It had seemed like a good idea on that cold and wet February morning in England when we had bought a low mileage Moto Guzzi California and committed ourselves to touring America.
In the searing heat in August stuck in Houston's rush hour traffic, I was starting to have second thoughts. Having had customs refuse to release the bike for two and a half days had not helped my disposition., Eventually the city was left behind, the traffic thinned out, and we pressed on the two hundred miles to San Antonio and our first stop over, at last our adventure had begun.
We arrived in San Antonio well after dark, breaking our first golden rule, but we could forgive ourselves. It had taken us all morning and three hundred dollars before Houston customs had finally issued the release documents. This had been followed by a mad rush across the city, chauffeured by a Texas courier in his badly mangled Ford who, had he been alive in the 1870's, must surely have been one of the wild spirited cowboys of legend. Not a ride to forget in a hurry!
San Antonio was bigger than either of us had anticipated, and we promptly got lost before eventually finding approximately the area that Frans and Susan lived, our first contacts from the Moto Guzzi National Owners Club. But being unable to quite locate where their house was, I pulled in at a gas station and resorted to plan B and rang them. Within five minutes Frans de Weers arrived in his pickup truck and led us the few hundred yards to their home. It was approaching ten at night and after a drink and a chat we collapsed in their spare room, which also housed a small Cagiva.
The next morning we got up early and were told by our hosts that they had arranged a day off and how would we like a guided motorcycle tour around the surrounding countryside. An offer we eagerly accepted. Upon our return in the afternoon as the temperatures rose above what we had previously imagined to be the maximum, they took us in their car to the Alamo and gave us both versions of the story. Susan, being a true Texan gave us the official version while Frans (being Dutch by birth) gave us the less clear cut and more pessimistic version. I suspect that the truth was somewhere between the two.
In the evening they had one more surprise up their sleeves and first took us to a marvelous old bar called The Hanging Tree, before moving on to a nightclub come rodeo, which was a bit of an eye opener. I can honestly say we have nothing like it in Britain. A wonderful end to a fantastic day.
Next day somewhat reluctantly, we made our farewells and headed west on Interstate 90 to Del Rio where we missed a turn and almost ended up in Mexico. Back on I-90 we passed over the Pecos River before being stopped at a checkpoint manned by two bored, but mildly curious officers of the boarder patrol who inspected our passports and waved us on.
Next stop was Langtry; small ramshackle township once ruled by Judge Roy Bean, the Law West Of The Pecos. His saloon come courthouse still stands and it was from here that he dispensed his own colourful style of justice. The visitors centre was air-conditioned, and we were glad to get out of the heat for an hour or so.
That night we stayed at Alpine and the next day headed north to Fort Stockton where we met up with Dan and Robbie. He rode a LeMans while she rode a BMW R80. It was just coincidence that we met and decided to ride together for a while, stopping at a small diner for breakfast before heading off in opposite directions.
Riding on into New Mexico leaving behind what little greenery there was the landscape changed into what seemed like endless desert, harsh and unforgiving to the unwary traveler. We were glad that extra water was stowed in the panniers as we rode on towards Roswell, occasionally stopping at a gas station eager to replenish both the EV's fuel tank and to guzzle down a cold drink ourselves.
Alternating riding as the traffic was infrequent and the road was nearly always straight, allowing Sue to get familiar with the bike. Roswell was our planned destination for that night, but it proved to be too tacky for our taste, with aliens on streetlights peering over billboards etc. So we continued on having made good time, turned left on to I-70, and spent the night at Ruidoso Downs, the home of a major horse race, or so we were told. In the morning we visited the historic town of Lincoln, which was the centre of the Lincoln county wars, as any John Wayne fan will tell you. Billy the kid shot his way out of jail here. A bullet hole in the wall at the bottom of the stairs and brass plaques where the sheriff and deputies fell pay silent testimony to a violent past.
We stopped in Santa Fe at the foot of the Rockies having only covered around 200, or so miles. Next morning there was heavy traffic on Highway 285 to Taos. This was the only place in the entire trip where I felt that there was an open season on fleecing tourists. We left rapidly on scenic Highway 522 very hot, but the scenery was much improved in the foothills. Towards the end of the day we hit torrential rain, but rode on through it and within five minutes of emerging out the other side our leathers and jeans were starting to steam. We finished in Walsenburg, which, for us typifies small town America. The cinema was only open 2 or 3 nights a week, but there was good Mexican food and we stayed in a motel that was worryingly like the Bates Motel in Psycho, thought twice before using the shower.
