Plane Sailing

Fly out to Oz, ride my bike then fly home. It all sounded so simple…

Jane and I started looking at flights back in January. Neither of us had ever been to Australia before and Ride2Cure presented a chance for us to have our first holiday together, just the two of us, in over twenty years. The idea was to have the holiday before the bike ride, and for me not to get bitten by anything other than a love for the country. Of course, there are a multitude of different ways of getting from the UK to Australia, options with different airlines that have you stopping off here, there and everywhere. And if you know me, it all has to be done on a budget, so that ruled out ‘front of the plane’ class straightaway. I did try blagging it nearer the time but got nowhere: these guys obviously only deal in hard plastic.

The arrangements were made more complicated by the fact that Jane was flying into and back out of Brisbane, while I was flying into Brisbane but out of Adelaide, and wanted to avoid two singles at exorbitant expense. South China Airways was an early contender but Jane didn’t fancy changing flights in China. Then I did what I should have done in the first place: I asked Angela.

Fly Emirates out of Glasgow. Don’t even consider anyone else. You’ll pay a bit more but it’s worth it. You’ll know what I mean once you’ve done it.”

Angela’s done the Glasgow-Adelaide gig more times that I’ve had cold calls today from Energy Saving Scotland so when she says “Fly Emirates”, you fly Emirates.

So that was the easy bit done.

A bit of investigation later, I discovered that I could indeed fly into Brisbane and out of Adelaide at no extra cost: so by the end of January we were logistically on our way: and as we’d applied for our visas a year ago, there was now nothing to get in the way of the trip of a lifetime. Jane wanted to do the Northern Territory bit rather than spend two weeks in a sweaty van so the bigger picture was for us to split our time between Cairns and Sydney, then for Jane to fly home before I set off on the bike from Brisbane.

Suffice to say, however, that it didn’t work out quite like that.

Jane’s dad became seriously unwell about six weeks before we were due to travel, and sadly, he passed away a couple of weeks later. Jane’s priority was to be with her mum in Inverness and through some tearful conversations, we agreed that Jane should remain the UK while I would rebook my outbound flight to leave nearer the start of Ride2Cure. There was to be no holiday.

In reality, I arrived a week before the off, gave myself seven days to acclimatise and spent much of that time tootling about the velodrome near support HQ in Brisbane.

The weeks leading up to my departure were fraught with fear, trepidation, anxiety and much sadness. The dream of riding a bike across the outback had suddenly become a harsh reality, and not the reality that I had previously relished. Training had gone well for ten months then I picked up a calf strain chasing one too many King Of The Pensioners crowns on Strava. They say that five a day’s good for you, so I probably shouldn’t have expected to manage numbers six, seven and eight on the same pair of legs. From being strong in my taper down, I found myself doubting whether I would actually get by the first three or four days. Of course, you don’t let on these things, but these were absolutely not the thoughts I needed in my head in the lead up to the biggest endurance event of my life.

Add to that, that in my work life I was trying to be creative right up until the 11th hour. I flew out to Australia on the Wednesday yet I’d crammed a week’s work into the available hours between the preceding Friday and Tuesday. I remember powering down the laptop on the Tuesday afternoon then thinking “No more. I need 24 hours to chill and try and get my head round what lies ahead.

All through that Wednesday I was contemplating what I might have forgotten rather than what I had actually done: negative, negative, negative: and so unlike me.

The bike was packed in a custom bike box. Pedals off; handlebars off; seat post off; wheels off. It took me a while to work out how to get it all into the box. The wheels go in first and are secured by special spindles that tighten from the outside. Then there’s a layer of foam padding to protect the wheels from the frame (and guess which silly billy left the padding at JJ’s house before I left Adelaide, not that it really mattered because the box was also rammed with spare clothes).

Flying economy, my checked in baggage allowance was 30kg. The bike, box and sundries weighed in at 28.7kg: we’ll call the balance contingency.

