Thursday, July 25, 2019

Goodbye iPhone, Hello Pixel!

In September 2008 I got my first ever iPhone (I'm getting an iPhone!!!) - it was a a second generation iPhone. I was very excited at the time and since then I have been using iPhones through the various generations - my current one is an iPhone 6. I broke the screen on this early last year, but never got around to replacing it. It lasted well until our Route 66 trip when I think that sweat damaged the bottom part of the screen through the cracks. Due to a dodgy battery, it was crashing and running out of power all the time. Cue - a new phone. But which one?

A new iPhone was going to cost a lost of money. Sure - I would have loved an iPhone 10, but the price put me off and I started to look at other options. I had been reading about Google's Pixel 4 due out later this year and wondered about waiting for it. However, it is expected to cost around €1,000. As part of my research I looked at other phones and came across the Pixel 3a, and have found that for half the price of a Pixel 3 (Google's current flagship phone) I would get a phone that could do everything I need, and more. 

My new phone arrived today and I have been having fun setting it up. Google have a very straight-forward way to connect your old iPhone and transfer data and apps to the new phone. Not everything ported across, but I am impressed with the installation process. Once I logged into Google, everything Google related (Gmail, Calendar, YouTube, etc) was automatically installed. After 11 years of iOS, this was the first time that I had ever owned an Android device. The change in interface and how things work takes a bit of getting used too - but I am learning fast. The Pixel feels great and the screen quality is very impressive. The fingerprint access is cool, and the squeeze option to bring up Google Assistant is something I'm sure to use a lot.

Changing from an iPhone 6 to a Pixel 3a is skipping a few generations of phones, and the difference is huge. Already the Pixel provides me with a lot more features that can be accessed very easily with voice control. I never thought I'd switch from Apple to Google - apart from a brief experiment with the Microsoft Lumia phone, I have been loyal to Apple since 2008. The Pixel is the simplest to use phone that I have ever had, and I have not experienced any major difficulties so far. Goodbye iPhone, Hello Pixel!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Route 66 Look Back

The excitement is over, and Route 66 is now complete for us. This day last week was our last day on the road, and I am writing this post in the air over British Columbia on the way from Vancouver to Calgary on route to Dublin. No posts on the past week because I left my iPad behind on our Los Angeles to Vancouver flight. Thanks to Air Canada’s Lost and Found for finding it for me. This, combined with a broken iPhone, left me feeling a little disconnected over the past week.

Everything I had hoped that Route 66 would be came true. It was a great ride through such a variety of American countryside, with many different and exciting experiences. I suppose the first thing was the ride - 2,848 miles was a long way in 12 riding days. But my 59 year-old body was up to it. I had worried that Roma would be bored sitting as a passenger for the entire trip - but she loved it too. Our Harley-Davidson Electra  Glide worked perfectly, and it was a joy to ride - it was the best bike for a passenger too with a very comfy armchair seat for Roma to sit in. EagleRider was the company that organized and ran the trip - they are outstanding! I was a bit worried about rules and being confined to doing what our guides said to do, but it was nothing like this.

I learned a hell of a lot on this trip. First - you can put 15 total strangers together for two weeks and ride across most of America, and become great friends. We were lucky with our group - great people from the USA, UK, New Zealand, Germany, Australia, and Belgium. We all had a passion for bikes, and a real interest in everything American. Anyone from our group reading this - thank you for being such fantastic companions on our trip. I also learned a lot about the route itself - it is part of American history - it is sad that some of it is no more, or some of it is derelict - we did ride many authentic parts of the old route. Sometimes this was parallel to perfectly good highway, but was brilliant nonetheless. We could not stop everywhere along the route - otherwise we’d be there forever. EagleRider did an excellent job in selecting the best places to stop - our guides Jan and Jennifer were the best we could hope for. While it was work for them, they made our holiday a great experience, sometimes hoping above and beyond the call of duty. Anyone even thinking of doing Route 66 - you could not get a better partner than EagleRider to organize the trip.

