Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Chance Encounter with a Rare Species

Ahhhh, another breakfast of mealie pap and toast with apricot jam and a cuppa joe, and we were ready to pack up to leave Hermanus.  Before we left the guesthouse I spent a little while talking to Nora, the housekeeper on site.  She's a funny, young woman who smiles a lot and is married with three children (she only wanted two, but according to her, they wouldn't sterilize her after her second child because they said she was too young).  She was interested to hear about our ride to Cape Agulhas the day before since she's never been out of Hermanus.  She didn't seem upset about it, but it again made me realize that travel is really a first-world luxury and just how fortunate we are to be where we are, doing what we're doing!  We said our goodbyes and left Hermanus to make our way back north.

On our way out of town, we stopped at the gas station to buy another jerrycan for fuel. The woman working the reception desk at the guesthouse said they would most certainly have one. Colin went inside to do the deal, but they did not, in fact, sell gas cans. The gentleman working there took Colin around the corner to what turned out to be a storage closet, found a 5 liter jug that formerly held some type of cleaning product, and asked if that was big enough. Colin said yes, so the man proceeded to rinse it out with water, sell it to Colin for 5 Rand (66 cents), and fill it with gas. Colin was actually giggling when he returned with the prize for my front rack. It's funny enough that it's just a used cleaner jug instead of a specialized, vented container with a flexible spout, but the absolute best thing about it was the word, “TOILET,” hand written in Sharpie marker on the side. So now my bike has a new name: Toilet. I need some help here. people, since I still haven't chosen a suitable name for my bike, but I do believe it is worthy of a far more respectable name than Toilet. 
beeyootiful, isn't it?
We retraced our route along the gorgeous coastal road, stopping once at an overlook to refuel and enjoy the view.  While I was removing my fuel cap, a van pulled up, unloaded a bunch of people, and the next thing we knew, we heard "Are you guys really from Oregon?!?" in a distinctly west coast accent.  As it turned out, the van was carrying a newlywed American couple (who work for Microsoft), the bride's brother and parents, and the groom's South African parents who live outside of Hermanus.  They saw our USA stickers on our bikes as they passed us (yes, people are always passing us, but at least here it's legal and expected for you to pull onto the shoulder to let faster traffic pass) but didn't notice the Oregon license plates (they are from the Seattle, WA area- it's a very small world after all) until they stopped behind us at the overlook.  We had a nice,  roughly, half hour conversation with them and got hugs all around as we said goodbye.  Oh yeah, then we refueled the bikes and got back on the road, this time riding northward inland from Cape Town. 

Our new home for the night at The Baths
We passed through Stellenbosch and the vineyards that cover the area and wound our way to a place called Citrusdal.  As we got to the outskirts of town, the area smelled wonderfully flowery, but I couldn't identify the smell. I kept getting whiffs of the scent as we rode, and finally I realized why it was familiar- the area smells like my favorite beverage from Ya Hala (a Lebanese restaurant in Portland) lemonade with orange blossom water!!! duh. The entire region surrounding Citrusdal is full of citrus orchards (hence the name), and they were all abloom. It's a small town about 140 miles northeast of Cape Town that sounded particularly interesting because of a resort there called The Baths.  It's a collection of old cottages and a campground that is adjacent to a mineral hot spring, and they have baths (they seem rather literal when assigning names to things here). We camped along the stream, cooked a dinner of sausages with apples, with just-picked oranges for dessert, put on our bathing suits, and hit the pools. We soaked for a good two hours, taking the occasional breathtaking dip in the cold pool just for fun, then went to bed under the stars. 
The rare and elusive Pygmy Giant Land Tortoise
The next morning, we got up and had coffee and more fresh oranges for breakfast (a 10-lb bag was the equivalent of about 60 cents), packed up again, and continued north. We rode through orchards and their perfumed air for miles and miles. The scenery gradually changed and got drier but with more wildflowers in oranges and pinks. At one point, Colin hit his brakes and banged a u-turn. I followed him until he stopped, got off the bike, ran across the road, and returned with... the elusive and rare, African pygmy giant land tortoise (that's what Colin said he was.  I however, question his sincerity)! Oh, was he ever cute!!!!  I held him so Colin could take a picture, and like his tortoise and turtle relatives across the big pond, he teedled all over my glove and my backpack. After admiring his darling little face for long enough, we put him down away from the road and forged on. It was hot and we were tired, and we decided to stop earlier than planned for the night in the town of Kamiesgroon. We pitched our tent behind the local hotel and rode into town to look for dinner supplies. Unfortunately, the grocery store is closed on Saturday. There were no restaurants other than the expensive one at the hotel. There was however, a small market next to the gas station, so I went in to see what I could make a meal out of while Colin got the bikes fueled up. Among the various dusty cans of pickled beets and something called chakalaka (according to the label it is a combination of vegetables and onions in some spicy sauce, so I am actually interested in trying it sometime), I found a can of corned meat (beef and beef heart but no pork, said the can) and fresh sweet potatoes. For dinner we had corned meat and sweet potato hash with more oranges for dessert, and it was actually pretty darned good for a scrounged up meal. It gets dark early here, and the sky that night was super clear. We got the binoculars out and laid flat on our backs looking up at the stars in amazement at how many there are! With no light pollution, you can see stars all the way down to the horizon. We even saw the Milky Way! I am so glad we brought the binoculars on this trip- we splurged a few years ago and bought a really nice pair from Nikon that are heavy and bulky, but they catch so much light and give everything so much depth!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Colin always takes me to the nicest places

