30 June, 2007

LA Fundamental. 27,847miles

Highway 1 curved down towards the south beautifully. It reminded me lots of the road down the coast of Ayrshire, there were even a few contenders for the title of Ailsa Craig. I stayed in a campsite along the way which somehow cost $45 for one tent, one human one night. By far the most expensive campsite I've ever stayed in. But the place was clean and tidy, the staff were very friendly and I spent a comfortable evening with the doors open. No beasties bothered me, and I slept soundly with the doors wide open on both sides of the tent.

Next day Highway 1 started getting called the Pacific Coast Highway (or PCH). It wasn't any closer to the sea here than it had been farther north, but that's what the southern Californians decided they wanted to call it, much to the amusement of their northern chums. There is some interesting rivalry between North and South California. Anyway, the PCH was the highly scenic route to Los Angeles, which itself, much like Mexico City, was easier than you might think to navigate. I had a tasty lunch of fish and chips from a place that sold HP sauce and even Irn Bru - the real thing! The Irn Bru had a warning label to remind me that "this beverage was not a main source of nutritious iron". Sometimes you have to go a long way to find the truth, but it's always worth it - 'girders' indeed! Still, more flavoursome than Coke or Inka Cola. Then I went to find my destination, the home of some friends of Ronnie and Trish back home, in Newport Beach just after lunchtime.

Mike and Laura live here in Greater LA but never lock their door. They prefer not to live in a constant worry about break-ins. Risky, but I have to agree it's better not to worry about such things - while having all the necessary insurance! (but would insurance cover you if the door was unlocked - if it wasn't locked, thieves would just break it!) They have both visited Scotland several times and developed a deep love for the place. In fact, I had met Mike briefly just last year, in Kinghorn. They hope eventually to retire to somewhere in Scotland.

A young lad in a kilt greeted me at their door. His kilt wasn't plaid but leathery, or maybe denim. He told me it was a working kilt, and right enough it was full of pockets. This get-up wasn't for my benefit at all, but just this lad's normal day wear. He found it comfortable and enjoyed the attention he got from it. He was co-incidentally there just for the day with his girlfriend visiting Mike and Laura's daughter, Opal.

I quickly said some hellos before negotiating with Opal the dumping of some stuff on her lawn. I then headed straight off to seek out a crate for the bike. This began a whirlwind of activity that led to a little stress, but ended well enough, with much luck and lots of adventure. After two willing but unable BMW dealerships, Carlos at the Yamaha dealer's said he'd have one in the morning. Could I come back at 10am? Now I just needed to beg, borrow or rent a truck.

Returning to Mike and Laura's, I found Mike was home from work. We re-introduced ourselves and I outlined my progress so far. Mike remembered that Laura's brother, Mark, had a pick-up. His house wasn't too far away. Mike made a quick phone call and we were soon slightly confused as Mike, Mick and Mark chatted about everything and had one or two refreshing beers from the keg and pump which Mark had installed next to his barbecue in the garden. Mike hasn't any taste for beer so we were safely able to swap vehicles and drive away. Mark even came back round with us to help lift the bike onto the truck! I would have to drive this massive thing tomorrow!If everything went according to plan I'd need to get on a flight that I'd found out about from LA to NZ which went on Monday. Sadly, I lack the skills needed to work the internet thing properly and so I e-mailed Julie Reid at Charlie Reid's Travel in Kirkcaldy to see if she could help. I wasn't sure you could book a flight from outside the country you were in but to my great surprise and relief, she was able to do everything. They really are brilliantly competent at that excellent, family-run place. Not knowing whether I could get the flight meant that I would have had to book it at the very last minute. This didn't flap Julie at all.

Laura very kindly took a day off her work to 'ride shotgun' (navigate!) and off we went to get the bike into the crate. For some strange reason, and to my further great surprise (but this time, disappointment), Carlos and the guys at the bike shop were unable, they said, to help us take the bike from the truck. Laura and I would have to hope we might get some help at the Shippers. She reckoned it was probably something to do with the possibility of them getting injured in the process of lifting and the subsequent insurance claims. For me, though, it was still a bit strange as I'd never come across less helpful bikey-types, although they had gone to the trouble of providing the crate? In my experience, bikeys almost always help each other out. When this had happened back in South Africa, the guys there had been all over the place, lifting the bike and building the crate back up. I had been allowed to help, but they did by far the bulk of the work since they knew what they were doing with the crate, and took no payment, happy to help. (I left them a hefty tip!) But, the US is the land of lawyers . . .

Down at the shippers, Moses took some convincing to use his forklift to help lift the bike off the truck. We had to do it "off his lot" (out of the property of his business, again for insurance reasons!) and in the street, but we managed. Then Laura and I had to take the front wheel off the bike before getting it onto the metal crate. I had to use a metal crate because the Australians are afraid a wooden one might bring alien beasties in to their country. Having organised the bike as best we could, Debbie from the office came out with lots of clingfilm and wrapped it all up. Then she got Moses to put the bike back onto the truck. With all the paperwork organised, we drove down to US Customs, who I'd been told might take as much as a week to ten days to sign the appropriate documents. We paid for four hours' parking and hoped for the best.

On the 8th floor of a building in Downtown Long Beach, the process might have taken as much as ten minutes in total. And that included getting the lift up and down! The nice lady stamped and signed just as soon as we showed her the papers! Then we had to get to the shippers before it shut. We'd awkwardly put the bike onto the truck using some human as well as forklifting power. The forklift driver at the shippers had big sort of extending clown feet to put on the ends of his forks so it was no problem for them to remove the bike, a wee bit shaky, from the back of the truck. All we had to do was get the stamped, official paperwork back to Debbie before she went home. All done at 1640hrs!!

It had taken the whole day, and I could never have done it without Laura's invaluable guidance as well as her engineering skills. I wasn't sure what to do with myself, now. So I spent much of the time catching up with e-mails and reading. On the Sunday we went to a pretty wee market market where Laura had a stall selling the jewellery she expertly makes at home. As a part of this year's Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, you'll be able to find Laura exhibiting and selling her work outside Parliament Square on the Royal Mile. Amazingly intricate and very pretty jewellery. I think it's the second week of August that she'll be there!

There was a long pier off the beach there with a great view of the surfers. I tried but I couldn't really work out the whole point of this activity. It looked like great fun, but didn't seem to last long enough to have been worth all the waiting. It gives you something to do on what would maybe otherwise be another boring day of lying on the beach sunbathing, I suppose. Mike told me there was a great natural connection between the surfer and the wave. But you can get this from sailing and still manage to actually go somewhere. Each to their own. There's no real need for fun to be practicable - it just helps me to justify it if it is! There's a saying that also applies to biking which may be relevant here - "if you do it, then no explanation is necessary. If you don't, then no explanation is possible".

Later that evening Mike and Laura had a top barbecue at which some very funny and off-the-wall stories were told. Opal and Laura on their porch.

Next day, Laura very kindly took the time to drive me up to the airport. This is the one with the tunnel and the road goes under the airport's taxi-way. Huge!! All in all, I could hardly have hoped for a more hospitable, friendly and unbelievably helpful 'launchpad' for leaving the US. I have Mike, Mark and Laura to thank for my catching this boat and not having to wait a whole extra week until the next available ship.

Thanks so much guys - good job!! I'll hope to see you back in Scotland soon.

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