Current Musing: Murray River Summit to Source to Sea (In Progress)
Monument Valley Buttes

USA

May to Aug 2010

International flight

‎ 11 ‎May ‎2010

Alaskan leg cancelled due to late spring and freezing temperatures. Too damn cold on a bike. Sorry!

Well not much to say about this one. Long hours in a confined space with crappy food and videos, but the flight nice smooth and warm flight over today saw us touch down at LAX relaxed and excited. Then we were bitten by the wind, and jetlag. It's around 7 hours ahead on 24hour time, so we landed at 1am (8am US Pacific time). Then straight on a flight destined for Anchorage, Alaska.

For those who saw us, this will not surprise. For others it may. After hard work planning, al loaded a weather observation page into the website, which we have checked regularly over the past 3 weeks. Spring has been slow, and winter long. Alaska was looking pretty damn cold, even with the down jacket my ma loaned me. Riding to Deadhorse well within the Arctic Circle was out (always below 0) and Denali was almost as bad (highs of 2 degrees) so we have made the tough call to can Alaska (and do it when we are old instead!). Those sort of temps are just as unpleasant as the $75pp for a 2hr bus ride. So we are just taking the first leg of our flights and getting off in Seattle, near the border with Canada. Still plenty cold though. We're looking forward to some sleep when we get there.

Washington

After skipping the Alaskan connection, we finally have started our US trip at Seattle. A train and a bus trip later we are at the bike shop. Three more days of mucking around, we are finally on the road and heading for the hills.

We have bikes and have now been on the road for a few nights now, so about time for an update! We’ve decided to separate bike stuff from other stories, so check out our bikes page for that stuff.

First few days was spent getting bikes, sorting money for bikes, and then looking at where to head to. Panniers were going to take a week to arrive, so we thought damn it, let's shoot off and do the Cascade Loop. Poor Al has been the donkey, loaded with gear on the bike and around 15-20kgs on his back; Chris has just around 5-7kgs. So we headed out east across Stephens Pass towards Wenatchee, camping in the pass at Wallace falls. Next day down to Chelan. Amazing country with a snow toped pass (not on the road) of around 1500m, cold but stunning. Chelan is more like Central Otago/Cromwell, and we had a day off there, then on to Windthrop, and currently waiting for the weather to clear for rainy pass in the northern cascades to take us back to Seattle. No wet or super cold riding, we have time so don’t see the point of getting wet or missing the view. We’ve seen families of Marmots (like a small wombat with a tail), deer (4) and some of the most amazing scenery of our lives. The roads are also amazing, which is great for riding. No off-road yet, but we are looking.

Northern cascades is topped by two passes Washington (5477ft, 1643m) and rainy pass (slightly lower). The roads just opened 3 weeks ago, and there is still 3-4ft of snow around. With the break in the weather, we were treated to the most amazing views of snow covered mountain tops, with mist rising as the sun hit the wet roads. Yes, it was cold, but it was as close to heaven as we’ve ever come and the most surreal experience, with only a dozen cars in our 2 hours on the road. Down the western side of the ranges is a stunning series of gorges, used for hydro, and some of the most fantastic scenery. The campsite is currently closed, so it’s free, but it’s the best campsite so far. We’ve had woodpeckers, a half dozen deer 5m from our camp, humming birds, eagles, and the most relaxing time drinking wine and eating marshmallows with fellow campers before we ended with the campsite to ourselves. It snowed to within 200m elevation from our camp at lake diablo, but otherwise sunny and warm. Oh, and the riding is glorious.

For anyone who is hesitant about the USA, don’t be. Come to Seattle, hire yourself a car or bike, and do the loop. People are amazingly friendly here, the scenery is superb, and we guarantee you will be blown away…

Initiated bike purchase

‎ 12 ‎May ‎2010

After being too late in the afternoon yesterday, we made it to the bike shop just across from our Motel early in the morning.

Chris eyes up the KLX250S that is parked beside the KLR's and tries it on for size. She could only just toe it (touch her toes on the ground while sitting on the bike). The sale guys guarantee that they'll be able to lower it enough, so they head off and they drop the suspension. A half hour later, and 2 inches lower, the bike is off to the mechanic again to add a lower link. Still not quite there, but a firmer guarantee from the sale guy again about dropping the front forks and cutting the seat, we finalize the sale for both bikes.