The only place to go from here is up!
Remember that laundry from the last blog post? It didn't dry by morning. We woke to very wet clothes and a humid, cold room the next day. Fortunately, the nice overnight reception guy let me use their dryer to finish the job while we repacked everything else and loaded the bikes to put the wheels on the road. Once that was done, we rode the bikes through the courtyard, down the hall, out the gate (waving goodbye to John, Cat, and Moose) and on our way to Hermanus. It was a sunny, clear, and crisp morning as we rode through Cape Town and got on the N2 highway out of the city. We had our route figured out from a small map from a local tourism brochure (since our lovely, colorful Michelin map of Central and Southern Africa shows the roads but doesn't actually identify them by name, which is really not helpful, by the way) and knew we needed to take the N2 to the 44 to the 43 to Hermanus. So we're on the N2 and see signs for the M44. Great! We took the ramp, turned right on M44, and found ourselves smack in the middle of the Khayelitsha township. Toto, we were not in Kansas anymore. The township is mile after mile of corrugated metal and scrap shanties shoved right on each other, with no indoor plumbing judging by the rows of outhouses. There are no businesses, no jobs, and people don't have cars.  Remember the District 6 Museum? It's places like Khayelitsha that replaced the neighborhoods of District 6. I cannot imagine a harsher place to grow up and have no idea how anyone can thrive in an environment of apparent hopelessness.  And how did this ever seem like a good idea?  We rode all the way through, not stopping completely at the stop signs, but we did wave at the kids we saw. When the M44 road ended at the ocean, we knew we'd made a navigational error. Colin pulled out the GPS, got us back on the N2 and then onto the R44, which is an extremely scenic road that winds along the coast south of Cape Town. 

He's just too stinkin' cute, don't you think?
The ride was terrific, the scenery spectacular- I had no idea that this area is so incredibly gorgeous! We stopped at Gordon's Bay to look at the water and read the information board about southern right whales (who knew they were named right whales because they were the right ones to harpoon? They're slow moving as whales go and are blubbery and perfect!) and possibly see one (we didn't). We then continued along the coast to Bettysbaai, where we stopped to see PENGUINS!!!! That's right, there are a couple of colonies of jackass penguins (named because of their mellifluous call) in Africa! Once we'd taken enough pictures of the pengs (and the hydraxes, not to be confused with a cookie by a similar name, these are rodent-y critters that sit on the rocks and eat grass and look cute), we stopped for a quick lunch of meat pies from a takeaway shop. While eating at the picnic table in the lawn at the side of the building, I pointed out the hand-lettered sign on their door which said to please close it completely to keep out the baboons (this really is quite a place). Afterward, we made our way to Hermanus and stayed the night at the Hermanus Backpackers Guesthouse. It's a picturesque coastal town with a bay where whales come to calve at this time of year. We walked around town and had dinner at the local fish house (delicious fried hake and calamari with chips).

The next day, I decided we needed to go to the actual southernmost point in Africa, Cape Agulhas. So after a breakfast of mealie pap (an African staple, which is cornmeal porridge made with milk and is very good), toast, and coffee, we hopped on the bikes and headed inland, riding through some beautiful farmland, with lots of sheep, grains, and some vineyards. Since it's spring, everything is verdant, and the wildflowers are in full bloom. We rode past fields of solid purple, startling flocks of little birds that looked like flying, glowing, oriental poppies as we passed by.  In town, the geraniums are literally trees with 3 inch diameter trunks! And wild heliotrope, nasturtiums that grow like kudzu, it's heavenly! On the ride we saw our first wild ostriches, blue cranes, and baboons (they were skulking along the roadside just out of town). The roads to Cape Agulhas wound up and down the rolling hills, through small towns (where we stopped to grab a picnic lunch to eat at Agulhas). We made our way to our destination, stopped at the old lighthouse for a look, rode the remaining 1.5km to the southernmost point, sat on a bench overlooking the water, and had a perfectly delightful lunch watching the waves from both the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans crash on the rocks at the tip of Africa. We had some other riders take our photo in front of the marker and looked in the tide pools for interesting aquatic specimens (we found some snails and limpets). I dipped my hand in the water on both sides just to see if there was a difference (there wasn't – they were both cold) and then we rode back to Hermanus the way we came. When we got back to town, we strolled along the cliff path with the binoculars in hand to look for whales. And lo and behold, we saw four of them in about thirty minutes (or the same one four times, but who cares? It was really amazing to see the bumps on their noses, called callosities if you're interested, as they surfaced!). We continued our walk into town to the grocery store to gather ingredients for dinner. We had our first ostrich burgers (very lean, dense, and strangely spiced with cloves...we were unconvinced), boiled new potatoes and carrots, and a delicious local pinotage. All in all, it's been quite a great couple of days!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Going Mobile

