Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Unexpected Visit to the USA

[Maryanne]There were a host of reasons that it suddenly made sense to take a trip back to the USA. From our short time in Chile, this certainly wasn't something we'd expected to do... but, hey, we'd just have to be flexible. Our bank cards were about to expire and we'd need ATM withdrawals in the coming year; unexpected boat parts were suddenly needed, impossible to source in Chile and an expensive and unreliable import process would possibly mean we'd be stuck in Chile long past our planned leaving date. Once we determined it would simply be easier to go the the USA and bring the critical items back ourselves, it gave us the opening to order a few extra bits - YAY. Unfortunately the logistics made it best for just one of us to go, and we figured it should be Kyle so he could get some extra Mom time from the whole exercise. Overall it wasn't a fun trip, it was some miserable and stressful commuting involving days of travel for just two days and three nights at his Mom's - but he DID get some quality Mom time. Whew!

[Kyle]After five thousand miles of being crammed into airplane seats that seemed surprisingly low on foam and surprisingly high on jabby metal corners, I arrived stiff and sore in Phoenix for my brief visit with Mom. I was not allotted much more space in her car than on the airplane flights, but her passenger seat was a jillion times more comfortable. I probably should have eased into it by taking off my shoes and sitting on them, but then my feet would have been more comfortable.

Will this all fit into 2 carry on bags?
(And thanks to Carla for all the pictures in this blog)

Awaiting me at Mom's was the small mountain of boxes of stuff we had ordered online for me to retrieve. It was bigger than the dresser. It was bigger than the fridge. I put my two empty roll aboard suitcases next to it. Uh, oh.

I decided to tackle that problem the next day after I've had some sleep. In the meantime, I had the other problem of too much yummy food and not enough space for that. I put in a valiant effort. Thanks, Mom!

Afterwards, the food coma combined with the long trip to put me right to sleep. I was hoping to wake up all refreshed with the sun shining in. Instead, after a few hours, I was having terrible dreams about trying to get the mountain home, so I decided to just get up and get on with it.

After removing all of the packaging down to discarding extraneous pieces of paper from the packing slips, I got the pile down to what appeared to be about three and a half suitcases worth. Several packings and unpackings later, I managed to get it all to fit within the physical limits of the cases. I even left room for dozens of molecules of air.

The problem was that the windlass was so big and heavy that the case was right at the weight limit for the airline. Everything else in that case had to be light, but also dense and padded enough to protect the windlass from the abuses of the bag smashers. A few repackings later, I managed to get one heavy bag, one REALLY heavy bag (3lbs below the limit!) and a 30lb daypack as carry on, which I would try my hardest to casually pretend wasn't slicing my arms off with the shoulder straps. Those bags were going to look pretty suspicious under x-ray and I was more than a little worried about them being searched because each one of them was technically a spring-loaded, Jack-in-the-box style bomb waiting to go off. Bombs are not allowed on airplanes.

There was at least some time to relax, and, of course, be well fed by Mom

Getting the bags packed gave me a whole day spare to get caught up with Mom and get as many odd jobs done as I could while she worked.

Before either of us knew it, it was time to get up and get me back to the airport. Flights are full everywhere all of the time now, so there was no way I was going to be leaving Phoenix by plane. Instead, after hours of research, I determined that my only option was a one-way car rental to the El Paso airport to get a flight from there the next morning that was still not yet full. The drive took about eight hours and El Paso was the only airport within that kind of radius from Phoenix that I would have any chance of getting on.

After only a few hours of sleep at a hotel across the parking lot from the terminal, I awoke at 2:30 to check on my flight. It and all others that day were all way overbooked. Most were also delayed. Groan. Overbooked flights caused 80% of the ageing I experienced working for the airlines. 19.5% was sleep deprivation and only 0.5% was due to the actual passage of time.

Fine, Plan... I dunno E, F? If I got another one-way car rental for the twelve hour drive to Houston AND I got to the rental car counter the minute they opened, I might just make it.

The drive started reasonably well. West Texas doesn't have much traffic on the Interstate and it is less boring, visually, than the rest of the state. I knew I had little spare time and calculated that I could make the drive on three tankfuls if I spaced them evenly. I would try to grab something to eat at one of the fuel stops.

When the car's computer said I had 100 miles to empty, I made a note to fill up at the next station. Every crest in the road revealed miles and miles ahead of nothing but more road. At 30 miles, I slowed down to save gas. At 15, I slowed way down, which I didn't have time for, but less so than running out of gas. The freeway kept climbing long hills, which was killing my mileage. At six miles to empty, I took the first exit promising a station. At the stop sign at the end of the ramp, a sign pointed left and said the station was in two miles. I drove it at about forty miles per hour and pulled into the station with 3 miles to go. I was so worried they would be closed.

