The Final Leg to Buenos Aires
Updated: Dec 11, 2020
From Ushuaia, I had planned to make Buenos Aires 2000 miles to the north in 4 days or so, knowing that the route was flat and desolate. Making 500 miles per day seemed reasonable enough...
After the previous long day from Ushuaia to Rio Gallegos on the Atlantic coast, the road north the next morning was barren and windswept, the famous pampas of Argentina introducing itself immediately. The landscape was flat and treeless, the winds from the west being unbroken and able to flow freely with no restraint. In short order, I was in strong, gusting sidewinds that kept the bike leaned over hard to my left, and a constant attempt to push the bike off the roadside into the gravel to my right.
The gusts changed direction, sometimes from behind and sometimes directly from the front, but the beating and head twisting never let up. The force was unbroken except by oncoming semi trucks, the blast hitting like a hammer, rattling your helmet and head as if being beaten with boards for a half second, simultaneously being yanked in towards the truck and trailer by the vacuum, then thrown out again in a half second as the trailer passed and the winds hit.
The ever present guanaco herds along the roadside added to the stress, as the brief stun and disorientation of the truck sometimes left you in the middle of a herd split on either side of the road. As well as the guanacos, the small herds of emu-like rheas were present frequently and randomly.
Nearing noon and the big Beemer burning more gas than normal due to the high speeds and winds, I decided to gas up whenever I saw fuel available. The towns were very few and very far between. At my first gas stop and snack break, another rider pulled in on a new Honda Africa Twin and studied my bike a while before coming in. We exchanged handshakes and a bit of conversation. Humberto was from Spain, enjoying a few months of travel between work assignments as a television cameraman. He was heading north for Buenos Aires and then on to Uruguay. His goal for the day was Puerto Julian, a few hours south of my goal, Caleta Olivia or possibly Comodoro Rivadavia. We wished each other well and I headed on.
After a few more hours on the road, Puerto Julian came up and I pulled over to take a break. Shortly thereafter, Humberto pulled in and said he was looking for a hotel there. I’d sat long enough to realize I didn’t have the extra 3 or 4 hours of energy left to make Rivadavia. The previous day’s length and the wind and hammering for several hours had left me more drained than I realized. I headed off for the town to look for lodging as well.
After a loop through and a look at a replica sailing ship, I found myself at a small inn where Humberto’s bike was parked. We talked a bit then I hit the hotel room, eating an energy bar from the little mini-frig and fell asleep early. For the last month I’d found myself more fatigued than usual.
I woke up before daylight to the sounds of roaring winds and watched the trees on the street flailing away as if in a hurricane. I hoped the winds would die down a bit or this would be the worst day of riding yet. It was not to be, as I got the bike loaded after the ubiquitous continental breakfast. A couple of other BMW riders came out and begin loading their bikes for the day. They were from Brazil, and were heading back after exploring Southern Patagonia. I had seen a large contingent of Brazilian riders and it is a very popular destination for them.
Humberto was no where in sight as I pulled out in the gusting winds to continue north. I found gasoline and headed on, the winds noticeably worse and as the bike followed the high coast, I battled the wind and had concern for the first time. It was serious and I had trouble staying in my lane for a good hour before the worst of it faded away to the "normal" high winds. I gassed up at a lone station in a very small community, slapping a decal on the window to mark my presence.
Aside from worse winds, the day was a repeat of the previous, endless grass plains and pummeling trucks, the ever present guanacos observing me pass. They paid no attention to the cars and trucks, only the motorcycle and it’s roar. If I varied the throttle, they would begin to scatter with their loping run. I began to play games with them in my boredom, dropping or revving the throttle at different distances to see its effect on the herds. I figured since I was bored, as were they, it might add some interest later that evening as they chewed the cud and discussed the day’s events.
As the day waned I made Comodoro Rivadavia, a big seaside town lying on the blue Atlantic. It was a nice place and I found gas in my downtown explorations, stopping for a coffee to search for a hotel nearby, but most were booked and very expensive. Argentina had been far costlier than expected, despite knowing it was not a cheap country, and accommodations were hard to find due to the few towns along the route. I finally located a reasonable place a few miles out of town and booked it online. Finding it was very difficult despite being on the main road and the gate was locked. After a while of buzzing the buzzer, it opened to a suspicious man. So many times in Chile and Argentina, hotels and hostels seemed surprised and upset at the arrival of a guest, or at least me. He finally warmed up a bit but indicated I’d have to wait to pay with my credit card when his son arrived. I got settled in and gear off, the fatigue of the day catching up to me.
