Saturday, 5 November 2011

American recap...

Apologies for the rather long gap since my last US update. You'll notice that there has been one from NZ already, so please bear with me.
Last words from the US were in or near Arizona, where I was due to meet my old mate Martin, who had agreed to join me for a 3 week holiday. He flew in to Phoenix where I met him at the airport, and we had al of 24 hours there before heading off in my big old wagon. We headed north and east-ish to start with, visiting the Grand Canyon, Bryce's Canyon, the Bonneville Salt Flats, the Devils Tower and the site of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. That took us up through Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Nevada and Idaho, into Wyoming and then Montana (though not necessarily in that order). We decided that we would return to the Bonneville Salt plain for part of Speedweek, at the beginning of August, and that made Martins' return flight from Seattle a little awkward. He changed that to a San Francisco flight, which meant we could do the Bonneville event and then head to California for a few days of rest and recreation before his departure. As it all turned out, we scrubbed the Bonneville plan, taking a little more time in Montana and Idaho, before heading south through Oregon and California. We covered most of the Pacific Coast Highway from mid-Oregon southwards, ending up in SF with about 48 hours to spare. This we spent exploring the city of SF and testing the temperature of the Pacific - bloody cold by the way. Martin was delivered to his flight according to plan, and was last heard of safely back in Blighty, recovering from 3 weeks of my company and vowing never to repeat such foolish experience ! My cunning plan, which was successfully carried out, was to get him to do most of the driving while he was with me - after two and a half months of American roads and drivers, I was glad of a break. Don't think that Martin minded too much anyway.
With Martin dispatched homewards, I paid a quick visit to Barry and Stacey Sellar in SF. Barry was a key member of the Kilted Kippers Softball team, who moved to California a few years ago, and married the lovely Stacey around 3 years ago. They are now 3, the delightful Dashiel having arrived just a few weeks before my visit. My visit was short and sweet, and I left them to return to the North-West, revisiting Nevada, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, before turning South again, through Washington, Oregon and California. I returned to Barry and Stacey, staying for a couple of days, and Ghent headed Eastwards, through the central Californian valley, visiting Sacramento, the Giant Sequoia forest, Yosemite and Kings Canyon parks, Death Valley and Las Vegas before turning back towards the coast and Los Angeles. I also visited some very distant relatives, Don Wilson and his family, near Fresno in central California. They grow grapes on a vineyard, and while I had visions of a New World chateau with gallons of wine flowing around, I wasn't disappointed to find that their grapes are allowed to dry on the vine, and are destined to become raisins. Fascinating stuff and delicious too.
Back on the coast, I returned to SF, staying once again with Barry and Stacey, who were very kind in making it clear that they really DID want me to stay - they weren't just being polite. This was to be a momentous visit, however, as my time with the Big Purple Beast had come to an end - it was time to say farewell. With moral support from Barry, I managed to sell the Beast to a local garage - I didn't get very much for her, but then I hadn't expected to. The total mileage for my 5 month ownership was 30,000 miles, taking the overall mileage to over 203,000 so she was never going to be worth much.
Two days later Barry delivered me to SF airport, for a quick hop to LA, where I spent my last few days in the US of A. My onward flight was on the 10th of October, and I landed here in NZ on Wednesday the 12th. It was raining when I arrived and it's rained on and off ever since. However, I am now traveling again, this time on a large black motorcycle, spending 2 or 3 days wherever I decide to pause, assuming the Backpacker/Hostel has space. From Auckland I went north to Waipu, then Russell in the Bay of Islands, then Whangaroa, then Henderson Bay. A day trip from there took me up to Cape Reinga which was very windy, but sunny and spectacular all the same. From there I went over to Ahipara (last post) which was home for 3 or 4 days, and provided a screen for the RWC final. South from there to Dargaville and then east to Maungawhai Heads for a couple of days. Yesterday I travelled south, down through Auckland to a little place called Raglan on the west coast. This is close to Hamilton, where I'm going to visit some family friends tomorrow. They have asked me to stay with them, so while I'll be delighted to do so, I'm conscious that the are in their 80's and I therefore won't be overstaying my welcome. The hostel here at Raglan is some way out of town, along the coast road. It is also populated by most of the areas' surfer dudes who don't appear to have any taste in music whatsoever - they listen to the mindless "noise" which just gives me a headache ! The sun and the rain are competing for supremacy outside, and I'll shortly scoot into Raglan for some respite from the noise.
So, Hamilton next, then southwards down the west side of Norh Island before crossing to South Island. Hopefully, the weather will continue to improve, the winds will die down and I'll find some lovely places to visit.
That's about it for now, so until the next time,
Love to all
John M x

