The Start

by tailored on November 20, 2011

After packing pretty lightly (we took a minimum of clothing – our plan was to discard dirty clothes like socks, jocks and t-shirts along the way and buy cheap replacements as we go), we headed for the Brisbane Airport and a 13 hour flight.

Looks a lot – but once clothes, boots and helmets are on it was very little

Now, I’ve seen some trip sites where people give detailed accounts of the flight – but there ain’t a lot to say about a plane trip.

We jumped on a QANTAS plane leaving Brisbane, Australia at 10.50 am on Sunday November 20, 2011 and arrived in Los Angeles on Sunday November 20, 2011 at 6.50 am.

Yep, we arrived before we left!  We’re time travelers.

Security, Customs, Bags Collected – Out Into LA in 6 Minutes!

After everyone telling us how difficult it is to get into the USA through security, customs, etc we breezed past and we’re out the door into the air of LA just 6 minutes after we got off the plane.

The Eagle Riders office looks quite close on the map, but it’s beyond walking distance so we grabbed a cab ($15).  A few minutes later we pulled up, grabbed our gear and went in.

Within 1/2 hour, after signing the paperwork, checking the bike (a Harley Electra Glide) and getting a briefing we were ready to go.

2 excited lads about to have a wet ride out of LA

We packed our gear into the 2 side panniers and Top Box with ease – we had a pannier each and the Top Box for communal stuff.

Harry set the GPS up and we aimed for the small town of Palmdale, just north of the Angeles National Forest.

The menacing clouds meant it was on with the wet weather gear, the first time of what we assumed would be many times (it rained once more – for an hour – during the entire 5,000 mile ride)

A few circles around the car park with Harry on the back to familiarise myself with the bike and we were ready to roll.

Tight Right, Loose Left

A quick note here for riders used to driving/riding on the left hand side of the road.

Before we left a mate said to me, “I’m sure tons of people have told you this, but all you have to remember for turning corners is “Tight right, Loose left”.  That is, if you’re turning right, turn tight.  if you’re turning left, go wide and loose.”

I just said it to myself every time I had a corner coming up and all was well.

How We Were Going To Navigate Across The USA

Our plan to navigate our way across the USA was to use a GPS  ($70 on special from Amazon) to get us into and out of the big cities, and to use a Rand McNally Road Atlas ($12) to find the roads less traveled (off the big highways) once we were out of the cities (this turned out to be a fantastic way to travel.  We never really got lost and found some wonderful country roads).

Day 1 – LA to Death Valley

Our aim on Day 1 was to get the hell out of LA and head for Death Valley, some 290 miles/465 kms away.

Like a few trips I’d done before, it’s always a relief when you finally get going.  Harry and I had been planning this trip for a while and you get a bit sick of talking about it and just want to be doing it.

Now we were finally doing it, a sense of relief washes over you as you realise you’re finally doing the ride.

Just as we hit the San Diego Freeway (we headed up the 405 to San Fernando so we’d get some easy freeway riding in and get used to the bike) it started pouring rain.

That made the first hour of the ride a bit tricky, but it was a case of find a car and follow that, which we did.

After a while the pelting rain stopped and the sun came out.

Once we were off the freeway (pain in the ass to ride in the rain), the valleys started opening up and we saw some lovely desert hills.

These Harleys Are Noisy!

The bike was pretty comfortable to ride, but gave a bloody awful screeching noise when changing gears.

I’d never ridden a Harley before and assumed this was normal as it started happening pretty much as soon as I started changing gears once we left the freeway.

Once we got to Palmdale we headed along the El Mirage Road towards Adelanto, which is a desert road, fairly featureless aside from low lying shrubs and the occasional desert tree.

The abandoned houses and closed roadside businesses we saw were to become a regular feature of small town America.

We pulled into a Gas Station in Adelanto to fill up on petrol/gas, get out of our wet weather gear and grab a bite to eat.

Always Prepay For Fuel

American gas stations have had enough of people filling their tank and fleeing that it’s all prepaid now.

You aren’t getting a drop of fuel until you pay.

So after a few minutes of trying to get fuel, I finally figured out you need to prepay.  So I tried with my credit card, then my travel cashcard and both failed.

International cards failing at the pump happens about 75% of the time – of the security measures, one is you have to input your 5 digit zip code/postcode, which international visitors to the US don’t have.

I wandered inside and the guy charges my card for the gas and I fill up.  If they charge you $20 and the tank only takes $15, the difference is automatically credited back to your card.

