Thursday, August 29, 2013

And we're off! Canada here we come!

With dozens of last minute adjustments to the bikes and our luggage, we have finally left Vermont. Thank goodness for a bit of pressure due to Roel’s expiring US visa, as I’m not sure we ever would have gotten out, otherwise!
Finally getting on the road!
 Per usual, we got a much later start than hoped for and wound up only getting about 139 miles away from home to Camden, Maine. The weather was gorgeous and with a clear sky, we decided to ride through the night for a while as the full moon was illuminating everything around us. We tried to find an established campsite but by the time we rode into Camden, they were just locking up and our bikes wouldn’t be quiet enough to allow entry after “quiet time.” Right. So we headed down the road a few miles and found a nice field to pull off into. No homes. No gate. No trespassing signs. It turned out this field led down to the ocean (it must be a site they sometimes use for special events, as it looked like they had recently mowed it to accomodate a large tent) and so we set up camp by the light of the moon and stayed up for a while longer appreciating the moon bouncing off of the waves that were softly lapping at the pebbly Maine shore. Upon waking, we found a cluster of blackberry bushes and supplemented our breakfast with some perfectly ripe berries. I can’t imagine the paid campsite that wouldn’t let us in down the street, holding a candle to this one. 
It really doesn't get much better than this...
  Down the road, we stopped across from Fort Knox for coffee and a chat with some of the Maine locals. Gotta love that Maine accent!
And on to Acadia National Park for some gorgeous riding roads, beautiful and refreshing Sand Beach  swimming and stunning views from Mt. Cadillac.
Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park, Maine
I was adamant that we treat ourselves to a Lobster Roll before leaving Maine, so a little way down the road we stopped at Ye Olde Dutch Restaurant. While there, a lovely Canadian couple from Toronto, Norma and Paul, on a Harley stopped and we had a chat. They were heading back over the border to their vacation home in New Brunswick, so we decided to ride together.
We were over the border with no trouble, at all, and Norma and Paul very kindly offered that we could continue to ride with them and stay at the lovely, spacious farmhouse they were staying at.
With our new friends, Norma & Paul
Relieved that we wouldn’t spend the next hour(s) looking for a place to camp we gladly accepted their offer, and rode on to St. Andrews by the Sea in New Brunswick. Meeting couples like Norma and Paul is part of what makes traveling the way we do so fulfilling. Before travelling to Australia, I don’t think I would have ever considered staying at the home of two strangers, and as a person with a home, I’m not sure it ever would have occurred to me to invite strangers into my home. But the invitation by Norma and Paul to join them for the evening just went to show how big their hearts are and how amazing it can be when we can just let ourselves trust one another. The four of us spent hours chatting and sipping wine. Roel and I went to sleep that night in a massive, soft, warm bed in a lovely old farmhouse in a new country. Never would we have imagined that our first night in Canada would be passed in this fashion. And the next day we set out for Nova Scotia. 

You can always go home...

At home, with my Dad and brother, Jesse.
Roel’s parts from Europe arrived and his clutch has been sorted. My bike is making new strange noises and seems to be chugging through oil, but we can’t seem to determine exactly what the issue is and Stan has given us his blessing to ride on, safely. 
As we prepare to leave my home in Vermont, I’m confronted with a bit of melancholy. Although thrilled to get out on the open road and explore Canada and the States, I’m sad to go.
Already, so much has changed since the last time I was home, a year and a half ago. My little brother is heading off to college. My father is preparing to enjoy life after children. And the family dog is hobbling around like a little old lady. 
We spent almost  a month enjoying the  creature comforts of being in a home. A kitchen where we could whip up amazing meals with more than 5 ingredients. A bathroom where I could unpack my toiletries. A refrigerator stocked with beer, yummy cheese and ice cream. All things I will miss once we are on the road. But, all things I will learn to live without, and then will appreciate all the more when we once again have them. 
In many ways, my time at home felt like a visit to a ghost of myself. To a person that I once was. Sleeping on my Tempur Pedic Mattress, atop my 500-thread count Egyptian Cotton, silky soft sheets, with big, plush down pillows, I could have been in my tiny apartment in Washington, DC, again, sleeping in on a Sunday. In my search for the thermal underwear I used to wear for skiing, which I will undoubtably need for this trip, I opened up one of the boxes containing my work clothes from my career in DC. I ran my fingers over the fine wool pencil skirts and silk blouses, slipped off my flip flops to check and see how my old high heels feel now. They still have that magic that makes me instantly feel like a sexy version of myself, but they feel foreign. And although they still fit, of course, they don’t, really. Looking through my old files, I was shocked to be reminded of how much I used to pay for cable TV. It’s a life that I took forgranted while I lived it. 
Even if the only thing I would walk away with after travelling around the world and living abroad would be the appreciation for these things and understanding of how they shaped my life and how I shaped my life around them, it would be worth it. Although I have no use for any of these items right now, the way I’m living my life, I still appreciate them and what they represent of my former life, too much to given them all away. But to understand and appreciate how much more I had than I ever really needed is staggaring knowledge, and knowledge that I treasure. 

