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Archive for the ‘USA 2011: full report’ Category

Full Report: Day 27-30, Oct 16-19: Clarks Summit, PA – New York, NY

Day total: 134 miles
Trip total:  7842 miles

Today is the day. The day that I will complete my 12.500km journey through the entire country. The day that I will ride into New York City. The epic conclusion of my trip. My final destination. This is it.

I am up early. I am curious. I am eager. I am nervous. I am sad. I am happy. I am restless. I am every possible emotion. I feel victorious for completing the journey. I feel sad that it is over. Tomorrow, I won’t wake up anymore to find out what is beyond the horizon. To ride endless roads in the middle of nowhere. It is mixed feelings all morning.

The route I had planned was about 200 miles long today, taking me through some nice scenery in Pennsylvania before reaching New York City. But, I threw that plan down the drain immediately. First thing I did in the morning. Why? I felt like an athlete, running a marathon. At the end of the race, they often find the energy and speed to do a little sprint towards the finish. I had the desire for that sprint to. I was going to get to New York City today, and I wanted to do it as fast as possible. To hell with my beautiful scenic route. Straight to New York City it was!

The mixed feelings I had, started to disappear when I saw the first road signs mentioning New York on the freeways. My sadness that it was over vanished. Excitement took over. Even the fact that I had to put on my yellow safetyvest didn’t change that. The closer you get to New York, the more the people drive like maniacs…

I came closer and closer. It was one huge urban area. Roads, buildings, factories, houses… It was a good sign. I knew I was closing in on my destination. That was confirmed by seeing the Empire State Building on the horizon. And the New York Giants Stadium. I was almost there… I could smell it…

After a little while, all there was in-between Manhattan and me was the Hudson River. Of course, I had to cross it by taking the Holland Tunnel. I guess there was no escaping from my home country; unfortunately. I was politely asked if I was filming by the man in the tollbooth. If I was, I could get in trouble in the tunnel he said, police would get after me… Something to do with terrorist threat. Right. I didn’t really believe that, but to be sure I still put it down. A tunnel is boring anyway to film.

I paid the $11 to get through (ridiculous amount for short little tunnel). I got in, and I got out in no-time. And there it was… The east side of the tunnel drops you right into Lower Manhattan. I was right in the middle of true city life. High buildings, tons of people, crowded traffic lanes. Coffee shops, clothing stores, 7/11’s, copy shops… It is like taking your blindfold off in the middle of a huge metropolis; that’s how it felt coming out of that tunnel. Welcome to New York City.

Along the way, I was suddenly approached by a police officer. As she walked over, I was thinking: what the hell did I possibly do wrong? I couldn’t think of anything… There she was. “Is that a GoPro camera on your helmet?”. Ha! Was I worried for nothing! She told me that those were so awesome and that her photographer at her wedding used it as well… “It are such nifty little cameras!”. Ha, tell me something I don’t know yet!

By the way, thank God or whatever makes you happy for having my Garmin Zumo 550 navigation system… It got me without any trouble towards the Brooklyn Bridge. There, on the other side, lies the official end of USA2011. As I entered the bridge I couldn’t stop looking around me. This is what you see in so many movies. What everyone knows from TV and the internet. What you see on 10.000 cliché pictures of New York. But boy I enjoyed it! Despite the fact that it is a terrible old bridge with about the worst road condition I encountered on my entire trip…

On the other end, in Brooklyn, was my final destination. There it was. Just below the Brooklyn Bridge, where I could take a picture of the bridge together with the skyline with my bike in front of it all. Unfortunately, it was a pedestrian area. No way my bike was allowed there. I noticed a police van on the road next to it and didn’t hesitate a second; I went straight up to them and asked. Turned out that they were motorbike fanatics as well, and one of them had, and I quote, “always dreamed of such a cross country trip”. They were totally enthusiastic about my journey, and were happy to let me ride onto that pedestrian area to do whatever I wanted. “How can we say no to that?”. Thanks to the New York Police Department, it all ended as I had envisioned it.

I rode the last 50 official meters of my cross country trip. 40… 30… 20… 10… 5… I parked it at the end of the pier. It was perfect. With the switch of my key, the engine of the Trophy came to an end. I looked around me. The bridge. The skyline. It was all there. Exactly what I had in mind. I took off my helmet and looked around. I made it. Wow. This is it. From Santa Monica to New York City. 12.500 kilometers. 20 States. 30 days. USA2011 had officially ended.

Now, it was time to enjoy New York City for a couple of days. Relax and enjoy. Times Square, Wall Street, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty… I was up for a good time!

Before I had to fly home, I had to sell the motorcycle as well. And you never believe this: it was bought by someone with the intention to buy a bike to go across the country to… Los Angeles! The Trophy lived up to its promises, and got me here safe and sound. Didn’t hesitate a single second and accompanied me all the way without any problem. Sure, I did have a flat tire, ran out of gas, and had a dead battery, but nothing major. What a bike. My 1996 Triumph Trophy… Besides the hundreds of pictures, hours of video, countless memories of all the great moments, the best souvenir I have from this trip, is the license plate of the bike… Yes, USA2011 was over, but the memories will live on forever. Thank you America!

Full Report: Day 24-26, Oct 13-15: Chicago, IL – Cleveland, OH – East Aurora, NY – Clarks Summit, PA

Day 24, Oct 13 2011 – Chicago – Cleveland
Day total: 349 miles
Trip total: 7271 miles

Chicago. Cleveland. 2 huge names. The day sounded more promising than it actually was. The area that I had to cross today, was completely industrialized and civilized. Mankind had won every battle against nature here. No such thing as exciting scenery or breathtaking little roads.

