Bowling down the freeway today from San Diego to Los Angeles we were momentarily in the shadow of a passing pick-up truck. I say pick-up truck but this thing (a Dodge I think) was called a ‘Big Horn Heavy Duty’. It was huge, about the size of an armoured personnel carrier. All the cars were so shiny, clean and new; not old clapped out and of very doubtful roadworthiness. We’d just passed the Pendleton military base which is so large it has its own exit and admired on our right a gleaming tinted glass and steel building which is the Camp Pendleton Naval Hospital. Next we passed the base for the US Naval Assault Craft with their motto emblazoned on a plinth ‘Home of the swift intruders’ – you could get arrested for that in the UK! It reminded me of Field Station Augsburg in Germany which many of my friends & ex-colleagues will remember (rugby, socialising!) and their motto emblazoned over the entrance to the base – ‘Field Station Augsburg, home of the professionals’. It made me smile as we sped along the freeway making the most of good and consistent road surfaces and no speed humps coming out of nowhere. One thing about our American cousins, they sure ain’t backward in coming forward!
After over 6 months in South and Central America and a total of 13 countries, with all their differences, nothing has provided the culture shock that coming to the USA does. Along with my ex-military colleagues I’ve worked with the Americans many times and this isn’t my first time in the US of A but it is so different to everything else we’ve done on this trip. All of a sudden we have to obey traffic laws and do crazy things like not casually go down a one way street against the traffic, watch our speed, not ride on the pavements to get round traffic jams, it feels strange. We even have to have proper motor insurance – for Pete’s sake! We stopped at a Walmarts to pick up some Ibuprofen ($3.48 for a few tablets!) and I almost (almost) just went through the bollards separating the car park from the pavement to park right outside their windows where in SA or CA I would have parked up, hopped off and had a seat on the pavement while I waited for Jenny. Almost, but then I remembered, and noticed a yellow line and a couple of signs …… there are an awful lot of signs here. Later in the morning when I went to fill Bertie up I actually had to pump the gas myself, no smiling Spanish speaking lad or lass to do it for me – first though I had to work out how to do it, not the most straight forward pump system and in California you have to pay before you pump. However, the chap behind the till explained it all to me in an accent I could almost understand; he was Scottish and we had a good chat.
Yesterday at BMW San Diego I was royally looked after while the bike was fully serviced.
The staff couldn’t do enough for me, the waiting area was comfortable and airy, the soda’s (cold), coffees (hot & fresh) and doughnuts were complementary. They even laid on free lunch, delicious tacos with lean meat in them. Wow, the USA is so easy; for those with money that is. This afternoon we posted a box back to UK with some poncho’s, a wall hanging etc etc (souvenirs we picked up along the way) using the US Postal Service. Easy as you like but you know what, we’ve been lugging those things around with us since Peru and Ecuador and the US of A is the first place in thousands of kms with a reliable national postal service. Most places we’ve been have no national postal service and the DHL or Fedex alternatives are wallet breakers.
It all seems so strange and yet it’s only because of where we’ve been for six months. SA and CA aren’t necessarily that bad either (some parts are) it’s just that the USA is the top of the world heap for convenience, customer service and sheer volume of choice.
Jenny said today she feels strange about it and almost as if the trip is over. But it’s far from over. It may be easier at the moment and we’ve got easier living ahead but there’s still about 7000 kms to go to Deadhorse Prudhoe Bay Alaska at the top of the Americas (& then we’ve got to get back down to the USA to ship the bike back). On the way we’ll ride through some very remote areas culminating in the Dalton Highway, a 414 km mostly dirt road starting just north of Fairbanks passing through the Arctic Circle north to Deadhorse and the Prudhoe Bay oil fields. To quote from Wiki, “The highway, which directly parallels the pipeline, is one of the most isolated roads in the United States. There are only three towns along the route” and “The road itself is very primitive in places, and small vehicle and motorcycle traffic carries significant risk”. The good news, “As of July 2013, 109 miles (175 km) of the highway are paved”. Used mostly by truckers servicing the oil pipeline and featuring in four seasons of the tv series ‘Ice Road Truckers’ the truckers have named parts of the highway –“ The Taps, The Shelf, The Bluffs, Oil Spill hill, Beaver Slide, Two and a Half Mile, Oh Shit Corner, and the Roller Coaster” (note to self, keep an eye out for oh shit corner).
No, the trip isn’t over yet.
So we enjoy the comfort and the culture shock that is the USA and once again, as we have so many times on this trip give thanks that we are so fortunate to be able to do it and have had so much support from friends and family.
We set up our JustGiving page for Shelterbox before we left and although it was slow to get going the donations have picked up lately. We’re essentially living out of boxes (panniers) on this trip
and Shelterbox were also the supported charity for Horizons Unlimited the year before we came out here so it seemed appropriate. Since then of course it has become more significant with the earthquake in Nepal and the aftershocks that have caused such huge devastation and Shelterbox are very busy over there providing aid. Home to the legendary Gurkhas I’m sure most of my ex military colleagues will have served with them or in the same theatre as them. In the Falklands on my last ‘proper job’ before leaving the army they were the resident infantry. Amongst other roles they provided the security for our site and believe me we felt secure! The JustGiving page was due to run till we reached ‘the top’ but the problem with that is that any monies raised don’t go to Shelterbox until the page closes – and Jenny and I feel that all donations are needed now, big or small. So we’ll close the page off in about a week or two’s time giving opportunity for any last donations. We’re also very aware that many have given generously direct to Nepal charities.
So here we sit in our comfy motel room in LA, getting ready to go to Las Vegas to help our Italian biker friend Max celebrate his 50th whilst trying not to get too complacent – there’s a long way to go and a lot of burgers to eat on the way. God bless America.