But now, my home is wherever I choose it to be. It is where my motorcycle is.  It is where Roel and I set up our tent for the evening. It is where I can hug my Dad in Vermont, my Mother in Florida, my friends in Washington, DC, Australia, California, etc. It is always nice to have a nest. But home is wherever you find yourself at peace.

One last test ride: Rhode Island, Boston and finding the perfect gear at Twisted Throttle!

Tinker, tinker, tinker...

We logged more time at Lynde Motorsports upon our return from NYC. We knew my bike was burning through oil more quickly than before, but my it had begun making strange and very disconcerting noises when we left New York. So, with the help of the experts at Lynde, we spent a couple of days trying to sort out the issue, while Roel toyed around with his clutch plates. 

First oil change!

After dismantling the air box to get a look at the valve caps, an oil change and toying with a mechanics stethoscope, we were unfortunately not much closer to the answer. The bike was running, but not as happily as before.
I needed to pick up some protective motorcycle apparel and had found a company in Rhode Island that sold what I hoped would be exactly what I was looking for. We needed to check out Boston before leaving New England for Canada (where we needed to renew Roel's US visa), and so we decided to make a weekend of it and do a little tour of RI and Boston. 

I had found that all of the US made womens apparel that I could get my hands on to try was not cut small enough for me or well enough to fit my figure. And getting my hands on apparel to try on was a mission anyway - most shops seem to only carry street gear or fashion apparel that wouldn't do much for me in case of an impact with pavement.  
Twisted Throttle is a overland motorcyclists dream. The online store has an incredible selection of apparel, camping gear, paniers and other modifications to make your bike overland-worthy. The factory store also has a great selection for those like me who like to see and feel things before handing over their credit card details AND they have helpful staff, to boot. 
Before: hand-me-down back protector and wood working gloves from Roel...
Twisted Throttle carries a line out of The Netherlands called Macna, which on paper looked perfect... great seasonality, durability, and weather-proof-ness. And on my body, I loved it. The pants have vents, an optional wind-proof/rain-proof liner and a thermal liner. The jacket has all of these options, too, but also has a zip off chest and back section for greater venting. The liners also zip to the sleeves so it's not annoying to remove/put on the jacket or pants when the liners are in use. I also upgraded to CE armor in the back and hip areas.  

After: @ Twisted Throttle w/ Shawn, Dave & my sweet new gear

As an aside, any ladies out there looking for gear… check out GearChic. When I first stumbled upon the Macna gear on TT’s website, I wanted to find more information and found that on GearChic’s blog. Joanne had reviewed the fit and style of the Macna apparel and after I contacted her with more questions, actually asked to have a Skype call with me so she could get a better idea of my body shape to give me size recommendations. She also has lots of other helpful information about layering, new gear, etc.

From Twisted Throttle in Exeter, RI, we rode on to Newport, RI to have a look at the lovely shacks by the sea.  In all seriousness, it was a beautiful ride along the coast in Newport and amazing to see these magnificent mansions.

