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The Wheels on The Bus

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This is the entry for saturday, delayed because I was busy as a bee on a peak nectar collecting day.

The wheels on the bus were, indeed, going round and round as I collected people in Seattle and drove them 100 miles to Port Townsend. In order to avoid 3 trips we packed the love machine to capacity – if you ever wondered exactly what you can get in a Dodge Grand Caravan the answer is:

7 people and their luggage
4 bikes
everything needed to support a 1 month trip
and an electric cooler full of beer…I mean isotonic drinks.

The wheels went round and round rather slowly on the hills.

We got everyone delivered by 8 pm then played the ‘putting the tents up in the dark’ game. It is a marginally worse game than cricket as we didn’t get a break for tea.

At this point I discovered that one of the wheels on the bus had gone round over a big screw and was going pss pssss pssssss.

Bugger.

The leak is slow but we have a long way go so I phoned Avis to ask what to do. ‘Don’t worry’ they said, go to the nearest depot and get a replacement’. ‘A replacement wheel?’ I asked, ‘no, a replacement love machine’. Actually they said mini-van but to me it is now officially the love machine.

Double bugger.

We agreed that I will go to Olympia on Monday morning – a fair detour and I have to completely empty the van which already looks like gypsies have been living in it for 6 months.

Triple bugger!

Anyway, we are now poised to begin the ride. Hold tight, Sunday’s (today’s) entry on it’s way.

Steve
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Hey Big Spender

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I am beginning to wish I had chosen movie titles rather than songs.  Sleepless in Seattle would have been perfect for last night – probably about 3 hours sleep in total with bouts of bike unpacking and luggage reorganising in between.

Today I have been mostly shopping.  There were several things that I needed but which were best sourced in Merica:

1/  A Merican satnav.  I already hate her nasal whining tones.

2/  A rather cunning electric cooler that plugs into a car cigarette lighter and keeps stuff (ok…beer) cold.  It is gratifyingly huge, to the point that we MAY be able to squeeze in sime milk and butter along with the ‘essentials’. 

3/  A bike rack that straps to the back of the love machine.  This is pleasingly fuel inefficient.

Items 2 and 3 are too big to transport home so will be thrown away at the end of the trip.  This is so Merican that my patriotism will probably be rewarded with a Congressional Medal of Honor. 

I have also driven the 100 miles to Port Townsend, delivered the first lot of bikes and checked out the hotel and campground.   The hotelers are staying in Manresa Castle:

I think the photo may have been photoshopped as it is a bit down at heel in real life, but wonderfully quirky. It is more than 100 years old which, by Merican standards, is virtually prehistoric.  The campers are in a campground on the beach with seals as neighbours.  All very nice.

Alan and the 2nd batch of riders should be landing any minute now so back to work.

Steve

Endless Flight/Caravan of Love (Double A Side)

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Some of you may remember that I once quite liked a bit of Leo Sayer……not something I’m proud of but I am now mature enough to admit it.

Actually the flight wasn’t that endless but 10 hours is still a long time to sit in an alooooominum tube, even if you are eating swan.  Guess what?  Fogey Babes (as Ben likes to be called) was sitting just across the aisle and we are now the firmest of friends.  I expect he will ask me to be godfather to his next sprog and we have worked up a plan to travel the length of the Amazon in a dustbin full of Piranhas.  The great news is that the calluses on his arse from rowing the atlantic are looking MUCH better now.

Getting through immigration and customs took forever (the former because they are useless and the latter because I had to explain why I was carrying lmost $20,000 in cash and travellers cheques) but we eventually made it to our hire car.

 
It is a Dodge Grand Caravan – this isn’t actually it but we have its idenical twin sister.  In a world where the words GOOD and BIG are interchangeable it is very good.  In every other world it is a piece of s**t, though with all the rear seats folded down it would ceratinly make a caravan of love. 
 
So far everything is working out OK and my plan is still intact – the only fly in the ointment is that the expensive US SIM card I bought will not allow me to make international calls so I  have to call their helpline on my UK sim at vast expense to hurl abuse at the supplier.  They tell me I must be patient….they clearly haven’t met me 🙂
 

It is now almost midnight (8am UK time) and I am in my motel room unable to sleep and surrounded by half assembled bikes and the discarded packing boxes.  Tomorrow I start the painful process of getting bikes, bags and people repositioned to Port Townsend. 

Steve

Club Tropicana

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…well, actually Club World but the drinks are still free so who cares. I have no idea what I did to earn an upgrade but whoopedy doop anyway.