The following morning we rode back into the Rockies on scenic Highway 69 and stopped to stare at bison before riding on through some glorious countryside. At Silver Cliff we stopped for fuel and again we took it in turns to ride on the almost deserted roads stopping once more for fuel on 96 at Wetmore before emerging at Colorado Springs.
Here I bought some Cowboy boots and we found the country buffet restaurant, which served proper meals with vegetables and mashed potatoes. The next morning we decided to use the Interstate through Denver and up to Cheyenne, as it would have been too time consuming to thread our way through the roads in the Rockies. The Interstate served its purpose and took us as far as Cheyenne in Wyoming, which lives up to its name of the Big Country. After riding through Cheyenne and into the plains beyond we began to get nervous with little fuel and nothing but grassland as far as the eye could see, so we turned around and rode back to Cheyenne, where we spent the next day sight seeing.
It was here that the cowboy Tom Horn had been brought and tried for murder. A legend in his own lifetime, not that it stopped them from hanging him. There was also the locomotive Big Boy on display in the park that was, I think, the largest ever built, and the museum of the West which we did not have time to do justice to.
Scotts Bluff and Chimney Rock in Nebraska were our next stop where the 49ers crossed on their way to the gold fields of northern California. Back through Newcastle we rode and into the Black Hills of South Dakota, stopping at Custer just a short distance from Crazy Horse Monument. At our motel we met up with a couple on a Honda Valkyrie a sort of stripped down Goldwing on steroids, but as long as they liked it, that's what's important.
We rode out to the Crazy Horse Monument that afternoon. It's taken fifty years to carve so far and will take at least fifty more before its finished dwarfing Mount Rushmore a mere seventeen miles down the road. The following morning we visited Mount Rushmore, which little needs to be said, we came, we saw, we left.
We hit I-90 to Buffalo, Ten-Sleep, and Worland, wonderful scenery and good roads, and still very hot. We were stopped by a State Trooper for speeding just before Cody.
We stayed in Cody for two nights, saw the Buffalo Bill museum and the historic town on the edge of Cody which is made up of all original buildings transplanted from across the state, including one of the saloons that the Hole In The Wall Gang used. The following morning it was a little cool, but not too bad as we set off towards Yellowstone, which was only fifty miles away.
We passed an elk and her calf just before entering the park. In Yellowstone the temperature plummeted and we rode through snow flurries before having to pass a very large male Bison who was walking along the road. Fire damage was very evident with acres of charred trees. We stopped and shivered while we waited for old Faithful before riding out of Yellowstone a little disappointed.
Out on 120 we rode through flat farmland where it must be a harsh place to live in winter. Finally we stopped at Aston in the Yellow Cabin Motel which was just as its name implied, it was one of the nicest motels that we stayed in and it had heating which made a change from having to listen to the air conditioning all night.
Next journey: Idaho Falls to Butte City, Idaho. We saw signs for Butte and followed them before stopping at Dubous for a late breakfast. As I was eating I noticed that under my ham and eggs was a paper placemat with a map of Idaho on it. On closer inspection it turned out that we were heading to Butte, Montana not Butte City, Idaho (population 78). After breakfast and consulting the map it was a simple matter of passing over Interstate 15 and joining a quiet back road which would take us almost directly to the correct Butte. It also took us passed the lava beds of the Craters of the Moon National Monument which though interesting to ride through could not be called pretty. We finished the day at Boise at a nice family Mexican restaurant with a few cold beers.
Next day we joined Interstate 20, mainly desert with irregular fuel stops, the most interesting of which was Hampton, population 3, comprising of the diner, gas station and a house from the look of it. Sixty miles in any direction to next the town or anything resembling habitation. Their big annual event was a rattlesnake hunt complete with rattle-skin trophy.
We finished the day at Bend, Oregon, hot and dusty and looking forward to the forests the following day.
