Bicycle road trip from Canada to Mexico complete, the next task was to get myself, the bicycle and gear from Hollywood to Wellington where I stop by for a month to chill with my brother Dave and Angie his wife. Below is an account of the circus act of hoop jumping to get said list transported from US soil to that of the Kiwi’s.
The ordeal started out in Hollywood, LA where I booked a nights Airbnb as a base to get myself ready for the next evenings flight to New Zealand. I needed to hunt down a box so I could carry the bicycle with me through the sky, they apparently don’t fly so good when not sheathed in cardboard according to the airline. I read somewhere that Amtrak Train Stations sell bicycle boxes for transiting bicycles on their trains so I cycled to Union Street Station to see if I could sniff one out. After a bit of asking around some guy helps me out by leading me upstairs to a baggage handling room where I can buy a box, they sell them for $15 and they come flat and rather large so I had to fold the box, first in three, then I doubled it over again after that to allow me carry it on the bike. The guy that sold it to me was looking bemused as I mutilated it, telling me I was doing wonders for its mechanical properties but I didn’t give a shit, I figured a few reams of tape would just about hold it all together, I was also hoping there would be a shrink wrapping facility at LAX airport to seal the deal……there wasn’t!
The trip to Wellington started with a cycle from Hollywood to Los Angeles Airport, 25 odd kilometres transporting myself seated on bicycle, my stuff and the trice then half folded cardboard bike box, mainly because I had all day to get there and partly because I didn’t want to shell out 60 bucks for a taxi. It was a horrible cycle through LA’s suburbia to get to the airport, mainly because LA, in my opinion, is a shithole, to add to my pleasure, the locking mechanism on my VauDe panniers has been gammy for a few weeks now so they randomly fall off while peddling along, this is another story which resulted in a letter to VauDe, by letter of course I mean email, commenting on how dangerous their bag design is, totally unfit for purpose. I wonder how many people have lost 20kg from one side of their bike after hitting a pothole when their “not fit for purpose” VauDe panniers jump off their bicycle. VauDe responded saying this was a one off flaw and offered me two more death traps for my next road trip which I politely declined.
After an hour or more of boxing up my bicycle and stuff at LAX’s international check-in hall while swatting away a large Indian family gathering that decided to settle right on top of me and my uncoordinated mess of stuff whilst in the midst of packing, I wait in line for 30 minutes for my Airlines check-in desk to open, my flight’s not until 11:30pm and the check-in opens at 7:00pm, buckets of time before my flight! I was complimenting myself on how relatively smoothly things went so far, I’d been dreading getting to the airport and boxing up the bike and here I was, job done, all that was left now was to pass the time by eating. When I get to the check-in desk the girl needs me to email her proof of outbound flight from New Zealand before I can check-in. This I new nothing about and luckily a few days before I decided to book my outbound flight to Hawaii but my initial plan was to get to New Zealand and consider my outbound travel options during my visit to Wellington. I think I would have came close to a melt down if I had to go away and book a flight on top of trying to cajole my bicycle through their system.
I asked what the ramifications of having no outbound flight booked might be, she told me that I’d have to go away and book something or I would fail the chech-in process, fail the check in process…. what does that mean? It means you wouldn’t be boarding this flight…. Nice! Next up was weighing my oversize piece of check-in luggage, the bicycle and everything else I had rammed into the box, I hauled it off the trolly and bear hugged it up and onto the weighing scales beside the desk, 36kg flashed the LCD screen with an intermittent flashing of overweight interleaved with the 36kg, the girl looks at the box then me with apologetic eyes and tells me it’s too heavy… what do you mean it’s too heavy?? She tells me their upper limit is 30kg and tells me that I’m going to need to find a company to carry it as freight… but my flight is in a couple of hours, how the hell do I do that?, I don’t know… This is not the sort of shit that you need to hear a couple of hours before your flight so I stood there and checked out of the conversation while I considered my options both of us staring blankly at each other, while I’m sure she was thinking, here’s another idiot who didn’t check out our anal policy before arriving with a skipload of shit for checkin….she may have had a point there because if I was standing in her heels, I’d be thinking exactly that!
I figure if the airline is gonna screw me for being a few kilos overweight I want in on the fun so here goes my chosen option, I wrestled my box from the scales back onto the cart with a smile and retreated around the corner to perform some parcel surgery, reopening the box I removed what I considered to be 6kgs worth of stuff plus a bit more to be sure before loosely sealing up the box again and representing myself for check-in, with the excess stuff I removed stashed out of sight around the corner. This time the package checked in at 28kg, still overweight but this time it’s under 30kg so they can carry it once I pay their oversize and overweight tax of $170. Success, tax paid I was allowed check in and my bicycle box got the routing label I needed before I could drop it off at oversize luggage. On route I had to make a slight detour, some additional parcel surgery, reinsertion of stashed luggage around the corner and two miles of packing tape later my shabby looking box was all packed up again and ready for drop off. Drop off was uneventful as I had anticipated, they don’t weight the box again, they just take it….like I just took it earlier! The entire airline intercourse lasted about three hours and I was pretty exhausted and sweaty after it not to mention mildly stressed out, it was a hot day in LA and I hadn’t anticipated any of this action.
