The Time Everything Went Wrong

The Time Everything Went Wrong

December 31, 2015

The dilemma was to move Stu’s motorbike from Los Barriles in the south of Baja, 2,000km to Los Angeles where it would be shipped to Europe. However, after the accident Stu was unable to ride. In addition his bike had a serious oil leak and wasn’t in a state for anyone else to ride it to California. So the decision was made to truck the bike to Tijuana where it would be ridden the last 200km to Long Beach. In theory it was simple, but events needed to line up for this plan to succeed. And by succeed we mean boarding the Queen Mary 2 Cruise Ship from New York to England on the third of January that would transport us and the girls across the Atlantic Ocean knowing the motorbike was with the shipping company in LA ready to ship.

We were in San Diego when the large car carrier semi-trailer with a full load left La Paz on schedule with Stu’s bike on board. It left early in the morning and was expected to arrive the following day at which point we would collect the bike from the depot in Tijuana and drop both bikes at the shipping company in Long Beach. Our journey across the States to New York would then commence, stopping in Dallas for a presentation in front of an eager crowd and then on to Janell’s cousins home for Christmas.

But instead of everything going smoothly and having a stress free Christmas, we had ourselves a little adventure. The truck didn’t make it to Tijuana, not with our bike anyway. Instead it was stopped about 100km out of La Paz where the cargo was inspected and because a certain piece of paperwork could not be presented for the bike the truck was ordered back to La Paz. The truck driver offloaded Stu’s bike back at the depot in La Paz and took the remaining vehicles to Tijuana.

Oh Shit! What paperwork did they need and why weren’t we asked for it? We were told it was something we could pick up in Tijuana at the border. This didn’t make sense, normally when a vehicle is remaining in Baja and not continuing on within the Mexican mainland an import permit isn’t required and so there isn’t any paperwork. It all seemed a little dodgy, the local police would have known that no paperwork was produced, they also would have known about the accident where due to federal police involvement missed out on their usual bribe. Luckily we were expecting to cross to the Mexican mainland and so we did actually get the temporary import, but we didn’t think the transport company would need this document, not to transport the bike between two Mexican cities.

We needed a new plan, the bike wasn’t in Tijuana, the transport company needed the paperwork and we needed to leave San Diego the next morning at the latest. First step was to get the paperwork sent, to be safe we thought it best to drive into Mexico and send it through DHL in-country to prevent any possible holdup at a border. To allow us to drive in Mexico we needed to change the insurance on the rental car, easy enough but time consuming going into an office to organise. Once done Stu went alone into Mexico and located the closest DHL office. Time was against him, he cleared immigration around 5:30pm and the DHL office closed at 6. Luckily the office was near the border and after parking up and running into the office there was a matter of mere minutes to spare.

Stu at the DHL officeThe Temporary Import Permit

From here we’d again leave it in the hands of the travel Gods. We’d drive across the country fulfilling our commitments and making sure that we are where we needed to be ready to sail to England come January. However, when the bike would eventually arrive in Tijuana Stu would have to fly in and move it to the port in Los Angeles for shipping to the UK.

Janell’s cousin, Leah, was not only a great host for Christmas, but she also spoke Spanish. She graciously called the Tijuana office of the transport company and confirmed that the bike did actually arrive on the last transport before Christmas and then asked when the office would be manned to facilitate a collection. There was a small window of opportunity to pickup between Christmas and the New Year, the office would be open on the 29th of December and then closed again until after we were to sail.

Stu went online to book flights, return tickets from New York to San Diego. Who would have thought that last minute tickets between Christmas and New Years would cost an absolute fortune. Oh well it had to be done and it was with American Airlines, which sounded like a reputable airline.

The new plan was simple: arrive in San Diego at 9am after bouncing around the country with a few extended but necessary layovers, take a shuttle bus to the border, clear immigration into Mexico and walk or taxi the 5km to the transport depot. Once Stu had the bike he just needed to ride it over the border and move it to Long Beach in Los Angeles then get himself back to San Diego to return to New York for New Years Eve. All very straight forward, again.

