And 3 tenths


A couple of years ago I came across a book called " Good Vibrations" by Tom Cunliffe, it was all about him and his wife riding round America on a couple of Hogs. Having read it, I had put that idea on my list of things to do. So when it was announced that the Vincent Owners Club (It has been suggested that the initials of the club, VOC, really stand for Very Old Children) was to hold it’s International Rally in Vancouver, it looked as though the time had come to hatch a plin of a plon. I decided that I would ride my Black Shadow to the rally.

Now it just so happens that I have cousin who lives in Connecticut on the East Coast of the USA, so a round trip, Connecticut to Vancouver and back looked on the cards.

With the past experience of exporting my Vincent to New Zealand and Australia under my belt, I was not perturbed about sending it to the USA, fool that I was.

I arrived in Connecticut at the back end of June and spent nearly two weeks getting the bike out of customs, through what can only be described as incompetence, theirs, not mine.

Then to cap it all, despite the Bill of Laden giving the dimensions and weight of the crate and the delivery address being a private home, the importing firm sent it on a lorry with no means of getting it off. Then they had the cheek to charge me $60 for "special equipment" i.e. a tail lift and pallet handler, things that in England are the norm on most trucks. And I thought they were all go in the States, but then I am a bit naïve, I've been known to believe some of the tales in LPP.

The bike was eventually ready for the road on the 4th of July, Independence Day, which seemed appropriate and I headed up towards Buffalo in New York State, where I spent the first night in a motel, having done 400 miles trying to catch up. I crossed the border into Ontario and saw Niagara Falls from the Canadian side, which without a doubt is the most spectacular viewpoint.

I continued along the Canadian side of Lake Eire, which is a very flat area of mainly farmland. There were, along the shoreline, some very fine houses which, with, such great views, must have cost a pretty penny

Getting back into the States at Detroit, I went down through Toledo, just south of Detroit. I kept an eye out for a certain Corporal Klinger but failed see him. Must have been shopping for a new dress.

From there I turned due west through Ohio and Indiana, and it was here just bellow Lake Michigan that I experienced some typically violent American weather, which, I have to confess had me worried.

I had fortunately stopped at a camp site fairly early, got my tent up and was having a chat with a guy, who was there with his family, when the sky went a dirty yellow colour, and huge boiling black clouds started rushing about in an ever increasing wind.

With that a siren sounded and the proprietores of the site came round to say that a tornado had grounded about 20 miles away, and we should evacuate to the firehouse. Bryan, the guy I had been having chat with, suggested I joined him and his folks in his SUV and get to the firehouse pronto. Which we did.

Having got there, I failed to see what good that was going to do us. The firehouse was not at all substantial, being just a clapboard building. I suppose the idea was that if we all perished in the forthcoming apocalypse they wouldn't have to search all over the place for our remains.

Bryan however had a good idea. We nipped into the liquor store and bought a six pack, then sat in the SUV for about an hour until the violent wind, horizontal rain and lightening had stopped.

Bryan incidentally was a talented man. He could chaw terbaker and drink at the same time, plus, spit with great accuracy. "I sure miss the old spittoon. "Yep you sure do"

When we got back to the site the bike was still leaning at 45 degs against the tree where I had put it, but my tent was in a pool of water. Fortunately my kit inside was still dry. The proprietores of the site was very kind. In view of my tent being as it was and that there was more rain forecast, she let me sleep in her mobile home for the night. I hasten to add that she was else where (Blast)

Now in America, mobile home means just that.

This one was the type that fits onto an SUV via a fifth wheel coupling, thus making it an articulated vehicle. Here in England you would need a class one HGV license to drive the thing. It has sides, which cranked out to double its width, plus all mod cons. Including of course, air conditioning, which on most campsites lull you to sleep with their gentle susurrations (not often an Essex lad comes out with words of that calibre)

The following morning as I waited for the tent to dry out, I got talking to a guy from Alabama who had the most wonderful southern drawl. When I left he bade me goodbye with "Y’all have a safe ride there neighbour".

My next encounter with folks in these sort of gadgets was when I got to South Dakota. I found an excellent campsite in the Black Hills where I intended to stay for a long weekend, as there was a lot to see in that area.

There's Mount Rushmore with the presidential heads carved into it, which is an amazing sight, yet not far away is the Crazy Horse monument, another carved mountain, only bigger, in fact, all the presidential heads would fit into the carved head of Crazy Horse. Then there is the town of Deadwood where Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane became famous, and are buried. And down the road apiece, the Little BigHorn of "where the hell did all those Indians come from" fame.

Anyway, on the Saturday when I got back from Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse monument, a chap called Earl (I just had to meet an Earl) came over to have a chat about the Vin, and bikes in general. He then asked me if I had eaten. Sensing a free meal, which is a gift I have, along with the ability to sleep anywhere I said, "no I hadn't". I was then invited to join him and his friends for a BBQ and home made ice cream.

