This would be the first opportunity for our small team of three to meet and find out a little about each other. Although there were connections between the three of us, at this point they were somewhat tenuous! I had last seen Jon eight years ago at university when we had spent many hours climbing, drinking, and travelling together. Since that time he had been working in Cambridge and London for investment banks and in his spare time travelling to the Sahara regularly to compete in various bike rallies. He was currently wandering around the American continent on a Canadian registered KTM640 he had bought in Toronto as part of a strange scheme he had hatched to move to Vancouver?! I knew he rode off road bikes, I knew he travelled, and I knew him eight years ago, I didn't know a lot more!
Stef was a different matter. We rented rooms in the same house and shared a love of curry and motorbikes. Living in the same house I knew him well, but there were concerns. Stef had only been out of the UK relatively few times before and had never ridden an off road bike in his life. Knowing someone in a safe, secure, and familiar setting was one thing. Predicting someone's reactions and character on a 5000 mile off road motorcycle journey on foreign soil was always going to be difficult!
I slid the card into our door lock and a familiar smell hit my nostrils. A slight aroma of oil and sweat drowning in smelly hotel soap told me that Jon had already arrived, we shook hands warmly (Come now that's not strictly true is it? What actually happened is you knocked on the door only to be greeted by a f**k off shouted from within. Jon then opened the door and you caught the smells blah blah blah...). I introduced Stef and we quickly dispensed with formalities and headed out to find some of the great Cajun and Creole food I had remembered from my last foray into this part of the world. One hour later saw us sated and cruising Bourbon St looking for good music and cheap beer (it certainly wasn't for cheap music and good beer, for neither of those things exist in the US!). Inevitably after the consumption of no few 'Huge Ass' beers (it said so proudly on the 40 oz cups) 'tiredness' crept up on me and I made my excuses and left having been awake for more than 24 hours. After a little confusion I found the hotel and staggered to bed at 12:30am. I slept fitfully until 4am when Stef and Jon arrived back in an equally 'tired' state.
Dave, being a bit of an old woman in his spare time, whimped out of the drinking binge early so Jon and I, if my somewhat hazy recollections are correct, embarked on a tour of the side streets around the French quarter. It wasn't long before we came to our senses and remembered that these areas have had a reputation for muggings and the like in the past so we decided then to make our way back to Bourbon Street, whereupon we investigated some of the seedier attractions it has to offer (I blame Jon, as you do). Once our money ran out and the beer caught up with us, we made our way back to the hotel for some well earned rest.
The route we were hoping to follow across the 'States was a trail previously mapped by a guy called Sam Correro. Although he had a great family, plenty of money, and a beautiful house he seemed to have spent most of the last ten years forcing an off road route across the USA from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast. The route pushed through mosquito infested swamps, forests, baking plains, freezing mountains, and oven-like desert, to form a tenuous wavering 4700 mile line across 104 maps. I had been in contact with Sam for nearly a year prior to the trip and had arranged for him to buy and prepare two bikes for Stef and myself as well as providing all the necessary information for us to follow the trail. We had arranged to meet Sam in the morning and get a ride to his house in Tennessee to pick up bikes and finalise financial matters.