No. Today, ‘freeway’ was the way to go. Roads in this area are only going in 2 directions: up/down and left/right…  And I had to go from left to right. Towards Cleveland. Which equals 350 miles on the freeway… No exciting stories, no exciting photos, no exciting nothing. The only cool thing was that I cold park the Trophy right in front of the Embassy Suites hotel in Cleveland. Valet let me park right in front of the hotel entrance. Now that is what I call service! Chicago could learn from that…

Day 25, Oct 14, 2011 – Cleveland – East Aurora, NY
Day total: 203 miles
Trip total: 7474 miles

Today should have been the day of the Niagara Falls and eating Buffalo Wings in the world-famous Anchor Bar in Buffalo. As I said: ‘should have been’. It never happened.

Right as I pulled out of Cleveland, dark clouds were moving in from the North. Not just dark clouds, but clouds so dark you know the shit is going to hit the fan. Clouds so dark you know you are going to be in hell. And there was no escaping.

From one moment to the other, hell was unleashed. Rain was falling out of the sky so badly, who needs to see the Niagara Falls? I was right underneath such thing right now… Besides the rain, the wind picked up dramatically too.

When it begins to rain when you are riding a motorcycle, you are trying to stay in the ‘dry’ tracks from cars. But with rain smashing down on the earth like this, there was no much such thing as ‘dry’ tracks. It was water all the way. In the beginning you worry about the grip of your tires as soon as you hit the wet area outside of the dry track, but since everything was wet anyways, I simply had to surrender to my tires and believe in them…

At one moment it became so bad, on the freeway, that I had to stop. I couldn’t see further than about 20 meters in front of me. I wasn’t too worried about that, but I was worried about the fact that other cars simply wouldn’t see me anymore. I decided to pull over underneath a bridge and wait for the worst rain to pass. I was soaking wet. I worried about my luggage being wet too, but I couldn’t deal with that right now. If it was wet already, there was nothing I could do about it anyway here.

As the worst rain was gone, I decided to hit the road again. After all, I was about to see the Niagara Falls today and have Buffalo Wings in the most famous buffalo wings bar in the world! As I pulled over at a gas station for some lunch (and to dry my gloves in the hot air blowers at the restrooms), I received a lot of comments from other people: “Wow, that most be terrifying”, “Good luck”, “What’s wrong with you to be on a bike in this weather?”…. I’ve heard them all.

It seemed to become a little better, weather wise, but it was nothing but wishful thinking. At about 40 miles from the Niagara Falls, the wind picked up again. Worse then before. The rain was back. Now, wind is one thing… I can deal with the rain too… But I don’t like those two together too much. The wind, coming solely from my 9-o’-clock, pushed me to the right all the time. I was leaning against it at a considerable angle, but with so much water on the road, that is not quite comforting. To make it worse, winds were not consistently. At some moments, it would be gone completely, only to make a huge comeback just seconds later.

I had to make a decision. Do I push on to the Niagara Falls, adding a 80 miles to today’s itinerary and making me arrive in the dark with this weather, or do I skip them… In other words, would I give up? Last time I was about to make that decision, I pushed myself to go on.

But for once, my brains took over from my heart. As much as I wanted to ride, it simply wasn’t safe. There was so much debris on the roads, and so much water. The winds were terrible. That was it. I decided it wouldn’t be smart to go on. I have had such an amazing trip already, why would I risk to go down? Deciding to pass on the Niagara Falls sucked, but my cross-country trip would still be amazing.

Yes. That was it. I was looking for an hotel. As soon as possible please! I just wanted to get inside, dry up and heat up… Working for an international hotel chain (Hilton, you might have heard of it), I get good deals on rooms in all kinds of hotels, but the catch is that I have to book them in advance. When I saw a Hampton Inn, I went straight for it. It would mean I only rode 200 miles today (the shortest day in the whole trip so far), but any mile more would be an invitation for another near-death experience at zero cost!

I pulled off my ‘poor little biker out there in the rain’ act. Their normal rate was $199 a night… Let’s see what I could make out of that! I ran into the Hotel Manager and explained him the situation. I also told him that I was fully aware of the policies and everything, but that I was just hoping to try out their hospitality. Help out a team member you know. Telling them that I was working for a hotel with 1234 rooms (compared to their 80) also worked miracles. I got the room for $59,99… “It is not safe for you to be out there, so we are happy to help you out”. Now that’s what I call hospitality! I was stranded, but at least in a nice place! Kudos to the Hampton Inn in East Aurora!

One more quote to finish the day: one of the girls behind the check-in desk, while I was talking with the manager, agreed to the fact that the weather was ruthless. “Yeah, they were talking about 40 foot waves on the radio for Lake Eerie!”. That’s waves of 13 meters. That is huge. As I looked over to her with a ‘really?’-look on my face, the Hotel Manager replied that “she likes drinking, so don’t believe everything she says”.

As I got to my room, I turned on the news. 40 foot waves on Lake Eerie, the Weather Channel said. The girl turned out to be right…

Day 25, Oct 15, 2011 – East Aurora, NY – Clarks Summit, PA
Day total: 233 miles
Trip total: 7707 miles

Yesterday was terrible. As I woke up, I could only hope for better weather today. But that hope was killed instantly when I opened up the curtains. It was still pouring outside. But, the good news was that the wind was pretty much gone!

With so much water smashing down on the motorcycle, I was afraid my luggage would have gotten wet yesterday. But, as I opened everything up, all was still dry! And it couldn’t get any worse than yesterday. So I wasn’t worried at all about the rain today. But I did put some of my electronics in plastic bags, just to be on the safe side… It is like going ‘Double Dutch’ haha.

As I was ready to ride for the day, it was still raining pretty badly. But, I knew there was no wind, and my stuff was all dry… So what could possibly happen to me? A little water is not going to kill me… I was in a good mood, despite all the rain coming down at me. Tomorrow, I was getting to New York City, and I was excited about that. I rode the whole day in massive rainfall again, but with every minute, I gained more faith in my tires. The bike didn’t let me down at any moment and handled very predictable at every move I had it make.