There were seven of these huge RVs drawn up together, bit like a wagon train really. What a great bunch they turned out to be. They forced food and beer on me all that weekend and introduced me to a game called "Bachi Ball" a cross between bowls and boile. I am pleased to inform you that the Limey threw the winning ball on the last game.

Yellowstone was next on the list. And I think the best part of that was without a doubt the ride up Bear Tooth Pass to the N/E gate of the park. The pass climbs to 11,000 ft. on a magnificent serpentine road. The old Vin was a bit out of breath at the top, but the views were spectacular

Prior to going into Yellowstone I had camped next to two New Zealanders who were over for the 100th Harley Anniversary Rally. They came from Blenheim on the South Island and pretty soon it was established that we had a friend in common over there. And that wasn't the only time the rule of seven was proved.

I left Yellowstone via the Grand Tetons for Salt Lake City in Utah where I did a ride out to the Bonneville Salt Flats. The temp. was 108 that day, so, having taken pictures, and scooped up a film canister of salt, I went to the Gas station

(Notice how I was beginning to talk the language now) intending to fill up and put the hosepipe down my trousers, sorry pants.

Two guys on V twin Yamahas came in to do the same. One looked over and said "Ah Mr. Vincent" and came over for a chat. Having explained what I was up to he showed his disbelief with the now familiar "You're shitin me."

He then mentioned that he had recently bought a book called Original Vincent by a Jacqueline Bickerstaff (the VOC Technical Officer) with whom he had worked at one time, and did I know her. I said we had met and that I would be seeing her at the rally. So I was pleased to pass on his greetings.

The next challenge was Rowte 50, (you will notice from this, that by now I was bi-lingual) This is called the Lonely Highway, and sure enough it was. It crosses the Great Nevada Basin in a straight line going through small mountain ridges and long valleys. Whilst crossing one of these valleys a dry thunderstorm started and I became a bit concerned with all the lightening, when I realized I was the tallest thing out there. I speeded up a little and got into the hills before it got any closer.

I came across a strange sight on this road. It’s the ShoeTree. A tree to which people come from miles away just to throw their old shoes into it. There were hundreds of pairs of trainers hanging from the branches by their tied together laces, with hundreds more in the gully bellow the tree, where they had fallen when the laces rotted.

Having survived the lonely highway I went on into California, where I stayed with Robin and Diane Reynolds (Vincent Owners) Diane is a mean Triumph rider and is awaiting a Rapide, which Robin is putting together for her. It was here that I met up with two friends and members of the Bristol section, Martin and Andy (Ex Somerset & Avon Traffpol).

Robin and Diane are a delightful couple and generous to a fault. With Robin having loaned Martin a BMW and Andy a Norton we all set off for Fort Brag and the Vincent and Vines Rally which Robin organizes. It’s a long weekend touring the vineyards of that area of California.

It proved to be great fun and a good curtain raiser for the International.

During this rally they have a Toolbox competition, better known as a "concours de practical" which I was asked to judge. Good grief what some people carry.

I came to the conclusion some pack very little underwear, instead they have a spare machine in bits in their luggage.

After the rally Paul( Ex Met) from the South London Section joined Andy, Martin and I for the four day ride up the beautiful Californian and Oregon coast.

One evening we had stopped at Lincoln City in Oregon where we went to a place called the Oyster Bar for a meal. During the evening Paul, who can play guitar, found a couple of them laying on a piano and ended up in a session with some local musicians. I, in the mean time, had ordered a meal and then fell foul of the loose Ketchup bottle lid. I looked like a road kill, much to the amusement of those around me.

Talking of which, road kills in the States are far more interesting than they are in England Here we get rabbits, hedgehogs, fox and the odd domestic cat. Out there its raccoons, chipmunks, snakes, deer and worst of all, the dreaded SKUNK. You can smell them for miles and it’s the sort of smell that stays up your nose for ages.

After this we continued through Washington State into Canada and arrived at Harrison Hot Springs on the 8th Aug. I had 6,881 miles on the clock.

What a marvelous setting that was. And despite the now famous visit to every set of red traffic lights in Vancouver during one of the tours, it was a wonderful ten days of good riding good company and much carousing. The Vancouver section of the VOC had pulled out the stops and done us proud.

For the return trip, Paul went off to do a bit more in Canada and Martin, Andy, and I headed back into the States. We returned to a place in Washington State, where we had stayed on the way up, called Sedro Woolly, with the intention of crossing the Cascade Mountains the following day. As we were filling up prior to going to the Motel, a chap came over and asked what year the Vin was. When I said 51 he stated that that was the same year his father had imported a Rapide. Later he found us and showed us the original owner’s handbook that had come with the machine.