Having started well enough, we missed our turn off at Sisters, so took a more round about route to Eugene. The Forrest was incredibly humid and the almost strobe effect from the sun coming through the forest canopy made that day's riding some of the most difficult for me on the entire trip. We stopped at Vida for a cold coke, glad to be out of the confinement of the forest. I sat and relaxed whilst Sue made a phone call to Steffano and Kathleen, another of our Guzzi club contacts. We stayed with them from the Friday night till Monday morning, September 11th.
As we arose that morning, Kathleen's mother came in and told us of events. Somewhat shocked and subdued we made our farewells and headed to the coast and stopped for breakfast at Florence. It was here that we joined route 101 and I am sure that the views would have been glorious, but for the sea mist that seemed to roll in just as we rounded any bend with a vantage point.
As the road passed over hills and into wooded areas away from the coast and mist. I would roll on the throttle as we exited bends and for probably the first time during the trip made full use of the performance. Through the bends we sailed changing up the box before exiting on to short straights, closing the throttle and using the engine braking, dropping down a gear ready for the approaching hairpin. This was more like what I was use to on the roads around our home in Lincolnshire, although that seemed a world and a lifetime away. The engine and suspension of the EV was perfect for these conditions, sure footed, only occasionally warning me that this was indeed a touring bike as the main stand tang touched the road surface. We finished our day in Crescent City and decided to take a day out here and gather our thoughts about what to do in the after math of September the 11th and the closure of the airports. We decided that our only choice of action was to carry on as originally intended and so the following day continued down the coast road, but not before stopping to see the giant Redwoods which were a sight to behold. The road got twistier and I am not sure how many miles we covered that day, but both the brakes and the gearbox were sorely tested.
We finally arrived in Fort Bragg and booked in to a cheap motel. The following morning we set off somewhat subdued as we were nearing the end of our journey. The views were again spectacular on the coast road, when not obscured by mist. The roads were somewhat challenging made even more so as the day wore on, especially when I noticed that the brakes were starting to fade alarmingly. Upon a roadside inspection I found that the seals on the rear brake master cylinder had failed and that when operating the rear pedal all I was actually doing was pumping brake fluid all over the swinging arm pivot and frame. Suprisingly the paint on the frame seemed to be impervious to brake fluid so no harm was done to the bike's finish (I wonder if you could say that about any other bike?).
We continued on, using just the single front disc and by making good use of the ample engine braking. We stopped just north of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge having had little trouble in nursing the EV the last hundred odd miles. Once installed in our motel room, I dug out my list of Moto Guzzi dealers, which was obtained over the Internet before departing from England. A Phone call was made to Monroe Motors of San Francisco, who could not have been more helpful and booked the bike in for the following morning. The only problem being that Monroe Motors is on the south side of the city.
We rode into San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge and followed the instructions we had been given to Monroe Motors. The hill starts were a bit of a challenge, but we were soon pulling up outside Monroe's with its faded blue fasard proudly proclaiming its association with such makes as Triumph, Norton, as well as Moto Guzzi and Ducati. The Cali was wheeled in to the work shop and we made good use of the public transport for the day, returning to find out that a master cylinder repair kit had been fitted and we had fully working brakes once more. This was a relief as I had planned to attend a breakfast meeting of the MGNOC in Winters about an hour and a half ride northeast of San Francisco. It was also there that we arranged to meet up with Patrick and Regina Hayes, our final contacts for this trip.
At Winters we initially struggled to find the meeting place until we flagged down two older Guzzis which were only too happy to escort us. I was surprised to see a Moto Guzzi combination (sidecar for you North Americans) as for some reason I did not expect them in America. After breakfast and a good chat with fellow Guzzists, Patrick and Regina took us for a ride around some really good countryside before finishing at their home in Fremont where we were to stay for the final few days of our holiday.
The next days were spent in relaxing and cleaning 5500 miles worth of dirt and grime off the EV and making phone calls to ensure that we could fly home.
The final ride was to the shipping agent in San Francisco solo and without luggage while Sue followed in Patrick's spare car, which he had put at our disposal. I must admit that I enjoyed that ride immensely, unencumbered by touring luggage. I cut through the traffic making full use of the motor's midrange while reveling in the exhaust note I took in the sights for a final time staring at Alcatraz as I passed over Bay Bridge. The Guzzi rumbled along having run through baking desert and pouring rain without complaint,
five thousand five hundred miles; North-by-North West.