Monday was the day we've been working toward and waiting for, the day we would finally ride on another continent. We set the alarm early and woke up and packed our small packs with all our paperwork for Customs and tools we would need to reassemble the bikes. The first business at hand for the morning was our continued quest for a gas can. I did learn to ask for a jerrycan for petrol since gas can seems to refer to what we'd call a propane cylinder. Fortunately John was working the desk in the morning and knew just where to send us. We walked ¾ of a mile or so to the Game (like a Kmart or Dollar General) where we purchased the only can they had- a crappy, 5 liter, red gas can for the low, low price of $17. A much higher quality version of the same thing would retail for about 9 bucks in the US, but as this was the first and last gas can we've seen in South Africa, we happily paid the price and walked another ½ mile to the Caltex station. 

After filling it, we walked another ½ mile to the Civic Center to catch the bus back to the airport. Judging by the number of odd looks we got, tourists don't often walk around Cape Town carrying a gas can. Once we reached the airport I asked for directions to the cargo facility and we walked another ¾ mile or so, carrying our little red can and backpacks and garnering more strange looks from passersby. We got to the cargo warehouse, picked up our paperwork, took it to Customs for a stamp or two, and then returned with our freshly stamped wad of papers to the warehouse for release of our crate. This is when the fun began. We need to uncrate and assemble the bikes in order to finish the Customs process, but due to security reasons, we couldn't do it in the warehouse. Fortunately for us, we met Karim, who is a supervisor at the facility. I knew things were going to be fine after the following exchange: Karim: “You need to take this crate to Customs to have it cleared.” Re: “I know, but we have to take our motorbikes out and put the wheels and handlebars on before we can do that.” Karim: “You can take the crate over to Customs and then put them together.” Re: “I can't do that because I don't have a truck to get the crate there. We took the bus to get here.” Karim: “ You took the bus? Why would you take the bus here?” Re: “Because you have my motorbikes.” Karim: “Why didn't you call me? I would have picked you up.” Re : “I couldn't call you because I didn't know your name!” 

Karim took us under his wing following our conversation and arranged to have the crate put in the parking lot, blocking one of their loading docks, and proceeded to help us open the crate. We assumed this would be the end of his assistance, but no. Over the next hour and a half, we not only had Karim's help, but a rotating cast of at least seven other warehouse workers and other freight customers lending a hand. It may have gone faster had we done it ourselves, but it wouldn't have been nearly as much fun, and we wouldn't have met our very favorite and best helper, Israel. 

Israel was the son (maybe 5 years old) of one of the freight customers who happened to be there picking up or dropping off a shipment. He was a somber young fellow who was fascinated with the bikes and our tools as they came out of the crate and toolbag. He was especially enamored by Colin's Swiss army knife and flashlight and tried to figure out how to use all the tools as they got set down on the ground. I enlisted his assistance to act as a counterweight at the rear of the bike as Colin and Karim reinstalled the front wheel and fender and to help me put the license plates back on. But his big excitement was when I first fired up my bike and checked the controls. He gave the throttle a twist and actually jumped back at the noise and vibration (he obviously hasn't been next to a BIG bike, as ours are very quiet). Israel did not want leave when his dad returned, and just like millions of fathers everywhere, threatened to leave him if he didn't hurry up. Israel did drag himself to his father's truck and climbed into the passenger seat, and before they left, gave me a big smile and waved goodbye. One of our concerns about picking up the bikes was what to do with the crate. In the US, they would charge a disposal fee, but here, one of our many observers asked if we were going to take the crate with us. When I said no, he immediately asked if he could have it and was overjoyed when I said yes.  

Eventually with the bikes rolling and running, we said our many thank yous and goodbyes and rode the 500 yards to Customs for the final sign off. Several locals warned us that this was going to be a time consuming and difficult process and that we should be wary, but nothing could have been farther from the truth. In less than four hours we reassembled our bikes and cleared Customs, and the people involved in the process couldn't have been any more friendly or helpful.