Yes - there were a lot of souvenir shops, I bought loads of t shirts and fridge magnets. But these will all remind me of a great trip. At least I have a new wardrobe to see me through the next few years. We finished our trip off to take a detour on the way home for a few days in Vancouver to see our daughter Kate - we had a lovely few days together.

The highlights of the trip were the Petrified Forest, the Joshua Tree park, Oatman, Santa Fe, making new friends, and pulling into Santa Monica at the end. I will miss this Route 66 road so much.

So - where to next? Where will our Route 67 be? Lots to plan for and think about. But the past three weeks has been amongst the best holidays I have ever had. Home now and a few days recovery in Wexford. 

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Victorville to Los Angeles, Route 66 - Day 14

We made it to the end!

After 2,845 miles (4,552 km) we reached the end of Route 66 at the Santa Monica Pier. The actual route is 2,448 miles, but with detours to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas, with added on a bit more. Everyone in our group cheered in the Santa Monica car park as we got off our bikes for the last time on the Route. We posed at the “End of the Trail” sign with a sense of relief and achievement that we all arrived safely to this point. It felt great to complete America’s iconic road and I loved every minute of it.

This last day was one of the shortest rides on our tour. We set out to ride the Angele’s Crest Highway in the Angele’s National Forest, but a road closure knocked about 60 miles off our total. Nevertheless, it was a great ride weaving in and out of the twisty road. We circled around northern Los Angeles through Topanga, until suddenly the Pacific Ocean comes into view. It was a short ride to Santa Monica Pier where we celebrated our achievement. After the inevitable photo shoot, Roma and I wandered along the pier, had a hot dog and coke for lunch, and bought some more souvenirs. Soon it was time to go and we got back on the bikes to drop them off at Eagle Rider. A visit to Los Angeles is not complete experiencing the heavy traffic on six lane highways - we got this and more, but made our way through the traffic like a professional biker synchronized gang. It was a bit sad to drop my Electra Glide off, but it makes me hungry to get back onto my Road King in Ireland. 

Our final dinner together was a great celebration of our ride. We made great friends on this trip and it is already sad to think that we might never see some of them again. Route 66 is an incredible experience and I would certainly recommend Eagle Rider to lead any tour. What next? We’ll have to wait and see!

Good bye Route 66!

We did it!
A fun bunch to ride with.
Making shadows.
On the road in California.

At the start (and end for us) of Angele’s Crest.
Taking the shade at the last petrol stop in Los Angeles.
I enjoyed every single one of the 2,845 miles.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Las Vegas to Victorville, Route 66 - Day 13

Our second last day on the road saw us Leaving Las Vegas - while it was a bit sad to be leaving Vegas, I won’t miss it much. We had a long ride today with few sight seeing stops. It was very hot today, so we had plenty of stops for water. I was also showing off my new Route 66 themed helmet - my old one was past its best. While we had a lot of road to ride, there was still time for one Route 66 themed stop at Amboy - a very out of the way place that sold delicious Pecan Pies and feck all else. We had the simplest of lunches ever at a gas station a few miles after Amboy - a sandwich and a coke in the shade.

There is no doubt that the highlight of today was the long ride through the Mojave Desert after crossing into the last state on our tour - California. We rode through the Joshua trees at altitude and I did my best with a rendition of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” as I rode along. Spectacular and hot sights. Our final stop before our hotel was at the forgetful Bottle Ranch - a sight that would be just a load of old junk except it’s position on Route 66 makes it a curiosity stop.

This evening we had our last dinner as a group on the road. It will be sad to leave such good new friends - we have one more day’s ride plus a farewell dinner tomorrow to go. Some photos of the day below...