At the bank, we discover that there are limits to taking out cash, and end up only being able to take out halve of the required amount for the bikes, but the down payment was enough for them to let us take the bikes back across the street for the night. We make a slightly nervous trip (1km) on the wrong side of the road back to the motel.

Issaquah to Gold bar

‎ 14 ‎May ‎2010

After setting off reasonable early, we head of for Stephens pass. After making a left down 202, instead of a right down 203, we nearly head off onto the Interstate. Luckily we were able to turn around before the on ramp, and we back pack to the 203.

We make it to Wallace Falls State Park at Gold Bar, and camp out for the night.

Cascade loop

‎ 16 ‎May ‎2010

Did Rainy and Washington passes today, the highlight of the northern cascades. Freezing, but stunning.

Mt Rainier and across

‎‎‎‎26 ‎May ‎2010

Our luck with the weather still has not changed. We caught one small look at Rainier through the clouds, it looked awesome, but very cold. Heading south we discover that it is still too early for Mt St Helens too, so we head for White Pass and on to Idaho.

Idaho

The windy state!

I do not think that we had a single day without some wind, but Chris is starting to manage it on her little bike. While it was going to be a straight line across to Yellowstone, we stop off a few times to explore the deepest canyon in Nth America, some fantastic hot springs and Craters of the Moon National Park.

Hells Canyon

‎‎‎30 ‎May ‎2010

This was a magical hidden away spot to hide from the National Memorial Day holiday. This was an awesome find after a suggestion from a friendly Washington lad, Daniel. We spent three days exploring the area and got the first 150 miles of offroad riding!

Hells Canyon sits at the corner of Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Steep gravel roads lead into a even steeper canyon. Mule deer and Whitetail deer were everywhere, some were tame even though there was hunting in the valley.

It was a great place to have Al's birthday. His new bike was great on the dirt tracks once the load was removed. For Chris, it was her first time off the tarmac. She coped surprisingly well, and has now been initiated to gravel and mud. She is learning fast!

The way out is a steep 15 mile gravel road that was worse than Skippers, but she handled it fine, although she was holding on to the handle bars like her life depended on it. Sore muscles meant that hot springs were on the cards… Next stop the Payette River in central Idaho, on the back side of the Sawtooth Ranges.

Sticky throttle

Everyone knows a stuck throttle is a biker’s worst nightmare. Well let me tell you, a sticky throttle also makes for a nervous rider. When you put bashbars on a dual sport, make sure there's a spacer between the bar and the throttle, and you'll avoid this problem after you drop it. The loan of an allen key from the local garage, and the assistance of a rock to bash the bars into shape solved Chris's problem, albeit after a ride down steep gravel track, and not being able to throttle off less than 10mph through town. Jerky stops are very uncool.

Stream rising off hot springs

Saw Tooth range

2 ‎June ‎2010

On the flight from LA, Chris sat next to an Aussie who lived in Seattle for years. Naturally, the maps came out. These hot pools were one of the first things to be scribbled on it. After 3 weeks of rain, they were a welcome relief, even in the drizzle and cool temps, the heat of the pools permeated into our bodies far enough that it took 10min to feel the cold again. If you got changed fast enough, you got to stay warm.

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

‎3 ‎June ‎2010

Our first big National Park, Craters of the moon. This was a surreal volcanic landscape with miles and miles of lava everywhere. No rattles here, apparently it is too hot in the lava

Stream rising off hot springs

Wyoming

Yellowstone National Park

‎4 ‎June ‎2010

When I was a wee girl, my (late) grandad brought me a book on North American wildlife, including a section on Yellowstone. Since then, I've always wanted to come here. Not only that, I worked in park management for so long, and being the first national park, I naturally HAD to see Yellowstone. So we made it.

The world's first national park, Yellowstone is nestled between Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. June is still cold and wet, but the occasional glimpses of sun allow the magic to be seen.