On to Boston, with our first stop being Fenway, where the Red Sox had just beat the Yankees – yippee! Roel’s bike liked Fenway so much, it decided not to start up after our little photo op. So right there under the big Fenway sign, Roel had to unpack his bike, remove his seat, etc., get out his tools and fiddle with the battery and starter. It was not apparent what was amiss, but fortunately after a while he tried the starter, again, and we were off! Per direct orders from Roel’s sister who had lived in Boston, we dined at the Cheesecake Factory and then rode, rather than walked a portion of the Freedom Trail. 

As it was quite late, we pulled off the highway on the way home and set up camp in a remote field. Quite a lovely field to wake up to the next morning. 

The field we woke up on the morning after our visit to Boston. Not bad :)

The Empire State

For any world traveller, a visit to Manhattan is a must. And I always appreciate short visits to “the” City, so after fixing up my bike, and while waiting for Roel’s parts from Europe, we headed for the Big Apple.  
I have no idea why people complain about having difficulty finding parking in Manhattan!
I will admit that I was terrified to drive my bike through New York traffic. Sitting in a cab in NY traffic can make me anxious if I pay too much attention, so I was not looking forward to riding through the busy streets of Manhattan. 
 We planned our trip so that we would drive through the city on a Sunday morning, so as to avoid the Monday – Saturday constant rush hour.We arrived in the city by 8am and the streets were, by NY standards, empty. We saw the Statue of Liberty from Battery Park, the Empire State Building, Times Square and rode around Central Park before heading through the Holland Tunnel to get to Jersey City, New Jersey to get a view of the Manhattan skyline.
Empty Sky Memorial, Jersey City, New Jersey
 We grabbed lunch at a legit Jersey diner (a must-do for Roel's first visit to NJ) and then we headed back into Manhattan to meet up with my Mom who had flown up from Florida to host us in the city with her fiance. By this time, the drivers of New York had arisen and the streets were packed. It wasn’t a problem at all, though. Roel and I acted as a team, blocking lanes for one another and wedging ourselves between cabs to get where we needed to go.
Lady Liberty from Jersey City, New Jersey
We grabbed lunch at a legit Jersey diner (a must-do for Roel's first visit to NJ) and then we headed back into Manhattan to meet up with my Mom who had flown up from Florida to host us in the city with her fiance. By this time, the drivers of New York had arisen and the streets were packed. It wasn’t a problem at all, though. Roel and I acted as a team, blocking lanes for one another and wedging ourselves between cabs to get where we needed to go. Quite a rush! And now, after having driven a car through New York AND a motorcycle through New York, I would hands down do it on a motorcycle a hundred times before I would do it in a car again.

We parked the bikes in a secure lot just outside of the city and spent four days living quite high on the hog. 
Empire State of Mind
 The apartment we stayed in is on Central Park South, a few Avenues from Colombus Circle, a 10-minute walk to Broadway and only a couple of blocks to any subway line to take you anywhere in the city.We toured the Statue of Liberty, the 9/11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan, the Museum of Natural History and ran through Central Park.
Touristing with Mom

We introduced Roel to B&H Photo, Bloomingdale’s and Broadway, taking in The Phantom of the Opera and Chicago. It was wonderful to spend time with my Mom, again, and we both really enjoyed being tourists with Roel – seeing New York through the eyes of someone seeing it for the first time really brought the magic back into touring through the City for us. All in all, it was a fairy-tale week as far as visits to NY go.

The night before we left, we decided to bring the bikes back into the city to get some shots of the bike going through Times Square, which is really so much more impressive by night. The energy riding through Times Square at night was electric and I have to say it was fun to be a part of the spectacle.

Times Square by night


We passed our first few hours at home cracking peanuts and sipping beer on the back deck with my Dad. It had been an exhausting week trying to pack in as many friends, museums and sights as we could see in DC and we were ready to relax. However, the bikes needed attention and we needed to get things ordered ASAP while we had an address to ship them to. 