Although I wasn’t enjoying the scenery that much because of the rain and the low visibility, I felt like I was closing in on my final destination. It was like I could almost smell New York City already! I had been riding for about 4 weeks just to reach that city! As I was riding today, I thought of the many highlights that I had come across already: leaving the pier in Santa Monica, riding the old Hwy 66 in Nevada, being in the absolute middle of nowhere in Utah and Arizona, the mountains of Colorado, Antelope Island near Salt Lake City, Yellowstone National Park, my ‘almost-speeding-ticket’, the Beartooth Highway, the terrifying winds in South Dakota, meeting the same people after hundreds of miles, Las Vegas, Chicago… And so many more. What a trip.

I reached my destination in the late afternoon. As I got off the bike, I realized that I barely made any video with the GoPro camera the last couple of days. I also didn’t take out my Canon camera. Why? I don’t know… Maybe I was too focused on keeping the bike on the road. Maybe I was overwhelmed by the weather. I have no clue.

The day ended with doing laundry, getting an amazing to-go salad at a local fast-food place and watching baseball (the World Series) on TV…

One more day, one more. I was over 7700 miles away from Los Angeles. And only 140 away from New York city.

Full Report: Day 22-23, Oct 11-12: Gaylord, MI – Chicago, IL

Day total: 356 miles
Trip total: 6922 miles

Today is the day I have been looking forward to. It is around 350 miles to Chicago. A city I’ve never been to yet, but that was very high on my list of cities to visit. The city with the characteristic Chicago River. Today would be the day! Actually two days, as I am lucky enough to spend two days in the Windy City!

Last night I finally stayed in a Hampton Inn again, a hotel chain that I really started to appreciate during this trip. Once again, I ate breakfast for two, so I can skip lunch and drive straight to Chicago. At least I had no trouble with the waffle maker this morning; the one characteristic of a true quality hotel!

The beginning of the day got me into some small towns. Nothing to exciting. The one thing that did catch my attention was the parade of old-timers! Classic cars from the 1950′s and 1960′s… Sweet! Furthermore, the road towards Chicago couldn’t be any more boring or straight forward: it purely consists of highways and freeways. I had to smile when I saw a big billboard that said ‘Dutch Farmers Market’. Soon, I saw many more typical Dutch names of local towns: Holland, Zeeland, Overisel (for the Dutch readers: that was not a spelling error)… Turns out there’s a huge Dutch community in Southern Michigan. But I wasn’t here to get enriched by the Dutch, so I quickly rode by it. Lower Michigan is not the most exciting region to ride in unfortunately. But, with these speeds, it is just past noon when I reach the suburbs of Chicago. It doesn’t take long before I see the skyline in the far distance.

I have been riding pretty much in the middle of nowhere for the last three weeks. I have avoided major cities and came unto places that made me think I was the only person to be still alive on this planet. Places that made me believe again that it was Mother Nature who ruled the planet, and not mankind. Where rivers were finding its paths in the valleys while the elk and bison were grazing on its meadows. Places where I could stop, shut off the engine of the Trophy and couldn’t hear anything but the wind. Where the horizon was only blocked by the huge snow-covered mountains.

I just got my wake-up call. This was Chicago. This is the place where 9 million people live. Where everyone is on a schedule. Where time is money. Where the only jungle there is consists of nothing but a maze of concrete freeways. Where nature is nowhere to be found and where mankind makes the rules. I was back in the city.

The first sign of this was finding myself on a 6 lane freeway, with an army of kamikaze drivers that would have made Japan bite the dust. I had one of those near death experiences when a local Michael Schumacher decided to change lanes… At about 3 feet in front of my motorcycle at speeds of 65mph. If he could have heard me afterwards, he would be speaking a decent word of Dutch now. And we all know what the first words are that you learn in a foreign language…

It was busy on the freeway. I was happy when I got off. But then, the fun started all over again: taxi-drivers with a death wish, bicycle riders that think they are invincible, pedestrians that truly believe they don’t have to stop for traffic lights… My oh my. Yup. I was in the city again. On the bright side, with so many people around, there were also tons of people pointing at my GoPro camera, mounted on top of my helmet. Now I know how a deer feels when he is being observed by tons of people in a National Park…

My hotel was within the so-called Loop-area, the financial district of Chicago, surrounded by an elevated track of the metro; hence the name ‘the Loop’. When I got there, they only had valet parking available. Obviously, I won’t let anyone ride my motorcycle anywhere. But it seemed like they had never dealt with a motorcycle. Other hotels always let me park right up front on the driveway, but that was out of the question here. Finally one clever valet driver assisted me in locating the parking garage they were using. $36 a night. I started to realize Chicago and I started off on the wrong foot.

After a lot of hassle, I parked the motorcycle and dragged all my luggage into my hotel room. I stayed in the TheWit hotel. A very modern hotel with a perfect location. Perfect for the business traveler. Not so much for the die-hard biker… All the beautiful design furniture and stuff in the bathroom looked absolutely fabulous, but was far from practical. After being on the road for such a long time, I don’t want having to find out how something works, or be careful that I don’t make the entire bathroom a swimming pool when I am just washing my hands. I want comfort… Not a fridge that I can’t even put my own stuff in since it is completely electronic; anything just as much as moved a little bit in the fridge would automatically go to your bill. I should have seen this coming when I checked into the hotel: I didn’t quite fit with the other guests that were all in perfect business attire with shiny shoes, Rolex watches and Louis Vuitton purses…

After I got settled in, it was time to explore the city. Today and tomorrow, as I would stay two nights here. This is where I started to like the city for the first time. I could take pictures at my own pace, stroll around, enjoy dinner in a nice Irish Pub, get a couple drinks afterwards, climb the highest building and enjoy the view (the Sears Tower)… The only thing that sucked was that I missed half of the next day as I slept until 1pm. Remember I said everyone was on a schedule in the city? Well, I wasn’t, so I slept in and just enjoyed my days in Chicago as they came at me…

I also realized for the first time, that my trip was about to come close to the end. Over 3 weeks and 7000 miles ago, I started my trip in Santa Monica, California. And now, less than a 1000 miles to go to New York City…

Full Report: Day 21, Oct 10: Ironwood, MI – Gaylord, MI

Day total: 374 miles
Trip total: 6566 miles

Ok. I’ve now had it officially with cheap hotels. Again, I have a shower that sucks. But the worst was that my waffle got stuck to the waffle baker… So here I was, getting all tempted by the smell of the fresh waffle, with a nice fresh strawberry dip. The next moment I found myself scraping off pieces of waffle and having an amount of loose pieces that would even make a 1000pc jigsaw puzzle jealous.