And finally, we are on the road. A dream realized, as we pulled out of the airport and onto the highway back into Cape Town. My giddiness is somewhat tempered by the fact that they drive on the left here, and it's going to take some time to figure out how to ride in the opposite way. It's really a strange experience to ride around a roundabout the “wrong” way for the first time! We were glad there was other traffic on the road for us to follow. We got ourselves safely back to the Cat and Moose, where John held the front gate open for us to ride down the hallway and into the courtyard, where our little bikes sit waiting for their next adventure.

Today (Tuesday) we wanted to get some culture and visited the Castle of Good Hope and the District 6 Museum. The Castle was originally built in the mid-1600s by the Dutch East India Company since Cape Town is the halfway point between the Netherlands and India. As forts go, it's not the biggest or grandest we've seen, but it was handsome and yellow and had some interesting displays on the history of the region. Colin and I both found it kind of odd. Usually when we've visited museums in other countries, the history is told from the perspective of the native inhabitants. At the Castle, it is told from the perspective of the people who colonized the country, both Dutch and British, and seemed to be a rather one-sided account of the colonization of the region. Coincidentally, we were there for the firing of the Noon Gun and the Ceremony of the Keys. The best part was when they fired the tiny cannon. It was a real signal cannon that was used to communicate whether an inbound ship was friend or foe and was only about a foot in length. They lit it with a great deal of pomp and circumstance, and it did make a big boom. It was a hit with the children in the crowd (including us. I need one.) 

The District 6 Museum commemorates the eviction of the longtime residents of District 6, when the area was declared a 'whites only' district in the early 1960s. The museum displays photos and artefacts and personal recollections of the places and people that made up this former neighborhood. As part of Le Corbusier's planned city concept and the “need” for “radical surgery” to accomplish it, all the homes and buildings in the district were demolished to make way for new shopping centers, businesses, and homes for whites. The museum was a sad, sobering place and was a stark reminder of why the Apartheid system had to be ended.

After spending the first part of the day feeling uncomfortable, it was nice to get back to what we know: food. So we stopped in at a food court near the University looking for fish and chips, but ended up with some delicious falafel and chicken shawarma instead. Then we headed back to the guesthouse to do some much needed laundry. Colin strung our well-traveled and used clothesline while my feet played agitator on the clothes in the shower. Hopefully they all dry by morning. Tomorrow we head for Hermanus to see some whales.

Monday, September 19, 2011

If this is Africa, then why am I so cold?!?!?!

After sitting in the Toronto airport for 10 hours waiting for our flight, we finally boarded at 9:45pm. This being our first flight on Etihad, the official carrier of the United Arab Emirates, we were curious to see who our seat mates would be on the flight to Abu Dhabi. Given Toronto's large Indian population and Etihad's numerous destinations throughout India, it should not have come as a surprise that this flight was the subcontinent cattle car express. The flight was completely full, I mean, not a single empty seat, and at least 50 percent of the passengers were carrying/pushing/dragging children under the age of three. Our high hopes for a luxury flight were quashed when, upon boarding, Re witnessed a polite, young passenger ask for a glass of water, and the flight attendant sternly replied, “You will get water when all of the other passengers get a drink.” Maybe it was due to our new, lower expectations, but as 11 ½ hour flights go, this one wasn't actually too bad. The seats had a surprising amount of legroom, the food service had plenty of options (all pretty good), and contrary to what we heard on boarding, water was freely available and served regularly. We got into Abu Dhabi on time, and after a brisk 15 minute walk to the next terminal, we plopped ourselves in the chaises for another 3 hour wait. The flight to Cape Town via Johannesburg was empty in comparison, and Re and I secured our own row of four seats which allowed her to stretch out across three of them to sleep. It was another eight hours flying time to Johannesburg, where we sat for an hour on board the plane for a crew change before flying the final two hours to Cape Town. 

