Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Worrying about crating the bikes

We knew the end of the trip was near. After two final days of riding we pulled into Valparaiso and up to the Villa Kunterbunt.

[Me thinking hard about getting back on the road with these guys] I suppose this is a good opportunity to write a little bit about what it felt like to be at the end of the trip. For me, it mostly felt empty, like a tank of gas after a long ride. I wasn't ready to be done with the trip by any means. I could have easily filled up the tank and kept going for several more months or years. In fact, at Villa Kunterbunt there were two motorcyclists who were getting ready to pull out and ride north through South America. As they were going through the ritual of packing up their bikes and putting on their riding gear, I felt a very very strong pull to do the same and head off on the road. One of these guys, Fred, has been on the road for 6 years and plans to be on the road for years to come.
But our tank was empty. We had had a brilliant 8 months of adventuring through many many places and meeting countless wonderful people along the way. All along, we knew that at some point the trip had to end at some point and the fact that we are ending it healthy and with the bikes intact is a huge bonus. 
So I didn't feel exactly sad. I didn't feel unsatisfied either. I felt more resigned to the fact that we needed to go back to the States. We both have work waiting for us and it will feel nice to get on top of it. I'm not saying I want to go back to work, but the work we have is interesting and if we are going to do it, then I want to get going on it and do the best job possible. Home was calling us and our direction was towards the US (not towards Brazil).

Villa Kunterbunt is a motorcyclist only hostel that helps many people with the import/ export of their bikes. It is run by a german by heritage woman, Martina- although she is pretty darn Chilean now, and her Chilean husband, Enzo. They own a 100 year old Adam's Family style house overlooking the port of Valparaiso and have a few extra rooms available for visiting motorcyclists. We had the tower room with a 360 degree view of Valpo (as the town is called).

[In the tower room] We looked into a few options for what to do with the bikes. Our #1 plan was to sell them in Chile or in Argentina. They are worth far more in South America than they are in the US and we knew that shipping was going to cost us (as well as use a lot of resources to get them home). We made some queries here and there and found quite a bit of interest in buying the bikes, but when push came to shove, it was actually incredibly hard (if not illegal) to sell the ladies. If a person wanted to buy the bikes, that person would have to figure out how to import and then license the bikes and including most likely having to pay someone off to make the papers. It would cost them a lot of time and money. Of course, we don't really care, as long as we get money in the bank, someone could have the bikes but in the end it all proved too complicated.

[proofing the palette in Enzo's workshop] So shipping the bikes home was the option. I suppose in theory we could have done it on our own, but sometimes it is just worth it to have help. Enzo and Martina know how to play the game. That and Enzo has a workshop where he could custom build a crate for our bikes.
The first quote came to $3200 for both bikes, but after convincing Martina that we could get both bikes into one big crate, I think the final bill came to $2500. Enzo was able to get both the bikes into a 2.8 cubic meter box which is pretty incredible and a testimony to his experience crating bikes.

So the process goes like this:
1. Measure the bikes from front to back and side to side (when they are in a head to toe configuration) with the front wheel removed.
2. Built a bottom palette to match these dimension and put the bikes on this to prove they indeed can fit. 
3. With the bikes tied down and the panniers in position, measure how tall the crate will need to be.
4. Remove the bikes from the palette and go to Santiago for the weekend to visit friends while Enzo builds the rest of the crate.
4.5 Arrive back in Valpo and realize that we left a passport in Santiago so at 11 at night drive the 75 miles back to Santiago in the fog to get it and then go back to Valpo.
5. Drive 60 miles to the port town of San Antonio with a truck in tow that is carrying the dissembled crate.
6. Go to a large lot where the consolidator will load the crate into a metal container to be shipped to the states.
7. Put the bikes back on the bottom palette, remove the front wheels, tie down the bikes, remove the handlebars and put everything on the palette in such a way as to not have it jiggle around on the voyage.
8. Build the crate up and around the bikes.

9. Spray paint my name and where the bikes are headed on the side of the box.
10. Visit 8 different offices in San Antonio to get all the paperwork in line.
11. Go back to the crate, kiss it farewell, and hope for the best.

We left the crate sitting in a lot without any paperwork attached to it except for my name spray painted on the side. Enzo ensured us that somehow it would be picked up by a forklift, loaded into a container, put on a boat headed to New York, reconsolidated into another container and put on a truck to Seattle and then arrive someplace near Seattle at sometime in the next 6 weeks.
With this reassurance, we handed over $2500 in cash without a receipt  and all we can do is hope for the best. We should expect a phone call (or email?) at some point in the next month telling us when and where the bikes will be. At that point we will reassemble the bikes and drive them away.

Now I know what you are thinking: "are you crazy?" But what other choice did we have? One thing we have learned on this trip is that at times you just have to trust people. There are times when you shouldn't trust people, but there are times when you should. Villa Kunterbunt has a good reputation and wouldn't be interested in screwing us. There could be some mistakes with the shipper/ consolidator, but we will deal with that if a problem arrises. 

[in the Bolivian Altiplano- wouldn't want to run out of gas out here] Another thing we learned on this trip is to figure out which problems are worth fretting about and which ones aren't. There are many many things that can go wrong on a motorcycle trip from Seattle to Chile. Many of these things you can anticipate and plan for- e.g. normal motorcycle maintenance issues for which you can bring spare parts, lack of gasoline in certain areas for which you can carry extra gas, spats between married riding partners for which you can have a process for dealing with.
But there are many things which you in theory you could worry about and plan for ahead of time but which might be best dealt with when the time comes- places to stay for the night, broken motorcycle pieces which you absolutely can not fix at a particular time and place, roads which may or may not go due to river crossings, shipping motorcycles home once we have left them in good hands. 
In short you have to decide what things to worry about and come up with a contingency plan for and what things to worry about when they come up. You can't worry about and plan for everything all the time. You'd simply get nowhere in life.
So that's it, the bikes are [hopefully] on their way to Seattle via New York (again- this crazy route is out of our control) we are headed back to Seattle for our 6 months to get going on our work (me with GORE-TEX and Megan with Montessori 123) and we have to start thinking about what to do next.
A kid is the most likely option but we really want to bicycle around New Zealand too. Perhaps we can do both.


  1. Hey,

    I contacted you through the HUBB at the start of the year (Naomi) and I just wanted to say congratulations on finishing your trip. I enjoyed reading your blog and I like your travel style.
    If it makes you feel any better our BMWs are shipping home from Lima to Vancouver through NY as well. Go figure.
    Safe travels.

  2. Congrats on reaching the end of (this) journey. Can't wait to hear some of the adventures in person. I'll be back in Seattle June 10th - 14th.


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