New England States – Maryland to Maine

Saying good-bye to our friends in DC, we were now heading north once again towards the Canadian border – but this time on two wheels! A quick look into our trusted travel guide easily revealed, by sheer volume of pages, that the New England States along the eastern seaboard of the US offer a tremendous amount of history and stuff to see… So there was no surprise that the next ‘must-see’ wasn’t too far away…

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Gettysburg, PA was on our way, so needless to say DB demanded that we check out this historic place. Gettysburg is famous for a number of reasons two of which include Confederate leader General Lee’s first big defeat marking the turning point in the US civil war and the very famous speech by President Lincoln during a memorial to those who fought and died in the fields around this small village.

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We started our tour of Gettysburg with the National Park battlefield museum which gave us a very good overview about the Civil War – imagine, it all started with Abraham Lincoln signing the Declaration of Emancipation, which ended slavery in the States. However, not everyone agreed with that (since the wealth of the South was built on slave labor) and the rest is history. Ironically, after the war most of the Southern assets were destroyed and their money was gone, so back to square one. We then took a drive over the battlefield at dusk, it was a rather eerie feeling. The Union troops were holding a little hill and defended it to the end. General Lee overestimated his situation and sent his Confederate Army over an open field with no cover whatsoever… more than 20,000 men lost their lives in this battle alone…

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That evening after the doom and gloom of the Civil War we headed into town and dinned at a highly recommended restaurant and also the oldest building in the town. It was rather quirky – all the waiters were dress in period gear and the menu written in old English. The food filled our grumbling tummies and off we went back to our camp…and to more doom and gloom. Who would have thought that nature at night time would be as loud as a construction zone. DB had to stuff tissue in her ears to try get some sleep. Since those little froggies and random critters kept her awake, the next day she was pretty grumpy…

 

From Pennsylvania we cut right though a number of states, New York State, Connecticut and Massachusetts towards Portsmouth, New Hampshire along the Atlantic coast. This was truly a jump back in time compared to the western states and the cosmopolitan flair of DC. CB couldn’t shake the feeling of riding through good old Germany, with green lush rolling hills and abundant mixed forests everywhere, with some of them being so dense and eerie that one couldn’t stop thinking about the Blair Witch Project too. The state park along the Delaware River was so spooky that we opted to find a highway instead. Never has a place felt so wrong, so creepy and so lonely…it must be the first place New York Police look when a serial killer strikes. As it started to rain along this creepy place we were hoping and praying for no break downs or technical problems since there were stretches were no sign of civilization was to be seen…

 

To cut back on travel expenses on accommodation, we decided to pitch the tent CB was lugging around again. Our camping aspirations were put on hold since Utah because the heat wave made sleeping in a tent more like a tropical greenhouse rather than a temporary abode to get a good nights rest. Anyway, the morning started like this:

 

CB “Shall we camp tonight, the weather looks good?’
DB “What does the weather forecast say?”
CB “They say it’ll rain tomorrow at around 10am so if we leave by 8 we should be sweet”
DB “You are sure?”
CB “Yup, i have this cool app on my phone that has hourly radar, cloud trackers, wind speed, direction and temperature in degrees Celsius”
DB “Umm…ok”

 

That night we turned up at the campground called ‘Sodom Mountain’ (the name should have been an indication of things to come). The site was brutally overpriced (stinging us for $35 for a tent site with no services), but we checked in and rode to our little site nestled in lovely spot under the pines. We pitched the tent like happy little campers, turned on the mosquito fan thing and went looking for food, power and wi-fi. We returned back to camp just before the sun set to an empty campground…there were a few RVs but not a single tent which was rather unusual. Nevertheless we decided to watch a movie on the laptop and by 10pm tucked into bed. At around midnight DB woke up to the sounds of rain on the tent. The following events are not an exaggeration:

 

DB “Chris, you sure it isn’t supposed to rain tonight?”
CB “Mmmm ummm err…grrzzzzzzzzzzz”
DB “CHRIS!”
CB “What! No…go to sleep, it’s just leaves falling on the tent. Hmm, mmmm, ummmmm”

 

Five minutes later it started to pour and CB made a mad dash to cover the bikes and close all the tent windows. “Don’t worry, it’s just a little shower,” he said as he entered the tent.