As you can see there are worse places to waste 10 hours. I'll probably have swan for lunch then ask the trolley dolly to wash my feet or something.

Having got the car to Heathrow Mall 5 (a shopping centre with a few planes) and done all the check-in and security malarky I can now enjoy the lull before the storm. They say that no plan survives first contact with the enemy so no doubt it will all start to go fruit shaped in Seattle.

Still for now I'll just enjoy the amenities. Later I might go downstairs and flick olives at the riff-raff.

Oh yes, I checked in behind Ben Fogle. Little twerp.

Steve

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Red Red Wine

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I will confess to a moment of boredom.  As Alan will know, I am not adverse to an occassioanl tasty fermented beveridge after a long day’s cycling.  He will also tell you that my efforts to strap a six pack to an already heavily laden bike are sometimes precarious to say the least. 
 
Wouldn’t it be cool, I thought, if you could adapt your bike to properly carry a refreshing libation. 
 
Well of course, there is nothing left to invent as the following photos prove:
 

All of these are very clever of course, but demonstrate the lack of really BIG thinking that always limits mankind’s progress to the very frontiers of science.  Now THIS is more like it:

Steve

PS The author advocates responsible drinking! 

Pack Up Your Troubles

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4 days until we leave!  I love a bit of pre-trip planning (almost as much as Alan likes a bit of pre-trip loosing his tent) but this time it has all been a bit of a headache.  As well as Alan and I, we have 13 paying guests – 1 is riding as far as San Fran and 3 are joining in San Fran to ride the last third.  The other 9 are in for the whole trip.  4 of us are camping and the rest are staying in hotels. 

The route planning and booking of vehicles, campgrounds, hotels etc has been in progress since January – hopefully the things I have forgotten will be minor and easily remedied in Merica. 

As a man who likes to travel light I have a bewildering amount of stuff to take – in addition to this lot there is a bike box crammed with bike, camping gear and assorted other crap.

I fly out with the first 3 guests on Thursday while Alan follows on Friday with 4 more.  The rest arrive on Saturday and will have the pleasure of starting a 1650 mile ride with serious jet lag. 

We are starting in Port Townsend, WA so fly into Seattle then have to transfer almost 100 miles by car.  I have worked out that between my arrival and everyone being in Port Townsend for the start I have to do the round trip 5 times in order to transfer the people, bags and bikes.  Yup, 1000 miles before we even get going 🙁

Our route is laughably simple………follow Highway 101 south to San Francisco when it becomes Highway 1 and just keep going until you come to men with droopy moustaches eating tacos.  In practise it gets a bit trickier but we will be following Adventure Cycling association maps of the kind that got us across Merica in 2009 without too many mishaps.  Our timetable is pretty relaxed by Grumpy Old Men standards with an average of 65 miles per day and 2 rest days.  Alan is very happy about this and I am also coming around to the opinion that 100 mile days are best left to the kids.  Alan will be sweeping (technical term meaning riding at the back making sure nobody gets left behind) but I hope to ride as much a possible – probably riding out for the first 10 miles then returning to the support vehicle* and driving to the destination then riding 10 miles back upstream to meet them at the end of the day. 

*Our support veeeeeehicle will be a seven seater minivan which should have a 4 litre engine so will be fully compliant with US legislation requiring the worst possible fuel economy.  Just to be on the safe side we will strap a couple of bike racks and a luggage box to the roof….that should do it.

I am going to recheck everything now…..Alan is probably going to send off his passport application 😉

Steve

Go West – Return of the Grumpy Old Men

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Some of you may remember that, in 2006, the GOM rode the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to the Mexican border.  This was a very nice trip but, of course, the bar has been set considerably higher in recent years so it is time to go back and do it properly.

Sadly I am now saddled (ha ha ha ….saddled….get it?) with the responsibility of running a cycling holiday business (www.bikeadventures.co.uk) so this trip will actually be a commercial venture with myself as support and Alan riding sweeper.  I will take my bike and hope to get some riding done too so I thought I would blog the journey anyway. 

A group of 12 of us will be starting in Seattle on 15th Sepetember and riding the 1650 miles from Canadian to Mexican borders over a period of 4 weeks.  In order to keep myself out of the courts the identity of the customers will not be revealled and I will be diplomatically vague about their specific exploits.  Alan, on the other hand, enjoys no such protection and you will get the full gory details.

