Qui qui, Bonjour Quebec, Canada

Entering Quebec, Canada is more than just crossing the border into another country – its a different culture and ATTITUDE! Example: we found this reasonably priced Canadian cafe chain called Tim Hortons, which retails drinkable coffee (hard to find in the US) and edible food. We were introduced to Tim by our friends from DC on our way to Toronto so we pretty much knew what to order, but when we walked into the restaurant all menus were in French and staff were unable (or unwilling) to speak English to take our orders… So CB applied his high school French and we didn't starve but were VERY worried about the next meal. Later that night after checking into the hotel which had an awesome "aqua-pad", we found out that folks in Quebec City are predominantly francophone, with only 3% of the population having English as first language and – check this out – only 30% of 'Quebectonians' are able to speak some English… That fact blew us away, considering that Canada has TWO official languages, and then where can you go travel and work with French these days? France, New Caledonia and some countries in Africa? Makes you think…

The city of Quebec itself was lovely! Quebec City centre is simply stunning. If there is a place you MUST visit in Canada it is Quebec City. You don't feel like you are in North America anymore. CB summed it up well "it was if the French came here for a holiday 400 years ago and never left". Everything is written in French of course but the whole look, vibe and feel of the city is French. It was found in the 17th Century so it had many old buildings and the historic city centre is registered as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old city was heavily fortified so had lots of cool stuff like cannons, fortifications and a citadel on top of the hill overlooking the scene. We totally loved wandering around and exploring the side roads of this little gem, despite the franco-mania. We also made it to the island on the Saint Lawrence river – it was as if we stepped into the French countryside with farms, rolling hills, little towns complete with a church, houses painted with red accents, hanging pot plants…DB couldn't stop devouring the yummy chocolate croissants and skipping around the flower gardens in full bloom.

As much as we would have love to stay, we had to keep on going, but there was still Montreal on our route to knock-off before leaving Canada behind to go back to the USA. Just a few km out of Quebec City things dramatically changed – restaurants now had bilingual menus in English/French and people didn't get offended if you continued in English after a friendly 'Bonjour'… Montreal has quite a vivid night life and plenty of opportunity for shopping, which we dived into. We also trialed this new TripAdvisor CityGuide app, which provides you with all the info, maps and reviews for a particular city… however, finding the 'Underground City' was a little more challenging than anticipated – after following the GPS for a few blocks DB was willing to give up, but once we figured that the mystical place is not at a single venue, but spreads across the entire CBD like a kraken (DB note: I think CB means a giant squid but i am not sure why it is being referenced here) and can be entered from any subway station. We quickly found an entrance and wandered around some spooky sub-terrain walkways with plenty of art and deserted stretches… The other recommendation we followed was a particular suburb known for its restaurants and bistros – so we took the subway to get there and check it out. Again, after just a few blocks of walking DB was willing to throw the towel because it was lacking the desired visual stimulation (DB note: hold on, we walked out of the station into a construction site and then after 10 mins of walking amongst mothers taking their kids for a walk we were in inner city SUBURBIA! Plus i wanted to go shopping). It turned out we walked in the wrong direction for a wee while, but armed with Android and iPhone we navigated quickly into the more interesting parts and found a bakery that made fresh bagels and a delicious little cafe where we tried half the pastries on offer…boy do the French know how to make a mean-as pastry!

Crossing the border back into the States was interesting to say the least since we took one of the less frequented check-point with only one customs officer… Once again, waiving 2 black New Zealand passports in front of her nose triggered the usual smile, but when it came to CBs bike which is still registered in NZ the mood quickly changed into confusion, since this was obviously not covered in her induction manual. So she wondered off into the main compound with our passports and registration papers and didn't come back for a good 10 minutes. In the meanwhile, the queue behind us was building with people desperate to continue their journey into the USA… But it all worked out in the end and Team Berg was back in the USA!

We hurried on to the Finger Lakes district to our hotel and first night back in the US after a week in French-Canada.

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North-eastern tip of the US of A

Our time in New Hampshire was short but we enjoyed every moment of it as it gave us a chance to slow down and chill out before the longer rides to come over the next few weeks. We have included a few more photos of the Atlantic coast, gorgeous little coastal towns, Stephen King territory – Bangor Maine, an awesome submarine in dry-dock and photos of our travels through Maine aka moose country. A photo we are unable to include is of the one and only moose we saw on the road on our way to Quebec through Maine. The moose we saw must have been a female as it wasn't as big as we were expecting but she was super cute nevertheless. Moose are super shy animals so as soon as DB came round the corner she hang around for a second or two and bolted into the woods so CB hardly got to see her. We hope to see more moose or reindeer when we get to around Edmonton, Canada.

Sorry that this blog is pretty short, we are pretty behind with our blogs and apologise for this. We tend to be pretty tired each night after a full day of adventure but we will promise to try post more often…and of course add heaps of photos!

Team Berg over and out!

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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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