San Jose del Cabo, BCS, Mexico to Chicago, IL, USA

1808.7 mi / 452.2 mph / 38,000 ft. climbing
Home: Home (Neil’s teenage version)

Two weeks to prepare to leave Mexico; that should be enough to eliminate day-of-travel stresses, right? Especially since travel is normal for us, though travel via airplane is not. We’ve never flown with bicycles before, much less out of a foreign country. Hmm, maybe this won’t be so relaxing.

Airport transportation around here, just like COVID testing, seems to be built entirely around resort stays. The idea of someone needing transportation to the airport from somewhere that is NOT a resort is apparently incomprehensible. And even then, the transport websites expect that you would have begun your relationship with them when they transported you FROM the airport to your resort. One-way transportation is even more impossible to select. So we were forced to use a telephone, and that way Rett was able to successfully book a pickup for us. The most-challenging part was giving our non-resort, AirBNB location for pickup, since, like many places in Baja, it doesn’t have a street address. But the company has that handled: they had us just use the “send location” feature of WhatsApp (the most popular chat service in Mexico). Easy!  

Our driver arrived well ahead of our 9:30am pickup time, so that was good. Except, we had to physically hand over the keys to our AirBNB owner, who we also told to arrive at 9:30. Ugh. Oh, but there she was! Ok, we’re on our way, bike boxes and bags loaded into the back of the Suburban (it all fit), ahead of schedule! The US$65 fare was a good deal compared to some other rates Rett was quoted, but a pretty insane tourist-price for a nine mile ride in Mexico.

Riding in the Suburban to the airport with most of what we own in the back.

At the terminal curb, a worker was ready to help load everything on to a luggage cart, and he even pushed it all the way up to the check-in counter, knowing how to bypass the normal rope-line since the wide load would not have fit. At the counter, the clerk knew American Airlines’ bike policy (no guarantee of that!), and correctly charged us just a second bag fee for them. Well, after she verified that they weighed less than 50 pounds. Rett’s was about 47, and mine was 48.6. Yikes, that was close! (it would have cost us an extra $200 if mine had weighed just 1.4 lbs more!) Our pre-sumbitted negative COVID test (via an annoying 3rd party app) was also confirmed and approved.

All of our checked baggage, trying to look skinny.

Ok, this is all going far too well, and now it’s time for us to go through security. And, yep, here it is: they need to check inside one of my bags. As campers we carry a lot of things that aren’t allowed in a carry-on bag; what did I forget to move to my checked bag?! It turns out they were concerned about the two folding bike locks I’d taken off my bike (to reduce the weight of the bike box. Quite necessarily as it turned out!) When folded up, they look like heavy, solid, club-like hunks of plastic-coated steel, so I could understand their concern. I tried to communicate as best I could that they were bicycle locks, but the original agent brought over a second agent for further consultation. Ugh! Eventually we must have said enough they relented and let me go on my way, with the locks. In retrospect, I should have expected this exact confusion and concern: one reason I liked the idea of folding locks is because they’re a pretty rare form of bike lock, so most potential bike thieves wouldn’t have the tools or knowledge to deal with them; an unfortunate side-effect of that rarity is that airport security people don’t have the knowledge to deal with them either. But it was a good confirmation that my theory holds some water!

Rett tried and failed to find some AirPlanes earplugs. And then with nothing else to do, so early that our plane didn’t even have a gate assignment yet, we randomly settled into seats at one of the many empty gates to wait. An hour or so later, the gate assignment came, and it was the one we were already sitting at! C’mon, this is going too well! Ok, the $36 we spent on a small Panda Express lunch wasn’t very nice; Mexican airport prices seem almost worse than American!

Boarding was fun, we got to do a no-jetway walk-across-the-tarmac (a first for Rett), during which we could see our bike boxes on the other side of the plane looking just as pretty as when we left them, waiting to board just like us.

Our plane, and our bikes!

And then the goofiest thing: inside the terminal, since it’s Mexico, everyone had their masks on. On the plane (the narrow aluminum tube crammed with people), since it’s American, probably 40% of people immediately took their masks off. Yes, I know it’s not a requirement on the plane anymore, and the ventilation is supposed to be pretty good, but it just struck me like a bunch of people who had been wearing rain jackets and carrying umbrellas for hours in a light mist, and then, when lightning flashed and thunder cracked, they immediately ripped off their jackets and threw their umbrellas in the trash.

The flight left on time, took us over the Sea of Cortez, gave us our first views of the Mexican mainland, the oil fields of West Texas, Kansas, Missouri, and then Illinois, with the green fields and green forests becoming more saturated the further into the Midwest that we flew.

Rett not sure what to think of this strange green infestation taking over the landscape near our landing zone.

Landing, taxiing, then the tripled-back-on-itself line for customs. It moved quickly, but that was a bit of a downside too, since lifting our 15-20lb. wheel-less carry-on bags, taking five steps, and bending to set them down again became quite the chore. Shoulder straps next time! Finally, no, we have nothing to declare. The immigration officer reminds me to take my glasses off for the photo, which is weird, because I don’t wear glasses. Oh, except that I am right now, because you lost both of your contact lenses, dumbass. Two new pairs should be waiting for me tonight!

On to baggage claim, where our bike boxes were immediately visible standing unceremoniously amid a jumble of other oversize baggage (including a couple of other bike boxes). They looked good! For our “normal” bags, I had to run completely to the other side, and by this time they’d already been taken off the carousel and were sitting on the floor, their blue Ikea-ness also looking relatively untouched.

Which means that the couple days we spent draining our stove and fuel bottle, cleaning them, letting any bit of fumes air out, and then hand-writing two notes explaining that to any nosy security agents and pleading with them to not confiscate our stove, was all unnecessary. Since no one ever dug into any of our odd checked packages.

With everything again loaded onto a luggage cart, we navigated our way through a too-tight set of passages and doors (at one doorway, needing to unload the whole cart, pass everything through, and then reload, all while frustrated exiters (who could have just used another door) piled up behind us). Stepping outside, the mid-80s evening weather felt nearly identical to what we had left in Baja.

A call summoned the Mom & Dad Motorcade out of choir practice, they arrived in short order, we hoisted the bikes and luggage into the pickup truck, I jumped in with Dad, and Rett went with Mom in the Volkswagen, and we headed “home”. Or at least for me, the closest thing to “home” that still exists outside of the mobile home that Rett and I carry between us wherever we go.

So there you have it, one of the smoothest end-to-end travel experiences I’ve ever had, especially considering the degree-of-difficulty. I guess that says that having two weeks to prepare for such a trip (even if you’re suffering from COVID half the time) helps a lot.

The oddest thing to me upon returning from our Mexican environment (or maybe even the broader West Coast) was how nearly every building was made of brick!


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