When his son did arrive, his phone-based credit card reader didn’t work with my credit card or my debit card, a fault of his system, but he didn’t care and demanded cash payment. This had happened often on the trip, where a hotel or hostel had bad card readers and had no problem telling you their reader hadn’t worked in years, then demanding cash despite advertising the use of a card. I was a bit pissed off and had to gear back up completely to ride back to the main town 20 miles away.
Just before riding out, the son told there was an ATM in the nearby airport terminal, so I headed over to find the place. I had no cash at all, having used it earlier and not finding a “cajera electronico” on the way north. I had to take a ticket to park in the airport lot and upon entry to the terminal, spotted the ATM and immediately knew it wouldn’t work. I’d found that there are two basic ATM systems in Argentina, “Link” which never worked with my cards, and “Red”, which always did. This one was the former and I tried it to no avail, then realized I had no cash to even exit the airport lot. I tried to explain the situation and the attendant looked at the receipt and since it had been only a few minutes, waved me through. It was a relief, and Google showed another ATM in the neighborhood. It turned out to be in a grocery store, which of course was closed until 8 pm due to “siesta” time in Argentina. I was tired and crabby now, my tolerance for such BS having finally worn out on this long trip of similar daily routines.
I headed out for the downtown of the city 20 miles away, and found an ATM that worked, as well as a brand new debit card someone had left in the machine. I took the card next door to the bank and of course it was closed for siesta, so I pocketed the card to keep it from being used.
As I rode back, I thought of how it would be the only time I’d get stopped and be found with someone else’s debit card. Back at the hostel two hours later, I paid cash and got resettled. The frustration of 7 months of daily stress and challenges like this were wearing on me. I realized it was a sign the trip needed to end which helped settle my mind on the matter, despite not wanting to return to the U.S. That evening I sent an email to Dakar Motos in Buenos Aires, a motorcycle shipper with a good reputation, to ask them to begin the process of shipping for me. The owner, Javier, responded that they could get me shipped within a week of my arrival and asked for photos of my paperwork and travel documents.
On my way to Ushuaia, I'd met a mototraveler who'd been on the road about 9 months. He was well known for his travel blog and reputation for adventure, but the evening we'd had a meal together, he told me that frankly he was completely worn out and burned out from the exercise. He'd actually parked his bike for a while and flown to another continent where he took a 2 month vacation break to regenerate. He had only been back a couple of weeks when we'd met and I appreciated his honesty, keeping his name confident of course, but it helped me realize that my fatigue and frustration was normal. My fellow travelers Michnus and Elsebie had been on the road for years, however they had no time limit as do most travelers, and had found a way to combat the travel fatigue by getting the longest visa possible in each country, then staying long term in just a few places. That allowed them to function almost as if they lived there and was a good solution. Myself and others did not have that luxury so the pressures of having to keep moving had their effects.
The next day was a repeat of the previous in every way except the noticeable lack of guanacos and the addition of 95º temperatures. It was an unwelcome change from the weeks of mountains and accompanying cool air. At a stop for gas, I’d received an email from Dakar Motos informing me that my Temporary Vehicle Import Permit was full of problems which had to be corrected, or the bike couldn’t ship without an expensive “tip” to the airport authorities, which wasn’t a guaranteed fix. In the email, Javier said several bikes had been denied leaving Argentina recently due to the exact problem my paperwork had. It was yet another punch in the stomach, as my final crossing into Argentina had been late in the day, and in a rush I had failed to check the document over, the only time I hadn’t checked. It was a serious issue. My VIN number was incorrect, as was most of the information and when I looked at the paperwork I couldn't believe it had been done so badly.
Worry was my companion throughout the day and I finally made the city of Puerto Madryn, frantically searching for an Aduana supposedly located in the seaport town. Luckily there was one and I said a prayer that there would be an understanding, English speaking worker there who could help. I swallowed hard and went inside. It was dead quiet and only a single worker was at her desk. I knew trying to explain the situation in Spanish and Google translate would be difficult, and I was greatly relieved when the attractive and friendly lady spoke a little English. It took an hour, but I was finally presented with a stamped and signed correction letter. I walked outside to get a better cell signal, shot a picture of the document and emailed it from the sidewalk to Javier at Dakar Motos.