We arrived around 8:00am local time on Saturday and breezed through immigrations and customs. We made our way to the MyCITI bus, which delivered us and our 110lbs of luggage to the Cat and Moose Guesthouse on Long Street. John, our new best friend in Cape Town, was waiting for us. As we arrived at 10:00am, our room wasn't ready yet, but John showed us to the coffee and we sat in the courtyard for about 30 minutes, enjoying the blue sky and the birds in the trees until our room was ready, happy to be out of an aluminum tube. Once in our room, we dropped our bags on the floor, brushed our teeth, drew the curtains, and crawled into bed for a three hour nap. Somewhat refreshed, we staggered into the shower and washed off two days of airplane grime before heading out for a walk. Our jet lag and screwed up circadian rhythms conspired to make everything seem very strange and us feel extra paranoid. This may have been fueled by our conversation with a fellow guest, whom we've taken to calling, the Bitter Boer. In his 50 or so years of living in South Africa, he has seen many changes and is none too happy about them. He felt the need to tell us that our plans are stupid, we are stupid, Americans are stupid, and that everyone in South Africa wants to kill us. Truly a charming gentleman. We did have a lovely dinner of (wait for it.....) Indian food before heading back to the room at around 7:00pm to brush our teeth and go back out to watch some of the Rugby finals at a pub across the street. As the room only has one chair, we decided to lie down on the bed, just for a few minutes, before heading out, and instead, woke up 13 hours later to a gray, rainy morning. 

We had planned on visiting several museums, but most of them are closed on Sundays, so instead we searched for a gas can since we left ours in Toronto (couldn't carry them on the plane) and did some grocery shopping. We also signed up for the rather clunky wifi hotspot and emailed people to let them know we are still alive. I found the British Airways cargo tracking site and learned that the crate with our bikes had arrived at noon today. YAYYYYYY!!! We went out for fish and chips, was Sunday, and all the chip shops were closed. So, with few other good-looking options, we went back to the restaurant from the previous night and had...MORE INDIAN! Later that evening, we wandered out in search of a beer and found ourselves at the Long Street Cafe. We enjoyed an evening of people watching over a couple of Carling Black Labels. We turned in early since we tomorrow was going to be a big day.

Oh, and Cape Town has been cold, with highs in the low 60s and lows in the upper 40s. We do not have enough clothes for this. It's a good thing our bed has a very thick blanket and a comforter under which we can snuggle up!

Oh. And the Cat and Moose is not a typo. They have a cat named, Cat, and a dog named, Moose. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Oh Canada!

We just completed the first 5000 miles of the trip!
After five days of sleeping in, the alarm rang early. We groaned our way out of bed to load the bikes, get cleaned up, and have breakfast before saying our goodbyes. We rolled down the driveway under gray and overcast skies, but our spirits were buoyed when the sun started peeking through the clouds as we made our way north toward Lake Erie. As we crossed into Pennsylvania, we stopped to take a picture to commemorate the completion of the first 5,000 miles of our trip. Although it got more overcast as we crossed PA, the ride through the grape arbors that cover the region was scenic and smelled wonderfully fruity. We stopped to take a photo at the New York border, raindrops began to fall, and we noticed the sky ahead was black. It sprinkled on and off, and we took a break in Dunkirk to eat peaches and stretch our legs for a few minutes. As we continued up US 5 toward Buffalo, we enjoyed glimpses of Lake Erie through the trees and vineyards. The sprinkles stopped around Angola, NY and became a full-fledged downpour. We tried to ride on, but the pummeling rain made it difficult to see more than a few hundred yards. Colin spotted a car wash and led the way through the standing water that now covered the road into one of the bays. We hid out for about a half an hour while the rain subsided and enjoyed another alfresco Clif bar luncheon. 

Not the Peace Bridge but a bridge in Hamilton
Under the still threatening skies, we headed north toward Canada. As we approached the Peace Bridge, the sky lightened and so did our moods. We breezed through our first border crossing, paid our six bucks for the toll bridge, and immediately missed our first exit. After a couple of u-turns, Colin got us going down the right road. Now in full sunshine, we wound our way through the Canadian countryside toward Mississauga. Even though we were now in a foreign country, it was difficult to tell but for fuel being sold in liters (and expensive ones, at that) and road signs listed in kilometers. Most of the homes and cars are no different than in the states. If it weren't for the ubiquitous Tim Horton's, we'd hardly know we'd left. Upon closer examination, however, we noticed the striking ethnic diversity. We saw mosques, men in Muslim garb, women in saris, spoke with a man from Greece who was bicycling with his Asian girlfriend along the beach in Hamilton. Oh... and the restaurants. We've seen Indian, Mediterranean, Greek, Italian, lots of chip shops, Chinese, and other international fare, and we haven't even made it into Toronto proper yet. A visit to the bread aisle at a local grocery store turned up a wide selection of naans, chapatis, roti, tortillas, pitas, Persian flatbreads, and crumpets, in addition to the regular squishy white breads. Ou home until the 15th is a Motel 6 (which is extremely stylish and comfortable) with bamboo floors, flat screen TV, free wifi (!) and nice furnishings in pumpkin and beige (but they still give you the same little shitty bars of soap).

