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The return of the Just One More Mile blog - Florida and Nova Scotia, 2018

Fri, 07 Sep 2018

Today is an historic day.

Just like all others.

But today is rather special, because it marks the return of the Just One More Mile blog.

For those not familiar with this blog, it's a place where I share my thoughts, dreams, plans and adventures. Originally the blog was intended to act as a record of our (that's my wife, Tracy and me, Paul) journey around the world, originally scheduled to start in 2008. Life has a habit of de-railing the best-laid plans and so ours turned into a journey of another kind, as recorded in the original blogs which you can find on the main website.

Now is the time to once again dream of a new challenge.

If you want to follow our travels, this is where you can do so. We hope you enjoy the ride!

Time for a new adventure

Wed, 12 Sep 2018

As is so often the case, the best laid plans of mice and men, and me, seems to go awry. This time it's hurricane Florence that is wreaking havoc with my plans, or rather those of my good friend Aaron who has organised our latest adventure.

Once a year he organises a motorcycle trip from his dealerships in Florida to Nova Scotia in north east Canada. I've been trying to get myself on one of these trips for years, but due to the pressure of running our motorcycle training business haven't been able to make it work. This year we took the momentous decision to close the school and "retire" in order to take full advantage of such opportunities, and so I signed up and booked my flights. I depart early tomorrow morning, flying via Philadelphia to Tampa to hook up with Aaron ready for Saturday's departure. The original plan was to catch the auto train up to close to Washington DC to avoid a lot of less interesting riding and to get us north quickly. Only Florence has decided to batter the east coast of the US and caused Amtrack to cancel the train. So now it looks like we will have a few long days on the highways as we try to get things back on track (no pun intended!).

But that's all for later. For now, I've been packing and getting ready to go. Upstairs in the bedroom my big yellow bag is packed with bike boots, gloves and my Kriega pannier bag full of the clothes I'll need for the trip, all packed and ready to go. All ready for tomorrow. And I'm rather excited!

As always there are a couple of things I need to do before then, though, and that includes taking my 3-yearly RoSPA Diploma re-test, which is arranged for this afternoon at 1pm. I just hope that I can keep my mind on the job at hand and not start day-dreaming of my new adventure!

Day 1 : Thursday 13th September: Flights, Thunderstorms and Lightning induced baggage issues

An early start to get to the airport the mandatory 3 hours early, with Tracy giving me a lift and putting up with me ranting about my RoSPA re-test yesterday taking 3.5hours due to the examiner wanting to share lots of stories with me (when all I wanted to do was get it over with so I could get home and get ready!). She really does have a lot to put up with!

Once dropped off at the airport I passed through check-in/bag drop off remarkably quickly and then positively flew through security. All this meant that I had lots of time to kill and nothing much to do. I'd already had breakfast before leaving so avoided ruining my diet before I'd even got to the States, although I did treat myself to a bag of sweets for the flight. The flight to Philadelphia boarded without drama and was largely uneventful save for a small interruption to eat a poor cottage pie. I watched a couple of films - Deadpool 2, Early Man and Solo - which was made much harder by the terrible connection on the headphones which meant all I could really hear was a high-pitched screaming. I checked, and it wasn't coming from the old lady sat next to me. I avoided the snack brought prior to landing, and then made my way through to the extremely long queue at US Immigration. With some 60 gates available where operatives can interview people wanting to enter the US, they manned only 4 or 5, so this took a while. When it was finally my turn I floundered at the first question purpose of visit, trying to get all my words out in one rush - why is it that authority figures such as these always make me feel guilty even when I've done nothing wrong?! But it must be fairly normal because after a little chit-chat I was free to pass on to baggage claim and get my bag, then drag it through a cursory customs check before handing it over to another baggage handler to be placed on the Tampa flight. By now I was well in to the 2-hour lay-over period before my next flight and so my heart sank when I saw the size of the queue at the security check point. It would appear that no-one designing airport layouts has yet considered that when a plane carrying 500 people arrives, they will all reach each stage of the process together. Having 2 security lines working (out of 5) at these times will lead to delays. Fortunately, I managed to get through it with just enough time for a brisk walk - not easy with a dodgy knee - to the gate and straight on to the plane to Tampa. Another 5 minutes and I'd have missed it altogether.

This flight was also fairly uneventful, with not even a meal service to break up the nearly 3 hour monotony, but on arrival the sky was flashing with great bursts of lightning. The first announcement after parking up was that due to the lightning they couldn't bring the ramp to the plane, meaning we would have to stay put, but this turned out to be a false alarm and we all disembarked eventually. Once at the baggage carousel I met up with Aaron and we chatted whilst waiting for my bag to appear. Or any bags to appear. Then there was an announcement saying that due to the lightning the bags couldn't be unloaded from the plane and suggesting we go get dinner and come back later, or come back tomorrow. So we did just that, heading out into a torrential downpour to Aaron's Tesla Model X (all very fancy!) and into St Petersburg, where we met up with Mira who was driving their wonderful-sounding BMW M2. Dinner was at a Mexican restaurant and I was extremely sensible ordering a Tequila-flavoured king prawn salad. And a very large glass of Mexican beer. Well, I am on holiday!

After dinner we took a short drive to Arron's place, windows down so we could hear Mira accelerating away from every set of lights in the M2. The silent Tesla not distracting from the aural delight. Back at the house I had the guided tour and it is, without doubt, one of the most fantastic properties I've ever had the luxury of staying at. But I won't break any secrets by revealing more, suffice to say I can't think of a nicer or more worthy couple to have such a place.

Before turning in we watched the electric storm across the bay from their terrace, a perfect end to the first day of my latest adventure.

Day 2 - Friday 14th September : Get Ready, Get Set...

After a most fitful night's sleep, where I woke from vivid dreams of Aaron's Tesla driving itself and getting struck by lightning, I finally crawled from bed just after 6am, a solid 9 hours after turning in. If they had been 9 hours of sleep, I would have been totally rested and fully refreshed. But they weren't, although the extremely powerful shower did a good job of restoring some sense of feeling alive.

With no fresh clothes to put on, I think the shower may have been wasted, but with my bag still at the airport there was nothing else to do. After watching the sun rise over the bay (I told you this place was special!), and speaking to Tracy on FaceTime, Aaron and I headed out, me riding a Ducati Multistrada 1260 and him leading in the Tesla. A quick stop for breakfast and fuel for the bike and then we were at the airport, where I collected my bag without fuss. Then it was on to his Tampa dealership, where he got on with some work whilst I caught up with things back home and booked my hotel room for our TransAM reunion in November when Aaron is over in the UK.

I also got to try on the Klim Badlands Pro suit that is part of my reason for being here. This is a very well made riding suit designed specifically for adventure riding, and whilst this particular trip may not put it to the test fully, the trip next year most certainly will. First impressions are that it is (a) heavy - but not as heavy as my Rukka jacket and (b) fits very well indeed. I was also delighted to find myself fitting into the size 34" trousers - I really have lost quite a bit of weight!

After a business lunch at a local Mellow Mushroom restaurant famous for its pizza (I had a Caesar salad) we returned to the dealership and then grabbed our gear before returning to Aaron's, this time me riding his BMW R1200GS so it's ready for tomorrow. With all my gear now available, I've had time to re-pack stuff into the bag I'll be taking and will shortly be heading for another shower and to get changed ready to go out and eat again. This evening we're going out with some of Aaron and Mira's friends for dinner then on to the movies. See, I'm already turning American. Awesome!

This evening was typical of evenings I spend with Aaron, meeting some great people and sharing stories over food, feeling totally relaxed and welcomed. Dinner was a fully loaded burger, so I'll have to make amends tomorrow by not eating too much or my new Klim suit won't fit! The movie we went to see was the latest in the Predator franchise, and the only remarkable thing about it was the seats in the movie theatre, which were single electric recliners which were more comfortable than the couch I have at home! No wonder Mira fell asleep during the film!

Day 3: Saturday 15th September: Go!

Today was scheduled to be a short ride to the railway station at Sanford to catch the auto-train to Lorton up north near Washington D.C., and then whiling away 17 hours as the train took the strain. Only hurricane Florence has put paid to that idea, with the train being cancelled. So we're faced with 3 long days riding in order to by-pass the storm and get up North to where the good riding is (although there is good riding between Florida and where we re-join the original route, the time challenge means we have to take the highways).

A 5:45am alarm call woke me up from a much better sleep than the previous night, my dreams barely disturbed by the gore of the Predator movie. A quick shower and a glass of water then loading the bike I'm riding with my stuff before wishing Mira goodbye as we rode off into the darkness, departing before sun up at 6:34am. The bike I'm riding is Mira's BMW R1200GS, which is lowered, but with the suspension set for 2-up (i.e. raised) and the seat on the higher setting it's surprisingly comfortable. Leaving St. Petersburg we met up with Jeremy, one of Aaron's Sales Managers and the guy I'll be sharing a room with, then hit the highways for 100 miles or so before meeting up with Ram (short for Ramkishan) and Dean for breakfast. After a couple of eggs (over easy) and some very sweet unsweetened ice tea, we hit to highway once more, heading towards Atlanta.

