Quite a few people have asked us “What was the best part of your trip to the USA?” It is so hard to pick a “best bit”. We saw and did so much in three weeks.
We arrived in LA after 22 hours travel time, so were exhausted by the time we arrived at the hotel, but we dropped our bags and grabbed a cab to Eagle Rider to pick up our bike. Unfortunately, the Goldwing I had ordered was not available, so they offered us a brand-new Harley. The manager had one coming back from a tour that afternoon, so we spent the rest of the day cruising around the local area on the Harley. I don’t want to put down Harleys but I found it did not suit my riding style. In the LA suburbs every intersection that doesn’t have traffic lights has a stop sign on all four corners, so it is a constant stop start, I was very happy to pick up the Goldwing later in the afternoon.
We spent the next couple of days in LA cruising along the beaches, through Hollywood and Beverley Hills. Venice Beach was amazing, packed with the iconic things that it is famous for. Street art, skateboarders, body builders and a passing stream of people meant that there was always something to look at. The hills above Hollywood are packed with mansions perched above each other on the side of the steep hills. Beverley Hills was equally as impressive with most of the home’s massive gardens being tended by gardeners. In sharp contrast, a few streets away, there were small communities of homeless people sheltering under the overpasses. We enjoyed our time in LA and found the people very friendly and courteous on the roads, often moving over to allow the Goldwing space to ride between the cars.
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Our next destination was Las Vegas and it was good to get out on the 5-lane concrete highway and away from the city traffic. The speed limit was 70mph with most travellers sitting about 10mph over this. We saw very few police on the road. They were mainly parked at roadworks or in the small towns off the highway, that relied on food and fuel stops to survive. Some of those were on the old Route 66 and still had the old diners and cafes which looked like they were right out of (or still in) the 50’s.
As we approached Las Vegas you could see the huge buildings rising up before us, a stark contrast to the desert before that seemed to be devoid of all life. At least the Nullarbor has a few trees and shrubs and the occasional roadkill. It was soon apparent of the extravagance and that no expense has been spared to make everything bigger and better than anywhere else in the world. At the first overpass there is even a phone tower cleverly disguised as a palm tree. The first impression as you ride down “The Strip” is one of utter amazement. With the extravagance of gold clad buildings, Egyptian Pyramids, Olympic pool sized fountains and even a mini New York complete with the Statue of Liberty and a roller coaster that starts on the roof and goes through the wall into the building below. Caesars Palace has a shopping arcade resembling a Roman village with cobblestone roads and the roof painted to look like a Summer sky, complete with soft fluffy clouds, The Venetian has canals going through it with Gondoliers singing opera….. just incredible.
At the other end of town is the older Fremont St with a huge overhead LCD screen hundreds of metres long as the roof with zip lines running underneath for the brave tourists to fly like Superman over the crowds. It was very pleasant wandering along the street where there was a New Year’s Eve atmosphere with many of the revellers drinking cocktails out of plastic mugs shaped like a boot. It was a very warm night – still over 100 degrees Fahrenheit at midnight.
Next morning, we were back on the road again with the first stop being the spectacular Hoover Dam. This dam was so important to the local area it was protected by gun emplacements in WW2 and they even considered building a decoy dam in the area. The stone emplacements must have been intolerably hot as the temperature there was 117 degrees F (about 47 degrees C in our language—bloody hot in anyone’s language) while we were there.
We arrived at Williams in the mid afternoon and were very taken with the main street that was lined with diners, café’s and memorabilia stores all in keeping with the Route 66 theme. That night we dined on jalapeno poppers and burgers in the courtyard while listening to a local Indian guitarist (the kind with feathers, not a turban) singing rock & roll songs. What an excellent night.
We were off early to the Grand Canyon Heliport for a flight over the stunning Grand Canyon. We paid the extra $100 (on top of the $A800) to both sit in the front of the helicopter and it was well worth it for this once in a lifetime experience. Our pilot was excellent with a smooth take off and she had an exceptional knowledge of the Canyon’s history and surrounding areas. We sped along a few hundred metres above the forests surrounding the Canyon before flying over the edge and into the amazing Canyon. I was expecting a massive canyon but nothing like the spectacle that lay before us. The Canyon is 446km long and 16-29 km wide with the Colorado River winding its way down the centre. There were several groups of people on rafts that were dwarfed by the size of the canyon.
After the flight we cruised along the road next to the canyon & saw an enormous Elk enjoying his lunch before casually strolling across the road to join his friend.
We headed off early the next morning to try to beat the heat and took the exit off the highway to Seligman to ride some of the Route 66 and avoid bridge works on the highway. Seligman is like most towns along the old Route 66 with the diners and cafés doubling as museums with great displays of old cars, bikes and relics from days gone by. Route 66 was a great road to cruise down, long sweeping bends and straights that went on for miles. There was almost no traffic which meant you could do freeway speeds but still admire the scenery.
We spent the night in Las Vegas and were again lured by the bright lights to marvel at the fountains and overall extravagance of the casino’s.
The next couple of days were spent travelling to San Francisco with an overnight stop at Bakersfield. The scenery was mainly market gardens, but on a scale we never imagined possible. Strawberry farms stretched as far as the eye could see in both directions. The roadside dotted with old school buses filled with fruit pickers and towing trailers carrying portaloos. Another thing I found amazing, dotted throughout the market gardens were “nodding donkey” oil wells, which I imagined would only be in Texas. We both thought it unusual that a State like California that is so big on environmental issues would have oil wells in market gardens, gazetted wetland areas and dozens of oil rigs just off pristine shores.