As I sat on my bike in the shade of a palm tree in front of the Aduana to begin the search for a hotel, I saw a faded hotel sign directly across the street with a secured parking area and I grabbed a room.
Puerto Madryn was a nice seaside town, peaceful and serene. I walked a couple of blocks down looking for a late lunch and spotted Humberto’s Honda at a street-side cafe. He was sitting at a sidewalk table, shocked to see me and invited me to sit. He’d spotted my decal at the last gas station and laughed. The stress relief of getting the vehicle papers sorted was tangible for me and a seafood meal was a good way to wind the day down. That evening, Javier emailed me that he’d received the correction letter and all should be fine now. As it turned out, another rider a few days before, had gotten a correction letter from the same aduana office, so maybe that had been one reason the woman had been so nice to deal with, realizing it was a problem with the southern crossing. I spent the evening walking the beachside in the cool breeze.
The next morning I was heading for Bahia Blanca, the last town before Buenos Aires. The day was long, hot, and boring with temperatures of 105º much of the way. I was distressed to find that after my gas stop, both my credit and debit cards would not work at the few places I tried to buy a meal, stressing the hell out of me. Amidst my credit and ATM cards, I still had the ATM card I'd found at the bank a few days before. I'd forgotten about it, and pulled off the road in the midst of nowhere, digging a hole in the dirt with my boot heel and buried it.
Bahia Blanca was conquered late and I grabbed the first hotel I could find. I went out late after cooling down in the room and found an ATM that proved both my debit and credit cards were still working. I sat on a bench in the park that evening until late, watching the people wander past, a world of life away from me.
The next day Buenos Aires lay a very long ways away, but the city I had to reach. It turned out to be the hardest day of all, the last 200 miles being a brutal combination of heat and terrible truck traffic. On my side of the rutted two lane blacktop road there was a stream of flatbed trucks, heavily loaded with bags of concrete traveling north at about 30 mph, creating long lines of stacked up traffic. In the opposing lane there were hundreds and hundreds of semi’s returning south at highway speeds. It created very difficult passing, keeping up the brutal pounding of the passing trucks and was incessant the entire way to Buenos Aires.
The last 100 miles or so, I ran my gas tank down as low as possible, stopping to get a couple of liters here and there to ensure I didn’t overfill the tank. It added a lot of stress but the bike couldn’t ship out of the airport if the tank wasn’t almost empty. I'd been warned that the shipping facility had no way to remove gasoline or dispose if it and if they deemed there was too much in the tank, they'd refuse approval of the motorcycle for shipping. It would require leaving the terminal, rescheduling and dumping the tanks elsewhere.
The International Airport was on the south side of the city and I decided to stay nearby. Every reasonable hotel was booked and only the ones available were over $250 a night. I finally found a cheaper place with bad reviews about 10 miles away. I made the place late, in part due to a protest group blocking the highway. The hostel truly could have been called a "hostile", as it was run by a Russian family that I assume had run a Russian Gulag camp and after the wall fell, moved to Buenos Aires to open a hostel. That night, Saturday, Javier sent an email that the bike could ship out in 2 days, either the upcoming Monday, or the following day on Tuesday. I was too exhausted to make the decision and went to sleep.
The next morning I decided that my trip had come to an end, proved by my lack of desire to explore and my agitation with insignificant little daily problems. I decided to get home as soon as possible and told him to plan for the Monday shipping. I spent the day, Sunday, reducing and repacking gear that couldn’t be shipped, such as my camping fuel, lighters and such. Motorcycle gear, helmet and clothing were allowed to ship with the motorcycle but personal clothing and items, including camping gear, could not.
I gave away a few things to others in the hostel, filling one of my side case bags to use as carry-on luggage along with my camera satchel. The rear seat duffle was stuffed to use as a checked bag. I triple checked that no items I needed - paperwork, passport, etc, - were accidentally left with the bike. For 7 months I had kept certain items in certain places, and now had to tear apart my Pavlovian routine, which brought moments of panic trying to remember where my spare cash, cards, passport, dummy wallets and other pertinent things were now located.
Early Monday morning I packed and took the half loaded bike and my riding gear north to the Ezeiza airport exit, finding the Ministro Pistarini International Airport cargo terminal exit using GPS coordinates sent by Javier and his wife Sandra. They were adamant I be there by 10 am for the 4 hour process, and I was there at 9:30 am in my usual Boy Scout fashion.