Now I'd like to say that riding 600 miles on US highways is interesting and enjoyable, but the honest truth is, it isn't. It's boring. Very boring. Even with my music on and stopping every 100 miles for a fluid adjustment stop (drink 1 litre cold water - you can work out the other part!), it's dull. Most of the route to Atlanta has little to keep the mind occupied, with a straight flat road and a big sky with hardly any clouds. Temperatures of 90+ F ( I need to change Mira's instrument panel to read Celcius!) put the new Klim suit's ventilation to the test and it works remarkably well. Until we get to Atlanta and the traffic jam that crawled for 30 miles through the city, and this was still the interstate. Once clear of Atlanta the scenery got more interesting with rolling hills and a forest either side of the road. The traffic thinned and we were once again flying in formation, but by now we were desperately trying to find ways to alleviate the sore parts, constantly adjusting riding position, standing up, stretching, etc. It's on roads like these that you realise the true benefit of cruise control on a motorcycle, simply set the speed and then you can adjust your position as you try desperately to find one that reduces pressure on the parts of your body that are now screaming in pain!

After 12 long hours we finally reached Chatttanooga, our destination for the day, where we filled up with fuel and checked in to the Holiday Inn. There was no sign of the choo-choo, nor the cat that chewed my new shoes, but the restaurant next door had some very good beer and a very nice grilled chicken salad. Now back at the hotel and with the clock showing just half-past nine, it's time for an early night. We've another 600-mile day tomorrow, but as Aaron isn't a morning person, it's a 7:30am departure. I'm promised some more scenic views from the highway, but it's another day of covering big miles to get the start of the trip proper. Based on today's experience, I'm going to love it either way, as despite the monotony of the riding and the lack of inspiring scenery, just spending 12 hours in the saddle riding with friends old and new, it's been a great day!

p.s. For those wondering about a lack of photos, trust me, today was not a day for photos. Besides, my helmet camera is playing up, saying the memory card is full when it isn't. I will try to get some pictures tomorrow!

Day 4: Sunday 16th September: Pounding out the miles...

After a really good night's sleep - for me, at least, Jeremy, who I'm sharing a room with may not agree as I snore! - I woke with cramp at 6:18am, just ten minutes before the alarm was due to go off. Hobbling into the bathroom and a warm shower got rid of the cramp and I was once again wide awake and ready to go riding. After packing I had time to grab some porridge for breakfast before the 7:30am kickstands up departure time.

The weather was overcast and once again we were on the road as the sun rose, the temperature cool but not at all unpleasant. The day was another long ride with around 600 miles of highway to cover, so as with yesterday this was broken up into sections of around 100 miles before we would stop for fuel and fluid adjustment. The first stint was in the cool early morning and the riding similar to yesterday, long straight roads with little to stimulate the senses. After the first stop the rain started so the second stint was spent squinting through the spray as the rain poured down. This was the edge of hurricane Florence, which was responsible for us having to ride rather than getting the train, so we didn't escape its wrath completely. As we progressed further east via Knoxville the scenery started to improve, with rolling tree-covered hills and even some curves on the highway to make life more interesting. After the second stop the rain abated a little and from then on it was only intermittent, and the views improved as we rode for mile after mile surrounded by forest. In West Virginia we stopped for lunch at a steakhouse favoured by Aaron for its warm bread rolls (which were truly delicious) but that meant I over-ate (a Philly steak sandwich with fries) and for the rest of the afternoon regretted it as my shrunken stomach struggled to digest so many carbs.

The rest of the afternoon was more of the same, using the cruise control to try and hold a steady pace and following the group as we continued at a steady 75mph, simply pounding out the miles. As with yesterday, I rode at the back so Aaron who was leading could see the distinctive lights on Mira's bike and know the group was all together. This gave me the benefit of being able to ride at my own pace, dropping off the back of the group when I wanted more space and playing catch up to alleviate the monotony.

After around 12 hours of riding we passed through Pittsburgh and found a hotel just past town where we checked in before showering and heading to the Italian restaurant next door for dinner. As I was still stuffed from lunch I only had a prawn salad and a couple of bottles of beer. Another day done and now we are getting closer to what should have been the start of the trip. Tomorrow we head further North to the Great Lakes, before turning east and on to our hotel at Lake Placid, via Niagra Falls. It promises to be another great day!

Day 5: Monday 17th September - to Lake Placid via Niagara Falls

Today is the final day of the big push to get where we should have been had the auto-train not been cancelled, with the small matter of 570 miles to go to get to our original Monday night hotel at Lake Placid. In practice, what this meant was a very early start which consisted of breakfast at McDonald's (yuk!) whilst outside was still pitch black, then leaving town before sun up.

But what a sun-up it was. As we rode north on the interstate the sky changed from a deep dark blue to a very faint pale blue whilst over to our right (east) the high cotton-wool like clouds showed up with dark brown tops and fire-bright oranges underneath. Simply beautiful and what a pleasure to be on the road so early and seeing this whilst most sensible folk were still tucked up in bed! The interstate took us up to the edge of the great lakes - in this case Lake Erie where we left the interstate and took the local road along the shore-line and past wooden houses with large front lawns bordering the lake, past endless fields of vines unlike any I've seen before with huge amounts of leaves to help capture the sun and ripen the grapes. This finally gave way to the town of Buffalo, where massive derelict dockyard buildings stood crumbling in the sunshine. Over a couple of large bridges and we arrived at Niagara Falls, where we parked up and went exploring, taking photos of the waterfalls and then buying a fridge magnet (my souvenir of choice!) from the gift shop and getting ready to depart less than 45 minutes after arriving. After all, as Aaron said we have a place to get to!. Only he was caught out departing the car park by a barrier system that seemed to have a mind of its own. It rose as he arrived, then came down quickly just as he was passing, clouting him hard on the head and shoulder, but not enough for him to drop the bike, the barrier coming off second best and breaking! Fortunately, it was only made of poor quality wood and there was no-one around to apprehend him, so we made our escape without further problem!

Niagara Falls

The ride from Niagara Falls and back via Buffalo onto the interstate for a further 150 miles or so was by far the most boring of the trip. It was a real slog and I was feeling decidedly in need of a break when we finally pulled off the Interstate to get fuel. I thought I was the only one feeling the pain of the ride, but Dean, Jeremy, Ram and Aaron were all bitching about it as soon as we stopped! When people think of boring American roads, I think this stretch is what they have in mind!

Fortunately, after just another 70 miles of Interstate we turned off onto better roads for the final 130-odd miles to the hotel. This stretch was beautiful, the roads gently swinging left and right through forests of trees that were showing the early signs of autumn, with patches of bright orange and deep brown in amongst the greens. It should have been a very enjoyable ride, but to be honest, the pain in my back, my knee, my ears (from the earplugs) and the tiredness conspired together to rob it of much joy. So it was a great relief to reach the town of Lake Placid, home of the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980 and the location of our hotel. Here we met the remainder of our group - Daryl, Don and Grant who had all left Florida a day before us and taken the more scenic route whilst skirting the hurricane; and Kenny and Sharif who are native Nova Scotians joining us to show us the delights of their province. So now we are 10 - with 8 BMW GS's, one BMW S1000XR (Ram) and one Ducati Multistrada (Grant).

After checking in and a quick shower we grabbed a beer in the bar before heading to a local restaurant for dinner, where we were all introduced by Aaron - who pointed out that whilst he's ridden with a few of the group more frequently than others, it's me with whom he's ridden the most miles. This got me thinking and I tried to work it out - with the TransAM (23,000 miles), UK & Ireland (3,000), TAT (6,000) - that's over 30,000 miles we've ridden together. This trip will add a further 5,000 miles, which will take the total to over 35,000 miles - quite something!

After dinner we returned to the hotel, but I was too tired to complete the blog, so I just made a few notes and collapsed into bed.

Day 6: Tuesday 18th September - Lake Placid to Littleton

After 1,750 miles in 3 days, the trip proper starts today, but not with a hearty breakfast as Aaron has warned us the brunch stop is particularly good (and it's supposed to be my fasting day anyway!). Once again I woke early, with the 7:30am departure still over 1.5 hours away. Despite this I got up and packed then met up with almost the whole group loading the bikes in the car park, all eager to get riding again. A quick FaceTime with Tracy and a small coffee and we hit the road again.

After fueling up we left Lake Placid and followed highway 86 before turning south skirting the shores of Lake Champlain then north again on highway 100. At some point along this route we stopped for fuel then again after around 200 miles for brunch, at the General Store in Pittsfield, where I was able to get a decent cup of tea and some oatmeal (like porridge) for breakfast/lunch. Then it was a short, but beautiful and twisty, ride to the Ben & Jerry's factory where we took the factory tour, listened to some very bad cow jokes (Why do cows not wear flip-flops or sandals?- because they lack-toes!; why do cows wear bells? - because their horns don't work!), and had a sample of ice cream (which was worth the $4 entrance fee). Then it was a short ride to an apple cider farm/factory where their speciality is apple/cinnamon donuts, which are very nice; and another short ride to the maple syrup farm where I bought a very small urn of syrup to take home. From here it was just 70 miles or so to the hotel, with more twisty roads and short sections of interstate completing a great day's riding.

General Store

Aaron and Jeremy relaxing

The bikes outside the brunch stop

Ben and Jerry's flavours

Ben and Jerry's new flavours

Maple syrup factory

Maple syrup factory

Covered bridge over the river at Littleton

The hotel in Littleton, the Thayers Inn, dates from 1843 and our room (actually 2 adjoining bedrooms with a shared bathroom) is on the top floor. After dumping our gear in the hotel and parking the bikes round the back I took a quick shower and washed my smalls - I only have a few pairs and there's a long time to go yet! Before we headed out to the local brew pub, the Schilling, where I had a couple of pints (American sizes, much smaller than UK ones) of the rather excellent Resilience brewery's Pompadour and a margarita pizza with jalapenos - not exactly a fasting day, but I am on holiday!