We spent a bit of time chilling out inside the Gas Station and grabbed a bite to eat – we all know the jokes about Gas Station food and this Gas Station is where all those jokes started from.

The sandwich I had was about 3 years old and tasted like and old shoe.  Not that I’ve ever eaten an old shoe, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t taste so great.

Up The Three Flags Freeway

We headed off up the Three Flags Freeway (Highway 395) towards Death Valley, about 4 hours away.

It was easy highway riding and when we got off the 395 at Johannesburg and headed along Trona Rd, traffic was minimal and the desert views were breathtaking.

On the way to Death Valley

On the way to Death Valley

Too Noisy Even For A Harley

Changing gears kept giving me this awful noise and I was convinced there’s no way a bike should be this noisy – not even a Harley.

When I got into Death Valley I’d give the motorbike hirers a call and ask a few questions.

Heading To & Into Death Valley

Along winding mountain roads, past the dry Searles Lake that gets mined for 1.7 million tons of industrial minerals each year and into the valley along the Trona Wildrose Road.

This is a little used road off the main road, that heads to  the 190 just west of Stovepipe Wells (where we’d booked our first night’s accommodation).

It was almost 4 pm when we headed into the valley on this not often used (the road can’t take vehicles longer than 4 metres, so that rules out a of recreational vehicles, motor homes, etc)  desert road.

Broken Down In Death Valley

That’s when the bike broke down.

One minute I was riding along, the next I’d lost all drive.

Broken down on the side of the road in Death Valley

Broken down in Death Valley

Surprisingly, no amount of cursing fixed the bike and so we were stuck.

In Death Valley.

Getting dark.

It was -1 C.


It looked like the drive belt had come off and fallen down.  When it fell down, part of it had melted against the hot bit of machinery it fell against.

Over the next hour or so I tried to get the drive belt back on without luck.

Harry Heads For Help

By this time, we’d made the decision to head for help and after a half hour or so a car came trundling along the road.

We flagged the driver down and asked if he’d give Harry a lift to Stovepipe Wells Village (where we were staying), some 37 miles away.

Mark and his wife Zoe were kind enough to take Harry in and headed for Stovepipe Wells.  The plan was for Harry to wait until dark to see if I could fix the bike, and if I hadn’t arrived, call for help.

Joe dropped Harry at Stovepipe Wells and they told the Manager what was going on.

The Search Party Was On Its Way!

The Manager got on the phone and within a few minutes I was the subject of a search party!

Bloody hell – what a great start to the trip!

Mark headed off and Harry headed to his room to relax, watch some TV, drink champagne and live it up whilst I froze to death in the aptly named Death Valley.  What a son!

Park Ranger Tries To Figure Out If I’ll Die

A Ranger soon turned up for Harry and asked questions about my:

  • age
  • fitness level
  • if I had water
  • how many warm clothes I had
  • etc

The answers (old, not very, yep, lots) were communicated to the guys looking for me (Mark and Harry had a fair idea of where I was, but weren’t that confident).

Local Copper Came Along & Sorted Everything

Just as I were deciding on what to do next, along came the local Policeman on his last sweep of the valley trying to find me at 7.30 pm.

Officer Scott was brilliant and within minutes had it all sorted.

He radioed he’d found me, we pushed the bike to the side of the road, wrapped it in police tape and we set off for the drive to Stovepipe Wells.

That’s how I managed on the first night in the USA to get delivered to my hotel in a police car.

Probably not the start we were expecting, but all part of the adventure!

Called Eagle Rider – “I don’t care…..”

I called Jeff King from the LA Eagle Rider store and explained the situation.

Jeff and Eagle Rider couldn’t have been better.

When I told him I’d left the bike on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, with police tape around it, Jeff said “I don’t care …………………………..about the bike.  All I care about is that you and your son are okay and that we get another bike to you as soon as possible so you can continue your journey.”

Within minutes Jeff had a plan – as it was 8 pm on a Sunday night they’d send out a guy with a truck to transport the bike first thing in the morning, pick me up, go and find the bike and then transport us to Las Vegas (our next port of call).

Jeff also offered a bike be brought out to us at the same time so we could ride into Vegas, but I thought it best if we ride in the truck as it would be pretty late getting into Vegas and I didn’t want to be hitting any animals wandering the desert roads.

Harry and I then headed for dinner at the hotel as our first day drew to a close.

[ Day 2 – Death Valley, California to Las Vegas, Nevada ]

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