Friday, April 1, 2011

Chilly Canada

Stan welcomed me in with a lovely cold beer - a real sight for sore eyes after that day! We had to leave the next morning, so I had a bite to eat and hit the hay, we were up bright and early and sorted out the bike, ready to put in the back of Stans F350 truck. We didnt have a ramp, so we borrowed a 2x4 from some workmen down the street, rested that on a ladder and used a small berm to get Sammy up higher and into the truck bed.

The place where Stan was staying was rather nice with a lovely pool and hot tub! Stan and his partner Karen had been there for a couple of weeks, doing day trips out on Stans Honda Goldwing motorcycle which he towed down from icy Canada, enjoying the warm weather in the USA, Karen had flown home to go back to work. Shame I only got to spend one night there!

Nice Pad!
 With the bike loaded and everything packed we hit the road at 1030am, it was fairly steady heading out of Phoenix, lots of traffic and the highway North was busy too, but we made good time only stopping for diesel and a bite to eat, we went past the spectacular Glen Canyon Dam in Page, Arizona, just before we crossed into Utah  and spent the night at Nephi, South of Salt Lake City.

Loaded and ready to go!
  The next morning the weather had turned and we headed into snow just North of Salt Lake City, with the thermomenter around freezing and the roads slushy I was glad I didnt have to ride all the way home!!! The mountains were all covered with snow and as we got closer to Canada the temperature was below freezing with some icy stretches on the roads. That night we spent at Great Falls, Montana, not far from the Canadian border, we left early and the roads were even icier, so we took it steady, lots of ploughs out cleaning and sanding the roads, we fell in behind some Canadian RV's heading home and made it through the border without getting searched which saved some time.

The run up to Lethbridge was quick, the weather and the roads improved, we stopped for some lunch and realised that neither of us had any Canadian money on us!!! so the quick use of a credit card helped out......Calgary was as busy as I remembered it, especially on a Saturday, it took a while to fight through the traffic, we headed West on the Trans Canada for the quick run home to Banff, where Lisa was waiting for us. After unloading Sammy and putting him back in the garage, we had a nice home cooked supper washed down with beer, wine and Champagne!!!

Snowy Home
Stan left the next morning for Edmonton, (thanks a million for the ride home Stan - Id be stuck in the USA without you!!!) and we set about making a start on sorting out gear and all the fairly mundane things you have to do after a trip......Still you have to get things ready for the next trip......whenever  and wherever that will be....

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Arizona Bound

I only rode for a few hours after I left Gastons, but cutting through the everglades was cool, saw a few Alligators poking their heads up out of the waterways and some people doing tours on airboats, but no time to dilly dally. I had a long way to go and a short time to get there (as the song goes) nigh on 4000 kms in 3 and a bit days. Sammys chain was a concern, I had 4 notches of adjustment left and the last few notches always go quick as the chain gets even more stretched out. If I had to, I might be able to buy a new chain set (chain and sprockets) in El Paso.

I found a cheapish hotel and got breakfast included so I could hit the road early the next morning. Sammy had been running a little rough since the last day in Barranquilla, Id been putting a couple of litres of gas in him at a time, just enough to run around town and get to the airport on the last day and he had been running badly after that - it  felt and sounded like Id got some bad fuel and some crap in the carburettor, but the last thing I did was the valves and the simplest explanation is normally correct, so I was concerned that I might have not cinched up a lock nut on a valve or something. I was up at stupid o'clock in the dark and outdside with a head torch, whipped the tank off and double checked the valves and plugs and put fresh dielectric grease over the plug leads, everything looked good, the plugs had done 6,000 kms and looked ok, everything was back together for sun rise, a quick brekkie and I hit the road. He was still not running perfectly, so I found a local motorcycle shop and bought some new plugs, chain lube and proper air filter oil - but I still needed to make some miles, so I rode all day, just over 1000 kms and left Florida, crossed Alabama before I found a place in Gulfport Mississipi. Another early morning start and I swopped the plugs out for new ones and more tinkering, still he was a little rough - but slightly better than he was though. A long day in the saddle from Mississipi, through Louisiana and into Texas.

Texas is always an eye opener - I ended up working my way through Houston traffic at rush hour, I lost count of all the huge Texan and USA flags flying - literally hundreds of them, combined with the ten lane Freeways and an Apache helicopter gunship flying along the freeway low above me it was fairly surreal after the modesty and poverty of South America. I fought my way out of Houston eventually and scooted North West out of San Antonio and by about 11 pm Id had enough. There were lots of deer around by the roadside and I ended up getting a deal on a room in Segovia Tx as it was so late - the lady in the hotel said it was a good idea not to ride on as there are lots of road accidents with deer locally.

