apologies for blog update being delayed. Hilton wanted to charge $6 for an hour online. Typical of these big chains, nothing’s free.

This is it, our last day of the tour. We have a bit of a lie in today as the journey from Victorville is only 80 or so miles, we leave about 9:45.

Weather, yup, same old, same old.

I manage to get in some internet business before I leave and see England have won against Slovenia, so finally I can wear my Union Jack T-shirt to dinner. And where better than the LAX Hilton!!

For our final rider briefing Gary warns us about the mad LA drivers. We will be travelling on the interstate all the way into LA today, not riding US66, as this will take too long and being quite an arduous journey, due to many traffic lights, he’d rather we don’t have to suffer that in the heat. Plus, there ain’t much to see anyway. We are told to stick close together, keep our wits about us and keep the speed up. Off we go.

Frenetic is how I would describe the journey into Santa Monica. There are cars, trucks, etc, passing on both sides, cutting in front of you, sometimes across 5 lanes to take an exit at the last minute. I’m used to travelling at high speeds in close proximity to other vehicles, so I’m quite comfortable in this environment. Not sure some of the others were. However, despite their best efforts, the locals were unable to claim any biker trophies today and we all arrived safely at Santa Monica Pier.

We park up and walk up the hillside overlooking the beach. Here there are two things of interest. Firstly, the Will Rogers plaque. Will Rogers was a comedian who travelled R66 last century as he embarked upon his career. I think when he made it big he attributed his success to the Mother Road bringing him out West (Google if you’re interested). Next up, there is a sign saying this is the west end of R66. Photos are taken at both before we head back down to the pier and our lunch.

Many of you will be familiar with the film Forrest Gump. Well, lunch today was at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Apparently it is owned by Tom Hanks. It’s very popular, people queuing to get in but we just saunter in, as like most everything on this tour, Gary has it covered and we have a table already booked. I have a Shrimp Po’ Guy, least I think that’s what it was called. Deep fried shrimps, prawns to us, on French baguette with shredded lettuce and tomato, accompanied by French fries. I wash this down with a root beer. As usual what you imagine will be small turns out to be quite a belly full.

Outside Bubba Gump is another sign for R66, this one claiming to be the end of the trail. And indeed it is. A 100 yards or so further on you would fall into the Pacific.

We take a walk down the Santa Monica Pier, opened in 1909. It’s not a whole lot different from our own piers. Cotton candy (candy floss) kiosks, amusements and the now familiar back home, fairground rides. This is the Pacific Ocean we are staring out at. My first, maybe last, ever experience of it. David and I had said we might take a swim, though having had lunch we decided to forego that ‘pleasure’. We decide though that we must at least have a paddle. In the end David bottles it, not wanting to get his boots wet! Simon, Vivien and I all experience the sea lapping round our feet, some more so than others as a bigger wave catches me out, covering my boots and running halfway up my legs. Simon caught it on film. No matter, it’s warm enough that this will soon dry and at least I can now claim I’ve been in the Pacific.

We head back to the van where we line up for a group bike shot with the golden sandy beach in the background. Such an attraction are we, that 4 or 5 Japanese young ladies want to photograph us too, waving us off as we start our final journey on the bikes to drop them at Bartel’s the LA Harley dealer.

A short ride later, a quick fuel stop (bikes have to be handed back full) and we are handing over the keys. They do a quick check to make sure there is no damage and that’s it, tour over.

Gary takes the van with all our gear and heads off to the hotel. We inspect some shiny Harleys and make more purchases whilst waiting for our transport. An air conditioned 16 seater takes us to the LAX Hilton. My room is on the 10th floor. From my window I can see aircraft coming in to land. With 3 hours to kill before we all meet up again for our farewell dinner I key my blog notes, mugged off that the Hilton want to charge for internet use. I’m hoping that the Mirage in Vegas won’t be so tight!

We meet in the lobby for dinner. This is a freebie, courtesy of California Sun Riders, excluding alcohol. We have a green salad to start and then there is a choice of steak, salmon or chicken, all served with creamy garlic mashed potato and vegetables. Hardly gourmet but nice enough. I have the chicken. After the meal Gary gives a little speech to officially close the tour. He also hands out gifts to us all. These are, a map of the US with the route we took highlighted in gold, a certificate to say we completed over 2600 miles of the route and a framed picture of us doing our graffiti at the Cadillac Ranch. There was an additional presentation to David. He had wanted to ride a Harley Fat Boy on the tour but that had been trashed days before we arrived, so he ended up with a Road King. His gifts were a toy Fat Boy and a T-shirt. I think the slogan went ‘The ride’s not over till the Fat Boy sings’

We then made a presentation to Gary. I had bought a card in Santa Fe and everyone had signed it. We had also had a whip round for him. I gave him the card and made a little speech, then handed him a plastic bag with a few odd coins in it. Small value coins out here are like our 5p and copper coins, too small to be of any real use, so I had just been collecting them in the plastic bag. Not sure he guessed it was a joke until everyone laughed, then I gave him an envelope with the real cash in it. And that was pretty much it.