Day 7: Wednesday 19th September : Littleton, NH to Milford, ME

Another day begins with me waking up well in advance of the alarm clock, but fortunately this time not 4 hours before, just the one… Still, that close to get-up time it's hardly worth going back to sleep, so I got up and showered, then caught up with events at home whilst packing my bags and getting ready for the off. But today is a late start, with a meet in the hotel lobby at 8am, followed by a short walk to the Topic of the town café for breakfast. Which took a while, as this is an old-school mom and pop place, with a great, cheap, menu and home-cooked food. The two eggs over easy on toast with sausage links and an English breakfast tea was very good, although as is often the case in the US, I couldn't get my order in without being asked a question (in this case, I asked for the sausage but forget to mention links as they also do patties!). It was therefore quite late by the time we got on the bikes and started rolling, but with only 259 miles to do today that wasn't a problem.

The ride out of town was beautiful, the old white wooden church building resplendent in the weak sunshine from the overcast sky. Once clear of town we had a nice gentle winding ride on roads bordered by trees that changed from deep greens to bright orange and made our way up towards the mist-covered hillsides in the distance. Gradually we gained altitude and the temperature dropped from a reasonable high-60's (Fahrenheit, I've still not fathomed out how to change the bike's external temperature display to Celsius!), to mid-50's. Enveloped by mist it looked like the ride up Mount Washington would be in poor visibility, but that didn't prove to be the case. Once we'd paid at the entrance ($17 and I had to copper-up and use all my loose change or break another $100 bill) we started the ascent, up the steep, narrow and very twisty road that leads to the summit. With Aaron leading, and the pace set to very slow to ensure we all made it, we rose up into the clouds and then after a short section of dirt road emerged into bright sunshine the other side, with the clouds below surrounding the mountain like a blanket of cotton wool. At the summit we parked the bikes and took lots of pictures then walked up the wooden staircase to the very summit where there is a gift shop (another fridge magnet!), a sign proclaiming this is the spot with the highest wind-speed ever recorded at a manned weather station - a staggering 213 miles per hour! - and a museum with the story of the weather station that's been manned here since 1932. It must be very bleak, especially in Winter when the temperature drops well below freezing and the scientists have to venture out in 90mph winds to break the rim ice from their instruments with crow-bars!

After the obligatory group photo (see below) we got back on our bikes and headed back down, surrounded by fantastic views up until we descended into the clouds. Eventually we emerged below the clouds, now under an overcast sky and continued on our merry way riding in formation on roads that weaved gently through the trees interrupted only by the occasional town. The road signs provided some entertainment, particularly the one that read Peru 5 Mexico 1 - at first I thought maybe this was a football score, then realized it was simply the distance to small towns with big names!

After a stop for fuel and to grab a snack for lunch, we continued on, the ride totally relaxed and the passing scenery sufficiently interesting to make the ride very enjoyable. The downside was that riding in a group meant that when we caught up with a slightly slower moving vehicle we ended up following it for mile after mile, the pace slower than ideal, interrupting the rhythm of the ride. A section of interstate for 70 miles just before the town of Milford and our motel for the night meant the ride didn't end as well as it had begun, the monotony of the interstate dulling the senses sufficiently for me to notice the odd ache and pain from another long day in the saddle. But the motel is nice, next to the river and only a short 30-minute walk from the BoomHouse pub, which has a trivia quiz every Wednesday. This was planned, as last time Aaron led a group on this trip they came second in the quiz, and with Jeremy the current 3-time trivia quiz champion at home, and a team of 10 including an architect, a doctor and several other highly intelligent professionals (plus me!) we were in with a good chance of taking the top prize! Only that proved not to be the case at all, as the questions were ridiculously obscure (and very American-culture focused, ruling me out even more than usual!), meaning we actually finished joint last. Hey-ho, at least the local beer (Wolf Pup IPA) and the chicken salad were excellent!

The Thayer's Inn, est 1843

Leaving Littleton

Lots of famous people have stayed here...

At the bottom, before the climb up Mt Washington

Should we really be riding up this road?

Riding up the Mt Washington road

Riding up the Mt Washington road

The view from the summit of Mt Washington, with the chain-driven train

At the summit of Mt Washington

At the summit of Mt Washington

Making it look windy for the photo!

Warning, extreme weather here!

The Group

Riding down the Mt Washington road

The glass says it all...

Day 8: To Truro, Nova Scotia

Another early start as we continue the ride North with the aim of covering 420 miles and getting into Nova Scotia later today. The weather was cold, overcast and with intermittent rain as we left our breakfast stop at a local McDonald's (where I'm happy to report they do oatmeal/porridge and tea!). The roads wound their way to the Canadian border, nice, easy riding once more. The border crossing at Vanceboro/St Croix was tiny but manned by a very efficient blonde female customs agent, who told me what I was doing - you're going to be in Canada for a week, riding round Nova Scotia, right? and then stumped me by asking when I was last in Canada (I couldn't remember, so said 2013, when in fact it was only a couple of years ago!). But that didn't matter as I soon had my passport stamped and was waved into Canada with a smile.

From the border the road became less interesting as we heading up the highway via Fredericton and on highway 2 all the way to Nova Scotia. This section was cold, but after a brief fuel stop near Amherst we took the longer, more scenic route down to the coast and on to our overnight stop at Truro. By the time we arrived we were very cold indeed, and it took a good 10 minutes of standing under a hot shower to restore my body temperature to normal. It's not that it was that cold outside, either, with the temperate around 10degrees C, but the humidity and wind-chill took their toll. That evening we headed out to a local Boston Pizza place for dinner, where I had some not-very-good beer and a nice chicken jambalaya.

Day 9: On to the start of the Cabot Trail

A slightly later start of 8am saw us head out of the hotel to the bikes in thick mist and with the temperature barely above freezing. No time to linger as today we head to the main reason for this trip - the Cabot Trail - but more of that tomorrow. First, we have a full day riding across Nova Scotia, zig-zagging from the East coast to the West coast and back again, before crossing on to Cape Breton island at the northern end of Nova Scotia.

Despite the temperature, the riding was superb, winding roads and great views of the ocean. Before long the sun made an appearance and started to burn away the early morning mist, and whilst it remained chilly (never rising above about 15C) it was very pleasant. With Aaron leading the group of now 8 - Sharif had left is at Amherst yesterday to head home to Halifax, whereas Kenny left us after seeing us to the hotel in Truro - we had a leisurely ride, the pace settled and the riding easy. Lunch was a Big G's restaurant in Guysborough, where me met up with another of Aaron's Nova Scotian friends, Chad, who is joining us for a couple of days. After lunch we continued on our way, the riding getting ever more scenic the further north we headed, with great views of the ocean and the many fishing ports that dotted the coastline.

From Guysborough we headed north east on highway 4 to Sydney, where we took the scenic road across Boulardie island and then around the coast to pick up the start of the Cabot Trail as we turned off highway 312. From here it was a relatively short ride to our accommodation for the next 3 nights, the very quirky Cabot Shores Wilderness Park. This is more like a hippy commune than a traditional hotel, with various buildings, cabins and yurts scattered about a large compound bordering the ocean. After checking in we rode our bikes round to the cabin I'm sharing with Jeremy, which is just lovely, with it's own kitchen/living area (I won't be cooking, though!) and a bedroom and bathroom each.

Once showered we met up in the main building where we had some very nice Kitchen Party Pale Ale and dinner - a very nice dahl curry in my case. Then off to bed ready to spend the next two days riding the Cabot Trail - voted one of the top-5 motorcycling roads in North America. Can't wait!

Day 10: Saturday 22nd September - Riding the Cabot Trail

So today is our first day riding the Cabot Trail, a 175-mile tarmac road route that loops round the northern shore of Cape Breton island, Nova Scotia. With a late departure from the hotel of 8:30am, and with a very short ride to breakfast at the Clucking Hen Café & Bakery, it was a very leisurely start to the day. The café served a great bowl of oatmeal/porridge which filled me up completely and then I left the group to ride alone for a change. Whilst riding in a group has a few advantages, mostly in the highways and when stopping, it does mean that I don't get to ride with my own rhythm and that can be somewhat dull after a while. But that wasn't the case now. With rain falling and the roads wet, I took it fairly steady as the road wound its way around the coast, with dramatic views of the Atlantic ocean to the right and tree-covered hills to the left. I stopped a for fuel and to take in the view a couple of times, but I still arrived at the designated lunch stop (the Rusty Anchor, approximately half-way round the trail) before 11:30am. I was joined by Ram, so we grabbed a hot chocolate and chatted whilst waiting for the rest of the group to arrive. Eventually they did and somehow they ordered lunch, which I couldn't contemplate after only eating breakfast a couple of hours previously. The menu did look very good though, and I had a taste of the Lobster Roll that Dean ordered (delicious), so perhaps tomorrow I should skip breakfast altogether and have lunch here!

On the way in to the Rusty Anchor we got talking to a guy who was sympathizing with us about the rain, and he mentioned a section of roadworks a little further up the trail, where the road had been stripped of tarmac and was basically just mud and gravel. With the rain still persisting, this could be quite a challenge on bikes fitted with road tyres. By the time I was ready to get on the trail again the rain had stopped and a weak sun was trying to sneak out from behind a blanket of thick grey clouds. The roadwork section was just as the road headed up the hillside, but it wasn't a problem, despite memories of when I fell off in similar conditions in Colombia, injuring my shoulder. Once back on tarmac I upped the pace a little as the road flowed back down the hillside, with spectacular views of the ocean vying for my attention with the reducing-radius bends. A couple more stops to admire the view and I was down from the hills and riding through the picturesque, if bleak, village of Cheticamp with its painted wooden houses staring out over the bay, where fishing boats bobbed about on a choppy ocean. From here the road opened up a little more, the wind, which had been a constant challenge since we started the climb into the hills before lunch, now blustering with greater intensity, blowing the bike about as I tried to maintain a steady course.

