Thursday, 10 May 2012

Chapter 3

                                       CHAPTER  3

 As I write this one suddenly realises it is now only 6 weeks to when we are on the jolly ( I hope!)  Air New Zealand plane winging our way to Vancouver.

But however let's back the bus up a little because although a lot is happening with trip preparations right at the moment the momentum for the trip has been building over the last few weeks or so.

Firstly, the shipping of the bikes has been now booked. After careful consideration of boats that might be considered good enough to carry our precious cargo we have chosen the good shippe the "Captain Vilano" which is due to depart our shores direct for Vancouver on the 26th of May. Of course these days with the Internet not only can you preview your chosen vessel but you can see it in glorious technicolour,  check its vital statistics and you can also track its progress. I am you sure could possibly also check to see whether or not the Captain is an ex Italian cruise line captain !

An annoying feature of shipping vehicles of any sort is that they are now classified as "dangerous cargo".  Our precious girls dangerous?  Given that we have to drain the fuel tanks and disconnect the batteries this requirement does seem somewhat over the top. Of course not every ship is a dangerous goods certified ship so this limits ones choice of vessels and naturally, surprise,surprise puts the cost up.

When it comes to charges I have to say the shipping industry could give banks a run for their money and teach them a few lessons on the question of sundry charges.  Would you believe the actual shipping costs are only about 20% of the total freight costs?  Then come about 20 other various miscellaneous charges from the shipping company itself, BAFS and CAFS, Customs at both ends, bio security charges, anti-terrorism charges, handling charges, storage charges and all sorts of myriad paper handling charges. You name it and it is there!  It is a wonder that there is not a charge for handling the charges!  Someone in the industry must have a vivid imagination. On second thoughts perhaps don't tell the banks that they are currently outdone in this area of hidden and miscellaneous charges and fees!

As part of shipping preparations we had to transport (for transport read "ride") the bike from Queenstown to Auckland, a distance of about 1500kms.  One early Sunday morning, a week after Easter,  Diana and I solemnly stood in our riding gear outside our house in Queenstown. Mella was all loaded up ready to go. I pulled my Iphone out of my pocket and hit the play button. As we stood to attention the melodic notes of the song "North to Alaska" burst forth from my Iphone. A tear came to my eye and I felt my voice drop a few octaves in a nice husky ( excuse the pun) Alaskan manly way.  The spell was only broken by the starter motor of the bike. Then, as I accelerated up our difficult and steep driveway, I momentarily felt the front wheel of the bike leave the ground. Moll on the back didn't notice but I sure did! It seemed sort of symbolic as if Mella was a racehorse rearing to go!

The very dificult process of transporting the bike north
We then had a lovely autumnal blast up the West Coast of the South Island and then across to Wellington. A few meetings in Wellington, a steering committee meeting with Ken and Shirley, and then it was up to Auckland. On the Wellington to Auckland leg I decided to see if I could Diana could take a 630km day on the back of the bike just in  case we were forced to do one somewhere on the trip. It was her very last test I subjected her to! The results were remarkable. Diana bounced off the bike in Auckland as fresh as a daisy just as if she had come in from a ladies bridge meeting.  I, on the other hand, was a very tired pony. Clearly she is now becoming too comfortable on the bike but of course we have ways of fixing that ! 

 Part of the preparation for the trip has also been the question of gear selection, both for the bike and ourselves. Firstly the bike.  It seems as if there is a whole industry based around providing extras or "farkles" as they are known, for the bike. You are apparently not a real rider until you have farkled your bike! Then, and only then, can you prop up a bar and casually debate the merits of your latest mudguard extender or your potentiometer protector. And of course the industry plays on your emotions to the limit. "We have heard of someone who once hit a rock and cracked their very expensive crankcase so we highly recommend this super strengthened, ultra light, smart looking crankcase protector at the low price of several hundred dollars!"  Of course, in spite of 50 years of smart BMW engineers working on the design of the bike, there are some extras one should have. The question is which ones out of the many hundreds of farkles to chose from. Well I know that even if they do not protect my bike or work at least I have got many hours of biker to biker conversation in them!

Then there is the question of  what gear to carry? Here is where it gets tricky. With "2up" ( that is not a watered down lemonade based soft drink!) on the bike both weight and volume become important.  Weight, because the heavier the bike the harder it is to handle. Plus with the two of us plus luggage we are close to the manufacturers maximum recommended weight, although I suspect this is only for doing 180 km per hour down the autobahn!  Then volume is important as there is only a finite amount of space available.  However I was somewhat amazed to find out when I added up all the space available in the panniers, in the top box,  in the Ortlieb bags on top of the  panniers and in the tank bag it all came to a big 200 litres available space. That is the same as the old 44 gallon drum!

So it was a case of going as lightweight as possible and after all the tools and all the camping gear and all the protection gear go in there is still not a lot of room for clothing. Part of the problem with what clothing to take is that we have to be covered for both temperature extremes ranging from possible snow showers in northern Alaska through to plus 45 degrees C temperatures in the likes of Death Valley and points further south.

You might have read that the New Zealand outdoor shop Katmandu is experiencing higher sales but lower trading margins and a subsequent profit drop at the moment. Well, I am sure I am a contributor to their problems!  We are now almost a walking advertisement for them!

  But let me tell you a funny story about my visit to one of their stores, the location of which should remain nameless.  I stagger up to the Katmandu check out counter with my arms absolutely loaded with "stuff".  "Oh" said the bright young thing at the check out desk,  "Going somewhere major are you?"  It was all clearly out of the "how to engage with customer" training manual. At least I was not offered fries!  "Yes" I said, "Actually" - ( just as our Prime Minister says "actually") -  "I am going to Alaska."  Then, since it was such a grey and boring Auckland day I thought I would be terribly funny and lighten up the day for her.  "Perhaps I should be asking if you have any "bear spray"?  I volunteered.  She paused and looked at me as if I was a 65 year old balding and greying man. "Well",  she said after a reflective pause  " We don't stock "hair spray" in our shops, you will have to go to a chemist".  I sneaked out with my tail between my legs vowing and declaring to never engage in such repartee with shop assistants again. Never, ever!

Do I need five pairs of socks or four?
Well, it is one thing to buy what you need for a trip such as ours but another thing to pack it. So last Sunday the empty bike luggage was laid out on the floor of our sitting room and a trial packing commenced.  The conversations went back and forward  " Do I really need 5 pairs of socks or will 4 do?" And so on and so forth. And correct packing is not just about weight and volume. Packing has to be arranged to have the weight as low as possible and as far forward as possible and as close to the bike as possible and if that is not enough then both sides have to be then reasonably balanced. After many hours the final " packing accord " was struck and signed off between the two of us and that exercise is now done. Some of the luggage will be shipped with the bike, the rest will travel on the plane with us.

Now that is better!

So next week the bikes get delivered to Experience BMW in Auckland for servicing and crate packing then on Friday it will be farewells as off the bikes go to the shipping company all packed up and strapped down into their crates.