Monday, 28 March 2011

Weekly Countdown: 3 weeks to go

SWMBO said to me the other day that I've spent more time planning this trip than I will spend actually doing it! Well, she could be right. But I find the planning and research almost as much fun as the trip itself - I think it all adds to the anticipation.

However, there's a balance to be struck here: I don't want to plan it down to a level of detail such that I know when each mile will be riden, and each rest stop taken. Equally, I don't want to turn up in Chicago, pick up the bike, and then have no idea what's out there, and ride past everything. By not booking any en-route hotels, my itinerary is still flexible, allowing some spontaneity. For example, my planning suggests that my first night stop will be after a fairly short ride to Bloomington, IL. This is so that I can get used to the bike, and over any jet lag I might suffer. However, when I eventually do roll into Bloomington I might decide that I feel OK to carry on a bit further - I have that choice. So I think my plans, although comprehensive, will strike a happy medium, but only time will tell.

Something else that a number of other people have mentioned is their surprise that I'm going on a 3 week/3000 mile journey on my own. Now, I'm a pretty sociable fellow I think, but I'm also quite happy in my own company. Other people, especially non-biking other people, don't seem to realise how many people you do meet up with and speak to when you roll up on a bike some place. And, being on your own it is even more likely that you'll strike up a conversation. No, I don't think I'll be going for 3 weeks without talking to anyone! The other advantage of being on your own is that you can do what you want, when you want, without having to consider anyone else. I guess the only slight worry is if something goes wrong, but if you let that stop you doing things, then you'll never do anything.

Now down to the practicalities. I've been wondering how much luggage space I'm going to have on the ElectraGlide, and also how I'm going to mount and wire up the Zumo GPS, so I though I'd reacquaint myself with a real live ElectraGlide in the flesh. So I trundled down to Newcastle Harley-Davidson last Friday with just that intention, and when I got there, guess what? They had no ElectraGlides! How can that be - an HD dealer that doesn't have the flagship of their range in the showroom? Also the atmosphere in the place was terrible. In the old days of Just Harleys the place was buzzing, and there was always a few gnarly old bikers there to chat to. The new dealership seemed very sterile - more like the Audi dealership over the road. What a shame. Anyhow, I think a call to my mate David is in order - I hope he's still got his ElectraGlide!

Days to departure: 21

Paydays to departure: 1

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Weekly Countdown: 4 weeks to go

I'm in a good frame of mind today, for a number of reasons:
  • My bike was MoT'd last week and is now back on the road. The weather's been very nice the last few days, so I've managed to go out for a couple of rides.
  • Last night I fought off a late challenge in my local Poker league and won the league by 15 points.
  • But, most of all, it's now less than 1 month until my Road trip! Unfortunately that means it's even less time to my 50th birthday, but let's skip over that bit.
In terms of the trip, I think I'm fairly well advanced with the planning. The reason I think this is that I'm now starting to worry about the smaller details, and nice-to-haves. For example, I've started to look at how best to use my phone when I'm away. As data roaming chatges in the US are astronomical, I've started searching for an American PrePaid (or as we call them, Pay as You Go) SIM card with data, that I can buy when I arrive and use my HTC smart phone whilst I'm there. The best deal I've found so far is from AT&T, where you get unlimited calls and texts for $2 per day, and 100Mb (not much) of data for $19.99. Still expensive though compaired with what we're used to in the UK.

I've also been thinking about getting a bluetooth headset for my crash helmet, like this one, so the SatNav (which doubles as an MP3 player) and phone (which also doubles as an MP3 player) can be connected without wires. Do you think I'll also need my iPod? Just in case I run out of music?

One slight fly in the ointment though: I've been checking the status of my flights back from San Francisco, and they are full on the day I want to come home. So, contingency planning has kicked in, and it looks like flights from Seatle are a good option. I'll monitor the situation, but it's looking like I might need to make 3 flights in order to get home on time: SFO-SEA-LHR-NCL.

Days to departure: 28
Paydays to departure: 1.

Funding: Given up worrying about it!

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Billy Connolly to follow in my footsteps!

I have just found out that Billy will be making a new TV travel series for ITV about travelling Route 66 on his Harley Davidson trike.
He's due to start filming in May - just as I get to the end of my journey, so unlikely that our paths will cross. I'm sure that he got the idea from reading this blog though!
Amazingly his book of the series is already available to pre order at Amazon. It'll be on my Christmas list!