At Margaree Forks, the road headed back inland to rejoin the 312 as it looped back and up towards Baddeck. Here I took a deviation to ride through the town in search of an ATM, and it was another pretty town with wooden buildings and an imposing church. Back on the main road I turned off onto the Cabot Trail using the same junction we'd used yesterday and after a little while, with the sun now out, I pulled over onto a patch of gravel overlooking the ocean. Here I took a pannier off so I had somewhere to sit and simply sat and watched the ocean for 20 minutes or so, enjoying the peace and quiet and nibbling a handful of trail mix. I like to do this when out riding, just pull over and enjoy the moment. At that point, there is nowhere else in the world I'd rather be, just me, a bike, and a view.

Ram eventually arrived so my reverie was over, and I put the pannier back on the bike before heading off again. With just 20 minutes riding left before arriving back at the hotel, and the sun now out, I was tempted to continue on again, but the opportunity to get some washing done was too good to miss, so I returned to the cabin and attended to my chores. These included heading over to the main building, where there is wi-fi, and updating the blog from the last couple of days (and writing this). It's so very peaceful here, and after a solid week's riding, covering over 3,280 miles, it's nice just to sit and relax… but tomorrow I'll be ready to ride the Cabot Trail again and if the weather forecast is accurate, we may even get to do so in sunshine!

But first, it's dinner time, and tonight we're having fresh lobster!

Now I know that recently I've been trying to lose weight and get healthier, but there are nights when it is far more desirable to just enjoy the wonderful food available. Tonight was one of those nights. To start with, I had the seafood chowder. Now this is a personal favourite of mine ever since I had my first clam chowder in Boston back in '96. But OH MY GOD! This one was so good that I interrupted my own conversation to savour the flavour. It may have only been a relatively small bowl (just as well as this was the first of three courses) but every morsel was delicious. Then came the treat we'd all been waiting for since we arrived in Nova Scotia - fresh lobster. This came on a large plate, separated into 5 parts - the head (which obviously you don't eat!) reared up and staring to the sky as if in prayer, it's mouth a weird smile made of a slice of lime. But ignoring that bit (or rather, putting it immediately into the trash-bowl) there were the 2 claws and the 2 halves of the tail, simply rammed full of delicious lobster meat. Now I've never had lobster like this before (just lobster tail with steak in a surf-and-turf, or the lobster-roll sandwich I sampled at lunchtime), but as with the chowder, this was another OH MY GOD! moment. It was exquisite. So much so that Aaron had ordered 8 lobsters between the 6 of us eating them, so I got an extra claw! After that, it seemed completely unnecessary to have a dessert, but there was a carmel (sic) cheesecake jar that screamed at me from the menu, so I had to have one. That was also delicious and sent me off to bed feeling both satisfied and decidedly guilty. I just hope I haven't put back on all the weight I lost before coming out here. Maybe tomorrow I can be a little better behaved?

On the Cabot Trail

On the Cabot Trail

Relaxing with a beer at the end of the day

Fresh Lobster for dinner

Day 11: Sunday 23rd September - On the Cabot Trail, a perfect day...

After the food excess of last night it was little surprise that I woke not in need of breakfast. But with clear blue skies the thought of departing early and having brunch instead appealed greatly. So I was first to leave the hotel, hitting the road at 7:50am with the temperate hovering around freezing and the bike's dash flashing me the temperature in Fahrenheit to warn me of the possibility of ice. But crisp mornings like this show the world at its best and this morning was no exception, with mist rising from the glass-calm waters of the inlets at the roadside as I rode through beams of pale orange sunshine between the trees on the other side of the road. I headed back the way we'd come yesterday, intending to ride the Cabot Trail in a clockwise direction. First thing I needed to attend to was fuel, so I went to the Esso garage in Baddeck that I'd passed yesterday, only it was closed. No problem, there was another petrol station in town on the GPS map, only that didn't exist. Ok, time to get back on the main road, and there was a fully-functioning petrol station almost immediately. With a full tank of fuel I was now totally content, and that mood would remain with me the whole day.

I rode north west, over Hunters Mountain and via Middle River to Margaree Forks, where the Cabot Trail heads due north, joining the coast at Margaree Harbour. From here it hugs the coast for some distance, affording spectacular views of a deep azure-blue ocean dotted here and there with white horses as the waves gently make their way ashore. This was quite a contrast to yesterday when it was very windy and decidedly choppy. The ocean here is known for whales and there are many excursion options out to see them, but we don't have time on this trip, which meant I kept scanning the ocean whilst riding just on the off-chance I got to see one. I didn't, but the white horses kept me alert, as each time one appeared I'd be scanning looking for signs of the ocean giants.

Just before Pleasant Bay were the road-works and dirt section we'd ridden yesterday, only this time my confidence was higher and it didn't pose even the slightest problem. I had planned to stop for brunch at the Rusty Anchor, where we stopped yesterday lunchtime, but it was closed, so I continued on. After a short while I reached a turn-off for the Beulach Ban falls, so took this and rode the short dirt-road to the trailhead, where a short walk took me to the falls. These were not very impressive, but as the sign close by had a poem to them, it would be churlish not to repeat it here.

The Return

In a world that's always knowing
In a place that's far away
A boy decided he was going
And left at break of day

He left behind huge cedar trees
He crossed the dusty fields
Made his way through city streets
Full of yells and screeching wheels

He walked on through the frozen land
And crossed the Miramichi
Right by the beaches of red sand
With scarcely a glance went he

Onto the mainland's rocky shore
By the light of evening moon
He crossed the causeway's stony core
Whistling a bagpipe tune

Through vale and forest he then strode
Crossed bridges all alone
Following John Cabot's road
The hills would take him home

And finally he slowed and stopped
A tired, weary man
By where the highlands waters drop
At a place call Beulach Ban

From here I returned to the main road and fueled up at Cape North, where I met up with Jeremy who was also riding alone, having his own adventures. We decided to ride up to the Bay of St Lawrence and via a dirt road to Meat Cove together and this proved to be a really beautiful ride. On the dirt road we passed the rest of the group (minus Dean) heading the other way, and once at Meat Cove we stopped at the café for lunch - another excellent bowl of seafood chowder!

After returning to the main road we separated again, each of us happy to spend time alone exploring this beautiful island. I took the road to the port at Dingwall, then the little coast road to White Point, which proved to be a real highlight, with great riding and some wonderful little harbours, with brightly coloured fishing boats moored up, surrounded by hundreds of old lobster cages.

Eventually I returned to the main road once more and made my way to the place we'd had breakfast at yesterday, the Clucking Hen. When we were there, I'd spied the home-baked carrot cake and the thought of this had kept me determined to head here on the way back to the hotel! It proved to be just as delicious as I'd hoped, and with my hunger once again satiated, I completed the circuit back to the Cabot Shores Wilderness lodge and my cabin home-from-home. With a couple of hours free I was able to look at some of the photos and update this story, but can't help feel that I can't do days like today justice in words and pictures. Some days are days that really make me feel so very fortunate. This was one of those days - just spectacularly enjoyable!

And tonight, we're heading out for more lobster!

Tonight wasn't just lobster, though, it was also all-you-can-eat mussels (I ate a LOT!) and even a taste of snow-crab. And Lobster, of course. All delicious too!

View from the Cabot Trail

On the Cabot Trail

View from the Cabot Trail

Beulach</br> Ban Falls

Lighthouse on the Cabot Trail

First cake of the trip!

Day 11: Monday 24th September - to Halifax, N.S.

After 3 nights in the same location, this morning saw my travelling routine re-energised as I packed up and loaded the bike ready for departure. With breakfast to be taken en-route, we met up and checked out before leaving the eclectic grounds of Cabot Shores Wilderness Resort and it's wonderful host, Paul, who came to see us off and wish us happy travels. Riding south again on the Cabot Trail via Baddeck and on west before heading north towards Margaree and the Dancing Goat café. This is another of those wonderful family-run cafés that Aaron has found and recommended for this trip, and it didn't disappoint with a very good breakfast to set us up for the day. From here we rode to Margaree Forks where we turned south following the coast via Inverness and past the Glenora Distillery, both good examples of the many Scottish influences in this part of the world. The distillery is where Dean bought a couple of very small (250ml) bottles of their single malt whisky, which he filled himself from the cask and were individually numbered. He even had to sign his name in the book alongside the bottle numbers to record his ownership. The first of these bottles didn't last long, as last night he poured some large measures for the group so he could share it with us all - it's been that sort of trip. I didn't have a glass myself, preferring to keep my alcohol intake down, but I did sample it and can report is was very good!

The coast ride didn't disappoint either, with good views under a clear blue sky and despite the temperature being a little low it all made for a great morning's ride. Just after we crossed the causeway back to mainland Nova Scotia we stopped for fuel and met up with Aaron, who had stayed behind to take an important business call. Reunited we continued on via Antigonish, where we turned to take the coast road down to Halifax.

Arriving in a big city was something of a shock to the system after being up in the wilds for so long, but the group managed the traffic and endless roadworks very well, arriving at our hotel on the waterfront without drama. Once checked in and with the bikes parked in the underground car park, I showered and then Jeremy and I went out to try and meet up with Vernon - another Brit who had been on the Globebusters' Colombia trip I led in 2015 and who just happened to be on holiday in town. We met him in the Warehouse, where we'd be eating that evening and it was good to catch up and talk about all the travelling he's been doing since we last met.