A long day of devilish cross winds, washing done, and we were set for the last 100 miles. Then about 40miles out the heavens opened on us. Chris passed my first vehicle - a truck. We ride staggered, just like we're supposed to so we're visible. We also have heinous yellow parkas that make us really obvious. However, the visibility is clearly not enough for some drivers. Courtesy of an IDIOT car driver who passed Al but forgot to leave enough room for Chris, she was pushed hard onto the verge; albeit without causing any damage other than to send adrenalin levels sky high. Al just about did his nana at this chick (bikes can easily harass cars), but then thought better of it. When we got to the park gates and the weather started to clear.

We arrived in Yellowstone after cutting down through the sawtooth ranges and two days of severe side winds in southern Idaho (a small detour via craters of the moon was a must!). It was a relief to arrive; our first originally planned pit-stop in the USA. On the road in, we saw buffalo, a bear, and a moose. We knew Yellowstone was going to live up to our expectations!

In our usual style, we mucked around too much (the smell of socks was too much and the laundry a must on the way in)… and arrived late. Al suggested not to get excited until we got to the campsite. The problem was herds of Bison on the road, a moose, and a little black bear climbing a tree! Yellowstone is not what you might expect from a national park quite as grand as this one… there is a Macca's at each of the four entry points, and roads around. But they are a blessing when the weather is this crappy… you can play ride and spot the wildlife just by looking for all the parked cars! Even though we were wet and frozen much of the time, there was plenty of traffic, so we were pleased it wasn't yet busy season.

We had 6 and 5 days in the park, and managed to see black bears, grizzlies (with cubs!), pronghorn herds, elk herds, big-horn sheep, moose, and beaver. And old faithful lived up to its name. Days were spent admiring the different parts of the park; West entrance for first bison, North entrance for grizzlies, waterfalls, and those famous terraces, the road east from there for black bears and bighorn, Lamar Valley for more bison and pronghorn, Dunraven pass for spectacular views (8500ft plus!), the lake area just so you remember it's winter/spring (parts of the lake were still frozen, and we had a day stuck in the tent in spectacularly crappy weather), old faithful area for the geysers and springs, and lastly, the southern section for elk. And two days hiding from the rain and trying to stay dry.

Yellowstone blew us away, it is truly a spectacular and special place. Best of all, it surpassed our expectations. Chris got to tick off on one of those places she has wanted to visit since her late grandad first gave her a book on North America, while Al ticked off all the wildlife except wolves (which he reckons are native to Canada, so wasn't too concerned about anyhow)

We were fortunate on our travels around the park to meet other likeminded riders (making a change from all of the stuck up, arrogant and unfriendly Harley and BMW riders. Like Chris, Brian learned to ride in Laos/SE Asia, and decided a trip up the USA from bottom to Alaska would be cool. Admittedly, he spent a bit more time on the road before setting out! You can follow Brian's blog at bikeandboots.com (web archive). We were grateful for the tips on where to go heading south, and wish him all the best with the cold and wet! We also met two dirt riding chicks (Lisa and Claudette) that told us about Moab, and gave us an off-road book. So, done with the rain, we and cold, we headed south into Utah/Colorado in search of canyons, heat, red rock and some awesome trails…

So here we now are in Moab, contemplating the ever changing scenery that is the USA (fantastic to travel!), and whether we still need our standard high calorie diet (bacon and eggs and or pancakes and maple syrup for breakfast, burgers and/or sandwiches for lunch, cooked dinner with extra bacon fat for dinner, and the 6 coffees a day). We'll update the photos as time allows over the next week/tend days we are based here. At least there should be no more using our mufflers to warm our hands up on for a while…

Coyote in a field

Grand Teton National Park & South

‎‎8 ‎June ‎2010

Stunning Jackson hole…

OK, so we had enough of the cold and rain, and we kind of bypassed something we shouldn’t’ve to try and get somewhere warm. We admit it, but there is only so much riding in the rain and temps less than 5° Celsius one can handle. We did get a warm day to ride past the Tetons and admire them though, plus an awesome break to watch coyote digging up a bunny hole and chasing it. After that we stayed at the best campground yet… Firehole Canyon in Southern Wyoming. Warm, hardly anyone else around, adobe camp shelters with picnic tables, and, low and behold, hot showers for free; and a fee we can live with for the services. God bless the USDA forest service, and the sun for finally shining. Shame about the hail storm and horrific side winds between there are Moab…

A lesson in the strains of travel

9 ‎June ‎2010

Pork belly. Yummy. Anyone who knows us will know we love to eat pork belly. So when we found some we naturally wanted to woof it that night. By the time we spent a few hours at the outdoor shop it was lunchtime, and we still wanted to put 200 miles on the odometer. Add to that a short stretch of interstate riding (hell for Chris as she has to ring the dam bike to get to 65/70, still doing 20mph less than the trucks), and we were in at camp in Flaming gorge late, again.

