Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Taking shape

A good thing happened the other day - I asked my boss for 3 weeks off in April/May and he said - "OK!"

That's given me the impetus to start things moving again on the planning front. Dates are now almost set, and I will leave the UK on Monday, April 18th, 2011. This is the first day of the school Easter holidays, and as Easter is late next year, my 3 weeks away will also take in the May bank holiday, meaning that I will only have to take 12 days leave for the 3 weeks off. That means I'll have enough leave left for a family holiday later in the year.

My birthday is on 14th April, so I'm expecting SWMBO to arrange a surprise party on the following weekend + it's our wedding anniversary on the 16th, so am not expecting to be in a fit state to leave on Sunday 17th. Hence, leaving on 18th, by which time I should have recovered.

Also, by being away over the 2 week Easter break, SWMBO will only have 1 week when she has to get Nathan to school. A good result all round, although the weather is likely to be slightly colder.....

So, I said the dates are almost set - the only thing I need to do is get final sign-off from SWMBO, then I can book ferry tickets!!! Then there's no backing out.

As for the route, I've decided that East is the way to go, and provisionally, on arrival at Amsterdam I will head off across Holland and Germany stopping in Berlin, then on to Krakow in Poland, then make my way down across many of the former Soviet countries all the way to Istanbul in Turkey. Route back will take in Croatia, Vienna, and Prague along the way.

Still putting the detail together, but it's looking like around 4000miles in total. Should be do-able I think!

Time to departure: 170 days
Number of paydays to departure: 6
Money raised to date: Not enough (but getting there).

BTW, for those who haven't realised, SWMBO = Gillian, my better half.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Winter's on its way

It's been a while since I posted here, and summer has come and gone, all too quickly.

And a busy few months it's been. Plenty of motorcycling. A family holiday in Florida, a new kitchen installed at home (fantastic btw), and last week a business trip to Madrid - a fun city I'd never been to before.

But now the nights are drawing in, in about a month the clocks change and winter will well and truly be here. That's the time that the planning of my trip will really gather pace, and the thought that come spring, I'll be gearing up and ready to leave, will keep me going.

I was talking to SWMBO the other day (well, I have to sometimes), and she suggested that I plan my trip over Easter, as it's quite late next year. That would mean that the 3 weeks would span 3 bank holidays - thus saving me from using quite so much annual leave. I'll consider this as it would be a good idea. I think the stumbling block now could be getting time off work - I'll broach the subject with my boss over the next couple of weeks, but I need to start firming dates up now, as I want to get my ferry tickets booked.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

GPS tracker - first try

I went out with the family yesterday to Kielder Water, so thought I'd try out this GPS logger that I mentioned in my last post. The results are here:

A few tweaks required, but overall very impressed! Geo tagging photos worked well, and seems to accurately place them on the map. I had the log rate set to 15 seconds. This is probably good for walking or cycling, but in a car or on a motor bike, it's not quick enough ( at 60mph, saving your position every 15s means you cover a quarter of a mile in between - not good enough). I did notice that you can set dual rates so for example, every 15s when your speed is below say 30mph, and every second when it's above that.

Warning: Geek Alert:
Another shortcoming is that the software supplied will only geo tag jpeg photos. As I shoot in RAW format on my Sony A200, this is a slight issue. Yesterday, I set the camera to shoot RAW and jpeg, so tagged the jpeg versions. Actually this is not a bad option, that I think I'll use more - it means you have a viewable version of the photo immediately without having to post-process them. However I'd really like the original RAWs to be tagged too. A bit of research, and I found you can do this, using the @trip software to export the track as a GPX file, and then a piece of free software called GeoSetter, which can tag most photo formats (including many RAW formats). Job done!

I think this will be a really good way of tracking my trip, and keeping track of the photos that I take, so a good investment I think!

Thursday, 3 June 2010

A new toy

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I like my gadgets. And yesterday, I added a new one to my collection! This new toy is an i-gotU GPS tracker. This clever little device saves your location (latitude, longitude and altitude) every so often (say, every 15 seconds), so that a track of your travels is built up.

That's clever enough, but the really clever bit is in the software - so when you're back from your trip, you down load the track to your PC, and the software allows you to publish it in the form of a travel blog using Google maps - can you see where I'm going with this? You'll certainly be able to see where I've been!

Even more clever still, is this: You can use the software to automatically geo-tag photographs you took whilst on the trip (that is add location info into the photo's meta-data), and add them to the map in the right locations!!! This all sounds incredibly cool to someone as geeky as me, who happens to be going on a long trip. If it works as well as promised it'll be ideal for helping to keep a record of the Trip for posterity, and let family and friends know where he is whilst he's away.