A woman walked over to me as I rode up to the wait area, of course being Sandra, and introduced herself. I was glad they were already there and she took me over to meet Javier, a big, gravelly voiced guy. I paid him the $1780 fare to Houston in cash. It felt weird handing over almost 2 grand cash in a parking lot hidden between cars in a foreign country. The next step was getting paperwork done. I’d read a blog about what copies of paperwork were required and had made them the day before, which pleased Sandra to no end and saved us an hour of time since she wouldn't have to beg her way in and use the official copy machines. While we waited for an official to bring paperwork allowing the moto into the secure area, Javier helped remove the windshield while I pulled off the mirrors. In the past, motos had been required to remove the front wheel, all cases, windshield and battery. Now only the windshield and mirrors were required, along with disconnecting the battery once on the shipping pallet.
The paperwork official arrived and I was directed where to ride, Sandra meeting me on the other side of the security gates. After showing paperwork, I was told to ride very slowly up to the loading area. In a moment or two, I was waved inside the warehouse and followed an official to the scale for weighing the bike. After this, I was led to the crating area where several workers assisted me in riding the bike onto a very narrow pallet. I disconnected the battery, lowered tire pressures, stowed the mirrors and my riding gear, jackets and pants into my now empty side case. Workers wrapped my helmet and boots in plastic and strapped them to the pallet under the bike. After an inspector looked in the gas tank, the bike was strapped in place and wrapped in stretch wrap. I was required to unlock all the cases and leave the keys on the bike, as in the past, random inspections had occurred and when no keys were available, officers simply broke into everything.
After the bike was wrapped and waiting, I reached into my pocket for my phone to take a photo and realized my keys were in my pocket, a habit after unlocking the cases. I panicked but was able to work my arm between the plastic wrap to get them in the ignition just before the bike was taken by forklift to the security scanner.
It was a strange feeling seeing the bike, my daily compadre for 7 months, wrapped and about to disappear
Sandra had been with me the entire way through the process, discussing various things that had happened to bikes and riders in the past. We watched as my bike went into the scanner and passed through quickly, a good sign she said, as that meant they saw nothing of interest. It was whisked off the conveyor belt and deposited back in front of us, where an official slapped a sticker on the plastic and smiled at Sandra. It was good to know she and Javier had such a good rapport and reputation with the customs officials and process.
Sandra told me the bike was now official and secure, to be shipped the next day on United Airlines Cargo direct to Houston, providing a higher paying shipment didn’t bump it.
Originally in our discussions, Javier had told me they could ship it anywhere in the US. I’d selected Miami as it was a little cheaper for the bike shipping, but mainly because the personal flights were cheaper since it was a big hub for South American flights. Fellow travelers had told me Miami was the cheapest destination. The night before bringing the bike to the airport, Javier made mention that when I arrived in Miami, the bike might be two days later since it landed in Houston and would then be trucked to Miami. I was shocked to hear the bike went through Houston anyway and told him there was no point in Miami if it went to Texas. Luckily it was an easy change. I was relieved in a way, however I was looking forward to hitting Key West and then leisurely riding through the old South back to Texas from Florida. Still the expenses saved would be good for my rapidly disappearing bank account.
Sandra had assured me I could leave immediately, and despite knowing the bike was cleared, I still had paranoia that some form or inspection might occur and decided to book a flight leaving the same day as the bike. One of the travelers I'd met in Osorno, had ridden to Ushuaia, sold his motorcycle after everything was "cleared" and had flown back to Seattle. A couple of weeks later, he was contacted and told there was one form he hadn't signed before leaving and he would have to return to Ushuaia where it could be witnessed by a local official. He was in a quandary because he hadn't received payment for his bike, and the flight back to Ushuaia would cost more than the bike was worth, so he was up the creek. My paranoia streak loved that story and I was determined not to leave Argentina until my motorcycle had left.
The unfortunate aspect of such travel shenanigans is that you have to purchase last minute flights which are of course the most expensive. I actually could have flown on the same United flight as the motorcycle which would have been cool, but the fare was much higher. I booked a flight leaving the same day as the moto at midnight, flying to Mexico City for a layover then on to George Bush International in Houston, which saved a few dollars.