Dinner that evening was a big affair, as we were joined by Ken and his wife, Scott (who we met at the Boston Pizza place) and his wife and Shereef and his wife, making a total of 16 of us. Naturally we would feast once more on lobster, but not before sampling a starter of Digby scallops, which were truly delicious. The beer and conversation flowed, and it was another great evening.

Day 12: Tuesday 25th September - Across Nova Scotia to Digby for some scallops

With the sun shining brightly in a cloudless sky we left the hotel and headed out of the city. The temperature was cold still, but once clear of the city the riding was beautiful as we took highway 333 down to the coast once more. The ocean was as calm as a mill-pond as we passed via several small fishing ports and on to Peggy's Cove. Here we stopped in the visitor's car park and wandered around, taking photos of the lighthouse on the rocks and then walking down towards the harbour. The whole of Peggy's Cove is a conservation area and dotted about are old wooden buildings that have stood on this remote outcrop for generations. Aaron tells us that he's never seen the ocean so calm and that normally the waves are crashing into the rocks obscuring the view with spray; today there's barely a ripple on the ocean and the whole place is quiet and very peaceful. Until the coaches start to arrive and disgorge their contents of elderly tourists chattering towards the lighthouse.

After purchasing yet another fridge magnet we departed and rode further round the coast to Hubbards, where we stopped at the Trellis Café for breakfast. Another of those great, family-run cafés that we have used on the trip, with fresh home-made bread to go with the cooked breakfast of eggs, sausage and beans. Nicely set up for the day and with the route in my GPS, I opted to separate from the group for some me-time and so I could ride at my own (slow) pace. I initially led away from the group, but due to a small mistake in the route found myself doubling-back and rejoining the route behind them, hanging back to create space to ride in. The coast road was beautiful, passing a couple more fishing ports before it reached Bayswater where I stopped to look at the memorial to Swiss Air Flight 111. Just 8 miles off the coast is the place where the flight, from New York to Geneva came down, killing all 229 people on board. The remains were gathered by teams based in Peggy's Cove and here in Bayswater and the recovered remains are interred here, with a large stone wall inscribed with their names. It was very moving, reading the names and seeing several members of the same family inscribed on the wall.

After a few moments of reflection I rejoined the road and now with a good gap to the group, who hadn't stopped, I could ride at a very sedate pace without fear of holding anyone up. Riding alone and taking in the view was very relaxing. At Mahone Bay there was a scarecrow festival going on, with lots of scarecrows stood outside the businesses, shops and houses that lined the road through the town. Riding slowly I could admire the sense of pride in the local community as everyone seemed to have joined in and put a lot of effort into their own scarecrows. I saw the Addams Family, the 2 princesses and snowman from Frozen plus countless other film characters as we as other, more generic, scarecrows. I rode through town very slowly, but didn't stop for photos, preferring to etch the images into my memory than my camera.

Further on up the coast the route had me taking the ferry at East LaHavre and was showing an estimated arrival time of 7:10pm! I was expecting to get a ribbing from the group for taking so long, but then discovered the ferry wasn't running due to repairs. By now I was convinced I'd got the wrong route, but didn't worry as I was having a great day and the riding was enjoyable; besides, I knew where the hotel was and so would get there eventually. Deciding to follow the estuary road further inland before joining the main highway, I continued on, reveling in the sharp flowing corners and enjoying the stimulation of the sights of life going about its normal business as I passed by. A little further up the road I spotted a Shell garage and decided to stop for fuel and to double-check my route and there, parked up, were the group! Aaron had also encountered the non-working ferry and was busy replanning the route, using the same roads I'd decided upon!

Once again I dropped to the back of the group as we left the garage, then hung off the back as we took to highway 103, preferring to set my own pace again. After a while we took highway 8 inland, cutting across the island towards our overnight stop at Digby. Part way along this road we turned off onto a dirt road to McGowans Lake, where Kenny (the Nova Scotian who had joined us earlier in the trip) was stationed with his helicopter. Kenny flies for the government, dealing with incidents including forest fires and rescue operations. Parked up next to the lake was his helicopter and he was gracious in showing us round it and answering our questions. After a few photos we returned to highway 8 and continued on to Digby, arriving at our B & B (the aptly-named Come From Away Inn) by late afternoon.

After the customary shower and change of clothes we headed out for dinner, opting to eat at Fundy's Restaurant, where we naturally chose the world famous Digby Scallops (but not before we'd shared a portion of Bang-Bang Shrimp). These were good, but not as good as the ones the previous night, as they were not in a sauce. After dinner we took a stroll through town, stopping at a couple of the souvenir shops, where I bought yet another fridge magnet - at this rate, I'm going to need to buy a second fridge just for these!

Day 13: Wednesday 26th September - leaving Nova Scotia

Today will see us leave Nova Scotia and head back to the US, but first a quick breakfast in the B & B, which has recently changed hands and now wasn't that good. But with a bit of time before we leave to get the ferry, I had chance to call home and speak to Tracy, something that always makes the day start well. After that, there was a short ride to the ferry where we checked in and parked up to wait. After an hour or so the ferry was ready for boarding and we rode on-board then tied the bikes down before heading up to the lounge. I didn't even notice when we left our moorings, so smooth was the ocean at this point. With 2.5 hours to kill, we went and got some lunch and I immediately regretted it, the burger and fries being worse than McDonald's. Or Wendy's. In fact, worse than just about any burger I've ever had. But despite there now being a little swell causing the ferry to rock back and forth, my sea-legs kept everything where it should be.

Once we arrived at the port of Saint John we debarked, and then rode for a while to the Canada/US border, where I was asked the usual questions before being admitted again. The rest of the journey to our hotel in the quaint town of Camden was uneventful and a tad dull, being mostly interstate/highway. But the motel in Camden was nice and a short walk took us back into town and to the Salty Dog Brewery, where we sampled a couple of the local brews and ate some more seafood. In this case some Bang-Bang Shrimp (prawns in a spicy batter) followed by a lobster roll (think lobster in a warm buttered hot-dog roll), which was better than it sounds. After dinner we stopped off at the Drouthy Bear pub, and English-style pub with yet more local brews to sample. Which of course we did, the old tradition of drinking a fair bit the night before a long ride still with me!

Day 14: Thursday 27th September - long rides, big pizzas

Now back in the US we have a long riding day to take us all the way to Pennsylvania, a distance of some 420 miles. Which meant an early pre-breakfast departure time of 6am, but despite last night's beer drinking this wasn't a problem and the group were in their usual high spirits. Dean's dawn wake-up call of Guess what we're going to do today? Ride our motorcycles ALL DAY LONG! resulting in a chorus of SSHHHH!!! as he was in danger of waking up the whole hotel. Not that the sound of 8 motorcycles starting up and riding off wouldn't have done anyway!

A little further down the road we stopped off at Moody's diner, another of the excellent family-run diners that the US is infamous for. On the menu was Cheddar Wurst and Eggs and intrigued I had to give them a try. Just as was the case with yesterday's burger, I wish I hadn't. The Cheddar Wurst was exactly what it sounds like - a wurst-style hot-dog sausage that oozed cheddar cheese when I cut into it. It looked like someone was squeezing a big sausage-shaped zit. But the eggs and home-made bread meant the rest of the meal was more palatable!

A long blast down the interstate saw us cover 330 miles before we arrived at Frank Pepe's Pizza place in West Hartford, where Aaron had assured us we could get the best pizza in the US. He wasn't wrong, the pizzas were excellent - huge great big slabs of pizza the size of a table-for-two cooked in massive wood-burning pizza stoves. We were joined for lunch by Aaron's step-dad David and a friend of Dean's (who's name escapes me), and ordered 4 pizzas for the 10 of us but there were still plenty of slices left over for David to take home. I still ate way more than I should have done, though!

Following lunch was more dull, uninteresting Interstate riding to Matamoras in Pennsylvania and the Best Western where we were staying. The best thing about this hotel was the guest laundry, where I was able to wash all my clothes properly (I've been washing my underwear and socks in the sink up until now). Still stuffed from lunch I went to the restaurant in the hotel with the others, skipped drinking anything but water and had a bowl of French onion soup for supper.

Day 15: Friday 28th September : Last night together, crabs and beer

With a shorter riding day today to get us to Baltimore for our final night, we had an official departure time of 10am to ride a very short distance to get breakfast. With Don leaving the group to head to his home in North Carolina, that left just 7 of us and 6 of us were down for breakfast in the hotel at 7am as usual, unable to sleep in. With Aaron joining us at the allotted time, we rode round to a local chain breakfast place and had brunch. Then we took a very scenic ride down by the river on a road that bore more than a passing resemblance to British B-roads, tight, bumpy and twisty, running through a forest. After 2.5hours of riding we finally stopped, only having covered 93 miles. We were then on slightly more open roads, but with the traffic a little heavier going was still slow. It was getting warmer and when we took a wrong turn and had to u-turn in a retail park's car park I took the opportunity to stop and remove a layer. Whilst I'd seen which way the group went, when I set off again I'd lost sight of them, but as I had the coordinates of the hotel already programmed in my GPS I wasn't worried and decided on my own route. I turned off the main highway to ride south through Lancaster (most of the place names in these parts of the US are the same as places in the UK) and into the countryside. With the traffic lighter and me on my own able to make more progress the riding was very enjoyable. The countryside resembled parts of rural France or Germany, with rolling hills and fields on either side of the road. The main difference were the Amish communities I passed through, with families out in horse-drawn carriages and children dressed up like something from a Dicken's novel riding weird low-slung old-fashioned bicycles that looked like they had no tyres.

