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September 9th, 2013 | Africa

The Long Wait to Freedom…

After seventeen days of separation, the Big Fella finally touched down at O.R. Tambo International Airport (still Jan Smuts to me…) at 10 pm on Friday the 6th of September. He had made a quick side trip to Dubai aboard Emirates Airlines, having left New York on the 4th of September…

Although the air-cargo warehouse of Africa Freight Services is open for collections 24 hours a day, the South African Revenue Services are not as industrious !! I decided to tackle the delicate task of getting my bike released first thing on Saturday morning. Craig, my sister’s partner, and I duly arrived at the airport at 8.00 am and began proceedings…

The Big Fella is brought out from the warehouse. The open flap on one end had me dreading what I would find, or rather wouldn't find, inside. After careful inspection, it seemed that nothing was missing...

The Big Fella is brought out from the warehouse. The open flap on one end had me dreading what I would find, or rather wouldn’t find, inside. After careful inspection, it seemed that nothing was missing…

After five hours of “to-ing and fro-ing” between the freight agents offices and warehouse, and the SARS offices, we finally gave up and went home empty-handed… The SARS offices threw up a host of reasons why they could not release the Big Fella and were fairly adamant that I would have to pay import duties on all the goods in the crate, including the bike !! We could make no headway on Sunday, and by Monday morning my nerves were more than frazzled at the thought of paying a small fortune to be re-united with my bike…

Charmaine and I were back at the airport on Monday morning and found a helpful agent in Dynamic Logistic Solutions, and the manager, Kobus Rossouw, accompanied me to the SARS offices to see what needed to be done… Another 500 metre walk that I was making for the eighth time in 30º heat !!

After many questions and suggestion from both helpful and unhelpful staff, we finally discovered that I would need my Carnet to get the bike released, but why this was never mentioned before is beyond me… Seems if you do not ask a specific question, you will not have any information volunteered to you by the SARS officials…

The process of re-assembling begins...

The process of re-assembling begins…

Problem was, I no longer had my Carnet. I had sent it back to the AA from Mexico, more than a year ago. Carnets are not required in both South and North America, and I wanted access to the rather large chunk of money I had had to put up when I took my bike out of the country and around the world. Going through that amazing and wonderful country/dump called Egypt, had attracted a bond of 200 % of the Big Fella’s value, at the time of exit !!

On receipt of my original Carnets, the AA had duly released the bond I had lodged with them. I now needed those original Carnets, and they were stored in Kyalami, on the opposite side of the city…

I had never had to remove the console before, and putting it back on correctly had me a little nervous...

I had never had to remove the console before, and putting it back on correctly had me a little nervous…

We drove across to the AA offices at Kyalami Racetrack, and Melissa, with whom I had made contact with many times during my trip to sort out Carnet related problems, was kind enough to let me have my Carnets, but not before I deposited R6000.00 in cash with her, to cover the temporary removal of these precious documents… The money was duly returned to me when I took the Carnets back to them…

Back at the airport, things went swimmingly from that point on… Documents were electronically submitted to SARS, and minutes later I held the precious release form in my sweaty paws… And no duties payable either !!

Lesson learnt : Never let your original Carnet out of your sight until you have cleared Customs !! Or, if you find yourself in the same position as I did, go and get the Carnet before bothering to head to the airport to collect your bike… Had I had this tit-bit of information to hand when the bike landed, I would have saved myself hours of hassle !!

It is hard to describe my emotions on seeing the forklift reversing towards me with my crate… It wasn’t just that I was happy to finally be getting the bike back… It was much more than that.

It dawned on me that this was truly the end of my journey around the world. It all came down to this moment, even more so than when I arrived in Freehold, New Jersey and saw Patricia and her family waiting for me in the street outside their home; more so than when a week later, after a quick trip to Pennsylvania, Doug and I rode into the parking lot on Sandy Hook, (the exact spot, and just two days before Patricia and I were to be married), and I saw the Atlantic Ocean stretching out before me…

Nearly done, just the windscreen and then we'd be good to go...