The slight rhythmic sound my chain had made in North Carolina had increased and had become quite worrisome by the time we made it to Vermont. My Dad has been bringing motorcycles to Stanley at Lynde Motorsports in Brattleboro, VT for years and he demanded that we take my bike there to have Stanley take a look. It was agreed upon that we would order a new chain and sprockets for my bike. My Dad also wanted lights put on to my bike to make me more visible on the road. I wanted a windscreen extension of some sort as the wind noise was really getting to me on the highway. Roel also needed to swap out his clutch plates on his bike, and given that his bike had never been imported into the States, we had to wait for these parts to come from Europe. 

The laundry list of to do’s and to order’s kept growing. 

Beer tasting @ von Trapp Family Lodge
Ben & Jerry's 'Late Night Snack' - YUM!
While we waited for parts, we did what we could, replacing our old North Face tent, which was no longer waterproof, with a new Eureka one. We took the Africa Twin up to Northern Vermont to explore the Green Mountains a bit and give our new “home” a test run. Of course, we stopped at Ben & Jerry’s for a tour and a treat. The von Trapp Family Lodge for a beer tasting. And stocked up on some awesome camping goodies in Burlington (including a plastic, convertible wine “glass”). The roads home from Burlington took us through some of the most beautiful forests and special small towns I have ever seen in my home state. The devastation from Hurricane Irene was still sadly very visible throughout  many of the rural areas in the southern part of the state.

Upon our return, we headed into Lynde Motorsports and spent a few days working on my bike. Stanley and Laura kindly allowed us to work on the concrete in front of their shop, lending us whatever tools we didn’t have to get the job done, understanding that where we’re heading and how we’re traveling, it is imperative that I know how to maintain my own bike. So, Roel taught me how to swap out my chain and sprockets and wire up new lights. 3 days and several new friends later...

1st Lesson in Motorbike Maintenance: Replacing Chain & Sprockets. Check!

My Nation’s Capital

From North Carolina, we headed for Virginia Beach, VA and made it just in time to celebrate the 4th of July with my cousin, Bligh. We spent a few days there relaxing and enjoying some quality family time. Oh, and Bligh and I made a point of reenacting some of our favorite childhood photos ops.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.
We left VA Beach for DC, making a stop along the way to visit one of my father’s best friends, who was more like an uncle to me, as a child. David is a Vietnam Veteran who proudly served his country and at the time of our visit was bravely and very positively battling cancer with the assistance of his loving family. David has since passed, but I will always treasure the few hours we were able to share with he and Patricia. For anyone reading this who might be interested, or know of someone who is... my father is selling David’s 1997 Harley Ultra Classic for his family. Please get in touch – it would be nice to see someone with a big smile on this bike, again. 

The Nation's Capitol
Spoiled at the Old Ebbitt Grill
We made it to Washington, DC later than hoped that evening, but were welcomed by the beautifully lit Capitol and Monuments. For the next several days, we played tourist in DC, a city I had lived in for 8 years. My dear friends Mellie & Christian spoiled us with a sweet place to sleep just outside of the city, beautiful meals and more than anything, their company, which is what you really miss when you’re on the road... company of good friends who you can relax and really laugh with. 
It was very bittersweet to visit DC. This place was my home for so long. The friends we were able to catch up with, were like my family. And there is something about knowing how to navigate city streets with your eyes (nearly) closed that makes you feel at home.

But my Dad was anxiously awaiting our arrival in Vermont, so we continued on. We hoped to make the 8-9 hour trip to VT in one day, but when my bike began to have some power surge issues just outside of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, it became clear that it would be a two-day trip.  After trouble-shooting what the possible issues could have been, we gave Russ a quick call to confirm that it was likely one of the two CDIs (capacitor discharge ignition box) that was failing. Russ had dug though his old spares bin before we left and gave me a spare CDI that was marked with masking tape “may be bad.” Fortunately, it wasn’t bad and we were on our way again after swapping the CDIs. We had met another overland couple in Gettysburg on a nicely packed up BMW, so we decided to ride together and find a place to camp that night. Sheldon is from Australia and had been riding around the world solo before he met Ewa, from Poland and then she hopped on the back of the bike. Great to ride along with these two and swap travel stories.