The next morning was chilly, Sammys heated grips got some use and sure enough there were dead deer on the roads everywhere, well over a dozen within 60 miles, good job I parked up when I did.

I managed to pick up some fuel additive/carb cleaner from a NAPA store, everything else on the bike was good, valves and plugs ok, air filter clean and oiled, good  91 octane V-power gas, electrics all ok, which left one thing - dirt or buildup in the carb. I pulled the fuel/air mix screw and sure enough there was some grey powdery deposits on the needle, so in went the fuel additive/carb cleaner and straight away he was running better. I dont mind stripping down the carb and cleaning it at home, but I still had some miles to make first.

Stan was going to wait an extra day for me in Phoenix, that mean't I had to push out nearly 1400 kms on the last day of riding. The engine was running much sweeter, the next issue was the chain. Id made the last adjustment possible on the chain, I lubed it up to squeeze the last miles out of it and hit the road early. I was making good time and made it to El Paso in the early afternoon, the last 20-30miles into El Paso weren't so good, the chain was starting to slip on the sprockets. I was 430 miles from finishing - painfully close, I made the decision to look for a new chain set, I tried two Suzuki dealers and an independant motorcycle shop and no one had sprockets for a DR650 !!! one dealer said it would take two weeks to order sprockets in....Streuth.

It was now 3 pm and I had to hit the road and try and make it, I filled the tank and set off slowly and gently on the throttle - top speed of about 50 mph - it was looking like a late night, sure enough the chain got worse and it was slipping more and more, it got dark and chilly, I turned off the Interstate I-10 and took the back road on the 70, which was nice and quiet and a bit safer at my reduced speed and also slightly shorter distance than going through Tucson. I also had to climb up over 1300 metres for the final push into Phoenix, the chain was really screwed by now and going up hill it jumped off the sprockets and got caught up between the wheel and swingarm - pretty dodgy as it could potentially lock the rear wheel up as it jumps off the sprockets and cause the bike to skid. I was lucky this time, just lost drive but I wasn't  in a good place, lots of fast traffic and  pitch black. I levered the chain out with a screwdriver, got it back on again and reduced my speed even more, I limped into Phoenix at 45 mph - its a big city, over 40 miles from the outskirts to Paradise Valley where Stan was and the traffic was going 75 mph, so I didn't enjoy the ride much, the chain jumped off one more time, but I was able to make it to the shoulder OK and pop the chain straight on again. Id originally told Stan Id be arriving at about 1030pm, but hadn't updated my time after the chain issues, I eventually met up with him at 1130pm, after 1388 kms today and 3901 kms in just over 3 days.......

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Back in North America

I got through US Customs after a few questions and in Miami it was a refreshing 28C - welcome after the sweltering humidity of the Caribbean coast of Colombia,  I met up with Gaston who has been helping me out with sorting out the shipping, he was good enough to meet me at the airport and  he graciously offered to let me stay at his place - we were hoping that the bike would arrive on Thursday and that I could hit the road Friday. We sank a few beers and had a good chat, then headed back to his place to meet his wife Patty and his daughter Camille.

Gaston comes from Santiago in Chile and Patty is from Lima in Peru, which is an interesting combination as the two countries have spent a considerable amount of time either at war or disputing territory over the years. In the middle is Camille, who was always giggling at my British accent every time I mentioned to Patty that her cooking was 'lovely', throw in their 2 dogs and the cat and it was a busy house!

On Thursday morning Gaston called up Tampa Cargo, no good news though, there was no flight today, so Sammy was going to arrive early Sunday morning - not leaving me much time to scoot the 4000+  kms from Miami to Phoenix to meet up with Stan who was due to head home to Canada on Wednesday.

Patty fed me up really well, lots of yummy meals including arroz con leche - rice pudding, my favorite! and I hung out with Gaston as he was doing some other work, we managed to go to the local bikers meet held in a shopping centre car park, with several hundred bikes there - everything from Harley Davisons with flourescent lights illuminating the engine and wheels to tricked out sports bikes and BMW 1200GS adventure bikes. There was also a Triumph motorcycles semi trailer from Georgia, touring around with the latest offerings including the new Triumph Tiger 800 XC - which looked rather nice and sounded even better,  I nearly had to prize Gaston off it !!!

On Saturday Gaston checks with Tampa again and finally we get the good news that the bike is on its way, arriving at 0130 Sunday morning. Gaston wants to save the crate, so he rents a small trailer and we head down to Tampa to pick the bike up. We have to head over to US Customs and get them to sign the paperwork to release the bike, however the Customs lady says that they only process perishable goods paperwork on Sunday's...... I tell her that I am hoping to leave for Arizona today and would they be able to help me out, she hesitates for a moment and finally agrees to do the paperwork - which takes her about a minute. We head back to Tampa and the guys fork the crate onto the trailer, we head back to Gaston's place.