He introduced himself as Russ and having ascertained our plans, asked if he and a friend, Tom, could join us for the ride on their modern machines. Naturally we said yes. So the following morning they joined us for, and bought us breakfast, then gave us a 160-mile guided tour of the Cascades. The Vin was working it’s magic.

The Grand Coulee Dam was next on the agenda, followed by Crater Lake.

On the ride from Crater Lake we got caught out in a terrific hailstorm with no where to hide. Good grief that really hurt.

We returned to California via the Lassen Volcanic Park. The two borrowed machines were drop off, and Andy and Martin then flew home.

I continued into Nevada and the southern states where it was now mid August and getting HOT. Las Vegas had to be the hottest ride, 112 deg, I thought I would cook. I crossed the Hoover Dam on the Nevada, Arizona border and saw 10,000 miles on the clock.

It took almost a week to see all I wanted to in Arizona. First at trip along 80 miles of the original route 66, then the Titan Missile Museum outside Tucson, followed by The Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, and over Labour weekend I took in a Rodeo at Williams. I soon learned to converse on the finer points of roping and bull riding, besides feeding my face with huge steaks and Coors.

In Texas I decided to keep to a minor route along the Mexican border where, inevitably, I was stopped by a Border Patrol, who asked to see my passport. We then had a pleasant 20-min. chat and put the world to rights.

I was now heading up towards Austin, as a letter in the VOC magazine from Dave Rosenfield, of the Lone Star section, had said that he and his wife Mary Ann would be pleased to see anyone going to or from the rally. So, I took him up on it and had a couple of wonderful days with them. As Dave owns a gun range I got to shoot a Stirling sub machine gun, which brought back a few memories, and the famous Tommy gun.

Dave phoned John Martin of the Lone Star VOC section and arranged for me to visit him just outside Houston. On arrival we rode out to the Hickory Hollow BBQ and I felt very honoured, as 14 members turned up to say hello and wish me good luck and a safe journey.

John arranged for me to stay with an old friend of his, in Louisiana, Jim Hipp and his wife Marilyn. Jim had only recently become a Vincent owner and as well as having an interest in British motorcycles and old slot machines, has good taste in fine wine and a splendid cellar. Being in the Deep South I was introduced by these good folks to Cajun and Creole food. Boy is that good.

Having got a big kick out of sitting in Mission Control in Houston's Johnson Space Center It was the same going round the JFK Space Center in Florida. As a bit of a Space nut, just to see the places where all that pioneering stuff was done was great. I lingered an extra day there to let hurricane Isabella pass into South Carolina ahead of me.

It was in South Carolina whilst heading to the Blue Ridge Mountains that I got stopped by two State Troopers. Well it was Sunday and my numberplate had obviously aroused their curiosity. As an ex scuffer I was impress with their smartness and would you believe, their politeness. They asked what I was doing, so I outlined the trip for them. " And what year is that?" "Fiftyone" "No shit" was the reply. Once again, half an hour of putting the world to rights before we parted company to "y’all have a good day now"

When I arrived at the Blue Ridge Mountains I couldn't do the Skyline Drive as I had intended, hurricane Isabella had blown trees down all over the road. So I did some back routes to Washington DC were I was again show great hospitality by another member, Mike Mutter who has a large collection of British machines, including a nice "Goldie Café racer."

I was now on the last leg and in Civil War territory so a visit to Menassas better known as Bull Run and Gettysburg was called for.

Both were absorbing, particularly as it is such recent history. In fact the guide stated that as a young man he had spoken to Union General Mead’s widow.

From there I headed to Springfield and the famous Springfield Armory which is where the mass production of fire arms took off with the invention of machinery to manufacture accurate, interchangeable parts. They still have the original copying lathe for making the wooden stocks.

I eventually arrived back in Connecticut on the 1st of October, just in time for all those wonderful New England Autumnal colours.

I had 17015 miles and 3 tenths on the clock and the bike had not missed a beat. The only things to go wrong were a broken valve lifter cable. Which was no problem as I always have a spare laid in place. A broken speedo cable. A new one being sent to a campsite ahead of me, by the California VOC spares man. And again, speedo, the drive gearbox sized. Dave Rosenfield loaned me one of those.

It was a superb experience. I met and talked to so many people just because I was on an old British machine and a Vincent in particular. It elicits such interest among those I meet on the road, and opens the doors of friendship.

For those who like facts:

In round figures I used 314 US gals. Got 54 to the gal and did 8 oil changes. Rode for 76 days averaging just over 200 miles a day and had no real frights.

I think it might be back to OZ next, as I have some unfinished business. It was there that I had to call a halt to a tour, in 2000, when the bottom end gave up with only 114,000 miles on it, must have been a Friday bike.

The two awards I received as a result of the trip. One is the H O Burton award from the Vintage Motor Cycle Club UK, for outstanding touring on a Post War machine. The other is a similar award from the Vincent Owners Club
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Mike in Texas