 

Next morning we woke up to a torrential downpour. We were certainly not the happy campers we thought we would be. After a quick review of the fancy app showed that we were on the northern edge of a massive storm…and it was predicted to get worse. We quickly put on the only waterproof gear we had – our full motorbike gear, including the helmet and began to quickly pack up the campsite. Anybody who has ever packed up a water soaked tent in the pouring rain knows what we are talking about… but thanks to German organisation we managed to roll it up in record time, strapped it to CBs bike and off we went in a desperate bid to escape the rain… Ironically, only a few miles northwards there was perfect sunshine and warm temperatures…(CB comment: see, after all the magic weather app wasn’t lying – must have been a little coordinate shift or something) but nothing but a hotel room and hot shower would cheer DB and her rain soaked bottom.

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After a few hours riding through small country towns and a military base we did it – we reached the Atlantic Ocean! Seeing the blue waters of the Atlantic, feeling the warm rays of sun and for DB seeing a hotel room with fresh towels and a hot shower… what a day…

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That night at Hampton, NH we ended up having extremely potent margaritas with three lovely ladies holidaying at the hotel we were staying at (after we told them about our rain dramas they figured we needed a couple of stiff drinks) followed by two REAL lobsters for dinner, only $8 each!! Sorry no photos of the lobster, DB was a little tipsy and forgot to grab a camera…or a phone to capture the moment.

 

Team Berg adventures are full of adventure indeed!

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Roadtrip to Canada

While visiting our friends in DC we were asked if we would fancy joining them on a roadtrip to Canada together with some of their mates to see Toronto and the Niagara Falls… sounded like a mint idea, we couldnt possibly say no… so we packed our bags and jumped into a minivan – Canada please. Actually, it was very nice to sit in a car for a change (did I really say that???) after all those kilometers on two wheels. We also got a better understanding of the average American vehicle operator, who seems to consider driving on an Interstate highway resembles an installment of a post-apocalyptic death race – just without the rocket launchers and machine guns mounted to the bonnet or as Americans call it the "hood". Plus they do lane changes as if they are trying to evade a homing Tomahawk cruise missile that just suddenly appeared in their rear view mirror with no warning (or use of indicators)… So we learnt that driving fast is the norm than the exception over here with many vehicles consistently doing 20 mph (~35km) or more above the legal limit which is another reason why we prefer riding the byways as much as practically possible to avoid adding to the interstate death count.

The next day we ventured in Toronto with our friends. First impressions, Toronto highways have a lot of weeds compared to all the roads we have ridden in America. Toronto city itself was quite something – modern, but with a lot of history. Our friends opted to check out the CN Tower which overlooks the city like the Eye of Mordor. DB (who is into all things historic) however wanted to check out this really hip district called the Distillery she saw on a map – a revamped industrial site with the feel of Wellington's alternative Cuba St meets arty Adelaide. So sculptures, art galleries, neat cafes and restaurants and generally cool stuff is everywhere to be found – we even saw a guy with a cool tattoo of the Maple Leaf. One of our favourite pieces in the Distillery was a 'public piano' in the middle of a square for everyone to use – what a great idea. We ended up having a yummy lunch at a swanky renovated brewery with high exposed beams, concrete floors and a funky interior because DB loved the feel of the place and the cocktail list, best not to argue with that.

Next day we did a day-trip to the Niagara Falls – possibly THE honeymoon destination of the United States. First impression of the falls was "it looks bigger on telly" and then a sobering feeling when looking around the falls. The Canadians have actually managed to turn one of the largest waterfalls in the world (in terms of water per second going down) into another Disneyland, complete with casinos, neon lights, boat tours, theme parks and tons of other attractions aiming to siphon cold cash out of your pocket. Nevertheless, we parted with some of it to do the Maid of the Mist boat tour which took us directly into the water action – the edge of the falls. We got so wet that it probably wasn't necessary to shower that morning back at the hotel! It was an AWESOME experience, seeing the falling aqua blue water up so close, the water spray drenching you, massive whirlpools next to the boat – WOW! Everyone who goes to Niagara should do it regardless of how touristy it is. We found that the Canadian side is definitely the better choice since you can actually see the falls, while the Americans just get the view of the rear end, however you can walk down into the falls on the US side. The whole tourist experience was then rounded up with a swift pit-stop at Margaritaville for a couple of pitchers of margaritas (http://www.margaritaville.com) – see for yourself!

Next after a sad goodbye to our dear friends we head north-west to the Civil War era town of Gettysburg. Also with our route changing almost on a daily basis we are now considering riding all the way to the northern most tip of the east coast – Maine!! How exciting!! More soon.

