If you’ve ever thought air travel wasn’t stressful enough, that passing through check-in, passport control and customs is made far too easy, then here’s a suggestion to spice things up a bit: Take two really heavy touring bikes, ten panniers and a couple of tents to the airport with you and it will be a breeze. Not.
It’s Day One of Terry and Paul’s great cycling adventure to America and things are not going well. It’s just gone 6am and we are at Heathrow unloading and re-packing our bike bags for what seems like the twentieth time. Over the past few days we’ve dismantled both machines (removed wheels, racks, chains, pedals and handlebars) then squeezed them into cut-down cardboard boxes which are placed inside bike bags. Any spare space around the bikes is filled with kit.
But barely minutes after waving goodbye to our significant others Kate and Liz, who have kindly got up at 3.30am to get us here, we realise we have a problem. The bikes are far too heavy. And amazingly Terry’s bike box is heavier than mine, which is surprising since the night before Liz, concerned I had packed far too much stuff, had kindly help me whittle down my travelling wardrobe. There was some tough negotiation over numbers of socks though – in the end I had to settle for five pairs (sorry Liz I sneaked an extra pair in).
But our problems weighed more than a couple of socks. British Airways will let you take a bike as your main piece of luggage, but it musn’t weigh more than 23kg and mine clocked in at around 26 with Terry’s a whopping 28. Eventually after around twenty minutes of major re-shuffling and the use of an airport wrapping service we were able to offload kit from the bike bags elsewhere. BA had already given us some free excess baggage which was great and we just needed to chip in an extra tenner to get it all through.
Due to problems with online check-in we sat separately on the flight over (that’s a good start, but we will be together for ten weeks! ) and once at Washington Dulles we lugged our gear onto a bus to get us to the Alamo depot to pick up our hire car to drive into Central Washington. Amazingly it was cheaper to do this ( around 50 dollars) than going on the airport shuttle which couldn’t even guarantee space for the bikes. The only good thing to be said for lugging so much kit around is how many people ask you what you are doing – all the Americans we’ve spoken to so far think we are crazy but are fascinated by the idea and full of questions. Seems we are likely to spend the next two and a half months talking!
Terry, having never been to America before, settled in instantly, and was soon piloting a huge Chrysler Town and Country into Central Washington and to our five star hotel -The Fairmont on M Street. Top tip – we used Trailfinders to organise much of the trip and they get some extra-ordinary good deals on hotels – we are paying far less than the going rate.
After dumping the bikes and gear we returned the hire car to Union Station (where a helpful police officer took us on an unofficial tour) then spent rest of the day taking in some of the sights, including the Smithsonian and Capitol Hill. First impressions seem to suggest this is a good city for cycling with lots of cycle lanes and a Boris-bike style hire network – will report more on this later. Ended the day walking back through streets awash with revellers, many in tuxes and finery, before coming across a jazz funk combo made up of three trombones, bass trumpet, sousaphone and drums playing on the corner of 7th and F street. We were soon part of a crowd of more than a hundred enjoying an impromptu street party.
Eventually crashed in the room after being up for 25 hours. I was so tired I fell asleep in a chair and by the time I woke up Terry had already put his bike back together. At least we won’t be moving those bike bags around anymore!