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!!!!!

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