If you’ve been with me since I added “blogger” to my resume nearly a year ago, you may remember my third post – On Traveling Overseas with Bicycles – in which I regaled my approximately two readers with our plan to haul our bicycles over to the UK for our summer road trip around parts of England and Wales. That post explained the how and the why of our dubious endeavor.
I’m here today – 81 posts later – to tell you how it all went down.
The husband, full-time bicycle addict and part-time cycling store employee, just happened to find a Can’t Miss! Hurry Or It’ll Be Gone! Deal Of The Century about two weeks before our departure. You see, he doesn’t just like to spend copious amounts of money on himself when it comes to his favorite activity. If he looks around and sees that he can’t honestly justify any more bikes or related gear for himself (for the time being), he looks to outfit me with yet another bike and yet more color-coordinated accoutrement.
Specialized® (the cycling brand to which the husband would happily donate a kidney if asked) had just added a new bike to their “Blem” list. This is a list that is not available to the general public but that he can access from the store where he works, and contains their inventory of blemished bikes that are heavily discounted. The bike that was causing all the fuss was labeled “Blem – excellent,” meaning it was in fabulous condition. It only had two small cosmetic flaws that were barely visible. According to the husband – who was relaying this urgent information to me in excited but cautious tones, knowing I had the power to put the kibosh on his dreams – this was incredibly rare. Hardly ever were “blem” bikes subcategorized as “excellent” and it was sized perfectly for me. This was like… like… getting upgraded to first class on a long-haul flight! Like… like… winning the lottery! Unmoved by his pleading gaze and ridiculous comparisons, I considered the situation. Even at half off, the bike was very expensive. My current bike was perfectly adequate. Hmmm, adequate. I had been wanting disc brakes for a while. This “blem” bike had them. It also had electronic shifting, something I didn’t much care about but that the husband assured me I would come to love.
After a purposely pregnant pause and exaggerated eyeroll (for effect), I relented. “Oh alright. Go ahead and get it,” I sighed loudly in an annoyed fashion. “Just remember what an awesome wife I am, and by the way, this is going to cost you a LOT of foot rubs.”
Against my most fervent wishes, not only did the bike arrive from the West Coast before our departure, it came a full five days before it… plenty of time for the husband to build it and for me to take a couple of test runs before packing it up. So it was that my old bike was consigned to a hanging hook in the basement and the new bike went on its first international journey.
Part I: Getting there
Packing the bike box requires disassembling the bikes and arranging them just so. It’s like a 3D puzzle made out of carbon and rubber, and there’s no room for error or approximation. Either they fit perfectly, or they don’t fit. Though the husband considers building a bike to be an enjoyable pastime, and he generally enjoys a thought-provoking challenge, this activity is an exception. He always starts out with high hopes, but gets frustrated when he hits a bike-packing wall, which he invariably does, and I steer clear of the basement where expletives emanate up the stairs to the kitchen like smoke from a fire.
This time, though, it was worse. My new bike was just a little bit bigger and shaped just differently enough to complicate the whole process. I would have been perfectly happy to have him throw in the towel and go with my old bike, but one of the husband’s greatest qualities is his persistence. It may be accompanied by swear words, yelling, and other telltale signs of exasperation, but he does not give up. And, as is usually the case when people persist, he eventually prevailed.
Bikes packed and brows mopped, we loaded up the box into the truck and drove to the airport to weigh it on the outdoor check-in scales. We weighed in light enough to avoid an outright ban (100 lbs) but heavy enough to incur an extra fee (> 70 lbs, so $150). No problem. We expected this.
Things should have gone smoothly from there, but they didn’t. That evening on the way to dinner (house rule: no creating dishes the night before a trip), we began to wonder if we could use air miles to pay for the fee. I called and, after a time on hold, explained the situation to a Delta customer service agent. Not only was I told that I couldn’t use air miles for that purpose (kind of expected that), I was told I could not bring a bike box that heavy onto the plane (did not expect that). Arguing that I had read Delta’s bike box policy online and was certain we could take our 70-something-pound box on, as long as we paid the fee and didn’t exceed the linear inch maximum (which we were way under), I waited with heightened anxiety as he consulted first some supposed Delta policy he had on his computer screen and next (after more waiting), his colleagues. No, he insisted. We could not. Then he gave me the number for Delta Freight and told me I needed to call them. This I did, only to be told they deal exclusively with shipping freight for businesses, not individual schmucks like me, sending me back to square one.