I haven't had a chance to try it out yet, but will over the weekend, and I'll report back here!

Monday, 17 May 2010

Weekend at the BMF show

Well, I've just got back from a very enjoyable weekend in Peterborough at the BMF Show. I rode down on Friday, taking the long route over the North York Moors, and not really touching the A1. I came back yesterday via a stop at Lynsey's in Leeds. During the whole time I was away I didn't see a single drop of rain - very unusual!

In the tent next to me was a lad called Paul, and we got chatting. It turned out that he's spent time living in Poland, and knows a lot about Eastern Europe, and where to go. We spent a lot of time talking about my trip, which, by the end, went up to the Arctic Circle in Norway, across to Turkey, then over to Tunisia! It was a three continent ride, but alas would take too long - more than the 3 weeks I've got, to do it properly.

However, he had a lot of good advice, and places that I should visit, that I will be taking on board in my decision about what trip to take.

The BMF show itself was great with lots to do and see, and by camping on site you benefit from having access to the entertainment. On the Friday night there was a terrific Led Zep tribute band, and an awful comedy act, which went down very badly.

Saturday night saw a great 3-piece cover band whose name I forget. they were just young lads, but the guitarist/singer was very good. Top of the bill was Killer Queen - yes another tribute band. I was hoping for great things, but they were merely OK. They used too many backing tapes for my liking, and the Freddie Mercury wannabe has the most grating voice ever. He was very good at mincing about the stage though! Having said that, the crowd seem to like them, and I think they got better the more beer I drank!

Monday, 10 May 2010

Change of plan?

I wrote in my last post that I'd been doing some re-thinking about this trip.
Having totted up the cost it was apparent that the trip in total is going to cost around £5500 - assuming that the exchange rate doesn't get any worse. That's a lot of money for what amounts to a 3 week holiday for one! It also became apparent that even if I save every spare penny this year I won't have saved that much, so would be paying for it for a year or two afterwards. Do I really want to scrimp and save, doing nothing other than what is absolutely necessary, for the next 3 years, so I can have a 3 week holiday? Not if you put it that way....

So I started to look at where the money would be spent, and it was immediately clear that around half of that would be on the bike - i.e. hiring a bike for 3 weeks (about $3500).

Then it occurred to me that, for about one tenth of that (well, maybe £300) I could get both myself and my bike over to Europe and back on the North Shields to Amsterdam overnight ferry. Food for thought there. So if I was to do that, what would I do for 3 weeks? Well after pouring over a map for a while there seemed 2 appealing options:
  1. Head east. From Holland the Czech Republic is only 600miles away, on the other side of Germany. From there I could tour around some of the Eastern European countries, eventually ending up at the Black Sea.
  2. Head south. Straight through France and Spain to Gibraltar, and then across on a ferry to Morocco - that sounds adventurous!
Either of those could be done in 3 weeks, for significantly less that the USA option. But, I still want to do Route 66........ Maybe it's time to say that next year it'll be a trip to Eastern Europe or North Africa, and, when I've got more time I'll do the American trip - say, when Nathan's grown up, and Gillian can come with me - maybe for my 60th (now that's a scary thought)? We can spend more time over there, and make it the adventure I'd originally envisioned.

I'm still thinking about this, and will make a decision soon. But whatever I choose, there's now less than a year 'till I go!

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Some re-thinking going on

Yesterday was my birthday, 49 btw, So now just a year away from "the trip". I spent the day painting the rendered outside walls on my house, and woke up this morning to see just how patchy they now look. Worse than when I started - gutted!

However, spending all day doing that mind numbing task gave me plenty of time to think about things, and enevitably my thoughts turned next year's trip. In the end, I started to rethink the whole thing quite radically. Now, I'm not sure if my new thoughts have legs, or will come to anything, so I'm going to take some more time to mull them over before I post them here. If they do stand up to scrutiny, then expect some big changes to my this space.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Spring has sprung......

..... the grass is ris; I should really be getting the bike out now.

Yes, it looks like the last of the salt has been washed from the roads (let's hope no more cold snaps), so I figured it's safe to get the bike out of hibernation.

It was booked in for its MOT today (For anyone not in the UK, the MOT is an annual safety check-up that all motor vehicles more than 3 years old must have to be legally usable on the road), so it came out of the garage yesterday for a good clean and check over. Thanks to the Optimate trickle charger that it's been plugged in to all winter, it started up first time. A quick polish and clean up and it was looking good and ready for the test. An oil change/service will be done once it's passed.