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Washington, DC

After riding the Dragon's Tail and surviving the massive thunderstorm, we continued our trip north towards Washington, DC and now Team Berg is officially at the half way mark!! YAY!!!. There were quite a few highlights on the way before hitting the US capital however like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway to name just a few (http://www.blueridgeparkway.org/map.php).

When we planned the trip ahead the day before, all we could see were twisties galore on the GPS – what we didn't realise was that we were in the middle of the prime holiday season, resulting in heavy traffic along the mountain road in the Smoky Mountains. It was so bad, that our initial plan to return on the same road was quickly discarded once we reached the bumper to bumper traffic in Gatlinburg, TN. Consequently, we made a quick decision and opted for the long way around the Smokies to Waynesville, NC to do the Parkway from there onwards all the way to DC. Amazing scenery and views, and some more moderate temperatures along the elevated ridges – only in the early 30s…The night in Waynesville turned out to be a pleasant surprise. After stuffing our faces with Thai curry (DB was craving curry) we walked into what was a mountain-country music festival complete with street dancing and a banjo band!! It was just so wonderful being a part of a community's celebration of their cultural heritage!

So Washington – where to start? We stayed with one of DBs old school friends from NZ in Gaithersburg, MA – just a skip, hop and a jump away from all the action. First night, we were taken by Dini and her husband Randy to the epicenter of it all – the White House and a yummy Thai dinner (DB's curry craving as crazy), followed by countless monuments, sculptures, museums and parks galore by day and night. Here some of the highlights:

– the Smithsonian (which is actually not a single museum to our surprise instead it is a Trust that is in charge of pretty much EVERY museum in DC) including the National Museum of Natural History (http://www.mnh.si.edu/), the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (http://www.ushmm.org/), the National Air and Space Museum (http://airandspace.si.edu/) which had the actual Apollo pod that went to the moon, replicas of the Hubble telescope and the Wright Brothers plane. However after DB dragged CB into the museum gift shop to buy her must have fridge magnet we discovered the museum's even better companion facility the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center (http://airandspace.si.edu/museum/udvarhazy/) (aka: the coolest museum in the UNIVERSE!) sporting the Discovery Space Shuttle, a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, a Concorde and the Boeing B-29
Superfortress Enola Gay…we were in heaven!

– the marvelous, Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln memorials by night complete with their most memorable speeches. We sat on the steps of the Lincoln memorial overlooking the Reflection Pool and the Washington monument, one can't help but fall in love with this city on that warm summers' night. A quick look at the map, we noted that the Korean War memorial was just round the corner. The sun was well and truly set however as we approached the memorial we were blown away by what we saw. The Korean War is probably one of the least known and understood wars in modern history, nevertheless the men and women who fought that war suffered the same horrors as the veterans of so many other wars that are commemorated around America. This memorial, even though took over 30 years to be approved and built, beautifully captures the fear and courage those who fought in the war. It is a series of haunting sculptures, especially in twilight, with and equally haunting line "Freedom is not free".

– the Ulysses S. Grant memorial in front of the Congress building – an equally powerful memorial depicting horrific scenes during the American Civil War.

– the National Sculpture Gardens – hours of fun, optical illusions and discoveries!

Needless to say a few days in the capital is not enough to discover all its gems – just the world class museums alone would keep you occupied for a lifetime… Needless to say we will come back for a second serve. We reckon the new tag line for Washington should be "Washington – a hidden gem".

Having also access to a garage at our friends place offered a prime opportunity to give the bikes a well deserved oil change and some maintenance after more than 6,500 miles of hauling their precious payload. They are good as new now, ready for the second half of the trip. Stay tuned as we now are making up the route as we go! (We have decided to skip New York – we can't cope with the crazy city driving in this part of the USA).

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The Dragon’s Tail, Intestines and Breath!

From the first day we arrived in the US every motorcyclist we have met raved about "The Dragon's Tail". Not really knowing what the dragon's tail was we just nodded and went on our merry way. Things changed however once we got to Baton Rouge and the friends we stayed with showed us footage of their rides through this particular stretch of road. This was enough to convince CB that he had to ride this road – 11 miles with 318 corners and turns.

