Friday 8th June 2001, Willowbrook IL

We parked up at the Fairfield Inn, Willowbrook, on the outskirts of Chicago, in sunshine, shortly after lunch. A few other bikes had arrived, and we both soon realised that ‘sports’ bikes (anything that isn’t a Harley or heavy-duty cruiser) were definitely going to be in the minority on the Rally.

Brigid, in particular, began to feel self-conscious about her meagre 650cc single-cylinder engine. But, as usual, both bikes aroused curiosity, and the other participants (worryingly equipped with top-of-the-range Harleys and Hondas) were all friendly and encouraging.

We used the afternoon to equip ourselves with 2-way radios, and post home various unwanted items. Then we met up with the others for a chicken dinner in Del Rhea’s famous Chicken Basket restaurant across the road from the motel.

Thursday 7th June 2001, Niagara Falls NY

We had made the decision to try to reach Chicago by Thursday night – leaving ourselves a full day to explore the City before meeting up with the rest of the Mother Road Rally participants on Friday evening. Our mileage chart indicated that the shortest route would be 546 miles – a pretty marathon day’s run, by anyone’s standards.  However, a quick inspection of the map suggested that using the Canadian route would shave a good few miles off the journey. This fitted well with our plan to see Niagara Falls en route.

Much has been said about the Niagara Falls, but as with all spectacular attractions, we thought that the descriptions were probably exaggerated. The plethora of tourist traps (all claiming to be the one and only ‘official’ authority) on the road did nothing to change this opinion.

We could not have been more wrong. For a couple of miles, as we approached, a cloud of white mist, thrown up be the Falls, was clearly visible. Despite the sun, the air was pleasantly cool and damp. On the Canadian side, the commercialism was vastly reduced, and the full magnificence of the Falls could be truly appreciated. As Londoners, we were amused to find red double-deckers in use as tour buses – complete with original route numbers!

After an hour or so, we headed out of town on the QEW, bound for Windsor (Detroit). We stopped for gas and lunch at a service station in Dundas, Ontario, moving on as quickly as we could. Within about 30 minutes, John signalled that he wanted to pull off the 401. The mileage of the last few days had taken its toll, and he desperately needed to rest. We stopped at the next motorway service station, and John dozed with his head resting on folded arms at a restaurant table.

Within minutes, John was woken by the sound of a British voice enquiring about the Triumph parked outside. The owner of the voice turned out to be an ex-pat, until recently working in Kentucky, and a big fan of Triumph motorcycles. He was in the process of moving back to Canada, but kindly invited us to look him up if we were passing Kentucky, and perhaps ride with him in the Smokey Mountains.

Wherever we go, both bikes generate interest from fellow bikers of all ages, but the Triumph particularly seems to spark enthusiastic appreciation.

We crossed the US border at about 4pm. Realising we were unlikely to make Chicago, we decided to stop at Kalamazoo (as in “I got a gal in …”) for the night, leaving us a short hop of 140 miles to our destination.

Tuesday 5th June 2001, Boston MA

Our bikes were booked in for the their first service, and we duly arrived in Brockton at about 10.30am, intending to spend the day exploring downtown Boston on foot.

The station was conveniently close to Dunbar Eurosports’ showroom.  It was baking hot as we waited hopefully on the platform for the ‘T’ (the name given to the Boston metro system).  Some bemused workmen approached to inform us that we had just missed the train. Inspection of the timetable revealed that we would have to wait a couple of hours for the next. So, instead, we headed back to the main road, in the expectation of finding a bus.

Public transport, we have now discovered, is not widely available in the US, as most people own at least one car.  A helpful Post Office clerk directed us to the next station, where we had lunch and caught the train.  By the time we arrived in Boston we had only 1 ½ hours to kill before we had to return to pick up the bikes. However, we were able to replace our tattered ponchos, and buy a couple of Platypus drinks bladders in preparation for the following week’s rally.

We spent the night with Deborah and her family in Brighton.

Monday 4th June 2001, Boston MA

The morning was grey and overcast, but otherwise dry. It had obviously rained overnight, as the ground was damp. There was a delicious smell of pine woodland in the air as we walked down the hill to find breakfast.

Montpelier is the capital of Vermont, but equally seems to be a ‘New Age’ Mecca. Every other store advertised ‘alternative’ clothing, therapies and jewellery. It seems the City got left behind in some 70’s time-warp! Having said that, it is a pretty place, surrounded by forested hills, and within a short distance of Killington and Stowe ski resorts.

