Thursday, 26 March 2015

Random Meetings and Catching Some Waves

Location: Nipomo, CA, USA
We left San Simeon early and headed off to our Warm Showers hosts in Nipomo.  We knew we had a long day ahead of us but we were feeling confident, especially after the charge through Big Sur the day before. We were starting to get into the rhythm we had found while we did our shakedown in East Anglia and the earlier frustrations from short days was melting away.  The morning ride to San Luis Obispo was mainly on highway and we managed to grind out those miles quite quickly but when we arrived we were starting to have a food low and needed fuel and a chill out.  This also gave us a chance to confirm the arrangements with our hosts before the final push to Nipomo.  After a map reading issue we arrived safe and sound, but a wee bit late to Don and Mary's.

So, you may or may not know but I have Danish roots. This might seem like an odd statement but stay with me. Our hosts Don and Mary were fantastic and on our rest day they took us on a tour around the area.  We went to a mission near Lompoc and learnt about the Spanish Missions in the area and then headed to Solvang. Solvang is a Danish City within California and was on our list of 'like to do' but it was a bit off our route, but since this is about detouring we were going to make the effort, especially because of my Danish heritage.  However Don and Mary drove us there to have a look and pick up some pastries and headed back to figure out our change of route with Don, who has cycled in every one of the 50 states of the US.

All rested and refreshed we moved off down the coast to El Capitan State Beach.  On route we bumped into Andrew again and cycled with him for about 20 miles before our routes split.  It was great to ride with another cycle tourist and gave us the energy to get to the camp site early.  We had time to pop into the ocean and try our hands at body surfing.  We rose early the next day and headed off to Santa Barbara where we knew there was an REI to buy camping gas.  REI also has free WiFi so we got online to double check some stuff and found out some friends from back home were working around Santa Barbara and were available for a meet up.

The hook up with Bert and Neil was brilliant, we chilled out in Santa Barbara, did some long boarding and just had a brilliant time in the city on Paddy's Day. It was a short day on the bikes and meant we were pushing it to get to our next stop in Thousand Oaks, but the route looked pretty flat and we knew where we were headed so we said goodbye to the Pacific Ocean until Vancouver and headed inland.  Further map reading issues meant the day was longer than we were expecting but the main issue of the day was the crazy steep climb to get to Sue and Cal's house right at the top of the hill. After 40 minutes of pushing our bikes we arrived safe and sound, if a little sweaty to our friend's Auntie's house.

We were given a suggestion of a route to get to our next destination by Cal, and looking on the map it looked like a long, winding road through the hills and was called Grimes Canyon Road so we were expecting a tough day climbing.  After a gentle climb for a couple of hours we had a brief stop before a blind corner.  We both were expecting the corner to reveal the final steep push up to the summit; however we were wrong.  The road dropped away into a long, sweeping descent that lasted for miles and miles.  The views were amazing, the road quality was brilliant and it was such an unexpected descent it made us smile.  We arrived at Peter's house in Santa Clarita and headed out to watch the March Madness College Basketball, our team won and we headed home for an early night in celebration.

We were now on our fifth day in the saddle and were looking forward to another rest day with Ron in Quartz Hill.  The riding was fairly standard with some nice climbs and descents, with the scenery slowly changing to rocky and desert-like.  The hospitality we received once we arrived was outstanding.  Ron was a brilliant host and fantastic cook and both nights after a delicious meal we talked long into the night about almost everything.  We planned the route to Las Vegas and got ourselves ready for the long lonely riding through the Mojave Desert; watching out for heat stroke and rattlesnakes.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Big Sur - Scenery, Serendipity and Sweating

Location: Big Sur, CA 93920, USA
So we finally, and rather sadly, left Santa Cruz on Wednesday 11th March.  Scottish Tony had been given whack load of ribs from some guys he was friends with who worked at a restaurant that was closing down so we spent the last night at Wyatt’s in the kitchen eating ribs, drinking beer and laughing until our cheeks hurt.  It was a great send off.
On Wednesday we had an easy day’s ride down to Monterey and stopped for lunch at Moss Landing where we sat at the end of a little marina and got free entertainment watching a lonesome Sea Otter grooming itself.  We arrived in Monterey, found Colton’s place and after getting cleaned up we went out to a local diner for some dinner with Colton and his girlfriend Alex.  Colton had worked at the diner previously and so knew the staff who were super friendly.  We ate lots of nice food and enjoyed the free refills on our iced teas.  When it came to pay Colton insisted on buying us the meal, which was way above and beyond, but much appreciated.