At the bottle bank.
Showing off new helmet,
One of many water stops today.
The Joshua Trees.
On the road to the Mojave desert.
Leaving Las Vegas.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Laughlin to Las Vegas, Route 66 - Day 12

Today was an easier day on the bike as we rode the relatively short trip from Laughlin to Las Vegas via the Hoover Dam. We only had three stops on the way to Vegas. Our first was at a point overlooking Lake Mead (formed when the Hoover Dam was built). The ride to this point was unspectacular until we reached our destination. At the look out point we could see that draught is affecting water levels in Lake Mead. We then rode to the nearby Dam - but first there was a security check where the only question was “Do you have any weapons?”! After answering “No” I was allowed to proceed to see the Dam. There were thousands of people there - this is a huge attraction. There were a lot of delays crossing the Dam wall as there were so many people about - our second stop was at a great viewing overlooking the Dam form a high point. Brilliant! We then made our way back through the crowds across the Dam again.

Our last stop before the hotel was at Harley-Davidson in Las Vegas. This is a big dealership with lots of cool new bikes. Inevitably, I bought yet another t-shirt! We also bought a new suitcase as we will have a lot more “stuff” going home than coming out here.

We are staying at the Golden Nugget hotel, which is also a big casino. Again, I was not in the least tempted to try my luck. I did not win anything, but I lost nothing either! Instead we went to see the Bellagio Fountain in action and also enjoyed wandering around the likes of Caesar's Palace. One thing l did do was to have a go at the SlotZilla over Fremont Street. It is a very simple, slow, and short zip line experience. I would have liked to use my GoPro, but this is not allowed in case I drop it on someone in the street below. 

Tomorrow is our second last day on the road when we will cross into California. The end of this great trip is coming!

Some photos from the day below...

Huge amount of activity in Freemont.
Enjoying The Fountains of Bellagio at Beer Park.
Enjoying the sights.
Add caption
Welcome to Las Vegas at Harley-Davidson.
At the Hoover Dam.
At Lake Mead.
Getting ready for another great ride.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Grand Canyon to Laughlin, Route 66 - Day 11

What better way to start a day than get up on a bike and ride to a nearby airport for a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon! That was us today - up at 6 am for a thrilling 20 minute flight showing the canyon in all its glory. Magnificent, and probably the highlight of our Route 66 trip so far. 

Our next stop was in Williams, Arizona - a much more interesting town compared to Winslow yesterday. Here we stopped for coffee and wandered around the many shops, though several places were closed as it is Sunday. By now we are fatigued by the many places we stop that have souvenir shops - we bought very little today. The ride through the countryside today was at first similar to yesterday, but it got way better as the day went along. We had a “free” 60 ride through increasing desert countryside - loads of rocks to see. It was very pleasant to stick on cruise control at 52 MPH and to just enjoy the ride and absorbing the experience of the Mother Road. Later we would ride down from the heights of Northern Arizona into the western themed town of Oatman. The ride into the town was through a long series of dangerous and thrilling narrow winding roads over the mountains. I hung back a bit as the more adventurous riders took the corners at a higher speed than me - nevertheless, despite the danger, we all arrived safely into Oatman. This town is right out of a cowboy and Indian TV show - complete with burros (donkeys) wandering the street. We spent quite a bit of time here taking pictures and buying nothing in the endless shops. We felt like celebrities as we rode into town on our iron horses, and leaving later with dozens of cameras focused on us. 15 seconds of fame at last!

After Oatman, the heat increased dramatically to over 40 C. This was OK while riding, but slowing down and stopping felt like we were riding into an oven. We arrived into Laughlin soaking in sweat and we are staying in the Aquarius hotel, which is basically two tall towers built on a casino. I was not tempted by the many bright lights of slot machines, but I settled for a buffet dinner and a walk along the Colorado River which runs beside the hotel.

So - another great day on the road which experiences to remember for a lifetime. Tomorrow it is on to Las Vegas - more about that tomorrow.

Some photos from today...

