.....The BiKeWriTer

Monday, December 13 – Hamilton, New Zealand

Monday, Dec. 13, 2010 HAMILTON, NZ – The 13-hour VAustrailia flight from LA to Sydney, Australia was made tolerable by a 12 x 10-inch personal television with selections that included current movies, TV programs, and music.

I fed off the programming like a drug. I didn’t learn a lot about the woman sitting next to me but managed to watch the new Eclipse, a bunch of Glee and Date Night with Tina Fey and Steve Carell.

Transferred from Sydney (whose airport is much like a Chicago mall) and took a puddle-jumper, 2-hour flight to my destination of Auckland, New Zealand.

I was worried the airline would lose my bike. At every stop and transfer point I made the airline check that my bike was still on board. I paid Delta Airline $200 to make sure my bike and gear travel with me.

Got to Auckland Airport about 5 p.m. Saturday and there was my bike in a box just as expected.

And my gear, it was safe… in L.A.

Not a problem, but my pedals and tools and axle for my front wheel were with my gear – as were my clothes.

I’ve never been the ‘lost-baggage person.’ I knew this would be a new challenge.

After a mere five minutes with baggage claims customer service, I wished this was happening to somebody else.

Simply put, there was no accountability. Matter of fact, the airline determined this was all my fault.

“Did you have travel insurance,” said the clerk, who had just finished tracing the bar code on the bag to L.A.

I didn’t have travel insurance, but to clarify I responded, “Did I pay $200 extra to correctly fly my bike and bag to New Zealand or did I pay $200 extra to only fly half my gear?”

I was not in the mood to play.

A woman standing next to me also lost her bags. She flew out of Canada to L.A. to Sydney to New Zealand and was shy her luggage with a wedding dress she was wearing in two days.

“I have travel insurance,” she said.

The clerks eagerly flitted to her like birds chasing bread crumbs.

The clerks proceeded to hand the woman an encyclopedia of forms to fill out. “The insurance carrier will notify you in four to six weeks with a decision on your claim,” said the clerk.

That woman was on the doom-line express and, sadly, I was riding shotgun.

Baggage Claims said my gear was apparently on stand-by for a flight Sunday morning.

I was directed to the empty ‘help desk’ for assistance to the closest youth hostel and as I left the clerk said, “You can’t leave your bike here – you’ll have to take it with you.”

Mind you my bike was in a box the size of a recliner. I’d put it together, but I have neither pedals nor a pin to attach the front wheel. Think pushing a wheelbarrow and carrying the wheel.

Apparently, since I now claimed the bike, I would have to pay the airline to store it.

Have I mentioned they lost my bag?

Storage was $15 a day.

Testing my patience and my survivor skills I grew a thick skin and challenged myself to remedy the situation that was all my fault, for under $100.

I cut a deal with the storage guy; I would pick up the bike the next day guaranteed, if he could just store it for one night for free.

Then $5 went to a shuttle to a youth hostel for $30; the room was probably the best money spent so I could shower, sleep and come back with my game face on.

The Youth Hostel had a giant kiwi bird peering over the top of the building, like it was stalking food.

Comforting.

The clerks at the youth hostel were Indian, so it felt much like America.

I had been in my clothes for three days at this point; I spent another $7 on toothbrush, paste, and razors or shavers, as they’re called in New Zealand.

Another $2 for Internet and the Youth Hostel made an attempt to reach out, generously throwing in two medicinal beers at no charge.

My next step was to find a bike store, buy pedals and an axle, get back to the airport, put my bike together and wait on my gear.

I got up at 4 a.m. and the manager of the Youth Hostel gave me directions to the bike shop in Onehinga. “But you can’t go now, they don’t open until 9 a.m.,” he said, with a heavy Indian accent.

I planned on walking the 6 miles to the shop. “You can’t – that’s not possible……” (I think that’s what he said as I pushed out the door.)

Temps were comfortably in the 70s. The sun was coming up and I was walking with all my personal belongings.

I felt like Caine in Kung Fu – a sleeping mat slug over my shoulder and a bamboo stick for protection.

Actually my gear was a bike bag with a camera, small computer, and a book by Anne Lamott, spare inner tube, notebook and radio.

Not exactly a comfortable pillow to rest a weary head, and all growing primarily useless considering my recharging cords were with my gear, which was safe in LA.

CHRIS AND HEATHER…

Clipped off the six miles to Hedgehog Bikes and determined walking is too slow a form of world travel; I desperately missed my bike.

I had a nice two-hour wait until the bike shop opened, but it was all made comfortable by Chris and Heather. The couple arrived early to open the neighboring bar and restaurant.

“Can I made you a cup of coffee?,” asked Heather, as I sat on the ground outside the shop looking miserable.

It was the nicest someone had been to me so far this trip.

Heather was in her late 40s and managed the bar. She had short, straight hair and wore a one-piece black dress with sandals and smoked Horizon cigarettes.

Her boyfriend, Chris, was a tough biker dude with a red, four-inch beard; think if Metallica swallowed Easy Rider.

Heather was also the one who came up with the plan to volunteer her boyfriend to drive me to the airport, pick up my bike and return to Onehinga. It would save time and be easier than juggling the airport on foot, again.

Chis, with some tough-guy reluctance, agreed.

Once on our way, Chris turned teddy bear. Make that rebel teddy bear, since he talked about his visit to the States, Sturgis, and something about being arrested and a gun.

I felt, however, he had my back.

Grabbed my bike, got fixed at the cycle shop for $55 and I was on my way. Happy to be moving and somewhat relived that my gear was safe in LA.

And yes, I realize that’s such an oxymoron.

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