On Thursday morning Colton rode out with us to show us out along Lover’s Point in Monterey and how to best get to the highway, plus he filled us in on loads of tips about the next few days of riding as he’d done a mini tour not long ago all down Big Sur and further.  Once we hit the coast South of Monterey the scenery started to get pretty wow!  Then we came across Bixby Bridge.  I’m pretty fond of bridges and this is one is really quite stunning.  It was built in 1932 and is a vast curving bridge that spans across a coastal canyon.  On the far side of it you can see the road snaking up hugging the edge of the wooded cliff side.  It’s really beautiful.  And then you think, crikey we have to pedal up that!  But pedal we did and we made it to the top and then whizzing down the other side.  We were really lucky on the descents that day in that we didn’t share them with cars so we could choose our line on the corners and really enjoy bombing down.

We arrived into Pfeiffer Big Sur campsite in the afternoon and had a little explore.  We spied another loaded touring cyclist and got chatting.  Turns out he was British too and we’d spotted him in Monterey while riding with Colton.  Andrew was from Hartlepool and was enjoying his last month of freedom before starting a proper job in London.  He’s really into Kerouac and the beat poets and wanted to come visit Big Sur, whilst cycling from San Fran to San Diego.  It was really nice to meet someone doing something similar and we chatted about bikes and hills and such like.
We set off the next morning knowing we had a big climb straight away, which was a tough start to the day, but we made it to the top and once again enjoyed the downhill immensely.  It was a day of long, slow, hot climbs and big, fast, sweeping descents.  The cars were courteous, we got cheers and whoops from passing motorists, people offered words of encouragement and bottles of water on our many stops at scenic viewpoints, we even got a high five from a passing pedestrian.  And by lunchtime we’d already made it to Nacimiento Road where we were planning to camp.  We decided to press on the next 30 odd miles to the next campsite at San Simeon as we’d done so much better than we had anticipated. 

I’m so glad we did carry on as later that afternoon, on yet another long slog up a hill, Tom was ahead of me (as always on the hills, I’m a slow coach) and I was approaching a layby and there was a couple stood by their car staring quite intently at me.  Well we’d had a lot of stares and cheers and waves as I mentioned so it wasn’t that odd, but they were looking very intensely and so I gave them a wave and a ‘hi’ and tried to figure out why they were looking at me.  As I drew closer we clocked that we recognised each other and I shouted for Tom to turn around and come back.  We went to uni with Saffi and had vaguely known she was in the area, but with all the bike trouble and being so behind hadn’t had the wherewithal to arrange anything.  But she had also known that we were cycling down this way so as her and Luke drove from LA to SF they kept an eye out and hence the intent staring at passing cyclists to see if they could spot us.  The odds of it working out as it did I imagine must be miniscule, but there we were, hugging in the sunshine on a clifftop in California.  The world is a wonderful mysterious place.

That day was a really special one.  The scenery was breathtakingly, epically, beautiful.  The photos don’t do it justice.  The intensely green, wooded hills to our left falling down to the vivid blues of the ocean lapping against the cliffs or the golden sand of inaccessible beaches was just continually jaw-dropping.  And the shifting smells of sea, eucalyptus, pine and flowers was gorgeous.  So that, combined with the continued kindness of strangers, the serendipity of bumping into Saffy and Luke, and the elation that we could conquer these big, big hills and mange to cover over 60 miles in our third day in the saddle was so satisfying and I had a silly grin on my face for most the day.
We came out of Big Sur and though we were happy to have finished with the big climbs of the day I was sad to leave the scenery behind.  Tom and I thought it then looked quite Alpine, like Austria in the summer.  There was even a big castle sat atop a hill (Hearst Castle).  We passed a Zebra, I kid you not, which we think is part of a herd which is to do with the castle.  And then we stopped to check out some Elephant Seals.  Wow!  Those guys, and I do mean the guys, are humongous! 