I was in a weird state of mind. Having no bike, wondering about the process and having my little world broken up, I felt strange and disconnected. My flight was at midnight the next day, but I had to check out of the hotel by 11 am. I had the Russian Gulag hostel owner call a cab and I was in the airport by noon, spending the next 11 hours in the terminal. By the time Aeromexico opened at 9 pm, the line was huge and despite having checked in online, I still had to go through the line to check the bag and get a boarding pass. What was the point of online check-in?
Boarding the flight at midnight felt surreal and strange. I guess I felt alone, missing my friend the BMW, your daily companion through all the challenges. I'd paid extra for the emergency exit row which turned out to be a smart move. The Mexican flight attendants spoke Spanish that I could almost understand and I wanted to kiss them like lost family. The 10 hour flight to Mexico City was consumed by watching a couple of movies and thinking about stuff, and though I'd been dreading it, the flight wasn't too bad. I managed to stay awake the whole night and saw Mexico City glittering below like millions of diamonds and gold in the dark. It felt good to know I was about to land in Mexico, which seemed like an old friend now.
In the Mexico City airport at 6:30 am, the sleepiness hit as I went through the X-ray inspection and tried to explain the incredible mishmash of things in my GS bag when I was pulled aside by an inspector. He finally understood when I repeated my mantra of "estoy viajando en la moto a Ushuaia" and then wanted to know how expensive the motorcycle was and told his friends. Yep, definitely back in Mexico!
I was in a fog, but the layover time wasn't too long and I got checked in and my ticket to Bush International in Houston. I'd mentally written off my checked duffle bag ever making it to the US, since it had to get from Argentina through Mexico to Houston. I clung to my remaining GS bag like my guns and religion as I waited in the very last line of my epic trek. The gracious ticket clerk put me on an exit row and when she began using the loudspeaker, the large crowd bum-rushed the entrance. It turned out that several different flights were simultaneously leaving at the same exact time from the same exact gate. Definitely back in Mexico!
The salmon-like crowd flowed down 3 flights of stairs and split several directions. Of course there was no signage anywhere. Definitely back in Mexico! I followed a couple of people from my line and went into a hallway which led to yet another inspection and X-ray process, which I found weird, but went through the routine again and fifteen minutes later stepped into the main airport lobby. What the hell??
I ran all the way back to the ticket counter again and waved my ticket frantically. They decided to tell me how to find the gate after going back down the stairs again, telling me to run, which for chunky boy meant certain death. Damn! Definitely back in Mexico!
After finding the gate hidden behind a sheetrock dust covered sheet of hanging plastic (definitely back in Mexico!) I found a series of empty bus lanes with one in the process of backing out. Breathless and waving my arms I shouted "Houston??" He stopped and I staggered on board. God I was frazzled and I couldn't believe I'd almost missed my last 2 hour flight to Texas.
Once out of the bus, onto the tarmac, up the rolling staircase and on board, I found my exit row seat and started to relax. As I looked out on the wing, the flight attendant loudly and sternly announced to me in front of everyone, that I alone would be responsible for getting the exit door off and helping everyone out in an emergency. "Do you agree?" she said sternly. I said "Si!" and silently thought "they're all gonna die".
As the engines started, I relaxed and the fatigue started catching up. I was having trouble keeping my eyes open... that is until we started to race down the runway and there was such a loud, ear-splitting shrieking sound coming through the emergency door next to me that I expected it to fall off and I'd get sucked out the door, dying on my final flight out of Mexico. I assumed it wasn't sealed and would tear away as soon as we reached altitude, but the flight attendants and no seemed to care. It finally stopped, but God Almighty my nerves were toast. Definitely back in Mexico!
After that adrenaline rush, I couldn't sleep and after a while eventually saw the gulf coast come below the aircraft, then the reduced engine power that signaled beginning descent. After a very hard landing and long taxi, my first sight heading down the hallway for US Customs was two fat, bearded, Texas bubbas changing a light fixture and eyeing the “furners” coming down the hall. I laughed out loud at being back with my Texas homeys.
The new customs questionnaire machines sped up the process and the officer kindly said "Welcome back" as I handed him my two forms. “Ka-chunk, ka-chunk,” the most satisfying sound in the travel world according to my friend Ken, and I was at home. The airport was clean, new, organized and sterile. I nervously waited at the luggage area for my duffle bag, and was stunned to see it slide down the belt. What a relief and I hoped it was a good sign for the bike’s arrival. I instinctively avoided conversations, until I remembered that I COULD actually speak the language. I turned into Chatty Cathy at the Starbucks and I'm sure I will go down in legend as the freaky, funky man who wouldn't shut up.
