Welcome to America
We weren’t even off the plane and we were preparing ourselves for the worst. “What do you think we should put down for this question?” we asked one of the Air New Zealand staff, gazing at the blank space where U.S. customs wanted us to declare all the countries we’d visited before landing on American soil.
Let’s see now. Britain, France, Spain, Morocco, Portugal. The list goes on. At 30 countries so far, it would be a long list, and we were slightly wary of making a full disclosure.
“Well, you haven’t been to anywhere like Afghanistan, have you?” he asked.
Not quite. But we weren’t sure stamps for Syria and Iran would go over much better.
“Just put down ‘world tour’,” he advised. Then a smirk crept over his face. “If I see you in handcuffs being led away, I promise to call your mothers.” We laughed, nervously.
An hour later we were approaching the desk, rehearsing our lines on how we only went to Iran because we thought it would be a nice place to ride a bicycle (and it was) and practicing our ‘yes sirs’ and ‘no sirs’ and then, the most unexpected thing happened. We were stamped through in about 30 seconds flat, with hardly more than a nod towards our Canadian passports (conspicuously free of any stamps because we’d been travelling on our European passports up until now) and a hearty welcome to America. The most pointed question asked was, “Did you enjoy your world tour?”
Hardly scary stuff.
All that worry for nothing. Sometimes we are very good at making mountains out of molehills and we passed through thinking that maybe our opinions of U.S. customs officers (based largely on a negative experience about 10 years ago) deserved a little updating.
More good omens for our trip ahead followed. The bikes arrived in perfect condition. The food inspectors decided none of our mobile pantry was worthy of confiscation and, best of all, one of our first sights in the arrivals hall was Gary, a police officer on a bicycle.
We thought this was the land of cars, so it was quite a surprise to see Gary zip past us inside the terminal, before he executed a quick u-turn and came back for a chat. We soon learned all about San Francisco’s biking coppers, who can not only ride up and down the steep hills but have also been taught how to ride a bike down 5 flights of stairs in order to chase criminals. Imagine that!
Gary notches up about 25 miles a day during a 10 hour shift, which is pretty impressive when you think most of that is achieved while weaving between people lugging suitcases. After a few minutes, Gary had to move on, but not before welcoming us to America in his own way, with a San Francisco police badge from his old uniform. We thought that was pretty neat and we’ll get it on our panniers, just as soon as we figure out how to attach such a thing to a waterproof bag.
A few hours later we’d said goodbye to Friedel’s uncle Paul, who’d joined us for a week in New Zealand, put our bikes together and were on our way into the city by train. We then cycled a few kilometers to the home of Andrea, another of the world’s kind souls and someone who didn’t mind adopting a couple nomads for a few nights. A cup of tea and a bowl of tabouli later (we are sure Andrea makes one of the world’s best bowls of tabouli) and we were starting to feel very much at home in this new country – far more than we expected when we stepped on the plane 24 hours earlier.