We finally found the campsite we were looking for and after a very long queue to enter found our spot, got pitched up as quick as possible, ate a big pile of rice and lentils and were asleep in no time.  What a day!

The Kindness of Strangers

Location: Santa Cruz, CA, USA
We have had so much kindness from strangers it is absolutely unbelievable and world affirming. People we have never met before have given us free food, let us stay at their places for free, bought us meals, cooked us dinner, fixed our bikes and driven us around to show us wonders we would have otherwise missed out on.

As Sophie already mentioned we were given food by some fellow hostel-ers. But since Pigeon Point and the issue with the bike we were fortunate enough to bump into Wyatt. Wyatt let us stay at his place, hang out with his friends, do laundry, use WiFi and helped us out in every way possible so that we had a fab time in Santa Cruz. I’m not sure we’ll ever get to repay Wyatt, and in fact all the people that were round there. We loved the stories from Tony, the hospitality from Mimi, the puns from Mike, the chats with Desmond and Lis, the proper tea from Wendy and the cycling advice from Beau; those folks in Santa Cruz were just plain brilliant. Thank you.

But it didn’t stop there. We met our next Warm Showers host and had a beer with Colton and a walk round the town. It was great to break the ice and it made it all the nicer then we finally arrived in Monterey, it felt like visiting old friends. We also, really randomly, bumped into one of other hostel-ers from Pigeon Point in the Post Office. We had a brief “oh my, what are the chances?!” moment before Sue invited us to go to visit the Red Woods in Henry Cowell State Park. As a brief aside, Red Woods are massive; but these Red Woods are skinny compared to the Giant Red Woods in the Avenue of Giants, it’s a shame we’ll miss them, but we were told these we some of the tallest. It was such a beautiful area and we spent about 4 or 5 hours just walking around and for a wee bit we even had a tour guide to highlight some of the more interesting bits and tell us some history of the park.

And finally there was the amazing Paul at Rock Lobster. He was the one that diagnosed the issue with my bike in the first place, pointed out a place to eat and suggested free WiFi at the library (without which we wouldn’t have met Wyatt, which meant we wouldn’t have bumped into Sue and Beau wouldn’t have made route suggestions). But when the part finally arrived from good O’Blighty he helped me fit it and didn’t charge me a bean; I couldn’t believe it.

Coming off my bike really annoyed me (mainly because I shouldn’t be coming off my bike; Thomas W K Passmore be better!!!) but I am so glad I did. That one little mishap really highlighted the wonderful nature of people and that, if you are open to it, there is tremendous good in people.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Aloha Santa Cruz!

Location: Santa Cruz, CA, USA
It took us about 2 and a half hours to ride the 25 miles along the coast to Santa Cruz and it was a great ride.  Blazing sunshine, sparkling sea, nice wide shoulder to ride on, rolling hills that even I could cycle up!  There was another very lightweight touring cyclist who kept passing us.  The first time he stopped to talk was with Tom just outside Pigeon Point as I had ridden back to the hostel unladen as we’d forgotten our swimsuits which were hanging out to dry after the hot tub.  He was cycling from Seattle to Monterey and then back again.  We passed him while we was stopped for lunch and he came whizzing past me up a particularly tough hill shouting ‘YOU ARE SO TOUGH’ at me which was nice!  He cycled with Tom for a bit up ahead and gave us some hints about what to expect.  We passed a peloton going the other way who all whooped and cheered, waved and dinged their bells in greeting.