So after saying farewell to Georgia we headed to North Carolina to Deal's Gap and the start of the Dragon's Tail. The place we stayed at call themselves a 'biker resort' – but what we found was anything but resort-like, more a youth hostel or backpackers with a bunk bed in the room – fair enough, some of the biker crowd can get a little rowdy at time, so the hotel felt it had to establish some house rules (see photo), including a price list for ALL items in the room, in case they get stolen – including the fridge and microwave, as well as bolted on items. Oh, and there is also a schedule of cleaning fees, should someone defecates again into the bath tub. The hotel also has a Tree of Shame in the front yard, sporting bike wrecks from the less fortunate that didn't make it and crashed out…

The ride to Deal's Gap was amazing to say the least. Beautiful winding country road lined with ancient hardwood forests. But once we arrived at said resort CB couldn't wait to dump his panniers to shed some weight and hit the Tail. It was fun, yes, and technical… One corner followed the next relentlessly – most bends were banked at quite a steep angle. Unfortunately, due to its popularity, there was also quite a bit of traffic around.

In the end, it was just another 11 miles on the odometer, and it turned out that the roads in the surrounding area were equally thrilling, if not better. Here the link to the Dragon's Tail Map – http://www.dealsgap.com/maps-dragon.html

And here a youtube video of some pro riding it –

On the way back to the hotel, we decided to take the long way home and ended up on some backroads that turned into gravel, which rather resembled the intestines of the dragon. Half way through we stopped for lunch and fuel, and since it was quite a hot day we enjoyed the air-conditioned premises a little too much and couldnt drag ourselves away from free refills of ice tea at the fast food joint… In the end it turned out that we missed by doing so one of the heaviest thunder storms in the region, that actually killed two people, one of them a biker that got struck by a falling tree…

Upon our return to the hotel, it was like riding through a disaster zone – there were snapped trees everywhere and lots of debris on the road – so we had to go off-road a number of times to dodge branches and logs siting on the road. Power was out and parts of the area were cut off. When we asked our room neighbours what has happened while we were away, we were told that we just missed 'the end of the world' – lucky us…

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Southern Gold – Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia

Leaving the deep south behind, our journey north took us through Mississippi, Alabama, a little bit of Florida and Georgia, where our next big pit stop was planned for Atlanta.

But first of all, there was an opportunity too good to be missed in Dothan, AL – meeting Michael of Special-Ops – a small business specialising in modifying stock Buell mufflers to make them look and sound better. As you probably all know, CB picked up a pretty XB12B before we left Australia, and while being a near perfect machine, the sound of it is rather – well, lets say a little understated for a 1200cc Thunderstorm engine… Luckily, the purchase included a second brand new stock muffler still wrapped in its original package – so modifying the installed system became less on an irreversible undertaking as such. As CB found out that Special-Ops is operating from Alabama, a new waypoint was quickly added to our travel itinerary. So we caught up with Michael and talked Buell bikes over lunch. Its fair to say that CB can’t wait to install the modified pipe once back in Sydney…

Back to the story – we went to Atlanta via Mobile and Eufaula, AL – all up approximately 900 km. The riding was great – first day we went along the coastal highway with amazing views of the Gulf of Mexico, then the green and lush countryside of Alabama and finally, there were corners again! Our tyres started to look rather ‘boxy’ after clocking up so many miles in near-straight lines. However, both Mobile and Eufaula left some interesting memories with us…

Mobile, AL on a Sunday is pretty dead… like New Zealand in the 80s – all shops and restaurants were closed, hardly any people on the streets, and we were struggling finding anything to eat. So we walked around the historic downtown district and ended up in a little inner city park infested with cute little squirrels. We sat down for a wee rest and to enjoy the afternoon sun and it didnt take long a group of locals approached us, offered us some cold water, cookies, prayers and a free hug… well, cant hurt can it? We eventually found a nice little pub that had an excellent and surprising collection of local and international beers as well as seriously yummy handmade pizzas – we highly recommend the duck one.

Eufaula, AL was not lacking in any bizarreness by a long way. Most Americans prefer not to walk be it to the corner shop, post box or even the ATM (they have drive through ATMs here!) unless their car breaks down so seeing two tourists wandering around in the humid afternoon heat was causing a bit of surprise and curious stares. City planning in some towns do not really cater for pedestrians, so many time we encounter sidewalks that lead to nowhere or ended abruptly, forcing you into dangerous road crossings or cross-country detours.