We arrived in Vermont the next afternoon. Riding up my long driveway into the paradise that is my family home in Vermont was sheer bliss. As was seeing my Dad’s huge smile as he came out to welcome us home. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Florida - North Carolina & Finding My Bike

Upon completing my motorcycle safety course and getting that all important motorcycle endorsement on my new license, I began the search for the perfect bike.
Since I enjoyed the off-road adventures we'd taken throughout Australia, I determined that I needed to find a dual-sport or enduro type of bike, to allow me the same freedom and possibilities on my own.
Standing a bit under 5'4", finding a bike that I could sit on and touch the ground was a primary concern. I had found a BMW F650 in Australia that would have been a good fit. In the States, however, people seem not to let go of these pre-computer BMWs, and my personal overland advisor recommended against the post computer, fuel-injection models unless I was Ewan McGregor or had found a money tree to shake.

I am not Ewan McGregor and have not held a "steady" job for over 3 years now, so of course, my budget was of particular consideration.
The other bikes that would seem to fit me were all of a style that I did not particularly appreciate. They looked like dirt bikes. Not machines that would command a presence on the road. And neon is just not my thing.

Again, my personal overland advisor stepped in and recommended I look at the Honda Transalp, which at 600ccs happens to be the little brother of his 750cc Honda Africa Twin. Bingo! The Transalp had only been imported in the States in '89 and '90 but there were a few models that popped up on Craigslist with low miles and in excellent condition. The bike appeared to be high but perhaps just low enough for me. And appealing to my sense of aesthetics, the bike was a substantial size and was primarily white with navy, royal and red stripes. Lovely.

Tail of the Dragon: 11mi/318 curves (Tennessee/North Carolina)
There were no Transalps for sale in FL so we kept checking Craigslist as we made our way North-East from Florida. I contacted one seller in North Carolina and explained my height, asking if he thought I would be able to manage the Transalp he had for sale. He didn't think it would even be a comfortable ride for me if I was 5'8". My heart sunk. Meanwhile, Roel's Africa Twin was protesting the weight my luggage and I imposed as we toured the Great Smoky Mountains. It was clear that if we were to do this journey together, it needed to be on two bikes. And then we hit Asheville.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park
I've always heard wonderful things about Asheville and had originally intended to stop there to visit an old friend. It turned out that friend was on a 24-hour work shift the day we were passing through Asheville, but we decided to stop there for a while, anyway. We found a nice bar with a variety of craft brews on tap, free wifi and it was like we stepped into a time warp. All of the sudden it was nearly 6pm and we still needed to do shopping for dinner, get back on the Blue Ridge Parkway and find a spot to camp before dark. Trying to find the local market, we got lost several times, wound up there and almost didn't bother to go through the hassle of shopping because it was so busy. I persisted, telling Roel I'd get the shopping done quickly, and then we just needed to fuel up a block down the street before getting back on the road.

Just after we pulled into the Shell station, two guys on BMWs pulled in behind us. David and Dann were very interested in Roel's bike (with the two of us and all of our gear, it looks like something out of a circus), and I jokingly asked if I could buy one of their BMWs. David was immediately on his phone calling around to all of his friends in the bike world to see if anyone knew of a bike of my specs for sale. There was one guy in Knoxville who David was pretty sure had a Transalp, possibly for sale, but he hadn't answered his phone. Given that Knoxville was in the opposite direction of where we were headed, it didn't make sense for us to get on the road, and Dann and David graciously offered that we could stay with them for the evening, enjoy hot showers, a warm meal and laughs with their family and friends. With such a rare bike, it seemed too amazing to ignore that we had run into these guys who knew someone who might have one for sale. Throughout his travels, Roel had been invited into strangers homes and had wonderful experiences. I had yet to encounter this, but the kindness and warmth I felt from these guys left no doubt in my mind that this would be a good way to pass the evening, even if it didn't lead to my finding the perfect bike.

And boy was it a wonderful evening. David and Dann spoiled us with a wonderful dinner, wine, beer, the promised hot showers and warm bed, but mostly with their company and that of their family. David's mother, Claudia and grandmother, Alicia, who was visiting for a month from Miami Beach, made us feel right at home. Mama Alicia didn't speak any English, but through body language and my faltering Spanish, we got along just great. By the next morning, we felt like we were with our own family.
Alicia, me, Claudia & David preparing to feast!