Disassembled Symbas
Monday morning we rode the bikes to Pack-all Crating and partially disassembled them in preparation for shipping. We removed the front wheels, fenders, and handlebars and disconnected the batteries. My favorite part of the field trip to the crating company was the overhead crane that will move 25 tons effortlessly around the warehouse. If my future career as wrecking ball artist falls through, my new backup plan is now gantry crane operator. We left our bikes in their care and set out to pick up a rental car at the “nearby” Toronto airport. On the map, it appeared to be an easy walking distance. However, carrying our riding gear in our arms, the three-plus miles it actually was became another one of our all too frequent death marches. We were happy to see the entrance to Terminal 1 at Pearson Airport one very sweaty hour after we departed Pack-All. We collapsed into a row of seats for 30 minutes of recuperation (and another Clif bar lunch) before riding the Link Train to get our rental car. We rented our car from an “off airport” and “off brand” car company, and the overall experience was also a little “off.” Basking in the relative luxury of four wheels and a roof, we stopped at a grocery store for provisions and headed back to the hotel for a nap. We were both feeling strangely tired, I think due to the relief of finally getting to Canada and getting our bikes to the craters. A whole lot of preparation and anxiety has gone into getting us to this point, and finally reaching it has allowed us to relax a bit.

It's much, much better than it looks!
Tuesday we spent making new lists (and checking the old ones twice!) to make sure we had everything we need for the trip. We didn't want to stray too far from the airport since the folks at Pack-All said the crate may be finished that day and we could bring our riding gear over to put it in the crate before they sealed it. So Colin worked on ride reports and I played editor. We did venture out to take advantage of the variety of ethnic restaurants and had a delicious vegetarian thali lunch followed by our favorite Indian dessert soan papdi (I think the spelling is close to phonetic anyway). They were doing work in the seating area of the restaurant so we decided to make a picnic of it and drove in search of a suitable park-like setting. Unfortunately, we didn't find one, so we ate in the bleachers overlooking a field next to the Powerade Arena. Colin would like to say that he always takes me to the nicest places! It was a good lunch with good company, so I had absolutely no complaints. The crating was unfortunately not finished Tuesday, so we spent the rest of the day relaxing.

Ready for the rest of our crap
Wednesday morning, I called Pack-All and was given the go-ahead to bring over our gear for packing. We drove over and put our helmets, jackets, pants, campstove, and seat pads in with the bikes, so our checked baggage will be much more manageable. Once the crate was sealed and appropriately labeled for carriage, they called a cartage company to deliver the bikes to British Airways. The truck arrived while the crate was still on the scale and I was at the counter paying the bill. Happily for us, the cost of crating turned out to be a bit less than we expected. Since the bikes are tiny and lightweight, they could build a lighter-duty crate, and because they could invoice our US address, we did not have to pay the 13% Canadian HST. Yay! Unfortunately, the cartage was more than estimated. Boo. But they were extremely prompt and got the crate to BA unscathed. We met the crate at BA, and Colin pretended to supervise the unloading at the warehouse dock while I went upstairs to meet with Desmond at BA Cargo sales (on the third floor. Note to self- outside the US, the first floor is ground, then first, second, and then third. It took me a couple minutes wandering around, confused by the lack of suite numbers beginning with 3 before I realized my error) to handle the paperwork and payment. Desmond sat me in their conference room and went downstairs to bring Colin up. We sat and chatted about our travel plans, my former airline career, and his family in Goa (he's going to email me with info on good places to stay. His wife's family still lives there, so he's connected) before we got down to business and finished the deal. All in all, it took only about 30 very pleasant minutes, and we were on our way. I must say, so far, I am quite impressed with the quiet professionalism of everyone we've dealt with in this process. We spent the rest of the day eating more Indian food (at least we tried a different restaurant. I can't wait to get to India if only to eat!!!!), doing some last minute shopping, and laundry.

We are now sitting in the airport, waiting to check in for our flight. We mistakenly thought we could check our bags early and take a train into Toronto for the afternoon, but no such luck, since the counter is not staffed until 4 hours prior to departure. Instead, we've spent our time writing this, playing spider solitaire, and canceling our cellphone service. Colin actually did something constructive and figured out how to get from the Cape Town airport into the city to our guesthouse by bus. Four hours and twenty minutes til we're off! Fortunately we stopped for a hearty lunch of (you guessed it) Indian food before we got to the airport.  Talk to you when we get to Africa!!!!!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Home Ain't What It Used To Be

We spent five days in Ohio visiting with Re's parents and extended family, servicing the bikes, visiting old haunts, and...eating (of course). Re's parents have a nice home on a great piece of property. They live on approximately 100 acres of woodlands about 30 miles north of Youngstown. Her father recently purchased a small pontoon boat powered by an electric motor to make getting around their 10 acre lake easier. After a good night's sleep, we spent Tuesday silently gliding around the lake, doing a little fishing, and generally recovering from the previous day's ride. Wednesday we borrowed a car and went out to pick up a few last-minute supplies and to tour some of our old stomping grounds. 