So Chris decides why not cook a yummy feed of pork belly. The pork was salted, to the point of ridiculousness. We should have binned it. But being tired and weary it resulted in frayed nerves about the quality of cooking, whose idea it was to buy it, ungratefulness for the meal, etc, and poor Al ate it anyway.

Lesson learnt: get into camp earlier, and don't buy pork belly in the US again.

Utah

Mormons. It's all you ever hear about Utah - just more of those backwards Mormons. Well, you folks from California and rednecks from Arizona, we suggest you look inwards for a change as we think the pot has been calling the kettle black…

We spent nearly 5 weeks in Utah and did NOT want to leave. We dabbled across the border to Colorado and found underage drunken yobs cursing Indian Americans, Mexicans, Tourists and anyone with families; we heard from Californians how fantastic city life was but were given no explanation of why everyone was out east; we nipped into Arizona only to be talked down to by park rangers at Glen Canyon, and to find a town with more churches per capita than anywhere in Utah and a way more authoritarian attitude to go with it…

We barely saw a Mormon in Utah, but wouldn't have minded if we had. It has to be the most pleasant state in America, so listen up those from other states:

  • Drivers are courteous - we never once came close to being run off the road and even truck drivers gave way to us!
  • Utahan's (not those who move there from other states) are friendly, polite, love to talk and are a lot of fun, and it doesn't involve getting drunk and making an ass of themselves
  • The riding community are exceptionally friendly and helpful (but they are good in most places, so that's no surprise), even if they did joke about taking Al's bike over some sweet jumps…
  • There is sooooo much to do: mountain biking (tick), off roading (tick), amazing scenery (tick), rock climbing (tick), rafting and kayaking (tick), walking (tick), backcountry with no one else around (tick), scenic drives (tick), canyons (tick, tick tick), rivers and lakes you can swim in (tick)
  • It's warm in spring and summer, it doesn't rain every day, and you can ride without your jacket liner on
  • Great hippie/indigenous art scene
  • Campsites (including state parks) that cost less than $20 per night, and include FREE hot showers
  • Red rock isn't just red, its orange, terracotta, sand, yellow, white, pink and all combos between and you don't get bored of it…
  • Who else does slot canyons and hoodoos as well as Utah?

Don't believe everything you hear about Utah; spend some time, relax and you'll love it as much as we did.

Moab

‎12 ‎June ‎2010

We weren't planning on stopping in Moab, but thanks to a chance meeting with two dirt bike girls at Yellowstone, that advised about great riding here. We got a copy of a great book we got off them, and Al had a plan to get Chris on as many surfaces as possible.

So why two weeks? It's warm, there are a tonne of off-road trails, and the camping is amazing. We love it. Did I say that already? We need some time for our hands to become less sore so we can do some more dirt tracks! And did we say, the views are STUNNING? (see photos) It feels like heaven to us… All serious riders should come here for some fun time…

Moab marked the end of a long spell of wet weather, great camping, fine off-road tracks, friendly bike shops, and stunning scenery, everywhere. Our idea of heaven.

Sadly, after 12 days it was time for us to leave Moab. We loved it here. Chris’s favourite so far. We managed to lose track of time and day completely, so we don’t have a really accurate diary. Oh well… guess that means we enjoyed it.

Moab is about halfway down Utah. Its famous for its canyons of red rock that change colour with the light, from orange, terracotta, red to pink, and for its warmth (25-30 degrees when we were there). The views are never boring, from the high mesas (fertile areas at the tops), to narrow little gorges that fill with water when storms come over, and of course the Colorado river runs through the middle. Locals call it desert, and while there is some sand and sand dunes, most Australians would be offended by the amount of vegetation that gets called desert. In the background, another 1200m higher and only around 60km drive away are the La Sal Mountains, covered in forest and still with snow lying.