Monday, 31 October 2011

The Land of the Long White Cloud

OK, a very brief update as time is short and librarian looks mean... Have now been in NZ for about 3 weeks, starting off in Auckland at a backpackers which was a bit manic due to RWC people coming and going. However, managed to buy an extremely large motorcycle on which I plan to explore a great deal of these islands. For those interested, it's a Suzuki GSX 1400, black all over with a full set of luggage and plenty of ooomph ! No problems so far, keeping a low profile on the road while remaining as visible as possible. Stopped by the rozzers on day 1, but only because the bike registration was not showing as being in use by a registered owner. Been up to the Bay of Islands and Cape Reinga, and am now in Dargaville (still north of Auckland), but will shortly be heading down to Taupo and beyond. Hope to spend a good deal of time on South Island, as I have good memories of it and loved it first time round.
Will do a better update shortly as librarian doesn't seem too impressed by my usage of her wifi connection.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

A bit of a zig-zag...

So, a little over a month ago, I left you in South Carolina which was hot and really rather unpleasant because of that. I have decided that I don't really like the high temperatures and the humidity that comes with that heat - I'd much rather spend time and energy keeping warm, than vainly battle against excessive heat trying to keep cool. That said, I have nothing against some decent warmth - it's not a lot of fun trying to warm up your toes in a cold, wet tent !
So, South Carolina, for me the gateway to the deep South. Hot and humid, but at least the sun shone and the scenery was different - no longer the broad sweeps of trees from one horizon to the other; here the roads twist between fields of corn, fetid swamps and acres of bullrushes and reeds. There are loads of wee ponds and lakes, surrounded by marshland and dotted with what may be mangroves or some other type of tree which can survive with waterlogged roots. Very different to what I'm used to anyway. South of SC is Georgia which is where I celebrated my birthday, although celebrate may be over stating the issue. I found a motel just outside Savannah which 'looked' OK, and with a few beers and a pizza marked the passing of another year. Can't say it was my best birthday, and it could have been worse - but not much !
Georgia was followed by Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi, and I then turned northwards to try to find some cooler temperatures. Up through Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota before turning west to North Dakota. Up near the Canadian border, the temperatures were much more livable and the humidity was virtually non-existent. These states are very flat and to be honest, not terribly interesting. There are miles and miles of cornfields reaching to the horizon in every direction; people seem to be concentrated (in small numbers) in tiny settlements clustered round the corn and grain silos which stand proud of the landscape and which can be seen from miles away. I think this area is known as the grain basket of the United States, and it certainly lives up to it's nickname. The area is also known as the "Badlands" and was the scene of devastating dust storms which basically removed all the topsoil and blew it all the way over to New York in the 1920's or 1930's. Many farmers no longer plough their fields, fearful of watching their soil blow away again.
Heading south again, I visited Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota. This is where the heads of four US Presidents have been carved out of the bare rock of the mountain. Messrs Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln gaze down from their lofty rock-face, unperturbed by rain or sun. The access is really good, though part of the circular walkway was closed when I was there, and there are plenty of opportunities for good photos - I don't think I was alone in taking about 50 pics.... Will try to get some up on here.
South Dakota was followed by Nebraska and Kansas, a quick dash through Oklahoma took me into Texas and then I ended up at Fort Davis right down in the south of the state. On into New Mexico and across into Arizona. Here I met up with my old friend Martin, who had bravely suggested joining me for a few weeks holiday.
(This device seems to be playing up, so I'll post this and get back to you.)
Much love to you all,
John M xxx

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Friday, 24 June 2011

Southwards to the Pole ??

So, from Maine where I last posted...
First things first, as I'm sure you are all wondering. No, the car has behaved virtually impeccably for the last three weeks. Not a stutter or breakdown or anything serious. It even got washed today ! It does have a liking for vibration ( quiet at the back there) and will have to be checked at some point soon. A bit of a judder when braking from virtually any speed, and a definite vibration at specific road speeds, which may or may not be linked to engine speed. Enough of that, however, it still goes and has now carried me and my spartan belongings over 7000 miles. Not bad at all, in just 7 weeks.
From the damp wonders of rainy Maine, I travelled west and then south, through New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia and North and South Carolina. I'm currently in South Carolina, near a city called Columbia. I'm camped in a Natl Forest, surrounded by billions of trees, skeeters, clouds and much heat. It's 8 in the evening and its still about 80 degrees F out there. It's also about 95% humidity, so I'm sitting in the car with the engine running the aircon - nice and cool for the moment. The tent is going to be like a sauna when I venture forth...
The journey has been great fun, with loads to see and do, though I haven't been trying to do all the touristy things - I want to see the country, not what the country wants me to see ! The weather has been very changeable, with loads of rain, mostly of the torrential variety, and plenty of heat, much of it very humid. Driving down the Blue Ridge Parkway, over the last couple of days, there has been condensation forming on the outside of the windscreen, caused by the warmth of the outside air and the cold of the air-conditioned interior of the car - bizarre ! I've seen billions and billions of trees, hundreds of mountains, thousands of lakes and streams and rivers, and literally zillions of bugs, many of which commit suicide on my windshield. Have avoided hitting all other wildlife so far, though some deer and a few chipmunks have had close shaves. Other wildlife making an appearance have included a lady elk (I think), wild turkeys, groundhogs, squirrels, ospreys, eagles, tiny froglets and a raccoon. Lots of birds too, including robins (much bigger than UK), blackbirds (red flashes on upper wings), wrens, cardinals and a strange black thing about the size of a turkey but looking a bit like a vulture....
Next on the map are Georgia and Louisiana, with a possible visit to the Atlantic coast before I head inland. Then onwards to the wild west - Texas, New Mexico and Arizona await.
And so too will you, until the next instalment that is.
Lots of love to all my devoted followers - be sure to let anyone else who might be interested know of this site..!
John M. xxx

