8,000 miles across the USA - in the slow lane

Not content with having ridden 23,000 miles from Sydney to London, Nathan Millward got the travel bug again and set off across the United States on his trusty stead Dorothy, a 105cc bike, with the mantra: Camp wild, live cheap, travel slow.

And on his 8,000-mile trip from coast to coast and up through Canada to Alaska at a top speed of 37mph, he witnessed the spectacular beauty of the national parks and the “war zone deprivation” of the inner cities.

He experienced the friendliness and generosity of Americans, while at the same time seeing their narrow outlook on the world, such as being told he “lived in a socialist state” because of Britain’s NHS.

Nathan, aged 34, of Russell Terrace, Leamington, bought Dorothy to travel around Sydney and before his Australian visa expired in 2009 set off on his nine-month journey home. The name Dorothy was given to the former Australian postal service bike by its previous owner whose favourite film was the Wizard of Oz.

Despite her age and miles on the clock, Dorothy, a Honda CT110 (similar to a C90), served him well in the States, with very few repairs needed to keep him on his travels.

Nathan, a motorcycle and travel journalist by trade, said his latest trip was a spur-of-the-moment decision while doing agency work in Leamington.

He said: “I’d come to a crossroads in my life wondering what to do and then I decided to get on a plane to New York and ride across the States. There was no real planning - within two days of deciding, I’d gone. It was a spontaneous decision.

“She’s a well-travelled bike that’s been very reliable and because of her size we kept to the back roads which gives you a better perspective on the people.”

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He has has written a book about the trip across North America, as well as one about his journey back home from Australia.

It cost £650 to fly Dorothy to New York and it was an encounter there which set his course - avoid the big roads and inter-state highways and stick to the minor roads.

“A New York cop stopped me and said I could not ride a bike with foreign plates. It’s got British plates and I knew I was legal, but I knew if I travelled on the big roads and through the centre of the big cities it would happen again. That’s when I decided to keep to the back roads and the suburbs.”

Nathan’s journey took in Chicago, Detroit and St Louis, which he said are some of the most violent parts of the US.

“Going through parts of Detroit was like a war zone. The streets are empty, houses are burnt and there’s no street lighting.

“What seems to be the lawlessness of some of the areas is surprising. Huge areas have been left to their own devices.

“You can feel a bit vulnerable, especially as I had a retro-style crash helmet with target roundels on it, but I never felt like anything serious would happen.”

Travelling through the suburbs to the more glitzier areas Nathan would see the racial divide between black, white and Hispanic Americans and the extremes of wealth and poverty.

“Las Vegas is the same. When you fly in and get a taxi to the centre you think it’s great. But if you drive through the suburbs you see the difference.”

Away from the cities the natural beauty of the United States compensated for driving through some of the dreary-looking urban areas.

“Through Colorado and the Rockies, the wilderness is amazing. And the Grand Canyon and Death Valley - they’re spectacular.

“Going through the Monument Valley, where a lot of Westerns were filmed, and the Grand Canyon was quite surreal with me riding my little bike through it.”

Camping where ever he could, he rationed himself to a diner meal and a coffee twice a day and it was in the queues where he met “the real Americans” and the kindness of strangers.

“I met a man from Taiwan with his family who asked me where I was sleeping for the night and I said I said I would ride out an find place to camp, but he insisted on paying $160 for a hotel room for me.

“The night before I had a miserable time sleeping in a dried-up river bed in Kansas - Dorothy’s spiritual home - then the night after I was sleeping in luxury.

“Some of the locals would give me a $20 note to buy food or fuel. Many Americans still have the pioneering spirit - they like someone who goes on an adventure. People were incredibly kind in offering me money.”

Talking and eating with Americans gave him an insight into their views of themselves, the world and sometimes their limited knowledge of the rest of the world.

“Americans are nice people and they are not nasty - it’s just that they think their system is best. You can get into the debate with them why they think their health system is the best and why they don’t think they should subsidise someone else’s health care.

“It was at the time of the Obama state healthcare proposals and some I met said I lived in a Socialist state because we have the NHS.”

He started his journey in summer 2012 and then left Dorothy in Seattle for the winter and flew home to resume work in Leamington.

Nathan flew back the following spring to Seattle and began a six-week journey up through Canada to the American state of Alaska, taking in the awe-inspiring scenery and encountering herds of bison on the roads, while at the same time being on the look-out for bears.

Because of bears he used official camp sites and carried a bear spray, but Nathan said: “You can see them on the side of the road but I think they’re more scared of us than we are of them.”

Carrying on his journey he again encountered kindness, saying: “A lot of them are trying to escape civilisation and live in log cabins.”

Nathan then had to part company with Dorothy again. He flew back to the UK, while Dorothy made it back to Blighty by ship on a 10-week journey via the Panama Canal.

And in answer to the question will he and Dorothy take to the international roads again? Nathan said: “We’ll have to see - she’s getting on a bit now. Maybe in a year or two we might do the Pan-American Highway - from Alaska down to Argentina.”

Nathan’s book about his trip through North America is called Running Toward the Light (Postcards from Alaska). Price £10. To order go to www.nathanmillward.com His book about his journey from Australia to the UK is called The Long Ride Home, which sold about 8,000 copies.