People in Moab are fantastically friendly for the most part (baring one couple who walked through our camp without acknowledging us, and found it odd when we suggested they were rude when they passed back (they simply told us they were locals and a walking track passed through). We must give a big shout to the team at Mad Bros Motor sports who gave us new soft grips for Chris’s bike and exchange on goods so we could clean our air filters, and Fred at arrowhead motorsports for setting Chris up with panniers, teaching us how to change a tire and adjust our chains correctly.

Our campsite was up Kane Creek, just 9 miles from town; half tarmac and half gravel, which included some narrow road with decent 200-300m drop offs and switch backs; read less people! We had a cave that had it all really. A fresh water spring to fill the portable shower, a large bench in a dry creek bed for taking the shower with a view; the cave to keep the sun off, a great fire pit for toasting marshmallows, and pet animals – squirrels (naughty ones that managed to get into food that we hung in the cave!) scorpions (thankfully just one) a western striped whip snake, and wetas!

So what did we get up to? The reason we headed to Moab in the first place was because of an off-road book we were given. So mostly, we spent our time riding. The idea was that Chris gets used to lots of different types of surfaces – dirt, sandy dirt, slick rock, rocks in general and gravel. And she didn’t do too badly – she now enjoys off-road more than tarmac. Sore hands prevented riding every day, but we did manage to enjoy the following

  • Gemini bridges
  • Hurrah pass
  • Long canyon
  • Shafter switch backs
  • Geyser pass
  • Bartlett wash road
  • Bull canyon
  • Sego canyon
  • Rainbow terrace
  • Onion creek
  • Thompson canyon/polar mesa

We LOVE this place for riding. Sadly, Chris’s hands didn’t seem to get much better with days off, so we didn’t get to do the overnight white rime trail. But it also has some pretty famous national parks. Arches was pretty, but they let you walk into the arches, and the place is swarming with tourists, so your photos look like they are covered in ants (we liked landscape arch best); and Canyon lands which has the most amazing views and fewer ants, plus the rides down from the mesa offer spectacular views, even if they do give horrific vertigo. There’s also a fair amount of rock art around which is really interesting and pretty impressive in general.

So now we have left our little haven and started our way south. We first head to Mesa Verde, and then make our way towards the northern rim of Grand Canyon, and on into Mexico in ca. 1 month.

Enjoy the pictures as much as we enjoyed Moab.

South East Utah

The trail of the ancients winds its way southeast of Moab, dipping into Colorado and Arizona. We covered a few key sites along the way.

South of Moab is an area renown for its abandoned Pueblo buildings of the Anasazi. We went to Mesa Verde and Hovenweep, before heading into the Dine (Navajo) reservation and on to Page, on the edge of Glen Canyon dam for a swim, and then into Grand Staircase Escalante to hide from the 4th July traffic.

National Park Management - Mesa Verde

‎‎26 ‎June ‎2010

Mesa Verde is probably the most famous pueblo ruins in the area. You would think it would be one well managed park, but Chris was unimpressed.