I finish breakfast as quickly as possible and get to my Trophy that’s been awaiting me outside. The route today will take me to one major highlight of the trip: the Mackinac Bridge, connecting Upper Michigan with Lower Michigan. Originally, I wanted to go straight to Chicago from Ironwood. Would have saved me a couple hundred miles and a day. But as soon as I learned about this bridge, I had to ride it, even if it meant getting an iron butt on the motorcycle.

But before I got there, the road took me along the Southside of Lake Superior. The route carried me through several large forests, but it never got really exciting. I wasn’t too excited about Lake Superior yesterday either. But that was about to change…

I decided to give the lil’ lake one more chance. I exited Hwy-28 to take a look at the beach. Beach?!? Yes. Beach. I was just as surprised as you. This is the place that accumulates just about the most snowfall of the entire United States and they have a beach… And I was even more surprised to find out it was a beach that wouldn’t look bad between a couple of Caribbean beaches! I almost fancied having a Bounty there…

After getting back to the real world, I continued my way. More forests, little hills, but nothing too exciting… I was about to fall asleep (not literally…), until I was roughly woken up by a lot of sirens. They were all over the place. Then police on the middle of the road… I quickly found out there had been some kind of car crash up ahead, claiming two fatalities. That’s never good.

I continued my way towards the Mackinac Bridge. I crossed over to the Southside of Upper Michigan, reaching Lake Michigan for the first time. Somewhere, at the far, far other end, lies a city by the name of Chicago. I’ve been to the States many, many times, but I never got to this city. So I was kind of excited to reach it tomorrow. But for now, I could see the Mackinac Bridge for the first time!

Me as I am, I wanted to get a close shot of the bridge with my Canon camera. So of course, I had to go off road… There were huge potholes in the road but it wasn’t too bad after all… And there it was!

What a huge bridge it is! Golden Gate, eat your heart out! It is the third longest suspension bridge in the world, but the longest on the Western Hemisphere. It was envisioned since 1880, but wasn’t completed until 1957. To show you how huge it is: there’s 42.000 miles of cable used for this bridge. To build it now, it would cost you just under $750 million! The towers are 168 meters above the water, and another 64 meters below the water. Its length is just over 5 miles (8km). And the road hovers about 200ft (61 meters) above the surface of the water… Now, that is what I call a bridge!

As it is a toll road, I had to pay $3,50 to cross it. I felt discriminated, as I had to pay as much as a normal 2 axle car… Anyhow, once riding it, you realize how huge it is. And here comes the crazy part: in-between the two towers, the center lanes don’t consist of nice regular tarmac or concrete… No, it is a metal grid! An open see-through grid! Yes! In a car you don’t realize it that much, as you don’t look straight down. But, on a motorcycle… You could look straight through the grid, and see the water 61 meters below you! One of those so-called ‘WTF’-moments to say the least. I look down again, and am just as much amazed by seeing the water as I was the first time. Insane.

Once I reach the other side, it is only a boring freeway ride to my hotel. A Hampton Inn today again, and I am looking forward to some luxury, after all those wonderful (that was sarcasm) hotels I had the lasts couple of nights…

I got so confident on my motorcycle, that I was playing around with the camera again while riding the freeway… After an hour or so I reached my destination, called Gaylord. I challenge you to make a joke about that…

Full Report: Day 20, Oct 9: International Falls, MN – Ironwood, MI

Day total: 349 miles
Trip total: 6191 miles

I like to take a shower in the morning. To wake up. So this morning was no different. I get up, and I slowly make my way to the shower. As soon as I switch it on, the water goes everywhere but where it should go: to me. I guess I pay the price for choosing the cheapest hotels on…

And as if that wasn’t enough, breakfast sucked as well. The toaster didn’t work, and there was no fruit. That means no lunch for me. Yup, I had a great time at this hotel! The only thing that made me smile, was the sound of the entrance door closing behind me as I walked out!

But of course, the sight of the Triumph, standing on the parking lot ready to rumble, also made me smile. Another day on the bike. Even after nearly 3 weeks, there wasn’t anything else I would rather be doing. Every day I jump on with the excitement of a little kid. Eager to find out what the road ahead beholds. Eager to find out what is behind the next hill. Eager to find out whatever the day will bring me.

The first surprise came rather quick. After about 5 minutes, when I’m doing like 70mph, through the tundra-like scenery, I see something moving in the corner of my left eye. It closes in on me quickly and crosses right before my motorcycle, and is gone in no-time again. An eagle! It flew so low and decided to do some kamikaze flight stunts right in front of my motorcycle. If it was any second later, I would have smashed right into it. I remember shouting some “holy @#$%”. Well, the shower this morning didn’t wake me up, but this certainly did.

The road continues into a sweeping road through the forests.  After all those straight roads the day before, this feels like being in heaven. The condition of the tarmac is terrible, but at least it is a curvy road. There is about a 100.000 little lakes and ponds around. I love the signs that say ‘watch out for for snowmobiles’, and I doublecheck my GPS when I see a sign that says ‘Finland 16 miles’…

It also brings me through lots of small villages. And when I mean small, I mean really small. Lots of them are even ‘unincorporated’, meaning there’s a couple houses, but that is about it. They have no legal authority whatsoever. As I said, small towns.