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Time for some more blog.

One or two people (thanks Mark H), have suggested that I should try updating this thing. Since my last post, when I was about to leave Boston, I have been to Cleveland, where I stayed with Richard and Carolyn Butterfield. While there, I bought the vehicle I had planned to buy, though it was not without much trial and frustration. The actual purchase went OK, but I went through any number of hoops and bureaucratic flim-flam in order to get the thing registered. I even sat and passed an Ohio State driving test, only to then find that they wouldn't give me the licence because I didn't have the correct category of visa ! This threatened to kibosh the whole enterprise, but a friend of a friend of Richard, suggested that I ask the dealer who sold me the car to get the registration completed on my behalf, using my Social Security Number - mission accomplished. Quite why the dealer couldn't have suggested doing that for me in the first place, I don't know. Anyway, after a week and a day, my GMC Yukon and I were legal.
Next day, Richard and Carolyn went South and I went West. Michigan was the first destination, and was found to be cold and wet. Northwards through the Upper Peninsula was next, closely followed by South Western Ontario, Manitoulin Island, the Algonquin Natl Park and then Southern Ontario. Cousin Alan was next to put a roof over my head, in a tiny place called Lyn which is very near the St Lawrence River and the US border. After 4 or 5 days there, it was time to move on, and I headed north east towards Montreal and then Quebec. More miserable cold and wet weather was withstood, before my travels were thwarted by a non-functioning ferry - about turn and run for the border.
I crossed over into the USA last Friday, and was greeted by the most torrential rain I have ever seen. However, it has warmed up and dried out since then, and I am currently sitting in my little tent in a site near Bangor in Maine. Camping has been a mixed experience, with many cold, wet mornings and only a few bright, dry days so far. A wet tent is a miserable thing, even more so when you have to put it back up still wet from the night before. Most sites have been pretty good, with showers and ablutions of similar standard, but the Natl Park sites have been more enjoyable, despite (or perhaps because of) their lack of high quality facilities. Thunder and lightning is an interesting experience in a small tent, esp at 3 in the morning !
The car is a big lump of a thing, but loveable despite that. It has 4 wheel drive, a huge 5.3 litre engine, automatic transmission and (most importantly) air conditioning. It has also had a couple of hiccups - the interior ventilation fan was unwilling to work, and soon gave up altogether, fixed by replacing the switch and connector; the starter motor gave up one morning and was replaced; the brakes had to be renewed when it was serviced; and the engine cut out when doing 60 on a motorway - had to be rescued by a tow truck - and that was fixed by sorting out a short circuit. This truck is clearly not without it's issues, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed and speaking nicely to it. Seems to be working so far.
Next direction is basically southwards, gradually following the line of the Appallachians down towards Virginia and Georgia.
Look out for my next nail-biting instalment !!
Love to all

Thursday, 5 May 2011


Ok - in haste, as I am paying for this access by the minute !
Left Edinburgh, Moodie Senior and Rosemary bright and early on Monday morning.  Had a very busy weekend getting the flat ready for paying tenants, painting various walls and cleaning everything that wasn't screwed down, and quite a few things that were.  Rosemary made it all possible, putting in several days of her Royal Wedding Bank Holiday weekend, in exchange for little more than my sincere thanks and a steady stream of coffee.  Many thanks once again !
Had a quick stop in London, long enough to meet up with Kate and Alan, lunch was had - many thanks once again Kate - before I crawled aboard Virgin Atlantic VS11 to Boston.  Six and a half hours later, I crawled off again and caught a taxi to the Youth Hostel.  Tuesday was hot and sunny, walked for miles and miles, culture, architecture and frustrated techie stuff notwithstanding.  Cooler and overcast today, and after a lot of hours in the Museum, I came out to find it was pouring with rain.  Very wet on the way back to the hostel.
Off to Cleveland tomorrow, so "thats all folks" from Boston - at least for the meantime...
Love to all\