  • So called 'stabilisation' is not supposedly about rebuilding. Take a look at the photos though, and about half of it wasn't there when the ruins were first discovered. And some of it has been built to help take HUGE volumes of tourists through (around 40 every half hour!) I guess your views on this depend on whether historic heritage is about seeing what things were like, or about the stories of people that lived in the places. For me, 'stabilisation' and rebuilding are indicative of our inability to cope with our destructibility - as individuals and a species. I preferred the ruins of Hovenweep to Mesa Verde.
  • We were horrified at the lack of safety management in Mesa Verde. Two sites have wooden ladders up to 30ft (10m) high, with up to 8 people at a time climb these ladders, and if you are lucky, a bolt holds the rung on; if not, a nail or maybe 2. No hand rails. Apparently you can't sue the federal government! No-one here had heard of cave creek, but this place is an accident waiting to happen…and a site that will eventually be shut down. Shame on the NPWS.
  • The money - where the f*** is it all going? This is a site where tours of 40 got to each of 2 ruins every half hour from around 9am to 6pm with each person paying $3 for each tour. That's around $4000 a day, or $28000 a week, let alone the entrance fees, camping fees etc. Ok, so maybe it funds a nice program where the existing Puebloans cultures (Hopi, Zuni and others) and the existing indigenous people get to help tell the story? No such luck.
  • Dine moved into this area after inhabitants had left. Both they and existing Puebloans cultures claim links to the people. How nice it is to be in a place that could show current heritage, traditional stories, and be a prime site for co-management and helping with the >50% unemployment rate on the reservation next door. Instead, you get: 25 year old forestry graduates telling the archaeological story; a Hopi centre in the national park but not on the map; no involvement of indigenous peoples in management at all (I'm guessing it's because they think visits into the buildings are not on - they see it as an invasion of those people’s homes); managers who say Hopi and Dine want nothing to do with the places (maybe they just weren't asked? it's not the sense we got when we were on the reservation). All this begs the question: whose stories are these? Who has the moral right to tell them? Who has the moral right to profit from them? It saddens me to see a grand opportunity to support indigenous people, storytelling and employment going to waste.

Park Management - Monument Valley

‎‎28 ‎June ‎2010

We thought we would visit a Dine managed area and see what was different. This is Dine, in the middle of the Navajo heartland, where we learn that Navajo is a Spanish word, Dine is what these people call themselves, but the reservation is on maps as Navajo so it's an easier sales pitch. Sad that people can't even use their own language and words on their own lands.

The $5 entry fee was really reasonable compared to NPs across the USA. This site reminds me of the Ngai Tahu site in Kaikoura. A nice hotel and bar to take the views in (it's what people come for), and a cunning rough 4wd track down the valley, with multiple tour guides in 4wd waiting up the top to take tourists around (or you can go on your own as we did). Appropriately so (but a nice money spinner), many areas are off limits without a guide. However, there are then the craft stalls for the famous silver smithing and turquoise jewellery, which sadly have reverted to selling plastic beads, and the campground with no water and maggot infested loos (luckily a short walk from the hotel), and the locals who talk about money being sucked into government in the nation’s capital; so my overall impression is a good intention but the same old colonial version of post-colonial governance traps that makes it difficult to lift a people from the poverty they are in.

Park Management - Glen Canyon Recreational Area

‎‎‎1 ‎July ‎2010

It must be Arizona and Colorado borders that are off. Surely. Our experience here with staff was not that pleasant either. In federally managed parks, fees apply for entry and camping. We have no problem with that. They are a great asset, and provide excellent services in stunning places. What we have a problem with is inconsistent policy interpretation at this site. For entry passes (we have an annual pass) a vehicle is interpreted as having four wheels. Two motorcycles, 1 pass. For camping everywhere else, where you have 1 tent, you pay 1 fee. But at lone rock, they tried to charge us 2 camping fees -1 per vehicle, which they defined as two wheels in our case. We went to the ranger station and were told to listen. Apparently it's an off road area, so each bike is charged. But a car carrying a trailer and a boat with unlimited number of people, and two ATVs is charged 1 camp fee. It's ridiculous - think of the space they take up, and the resources that are expended on them. We were told if we didn't like it to go elsewhere. Back we went, be grudgingly for one night (a swim was irresistible), rather than our planned three, and we got a different story about the head of fees in both sections. If we were married and in one tent, we only had to pay one fee. All I can say Mr Ranger and Mr Superintendent is sort your shit!

Park management - BLM vs Forest Service vs NPS vs State parks

Public land management in USA is and interesting beast. The prime spots are under National Parks Service, Federal Department of Interior. There are huge volumes of visitors, and spectacular scenery. Some of the camping ground management is contracted out to private companies (which means higher fees), while other is managed by NPS. The scenery is amazing, but you have the trappings of managing that number of visitors - toilet blocks, eateries, cabins etc. Great to visit, but only for short periods of time. Camping services ($14-20 per night) generally limited to loos, picnic tables and water taps. If you are lucky, a kitchen sink. We only do these if the other option is RV park outside the park.