Returning home from the restaurant with anxiety in overdrive, I printed off the bike box policy from the Delta website and highlighted the relevant parts, not only to reassure myself that I wasn’t crazy, but also to provide to the gate agent the next day in case we ran into any trouble. Then the husband took a turn calling the airline. He got a different person who basically said, “Sure. I don’t think that will be a problem.” That was enough for the husband, but the “I don’t think” part had me tied up in knots for the rest of the evening.
The next day we were dropped off at the airport by a neighbor. Getting into line at the gate, the husband suddenly realized that he’d left his bag containing his wallet, passport, and other critical items in the back of the truck. Already full of angst over what may happen with the bike box, a just about freaked out. I quickly called our neighbor in a panic, who fortunately hadn’t yet exited the airport road circuit, and he circled back to the drop-off area where the husband met him. I’m sure they had a good chuckle about the near-miss, but I, waiting inside with the suitcases and bike box, had to work to keep my knees from buckling.
After I dealt him a severe tongue-lashing for nearly giving me a heart attack, we slowly worked our way to the front of the line. Then, it was the moment of truth. We approached the desk, got everything weighed, and waited with our hearts in our mouths. Hmmm, said the gate agent as she peered at her computer screen. She was unsure how to proceed with the bike box. She seemed to think it might not be allowed.
I proffered the highlighted printout and explained that it was within the required dimensions and weight. She took it and disappeared through some “Employees Only” door, leaving us to break out in the cold sweats. Eventually she returned, kinda shrugged her shoulders as she handed back my printout, and said something akin to, “I guess you’re good to go.” It turns out that Delta was changing its rules about transporting bikes. Those new rules went into effect THAT DAY. I know. It sounds like I’m making this up, but I’m not. This kind of crap only ever happens to us, I swear. Anyway, because we had booked our tickets prior to that day, they couldn’t hold us to the new rules and we were allowed to proceed under the old ones. Realizing that this policy change probably explained the previous day’s confusion with the first phone agent, I tucked my life-saving printout carefully and lovingly into a small pocket of my purse, suspecting it just might be needed on our return flight.
And then, we were off…
Part II: Getting back
Triple-checking that my printout was safely stowed in my purse, we slowly made our way out of London and on to Heathrow Airport. We put the box on the scale at the check-in gate and watched as it delivered the weight in kilograms. I couldn’t do the conversion in my head, but knew that it was basically the same weight as it had been on the outbound leg, so I wasn’t worried about weight being an issue. That Devil-may-care attitude lasted for several seconds until the agent said they couldn’t accept it because it was over the weight limit. Trying hard to keep the panicked look off my face, I produced my trusty printout and waited, unsure why the bicycle transport gods were torturing us.
We were informed that while our bike box fit Delta’s parameters, it didn’t fit Heathrow’s parameters, and the airport rules trump those of individual airlines.
Shit! Shit! Shit!
What were we supposed to do?! Leave two really expensive bicycles and one bike box that technically doesn’t even belong to us (it’s cousin Brian’s) in England?! Ship it back via Royal Mail? Where? How exactly? It would cost a zillion dollars! We’d just returned our rental van! Our plane was leaving in under three hours!!!
Just as I was about to give voice to all the hysterical thoughts in my head, we were told that, although technically our box was too heavy, their M.O. is to just check with the baggage loaders, who usually (usually?!) agree to take the offending items. One of us had to accompany an airline employee down to the loading area with the bike box. “You!” I nearly shouted, thrusting my pointer finger at the husband, unwilling to trust my reaction in front of the people who held our fate in their (presumably) callused hands.
He left. I paced.
Several minutes later the husband returned – without the bike box and wearing a relaxed look on his face. (If asked, I’m sure he’ll say he was totally calm the whole time. Hah!) The baggage folks accepted the box, and without needing to lose our bribing virginity, no less! The relief was indescribable. I don’t recall exactly when it happened, but I have a distinct memory of telling the husband in very meaningful tones that I am looking forward to a future European vacation that doesn’t involve bikes or bike boxes. I think, this time, he actually took my hint.
Our unexpected bike box drama has had one silver lining. Given the stress, hassle, and anxiety we recently endured, combined with the inevitable dings our bikes have suffered both times we’ve transported them via airplane – no matter how much cushioning the husband has lovingly tucked between bike parts – he has agreed to rent a bike for our future trip to Spain and France, a full week of which will be cycling-centered. Victory!