Once I was finally rid of the damn bicycle I only had an hour to spare before my flight departed and I was starving so after passing security I wandered through the food hall wondering what to eat, there was one asian food stall with a queue three times as long as anywhere else, there was even two airport police in the queue. I figured everyone else knew something I didn’t so I joined the longest queue which was moving pretty quickly. After ten minutes I was pointing my desired options and almost at the till to pay, there were two people in front of me but there was a holdup as the tills broke down, after ten minutes of watching two till chimps staring blankly at the screens randomly jabbing at them in some hopeless effort to get them back up, irritation levels rising I decided point out that everybody in the line is tied for time and probably anxious about catching flights, how about trying the old fashioned pen and paper approach rather than looking into a black hole that you have no idea how to fix, another few minutes passed when the supervisor showed and told them to get a calculator, pen and paper and manually process the payments, wow I thought, what an ingenious idea! The food was pretty damn good and worth the wait!
The flight from Los Angeles to Fiji flew in, it departed LA at 11:30pm and I had one remaining Valium I obtained from a friend back in Dublin exactly for the purposes of long haul flying, I waited until after supper before popping it, removing my shoes, inserting headphones, sitting back and anticipating some sleepy time which very definitely arrived. I slept on and off for about eight hours and when I was fully awake again it was time to eat and once that was done we were almost ready to land in Fiji, flights don’t get any better than this. There was only a short stopover in Fiji before taking leave again bound for Auckland, New Zealand for some more bicycle box connection drama.
In Aukland I had to collect my luggage from baggage reclaim and get it through customs and bio security before dropping it off to the next airline for the final leg of the trip. When I got the box from oversize luggage reclaim it was completely open at one end with a homeland security leaflet in it to say that US customs had opned the box to check the contents. It would be nice if they could be arsed to reseal it up again after opening it. I didn’t look inside to see if anything had fell out as I didn’t really give a shit at that point. I got the box through customs to biosecurity where they wanted to inspect my tent to make sure it had no bugs or the like in it which took about twenty minutes. I only had one hour to make my connection to Wellington and the walk from international arrival to domestic departure was fifteen minutes. I had to pack up my tent and reseal there box again before I could drop it off at Air New Zealand’s oversize baggage drop, this took ten minutes after badgering an Air New Zealand official for some packing tape. When I got to baggage drop I saw the luggage belt had a weighing scales on it, fuck I thought, here comes more drama. The guy at the desk reminded me of a camp version of Deirdre Barlow from Coronation Street, glasses and all, I couldn’t help but smile at what might happen next. I hopped the bike off the cart and onto the conveyer, it weighed 35 odd kg, the guy seemed kind of baffled and asks me if I had added stuff to the box along the way, I said no but the box has been opened and closed several times since LA…. blah, blah, blah, go away and just take the dam box I think. He tells me it’s too heavy and he picks up the phone to spread the drama. He says he has nothing to show that I have paid any luggage excess and doesn’t know if he can accept the box. I show him receipts to say I paid $170 in LAX which he screams down the phone in a flap whilst mumbling about incompetence and the lack of communication between the two airlines. The phone gives the thumbs up to take the box, tank jesus because I sure as hell didn’t want it, he scans the label and the belt fires up pulling my bike into a hole, he then scoffs some advice at me about a bike box being only for a bicycle in future, thanks of the advice Mr. Barlow. At this point I leg it through security as I’m really cutting it fine, there was another delay here as something interesting showed up in my carry-on so security wanted to go through my backpack to find the suspect item, at the same time my name is being called out over the intercom for final boarding call for my flight to Wellington.
Airport security finally narrow down the search to a screwdriver set in my bag, I don’t know why I still carry this stupid screwdriver set, the handle shows up like a bullet in the X-ray, I’ve been told this twice before and has it stifled me a few times already at various airport securities, she okay’d the faux bullet and I ran to my gate, trouser belt in hand, where I just got on by the skin of my teeth, oh you must be Tony she says before she grabs my boarding card, being the last person on the plane the doors were quickly sealed behind me and we were in the air five minutes after my bum landed on the seat. At this point I was relieved as this was the last leg of my trip and I had managed to successfully get me and my shit on course to Wellington which in itself was worth a sigh of relief!