Getting ready for the highlight of our trip at the Grand Canyon.
Pretending to be a gambler in hotel casino.
Standing near a corner at Williams, Arizona.
Williams, Arizona.
On Route 66 (Arizona).
You meet the strangest people on Route 66!
Roma at one of the many disused, but restored petrol stations, on Route 66.

Howdy Pardner!
Main Street, Oatman.
This coffin is too small for me!

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Gallup to Grand Canyon, Route 66 - Day 10

Another long and exciting day on the Mother Road - finishing up with an incredible sunset in the Grand Canyon. We left New Mexico and crossed over into Arizona - a State that I had last visited in 2000. Our first major attraction to see was the Petrified Forest where trees from millions of years ago were turned to stone. This is a national park which is very big, and you only get to see the stone trees near the end. The rocky scenery here is stunning, and despite some light rain it was an incredible experience to be able to ride through the “forest”. We spent over an hour and a half drinking in the experience - a fantastic start to the day.

Next we had a brief stop at the wonderful Wig Wam village. Lots of old (rusty) cars and trucks plus wig wams which are interesting looking but very small. Inevitably one of the major highlights of this trip was to be able to stand at a corner in Winslow Arizona - the Eagles song (Take it Easy) was an ear worm in my head for months before we set out on this trip. There’s no doubt that this sleepy town is milking the song and the famous mention of a corner. There are the inevitable souvenir shops and Eagles music playing everywhere. Someone in Winslow hit on the idea of turning the song into a tourist attraction - who knows why this particular corner was picked. Anyway, it was a great photo op.

We had a wonderful ride thought forests after leaving Flagstaff - a pleasant change from the almost desert areas of New Mexico and Arizona. Our destination today was the town of Tusayan near the Grand Canyon. We took our bikes out to the Canyon to watch the sunset (along with hundreds of other people). The Grand Canyon is awesome and it was. A wonderful experience to be there for a spectacular sunset - I’m so looking forward to. A helicopter ride over the Canyon tomorrow.

some photos of the day...

Sunset in the Grand Canyon.
Our first time together in the Grand Canyon.
Our new car (in the Petrified Forest).
National Park time.
Petrified trees.
With some of the wonderful petrified trees.
Admiring the view in the Petrified Forest National Park.
Wig Wam Village.
Standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona!
We’re Still Standing.
A Star is Born in Winslow Arizona!

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Santa Fe to Gallup, Route 66 - Day 9

What a day to be a motorcycle rider!

Today we rode mostly in some of the most spectacular scenery in New Mexico - mile after mile of desert, rocks, mesas, and bluffs in the Navajo Nation. Nothing beats being on a bike and being so close to the road. The weather today was sunny, but not too hot. It has to be one of the best rides ever - today was about the road rather than souvenir shops. We did stop in the town of Madrid early on and I bought yet another t shirt and a badge for my new waist coat. The most spectacular section of our ride was up to Acoma Sky City, which is a Native American Pueblo. The Acoma have lived here for over 2000 years! Roma shot lots of videos from the back of the bike - but they are too large in file size to upload here without editing. 

Our group is quickly becoming experts at formation riding, though this was not needed too much today as there was very little motorway or city riding. There were several twisty sections and I definitely would not have taken these corners so fast if it wasn’t for being part of a group and seeing those ahead of me making the corners. I felt very relaxed coming into Gallup after nearly 300 miles, but the area where we are staying doesn’t offer a lot to do. The hotel we are staying in does not have a bar, so we went across the road to the El Rancho Bar & Restaurant. I ate catfish for the first time - tastes just like other whitefish.

We have just five days left on the road and tomorrow we are riding to the Grand Canyon - very exciting! Some photos from the day below...

Cheers from El Rancho, Gallup, New Mexico.
At Acoma Sky City
Overlooking the Navajo Reservation on the way to Sky City.
Roma meeting a Navajo Indian.
Resting in Madrid.
Roma with Sally (left), and Sherrie (centre)
In the village of Madrid.
A Wild Hog - at least for a few minutes!