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Mrs. B arrives in New York looking like she just stepped off a safari vehicle...

Mrs. B arrives in New York looking like she just stepped off a safari vehicle…

After a flight lasting a little more than 15 and a half hours, Patricia and I finally arrived in New York. We were both excited for a number of reasons. Not only were we looking forward to seeing our family and friends again, but we were also looking forward to our trip down to Key West and New Orleans, via Georgia and other places in-between.

While Patricia waltzed through Immigration, I joined the long queue of “foreigners” and did the zig-zag walk for half an hour before I was finally summoned to the Immigration officer’s cubicle… He shoved my passport under the scanner, peered closely at the screen, and then asked me a question which took me completely by surprise.

“Did you enjoy Alaska ?” He asked, and then followed up with, “Man…, you’ve been all over !!”

“Er…yes…”, I replied, “but for the record, I had nothing to do with the stuff that happened in Egypt, Libya and Syria !! but yes, Alaska was amazing !! Why do you ask ?”

“Well my buddies and I want to ride our bikes up there but we only get a few weeks leave a year and don’t know how to go about it.”, he answered wistfully.

“Well, you could fly up to Fairbanks and then hire bikes to go north from there,” I advised.

“North ??” he queried incredulously, “Who the hell want to go north of Fairbanks ? It’s wild up there, man !!”

“Yeah, it is !” I laughed, remembering our “wild ride” up and down the Dalton Highway to Dead Horse on the Arctic Ocean. My left foot twitched involuntarily at the memory…

"We're HOME Baby !", exclaimed Patricia. I wasn't quite sure where home was anymore !!

“We’re HOME Baby !”, exclaimed Patricia. I wasn’t quite sure where home was anymore !!

We chatted for a few minutes until he noticed that a small crowd was forming behind me. He quickly stamped my passport, wished me luck and waved me through to collect my luggage.

Patricia was waiting for me, trolley fully loaded and minutes later we were in the arrivals hall. As usual, despite my protests, Patricia refused to leave the airport without a Starbucks fix, something she had been talking about since we took off from Johannesburg !!

Relaxing in Freehold, after almost 16 hours sitting in a tin can...

Relaxing in Freehold, after almost 16 hours sitting in a tin can…

She left me to push our 3 tons of luggage to where Karen was waiting for us, while she went off to satisfy her craving for “real coffee”…

While Patricia brought Karen up to date during our drive back to New Jersey, I sat quietly thinking about the rides ahead, and more to the point, the machine that was waiting for me in Pennsylvania.

I wondered how the bike would feel under me again; fretted about dealing with the weight of a fully loaded, big ass BMW after nearly 8 months of not riding.

I took a few deeps breaths to calm my nervousness, telling myself that it would not be any problems despite my current misgivings. I was “in tune” with my bike as much as anybody could be, and was certain I could swing into the saddle and take up from where I had left off last September.

I had packed all the kit I thought I would need over the next few months and had left all the tools and other pieces of equipment on the bike.

After spending a few days in both Freehold and Monmouth Beach, and being welcomed back by family and friends, I drove Patricia and I to Port Carbon in Pennsylvania, where my good friend Doug McIllwain and the Big Fella were waiting.

Patricia’s brother Jack, had lent us one of his cars; a sporty Subaru, and driving left hand drive, gear-shift, on the “wrong” side of the road, took a little getting used to ! I once again thought about the difficulties Patricia must have faced doing the same thing on our roads back in South Africa !

It took us a few hours to get to Pottsville, the closest large town to Port Carbon, where Doug lived.

Who knew what Pottsville was famous for...!!

Who knew what Pottsville was famous for…!!

Doug and Theresa were in fine form and as happy to see us as we were them.

Doug had resolved all parking issues while I was away...

Doug had resolved all parking issues while I was away…

Kevin and Sandy arrived shortly thereafter and I remembered how he had used his pick-up and trailer to come and collect the Big Fella from New Jersey, after Hurricane Sandy had temporarily put him out of action. He had never met me before that day, but went out of his way to come to the assistance of a fellow biker.

After a few minutes, Doug could see I was itching to get downstairs and get re-acquainted with my bike. We all  trooped downstairs, and try as I might, I could not hide the excitement I felt… My heart rate shot up as I saw the Big Fella standing just where I had left him all those months ago.

“About time !!” I thought I heard him grumble, as I ran my hand over the tank and took hold of the handlebars for the first time in ages. It was a surreal moment for me, and while my wife and friends stood quietly by and watched me grinning from ear to ear, I felt the strong bond I had developed with this machine; remembered the many long and lonely rides we had made together to the furtherest  corners of the earth; the many tight spots we had got into and out of; and the fact that we had got through it all together, in one piece (more or less !!)

I felt Patricia’s hand on my shoulder and turned to look at her. Her eyes were shining brightly, and I could see in their depths that she fully understood what I was feeling…

“Let’s get him out into the fresh air !” shouted Doug, throwing open the garage doors. I pushed the bike outside and got it onto it’s centre stand before gingerly stepping up and into the saddle. It felt like I was getting onto the back a wild horse for the first time !! But as soon as I leaned forward and took the handlebars in my hands, I felt the bike mould itself to me again. It felt as though I had stepped off it only yesterday… And it was all good !!

After going out for a long lunch with the gang, Patricia and I said our goodbyes…

“See you in Georgia !!” I shouted after her as she drove away to make the three hour ride back to Freehold. Then Doug, Kevin and I sat down to plan a quiet ride up to his cabin in North-central Pennsylvania, just to get me “back into the swing of things…

Kevin 'Duckie' and Doug share the frame with the Big Fella and I. Doug's BMW t-shirt was in the wash...

Kevin ‘Duckie’ and Doug share the frame with the Big Fella and I. (Doug’s BMW t-shirt was in the wash…)

The jury is still out on which hands the Big Fella missed the most...

The jury is still out on which hands the Big Fella missed the most…

Doug and Theresa had stocked my room with all the necessary items to keep me fit and healthy...

Doug and Theresa had stocked my room with all the necessary items to keep me fit and healthy…

I was thankful for the suggestion, as I was keen to ensure the bike was in good shape before I took off for the wild blue yonder again.

The new rear drive had only done a few kilometers when Doug had gone out on a short ride a few months ago.

The Big Fella had been stripped of all his panniers and Doug had replaced broken locks and catches, and by the looks of things, done a bit of panel-beating too !!

I attached the top-box to hold the rain gear that we all agreed would be a good idea to take with us the following day, and spent some time fiddling with all the switch-gear to make sure that everything was in good working order.

It took a while to get GiGi out of hibernation mode, but she finally awoke from her long coma, and came to life with a static filled squeal, and a terse instruction “Turn left in 150 metres…!!”

I must have interrupted her last route plan, before I switched her off…!! I re-assured her that we would not be making any turns until the following morning, and instructed her to re-aquaint herself with the “Garmin Map of North America”, which was tucked away deep in her memory banks, while I went upstairs to prepare for bed…

Tomorrow would take care of itself, and I planned to make the most of our “Test Ride” before I began the long haul down to Georgia the day after that.