Soon I ride into a bigger town, Cedar, but I would find out rather quickly that that still doesn’t mean anything. I decide it is time for some coffee. So I walk into the local bakery, serving the local community also as a coffee house. I order a cappuccino. “Sorry Sir, we don’t have that”. Ok. No problem. How about an espresso? “I’m so sorry, we don’t have that either”. Ok. Maybe a regular coffee then? “Sure! No problem!”. I am relieved. “Here’s your cup”. Cup? So where’s the coffee then? “Right behind you Sir”. I turn around and see a coffeepot that might have been the latest thing in a spaghetti western, but now looks clearly outdated. I have no choice. But, I have to say, although not hot, it was some serious strong coffee!

Back on the road again, being high from the coffee, I ride into Eastern direction. Towards Lake Superior. Now that’s a serious lake. It is huge. That’s why it has ‘superior’ in its name as well, since it is the largest of the Great Lake Area, consisting of Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, Lake Erie and of course Lake Superior.

Unfortunately, I don’t get to see too much of it as I make my way down on Highway 61. It is apparently a great road, and there’s some nice twists and turns indeed, but I can’t see too much of the Lake itself. There are a couple of access points, but none directly at the water. All require some walking. And I just don’t feel like leaving my bike behind… Finally, towards the Southern tip of the lake, I gain access by riding the ‘Scenic Drive’. It is nice, but there is really nothing to see. Just water… Maybe my expectations were too high.

I ride into Duluth, where a huge bridge brings me across and around the South-Western tip of Lake Superior. It is also where I cross from Minnesota into Wisconsin. I don’t get to see much of Wisconsin, as my hotel for the night is located in Michigan, one state to the right. Unfortunately, to cross Wisconsin, there’s not too many scenic roads to choose from. The only exciting thing is that I am riding with a Harley Davidson in front of me most of the time. Other than that, I quickly make my way to Ironwood to spend the night.

Just 2 more days and I would reach Chicago!

Full Report: Day 19, Oct 8: Fargo, ND – International Falls, MN

Day total: 311 miles
Trip total: 5843 miles

Fargo. Known from the equally named movie. Funny thing is that I have never seen that motion picture. But, based on the trailer, I can easily say that there is some weird characters there indeed! As I came down the stairs in the morning for breakfast, the 70 year old lady with only one teeth in her mouth from the front desk greeted me with a warm “there’s my motorbike man!”. Sure. She also cleaned the rooms by the way, something I found out later. She had the best intentions though.

Anyhow, I had seen enough. Time to leave Fargo. My destination today is International Falls, which is, and you guess, located on the international border of the USA and Canada. It also was the most Northern located part of my cross country trip. These symbolic highlights always mean a lot to bikers. The highest mountain pass, the longest road, the steepest road, the longest tunnel, the highest bridge… So, as I reached my northerly destination, it kind of felt like an achievement of a lifetime.

But of course, this trip is not about goals. It is about the way to get there. There was basically two routes leading up north: either I take a zigzag route through the farm fields, or I take the ever boring I-29. Easy decision of course. Zigzagging it is!

The scenery is nothing more but huge farm fields, where corn seems to be the most popular way of farming. There’s no relief; in fact, I think we have more of that in the Netherlands. Endless fields. And more of those. And if you are really lucky, a little township that consists of about 5 houses. The weirdest thing I saw was probably somebody on a bicycle…

It all changes when I got closer to the border. The fields were traded in for more tundra like scenery, with a zillion pine trees. Eagles were soaring over left right and center. The road was still straight as it could be, going strictly in absolute northern direction, but I had a good time. It felt good to come close to one of my symbolic goals.

And then, I reached it. The border in this part of the States, in Northern Minnesota, consists solely of a river, called the Rainy River. Simply said, the southern banks are the States, the northern banks are Canada and the river is the border. Quite the opposite of what I was used to seeing in Southern California regarding the Mexican border. There, the border makes you think you are entering a maximum security prison. High fences. Watchtowers. Floodlights. Big men with huge guns and rifles. Dogs ready to attack anything. Here up north, looking into Canada, the border reminds you of, well, anything but a border.

The river leads me into International Falls. A typical American town. Which means, they have a McDonalds. And a McDonalds equals dinner for me. Afterwards, I ride towards my hotel. The sign outside reads ‘the best place to stay during your getaway’. Well, I could think of a 1000 better places… But hell, as tired as I was, I could sleep anywhere…

Full Report: Day 18, Oct 7: Sioux Falls, SD – Fargo, ND

Day total: 241 miles
Trip total: 5531 miles

‘Continental Breakfast Included’, it said on my reservation. It might as well have said ‘worst coffee ever included’, because that was about all they served for breakfast. I think even the tap water here had more caffeine than this black liquid they called coffee…

Back in my hotel room, I am creating a new route for today. After all, I didn’t plan to be here at all. I tried to look up my hotel for the upcoming night. Couldn’t find it. The address wasn’t recognized by my GPS, my trustworthy Garmin Zumo 550, my best buddy on this trip. Whatever I did, whatever I tried, I couldn’t even find the town I was going to be in tonight. Then, I saw the light: I forgot to put the North Dakota maps into it… I blame the lousy coffee described earlier for this.

I loaded the maps, and the bike. Ready to go. First stop: a Yamaha dealership. Yamaha? Yes. My front left turn signal suffered damage some days ago and was only connected by the wire still… The whole thing was dangling next to the motorcycle. I figured, they sure have some kind of turn signals at a big motorcycle dealership. Even at Yamaha.

But, they didn’t have anything that would fit well. The solution: “I can try to use some epoxy and simply glue it back”. Works for me! Worked for the bike too. The shop didn’t want any money for it… I gave ‘em $10 anyway. Thanks for the service! Kudos to MidAmerica Motoplex! I later bought some of that red emergency brake signal tape, that you can put over the broken glass of your brake lights to cover it. Works perfect on a motorcycle too.