Stu didn’t need much luggage. He could do without a change of clothes and toiletries so he took only carry on containing paperwork for himself and the bike along with some basic tools in case there was a problem (with the airplane). Leah’s husband Jim dropped Stu at the airport with plenty of time. First leg was to Philadelphia, just over one hour away where he then had 40 minutes to get to his connecting flight to Dallas. We hadn’t seen snow but it certainly was cold. The plane boarded on time, good start, but shortly after everyone was seated the captain informed passengers that the deicing system was not sufficiently removing ice from the wings and that it would need to be done manually. Not a big deal apparently, we just had to wait for the service truck to arrive. About 10 minutes later the captain made another announcement telling passengers that a private aircraft had been prioritised above us and we would be seen to as soon as the truck was available. More and more time passed and passengers became very restless. It was starting to look unlikely that Stu would get to Philadelphia on time for his connecting flight but maybe time would be made up in the air, only time would tell. Passengers rightly asked why a private aircraft carrying a handful of people would be prioritised over a commercial flight with a hundred plus passengers. The unease and complaining didn’t change the situation in any way. After nearly an hour of waiting the truck arrived and within minutes the aircraft was deiced. When the job was so quick, why did it take so long for the truck to get to us?

Stu arrived in Philadelphia with minutes to spare but it wouldn’t help. A representative from the airline met passengers as they disembarked and handed out new connecting flight tickets, most of them standby. Most people were rescheduled for the next day if a spot became available and no accommodation offered. Stu had a standby ticket for 6am, being a little after 10pm he had 8 hours to kill and started wandering around looking for somewhere to sleep. He saw a poster advertising a free military lounge and thought he’d check it out. The lounge was tucked away in a quiet corner of the airport but the directions were easy to follow. When Stu arrived he inquired whether foreign military were welcome and showed his Australian Navy ID. The receptionist said that as long as he was serving and not retired he was welcome, Stu was technically still a reservist at this time as part of his discharge agreement but didn’t want to muddy the waters and so just stated that he was serving. The lounge was basic, a few recliners in front of TV’s and some bunk beds which were all occupied. The lounge was packed full of military personnel, it took some time for Stu to get a recliner, but when he did it was heaven. He put an entry in the wake up register but also set an alarm so as not to miss his chance at getting on the standby flight.

After a pretty broken but thankful sleep Stu decided to get up and out, but not before having a cheeky free breakfast, basic but filling. He got to the gate with plenty of time and asked how it worked. Staff explained that names of standbys would be called after normal ticket holders had boarded. The gates opened and passengers boarded, Once everyone was through there were a number of passengers still standing around, standbys no doubt. Names were called out one by one with passengers acknowledging and clearing the gate before the next would be called. The fifth name was “Stuart Clarke”, Yes, Stu grabbed his bag and moved forward. The staff somehow missed his acknowledgement and called another name, that passenger rushed forward and through the gate before Stu even knew what was going on. Stu quickly moved to the desk and explained that he was here and had been called. The attendant apologised but said the flight was now full. FUCK!

Stu decided he wasn’t putting up with this any longer and got on the phone to the airline. He explained his situation and that he was only supposed to be in California for the day and then return but this delay had possibly ruined his plan. He explained that getting to Tijuana or San Diego or any city in California for that matter would do. Finally the airline started being helpful and found him a flight to Tijuana that day via Cancun and Mexico City. It would be a mission but it would happen that day. The plan was simple!

Stu contacted the transport office in Tijuana where his bike was being held and begged that they open up for him. He was told that they would see what they could do and call back with an update. Of course no one ever got back and between flights he was again on the phone to make sure that his trip wasn’t going to be a waste of time. The next job was to line up dropping the bike off at the shipping company in Los Angeles. They were supposed to be closed between Christmas and New Years, but much to the disappointment of the staff, management had decided to renege the decision. We were quietly happy with this decision since the alternative would have been a dire outcome for us.

Stu arrived in Tijuana late and quickly got a taxi. En route to the depot he called the office to see if anyone would be there for him but there was no answer. He arrived to a very dark depot, and having not been able to get through to anyone he accepted that it was a lost cause trying to get his bike out that day and asked the taxi driver to take him to a cheap hotel. Stu had no sleeping bag and so was forced to use the bedding supplied by the hotel, this never works out well. It certainly was a basic hotel but the price was right. The bedding was indeed ferral but it would just be the one night. For extra protection he slept in all his clothes, he’d have a really good wash when he got back to New York.

In the morning Stu got himself to the transport depot once again and called, still no answer but it was early yet so he waited. Before long someone came and opened up the compound, he only seemed to be there to clean the office and didn’t speak any English. Stu needed his paperwork but at least he could start unloading the bike. Nothing was missing, the bike looked like it had seen better days for sure but it was more or less as he had left it. It was difficult with one person to get the bike off the trailer but using straps to keep things upright helped immensely. When the bike was finally on the gravel it was time to start the engine. What a delight, it started pretty much first time.

