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The New Plan

Circular Quay in Sydney, waiting for the Manly ferry to arrive. In the rain... Why did I leave sunny California?

Well, here I am in Australia. Already. What? How did that happen? What happened to Mexico and Panama and Colombia and all of that business?

Well, quite simply I spent too much time – and too much money – in the United States. I set off intending to spend a third of my time and half of my budget there… but I spent half my time and two-thirds of the money in the US. Which I don’t regret for a second – it was so much better than I’d expected – but I had to get the trip and the budget back on track somehow.

Besides, two things have been worrying me about going south: the state of the bike; and the state of the roads.

At the moment, my Kawasaki Z1000SX is running like a charm. I’ve had it dealer-serviced vaguely on schedule, but it’ll need more attention soon (probably including chain and sprockets) and the Michelin Road 5s that went on in Denver have only 2000-3000 miles left on them. Given the trouble I had finding suitable rubber in America, I doubt it would be any simpler south of the border – and if the bike developed another problem, especially a fuel-related one like the one I had in Colorado, how easy would it be to find a Kawasaki dealer to plug the bike into a diagnostic? And how much more likely would it be to develop that kind of glitch again with fuel in South America? The uncertainty has really put me off.

As for the roads, I know there’s plenty of good-quality tarmac on the way south – but the more I spoke to Americans who’d ridden down there, the less confident I was that there’d be good-quality riding for a sports tourer away from the major highways. And what’s the point of sticking to those? The best riding on the trip so far has been on the smaller roads and that’s the stuff I like. This trip has never been about mile-munching for the sake of it. I want to ride find great roads and places off-the-beaten-track, but I see no merit in just grimly getting through on a rough road. So why go all that way if I’m largely limited to the duller roads because the smaller ones are too rough or gravelly to enjoy on my bike? I knew I was limiting my options by using the SX rather than an adventure bike – but now I have to concede that perhaps a more versatile machine would have its advantages…

One other factor swung it for me, which is that one of the biggest pleasures of this trip has been the people I’ve met. As well as my friends Bob, Beth and Michael, who I visited along the way, I’ve been meeting great people all across America. Every day I've met someone new – sometimes several people a day. With some people I just have a quick chat, but often it's a longer one, and some people have kept in touch through the site. That's wonderful. It’s made a huge difference, adding an extra dimension and richness to the trip. But that’s only possible because I can have proper, nuanced conversations in English; in Spanish, I struggle to make myself understood and generally I comprehend less...

I’d been mulling all these things over since going to Yellowstone - and really thinking hard about it since going back to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. I knew that my detours meant something would have to give to balance both the books and the timing. I began making a few enquiries when I was in Vegas and, once I got to Sequoia, I made the decision. I had to ditch Plan A. The big catch was the cost: air-freight to Australia from LA would be… more than $5000. Gulp. That would wipe out the remaining budget, not balance it. Sea freight? $550, plus a similar amount on landing charges in Australia. I agreed a date to drop off the bike and booked my flight 48 hours ahead…

Scrubs up well - despite all the miles on this trip

I got to Long Beach in Los Angeles, went to the US Customs office to get a form stamped, then had the bike washed and detailed, to get it ready for Australia's strict quarantine rules. I was ready... but the shipping agent I was dealing with became a bit evasive and wouldn’t confirm when the bike would get to Sydney. Meanwhile the landing agent in Australia offered to get the bike there for the end of September. I waited, repeatedly asked the original shipper for some dates… but they couldn’t commit to a time-frame. So at lunchtime, I switched to the new freight company, dropped the bike with them and made my way to the airport. Flexible travel…

Of course, that means I’m in Sydney four weeks before the bike. But don’t worry… I won’t be sitting around. I’m hoping to get more high-quality riding organised to fill the time before the SX arrives. Watch this space…

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