It takes a while to uncrate the bike, the carpenters used a nail gun and lots of nails so it is slow going pulling it apart and trying to salvage the wood for re use in the future.

Gaston, Camille and Patty with Sammy
By the time the bike is back together, the crate stored and my gear packed up its gone 5 pm, a bit later than I was hoping for, Patty makes us a lovely meal and we snap a few photos and say our goodbyes before I head West over the Everglades and then North towards Tampa.

Gaston on his immaculate BMW
I must say a Huge Thanks to Gaston, Patty and Camille for their hospitality, you guys are always welcome to stay with us in Canada!!!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Miami Bound.....but not for Sammy

Monday morning arrived and I go back to talk to the shipping agent, she speaks some English too which makes things much quicker, but we are still a little tight for time as the cargo plane leaves tuesday evening.
I want to get the bike crated on Monday afternoon, but one word you get used to in Colombia is 'Tramites' - paperwork or buerocracy.

As I am not known to Tampa Cargo, they need more copies of all of my identification -drivers license etc etc etc, before they give me a yes or no on whether they will accept me as a new customer - of course mix in a long lunch break and before you know it, its 2pm. I keep pushing to get the crate sorted, but you hit that threshold where you get the word 'manana' and nothing is going to get done today.

At 8am the next day I am at Tampa Cargo at the airport to meet Jose, the Masterfreight agent.  The crate is supposed to arrive soon, we wait for a while and a couple of phone calls get made to hurry up the carpenters with the crate - it arrives at 1030, then another 45 minutes waiting while the crate paperwork gets approved by the airline - they have to be made from certified/ stamped kiln dried wood so there is no transfer of wood borne bugs between countries and as the carrier Tampa are responsible to make sure the crate is up to scratch.
The Police inspection is at 2pm - supposedly, they check everything for narcotics, so we have a few hours to get things sorted out and I am not too concerned, after this I can crate the bike and everything will be sorted for Sammy to leave at 830 pm.

In the mean time, I have been getting the bike ready to crate again, front wheel ready to come off, front mudguard and screen off, top box removed, battery disconnected and the gas tank drained completely -Tampa havent flown many bikes, the rules are normally less than a quarter  of a tank for flying - depending on the airline, but they insist its competely drained, I only have about 3 or 4 litres in the tank, so the 3 young shipping agent guys that all have small motorcycles in the parking lot are very happy - their 125cc or smaller bikes all leave that day with nearly full tanks!!!

So at midday I go to see what is happening, I ask the girls in the office and one of tham says that they do not have the original copy of the shippers declaration - a fairly important piece of paper, until we have it we cannot crate the bike - so after a while Jose shoots off to the office to get the original. I tell the girls that I need to get the bike crated up right after the Police inspection as I wanted to go back downtown and thank Neudith, Eilyn and Nelson for helping me out.

At this point they drop the bombshell that the plane is going to be early - its going to arrive in an hour - just after 1pm and leave at 2pm.  Another 'I can't believe it' moment, I ask them why I havent ben told - I have been working 10 metres from their office all morning and nobody bothered to let me know - not impressed. They only found out that morning after 9am, apparantly one of their aircraft is getting repaired, so they had to change the schedule. The next flight is due on Saturday, but there may be one on Thursday.

Now, there is no way to get the narcotics inspection done and the bike crated in under 2 hours, the Police are heading for lunch, as are the Tampa staff  - watching the latest plan swiftly heading down the pan was not much fun....

Tampa Cargo's 30 minute lunch break turned into well over an hour, In the mean time the aircraft Sammy was supposed to catch that evening arrived and the pilots scooted for a quick lunch, they come back after 30 minutes and they ask me where the bike is going - I tell them that it should be on their aircraft, going to Miami that evening - but they are early, so we chat for a few minutes and I ask them when the next flight will be, they are in the dark too and say that Thursday is possible. They wish me good luck and I get to watch the Airbus taxi and take off without the bike on board.....Streuth.

The cops didnt want to come and do the Narcotics inspection -they were busy having a little siesta I guess, Jose was back so I got him to chivvy the cops up and get going - it was around 230 pm before they wandered over to look at the bike. I had everything laid out ready, they checked in the gas tank, air box, and in the engine and had a good poke around through all my gear, wiping everything down with small papers which change colour if they touch any trace of narcotics, eventually they signed off on the paperwork an hour later.

