The day before I left, my grandparents came over for a final goodbye. It was great to get to spend so much time with them over the 2 months I Was back as it had been more like once a year during my time teaching in Asia. My grandad might think I’m crazy, but they’ll both fully support everything I plan to do and it makes it easier knowing that. They’ve always been there for me anytime I’ve asked for it and I’m lucky to have them and will miss them during my trip which unfortunately sees me missing my grandad’s 80th birthday in August.
After they had driven off it was time for the small last minute things. A trip to Crewe to buy things and sort out some US dollars, making a pack list out of my Excel spreadsheet and knocking a few other small things off my to do list. Everything related to my bike trip had been kept downstairs in what had been nicknamed “The Adventure Room” and so with my mum I went through making sure the things on my pack list were there. It took a while but then it was just a case of throwing things in to random bags. There wasn’t much point trying a proper packing strategy as I had ordered quite a lot online and got it shipped to Alix’s in Florida. I stayed up until about 2am working on the website and doing some last minute computer things and collapsed in to bed pretty exhausted.
The big day finally arrived. After almost 2 months of prep at home it was finally time to fly. My mum came to my room to wake me up and after a last check of my most important things we were off. The drive down to the airport was fairly uneventful. We stopped a few times to ensure the bike box was securely attached to the roof rack of the car but other than that we got to Gatwick on time even though we left later than we planned as the roads were so quiet.
My dad stopped at the entrance to arrivals and we took all my things off the car. It involved all my Jenga skills to keep things balanced on the luggage cart, but it all made its way over to the VAT office where I submitted a VAT claim for my bicycle. In the UK we pay 20% VAT (Value Added Tax) on most products but if you are either a non European resident or exporting the goods for a certain length of time you can get it back. The bike cost about £2400 which meant I got a refund for about £400 making it slightly more reasonably priced. A quick trip to the Iceland Express desk to check in was followed by a slightly longer walk around the airport to get the bicycle checked in as it was in a rather large box. Having got everything sorted out we headed to a coffee shop for a final drink where I found the thickest hot chocolate I’ve ever had. It had the consistency of melted chocolate and was incredibly rich, a delicious sugar rush to start the trip.
After the drinks we walked over to security and goodbyes were said and there were a lot of waves, not helped by the fact that after I’d entered I ended up being looped back round so I could see my parents again! A bittersweet occasion as I’ll definitely miss them and the comfort of being at home but it’s the start of a huge adventure that has been under planning for almost a couple of years.
The flights from Gatwick to Iceland and then on to Newark were uneventful as I was asleep most of the way. They were delayed a little as a member of the flight crew had to be replaced, but other than that nothing happened. When I wasn’t sleeping I was busy reading my Kindle and eating the snacks that we had prepared as being a budget airline Iceland Express charges for food and drink.
On landing in Newark we were an hour late so I jumped off the plane quickly eager to use my legs having been sat down for such a long time and wanting to get through immigration quickly. On getting to the counter I got told that I needed another form so had to queue up again after filling it out. The immigration official was very friendly but slightly confused as to why I would possibly want to ride my bicycle as far as I explained but wished me all the best. A much better experience than I had been warned about by others. If all my other immigration encounters go as smoothly I’ll be a happy traveler.
After getting through immigration it was time to pick up my bags and then re-check them in as we had changed from an international to a domestic flight. I went over to grab a luggage cart and was very confused by it not coming out. I moved to another row of them assuming it had gotten stuck and then saw the slot where I could insert my credit card and pay $5. Not a chance. I picked up my 2 checked in bags and then dragged them over to the large baggage section to pick up my bicycle. I got some very strange looks and it was very cumbersome but there was no way I was paying.
I got to the line to check in again and it didn’t seem too bad. 20 minutes later having moved one person forward I, and all the other passengers in line, was starting to get slightly frustrated. There were 2 men checking people in but they seemed to be having a problem with the computers. The line of 12 people, of which I was at the end, took over 90 minutes to clear. When I finally got to the counter the man was explaining there was a long standing problem for passengers who have an I-94 form which was the cause. By the time we took off the plane was almost 2 hours late. That would have been fine but we were meant to be landing at 23:55 in the first place, thankfully with my Kindle I could email Alix and let him know just how late I was so he didn’t have to sit at the airport forever.
I managed to again sleep through most of the Newark to Sanford flight and although arriving at almost 2am was in good spirits. I had arrived! Now to just go outside to wait for Alix and hope my bike and bags would fit in his car.