Because I only had a 7kg carry on allowance to take all of my kit and clothes for the whole four weeks, a load more stuff had to go in the bike box with the machine: my gold shoes (they started out life white but I painted them with gold hammerhead car paint for childhood cancer awareness), my helmet, about five pairs of gloves, ranging from summer fingerless for the middle of the day to full winter for 7am. Then there was the LCFN flag: that weighs a bit. Paul already had the other one in Brisbane, so one going out and two coming back made for extra dead weight on the return jolly. Anything that was lightweight but bulky had to go in the bike box: fleecy joggies and a jumper. I only took one jumper! But perhaps the brightest move of all was to take just one coat: my waterproof yellow hi viz bike jacket: see when I checked in and they weighed my carry on bag at 6.8kg, little did they know that the pouch in the back of my jacket weighed in at a further two kilos: that stuff went back in the bag as soon as I got round the corner on my way to security.

Talking of security, Adelaide nearly tripped me up on the way home. Every airport I’ve flown from in the last twenty years has had security scanning after check-in. You know the script: carry on bag in a tray; money and phone in a tray, everything metal in a tray; belt off, jumper off, jacket off, shoes off: all in a tray. Then walk through the imaging machine.

Well at Adelaide you do that twice, except they don’t tell you at check-in, and you don’t find out about Security #2 until you start following the overhead signage on the way to your flight. I set off along the concourse of shops and bars for gate 22 before realising that my gate was behind a glass screen.

How the hell do I get in there” I was thinking.

I wasn’t exactly panicking, not at that point anyway, because my flight didn’t depart for another ninety minutes. But concern soon descended into mild concern once I joined the end of a very long queue up by Gate 16 that appeared not to be going anywhere anytime soon. This was indeed the queue for the second security check and I soon discovered that there were four international flights due to leave in the next couple of hours and all of those passengers were in this queue. I enquired of the people around me who was flying where and there was only one lady, about the same age as myself, who was Dubai bound. We were both concerned that we had about forty five minutes before they might potentially close the gate to our flight…

We gave it a few minutes before realising that there was only one thing for it:  we rumbled our way up and down those zig zag channels that they set out in order to accommodate max people in min space, apologising as we did so. Soon enough, we found ourselves at the head of the queue. As my new scrummaging buddy went one way, I went another: I never saw her again after that.

But five minutes later I was through, finally free to go home. The sense of relief was palpable. A few minutes of fast striding later, there I was on the proper side of the glass this time, and within minutes, they called the flight and I was homeward bound (there’s a song in there somewhere). The plane even took off early, so that was indeed one close call. The moral to this tale is that if you ever find yourself flying international out of Adelaide, don’t spend too much time in Coopers.

I suppose the only other thing I was worried about was whether the bike would make it to the other side. Waving cheerio to your pride and joy at the oversize baggage desk is never the easiest of goodbyes, because you always have that nagging suspicion that someone behind the screen might forget about your precious cargo. Certainly, when I arrived in Brisbane, the punters at the mainstream carousel were off and running long before the golf bags and the surf boards starting trundling along the conveyor belt by the window. But I worried unnecessarily because after what seemed like an eternity at the time, my big blue box came rumbling out of the tunnel.

Now there was only one more hurdle to clear: customs. The bloke asked me what was in the box so I told him why I’d come to Australia.

Is the bike brand new?

Now there’s a leading question…

I was truthful. It’s new but not new. It’s two months old but it’s basically new.

In that case you’ll need to have the tyres checked for dirt. You need to go that way…

My heart sank. I’d secured the box with cable ties on each of the five locks in order to prevent them coming undone in transit: the box is not equipped with the most trustworthy of catches. Then there were the bigger cable ties that I’d attached through the holes on each end of the case: I got fly with those: while the lock ties were all black, the hole ties were white. That way, I reckoned, I would know if someone had tampered with the box in transit and attached new ties.

Anyway, I went down this passageway where there was another bloke, this time altogether less jobsworthy than the first. I was wearing my Ride2Cure jersey and in the fifteen seconds that elapsed between bloke one and bloke two, I had my story straightened out: he waved me through, and ten seconds later I was in the arms of the big man.

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