The station had no food of any kind, so after being stopped for no more than four minutes, I was headed back toward the Interstate. I'd lost a few minutes, but it looked like I would make it if I was careful not to drive fast enough to require a fourth fuel stop.

At San Antonio a few hours later, I encountered the unfortunate combination of road construction and early rush hour traffic. Then a couple of vehicles hit each other in the merge zone and everything ground to a stop. After spending fifteen minutes to go just under a mile, I followed suit with some of the cheekier drivers and exited the freeway across the grass onto the frontage road. Fifteen minutes of stop and go traffic later, we were past the parked cars and were back on the freeway moving smartly. That was a relief, but by my calculations, I was 35 miles behind where I should have been. I also needed gas again.

I didn't even check to see if I could get any food where I stopped. I was back on the road again in four minutes.

A full seventy miles out of Houston with only two hours before the ticket counter closed at the airport, rush hour traffic started. I toughed out going ten miles per hour for a couple of exits, each one of which I sorely regretted passing as soon as it was gone, before a particularly high overpass revealed a future of stopped cars and brake lights as far as the eye could see.

I was pretty much in full panic then, which was good because all of the day's food and coffee stops had failed to materialize. Staying alert turned out to be no problem at all. I took the very next exit.

I was reluctant to leave the Interstate because my phone didn't have a U.S. SIM card, so I had no available means of navigating other than my twenty-year old memories of Houston's road system.

"I flew over that" actually served me pretty well because I knew that most of East Texas has farm roads on a one-mile grid. Most don't go through because of a river or a lake in their path, but the big ones have bridges.

I drove about six miles north until I came upon a road that looked big enough to get through and turned east. It almost immediately stopped being straight as it joined and then followed a river. It was still going mostly east, though, so I stuck with it.

At length, I spotted some kind of freeway in the distance through a break in the trees. Traffic on it seemed to be moving well, so I made my way over to it and got on. Whew! Now I knew where I was again - fifteen miles and thirty-five minutes until the counter closes.

You know what happened next. At the next exit, another accident had stopped all of the traffic. I took to surface streets again, along with a third of the others and started making my way vaguely in the direction of the airport. During one slow spot, I managed to get my third tank of gas and only lose two spaces in traffic. Before that happened, I was seriously considering returning the car empty and forking out the $4,000 fee.

I dropped off the car with ten minutes to go and stepped off of the rental car shuttle with three minutes to go.

It wasn't possible to run, but I managed a fast trot with my 140lbs of luggage in tow. I arrived wild-eyed and with no hair left (so, looking normal, but I was stressed, man!) I gave them my two heaviest bags, got my boarding pass and joined the back of the long queue for security. Okay, so the part of being a pilot where I get to go through the shortest line I DO miss.

TSA was only slightly annoyed at the many replacement laptops I was carrying in my pack, which was the same reaction they had to all of us in the line and all of our belongings, so that wasn't too bad. I arrived into my seat at the gate with a whomp! Awaiting me were several messages from Mom asking if I had arrived yet. She thought I had arrived eight hours earlier after flying and I had neither the time nor the signal to tell her of my subsequent change of plans. After giving her the short version (yes, there is one, but it's not nearly as suspenseful), she told me to go grab a bite before getting on the plane. First of all, that's IF I get on the plane. Second, too tired. Last night's dinner will tide me over until then.

Just about the time that I was starting to get a little nervous that they forgot about me, I was given a boarding pass awarding me the second to last middle seat remaining. On board the plane, I met my two row mates. To my left was Tech Guy, who had a spider web of charging cables strung between himself and the outlets in the seat in front of him, thus ensuring that if I ever had to get up mid-flight, it would not be that way. To my right was a guy who had the rare ability to remember anyone's name the first time, as long as it's Bro. He was named Bro. All of his friends were named Bro. It seems a LOT of parents in the '90s wanted the same popular name for their kids. He was engaged in an animated one-way conversation with Tech Guy, who turns out is also named Bro, about his Broventures in Broland with his Bros. He was trying to impress Bro by going on about the awesome company he started that writes apps for smartphones. His latest was one that would find nearby mountain bike trails or rate women's asses, depending on whether you were in the woods or a city. It was called something like, "Bro, Check this out!" Bro seemed to think it was a really good idea.

All of this was said over me in complete oblivion to my presence.

"Hi, I'm Kyle, although some people call me Bro. I'm flying down to Chile to try to help convince people that all Americans aren't self-obsessed gasbags. Looks like I've got a lot of work cut out for me."

As soon as the plane started moving, Right Bro popped an Ambien, to which he added two mixed drinks when the food came. He barely made it through dinner, passing out in a splayed out blob, ensuring I couldn't go that way either. Better hold it in...

As my pack was too distended to fit in the overhead bin, I got to share my limited space with it. Technically, it fit far enough under the seat in front of me to allow a passageway in an evacuation, but there would be no stretching out for the ten and a half hour flight, which I DID spend in it's entirety without leaving my seat.