I was excited this morning as I donned my gear for the first time this year, jumped on board, and roared off to Armstrong Engineering, where it was booked in. An hour later I was happliy holding the MOT Certificate which proves that it's good to ride for another year! I did notice that the rear tyre is getting down a bit, so will need to be replaced in the next few hundred miles. Next stop the Post Office for a tax disc, and I'm back on the road and leagal again!

Trouble is, doing all this has made me wonder about I'm doing the right thing in renting a bike for the trip? It would be so much more of an adventure taking my own bike. Will have to watch the £/$ exchange rate and see if it becomes a viable option

Monday, 29 March 2010

A Harley in Summer

Re-reading my last post about renting an Electraglide reminded me that we (SWMBO & I) have rented one before.

It was a few years ago in the middle of August when we were visiting Las Vegas. We rented the Electraglide for a couple of days during a trip there, from EagleRider I think? Whatever.

Now, when riding in the UK, even on the hottest day there has ever been, you know that once you get moving, with a bit of a breeze in the face, you will be comfortably cool. That's not the case in Vegas in August.

We turned up to pick the bike up, and being ATGATT (all the gear all the time) type riders, we asked about borrowing leather jackets. Well the guy at the rental place looked at us like we were from another planet (which in a sense we were, I guess), and pointed to the rack of gear, which was so full it was clear none of his other punters that day had availed themselves of that service. He muttered something about it being far too hot for jackets, but, if we wanted.......

He was right of course. Even the obligatory crash helmets proved to be almost too much, and soon after we set off we were in t-shirts & jeans, with nothing more than sun-screen for protection. Not much good for gravel rash, I wouldn't think - thankfully we never had to find out.

So we picked up the bike, along with another guy who was from NYC, and asked about a good route that we could take. The guy in the shop advised use to travel out of Vegas, and head for the Hoover Dam, over that into Arizona, and carry on until we got to mile marker 14. "Once there, look for a small road on your right", he said. "That will take you down to the [Colorado] river. When you get there, take off you helmets, watches and shoes and jump right in."

The 3 of us set off, went over the dam, and sure enough, found this small twisty road at mile marker 14 that took us down to the river. It is technically a river at that point, but it is so wide it looks more like a lake! And we did just as he said (except I left my trainers on - you never know what's on a river bed to stick in your foot!). It was bliss. We cooled of in that river, must have been for 30 minutes, and didn't want to get out.

Eventually we decided it was time to get out, and we got back on the bike dripping wet, and set off back the way we had come. I can say, with no word of a lie, that by the time we reached the Hoover Dam again, 14 miles later, we were bone dry, it was that hot. Going over the dam, the traffic was slow, it was the middle of the day, and so, so hot. SWMBO was starting to overheat, I was scared that she was getting heat stroke (I've never seen a redder face!), so we stopped at a place called Boulder City, where the guy from NYC bought her a root beer (yuk!), and then carried on his own way. Instead we found a nice air-conditioned cafe and had a couple cold, cold Buds, before heading back to Vegas.

We went back out on the bike later that evening and cruised up and down the Strip, and went to the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and posed there for a bit. But I had learnt my lesson - August is not the time to be riding through the desert on a bike - which is why I'm going in May!

Monday, 8 March 2010

Thoughts on the bike

Recently Gillian (aka SWMBO), and I were talking about the sort of bike I should use for this trip. I mentioned earlier that, ideally, I'd like to take my own over, but  it won't be cost effective for a 3 week trip. So I am going to rent.

Given the above, for this trip it seems to me that a Harley is ideally suited. I've owned a couple in the past; a 1200 Sportster, and a Dynaglide Convertable (FXDSCONV for the Harley buffs amongst you). But I'm not in the market to own another right now. However, the thought of renting one for a few weeks riding through the USA seems right to me.

So, as I was saying Gillian and I were looking at EagleRider's website the other day looking at what's available. There is plenty of choice there, and suprisingly, all of them are the same price to rent, except the 883 Sporty, so cost is not a factor.

Gillian's always liked the looks of a Heritage Softail - all leather and studs and tassles.

I agree they look good in a retro kind of way, and would be great for posing on. But am less convinced of their touring pedigree - those panniers look less than water-tight, and probably don't hold much stuff either. And as for the Softail suspension, well, I'm not convinced.

No, I'm going touring, and whatever I choose has to transport me, and whatever I decide to take with me, over 3000 miles and 3 weeks. It's got to have plenty of luggage space, provide a good comfy ride and protection from wind and rain. In the Harley range, there is only one choice as far as I can see. It's got to be an ElectraGlide.

