I pass through the last time zone change that will happen on the bike, into the very pretty countryside of North Carolina and the blue ridge parkway, where I get stuck behind slow moving RVs. The parkway has nice views with the trees changing colour, but feels artificial, like the driveway of a country estate. The traffic annoys, it’s wet and misty, and I’m concerned about being stuck far from the possibility of repair if the chain gives out, so I escape towards the interstate as the rain starts.
I find a motel and sit in a bar, listening to the southern drawl and casual racism. This feels like redneck county. There are churches everywhere and signs on people’s lawns saying simply “Jesus”.
The best sign was one depicting a conversation between God and a worshipper:-
“Dear God, please send us someone to cure cancer, aids, etc.”
“I did. You aborted them.”
This wasn’t one of those church signs, it was just on someone’s lawn in really small country town. I would have stopped to take a photo but today’s soundtrack was the duelling banjos from Deliverance so I didn’t really feel like stopping.
In the bar there is a sign for Newcastle brown ale. First it reminds me of seeing the picture of the Tyne bridges in the Baku hotel room, then it makes me realise I’m nearly there. New York, home, the end of the trip and a full circumnavigation by motorcycle.
It’s a cool, grey, overcast day, but no rain. The ride through Tennessee is easy, and the scenery is nicer than recent days. Nothing spectacular, but nice houses and lots of trees. I stop for more health food, KFC this time. The drumsticks are the size of baseball bats, the wings must have come from an Albatross. What the hell does America feed its chickens with? I’m sure it can’t be good for you, and I’m sure I’ve put on weight in the past few weeks in America and Canada, but it’s almost impossible to find healthy food on the road. Everywhere you look there are a million different fast food chains, but even in proper restaurants the salads are drowning in mayo and everything comes with “cheese”. Seriously, America, what don’t you understand about making cheese? This molten yellow plastic vomit you have is not cheese, it’s barely even cheese flavor (that’s American for “flavour”). Although, I am getting quite adept at navigating the menus of all these different establishments, and I have to admit being quite partial to an A&W cheese and bacon Uncle Burger, hold the mustard, and a sausage, egg and cheese homestyle-biscuit breakfast sandwich from Tim Horton’s. But only because there’s nothing else. And I’m still always confused by the barrage of questions fired at me when I order something. Have here or take out? Small or large? How would like your fries? What kind of sauce? Do you want dips? Which colour bag would you like? Shall I hand it to you with my left hand or my right hand? Good grief, it’s worse than the horribly insincere and impossibly cheerful “Hi, how are you doing today?” that is the standard greeting in any American fast-food joint. How would I like my fries? Erm, I dunno, fried maybe?
I’m starting to feel like I’m into the final stages, heading for home, and starting to really focus on the bike. Will it make it? Will I make it? So close now, it just has to hold together for a few more days. But it’s lost more oil, and the chain needs another adjustment, and the headlamp bulb needs replacing.
I came south to escape the record low temperatures and have run straight into record rainfall. The southern states have been suffering a bad drought for months, now we have flooding. The cold and snow was bad, but rain is worse. It’s no problem for me, I stay dry on the inside, but the bike is becoming increasingly allergic to water and in the heavy spray kicked up by the big 18-wheelers on the interstates it often sputters and dies. A quick spray of WD-40 revives it soon enough, but it’s quite nerve-wracking navigating busy intersections knowing I might lose drive at any moment.
I’ve seen a lot of RVs driving along towing cars behind them, but today I see a coach-sized RV towing a Jeep towing a speedboat with a quadbike in it. That must be a pretty big pension fund!
I arrive in Little Rock where it seems that I really can’t understand a word anyone says (apart from “Gee!”, which I hear a lot), and everyone thinks my quaint little accent is swell and lots of people wonder if I’m from Australia and one person asks if it’s spring in England right now…..
A long boring day riding under cloudy skies trying to cover enough distance to escape the rain coming up from the south to meet me now that i’ve eluded the northern snow. Just a long, long day of nothing but riding.
I stop for gas (that’s American for petrol) and notice that the bike is leaking oil. All I can do is keep fingers crossed that the bike will hold up, but I’m pushing it hard every day. It now has 35000 miles on the clock and I’m doing more than 400 a day. 18,000 miles since leaving home. I’m glad I started with a brand new chain and sprocket, otherwise I would already be in trouble.
I stop for a burger (that’s American for health food) and notice that the chain is slack again, and the sprocket is wearing badly. I start to mentally compare the wear rate to the remaining distance to New York but I can’t help fiddling the numbers to make it fit the answer I want and I calculate I’ll probably make it. There’s nothing I can do anyway, I just have to ride and keep checking it.
I very often have song endlessly looping in the back of my mind as I ride, usually an irritating pop-song or something of which I only know one or two lines. Predictably, today’s soundtrack is Amarillo, and for a while at least, yes, actually this is the way.
A beautiful sunny morning but very, very cold, below freezing. No point starting early, I need to wait for the day to warm up, it’s going to be very cold in the mountains. Being right next door to the Colorado ski resorts of Vail, Aspen and Breckenridge, there is a resort TV channel showing nothing but MTB videos, including loads of stuff I recognise from Whistler.
When I finally go outside I discover that another adventure biker has left a bottle of beer on my bike. This is the kind of thing that I love about biking. Someone who has no idea who I am has bought me a beer simply because I’m riding a bike. There is no way you can be in anything other than a great mood when something like that happens, so adjusting the wheel in the bitter cold is carried out in good spirits.
Whoever you are, cheers! Thanks not just for the kind thought and your generosity, but for bestowing upon me not your average everyday Budweiser, but rather a fine gourmet micro-brewery autumn special pumpkin ale.
There follows a really nice ride, much warmer, some nice scenery thorough the mountains, easy going. The day disappears. I cross into the wide open spaces of New Mexico and enjoy the effortless cruising as the sun sets.
Then I relax with my benefactor’s beer, perfectly chilled by the cool weather. Nice!