There was Another Bike Shop just as we entered into Santa Cruz and we stopped there to talk to them about the bike.  The nice guy on the counter said that he could see straight away that it looked like the steer tube was bent and that this wasn’t something they could fix, but pointed us to Rock Lobster just down the road where Paul has been building steel frame bikes for many years.  So we headed over there and 2 guys from the peloton that passed us were just there as we arrived.  One of which was Paul.  He agreed the steer tube was bent and said it would be a bad idea to beat it back into shape as it would leave it weakened and that you really didn’t want that bit weakened.  So we needed a new fork and since we thought that this would be covered by the Thorn warranty we needed to get hold of them and see what they could do.   Rick suggested a place we could get lunch and both Paul and Rick cycled with us to show us the way.  I asked Rick if he knew of anywhere we could get wifi in town and he suggested the library and then gave us a card with his number on saying that if we were stuck for wifi we could call him and go and use the wifi at his place.  We ordered lunch and as we wanted to get the ball rolling asap the next day and we had no idea where we would be I rang Andy my old manager to ask him to ring Thorn bikes for us in the morning.

After lunch we headed into Santa Cruz to find the library and were able to get signal whilst sat outside in a little benchy-garden area.  Tom emailed Thorn as well and I started to search for Warm Showers hosts in Santa Cruz to see if we could find somewhere to stay.  I was just composing an email to a host when a guy wandered over and asked where we were headed.  I replied ‘nowhere, Tom’s bike is bust’ and he said ‘so do you need a place to crash?’ ‘er well yeah actually’ we said.  So Wyatt gave us directions too his place and said we could pitch up in his backyard and that they were probably going away for a few days and we could house-sit.  We couldn’t believe our luck.  So we did a bit more with the wifi and headed to Wyatt’s to get pitched up.  We knocked on the door and said ‘hi, Wyatt sent us and said we could camp in the yard’ Mimi replied ‘totally’ and so that is what we did.  That was 4 days ago now and so far we’ve not slept in the tent, in fact we took it down yesterday as we’re sleeping in Wyatt’s campervan.  There are 3 houses in what is jokingly referred to as The Compound and I think we’ve met most the inhabitants who all seem very cool and friendly.  Wyatt has left us the key to his house so we can use the kitchen and bathroom and it’s all awesome.  We have wifi and so we were able to email and skype with Thorn and after a 4am skype call with Robin, the director, we have a new fork on the way, being sent to Paul at Rock Lobster.  We’ve paid the carriage and after a little discussion they have given us the fork for free.  It’s going to take 3-5 days to get here so at best we’re guessing Monday so we’re ‘stuck’ here until then.

Santa Cruz is a very chilled out, hippy, surfer, bike-friendly town.  We had a wander down the pier where massive sea lions warm themselves up on the joists of the pier.  We could see dolphins in the bay and pelicans flew overhead.  It’s where O’Neill was founded and though there wasn’t a lot of swell there were a few guys out surfing the point break and the break a bit further out.  We saw a guy cycle by with a surfboard strapped to a specially made rack on his bike – awesome.

On Wednesday afternoon we met up with Colton, another warm Showers host who we should have been staying with in Monterey on Thursday, though obviously our plans have changed.  He happened to be in Santa Cruz so we decided to hook up for a beer at Lupulo, a little craft beer place 5 minutes from Wyatt’s.  It was great to meet up with a host in advance and he assured us we were fine to stay whenever we turned up.

So we've just been cooling our heels in Santa Cruz for a week now.  We've been so lucky to have been able to stay with Wyatt and have met some really great people.  Its been nice scoping out a place and getting to know our way around a bit.  We've sorted out a US mobile and got some other bits figured out.  All in all its been a great week, even if there's been zero cycle touring!

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Gas Station Forecourt to Well Deserved Hot Tub!

Location: Pigeon Point, California 95020, USA
We woke up just after 5am the next day and got up about 30 minutes later after discussing possible options for the day and got packed up and were on the road by 7am.  We had decided we would head south and climb over the hills via Kings Mountain Road (not an appealing name!) and aim straight for Henry Cowell SP just inland from Santa Cruz.  After climbing up Bunker Hill again, the ride out of Crystal Springs was nice and we had great wide shoulder/bike path to ride along Canada Road amidst the beautiful scenery of wooded hills.  We stopped at the foot of Kings Mountain Road at Woodside Store for second breakfast – we thought Woodside Store would be a store, but it was an historical landmark, but there was a water spigot (get me and all my American lingo).