Eventually my route joined up with the I-95 Interstate into Baltimore, which was a busy multi-lane highway with traffic buzzing by at 65-70 mph on both sides. This made it interesting as I was still route-finding and trying to ensure I didn't end up in the wrong lane and heading the wrong way. But there was no real problem and I found the turn-off that took me onto the road and straight through a rough-looking part of the city, then past a nice looking park with joggers and dog-walkers enjoying the sunshine and downtown to where there were road works and road closures. Some quick thinking enabled me to skirt this and arrive at the hotel quite quickly and without having to ride round the block a few times. I'd only just parked up and removed my helmet when who should arrive but Aaron with the rest of the group following behind! There was then some confusion with the valet parking guy, who first got Aaron and some of the group parked out front of the hotel, then he realized there wasn't room for all of us so directed us to the parking garage around the back of the hotel. So three of us rode there and parked up, and sometime later Dean was told to move his bike (Aaron, Jeremy and Rom all avoided the staff so couldn't be told to move theirs!).

Once we were all cleaned up we set off walking round the riverfront, which was beautiful as the sun was setting, to the Riptide restaurant. The whole of this area of Baltimore was full of life, with bars and restaurants everywhere and this being Friday night, everyone was out in their finest, except us, of course, as we're still in our travelling clothes (albeit clean, for now!). At the restaurant we ordered crabs - a local speciality - and I was a little surprised when my cutlery turned out to be a small wooden hammer and a thin-bladed plastic knife. I was even more surprised when the waitress turned up with a large piece of brown paper and we had to take all our glasses and stuff off the table so she could lay it down like it was a posh tablecloth. All was revealed when the crabs came - all 10 of them - as they were unceremoniously dumped on the table in front of us. They were whole, cooked in a thick spicy breadcrumb like topping and the idea was for us to eat them with our hands, using the hammers to break the shells. Now there is a technique to eating crabs which Aaron demonstrated and I'll record here should you ever be in the same situation. It goes like this:

Repeat until you're full, there re no crabs left or your hands are so caked in goo that you can't hold your beer glass. Go wash your hands. Wash down the crab with lots of beer.
It was great fun, too!

When we left the restaurant it was still early so we went into another bar and had another beer, then most of the group went back to the hotel. Dean had bought a cheap harmonica so he could go and play with one of the buskers, so Grant and I accompanied him to see what would happen, only the busker had gone (I think the idea of Dean returning with a harmonica had frightened him away!), so we started walking back to the hotel ourselves. Only to stop at another bar for a couple more beers and some late-night conversation. And late night it was, as we were shocked to discover it was 1:25am and we were still in the bar, so we drank up and then tried to pay, only for the bar's tills to stop working. Which meant we were each given another beer on the house whilst waiting to pay. So it was gone 2am when I finally rolled into bed, being ever so quiet as to not wake Jeremy, who despite being the youngest of the group by nearly 20 years had wimped out and gone to bed earlier.

Day 16: Saturday 29th September - saying goodbye, then twisty roads at last!

Today is the final day for the main part of the group, who are heading back to Tampa via the auto-train and not continuing on to Barber for the vintage motorcycle festival. So it was all emotional in the hotel lobby as we said goodbye to Darryl, Jeremy, Grant and Rom (OK, it wasn't that emotional, but for a Brit it was a little unseemly, all man-hugs and back-slapping!).

We then rode together a short distance up the highway towards Washington D.C. before we peeled off and they rode away. Now with just Aaron, Dean and me, the pace quickened and we sped into town where we rode to Aaron's best friend John's house. After introductions to his family and a delicious home-baked cookie we rode with them in their car to a local restaurant for lunch. I'm glad to report I had a grilled chicken salad as I was still full of crabs and beer from the night before.

After leaving lunch there was another short section of highway to get us away from the city before we hit the twisty roads and riding heaven through a part of the George Washington forest and on to our Holiday Inn Hotel in Woodstock, Virginia. A light dinner of pizza (no beer) and then off to bed early.

Day 16: Saturday 29th September : West Virginia, home of twisty roads

With nowhere particular to go, and a lot of time to get there, we start the day for the first time without a real plan, apart from heading south-west-ish on twisty roads. As has been the case too often recently, breakfast consisted of oatmeal made with hot-water (no hot milk or microwave available), but it still set me up for the day nicely.

We rolled out of the car park at 8:45am and straight onto twisty, well-surfaced roads that rose up and down hillsides and mountains through forests of green. Before too long we took a road that turned to dirt as it got further up the hillside, and with road tyres and a lot of water in the lower valleys there was inevitable sections of slippery mud. We also encountered a couple of rocky river crossings, and it was in the second of these that I hit a rock and almost lost my balance, stamping my foot down in knee-deep cold water which immediately filled my right boot. All caught on both my helmet camera and Dean's phone for posterity. But the important thing is I survived without falling off, damaging Mira's bike or hurting myself, so all is good. Back on tarmac we saw a hot-rod festival in a field, with lots of old Ford cars and pick ups queuing to get in and parked in the field, but we didn't stop, preferring to keep riding. A short while later there was a flurry in the field of long grass to our right and a deer ran across the road right in front of the car in front of us, which was unable to avoid clipping it. The poor thing fell over, then jumped up and had to hop-and-jump back to the field, obviously suffering damage to its hind leg. It bounded across the field, but I fear it won't survive too long with what must have been a broken leg.

Riding as cautiously as ever for the rest of the day, we rode on with just 2 stops in 250 miles, one to admire the view over German Valley and the other for fuel. At each stop we just stood in quiet contemplation of how great the riding was, smiling knowingly at each other before saddling back up to repeat the cycle of leaning left-right-left-right as the road took us on an endless roller-coaster of a journey.

I've had many really good riding days in my relatively short motorcycle career (nearly 28 years since I passed my test) and today has to rank as one of the top 10. West Virginia just has some fantastic riding roads with hardly any traffic (we saw more motorcycles than cars today, which is another indicator of just how good the riding is).

When we finally stopped at the Holiday Inn in Roanoke we had covered 250 miles in 7 hours of riding. A quick shower and an Uber taxi to a highly recommended Mexican restaurant for dinner topped what has been a great day. Back at the hotel having eaten at just 6:45pm also gave me time to bring the blog up to date whilst Dean (who I'm now sharing a room with) attends to our laundry!

Day 18: Monday 1st October : 243 miles and a beer to forget!

Another day, another hotel breakfast. This one was made a little more interesting by the chap we got talking to who was riding a Kawasaki Ninja 650 that we'd seen yesterday (on a trailer) and is fitted with dual-sport (on/off-road) tyres. He said he'd ridden part of the Trans-AM Trail (TAT) on it, the dirt-road route across the US Aaron and I rode in 2011! That's quite some feat on what is essentially a sports-bike, but he did only go as far as Oaklahoma, which is only at the start and on the flat and easy bit.

Straight after leaving the hotel we were back on the twisty back roads of West Virginia, roads that took us through forests and past fields and small settlements dotted here and there, the white wooden houses and immaculate lawns standing out against the rugged tree-lined forests. We also saw weird plant formations, where leaves from the Kudzu plant (also known as Japanese Arrowroot), have surrounded the low plants at the roadside, the trees and even the telegraph poles. Some of these formations looked like animals standing proud and I swore one of them looked like Disney's Tigger. The plant is invasive, grows like crazy and, having surrounded other plants is killing them off all over the southern states. It does look amazing, though!

After more twisty roads and a section of gravel road we stopped for lunch, opting for a Chinese instead of Subway thinking it would be lighter and more healthy. We were wrong, it was disgusting, swimming in MSG and completely tasteless. Not only that, but it sat heavy on the stomach, detracting from the afternoon's excellent riding. The afternoon saw us head up into the mountains on a very twisty road, with hairpin bends and great views. The signs at the start proclaimed this to be the Back of the Dragon, an obvious reference to the famous Tail of the Dragon road near Deal's Gap that I'd ridden before the start of the TAT in 2011. Googling this later, it is clearly an attempt to bring more motorcyclists to the area, declaring it thus: The premier road in North America offers thirty two miles and 438 curves of knee dragging fun on the official Virginia.org website! I wasn't dragging my knee (or anything else for that matter!) but it was an enjoyable ride. It wasn't without unexpected hazards either, as coming into one right hand bend Dean had a massive moment when he hit a large patch of gravel (the only one on a road like this we'd seen), but he saved it well.

Our overnight stop was the Holiday Inn in West Jefferson and with a brewery in town with a good rating for its food, we looked like we were in for a good night to end a great day. Only we then discovered this must be the only town in the whole of the US without either a taxi service or Uber! As a result, we had to ride to dinner, which was as good as we hoped, even if we couldn't wash it down with a cold beer. This being a craft brewery, I asked if they did take-outs and they did, in the form of a Growler (32oz) or Crowler (16oz). Not knowing what either was but not wanting to end up with a lot of a beer I didn't like, I ordered 2 Crowlers, one of their Ass Clown Brown Ale and one called Ass Clown Ghost Chilli Ale, whilst Dean got one of their pumpkin ales. The brown ale was very good, but the pumpkin ale tasted, somewhat unsurprisingly, of pumpkin and was, to my taste buds, not very nice. Dean liked it though, his American palate clearly attuned to pumpkins (which we've seen everywhere). But the Ghost Chilli ale was something else. Made with Ghost Chillies, it was very spicy hot, to the point where a little sip was enough to bring on the sweats and set my lips on fire. A second sip only confirmed this and that was enough for me. Dean tried it, and the sight of him bouncing around the room, face bright red, coughing and spluttering had me in fits. When he went back for a second go and did the same it was just as funny. The crazy fool kept trying it to see if it would improve with each taste. It didn't and the rest went down the toilet, where it probably cleared the drains from here to the east coast!