Stu's bike on the trailer Another photo on the trailer

What to do about the missing paperwork? The main concern for us was the large deposit paid on entry that would only be refunded on exit. It wasn’t the first time we’d entered a country on these terms and not even the first time entering Mexico this way. But every other time we’d had the correct paperwork. Stu tried the range of numbers he had again and got through to the lady he’d had the most success with in previous conversations. He tried to explain that he was in the compound and just needed the paperwork and it seemed he’d got the message through but didn’t know what she was telling him. Stu found the cleaner and handed him the phone hoping he’d somehow clear up the situation and confirm that I was inside and just needed someone to come and clear me to leave. The cleaner disappeared into the office with the phone, Stu was hopeful that something was going to come of it but also ready to just ride off. The cleaner reappeared with an envelope, could it be? Opening the contents revealed the temporary import papers. Things were looking up. Now he just needed to get into the US and ride 200km to Long Beach.

US immigration was slow but predictable. Stu’s new plan was simple, get to a Home Depot and hire a courtesy van. He’d reached out to the biker community in California through the ADVRider forum but being Christmas time people just weren’t in a position to provide assistance. But they were helpful in providing ideas. One such suggestion was to drop into a Home Depot just after the border and pickup a van, then drop it off in Los Angeles at another Home Depot. It didn’t make sense that Home Depot would hire their van for just any purpose but Stu was willing to give it a go. The staff were most helpful and seemed to have no issues with how it was going to be used. However, they didn’t have a van available, only a pickup truck, which was going to be impossible to load with just one person but surely he’d find helpers. The staff called around to try and find another store that might have a van available but no luck. So the pickup would have to do. Everything was going smoothly until they asked for his insurance details. Uh-oh, Stu didn’t have insurance. This was an impediment with no workaround.

Stu got back on the bike and continued up the interstate. The bike was visually losing oil and riding the entire way was not a great idea. The next best option was a van rental company, preferably one that allowed one way hires. There was a U-Haul a little further up the road, surely this would work. The only available truck was big but could be driven with a standard car licence and although the entry was well above the road level it had a very handy pullout ramp, perfect.

About 2 hours later Stu turned up at the shipping company warehouse with bike on truck. Although the contact he had been dealing with was on leave, there was someone there to accept the bike and process the required paperwork. For the first time in nearly a month Janell and Stu’s bikes were reunited.

It was now time to reunite Stu with Janell to bring in 2016 together. With the bike finally where it needed to be, the last job was to drop off the rental truck and get himself back to New York. He had been given a standby ticket from San Diego but knew how this could turn out. Since he was in Los Angeles it would make sense to see if he could get a flight from there instead. Stu got back on the phone and spoke to the airline customer service. Again they were very happy to assist and booked a seat on the next available flight to Philadelphia and onwards to  New York. This was risky as the next flight was just over an hour away but Stu was feeling lucky, and if it failed he was happy to put the blame back on American Airlines and get a new flight issued.

With the truck dropped off, it was just a bus ride to the airport. Stu ran to the bus stop and got on board. The bus driver started driving straight away with tickets being self service, Stu grabbed his wallet out and realised he didn’t have the cash needed for the fare, he asked the driver if there was another way to pay but the driver didn’t speak back. Hmm, a lady sitting behind the driver took a one dollar coin from her purse and handed it to Stu. He graciously accepted the gift and purchased his ticket. All he had in his pocket was an Australian one dollar coin, not quite the same value but a souvenir nonetheless for the kind lady.

Once at the airport Stu checked in and headed through security. Stu kept his bag with him once again thinking that hand luggage was the safest option and trying not to think about how much worse the trip could have been if he had checked his luggage in when initially leaving New York. But this time the security guards decided that his luggage looked suspicious and wanted to take a look inside. Stu opened the bag and they pulled out the tool kit. It all made sense, but why was this the first time it got pulled up. The kit included screwdrivers, spanners from 8mm to 13mm, sockets in the same sizes for both ¼” and ¾”, tyre irons, pliers, vice grips, zip ties, electrical tape and much more. Stu was ready to lose it all. But to his amazement the security guard packed it all back up and said he was good to go. Wow.

The return flight went flawlessly. Stu stopped in for another sleep at the Philadelphia Military Lounge, spending most of the next morning grazing the breakfast buffet until his connecting flight in the early afternoon. Janell was waiting for Stu when he arrived at the airport and took him straight home for a shower before he was dragged out for a New Years Eve party with Leah and Jim and their close friends. Although very shattered Stu was happy that everything had been achieved and he would see in the new year in a relaxed and stress free way.

Stu back in New York

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