I needed to find a hotel and started the online booking process, when it dawned on me again that I could actually CALL and ask questions, which I promptly did. The hotel clerk had a Spanish accent on the phone and instinctively I responded in grubby Spanish before coming to my senses. I got in the hotel room at 2 pm, messaged a couple folks, and the next thing I knew, it was 5 am. I had slept almost 15 hours straight, having fallen asleep in mid text conversation on WhatsApp at 2:30 pm. I hadn't slept that long in years!
I nervously checked the motorcycle tracking number online and to my relief the bike had arrived at the United cargo warehouse at 6:03 am, an hour after I’d woken up. What a relief! I realized I had no idea how the process worked and called United’s information line. I was told it usually took 4 hours to clear the TSA so the plan was to get to the cargo warehouse around 10:30 that morning to avoid waiting unnecessarily.
The hotel shuttle driver dropped me at the cargo terminal about 10:30, after doing a song and dance about how abnormal this was and he'd probably be fired. He was fishing for a big tip which just pissed me off. Definitely back in the USA! I went in the United Cargo office and stood at the empty counter in front of a lady who wouldn't acknowledge me. After a few minutes I was finally acknowledged, with an attitude, and then a call was made to the back. Definitely back in the USA! In a few minutes a guy came in and told the lady that there was indeed "a motorcycle back there" but the customs inspectors hadn't come yet. Great.
I sat in a chair and watched animals being loaded at the other end of the lobby for almost an hour, with no response about my bike. I'd heard the uninterested employee say she was going to lunch, so I waited until she left and her replacement came in. I then asked the new worker about the bike and she left for a few minutes, then returned and dug through a stack of papers. She handed me a stapled group of them, saying I had to go over to customs in a different location and handed me a printed address. At least she was helpful.
Customs was a few miles away and I grabbed an Uber over, then entered the building to find no signage indicating where to go. Back in the USA government world! I spotted an officer at the end of a hallway and walked down to find a glass window and a Hispanic lady standing there. Behind the window was a Customs and Border Patrol officer with the worst attitude I've yet seen, who was an absolute jerk. She barely spoke English and said she was sent there to pay a fee before she could get her dog from the airline, trying to hand him cash through the window. He stood so far back from the glass neither she nor I could hear him, and he got very frustrated, yelling at her that the fee was not paid to them but to the airline. I couldn't believe how bad his attitude was and how loud he was. Other BP officials had to be hearing this but didn't do anything. She didn't understand and I tried to use my pigeon Spanish to tell her, but then the officer got mad because I was trying to explain it to her and demanded to see her identity, which turned out to be about two weeks past her exit time. He got very angry and questioned her then opened the door and loudly told her she was in big trouble, grabbing her and disappearing down the hallway to return alone about 10 minutes later.
When he came back, he was in full tactical asshole mode and treated me like a jerk, demanding to know why I was there. When I said I was sent there with the papers by United, he cut me off and snatched them out of my hand, saying I was in the wrong place and then came out of the office, pissed and said "I'm the only person working the desk", storming off through a door. In 5 minutes he came back out, pointed to a chair and said "Sit!" to me like a dog. He went back in the office and started his behavior on the next person in line.
I was damn tired of being treated like some piece of crap and it was everything I could do not to call him an asshole. Welcome back to the typical, condescending attitude of law enforcement in the US I've gotten so sick of. Definitely back in the USA. After about 30 minutes, he yelled at me to come to the window and handed one of the forms back that had a signature. I bit my tongue and walked out, carrying my two bags to head back for the cargo center. The Uber App couldn't find my location so I downloaded Lyft and finally got it to work. $11.67 later and a ride with Koorsoh the Persian, I was back at the cargo center. This time I was acknowledged, paid them $50 with my credit card and took my form to the dock door outside.
In about 15 minutes I heard a forklift and my beautiful beast, leaning a bit but still wrapped, was deposited near the door where I could get it set up. Man it felt good to see it again. What a relief! It took a bit to get the cargo net off, then the plastic wrap. I noticed the gas cap was open and realized they hadn't closed it when they inspected it in Buenos Aires. I had so little gas in the tank I worried if enough had evaporated to leave me stranded. The bike was leaning to the right side a bit but I would have to cut all the straps on the opposite side to get the kickstand down.