Nearly done, just the windscreen and then we’d be good to go…

I remember the happiness and sadness I felt as Doug shook my hand and congratulated me… I think I heard him say, “It’s all over, Buddy !!”, but my mind and immediate thoughts were in such a jumble, that all I could do was stare out to sea… Feelings of fulfillment and satisfaction were mixed with those of bewilderment and a strange kind of emptiness… There would be no more destinations to ride to the following day, no more routes to plan…

I struggled with these contrasting emotions, and only the plans for my wedding were at times able to take my mind off the enormity of what I had achieved… And what I was about to begin !! While I was gaining a wonderful woman to share the rest of my life with, I could not help feeling a strange sense of loss as well…

Technically, that was the day my journey really ended, but it would be a year, and almost 20 000 km later that the Big Fella would finally arrive home… I always said that the day I rode back to the point I started at, would in practical terms be when I accepted it would all be over…

Locked and loaded and ready to roll... We were back !!

Locked and loaded and ready to roll… We were back !!

While Charmaine loaded some of the excess kit into her car, I set about re-assembling the Big Fella to get him road-ready. I re-connected the battery, adjusted the handlebars and re-positioned the GPS bracket, then re-attached the console, something I had never had to do before, but this crate was slightly shallower than the last one I had used and the console had to be removed in New Jersey, in case someone put another crate on top of mine, and damaged the said console.

The BMW guys at Cross Country Cycles thought it would be safer, and I had agreed, so off the console had come…

Then the process of using ten large cable ties to hold the panniers in place began. I noticed that my “good” pannier, the one that had never been damaged in any of the accidents I had experienced, was now bent out of shape… Both of the spare fuel canister holders had been broken off their bolts and were hanging loosely. This had happened somewhere en-route, and I debated whether or not to take it up with the shipping line…I decided that I would have a hard time convincing them of the seriousness of my claim, considering what the other buckled pannier looked like !! Besides, the photos I had taken of the bike being loaded in the USA were on my laptop back at Charmaine’s house… I was not prepared to leave the bike there a second longer than was necessary, so had to be content with dark mutterings about customs agents and forklift drivers…

 We felt that a short lap of honour around the Air Cargo parking lot was called for...

We felt that a short lap of honour around the Air Cargo parking lot was called for…

By 4 pm, we were ready to leave the airport. I pushed the starter button, and the Big Fella roared to life… The crowd that had stopped to stare at us took a step back as I revved the engine, the big bike rocking from side to side with restrained power. It was still strapped to the pallet at this point, and I let it idle while we removed the last two straps securing it…

I put my jacket on, un-raveled the SA/USA flag, and attached the aluminum rod to it’s position on my top-box… A cheer went up from the crowd when they saw the flags and a number of bystanders wanted their photo taken with me…

With a wave to all, I rode the Big Fella out into the rush hour traffic that was clogging the highways around the airport.

“Where the hell are we ??” cried the Big Fella, momentarily confused…

“Help, I’ve gone blind !!” cried Gi-Gi… (Her screen was blank because I still had the North American map chip inserted into her brain…

“Relax,” I said aloud, “We’re home. I’ll take it from here…”

We decided to take the back roads home, but even they were jam-packed with people on their way home from work. I received a few startled looks as I passed vehicles on either side of me… It was great being back in a country where lane-splitting was accepted and expected… People who saw me coming up the middle of two lanes of traffic, eased their vehicle to either side of me so that I could fit the bike through the gap…

Try that in the USA and a ticket for reckless endangerment will be your reward !!

And then a photo of some of the guys who claimed to have been of assistance... If standing around watching me sweat constituted assistance, then they assisted mightily !!

And then a photo of some of the guys who claimed to have been of assistance… If standing around watching me sweat constituted assistance, then they assisted mightily !!

People smiled at me, some just nodded their heads in my direction, a kind of grudging respect written in their eyes… Some gave me the thumbs up; others just stared…

We passed a few bikers who swiveled in their saddles to get a better look at us… I wondered what they were thinking, and almost felt the envy they were undoubtedly feeling…

This was after all, almost every biker’s dream… That long trip to experience the uninterrupted freedom that only being on a bike on the open road to faraway places, can bring…

I had dreamed the same dream once….

Then I had gone out and lived it !!

©GBWT 2013

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