While we were just getting the bread, bananas & peanut butter ready a sporty lady cyclist passed us, turned around and came back for a chat.  She asked if we were heading up this road and we said ‘uh-huh’, 'hmm', she said, 'you’re carrying quite a load'.  We said that we’d been recommended to climb up Old La Honda, but that we’d not been able to find it.  She said ‘Oh that’s a much better bet; much quieter, not as high and it’s just down this road’ and gave us directions.  We chatted a bit more and then she set off up the hill on her morning ride.  We ate breakfast and turned left in search of Old La Honda.  THANK GOD we chose this way.  It was really, really tough and I ended up having to get off and walk and then Tom did the same, more to keep me company I think.  The lady cyclist had said the Kings Mountain Road went up to about 1600ft and Old La Honda was about 1300ft so we saved ourselves 300ft, but yet it seemed to go on and on and on.  It was beautiful, gorgeous pine tree clad slopes and quiet winding roads, but just when you thought ‘I think we’re near the top’ we’d turn a corner and the hill would just continue on.  I think we probably took at least 2 hours to reach the top and I think we probably pushed the bikes for a little under half of the distance.  But we did make it to the top. And then we had another think about where to go and what to do.  We opted to head down the other side, Old La Honda West, instead of along the bigger road running along the tops of the hills.  We were still aiming for Henry Cowell SP, though we thought it was going to be a push at this rate.  The ride down the other side was incredible, stunning scenery and sweeping, gently sloped winding roads.  We passed one car on this whole downhill which must have been 4 or 5 miles.  We stopped occasionally to take in the view across wooded peaks as far as the eye could see.

We had to climb another hill though not as big, which was slow going again, then another coast down though the road was slightly busier.  Near the bottom of this hill Tom came off his bike.  It was a pretty minor incident.  The bike came off the road, dropped the 6-8 inches down the verge into soft leafy matter and the front wheel stopped moving causing Tom to go over the handlebars, it wasn’t fast, it wasn’t spectacular and Tom got straight up uninjured and we set off again.  He said it felt like the bike was pulling to the left and to me looking from behind it looked like the front wheel was not in line with the back one.  We pulled over another couple of times to see if we could figure out what was up and if we could fix it, but couldn’t really fathom it.  We cycled along the flat towards Pescadero and rather than turn off towards Henry Cowell we decided to stop in Pescadero to have some lunch and regroup.

It was gone 1pm already, we’d been cycling for 6 hours mostly up hill and were pretty knackered and we weren’t even half way to Henry Cowell SP.  And now Tom’s bike was dodgy.  We decided we’d see about finding somewhere closer to stay and we started asking around.  The potter just outside the garden of the place we had lunch suggested Pigeon Point Youth Hostel, which the lady cyclist had also mentioned was an awesome spot to stop.  This was about 8 miles away and he even rung the hostel up to check they were open and had vacancies, which they did.  So we headed for the coast and cycled south.  Seeing the Pacific in the glorious sunshine was a tonic and I felt good riding again after the morning’s torture!  We spied the little lighthouse at Pigeon Point and gladly pulled into the car park just before 4pm.

It was a little odd to think about sleeping in separate dorms (single sex dorms) but we were happy to have arrived and the thought of a bed and wifi and kitchen were pretty exciting.  Plus the potter had tipped us off about the hostel’s hot tub so as we were checking in I asked about it.  Michael on the desk said that we could have a session for free (usually it’d be $8 a person) as we deserved it after our tough day of cycling.  We booked the sunset slot from 5:45-6:15 and he said that we could call by just after 5pm and if no one had booked the slot before us we could have it from then.  We had a quick stroll around and before we knew it it was 5pm so we headed for the hot tub.  This has to be one of the most spectacularly located hot tubs on the planet.  Its on the cliff top and all you can see is the ocean and the beach below.  And you get it to yourselves!  So Tom and I sat there in the hot tub, with seals or sea lions on the beach below us and watched water spouts from what must have been passing whales as the sun went down over the Pacific.  I don’t think it gets more idyllic than that.