When we touched down in Santiago, Ambien Bro slept through the impact and heavy braking, although he did let out a snort and some drool. He finally awoke with a groggy "Mnyeuh!" when people started pushing past him to get off. Tech Bro had already packed up his chargers and was pushing his way to the front, eager to be the first to get real wifi and not the crap they have on the plane.

I, on the other hand, was in no hurry whatsoever. My bus to Valdivia wasn't leaving for ten hours, so I wanted everything to take as long as possible.

I collected my bags and took some time to inspect the contents for damage. The bags looked a little strained, but everything inside seemed intact.

I got through immigration okay, although the woman was clearly a little suspicious that I had only been gone a week and that my previous entry stamp had not been affixed at the Santiago Airport.

Then came SAG. They seemed not at all concerned that I had ticked the box on the form confessing to being over my allowance for computers and cell phones. When they ran the bags through the X-ray, ostensibly to look for contraband sausages and honey, they all looked very concerned and wanted to know what the big machine was.

"You may want to step back a little", I said and opened the bag. When I explained that it was a motor for a boat to use to lift the anchor, it seemed to do the opposite of clear things up.

"Who's boat is this for?"

"My boat."

"And you live here?"


"But you have a boat here?"

"Yes, but it is a Yacht in Transit and this part is a replacement part." This particular wording was very important.

"How much is the machine worth?"

Uh, oh. This is where they hit me with the huge Duty. I searched and searched, but had no receipt as it was deemed too bulky when packing. I had an email copy, but no signal. Two pieces of paper I did have hard copies of, thanks to Maryanne, was our boat Document and our Zarpe. I offered them for inspection. He called his Supervisor. I repeated the same to him. The people behind me were bailing out for other lines. He called his boss. She looked at the document, read the Zarpe and told me Buen Viaje! We were done. I was free to go. Whew!

I went to a coffee shop and wasted as much time as I could until the hard seats just became too much for me. I then took a cab to the bus station downtown where I repeated for the same in their coffee shop. While I was waiting, I noticed a sign saying it was a federal law that each bus passenger was only allowed one piece of checked luggage each, weighing no more than 30 kilos. I had two and one of them was 30.5 kilos. I was a little worried about that. When it came time to load my bags, the guy took them both, asked me where I was going and returned two claim check tags. No argument. That was a relief.

When I had purchased my tickets several hours earlier, I was given a choice of seats. I chose a window with an empty next to it as far from the bathroom as possible. Boarding the bus, it seemed the configuration had changed. My new seat was right across from the loo. At least the empty stayed empty. I was able to put my pack on the floor next to me and stretch out my legs. I quickly fell off to sleep, lulled by the drone of the engine.

At the next stop, a LOT more people got on and took every available seat. I jammed my bag under my legs, pinning them up against the metal frame of the seat in front of me - not nearly as comfortable. The lad sitting next to me did not seem the remotest bit tired nor concerned that I might be. He bounced and sang his way all the way to his stop in Los Angeles six hours later. He seemed to not get that headphones were so others don't have to hear what he was playing.

When he left, I was comfortable for about twenty seconds until he was replaced by a big oblivious guy in a giant parka who took up a lot of space. He wasn't THAT big, but he had a way of spreading out. He used both armrests, stretched out on both seat backs and kept pushing the curtains on the other side of me open and closed every time he wanted to see if we were moving.

When he finally fell asleep (it was an overnight bus ride), the half of him on my side flopped over on me. I was initially annoyed by this, but as we proceeded further and further south, it got colder and colder in the bus. The guy was keeping me warm.

I kept expecting the heat to come on any minute. After all, it was a modern, million-dollar coach. It never did. I looked around and noticed everybody either had on parkas or were covered in blankets. My coat was stuffed into the bottom of my pack, which I had no possible way of retrieving, so I was stuck for the time being. It was too cold to sleep.

By the time we arrived in Valdivia, eleven hours after leaving Santiago, I was shivering and had managed to sleep only during the first thirty minutes of the trip.

To keep with the theme, I should have taken off my shoes and walked home, but I decided to splash out and get a cab instead. Maryanne met me with open arms, took a suitcase and helped me on the boat. I don't remember that much about the rest of the day because I was half awake. I decided for the purposes of getting back to a normal sleep schedule to stay up as long as I could. When I finally gave in, I remember being overwhelmed with how flat and soft and warm the bed was. I woke up at eleven o'clock the next morning feeling like a completely new person. Time to unpack!

1 comment:

Mommy Carla said...

This is the first time I have known the entire story of this incredible journey. My little involvement required only making a couple of meals and sharing as many hugs as humanly possible in a brief time. What came before and, most notably, after I dropped Kyle off at the Phoenix car rental place, I was blessedly oblivious about until now. Had I known, I would have worried far more.
Kyle, you are amazing.