Remember the winds from yesterday? I do. It was still unforgiving. But there was one big difference: today, I would be heading up north. And with the wind coming from the south, my bike would pretty much roll by itself. Very fuel efficient they call that.

I immediately had the pleasure back of riding a motorcycle, after I lost it yesterday. I was singing in my helmet. The sun was shining, and although I was riding a boring freeway up north to Fargo, nothing could ruin my day. I had so much fun, that I took off the camera off my helmet and just held it in my hand while filming, resulting in some unique video: I recorded myself riding the bike, filmed to the back, filmed the dashboard, etc. Good times. It was also the reason that I saw a lot of people with weird expressions on their faces looking at me. Like I care what I look like on my bike…

The scenery itself was nothing more but farmlands with cows and stuff. Flat as the Bonneville Salt Flats… Some powerlines across it, some little fences, and some huge farms. It could have been Holland.

With the wind still blowing like a maniac, most people I encountered also called me a maniac. But, so I assured them, it was like a walk in the park today, with the tail wind… I didn’t matter what I said; I was still a madman in most peoples eyes.

I encountered one fellow motorcyclist today, at a gas station. He was riding an 1984 Honda Goldwing Interstate. This battleship I knew all too well, since I owned a 1985 Honda Goldwing Interstate… It was the original plan to do this kick-ass trip on that motorcycle, but it just required to much maintenance to get it up to par…

I arrive at the hotel early today. One of those typical ‘getting-from-A-to-B’ days… I used the rest of the day to look what’s on the road ahead for the next couple days, and got myself some nice beers and a burger at the next-door bar while watching the league final of the MLB. Yes, baseball that is.

After the game is over, I call it a day. Tomorrow we head up to the Canadian border, the most Northern point on this trip. I’m looking forward to it!

Full Report: Day 17, Oct 6: Rapid City, SD – Sioux Falls, SD

Day total: 404 miles
Trip total: 5291 miles

Today I should have gone up north to North Dakota. I never got there. As I saw the weather forecast for that day, I decided to change my plans. I wanted to camp in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but I didn’t feel like doing that in massive rainfall, terrible winds and thunderstorms… So I went east instead, via the I-90, heading for Sioux Falls.

There was no rainfall and no thunderstorms when I departed in the morning. But there was wind. Lots of wind. Like a lot lot. Time to make my home-made earplugs again (this time I had a clean tissue for sure!). It worked, but was far from comfortable… The sound of the wind was just too loud. As soon as I had to stop for gas, I bought those cheap bright yellow earplugs. They look terrible, but hey, Los Angeles was some 5000 miles behind me so I really didn’t care about my looks. Besides that, I was a tough biker of course.

About a 100 miles in, I see a sign that said ‘Badlands National Park’. I was excited. Another National Park! I might as well visit it. I looked on the map and became a little less excited. Apparently, I missed the first exit to the park and was now at the far end. If I wanted to get to the park, it would be a detour of 60 miles… Well, am I here to ride or what? So of course, I took the detour!

The Badlands is nothing more but heavily eroded sandy soil, together with one of the largest protected prairies of the States. Toss in a little elevation and you have a National Park. The eroded soil created lots of pinnacles and strange landscapes. The place is best described by saying it looks like the moon. Like we all know what that looks like… Anyhow, it is worth a visit if it is on your way! And it has a great road leading through the park, so if my Triumph was singing of joy. The Park also warned for rattle snakes. I can promise you, I looked everywhere for them (how cool would that be), but unfortunately, I didn’t see one…

At some point, as I was riding and riding, a pickup truck was driving in front of me. I closed in on it and was ready to overtake. Suddenly the pickup truck speeds up and starts waiving with his arm out of the window, like a maniac. Or at least I declared him a maniac. There was nothing wrong with my bike, so I really didn’t care about this person. He kept on waving and I was convinced he had a couple loose screws in his mind.

I get to another viewpoint. So does the pickup truck. It stops right next to me. I look through the window and couldn’t believe what I saw. It was John! Now who is John? John was a man I had a little chit-chat with near the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. But… That was 5 days ago and 1200 miles! Such a big country yet such a small world… And I wasn’t even supposed to be here!

While driving through the park, the wind picks up. Back on the freeway, I kind of start to dislike the wind. My battle against the elements begins. It required my full focus and total awareness to keep the bike on the road. I had to lower my speed to 50mph. The wind was so strong, I had a hard time keeping it on the right side of the road. At times, the wind easily put me 6-7 feet aside (2 meters). No big deal you would think. Well it is if those insanely huge trucks are overtaking you with 70mph. Game over for me if I would hit those… Those trucks created a second problem: when they overtook me, the wind would go from force ‘I-hate-it’ to force ‘none’. If you are leaning your bike against the wind, you would be pushed away 6-7 feet as well; the other way!

No, it wasn’t fun at all to be on the road. As I filled up the bike, everyone advised me to stop. Driving in these winds wasn’t safe. I knew it wasn’t, but I had to go on. I had to make it to Sioux Falls… It came to a climax when I had to cross the Missouri River. An open, unprotected bridge, just above the water surface. The wind had nothing in its way and showed no mercy. I entered the bridge and was completely in the hands of the wind. There was nothing I could do but to fight my own battle. My speed dropped to 40mph where all other traffic was driving 70mph.

Somehow I made it across. Alive. I had to stop and rethink my plan for today. At this moment, I am seriously considering to stop. This is not safe. This is hell. What to do? As I was overlooking the Missouri River, I had a bright moment: it can’t get any worse, right? So I decided, as always, to ride.

I didn’t see much of the grasslands around me. All I could see was the road in front of me. I could not afford to look around. I had to keep the bike up. Signs were torn apart, branches of trees were flying around. Some big billboards were gone almost completely. The wind was ruthless.