Its fairings and screen will provide protection against the elements (well OK, not the Sun, granted). Its big comfy seat and soft suspension will give a pleasant ride, and with the large hard-shelled panniers and top-box (oops, sorry, Tourpack, in Harley speak), there should be plenty of room for everything I need to have with me. So yes, decision made, a Harley Davidson Electraglide will be the bike I take across America.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

3 weeks pass, and nothing happens.

Having spent a week off at half term looking after Nathan, you'd think that I'd have spent it working on the planning for this trip, wouldn't you? Well actually, that's not the case - I did some work around the house, some surfing and played a lot of on-line poker. But not much more in the way of trip planning. Well, it's still a year away and I'm thinking that there's plenty of time to get down to the real nitty-gritty, now that I have the outline plan set up. I suppose it would be good to have a target departure date though, so, at the moment I think that Departure-Day will be Saturday 30th April, 2011.

Only 14 pay days to go.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

So, here it is....

..... the route. I've done a bit of research and stuff on t'internet and found a few places that suggest routes. WikiTravel has a good one that takes about 9 days. This is a bit too quick for me, as it averages about 300 miles a day. Eventually I've settled on the route below that is based on an itinerary from a company called Riding Route 66. It takes about 14 days, and includes side trips to The Grand Canyon and Las Vegas, where I might spend a couple of days, meaning this part of the trip could actually take me 16 days. So here it is in more detail:

Day 1: Pick up bike in Chicago, fairly short ride to Springfield IL.
Day 2: Springfield, IL to St Louis, MI
Day 3: St Louis, MI to Springfield, Missouri
Day 4: Then on to Tulsa, Oklahoma (202 miles), cutting the corner of Kansas for about 20 miles
Day 5: Tulsa, OK to Clinton, OK (217miles)
Day 6: Is this the way to Amarillo? I sure hope so, as that's tonight's stop
Day 7: Amarillo TX to Las Vegas New Mexico, passing through the half way point on this route
Day 8: Las Vegas, NM to Grants, NM/AZ, about 239 miles
Day 9: Grants to Holbrook, AZ
Day 10: Then a side trip up to the Grand Canyon
Day 11: Back on track, and stop for the night in Needles
Day 12: A short ride for the 2nd side trip up to Las Vegas, Nevada
Day 13 (& maybe 14): Stay in Vegas and clean up on the poker tables
Day 15: Back onto Route 66 to Bartsow, CA
Day 16: Arrive at the end of Route 66 at Santa Monica Pier
Day 17 - 21: meander up to San Fransisco and give the bike back :-(

 Of course, this is the first cut. I might find something interesting on the way and spend longer in one place, and then make up time elsewhere. I'm not planning to book any accomodation more that a day or 2 in advance, so there will not be a strict schedule that I have to keep to.

Getting exciting now!! Can I go this year instead?

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The Route - more detail

Having now decided on a timeframe, I have been able to think about the route I can do in that time.

Theoretically, it is possible to ride many thousands of miles in 3 weeks, but that's not the point of this - it's not an endurance challenge. I want to takle my time, and immerse myself in the experience. therefore I'm going to try to avoid Interstates wherever possible, and try to average only about 200 miles per day. This will give me plenty to time to stop and look around as much as possible. So there we have it - the 2400 miles of Route 66 will take about 12 days at that rate, plus a day to pick up the bike and another to return it, leaves about a week to fill.

I've already decided to have a side trip to Las Vegas, to play a bit of poker, so allow a couple of days for that, a day for another side trip to the Grand Canyon, leaves about 4 days, which I will use to ride the Pacific Coast Highway from LA to San Fransisco.

So, the outline plan is taking shape. Is it too soon to start some more detailed planning? I don't think so, a day by day itinerary will be worked on over the next couple of days; watch this space.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

One year later - aftermath of the recession

I can't believe that almost a year has gone since I last updated this blog - where does the time go?

Anyway the time has passed, and the adventure trip of a lifetime has been hit by the global recession, like many things over the past year, and has had to be scaled back some.

However, the trip is still going ahead - it maybe not the 3 month grand adventure I'd originally envisioned, it's now more a fantastic holiday, which is much more marriage friendly!

So, the limiting factor is now money, not time (although of course, the two are very much linked), and it's looking likely that it will be a 3 week trip in May of next year. For three weeks, renting is a more cost effective option, than shipping my bike out: disappointing, as I would have liked to have my bike out there, but one has to be pragmatic.

So, at the moment I'm looking at renting a bike from EagleRider, pick up in Chicago, drop off 3 weeks later in San Fransisco. This year, in May, that will cost about $3500, the best price I have so far. Am budgeting for a slightly higher cost for same time next year.

So, we have a framework to start filling in the days. The next level of planning has begun.