The final section of highway into San Francisco rose up into the mountains and the temperature dropped dramatically. We were soon riding above the clouds that obscured the valley below. After we checked into the hotel we headed down to Pier 39 for a delicious famous clam chowder served in a sour dough bread bowl. We were drawn to the far side of the jetty by the barking sounds of seals and were delighted to see around 20 pontoons covered in seals jostling for the best position. New comer seals were discouraged from climbing aboard by the larger seals barking in their face & pushing them off with their chest.
Before heading back to the hotel, we rode over the Bay Bridge, stopping off at Treasure Island which is home to a US Naval base. At the lookout there was a family of Raccoons with the mother doing her best to keep the babies away from tourists feeding them a variety of junk food.
The streets of San Francisco are famous for their steep hills and street cars and we encountered both while riding around town. We were hoping to travel down the Pacific Coast Hwy but due to bushfires followed by heavy rains, the highway had been cut by massive landslides, some of which will take another 12 months to clear away. We took a detour through an army training camp across to the coast. The winding road through the mountains were quite narrow and had no guard rails, so you had to concentrate on the road. The hairpin bends were reminiscent of those in the Swiss Alps. Just before Santa Barbara, we saw a pod of about 20 whales frolicking close to the shore.
The lure of ice-cream drew us to the famous Malibu Beach. After waiting 10 minutes for a parking spot, we strolled along the footpath towards the Malibu pier stopping to admire a half metre high marijuana plant growing next to the street palms. The pier offered great views of the houses on stilts right on the beach and the mansions in the hills above which had amazing views over the ocean. We spent that night in LA before flying to New York early the next morning.
We picked up our bike for the next 4 days, a Honda CBR 500, it seemed very small after the Goldwing but turned out to be a perfect commuter for the 6 kms between our hotel and the centre of New York.
We hired pushbikes to ride around Central Park in the middle of the city. It was great to see the New York people making good use of the park with business people eating their lunch, girls sunbathing and 3 baseball games in full swing. We also saw a wedding, street performers and people rowing on the lake. So much was happening at every turn. Next stop was the lookout on the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building, which was filled with visitors from all over the world. Apart from the buildings, rivers and bridges, we saw rooftop parties, a yoga class of over 50 people in a park, helicopters flying below us and swarms of people scurrying along the street like little ants.
We arrived at Times Square with time to stroll up and down the path marvelling at the huge electronic billboards. By the time we ordered our NY pizza from a street vendor the crowds had swelled to fill the entire footpath and we changed from watching the lights to watching a steady stream of people dressed (and undressed) as cartoon characters and some with only painted on American flags as clothing.
The next morning the pace slowed a little with a leisurely ferry ride out to the Statue of Liberty. The detail captured in the beaten copper surface is incredible. The entire inner skeleton has been replaced with stainless steel after the original iron framework suffered badly from corrosion. The museum inside the pedestal was very interesting with the wooden formwork and some of the copper skin displayed. The big toe itself is almost 2 metres high. We climbed the 215 stairs to the pedestal observation deck to admire the magnificent views of the harbour. After we got off the ferry we took a short ride to the 911 Memorial park. The ponds are quite plain but beautiful and the whole area is such a serene memorial to the thousands that lost their lives. That night we took in the Broadway show Bandstand. The theatre was packed with the upper-class sipping on champagne cocktails, so we felt a little out of place with our hiking boots and helmets. When the show finished, we joined the throng of people inching slowly to Times Square for an after-show drink. We settled on Planet Hollywood on 45th St.
For our final full day in New York we decided to ride over Brooklyn Bridge which was packed with walkers and joggers using the elevated walkways that gave stunning views of the city. We boarded the ferry for a relaxing cruise up and down the Hudson River before we ended the day at Gantry Plaza Park to watch the sun go down behind the city as we sat eating dinner and drinking a delicious grapefruit beer or two with the locals. New York has a surprisingly large number of parks with an incredible amount of seating. It really encourages people to go out and enjoy life in the great outdoors.
Before flying out to LA later the next day, we had one last thing on our list to see – Grand Central Station. The architecture is amazing, and it is surprising to find out that it was earmarked to be demolished in the 60’s.
We arrived back in LA & booked another Goldwing from Eagle Rider for the next 2 days & took a ride up to the Hollywood sign. We did a tour of Warner Bros Studios after that which was very interesting. Later in the day we decided to head south and check out the beaches down there. We found a great little pub for dinner and watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean.
Our last day in the US was spent further south visiting Long Beach. We took the bike back and headed off to the airport. What an amazing holiday we had. The bike, distances & places to visit we planned were all perfect. One piece of advice is to book tours to popular attractions online. You get to jump queues and some attractions get booked out months in advance for instance, if you want to get to the crown of the Statue of Liberty you need to book 5 months in advance!!
I can’t say enough about Eagle Rider in L.A. They chose & booked all our accommodation in California, Nevada & Arizona, & they were all good hotels, at a great price. Their bikes were all clean & reliable & never missed a beat. The bike & 14 days accommodation out of L.A. cost $A5,500, including upgraded accommodation, upgraded insurance & state taxes & fees. We would love to go back & do some more touring one day.
Chris & Dianna Glover #25012 & #31050