The sun was setting and the darkness closed in on me, so I stopped to pull out my bright yellow ‘look-at-me’ safety vest. As I was doing that, an interested person came up to me and started talking. Normally I am a very social being, but in this case, after he didn’t stop asking me questions, I had to tell him off. He had the best intentions, but I just had to ride and get to the comfort of my hotel. To make the whole situation worse, one of my two headlights burned out. My brights were also out at this point. My neck hurted from the strange angle it was in due to the wind and the leaning of the bike.

I rode the last 50 miles, on a boring freeway, in total darkness, with a crappy headlight and the wind beating down on me and the Trophy. It was one of the first moments in my life that I couldn’t wait to get off the bike.

Finally. The hotel. I’ve never been so happy to shut off the engine. I made it. I found out later that the wind was blowing at force 8, sometimes 9… I now knew what hell looked like. I just did 400 miles of it.

Full Report: Day 16, Oct 5: Gilette, WY – Rapid City, SD

Day total: 255 miles
Trip total: 4887 miles

I have a relatively short day today with easy quick roads. Or at least that’s what I tell myself as my alarm tells me to wake up at 7AM. I refuse. 30 more minutes shouldn’t do any harm right?

When it is finally time to get up (time flies when you are sleeping) it is time to get some breakfast. I prefer to stay in Hampton Inn hotels this trip, since they all have modern properties, efficient rooms, free internet and best of all, a pretty good breakfast included! These hotels are really made for travelers… And me as I biker, I like the breakfast the most. My regular breakfast: a bagel with cream cheese, a waffle with sugar-free syrup, scrambled eggs or an omelet, fresh fruit, yogurt, orange juice and coffee. And an apple to bring with me during the day. Why this much? So I could skip lunch and have more time to ride of course!

After my stomach told me it really couldn’t handle any more food, I checked out and loaded the bike. Remember I said that I was hoping the winds would go down for today? Wishful thinking… Any biker knows that at high speeds, the noise in your helmet becomes pretty loud. Add a little bit of a lot of wind coming straight at you and it becomes quite uncomfortable. With the lower speeds (they should be at least…) in the States you don’t need earplugs as like in Europe, but in this case, I couldn’t bare the loud noise bugging my ears anymore. But what to do? As soon as I exited Gilette, I entered Middle Of Nowhere. Ahead of me: road. Left of me: grassland. Behind me: road. Right of me: grassland. No town. No gas station. No nothing. It was as empty as a Wild West town before a shootout…

Luckily, my MacGyver skills provided the solution. A tissue found in the pockets of my jacket worked perfectly to stop the noise! Torn in half, with one half in each ear, it enabled me to continue my ride without problems. Till this very current day, I don’t know whether it was a used tissue or not.

With my ears protected from the wind, it was a quick ride into South Dakota. The Black Hills awaited me. A motorcycle Mecca.  It is also the home of Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park. Rolling hills with great roads. As if it is a reflex, speeds go up if you’re riding a motorcycle on these kind of roads.

As speeds go up, so does your alertness. My eyes were scanning left right and center, to check for any upcoming danger that could be a threat to me and my crotch rocket. Cars. Wildlife. Police. Etc. Unfortunately, the police was also scanning left right and center. For speeding motorcycles. I swear to the penguin on my motorcycle, I did not see that police car. Out of the blue, light signals greeted me, on the opposite side of the road. I passed it. That couldn’t be for me no? As I looked into the mirrors, it crossed the double yellow line and went for the pursuit. Sirens too. I was caught in the middle of the heat. I had no choice but to stop and waited for what to come.

The truck, stating ‘sheriff’ on the side, stopped right behind me. “Goodmorning, Custer Sheriff [forgotten name]. How are you today”. I’d been better. It came down to the fact that I was doing 73 mph (116,8 km/u) in a 55 mph (88 km/h) zone. Speeding by 18 mph (28,8 km/u). There was no point of arguing. No point of denial. And why would I? I know I was speeding, so I was ready to face the consequences. I handed him my driver’s license, registration, proof of insurance. This is where the fun began.

He couldn’t track me down in any system anymore. Since my visa was expired already (I was on a 30-day extra stay), my license was already gone from their system, even though it stated it was still valid. I explained that to him, together with my entire trip, to which he replied that he never heard of it. “But, I am not immigration, so I’m not looking into that’. He couldn’t find any of my records anymore. It was like I disappeared. The police officer then faced another problem: “I cannot send you any fine by mail, since you are leaving the country soon”. Yup. “So how do we solve that” I asked him. “Well, how much cash money do you have with you? Maybe you can post a bond”. I only had $100 with me. “Ok, here’s how we do this: I’m going to write you a ticket for speeding with 5mph, which comes down to $85”. I couldn’t agree faster with him. With this, I escaped from a much higher fine, which could have gone up to around $600… I grabbed the $100 bill and wanted to hand it over to him. He froze. “I don’t have any change for you”, he replied. Like I care about $15 change right now! I was just given a deal where I saved $500! I told him that I didn’t need any change. He could keep it. Give it to charity if he wished. He was in doubt. “You know what”, he replied, “keep the money. You need it on your trip. I am going to write you a warning and that’s it”.

I couldn’t believe it! I tell you what, if a police truck shows up behind you with sirens and light signals, your adrenaline goes up. And then I just got away with it! We kept chatting for a while actually, about my trip, about motorcycles, about Holland and the penguin on the back of my Triumph. He then took off with the advice to “take it easy on the roads from now on”.

It worked. I did. I slowed down the rest of the day. As I was riding in the same area, I could not permit myself to be caught again… Anyhow, I was back on the road again and I enjoyed every second of it. Custer State Park is a lot of fun with its rolling hills. It has small narrow tunnels, little bridges, single lane roads, awesome views and buffalos.

