An idea conceived, an adventure begins
In 2016, our friends Tim and Hetty cycled from India to England. Their stories ignited in us a burning desire for an adventure of our own. Soon enough, Gabi suggested we cycle through South America. Our ideas quickly snowballed, gaining momentum, and we soon found ourselves imagining a journey not just through South America by bike, but all the way from Alaska to the bottom of Argentina. Spurred on by fantastic blogs, and by route descriptions on bikepacking.com, our plans started to take shape. We soon found ourselves in possession of a Surly ECR (for Jamie) and a Surly Ogre (for Gabi). A two week tour through New Zealand by bike on the Alps2Ocean trail from Mount Cook to Oamaru convinced us that this was definitely what we wanted to do.
And then, all of a sudden, 18 months since the conception of our idea, we found ourselves making our final frantic preparations. We sold many of our possessions, gave away even more, and packed the rest onto shipping pallets, which Gabi's dad Tom kindly stored for us in his shed. All of a sudden our bikes were packed, our apartment empty and echoey, and we were on our way!
First stop, Hawaii, for a week of rest and recuperation. Our bikes would remained resolutely packed up and in storage at the airport. This was to be the calm before the storm. Nothing more strenuous than strolling across the road to the beach, or lazily snorkelling amongst turtles.
However we weren't prepared for how difficult it would be just getting through immigration and customs. Especially as we were sleep deprived, and I was sporting my usual start-of-the-holiday cold from hell. Bleary eyed and barely conscious I was grilled by the immigration official.
Official: "How long will you be in the USA?"
Me: "Um, one week... no wait, I mean a month. Hang on, I will actually be there for probably about 6 months all up."
Official: "So... one week, one month or six months?"
Me: "Six months"
Official: "What will you be doing?"
Me: "Riding my bike."
Me: "Yeah, my girlfriend and I are riding from Alaska to Argentina."
Official: "Why would you want to do that? And where is your girlfriend now?"
Me: "Just over there. Oh wait, no she isn't. She must have gone through already."
Official: "Right. And how much cash do you have?"
Me: "None. Oh wait, I have ten dollars."
Official: "What do you do in Australia?"
Me: "I'm a doctor"
Official: "Uh huh. Come this way with me sir."
To be fair, I can understand that she was concerned and didn't quite believe me. She led me to an interview waiting room where I waited for about 20 minutes by myself. There were big scary signs up all over the walls forbidding you from using your mobile phone, so I had no way of letting Gabi know where I was, and that I was possibly on my way to being deported!
Eventually another official came over and asked me all the same questions again. He asked to see proof that I was a doctor (which I didn't have with me), and seemed very perplexed that we were planning to ride through the USA. And even more perplexed that we only had $10 cash with us. But really, who travels with cash in 2018?
Another fifteen minute wait, and the official returned, and informed me that they wanted to search our bags. He led me through the baggage reclaim area, where we found Gabi worriedly waiting beside our pile of bike bags and luggage. After searching through all of our bags, and struggling to believe that we were travelling with so little clothing, he eventually, almost begrudgingly let us on our way, with a hesitant "good luck" and a warning to "stay out of trouble". As if that's likely!
After a delirious early morning bus ride, we eventually arrive at a grimy blue hostel. The communal area is filled with funny old chairs and bright paintings of Hawaiian islands. As it's too early to check in, we dump our bags and walk over the road to the beach. We find a spot on the sand under a palm tree and promptly fall asleep.
A few hours later, we wake too find half our body completely sunburnt. We launch ourselves into the sea, and watch amused as life savers use jet skis to pull a giant blow up swimming pool filled with young men out of the danger from the waves. Further down the beach, a Jamaican man happily throws a fishing line out into the kiddy pool, seemingly unperturbed by the fact there are no fish.
On the way back to our hostel we swing by a supermarket to get supplies. Turns out one bread stick, a small packet of olives, a tiny tomato, a block of cheese and a pineapple costs approximately $50 AUD. Oh my goodness - maybe we should start fishing ourselves! We walk back to the hostel carrying our bounty, only stopping once for a egg yolk coloured firetruck to pass.
Jamie loved the Rainbow Diner. Gabi didn't. Turns out Americans are having a hard time with our accents. Jamie ordered a small iced tea and was given a cheese cake. This was eventually, after much confusion traded for an all American sized ice tea. We do, however, love a cheeky Starbucks followed by a free blood pressure test.
Back at the hostel, we excitedly grab our 'private room' key, and head upstairs to our room.
It isn't private.
Turns out we are sharing our room with a girl from the Navy and a friendly guy who seems to find protein shake advertisements of great interest. The free coffee and close proximity to the beach, is the hostels saving grace.
The next day we catch a local bus, with the intention of taking it up the coast to a quiet beach. Jamie shows me the map on his phone, of the beach we're heading for.
'So we are heading to about halfway up the East coast?' I ask.
'Yeh, see? Just past this little town.' Jamie points to the screen. 'It will probably take an hour and a half?'
We sit and look out the window, watching a high rise buildings and sweaty tourists go by.
After about half an hour, the scenery still looks the same. I ask too look at Jamie's phone again.
'It looks like we're just going in a weird circle?'
'That can't be right.' Jamie looks down at the little blue line, which does indeed show that we've just done a huge circle and not actually gone anywhere.
'ALRIGHT - EVERYBODY OFF THE BUS'. The grumpy bus driver glares as a load of bewildered passengers stumble off the bus.
'Well that's that then - shall we walk over the road and have a look at this beach instead?'
We cross at the lights and walk through the grassy park to the beach. The sand is burning hot, so we hop, skip and jump straight into the water. Crisp blue water. Yum. We splash around in a little cove nestled in front of a group of grey high rise buildings. The beach seems to be a favourite for Chinese weddings (we count at least 7 taking place) and local primary schools - many hot and bothered teachers mill around, trying to herd groups of children under the shade. It's the first time I've thought of work since we've left. I smile, and dive back under the water.
The next day we check out of our funny little hostel room, and catch a local bus up the coast (this time we don’t go around in a circle). Palm trees, white sand and turquoise blue water, whizzes past. A few hours later, after passing through a bizarre Mormon village, we arrive at Oahu’s North Shore. We get off the bus at Shark Cove, where everyone is splashing around and snorkelling among the rocks. Over the road food trucks sell hot, garlic shrimp and zesty fish tacos. Heaven. We check into our local homestay, and begin to laze furiously.
We decide to hire bikes (as ours are happily resting in baggage storage at the Honolulu airport). Over the next few days we cycle up and down the coast, we leap in waves, watch turtles crawl up the beach, and drink coconuts perched on the sand. Each night, we watch the sunset and try to recreate the local fish tacos.
It’s time to say goodbye to Hawaii. We charge our electronics, say farewell to our fridge, and climb back on the bus; we are excited, nervous, and eager to begin our cycle adventure in Alaska.