We all said our goodbyes, hugs, kisses, manly handshakes and backslapping abounding, then went our separate ways to bed. Gary will be away early, as he has to prepare for the next tour. Pat will be off about 10am to meet up with his wife and I’m leaving around the same time to go to Vegas. The others are all booked on the same Virgin flight back to Heathrow, so they can continue the friendship that bit longer.

The tour is over but the blog will continue. I’ll be posting what adventures Cath and I have got up to in Sin City.


Wednesday, 23 June 2010

US66 Tour - Day 13 - Needles to Victorville

Weather, you guessed it, sunny and hot. Due to get even hotter as we head into the Mojave desert.

Had a rather lame free breakfast before the off, free, except you have to pay for one drink. $2 for an OJ! Meal and service not nearly as good as we had the night before at the same joint.

We set off at our usual time, 8:30 and fuelled up. Then we hit the open road. This is more a riding day than sightseeing day, though we had plans for a photo shoot when we got into the Mojave. We rode for only a little while to get acclimatised to the heat, then stopped for a short break and to sort out our camel backs. Gary assured us we would need them in 100+ temps. We were all wearing long sleeved white shirts, to ease the effects of the blazing sun. Jackets were discarded, definitely not needed on today’s journey.

Whilst we were stopped the eagle rider mob cruised past. They hadn't stayed at the same hotel as us this time round, so this was the first sight of them since sometime yesterday. We continued our journey.

A little way up the road we came across the Eagleriders, stopped in the road, having their photos taken with the Route 66 shield emblazoned on the road. We motored on for a few miles until we came to the spot where Gary had said was the best spot to get the pictures of the shield on the road. Just at the crest of the hill. We pulled over and took some individual photos. Then we re-enacted the poses from the poster for the Wild Hogs film. This involved the 4 single guys lining up behind Bill's Harley, which had been carefully laid on its side. It made a great pic.

We were soon alerted by the sound of Harleys approaching. Gary is good mates with the Eaglerider support truck driver, Mark and they are always having little pranks between them. So Gary decides it would be a great idea if we mooned Mark as he drives by. Some of the guys preferred to retain their dignity and take photos, so it was left to Gary, myself and Bill to do the honours. Imagine the scene. You're in the middle of the Mojave desert, it's over 100 degrees, there is absolutely nothing for miles except this ribbon of tarmac, when you happen upon a few bikes parked at the side of the road. Suddenly, 3 guys, 2 the wrong side of fifty, drop their trousers and flash their bare white arses at you! Absolutely unbelievable! What a crack. We couldn't stop laughing. Bill, love him, was a little too keen and instead of just mooning the van, gave a virtuoso performance a couple of extra times for the preceding bikers! We've since watched it back on video and it is even funnier than when we did it.

Trousers buttoned, we made our way a few miles further down the road. to Roy's cafe. Gary cut us loose again for this section. It's incredibly straight and being downhill, with no worries about visibility, I wound the RK up. Luckily for me there were no CHPs about, I doubled the legal limit! It's an amazing stretch of road. At one point you crest a hill and can see Roy's cafe in the distance. The road then slopes gently down, true as an arrow for 5 miles to the cafe. There's nothing like that in the UK to my knowledge. A brief stop ensues and we take some photos. Gary hoses us all down with cold water and we continue in the searing heat.

Our next stop is a lunch stop in Barstow. An unremarkable diner, where the service, it has to be said, was chronically slow. This is probably the worst place Gary has taken us too. I did notice when he was telling us where we would stop, he didn't talk about how good the food was. Unusual for Gary. We were soon on our way again.

Barstow to Victorville is only a short ride, 25 miles or so, away. We still had one more stop to make though. This was at Elmer's Bottle Ranch. Elmer, another friend of Gary's (aren't they all), makes steel 'trees' on which he then sets a load of bottles, usually topped off by something metal, maybe an old wheel, sign or windmill made from hubcaps. Take the name and the nature of the 'art' and you'd be forgiven for thinking Elmer is a redneck nutcase. Well maybe he is but he comes across as quite an intelligent guy, despite his ZZ Top style beard and dungarees. Just another one of the astonishing experiences we have had on this tour. Never a dull moment on Route 66, especially when following the bear!

We soon mount up again and take the short ride into Victorville and the hotel.

Tonight it's end of tour night in Gary's room. After freshening up, we meet up for beers from Gary's cooler, chat, watch some video and order in takeaway pizza. As Pat has a birthday after the tour ends, we have got him a card and Gary has bought AND decorated a cake. It's a nice way to end the evening, our last with the bikes. This time tomorrow we will have completed our journey and be in our hotel at LA airport. But before that we have a shortish ride into LA and Santa Monica Boulevard, with a 10 lane highway to negotiate, in anticipated 90+ temps. What joy. Another memorable experience though, I'm sure.