Its 330 pm and the bike isnt even crated, the flight is missed and my morale is at rock bottom, a couple of airport guys give me a hand to crate the bike up which takes a while, the 'carpenters' got the width of the handlebars wrong and the crate is a half inch too tight, a quick bodge later and its sorted out. Sammy gets fork lifted into a secure storage shed and I talk to the airline girls who assure me that the bike will get put on the next available flight. My flight to Miami leaves the next morning and I am a bit hesitant about going ahead of the bike, potentially having to return to Colombia to sort any further problems out, but I know Gaston in Miami is on the case and he can sort out most eventualities.

Nearly finished
I head back to town, sort out my gear and head to the airport the next morning bright and early. The flight is only a few minutes late and as the Airbus takes off, Im hoping Sammy makes it out too.

I have really enjoyed Colombia, the people have been super friendly, the countryside spectacular and apart from the accident the other week has been a great end to South America.

Sammy sealed in clingfilm

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Barranquilla or Bust....

So after a pleasant but not overly productive week in Cartagena, a few jobs done on the bike and some sight seeing,  I packed up the bike and headed to Barranquilla early Wednesday  morning and straight to an appointment with Coltrans Shipping Company in the commercial sector. The air conditioning in the office was cold and the coffee was hot, which was nice and the  temperature along the coast has been a rather toasty 32 ish degrees today, factor in the high humidity and it feels like 38 C - the riding gear does get a bit warm.

Luckily for me - and them,  one of the girls in the office speaks excellent English. My Spainish, though improved on this trip is still rough and I still tend to miss some of the details in a conversation while generally getting most of the information.

Flying the bike looks feasable, though more expensive than sea freight, it will however put me back on track to meet up with Stan in the Southern USA in a reasonable time frame. We are aiming for a flight this weekend or early next week, Ive still yet to find out if the bike needs to be fully crated or if it can just be put on a pallet and strapped down, Im hoping for the latter which is both cheaper and quicker, both here and in Miami - ride on and ride off the pallet 5 minutes, job done.

Straight after the meeting, I head to the Suzuki dealer in town (the one that actually opens in the morning!)
and buy a new Pirelli rear tire/tyre for a very good price,  I head down to the closest tire fitting shop and get it fitted  in about 15 minutes for another bargain at  $2.66 US.

I didnt hear much back on Thursday, so Friday I got hold of the girls that were helping me and got some bad news - their head office in Bogota had told them that they were not to handle 'personal' dangerous goods - only larger consignments linked to companies....great, another dead end.

The girls in the office were a bit put out with their orders from Bogota, especially after promising me they would be able to help. Also I have been getting some help with getting  from the bike out of Colombia from  a guy in Miami - Gaston, who runs a company called SAmericaXlplorer, he is Chilean, but has been living in the USA for quite a while now. Gaston was on the case straight away looking for another agent and I went to see another agent with Neudith, one of the girls from Coltrans - no go with this agent, but we ended finding one in the same building as Coltrans - just four floors below!

Johanna with MasterFreight said that she should be able to help out, so more photocopies of the bikes papers were taken, its back on currently for a flight on Tuesday - lets see if this time it will work.

There was still some other jobs to get sorted out, Neudith took me along to the DIAN (customs) offices, and we spent quite a while there trying to push through getting the bikes temporary importacion cancelled before the flight on Tuesday. If I had been on my own I would not have got very far, luckily Neudith used to work for DIAN and knows pretty much everyone in the office!!

It turned out that I needed a letter explaining that I was going to export the bike, with the frame number and my details on it,  thinking that I'd have to split back into town to an Internet cafe and bash something together in my dodgy Spanish, Neudith just sat down and used a DIAN computer and typed up a letter in 2 minutes and printed off three copies!!! Nice!

We then headed off to a carpenters shop to sort out a crate, after some discussion we arranged that I would come back on Saturday and the guys would make up a crate - they would also deliver it to Tampa Cargo on Monday, so we can put Sammy in for his trip to Miami.
Sammy Gets Fitted up for a Crate

Saturday comes and we get going with the crate, I take the bike apart - just as we had done for the flight from Edmonton to Santiago, front wheel and mudguard, windshield, mirrors, top box and Lisas pannier off while the base is made, we lift the bike on and the guys take some measurements, then take the bike off again and then they make up the frame for the top while I put the bike back together again.

It was cheaper getting the crate sorted out in Canada, but the guys here made it up from scratch and its going to get delivered to the airport, so I cant complain.

Sunday morning I was up early and did some more jobs on the bike, I adjusted the valves, cleaned the spark plugs,  put on the 15 tooth front sprocket so the bike cruises better on the US Freeways and did some more cleaning and general tinkering.

Lets see what Monday brings.......