Both Re and I grew up in northeast Ohio but left for the greener pastures of North Carolina in 1988. The area never really recovered from the loss of all the steel mills in the early 1980s, and it looks more grim each time we visit. With every passing year we see more peeling paint and rusty cars, more shuttered storefronts and more empty lots where homes used to stand. We headed to Hubbard, Ohio for our still favorite pizza at Pizza Works (which is still as delicious as we remember). After lunch, we drove past my family's last home in Ohio and were sad to see the roof adorned with blue tarps. On our last visit, we discovered the now empty yard where Re's childhood home used to be. It may have been a reflection of the gray and rainy days that made up our visit to the region, but a majority of the people seemed equally gloomy. We finished the day with a trip to one of our favorite Italian restaurants for waaaayyy too much delicious pasta, bread, and salad. 

5600 miles, I think we got our money's worth
We spent the first half of Thursday doing bike maintenance. We installed a new rear tire on Re's bike, removed my rear tire (in preparation for a replacement spoke), adjusted the valves and changed the oil in both bikes. Later in the afternoon, the sun made a brief appearance, so we grabbed our binoculars and fired up the boat for a bird-watching cruise. Friday we headed into town to pick up groceries for my belated birthday dinner. We also took the opportunity to stop for lunch at the Sharon Hotdog Shop. I have no idea how long this place has been in business, but it's an institution for the local lunch crowd. It's a great little place where the waitresses not only know the regulars by name, but also know their customers' usual orders. I had the gyro lunch special, and Re had beer-battered fish, and both were delicious. While we sat at the lunch counter, we eavesdropped on the conversations going on around us. Most seemed to revolve around the lack of work, people's chronic under-employment, and families leaving the area. As we got in the car we noted all the empty storefronts around the restaurant and hope it will still be there the next time we're in town. 

Hmm, something doesn't look right here...
Back at home, Re started working on dinner while I anxiously waited for the UPS man to arrive with my spokes. Chris at Ooty'sScooters came through for us big time. When Alliance Powersports was unable to get me the spokes in time, Chris tripsavingly stepped in and shipped us four spokes gratis. A very big thanks to Chris- without his generosity, we would be headed to Africa with an empty hole where my spoke should be! After the UPS man arrived, we installed the replacement spoke, put on the new rear tire, and began to install the rear wheel. As we fitted the rear wheel to the bike, a nut fell out and onto the floor. “Where the hell did that come from?” Further examination showed that, of the four bolts holding the rear sprocket to the drive hub, one was slightly loose, two were very loose, and the nut on the floor belonged to the last one. We disassembled the rear hub, tightened all the bolts, and put it all back together. After reinstalling the rear tire, the bikes were pronounced Africa ready (I really hope). We finished the day with a delicious dinner of roast chicken, roasted potatoes, stuffing, and mashed carrots and turnips, and finished it off with a Blizzard from the DQ. Saturday we met several members of Re's extended family for lunch and spent the afternoon catching up on life and talking about our travel plans. It was nice to see everyone who could make it. We spent the remainder of the evening packing for our ride to Toronto.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Phase two

Since my last update, we spent several more days with Colin's parents at the coast.  Hurricane Irene was basically a non-event in Sneads Ferry, so the day after the storm, Colin and I drove down to Shallotte to see his sister Amy and her kids, John and Judith.  Amy entrusted Colin and John with grill duty (they did an excellent job of it), and the three of us gals chatted while we examined the MRI of Amy's shoulder injury (big ouch) from last winter.  We had a great evening visiting and were sorry it had to end so soon! 

Our last week at the beach, we hunkered down and got to work, booking a guesthouse in Cape Town (the Cat and Moose on the recommendation of an overland traveler named Fishfund), contacting BA Cargo again to confirm our shipping, and measuring the bikes with the front wheel, fender, and handlebars removed in order to determine just how teensy a crate we can have built for the bikes' air travel.  While we were going round the bikes doing our ciphering, Colin noticed a broken rear spoke on his bike.  Huh.  What we thought was going to be a day of relatively simple projects suddenly evolved into a rather fretful day of pains in the arse.  Between trying to figure out why the spoke broke, how many are going to follow it, and how/where are we going to get replacements before we leave, and the realization that shipping costs are going to be more than a touch more expensive since, even though we can fit the bikes in a fairly small footprint side by side, the crate is going to weigh approximately 3/4ths the weight of both  bikes combined.  I know the crating company is building the box to airline specifications, but I had no idea that it will be made of ...lead plate and railroad ties?!?.  For a brief moment or two, we were ready to chuck the trip and build a shack on our plot in NC.  We recovered though, figured things out, and forged on with our plans.  We repacked our bags (having to remember where everything fits after three weeks of tossing stuff loose on the closet floor) and prepared to leave for a stop in Selma (with one last porcine pleasure lunch at Scott's before our departure) to say farewell to more of the family and to apply sticky numbers to our mailboxes (we're official now). 