BLM lands (also federal department of interior) are generally less spectacular, but just as nice and more interesting to visit. They manage graziers and are more multi-use (horses, 4WD, ATVs, snow mobiles). Camping is also cheap when a loo and water is provided (around $8 per night), or free anywhere else but you have to carry water (more difficult on a bike). We love BLM, as it often borders National parks, and is usually close on deserted. Our camp in Moab was BLM, and we also enjoyed Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument on the northern border with Glen Canyon. Just as spectacular, and no drunken yobs!

Forest service is in a different federal department, and was once all about forestry, but they are also now targeting multiple use. That means forestry roads, and like BLM, they are also often next to NPs, which means wildlife galore. Camping is also on the cheaper end (usually around $12), with picnic tables, nice private sites, water, sinks, and sometimes showers (for example, at Flaming Gorge).

State parks are the oddity. Washington was a shocker - they are campgrounds in great locations with pay showers but pretty much just a few trees and no privacy between sites, although you do get picnic tables and water taps. But the cost? Up to $28 a night, and also often a separate entry fee. The exception is some Utah state parks. We LOVED Kodachrome. $16/night, free hot showers, filtered water, a great kitchen sink, and nice, private campsites. Plus the caretaker's wife gave us lotion to stop the dreaded gnats, which ignore deet. A great place to hide during the 4th July long weekend.

Slot Canyons!

‎5 July ‎2010

The best thing we did before heading up cottonwood canyon was to stop at the local BLM office. We were insulted by the $35 fee pp to be hoarded like goats into a truck and driven 10miles, just to take a photo of a canyon, and we had heard that there were more up in GSENM if you could make it down the dirt/sand road. The BLM guy gave us great road updates, showed us pictures of the canyons, and was just very insightful. Had we realised GSENM was going to be this good, we would have skipped Mesa Verde, and headed west while we were further north. We could have spent another month riding the roads in this area, if we had time. But we managed enough time for the slot canyons - and man were they worth it! Oh, and the ride down was fun too.

Off to Zion to make some money

‎6 July ‎2010

With Al landing a few weeks work, we needed a base camp with close access to a local library (free wifi) and close to a bike shop (so we could order parts and get them fitted) and computer shop (so Al was able to work). Zion was perfect, and only a 60mile ride to St George.

It might sound boring, but the weather was mint, we had a swimming hole 30m from camp, and the scenery was great. On the last few days here, we managed Angel's Landing (well not all the way, see our post on Mesa Verde about US national park safety standards) but then Chris got blisters, and so the narrows was a no-goer.

When we reached our max camping limit, it was time for Vegas... a bed and shower... yeah!

people

Nevada

20 ‎July ‎2010

Sin City, Las Vegas. Five days’ work...

25 ‎July ‎2010

...and a wedding.

California

Yosemite & Sequoia National Parks

‎28 ‎July ‎2010

You are going to need to look closely at the piccies to work out what we did between Zion and Yosemite. We'll know who has looked at the website!

Stunning place, it was a shame that we didn't have any climbing gear 🙁

The meadows of Yosemite were beautiful, but cold at 7000+feet. We were lucky enough to get a campsite too! Yosemite is stunning, but its granite and forest, so more similar to home (NZ), and to be honest, I think the Milford road is just as spectacular. But it was a worthy destination. We had a whirlwind tour; we'd like to have been climbing, but no shoes. Someone needs to give them lessons on firefighting - on the eastern slopes there was a scrub fire outside the park. Choppers and planes were bombing the upwind side and protecting the road which was not even down wind. No effort to wet or make firebreaks downwind. We were left thinking, what the ****?

After Yosemite, we headed down to Fresno - a city of around 300,000 on the trail of a rabies shot. No shots (see Joshua tree page), but it was good for Chris to realise how much better her riding has gotten. Lots of fun dragging off cars at the lights in 8-10 lane traffic (sorry mum!).

From there we headed back into sequoia national forest to see the giant trees, then down to the coastal plains again, and then back up again to Lake Isobel (like Central Otago but amazing burgers) to avoid all the traffic headed to LA. A nice few days, but steep windy roads meant long days. The it was a quick scoot around the satellite towns of LA (about 1hr out, in rush hour none the less) to Joshua Tree, our last pit stop before the border.