The guy from Knoxville returned David's call that morning and said that he loved his Transalp too much to sell. Go figure. But David didn't give up and through the course of his calls the day before, he began to hear back from people about this guy named Russ who lived in North Carolina and had Transalps. TransalpS. Plural!!! Through visiting a few different motorcycle shops that morning in a hunt for ear plugs for me, we eventually happened upon a bike shop that not only had heard of Russ, but had actually had one of his Transalps on consignment for several months. It never sold. Russ lived only 10 minutes away. David called up Russ who happened to be in his garage working on his bikes at that moment, and said that we should c'mon over.

Love at First Sight
We pulled up into Russ's driveway and it was love at first sight. He had 4 Transalps, but the one he had pulled out to sell to me was the only one that I would fit on and that fit me. Two of the others were too tall and the other "short" one was red - not my color. Russ was firm on a selling price that was about $1000 more than I wanted to spend, but the situation was too perfect to walk away. The bike was in mint condition (in fact, people often think my bike is new), mechanically sound, had all sorts of lovely extras (a nice Givi windscreen, Corbin seat, heated handgrips, a throttle clamp, crashbars, Happy Trails racks) and Russ was willing to sell two solid Zega cases with luggage bags with the bike. Given all of that AND the way we had come to find this Transalp... by meeting a family who had restored our faith in humanity after our unfortunate experience in Australia... that bike was meant to be mine.

By the time we figured all of this out and had test ridden the bike a few times, it was 5pm on Friday afternoon. We needed to transfer the money from Australia to the US, transfer the title, get temporary plates and give me some time to get comfortable on my bike before we began the long haul from Asheville, NC to Virginia Beach, VA.

So we spent the next four days with our Asheville family. We continued to ride around town with Dann and David. Russ took all of us on a beautiful ride on awesome dirt roads through the National Forests around Asheville and then up onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. My Spanish improved immensely the more time I spent with Mama Alicia, learning how to make Arepas, hearing about her vibrant social life in Miami Beach and eating the first red meat I've ever had in my life - venison a-al Colombiana!

David, Dann, Russ, me & Roel on the Blue Ridge Parkway, NC
We visited Russ every day, watched him reinforce and customize the Zegas to fit my bike, and every day he seemed to have some other gift to give me: an awesome magnetic tank bag, a kickstand foot, the repair manual, spare brake shoes, a spare CDI (which saved us when one of my CDIs died just outside of Gettysburg), not to mention all of the knowledge he shared with us about the maintenance and care of this bike.

Imagine all of the shoes that can fit in this box!

When it came to the day of purchasing my bike, things went smoothly. The money from Australia finally came through, the title transfer was thrilling and getting the temporary plates was a breeze. Now came the next hurdle... riding away on my bike. Up until then, Roel had done 95% of the test riding, as I was afraid to ride her until I actually owned her. And with good reason... Practicing in Russ's neighborhood, all it took was a sudden need to yield to a driver who I thought had yielded to give way to me, and I didn't get my foot down in time and down the bike and I went. I'm not sure if I was more angry with myself or embarrassed as Russ's neighbor came running to help me pick up the bike. But it was a good sign that I needed A LOT more time getting comfortable on my bike before I was to ride it confidently.

Russ was lovely about it when I walked back up to his house with my tail between my legs: "Well, you know how that feels now, so you don't have to do it again. Remember, shiny side up!"
David led the way to a nearby highschool which provided the perfect place for me to practice getting comfortable on my bike for the next 5 hours. The skies opened up and the rain bucketed down, but this was nothing new for me as my motorcycle safety had taken course during the prime days of a tropical storm that sat over Florida. I still wasn't able to do figure-8s to my satisfaction (or Roel's) but I was comfortable with clutch control, stopping and managing the weight of my bike, so we set off home. By this time, Dann had showed up, and so we rode back to their home with David leading the way, me next, and Dann and Roel blocking me from behind. Roel and I had invested in a Ceva communication system for our helmets while we were in Florida and they have more than proven their worth since I rode away from Russ's on my bike, by myself. I had Roel in my ear every moment, to answer every question, advise me on how I was taking corners, on my signalling, etc. And so this is the way we rode around for the next 24 hours... with either Dann or David leading the way and Roel blocking me from behind.

