Road tripping across the USA

Liz and Phil Webb were part of a motorbike tour group that travelled around Southern states of the US last year.

Experts say that one way of taking some of the pain out of returning from your Christmas holiday is to start planning the next one.  Claire Castle talked with Cambridge Homes director Phil Webb, who had plenty of inspiration for those wanting to hit the road…

Motorbike enthusiast Phil grew up around bikes, buying and fixing up broken-down farm bikes as a boy, and the love affair has endured.  At the end of August last year, Phil and his wife Liz headed off to the US for a month-long trip around the South on a Harley Davidson – the stuff many bucket lists are made of.

The trip was a sequel for the Webbs, who rode the iconic Route 66 on a five-week bike tour back in 2015.  One of the highlights of that first trip, Phil said, was attending the annual Harley Davidson rally in Sturgis, South Dakota.  With between 1.8 and 1.9 million bikes descending on the small South Dakota town, it was a feat of organisational brilliance that has left a lasting impression on Phil with both memories and his first and only tattoo to commemorate the experience.  He bought a badge at the event which was marking its 75th anniversary, where he and Liz shared a campground with around 800,000 other Harley fans, bringing it back to Cambridge where it was immortalised on his right shoulder.

That first trip was prompted by Phil’s brother Mike’s diagnosis with a brain tumour, and the realisation that life is too short to ignore your bucket list.  “I was sitting with him (Mike) one night and he said ‘don’t be mad, look at me…I’m not going to make old bones’… So, I came home that night and booked the trip,” he said.  That was back in 2014 and sadly Mike died in August of that year.  The following year, Phil and Liz headed off on that trip of a lifetime to Sturgis and Route 66.

This time around, the Webbs went to the Daytona Harley rally – no tattoo from this one, and they stayed in a hotel, not a campground.

A group of 22 riders were on this tour, hand-picked by the kiwi tour organisers who were confident the personalities would gel.  They were right, Phil said, and the group got along like a house on fire.  Good thing, too, considering they had to spend a month together.  “Getting on is crucial,” Phil explained, “you’ve got to ride together and if a bike breaks down everybody’s got to be prepared to just wait…no one gets upset, it’s just part of biking.”

Phil Webb and his wife Liz toured the south of the United States for a month, on a Harley Davidson.

After flying into Los Angeles, the group flew to Chicago for a few days and got to check out the Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, the birthplace of the bike brand.  “That was a fantastic display, just incredible,” Phil said.

From there, it was down to Miami where the group hired bikes – trikes for Phil and Liz, and another rider on the tour – before they headed off.  The riders left Miami in the middle of a torrential downpour, riding out in the 5pm traffic.  Being on the other side of the road to New Zealand isn’t too bad on a bike, Phil explained, because there’s no steering wheel on the wrong side to confuse the brain.

Arriving just in time to see the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey – one of the costliest tropical cyclones on record, inflicting around US $125 billion in damage – Phil said the ride down to the Florida Keys was a real eye-opener.  There was rubbish piled two-stories high along the side of the highway, he said, and it went on for miles and miles.  “There were five-wheel caravans lying on their sides and jet skis by the dozens piled up,” he said, adding that the clean up operation was in full swing when they rode through.

From Key Largo to Key West, it was up to Naples in Florida, which Phil said was a very pretty little place, where they stopped for some running repairs on a couple of the bikes.  With the news that Hurricane Irma, a Category 4 hurricane, was imminent, the main group of riders set off for Spring Hill in Florida, trying to stay ahead of the weather while three riders stayed behind for repairs.  Phil and Liz were just heading out of town when they had to turn back, thanks to a blown water pump.  Once the bikes were fixed, it was a scramble to re-join the group ahead of Irma – a 340-mile ride to their destination.  Travelling between 75 – 100 miles per hour, the group made it at 9.30pm, just ahead of the powerful hurricane.  That amount of riding does not make for a relaxing trip for the rider, Phil explained, due to all the concentration required.  He was full of praise for the roads they travelled on though, which he said even at their worst were better than State Highway 1 here.  Likewise, he admired the American drivers, who he said were “50 times more courteous than they are here.”

Devastation from Hurricane Harvey was still evident as they rode through Florida.

Taking a month to explore the South, this trip was quite different to Route 66, Phil said, with the joy being mostly in the destination towns and cities rather than the scenery along the way.  With the Grand Canyon, deserts and spectacular countryside it would be hard to top the 2015 excursion, and Phil said some of the scenery this time around was pretty similar to New Zealand.  “It was a totally different trip,” he said.  They had some wonderful moments, including getting to try genuine moonshine in the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina.  “We had three jars of moonshine…which was great,” Phil laughed, although he might not have been completely sure about the last jar.  There were a couple of places they rode through where it seemed like the residents had walked straight out of Deliverance, the 1972 movie that catapulted backwoods locals into the collective consciousness, but the group was fine, and Phil said that the people they met along with way “couldn’t have been nicer”.

In constant contact with wife Liz using a Bluetooth intercom in their helmets, the couple shared the experience and combined with Liz’s photos taken from the back, they created memories to last a lifetime.  On the first trip, Liz came back with around 4,000 photos on her camera – thank goodness for digital photos – but this time she only took around 3,000.

As for planning another trip, Phil said he’s done his dash with bike tours, but wife Liz might have something to say about that, having her heart set on travelling in Europe.

It remains to be seen how many photos she’ll get from that trip, and whether or not Phil will splash out on another tattoo.

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