As hinted at by the title of this entry we will be back to song titles for the daily update….so watch this space.

Steve

PS The nice people as www.holidayphone.co.uk have promised me an extra two hours of talk time if I plug their overseas sim cards so consider it plugged.  If they don’t come up with the minutes there will be slander, libel, words you never heard in the bible…..see the songs have started already!

The Italian Job – Director’s Cut

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Yes, the lazy option – reissue an old movie with extra content (the stuff that wasn’t good enough for the original).  After much queuing we eventually got our flight home and our fantastic bike boxes survived in-tact.  The taxi was waiting for us and we were tucked up in our beds by about 2am.  Sadly we both had to work today so the sleep was all too short.

So, Italy…….a seriously lovely country with a fantastic climate and mostly nice people. Too much litter, scary driving in cities, expensive restaurants, but never-the-less a great place to visit. We did about 830 miles in total and, although there were pretty challenging days, overall its was not too demanding. The bikes mostly behaved: Alan broke a spoke and I broke a rack but we didn’t get a single puncture. Our bodies also behaved, with no serious ailments and we have come home fitter, browner and lighter than we left. To do proper camping you would have to travel earlier in the year but the heat would be prohibitive, travel any later and even hotels are likely to be shut so I think we got it about right.

If I had to pick one highlight it would be the plumet to Amalfi on the most spectacular roads I believe it is possible to find.

But it was all good.  Despite the title of this blog site we are seldom grumpy when on the road; somethimes tired, often challenged by unfamiliar surroundings but always thinking about where to go next; and that is something we have a few ideas on!

Steve

Dumb and Dumber

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Our hotel last night set a new record low for the quality of it's breakfast – a coffee and a stale pastry. Based on our experience of the rest of the hotel this wasn't a total surprise.

Still, it meant we were on the road super early and, with only 66 to do, it was clear we would finish very early. It was a bit odd riding with the sea on the left after 750 miles with it on the right but otherwise there wasn't much to distinguish mainland Italy from Sicily. We did glimpse Etna but the summit was lost in cloud of steam or some such.

Coming down a decent hill I deployed my emergency braking system. This is also known as my rack and panniers. A clamp had sheared, allowing the whole thing to rotate around the wheel until it dragged along the ground. After changing my shorts we managed to bodge it using cable ties and this just about held.

We got into Catania around 2pm and then the fun began. First we had to scour the wheelie bins for cardboard, then we had to try and fashion our pickings into serviceable bike boxes. I imagine all this was passably entertaining for anyone watching but it was hot, fiddly, and mostly ineffective work. The results looked ok but any attempt to actually pick the damn things up and they sagged like saggy things.

After 2 hours we had done the best we could and used all our packing tape and the results were still pants. So now all we had to do was call a taxi big enough to take us and the boxes to the airport and get it to go via a hardware shop for more tape. When I claimed we were now fluent in Italian it is possible I exaggerated a bit. Once we had explained it was a book, three words and the first word was 'The' we realised that even charades wasn't going to solve things.

Somehow we got tape and a ride to the airport but the driver took €30 from us for being a pain in the arse. If you think the box looks pants now you should have seen it 2 hours ago!

We are now killing the 3 hours until check-in trying to avoid the chatty Brit standing next to us. He is wearing a bush hat and multi-pocketed khaki trousers and clearly thinks he is some sort of intrepid explorer. We think he is some sort of pratt.

Back to blighty soon.

Dumb

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The Godfather

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We are in Sicily, what other movie was I going to use?

We made good time today despite the fact that the wop civil engineers ran out of money, dynamite or maybe just interest. There is a ritzy motorway that parallels SS18 and this has all the fancy tunnels and viaducts while we made do with good old-fashioned switchbacks. Two pretty cheeky 6-7 mile climbs kept us working all day but we reached Villa San Giovanni with about 75 on the clock at 3:40 so rather than find a hotel we hopped on the ferry to Messina.

We are in a budget hotel near the port but it isn't quite as classy as it sounds! Actually it is ok and the beds are gratifyingly free of horses heads. I am typing this with my cheeks stuffed with cotton wool but I am not sure that you are getting the full effect…..trust me, I sound JUST like Marlon Brando.

Thanks to our heroic efforts we now have an easy day tomorrow. 66 miles to Catania then the fun of getting the bikes boxed (actually first we have to find suitable boxes) and then finding a taxi big enough to get them and us to the airport. Good job we are fluent in Italian now!

Steve
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