It was now time to hit I-89 again, and return to Boston, where we were to stay with Deborah Valianti, a playwright friend of Brigid’s mother. It was thanks to Deborah that we were able to purchase the motorcycles at all, as it was she to ‘loaned’ us her Brighton address for the registration.

The sun had dried out Brigid’s electrics, and within a few miles, the speedo, tachometer and LCD displays had come back to life. Apart from the appearance of a rogue oil warning light they gave no further trouble.

We hit Boston at about 3.30pm, stopping once to ask directions to Brighton. We pulled into a gas station, where building work was in progress. We were heading in the right direction, but within ½ mile, John suddenly stopped at the side of the road realising he had a flat tyre. The nearby tyre station didn’t do bikes.  So, half an hour and many phone calls later, we eventually located a dealer in Framingham who could sort us out.

Anderson Cycle Works of Framingham proved to be some 15-20 miles away, and our trip was slow and tortuous (we had to stop several times for air and directions) – and not entirely good-humoured.

The people at Anderson’s were friendly and efficient. While the engineers worked, Jay Tonry pressed a couple of very welcome cold beers into our hands. He spotted Brigid’s Ogri T-shirt, and surprisingly turned out to be a keen collector of British bike mags– including Bike – and Hell’s Angels memorabilia! Within the hour, we were back on the road – albeit arriving at Deborah’s several hours later than we intended.

Sunday 3rd June 2001, Montpelier VT

We awoke to glorious sunshine, and were pleased to have had the opportunity to dry off our soaking clothes in the motel’s laundry. After a light breakfast of coffee and doughnuts, we packed the bikes and hit the road. B*ll*cks! Just as we turned on to I-89, the heavens opened. For 50 miles, we endured the driving rain, until Brigid signalled that she had had enough and pulled off at the next exit – Montpelier.

Until she applied the brakes, Brigid had been quietly pleased that she had been able to maintain a steady 60 mph in such conditions. As the bike slowed, she understandably concerned to see that the speedo had obviously been stuck at that speed for some considerable distance. The LCD displays for the clock and trip meter were blank, and the tachometer was stuck at 4000 rpm. The BMW was obviously designed for fair-weather cycling only!

We stayed overnight at a convenient motel, about ½ mile out of town, and attempted to dry out our rain-drenched gear by hanging it over the bath. The sun came out (briefly) and we were (at last) able to relax in the sunshine for a few minutes. Alas, the sun didn’t last so we threw on the (by now) wind-torn ponchos for protection, and wandered into town for dinner.

Saturday 2nd June 2001, Lebanon NH

Having spent a comfortable night in the Holiday Inn in Brockton, we awoke early, keen to put some miles on the clocks. A weekend trip to Burlington, Vermont, would easily cover the 600 miles, necessary to get the bikes serviced before our departure for Chicago on Wednesday. Horror of horrors, yesterday’s warm sunshine had been replaced with torrential rain – a quick re-think was in order.

We had no waterproof clothing, and no tarpaulins to keep our luggage dry. On top of this Brigid had only an open-face, half-helmet – and no goggles! (She stopped using open-face helmets years ago, when she switched from soft contact lenses to gas-permeables. But we figured this helmet would do until we were able to find a decent accessory shop to buy her a new full-face one.)

We literally ran from the hotel to the local Decathlon sports store, where we picked up two cheap PVC ponchos, which we used to cover the luggage. We then quickly located an excellent accessory shop and bought a new Shoei helmet.

By the time we were ready to head for Vermont, it had stopped raining, but it was already lunchtime. We were not going to be able to make Burlington, so (when it started to rain again) we stopped at Lebanon, New Hampshire, for the night.

Friday 1st June 2001, Boston

Arrived Boston aka “The Big Dig” in blazing sunshine. If you think roadworks in London are bad, you should see Boston. The centre of Boston is being ‘developed’, and the foundations have (so far) taken 5 years to build. Locals joke that they never know whether the road they used to leave the city will still be there when they return. The work is scheduled to continue well into the foreseeable future. We took a shuttle van from the airport, which we shared with an elderly (and slightly confused) Bostonian lady.

The motorcycle dealers, Dunbar Eurosports, who (on the Internet) appeared to be based in Boston, turned out to be some 23 miles south of the City – much to the dismay of both the shuttle driver … and our elderly companion!

Thanks to the efficiency of Cathy and Tom at Dunbar Eurosports, the bikes were ready and waiting for us when we eventually arrived in Brockton. Martin Conboy, of Conboy and Lynch, took care of the registration and insurance for us, and by 6.30pm we were ready to ride off into the sunset in search of a hotel.