Day 19: Tuesday 2nd October : "In the blue ridge mountains..."

Yet another day starting with a hotel breakfast, and like many on this trip that means oatmeal made with hot water and a cup of black tea. I'm getting to like the latter, but the former is not a patch on the Quaker's porridge I start the day with back home. This hotel also had wi-fi that seemed to only connect for a minute or so before dropping the connection, making my early morning conversation with Tracy difficult and not setting me up for the day ahead in the best of moods. That quickly passed, when we left the hotel and started riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway Road.

This road, as the name implies, follows the ridge along the Blue Ridge mountains from Virginia through North Carolina. We were on the North Carolina section, but that didn't stop me thinking of the Laurel and Hardy song Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, which I ended up singing in my helmet repeatedly as we rode along. The road has a 45mph speed limit with fitted perfectly with the pace of riding appropriate to such stunning scenery. As it wound its way along the ridge, the views over the surrounding blue-tinged hillsides were superb. We followed this road all the way to Asheville, were we left it to drop down the steep hillside and into town. Here we met up with Don again (he'd left us the day before Baltimore) at a Trader Joes (where we went so Aaron could get a supply of his favorite (sic) organic walnuts). Don lives about 60 miles from here high in the mountains outside Franklin in the Nantahala National Forest. We rode to his house on the highways, arriving at a gate off the main highway before entering the private driveway that leads to the few houses on the mountain that includes his. The driveway was an experience in itself, with a very tight, uphill, off-camber left turn leading to a single track road that rose up a very steep incline before levelling off, becoming gravel for a section and then another tight, steep, uphill dirt section that led to his house. Off to the right of this narrow road all the way up was a drop-off into the forest itself. Not a road for those of a nervous disposition or afraid of heights!

Don's house is in a remarkable location, though, with a spectacular view over to the distance Smokey Mountains from his veranda. But it was still early, only about 3pm, so we opted to drop off our luggage and head back out down the scary driveway for a short 100-mile loop. This took us on some truly fantastic roads that skirted through Tennessee and Georgia before retuning to North Carolina. On the way we stopped off to admire a waterfall called Dry Falls (it wasn't dry) and to admire the view at a spot where the local NRA (National Rifle Association - America's gun lobby group) had been applying graffiti to drum up support for their cause (which included on proclaiming ban Democrats, not guns). The riding was really enjoyable, especially with the bike so much lighter without the panniers and luggage aboard. Back at Don's by 6:30pm we were just in time to sit on the veranda and watch the sun set over the Smokey Mountains.

A perfect 295-mile riding day needs a perfect meal to end it and this was just such a day. Heading out in Don's Honda pickup, we drove to the Haywood Smokehouse BBQ in Dillsboro, where the barbequed brisket and ribs were cooked to perfection. The star of the meal, though, were the Burnt Ends Beans - baked beans with bits of the burnt ends of the brisket mixed in - I could have eaten a big bowl of these on their own and been happy. Of course, this was washed down with some local craft IPA ale too. A great end to a great day!

Day 20: Wednesday 3rd October: the first non-riding day

I slept really well in the downstairs bedroom at Don's house, despite it being a little stuffy with the window closed and no air conditioning. With a late start planned, I showered and crept upstairs, the first to wake up as usual. On the veranda, I sat and looked out towards the mountains but could see no further than a few feet due to the early morning mist - it's this that gives these mountains the name Smokey Mountains as early settlers believed the hills were on fire and the mist was smoke. Today was to be our first non-riding day since leaving Aaron's house as we rode in Don's pickup back to Asheville while he rode his GS to get it serviced. We took the opportunity to attend to some chores with Dean buying as new pair of riding boots (his were very worn and offered little support) and new trainers; and me finally finding an ATM that would accept my travel card and let me draw out some more dollars. We also had lunch in a little family-run Mexican restaurant, where the grilled chicken salad was very good.

Back at Don's house we attended to our laundry before heading back out to dinner. Don had chosen a restaurant called Caffe Rel that was next to a petrol station and looked unassuming from the outside. Inside it was all kitsch Italian, but one look at the menu said we were in for a treat. The chef was trained at a place on the east coast that only trains 5-6 chefs per year and the food was exceptional. I had a plate of shrimp cooked in white wine and basil served on bed of bow-shaped pasta and it was delicious. The other 3 were all looking forward to getting back to Don's where they had a home-made all-American Apple Pie to eat, made by Don's housekeeper, but as I can't eat cooked fruit they decided I should get a take-away dessert from the restaurant. So I ordered a piece of the Belgian chocolate cake to go. With organic ice-cream bought from a store on the way back to Don's we were all set and that's when I opened the container with my cake in. I know Americans have a reputation for being big eaters, but the portion of cake the waitress had given me was simply HUGE! It would have fed a small family, but undeterred, and because it was delicious, I attacked it with gusto, almost managing to finish it, much to the amazement of my fellow travelers!

Day 21: Thursday 4th October : to Birmingham, Alabama

A second night at Don's and once again I slept well despite over-eating the night before. Up, showered and packed by 8:30am, we said our goodbyes to Don, sad to leave this amazing 77-year old alone in his beautiful home (his wife passed away just 3 months ago, his daughter shortly after). Negotiating the tricky driveway for the final time we rode a short distance to a local diner for breakfast. I opted for a light one, scrambled eggs (more like an omelet) on toast, then Aaron used the excellent twisty roads navigation option on his BMW Navigator VI GPS unit to plot a route towards Birmingham, Alabama.

This took us on lots of small back roads, through more countryside although this time with more houses and less forest. After 2 hours of riding we stopped for fuel then continued, the temperature rising as we headed further south-east, topping out at a very hot 92.5F (34C). The traffic also got heavier the closer we got to Birmingham, so we switched to faster route navigation and jumped on the Interstate. About 60 miles from Birmingham, Aaron, riding at the front suddenly put on his indicator and pulled over to the hard shoulder, stopping under a bridge, the only shade for miles. His back tyre was flat. The cause appeared to be a nail and so Dean (who's a mechanic by trade) jumped at the opportunity to show his skills and fixed it, whilst Aaron sat on the guardrail and I took pictures. Back on the road we continued on to our hotel, the Double Tree by Hilton, where we will be staying for 4 nights. A large part of the car park was cordoned off for motorcycle-only parking, a sign of the expected number of bikes due to stay here for the nearby Barber Vintage Motorcycle Festival.

Checked in and showered, we ordered an Uber to dinner, Aaron extoling the virtues of this simple way to get a taxi that means no paying or tipping in the car as it's all handled online. The taxi is given the route by Uber, but in this case it took us all over residential downtown Birmingham before the driver quit and used Aaron's Google maps to get us back on track and on to Jim & Nick's BBQ place. Here we met up with one of Aaron's BMW buddies, Steve, and had another BBQ brisket and a pint of IPA. The food was good, but not in the same league as last night, but the craft ale was very good. After dinner Steve drove us to the hotel, so no more uber-related navigation issues.

Day 22: Friday 5th October : First day at the Barber Vintage Motorcycle Festival

With the first of 3 days at the Barber Vintage Motorcycle Festival ahead of us, we decided on a slightly later start and agreed to meet at 8:30am for breakfast and to make plans. Dean and I were there, but there was no sign of Aaron. Thinking that he was probably up and networking (he barely sleeps), we weren't concerned and sat in the lobby chatting. At 9:30am, the hotel PA system announced they were going to be conducting a fire-alarm test just as I messaged Aaron to find out where he was. His reply was Oh xxxx!, LOL, Just woke up! - he'd overslept and the hotel PA had woken him up! Clearly knowing that he hadn't got to organize a route for us to ride that day had allowed him to relax and catch up on some much-needed sleep.

With Aaron opting to go and get a haircut, Dean and I jumped in an Uber and headed to the circuit. Once there we took the shuttle that runs round the perimeter road to the Fan Zone where we bought a lemonade (it was already very hot!) and a t-shirt before watching the Globe of Death riders from the Urias family do their thing. This is a 16-ft steel mesh globe into which the riders, mounted on enduro-style bikes enter and ride around the inside. It's very impressive, especially when all 3 riders, plus the girl with the microphone are in the cage at the same time, the riders whizzing around the inside high-5'ing her! After the show we met up with Aaron and wandered round, looking at the various stalls. We took advantage of a first-aid stall that had sun-cream, but Dean sprayed some into his eyes so we next had to look for some water to wash it back out!

After that excitement we walked over to the Swap Meet area, where classic bike enthusiasts sell of old bikes or parts for old bikes. It looks a little like a large scrap yard, with gazebos providing shade under which these guys place their rusty parts hoping that someone might need or want them. There are also old classic bikes dotted about, including a very tidy looking 1975 Kawasaki Z1B in the same colour scheme as my new z900RS. By now it was very, very, hot, so we caught the shuttle round to the Ace Corner - a part of the circuit where the Ace Café (of London fame, but represented here by its Orlando operation) had setup. Aaron should have been on the list to get in for free (plus 3), but the girl on the gate couldn't find his name. That didn't stop her giving us 4 wristbands, though, reasoning we were honest sounding folk. Inside, Aaron met up with the guys running the show, who he knows well as he works closely with them in Orlando and they apologized, saying his name was first on the list! Here we sat and had a wrap for lunch and watched some of the action on the track. The programme didn't list the practice or race timings, so it was impossible to know what was going on, but we soon spotted the BMW-supported rider Nate Kern, wrestling his RNineT round the track.