I finally got smart and dug out two tie downs, connecting them as a safety straps and got the bike vertical, then over on the kickstand so I could begin reassembly. The battery was hooked up and then it took forever to get the windscreen back on, simply due to two locknuts that keep the adjustment knobs from backing out. Each time I take off the windscreen, those two nuts get lost into the recesses somewhere and it takes forever to find and fish them out with a magnet. I always forget what a pain it is and made a note to add the guy who came up with the design to the list of engineer/designers at BMW I want to harm.
Leaning a little but luckily it hadn't gone over
I fired up the bike to juice the battery a little before re-inflating the tires and a warehouse worker ran over, telling me to be careful since there was almost no gas and he didn't want me to run out before getting to a station. It was very nice of him and when I shut it down he wanted to talk about the bike. I dug all my riding gear out of the cases and began reinstalling the pads I'd removed to make the gear fold better, getting boots back on before carefully getting back on the bike.
The pallet was just wide enough to get the bike on and the kickstand had just barely caught the edge with a tenuous hold. I again grabbed my motorcycle tie downs and safety strapped the bike to keep it upright while I cut the last plastic shipping straps. There was a big gap between the front of the pallet and the steel framed pan it sat in, just wide enough for the front wheel to drop into and hesitate. Since the pallet was so narrow, one couldn't really get a foot down, and if the front wheel dropped into that recess and hesitated, it would definitely result in falling off the pallet. In Buenos Aires they were kind enough to have made side pieces for you to step on as well as a ramp onto the pallet. Also, the workers surrounded the bike in case you got off balance. Not so in Houston, so I decided to play it safe, piling up the heavy shipping net to make a ramp across the gap.
Getting on the bike was tricky since I couldn't stand on the edge of the pallet and my duffel was now twice as fat after the repack, but I did my best ballet move and got on. I started the bike and tippy toed slowly forward with my feet between the cylinders and pegs, until the front wheel rolled off, then I gunned it off the pallet. Success! And I didn't drop the damn thing in front of the watching crowd of workers.
The remaining afternoon was spent repacking my Rubik's Cube of gear on the motorcycle. Fitting everything together for such a long trip had taken a lot of time developing a system to make it fit and I'd had to destroy it for the air flight. It took a long time, in part due to the number of people coming to chat about the bike and it was 4 pm by the time I rode out the door to find gas and head west out of Houston. When it dawned on me I was on the east side of Houston, about to head west for San Antonio at 4 pm, I quickly gave up on that idea and sought a local hotel. I ran the bike slowly down the service road to make any remaining gas last a bit longer and made it to the gas station, used a credit card and pumped my own gas for the first time in 7 months. Definitely back in the USA!
I picked a hotel just a couple of blocks from the gas station. The manager was a Hispanic lady, and to my surprise I recognized her Mexican accent and asked if she was from Mexico City. She was surprised, as was I, that I had pinned the accent accurately.
My room was very nice, but I felt out of place in it, as if visiting a museum or a store display. Now that my bike and gear were all accounted for, I felt as if in a daze, an emptiness as if I were hollow. It's difficult to explain, as it wasn't sadness for the trip ending as I expected, just a complete sense of emptiness. I didn't want to talk to anyone, see anyone, or interact with anyone.
I couldn't bring myself to write, look at photos or do anything. The adjacent Chinese restaurant was where I had my first iced tea in over 7 months, and the change of food was nice. I stared out the dark tinted windows into the parking lot, as customers came and went. I stared at nothing, with an empty mind and an empty heart. I guess the overload of 7 months of ingesting sights, sounds, stresses and challenges had overloaded my circuits and the body had taken control. It was determined to take a break.
That evening I lay in bed, many thoughts trying to enter my mind but each rejected. Ahead lay many decisions and directions, but now was not the time.
The next morning, I packed my gear and loaded the bike, a surprisingly comforting process since it was now a familiar routine. The sound of the engine as it lumped along trying to warm up was soothing to my ears. My jacket and pants smelled and I hated putting them on, but I had to wait until I had a place to wash my clothes. Kicking my leg over the high seat and rolling out into morning traffic felt good.
As the highway opened up and my speed increased, the city and then the world became a better, brighter place. The future unknown, the direction of life unknown, the next day unknown. Somehow deep inside I was a different man, formed over the journey just finished and fitting into my known world now even less than ever. I still longed for new lands and new people, in spite of fatigue, and deep inside knew that the world I'd left months before would never satisfy my soul again.