We spent a nice evening chatting with the other guests in our little dorm block.  In particular Sue and Kristen we spoke to a lot and both of them ended up giving us food.  Sue gave us this delicious jalapeƱo and cheese bread which we had with our tinned chilli and Kristen sent us off the next day with 2 delicious breakfast muffins, a big bag of almonds, dried mango and 2 avocados.  Though we both got up early we set off late Tuesday morning as we’d decided just to head to Santa Cruz to the bike shop to figure out what was wrong with Tom’s bike and then decide what we would do from there.  Tuesday was the 3rd March and the 12th anniversary of my Dad’s death.  I always like to mark the day by doing something and I couldn’t think of anything more perfect than riding down Highway 1 in California, along the coast to Santa Cruz on a sunny day singing The Eagles (mostly in my head).

Friday, 6 March 2015

Slow start and mishaps

Location: Baywood Park, San Mateo, CA, USA
So I thought that once we were in the USA it would fine and dandy and that we'd get everything sorted with the bikes, have a nice day in San Francisco and then start the cycling on Sunday and balance would be restored.  Oh my, I was so wrong.

Staying the Matt and Rachel (our Warm Showers hosts) was fantastic.  As an aside, if you cycle tour then get on Warm Showers it is a fantastic way to meet fellow tourers and it is currently saving our skin here in California.  Anyway, back to Matt and Rachel, they pointed at places to see, where to get food, bike stuff and were just brilliant people.  We did manage to assemble the bikes and the packing work we spent so much time on the previous couple of days paid dividends because the baggage handlers seemed to take great pleasure in attacking the boxes.

Our little outing into San Fran was not as successful as putting the bikes back together.  Our aim was to head to an REI, get some food at Trader Joes, got pick up some Adventure Cycling Association Maps, visit the Golden Gate bridge and eat some amazing food.  So we did eat some amazing artisan pizza.  We got to the bike shop that said they sold maps, but what they forget to mention is that their maps were for Northern California and thus completely useless.  This took the whole day, well the 4 - 5 hours we had in the city.  We never got to the REI, never got to see the bridge and never got to stock up on supplies.  When we got home we formulated a plan to set off early and visit an REI that was vaguely on route to our first destination - Half Moon Bay; which was highly recommended by an avid cycle tourist in a bike shop we visited to double check the bikes.

So Sunday came and we got up at about 5:30am to start packing and sorted out to get out early.  After fixing a flat tyre and this and that we left at a much later time of 9:30am. Setting out from Matt and Rachel's was beautiful. Nice wide cycle tracks along the insanely picturesque Bay Trail.  It was fairly slow going because navigating was fairly tricky and we kept stopping and talking to some folks that were really enthusiastic about the trip and kept giving us hints and tips.  So getting to the REI in San Carlos took more time than we were hoping.  After sorting the stuff we needed it was starting to get late but we headed on anyway.  After winding up and down suburban streets we were stopped on Bunker Hill by a passerby and a cyclist asking us where we were headed.  Both, separately, told us the route we were taking was a bad idea because it turned into a major highway and we were not going to get to Half Moon Bay before dark.  We asked about places to camp and were told about a fire track that we could hide away on.  So we headed back down bunker hill and looked to no avail for the track.  In desperation we asked in a petrol station where they might suggest.  The guy had a few suggestions including the school and church, but we cheekily asked if we could camp out back in the tyre storage area.  He phoned his manager and after a tense time told we could stay.