Around 4pm Aaron left to collect Mira from the airport and Dean and I moved down to the main Ace Café area where we saw Nate arrive directly from the track after his practice session ended. Still in his leathers he stood for while in the baking heat being interviewed, explaining how the BMW, with it's inline crankshaft which rocks to the right, makes right hand bends easier but left-hand ones more tricky. Very interesting, for a petrol-head like me!

Once the interviews were over the band started playing, a mixture of Blues and Country & Western, and Dean and I grabbed a couple of beers and relaxed. We were unsure what time Aaron and Mira would head to the track to join us, but when we got a message saying they weren't we left ourselves in order to get out of the heat and back to the hotel. Dean was feeling unwell, the effects of the sun and having his eyes sprayed with sun-cream taking their toll. I met up with Aaron and Mira and we headed back out in an Uber to Fancy's on 5th, a busy bar-restaurant in town, where we met up with a number of the BMW guys working the festival. Dinner was a noisy affair, but the burger I had was good and the beer excellent.

Day 23: Saturday 6th October : A day at the museum

For our second day at the Barber Vintage Motorcycle Festival we agreed on a late start (to let Aaron sleep in!) and after breakfast caught an Uber to the circuit pick-up point where we met Jordan from BMW and got our Expo passes. These give us unlimited access to the circuit, and with the wristbands for the museum already procured we were good to go. Jordan dropped us off at the entrance to the Barber Motorsports Museum and in we went. As they say here, OH MY GOD!!!

The place is huge, built in a dedicated building next to the circuit and housing over 1,400 motorcycles of various ages as well as a large collection of racing Lotus cars. It started as Mr Barber's own collection of motorcycles and has gradually expanded to what is now believed is the world's largest motorcycle museum. The exhibits do not appear to be in any particular order, with modern bikes displayed alongside older bikes, although there are dedicated areas for very early American motorcycles, flat-track racers, drag racers and dirt-track bikes. The entrance is particularly impressive, with a large covered atrium-style space with a central lift (elevator) at the sides of which are racks with motorcycles stacked high up into the ceiling. Each of the 4 main floors of the museum has hundreds of bikes on display, some stacked in racks and others on plinths with explanations of what they are next to them. All are immaculately prepared and in pristine condition, with the exception of the few traveller's bikes which are left in original post-expedition condition.

We spent a good few very happy hours admiring the bikes, which included some particular favourites of mine. These included a Honda VF500FII Interceptor (the first big bike I ever owned, although it wasn't called the Interceptor in the UK), and a 1974 Kawasaki Z900 (Z1a). The collection is unusual, in that it's not just rare or significant bikes, but a collection of bikes that are a reflection of the time they were released. Some are obscure one-offs, including two made by the renowned English engineer, Allan Millyard - a Kawasaki z900 (z1) with a home-built 1600cc V-8 engine and a Kawasaki z1300 with a home-built 2300cc V12 engine!

After wandering around we grabbed a sandwich for lunch and then made our way out via the gift shop, where the museum's only shortcoming became apparent.
No fridge magnets!

It was then a short shuttle ride over to Ace Corner ready for the evening's festivities, only to be told there were none planned for the Saturday. This gave us chance to head back to the cool of the hotel and a shower before heading to downtown Birmingham for dinner. We met up with a couple of Aaron's friends, including Lee, one of the two owners of Motus Motorcycles, and the other Jeremy, who has a very trick track-day prepared race Ducati Panigale R. The story behind Motus is fascinating as Lee and his business partner formed the company to build an American muscle motorcycle with a V4 engine based on the V8 muscle cars. The resultant bike is, apparently, quite something to ride and Aaron is a dealer for them. Or was, because just recently the finance company that they were reliant on has closed their credit line with no warning, just after they had invested heavily in machinery necessary make the bikes Euro-Compliant with ABS etc. This has effectively put them out of business and Lee was unsurprisingly reticent to spend time around other motorcycle enthusiasts. It was only Mira's presence that convinced him to come out and I'm delighted he did, as he's such a charming, intelligent guy with a clear passion for bikes and his company. I only hope they manage to get things sorted out, as I'd love to ride one of his creations!

Dinner was in a restaurant called Chez Fonfon, a recommendation by Lee, and it was fantastic. I had a great chicken liver mousse followed by the burger. Now normally in a good restaurant the only burger would be the cleaner's lunch, but Lee recommended I try the one on the menu and it was superb! More like a steak that had been chopped up and put into a burger-shape than anything you'd normally get in a bun. Leaving the bread also left me room for the delicious Lemon Meringue Pie too!

After dinner we caught yet another Uber back to the hotel and I was in bed and asleep by 10:30pm, dreaming of the bikes I'd put in my own museum when I won the lottery!

Day 24: Sunday 7th October: Hanging out with the racing stars...

Sick of hotel breakfasts, and unwilling to pay the frankly ridiculous $15 charge, we walked to the nearby Cracker Barrel, where I could get a bowl of cinnamon oatmeal and a hot tea for $5, then caught another Uber back to the circuit. Today was slightly cooler this morning with a little cloud cover so we headed straight to the paddock to have a look around. Here there were lots of vans with race bikes of all sizes and vintage parked up in the shade of the gazebos. The racers, who came in all shapes, sizes and ages, were lounging around trying to stay out of the heat. We got talking to a few as we wandered around, checking out the bikes.

Close to the main control building was a guy I wanted to meet, riding a very interesting race bike. Michael Neeves is the chief road tester for MCN and a guy who won a competition to become a journalist with the paper a few years ago. Now he travels the world riding interesting bikes and is here to ride a very special replica of the bike Mike Hailwood returned to race and win the TT on in 1978, after an 11-year absence. This replica is an exact copy of the bike, including a copy of the prototype Ducati 900cc engine - one the engineers that built it had to re-create from the original drawings. I found him in the pits and went to introduce myself, using the excuse that I thought he might appreciate a fellow English accent. Turns out most of his team in the paddock are ex-pat Brits! We had a good chat, though, discussing the bike and how it handles, the heat, my 6,000-mile journey to be there (MCN is running a ride 5,000 mile promotion to get people to ride their bikes more, I'd done more than that in the last 2.5 weeks!) and my trip next year guiding the Globebusters' London to Tokyo expedition.

After chatting to Michael I rejoined the others at the BMW Motorrad pits, where we got chatting to Nate Kern, the racer campaigning a BMW RNineT against proper race superbikes (and beating them). Nate was a pleasure to talk and listen to again, as he took us through the challenges of riding a boxer-engined bike on track and supporting his racing career on a shoe-string. As we sat in the air-conditioned comfort of his rented motorhome, listening to him and Aaron strategise on how to get BMW to make more of the opportunities to promote the brand at events like this and the track-days Aaron runs from his dealerships, it was easy to see them both being successful in the future. The prospect of Nate racing the BMW Boxer Cup 2.0 series that's being proposed is mouth-watering. I just hope he gets the chance and we get to see him again, racing in the UK.

When we left the motorhome it was once again very hot, so we caught the shuttle back to the museum for a final look around and some lunch. On the basement floor, whilst admiring a collection of racing Porsches, we bumped into Mr Barber himself, so we had the opportunity to thank him personally for creating such a marvelous monument to all that is motorcycling.

Then it was back to the hotel for a shower and a walk to the Pappadeaux restaurant across the road, where I had a truly excellent steak and shared a bottle of good wine with Dean. A few beers in the bar of the hotel set me up nicely for the early start the following day!

Day 25: Monday 8th October : The long ride back...

With 560 miles to ride to get back to Aaron and Mira's place, we had an early start, waking at 5am and on the road before dawn. 100 miles or so later we pulled off the highway to get breakfast at a Cracker Barrel before rejoining the highway and Interstate route south east. We stopped every 100 miles or so for fuel and to relieve the boredom of highway riding, then stopped at Valdosta to get lunch at El Toreo, a Mexican restaurant Aaron used to frequent when he had an MRI centre close by. I was still full from last night's dinner and breakfast, so could only manage half my salad. Then it was back onto I-75 heading south into Florida in increasing heat and humidity, with the occasional heavy rain shower thrown in for good measure.

With about 125miles to go we said goodbye to Dean, who was separating from us to go and stay at a friend's house. It's always hard saying goodbye to people who started the trip as complete strangers and through it became good friends, but I'm sure this won't be the last time we meet or ride together. Now it was just the 3 of us on 2 bikes heading down the familiar last stretch and in to St Petersburg and to Aaron and Mira's spectacular home. After 11.5 hours we pulled up on their driveway, having covered a total trip distance just shy of 6,500 miles. Once changed I checked in for my flights tomorrow and then we popped out to grab a snack at Zoe's Kitchen, a Greek fast food place that served an excellent Chicken Salad. The only problem was snack here doesn't mean small portions, and this salad seemed to be self-replicating at a rate faster than I could eat it, so that even after 10 minutes of frantic munching it appeared as big as when it was served. It's not often I leave food, but on this occasion I think if I'd carried on eating, I'd still be there and it would still be the same huge bowl of salad it was originally!

Back at the house I went to bed, exhausted, despite it only being 9:30pm. It has been a great adventure, but now it's over and tomorrow I head home.

Day 26: Tuesday 9th October : Heading home

After another good night's sleep, Aaron gave me a lift to the airport, with a short stop at a local fried-chicken place for some lunch. Saying goodbye to my good friend is always emotional, but at least this time I know I'll be seeing him again soon at our TransAM09 reunion at the NEC bike show next month.

The return flights were not at all exciting, affording me chance to catch a little sleep and it didn't seem like too long before I'd landed back in Manchester and was meeting up with Tracy who'd come to pick me up and take me home, another great adventure finally over...

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