Here's a link to the announcement

Monday, 14 March 2011

Weekly Countdown: 5 weeks to go

Where I live there are lots of roundabouts. These roundabouts are mostly big grassy islands, and during spring-time they are resplendent with hosts of golden daffodils. Well, this week I am really excited because said daffs have started to grow. Their green shoots are poking out of the soil of the roundabouts and other grassy banks around town: a sure sign that, after a quite harsh winter, Spring is just around the corner. The thought of this has made me get my arse in gear and get the bike out of the garage again. Unfortunately, that's as far as I've been able to take it because the MOT's run out, but it's booked in for the test on Thursday, so something to look forward to this week if it passes!!

As for my US adventure (or holiday, as SWMBO calls it), planning is well advanced. Bike rental: sorted. Flights to the US: sorted. Route: sorted. Even a few hotels are now sorted

So I am now getting down to planning at a more detailed level. For example, the route, in terms of which town I'll be stopping at each night, is pretty much decided. With a GPS I can input these towns, and it'll come up with a route that connects them all up. However, this is very "destination-centric": the route it chooses will be the "best" route to get you to you chosen destinations, which which is exactly what you want most of the time. For example, if I wanted to go to an exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham, the GPS will direct me there by the quickest, or shortest (I can decide) route, I'm not really very interested in the actual roads I use, as long as I get to where I want to be.

But for this trip the individual destinations are not the important part. It's not about riding from town to town in the most efficient manner possible, because I'll spend all my time on Interstates, which is plain dull. No, this trip is about the journey and seeing things on the way. So what I'm doing now is using the Garmin Map Source software (and this is where Garmin beats TomTom hands down, IMHO) to modify the routes between night stops, by adding in points of interest that I've gleaned from many months of research, roads that follow the old Route 66, and generally massaging the route to make it the most interesting possible. Having done this, I can upload these routes to the Zumo, and it'll guide me by my chosen route.

All of this is, of course, quite time consuming. It was also quite enjoyable, until I lost an entire day's work when I hit the wrong key and deleted the route I'd been working on. At that point my laptop nearly went through the window, and the trip cancelled! However I eventually calmed down, and re did it all again.

I'm finding this process very useful for collating and bringing together into one place all the research and information that I've found from many sources. The number of post-its that are scattered around the place has reduced significantly! However, my recent "finger trouble" has reminded me how easy it would be to lose it all, so I will still need to bring with me good old paper maps, in case the technology lets me down.

Days to departure: 35
Paydays to departure: 1.

Funding: $$$OK, with help from my Flexible Friend$$$

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Weekly Countdown: 6 to 66

This week I got the flights sorted. For most people that's simply a case of finding a flight to where you want to go, on the day that you want to go, for a price that you're prepared to pay. However, as an airline employee, things are complicated by the additional choices offered by staff travel options.

With staff travel, employees can get highly discounted fares, and the opportunity of upgrades. The down side is that to get these discounts one has to travel on standby - in other words, you get a seat only if there's one left after all the fare paying passengers, and any other staff travellers with higher priority than you, have been allocated theirs. So if the flight's full, you don't get on.

This means, of course, that you are not guaranteed to get a seat on any particular flight. Great if you can be flexible, but given that I'll have a Harley waiting for me to pick up in Chicago on the 19th April, this is not ideal.

So what to do? Well my route out has to be Newcastle to Heathrow to Chicago, so the first part is to get to London. There are even more options for this, including train, coach and driving, however as I have no hope of getting a flight to the US if I don't get to London in time, so I've opted for a to pay full fare for a flight on the Sunday night, and to spend the night in the T5 Travelodge. Hardly salubrious, but OK for the few hours I'll be spending there, and a lot cheaper than getting the first flight down on Monday morning, the price of which is pushed up weekly commuters making their way down south.

So I know I'll be in Heathrow in time for a flight to the US on Monday. BA has two flights daily to Chicago, so the ideal would be to get one of those. Having been lured by the low prices and the chance of getting into Club (Business) class, I've decided to get a Premium Standby ticket on the first flight, which if I don't get on I can change to the second. As of today, there's plenty of seats unsold, but anything could happen in the next 6 weeks.
I've also bought a backup ticket to New York, as there's loads of flights there so a good chance of getting on one of them if I'm unlucky with Chicago. To bridge the gap I've also got an internal flight ticket between JFK and Chicago. Any tickets I don't use will be refunded.

I've booked the flight back from San Francisco, but to be frank, I'm less worried about getting back on time - there's worse places to be stuck!

Days to departure: 42
Paydays to departure: Just 1.
Funding: $$$No lottery win, so covered by my credit limit$$$