After all told we think we managed a really slow 40-45 miles in that first day.  However things were going to get worse as we headed further south.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Leaving the UK - The Last Few Stumbling Blocks

Location: Manchester Airport (MAN), Manchester M90 1QX, UK
So in the last few days before flying out we encountered a few problems.  The first was that on Sunday, 5 days before our flight we went to do the online passenger registration thing you need to do to and couldn't find our passports.  I was absolutely adamant that they were in my handlebar bag in Rhys's basement.  I would have put money on it, I'd have put ALL our money on it.  But when Tom went down to fetch them they weren't there.  I went down to check.  It was pretty ridiculous of me not to trust Tom to be able to find the passports in the handlebar bag as a handlebar bag is about 6 x 4 x 4 inches and basically a little box, but I was so sure that that is where they were that I couldn't believe they weren't there.  But they weren't.  Now bearing in mind that we had spent the previous 2 weeks touring around the country from Scotland to Cornwall, depositing various stuff with family and friends the fact that the passports weren't there meant thy could be literally anywhere and we had no idea where we would find them.  About 20 minutes of panic ensued with us check my handbag and various other bags in the hope we would stumble upon them, but nothing.  Until Tom remembered he'd spied a couple of passports on Rhys's shelves next to his DVDs and lo and behold there they were.  Cue long sigh of relief.  I had completely lost from my memory the fact that just over a week before I had asked Rhys to send me photos of them as I needed the details for our Drivers License address change.  Rhys had dutifully got them out of my handlebar bag in the basement and emailed the pics before telling me where he had stashed them for when we turned up at his house the following week.

The other major problem we had was that the bike boxes we had kindly been given by Sheffield's Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative didn't fit our bikes - we could only just fit one wheel in each box, leaving the other wheels without anywhere to go and Tom's stem stuck up over the top - not a great situation and despite planning to pack up the bikes a few days in advance due to other things cropping up and Tom being unwell we had left it to the day that my Uncle Bri was coming to pick us up that afternoon.  We did our best having run out of time, knowing that we had Thursday at Aunty Gin & Uncle Bri's to figure it out properly.  Thursday morning I gave High Peak Cycles in Glossop a ring to ask if they had any wheel boxes, they didn't but they had spare bike boxes we could use to try to fashion a box for the wheels and he would show me how the bikes came packed which may help us figure out a better way to do it ourselves.  So I went down had a look and picked up a box.  The type of bike they had in the box was short enough that they only had to take the front wheel off.  Ours, being touring bikes, have a longer frame and so were too long to fit without taking both wheels off.  But, wonderfully, amazingly, joyously the box from High Peak Cycles was bigger overall and I managed to fit my bike and both wheel in without any trouble.  So I high-tailed my way back to the shop for another box and we sorted Tom's out in no time too.  By Thursday afternoon we felt like we were winning.

Our flight left at 12:40 but due to not wanting to be sat stressing in rush hour traffic we left just after 7am and got the the airport at about 8am.  We sat around waiting for check in to open and toyed with the idea of buying a flight from Toronto to Mexico, but decided against it.  Once check in opened we joined the short queue. The check in lady had some issue as the ESTA thing on her computer wouldn't let her print out boarding passes for Stockholm to Oakland but her supervisor just came over & overrode it & said we'd just need to get our boarding passes in Stockholm & this was fine & normal. It was not fine & normal.

When we got to Stockholm no one knew what to do with us & we ended up having to go through border control to enter Sweden before checking back in again (massive queue) where we were told we couldn't board the plane as we didn't have a return ticket out the US.  We were advised we should buy a totally flexible (expensive ticket) from US to UK just to be able to check in & then cancel it at later date. So 13,000 Swedish Kroner lighter (about £1100) we finally managed to check in & pass through security.  The flight was great; nice plane, lots of films to choose from and we were sharing our row of seats with a really nice German girl.  But we were mega stressed about getting a grilling at the other end by US border control. After landing and spending nearly 2 hours fretting in a very long queue at Oakland, we were let through without any problem. The border guard just teased Tom, suggesting we should get married in Vegas since we're here. Phew.

By this point it was gone 10pm local time & Tom & I had been awake for over 25 hours (barring a couple of minutes of sleep snatched on the flight). Our Warm Showers host came and picked us up and we managed to get all our stuff and us in his car and arrived at his lovely home to find that we had a bed all made up. We hit they hay right away and were asleep in no time.