Our generic caricature of Americans continued. So here it is:

  • Washingtonians: A split personality, one side ultra-nice (a little fake?), green and socialist minded, the other gun touting red necked liberals.
  • Wyomingites: Didn't really have enough to experience, except that they drive fast, and are very much geared to tourism and the outdoors.
  • Utahans: Chilled, down to earth, understated, great sense of humour and very content. Our favourites.
  • Coloradans: Also like Utah, just without the understated bit (tend to be a little louder and drunker)
  • Californians: Nice enough, but self-absorbed, a little demanding, and very much the centre of their own universes. Oh, and they drive too fast and too close to bikes! (al was nearly rear ended twice, and Chris once). Space cadets in the desert are hilarious!
  • Arizonians: friendly but more anal and regimented, especially government workers.
  • Nevadans: fun, friendly, service oriented but generally nice to be around. We loved our stay at Hilton Grand Vacations Las Vegas. Best staff of any hotel, ever.

All in all, the US of A was great, with stunning and diverse landscapes, cool wildlife, friendly people, great quality roads (at the cost of health services and development), although a tad racist (towards Mexicans and indigenous people) and the coffee ain't that great. A really good place to travel, and reasonably cheap ($15-25 per night to camp or free on BLM lands, $50-75 for a room, $15-25 for two for a meal or $15-$20 per day for groceries, plus cheap fuel!). Just don't get sick!

What's up with private healthcare in the US?

‎2 August ‎2010

After a morning of windy roads down from the mountains, we continued our attempts to find our last rabies vaccination. We were only 30km from the Health Centre, but nevertheless it proved pointless. So off we went to Joshua Tree, joining LA satellite town traffic during rush hour. We're amused by free-market health care; from what we can tell, it means exorbitant fees, and bugger all service. We couldn't make an appointment at the Health department clinic, couldn't get an appointment at a private clinic, and didn't have time to team up a doctor's prescription and pharmacist to order the vaccination in (it would take up to a week). On top of that, we told (by nurses and doctors) that you couldn't get a vaccination, and asked why we would want one anyway, as the US doesn't have rabies. The first statement suggests Americans don't travel; at all. Wrong on the second statement too: according to WHO, the US does have rabies, and we had just heard (in Yosemite) of a case of bats biting a visitor who then needed an emergency treatment.

Please, Australia and NZ, don't move to US health care model; and whilst you're at it, don't import health care professionals from the US either.

Joshua Tree National Park

4 ‎August ‎2010

A magical place in the desert.

After days of trying to work out the US health system and get our last rabies vaccination, we gave up and decided we would do it on the other side of the border. So much for private healthcare being better. They wouldn't tell us how much it would cost at the hospital (apparently you have to have treatment first, and the ballpark is $800+ per person). We spent hours in clinics as well, but the health department apparently can give them if you get an appointment a week in advance. People couldn't understand why you would want a vaccination, and many people told us there was no such thing. Obviously Americans aren't big travellers…

Joshua tree, and Yucca valley was a little oasis. It was warm, but not too warm (what is wrong with us? anything under 35 seems a little chilly these days). We had a great campsite for 3 days… the cacti are very cool here, and all of the weird bugs come out at night. Joshua tree wasn't even on our list, but it was stunning and very different, and empty (too hot for most, hehe). Seems like a lot of space cadets and weirdos find this place inviting. We had a guy in the coffee shop warn us about UFOs; apparently they come down and do things to people (he was a lecturer in electro field health or something, and deadly seriously) and some other Israeli permanents who were high as they could be tell us it was 800 miles to Mexico (how they got a green card we will never know).

We also got the bikes serviced. A little nervous about the 21 year old mechanic. He did a good job with Chris's valve clearances but managed to tighten Alan's chain to the point of ridiculousness… as soon as you put a load on, the tension changes. They seem to forget that, so we had to fix it again when we got back to camp (grrr). They also cleaned the bikes for us; so much for looking cheap for Mexico. Never mind, the bikes were now running well and it was time to leave the space cadets and head to Tecate for our border crossing. Luckily we met a guy who rides into Mexico a lot, so we were able to get info on roads, speed of traffic and a little info about how hot it would be. And off we went.