Roel, Dann, me & David

And when we eventually had to leave Asheville in order to make it to my cousin's home in VA Beach, it was with tears and hugs, and promises to see one another again. Dann and David rode along with us, in the rain on a boring highway, for three hours, just to make sure I was comfortable. I couldn't have felt more protected or confident if it had been my father and brother riding along the highway with Roel and I. These guys were truly my Asheville Angels.

The Everglades

With the bike just having been put back together, and a new helmet for me, we wanted to do a “test-trip” to check for safety, comfort and overall happiness. So off we went to the West Coast of Florida to check out Miami and the Everglades where Roel desperately wanted to see an alligator.
The heat and humidity was unbearable. It felt like we were moving through mud, But we made it to South Beach by mid-afternoon and managed to cool down with a dip in the ocean. People watching near the bike was quite entertaining. As we were in a bike parking area, we met several other guys on bikes, but given that it was Miami, they were all in the crotch-rocket family. Regardless, they were all interested in what we were doing and by the time we left, we had members of the local biker gang directing traffic so we could back out of the parking spot and get on our way.
If the sign wasn't enough to keep you out of the water...
We stopped for a delicious Cuban meal in Little Havana and then headed for the Everglades. Per usual, we were looking for a spot to camp, well after dark. When we eventually stopped to pitch our tent, the mosquitoes descended upon us like were had invaded their territory. Before we were in the tent we each had well over 20 bites. And the heat was intense. It had only intensified in the evening, so needless to say, it was not a restful evening. The next morning a nice little alligator tried to sneak up on Roel while he was relaxing next to the lake we had camped by. We toured around the park a bit after that, but without deet, the mozzies were truly unbearable.We gave up on the Everglades and headed to Key Largo, so Roel could see what all of the hype was about. We had a slice of Key Lime Pie. Got stuck in a nasty traffic jam. And turned back around to head home.
On the ride back, we saw 5 alligators. Set our tent up next to a man-made lake and soon found out we had an alligator to keep us company, resting 5 meters from our tent.
Returning to the comfort of my Mom’s home the following afternoon was a relief, to say the least. The pool was quiet and refreshing and we thoroughly appreciated the modern conveniences of air-conditioning and refrigeration.

Coming to America

We arrived in the States from Australia about a week ahead of Roel’s bike. We spent this time getting acclimated to the States, shopping and surprising my mother at her 60th birthday party (if you’ve never made the opportunity to do this for someone in your life, I highly recommend it – it’s priceless).

We also tried to prepare ourselves as best as possible for what would be needed to get the Africa Twin through customs without missing a beat. Roel had poured over the blogs and threads written by other overlanders about their experiences importing bikes in to the States. So, we thought we knew everything we needed to know until we called Customs and found out a few more things. The most important thing was that in addition to having the EPA approval (which had finally come through the day before), we needed to have a Custom House Broker work with Customs on our behalf to get the bike through Customs. This came as a surprise, and with us trying to watch every penny, it was not a welcome surprise.

My wonderful Godfather drove us to Tampa International Airport the morning Roel’s bike was set to arrive. Through speaking with several different customs agents and Delta employees we learned that we did indeed “need” a customs agent to secure a Custom House Bond to allow the bike to be imported into the country. We found a great guy named Tony who came through for us big-time in the end. There was a delay in getting the bond approved and at 5pm we saw the customs office closing and thought we’d have to wait until the next day, drive an hour back to Tampa again and go through the same hoops. However, Tony somehow managed to get a less than friendly Customs officer, who wouldn’t even speak to us, to stay at work a half-hour past quitting time. That alone was a miracle.
With the necessary documents stamped, we got Roel’s bike out of the Delta storage hangar and set about to putting the bike back together. It was truly a team effort with Tony staying even later to assist, and grease the wheels with the Delta employees to lend us a hand with their forklift and air compressor. Everyone was amazingly helpful and we were on the road to Sarasota before dark.