Atlanta, on the other hand was quite something. Primary reason for going there was to meet two of CB’s long lost cousins who emigrated to the States nearly 10 years ago and they haven’t seen each other for ages. Oh, and then there was July 4th/Independence Day – a prime time for gigantic fireworks and being merry. Unfortunately, we failed to join the girls to go into town to watch the show, so Team Berg found a nice elevated spot above a petrol station to watch at least four or five simultaneous firework displays in the surrounding area…

The next day we headed into Atlanta to check out the Martin Luther King Centre which was quite a humbling experience. We knew about the civil rights movement in America but this museum really gave us a clear picture of life before civil rights with segregation, socioeconomic disadvantages and public ridicule – or worse… MLK actually studied Gandhi while doing his PhD, which he then later directly applied in his non-violent campaign for human rights.  It was a humbling experience being at the epicenter of such historic change. There is still a long way to go for non-white people in America in terms of health, education and employment so in a way the civil rights movement continues today.

As we leave Atlanta behind we head north-west to Tennessee-North Virginia to experience the sting of the Dragon’s Tail!

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Louisiana

With the bikes fixed we left Texas behind and headed east towards Lafayette, Louisiana. The drive to Lafayette was predicted to be long and with the current heat wave, tiring too. The landscape between Houston, TX and the Louisiana border was not pleasant. Oil refineries and chemical factories after a another – we just wanted to get out of it all. Crossing the boarder was like crossing into a a world before industry. In front of us were green mangrove and swamp forests, behind us was refinery towers and tank farms.

We had heard a lot about the 'southern hospitality' which the deep south is so famous for but what we experienced in Louisiana is just off the scale. It all started with our first hotel stay in Lafayette – within 5 minutes of arrival a local, Nick, offered CB a ride on his bike after hearing the polite revs of the BMWs. After taking Nick's Harley Davidson Sportser Custom for a spin, we were offered a cold beer and met the loveliest Cajun lady, Shanon, who along with Nick told us about their Cajan culture, language, food and traditions. After talking to them for nearly an hour, she offered us free gumbo, a local delicacy, at a popular local restaurant – it was the hero of our dinner that night.

Checking out the local attractions we next took a day trip to Avery Island and accidentally stumbled across the Tabasco Factory – that's right, the hot stuff. We had no idea it was made on this wee island – next time you open a bottle take a look at the label and you will Avery Is, LA. Next thing on our Louisiana 'to-do' list was a swamp tour. Shanon recommended a local operator, which took us through a typical swamp area with alligators and all. However, the boat trip was overshadowed by a heart-attack moment when ten minutes into the trip DB realised that left her wedding ring on the top of the tank of her bike after applying sunscreen – we feared for the worst. Needless to say, we couldn't fully enjoy the tour, even though what we saw was quite magical like out of another world. Once back on terra firma, we raced to the bikes and with great relief we found that the ring was still exactly where DB left it – puhhh…a bit too much adventure on this adventure-trip. So far she has managed to lose her credit card and NZ drivers licence between Houston and the Louisiana border and now nearly her wedding ring…we need to superglue stuff to her.

After the drama of the swamp tour we headed east to Baton Rouge to stay at the home of a friend of a friend from Sydney. Alejandro is a fellow motorcyclist, Colombian, a jack of all trades and along with his wife two of the most generous people we have ever met! When we arrived at their house, Alejandro was still at work and so his lovely wife Jessica was there to greet and invite us in. Now imagine this, two smelly bikers drenched in sweat who you've never met or even seen before standing on your doorstep saying "hallo! we are friends of friends of Alejandro's visiting from Australia can we come in?" What started as quick cuppa on the way to New Orleans ended up as a four-night stay and two new life long friends! We had such a great time exchanging stories, going for a motorcycle ride along the Mississippi, watching the sunset over the Mississippi river and sipping ice-teas in a swanky Baton Rouge bar, eating blackend alligator and cheese and jalapeno covered fries and smoking a fine Cuban cigar with whiskey. Again, thank you so much Alejandro and Jessica for having us and showing us your Louisiana – you truly made us feel like we were at home away from home.

Team Berg also went to New Orleans for a night and stayed in a wee boutique hotel (based on the price DB obviously picked this one) right in the heart of the French Quarters. Our big night out started with some cocktails in a lovely cocktail bar, some exploring, more cocktails, divine food (again DB's choice) and a late night in some of the finest Jazz bars the Frenchmen Street has to offer. We were told that the city is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, but we thought that this must be one of North America's best kept secrets – forget Vegas! If you want good times go to New Orleans! Unfortunately, we had to head back the next day, but we both knew that this is certainly not the last time we'll be here.

That sums up Louisiana for us – one of the highlights of our trip so far! Next we visit Alabama, speed through Mississippi and the Florida pan-handle to get to Georgia to celebrate 4th of July with CB's long lost cousins.

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