I was also close to Mt. Rushmore. Where the presidents are carved into the rocks. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln are looking down on about 2 million visitors per year. It is one of the most patriotic places in the States, but it is a must-see… Despite the parking being $11; what a rip-off. The Presidents look always larger on pictures and in the movies. In real life, they are, even though 55ft in height, relatively small. Still, I enjoyed having seen them. One of those things that you visit once in your life, and then never again…

Rapid City was closeby, where I would spend the night. While driving, I was thinking of what to eat tonight. I was kind of done with all the burgers etc… At check-in, I was told that today was guest appreciation night. One my question what that means, the lady replied “free drinks, beer and wine, and pizza”. What more could I wish for. And much better then burgers after all!

Full Report: Day 15, Oct 4: Cody, WY – Gilette, WY

Day total: 291 miles
Trip total:  4632 miles

“Another ay in paradise” I say to myself as I wake up. “Way too early” I think next. But I do get up. My curiosity for what lies ahead diminishes my tiredness. I have to ride. Again. Miles and miles.

A beautiful day lies ahead of me. Every day is. I decide, going against my Dutch principles, to treat myself for some nice breakfast at Hotel Irma, so I get to see a little of the ‘Buffalo Bill’-atmoshpere. Breakfast is relatively simple, but good. The restaurant is like an old saloon, with a big old cash register. The waitresses are dressed like you see in those old Westerns and the music could be right out of ‘The Good, The Bad and the Ugly’. It all comes together. The only thing that kind of ruins it, is a French guy creating a huge scene during his check out. So much, that even the police had to show up to calm him down. Sadly, the police didn’t arrive on horses…

But I don’t care too much about anything or anyone but myself. The bike is loaded in no-time; I can do it blindfolded, doing backwards cartwheels with my hand tied to my back while reading the New York Times reversed, sipping on a cup of Starbucks Coffee. That’s how often I loaded my motorcycle now.

First off, I noticed a little sign on my map that said ‘Bighorn Canyon’. A 50 kilometer detour, up and down the same road, to some lone canyon. I wasn’t sure. Shall I? Shall I not? “Of course you shall” I said to myself! So I went down the road…

Remember how I once said that the biggest highlights of your trip come as a total surprise? This was one of them! I was in the absolute middle of freakin’ nowhere, with no-one around, going down a curvy road. Now I had seen that before, but everytime you find yourself on such a road, you really don’t care about anything else but riding. The lookout point I was heading for had the promising name of Devil’s Canyon Overlook. I would call it something like Heaven’s Canyon Overlook. What a beautiful view over the Bighorn River, that made some sweeping turns some 900ft below the overlook. Stunning.

Suddenly a car pulls up. A guy by himself, parks his car. Windows closed, but I could hear the loud music. I see him hugging his dog. Nothing special. But then I see him taking some pills. The whole scenario seems kind of strange suddenly. It seems like a depressed man. Is he going to jump the cliffs? I would never know; he stayed in his car… Weird.

Another car pulls up. A big pick-up truck. He parks the car right next to my motorcycle. As I am ready to ride out again, the window goes doen. “Weren’t you in Yellowstone a couple days ago?”. I am stunned. Yellowstone was two days ago and is some 400 kilometers away. But yes, they recognized me. “I saw a motorcycle there with a helmet camera, a flip-up striped helmet and a penguin on the back”. Couldn’t be anyone else but me! I mean, I’ve never seen another biker with a penguin on the back, have you?

The road brings me back to the US-14A. Another mountain range to cross, I would never say no to that! On the top, I’m riding on some kind of plateau, with tons of cows. I’m having fun at sounding my horn at the cows, as they are all over the road. Some cows give me the ‘what the hell are you doing here’ look. I give them the same look back. Get off the road!

I stop at an overlook point. Another one? Yes. Why? Because in front of me, the road looks like a racetrack that would make even Silverstone look like it was made for go-karts only. Pitch black asphalt. 180 degree sweepers. Fast turns but also technical parts. In short, any biker’s dream!

While I am taking pictures, an old RV pulls up. Two relatively old men get out. Turns out to be some hunters from Virginia, on their way to Colorado to shoot some deer, elk and anything else they could get in their rangefinder. They offer me some soda, which I politely decline. We chat for a bit though. They are veterans, having served in the jungle of Vietnam back in the days. On their way to Colorado, they visited some Medal of Honor ceremony somewhere. They asked me if I, as an outsider, like the country. I couldn’t say anything else but that I am in love with it. One of the men then replied with these beautiful words:  “I wish every American would love their country as the visitors do”.

After these wise words, I make my way down the track. From all the way down, I can still see the RV standing up on the hill. I bet they watched me going down the road, testing the brakes and pushing the Trophy to the limit.

I am on my way to Gilette today. Does it have anything to do with the well known manufacturer of razor blades? No. The city has been named after a local plumber, Edward Gilette. Just for the records.

Anyhow, to get there, I’m getting one of those ‘what the heck’ moments and decide to go off my planned route. I tell my Garmin Zumo to calculate the shortest road, thereby mostly taking small little roads. Well, the roads were so small, I couldn’t even see them, as I ended up on dead end after dead end. Or small tracks over farmlands. Not so great for the Trophy, so, and I hate to admit it, my ‘what the heck’ moment wasn’t the best. I had to turn around and get back to the regular road.

Which wasn’t too bad either. It was like 160 kilometers through grasslands with small little hills. Quite beautiful, crossing little towns and seeing signs like ‘next services 50 miles’, indicating that you better don’t run out of fuel. 50 miles isn’t that far (80 kilometers),  but for American standards, 50 miles without a gas station is like going to the moon…

The wind starts to pick up by the way. And over those lands, nothing is in its way. Nothing to stop the wind. So it beats down on everything in its path. Including that biker on the Trophy. That would be me, for the less intelligent readers among us.

I arrive at Gilette when the sun sets. I decide to treat myself, and have a so-called romantic candlelight dinner for 1 at the local Burger King… And I just hope those winds would go down for tomorrow.

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