The last sunny day of this leg of the trip
 From Selma, we rode to Raleigh to stay with our friend Matt for a couple of nights.  While much has changed since we moved from the area eleven years ago, Matt is the same as always- hustling and plotting his escape to greener pastures (it's nice to have some consistencies in life).   Over the two days we spent in Raleigh, we had a lot of laughs reminiscing with Matt, my friends Kim and Tracy from my airline biz days, and our former neighbor and old buddy Benjy (I never thought we see him again!) and caught up on the past ten years of living. 

This past Sunday, 4 September, we left Raleigh.  It was Colin's 45th birthday, and when I asked how he wanted to spend it, he said that since we're riding round the world this year, he thought it would be appropriate to spend the day riding.  So off we went toward Ohio.  The morning was warm and hazy, and my head felt vaguely the same.  I (and Colin too) was really conflicted about leaving NC.  I want to go on this super fantastic adventure of a lifetime, but it was so comfortable and enjoyable to spend time with family and old friends, and we do have this piece of land aching for something to be built on it (Colin is serious this time about building a dome)... .  Anyway, that was the tone for the day- a  bit of a funk.  The ride north out of NC and through rural Virginia was pretty, the roads were swervy and smooth, but there was a surprising amount of traffic, and people wouldn't just pass us, already!   We kept having to pull off the road to let the tailback go round, which got annoying after the first few times.  The route we took to avoid the interstate involved a multitude of state roads and lots of checking the Google maps instructions against our road atlas to make sure we were on the right road.  Unfortunately after a fuel stop somewhere in VA, I managed to lose the atlas in the wind somewhere.  Oops.  Deeper funk. 

We plodded on and made it to Front Royal, VA, planning to stop for the night.  Since it was Colin's birthday, we figured we'd spring for a hotel room instead of camping.  We found the visitors' information center, which was closed, but they did have a box of brochures outside listing hotels and campgrounds in the area.  We rode to look at rooms at several of the budget-friendly hotels and decided after touring the mildewy bathrooms and cigarette-burned carpets, that maybe camping was a better idea.  Many of the camping options were far out of town, so we nixed them from the get-go, one was $32 for a basic tent site (huh?), and two others did not answer the phone.  So we took off down a road where a couple of the campgrounds were listed to check them out.  The light was dwindling by this time, and raindrops began to plop on our face shields, so we pulled into the first likely looking place, (what turned out to be the appropriately named) Gooney Creek Campground.  It's situated between Gooney Creek and the proprietress's house.  When we pulled up to the stop sign next to the porch, we found an old, red-haired woman rocking in a chair in the midst of mounds of partial (I assume) cans of various insect killers, old board games (with some of the pieces maybe?), books, rags/clothes, and who knows what else.  Imagine an episode of Hoarders.  She needs an intervention.  And she was crazy, like cuckoo for cocopuffs crazy.  But we needed a place to stay, and the sky had already started rumbling, so we stayed.  After about 15 minutes of insanity-driven conversation with the woman, Colin set up the tent while I rode back into town in search of the makings of a birthday dinner.  I returned with a frozen pasta dinner (steak and roasted peppers with penne in gorgonzola sauce), salad, bread, fruit, two Foster's oil cans, and cheesecake.  And it didn't rain much while we fixed it.  But the stove ran out of fuel as the pasta cooked (fortunately it thawed mostly on my ride back from the store).  It all tasted good, and we cleaned up, got in the tent, and tried to sleep. 

Yes it's still raining
 It rained hard overnight, but our gear was mainly dry since we stuffed it under the rain fly.  We packed everything up, decided to forgo showers (most of you would have too), and got on the road in the rain.  The day's ride would include five states: Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.  And it rained all they way through the first four of them, and the temperature dropped as we rode.  The roads would have been terrific for riding had they been dry and had we been on bigger bikes, but it was a slog up many of the hills in third...and then occasionally second gear, struggling to keep them going 25mph.  Our Aerostich suits did a remarkably good job keeping us dry, but the Gore-tex in our boots gave up after about 8 hours of solid soaking rain, and we wrung out our gloves at each stop.  By the time we reached my parents' house, we were waterlogged, shivering, and ready for a steaming hot shower.  We made it here, safe and sound.  Since we warmed up,  we've been working on the final preparations for our departure.  Next stop...Toronto on Sunday!