Flying with bicycles: the USA to Nicaragua

flying with bicycles

The first stage: Buffalo to Toronto

Overall the flight to Nicaragua was a bit of a nightmare. This was the first time we had ever tried flying with bicycles, and unfortunately it didn’t go completely smoothly.

First, we caught the greyhound from Buffalo to Toronto. This was probably the only part of the trip that went smoothly. There were only 4 people on the bus and the Greyhound staff didn’t even charge us extra for the bikes – score! We had no issues headed back through the Canadian border. They didn’t even want to x-ray our bike boxes, or any of our bags – double score! At this stage, I was quite hopeful and thought the smooth bus trip was a positive sign for things to come…

Toronto Airport: Flying with bicycles!

It was all downhill from the moment we arrived at Toronto Airport! Once we arrived at the airport, we started to make our way to the departure hall. This turned out to be unnecessarily difficult, when we discovered that the elevators aren’t actually wide enough for our bike boxes. This meant, holding the elevator open while Michael pushed each box into the elevator along with all our bags. Taking up the lift for so long, doesn’t make us too popular with the other passengers. It also turned out we were departing from a different terminal, so we had plenty of small elevators and a train to overcome.

When we finally made it to departures, we checked in then proceeded to the oversized luggage. Now being oversized, you think that would mean they have x-ray machines large enough for oversized baggage. Well, they don’t! The customs officer actually tried to squeeze our bike boxes through the small x-ray machine. Mine managed to fit through. Michael’s on the other hand got stuck. We then spent the next 30 minutes trying to push Michael’s bike out of the x-ray.

Flying with bicycles
Michael attempting to push the bike box out of the x-ray machine with another smaller box, at the “oversized” baggage check in at Toronto Airport. I kid you not – this is the oversized x-ray machine and Michael’s box got stuck inside.

At one point, Michael had the end of a broom, and was pushing the box from one end, the customs officer was messing around with the belt… reversing it and then moving it forward again, and another lady was trying to pull the box from the back. It almost seemed to comical to be reality, and part of me was waiting for the “You’ve Been Framed” camera crew to appear around the corner. After 30 minutes had passed, I was convinced that they would have to dismantle the machine to get Michael’s bike out… but, finally, somehow the box was freed and popped out the machine.

After all this, the officer then told Michael he had to open the box to search it – so much for the 4 rolls of duct tape we used to tape up the box. Finally the officer was happy and our bikes disappeared along the conveyer belt. We hoped the next time we seen our bikes would be in Nicaragua – this turned out not to be the case!

Connecting in Mexico City

We were flying from Toronto to Managua via Mexico City. Originally, when I booked the flights I thought that since it was all with Aeromexico, our bags would be checked all the way through. There was no mention ANYWHERE on the ticket on website, that this wasn’t the case. During check out, we were informed that we would have to pick up the bikes and re-check them in for our next flight. Bummer!

When we arrived into Mexico City, we proceeded to the baggage claim and collected our bikes and bags. FYI in Mexico City you need to pay for the baggage carts – great when you are only planning on being in the airport for 2 hours and have no Mexico pesos on you. Luckily, a local came to our rescue and gave us money for a cart – seriously, an amazing random act of kindness, which put me in a good, positive mood.

The airport staff told us that our bike boxes would need to be checked at customs, so after collected our boxes, we headed to departures! Luckily, Mexico Airport has wider elevators, so getting around the airport wasn’t so much of a drama as it was at Toronto. Once we arrived at the oversized luggage check in, we were told we had to wrap the boxes in plastic wrap. Even now this makes no sense to me, as we were told they would have to open the boxes up and check inside – so wrapping them in plastic before the check really seemed pointless and wasteful. Regardless of our attempts of reasoning with the customs officer, we paid $50 (no joke) to get each box wrapped in plastic. Then we headed back to the oversized baggage, and said “goodbye” to our bikes, once again.

Later, when I did open my bike box, I discovered a piece of paper inside informing me my box had been checked by security – so I guess they just paid for the bike to be rewrapped again? At least I didn’t have to pay for the “plastic waste” again.

Flying with bicycles: the last leg

The flight from Mexico City to Managua was extremely rough and I was extremely happy to be on the ground when we arrived in Managua. On the plus side, the views flying over El Salvador and Nicaragua were amazing. Lots of volcanos, lakes, mountains and beaches greeted us as we made the descent through the clouds.

Flying into Managua, Nicaragua
Flying into Managua, Nicaragua

Clearing border security was easy – we weren’t even asked about an onwards flight (which is great, as we didn’t have one)! We headed over to baggage collection to pick up our bikes – hopeful that our bikes made it ok!

I think from being wrapped in plastic, the ground staff couldn’t tell what were in the boxes and they had been thrown around A LOT! The boxes were extremely beaten up, with several metal parts protruding from the box.

Initially we had planned to put the bikes together at the airport, and then ride to the guesthouse we had booked. I don’t know what we were thinking. It was stinking hot, we hadn’t slept for over 24 hours and we weren’t 100% sure that our bikes were going to be functional ever again! Eventually, we decided to jump in a taxi, squeeze the bikes and all our gear in, and head to the guesthouse to deal with the situation there, instead of in the arrivals hall, with hundreds of touts harassing us.

I had booked a guesthouse that was only 2km from the airport. Our boxes were squeezed into the back of a taxi, and tied down with some rope! After a 5 minutes ride, we arrived at the guesthouse and paid our overpriced taxi fare (got to love that “gringo” tax – man, I hate airport taxis!) We ended up spending 2 days in Managua to put the bikes together and sort our shit out!

So that was our first experience flying with bicycles! Did our bikes survive the trip? Was I well enough to start cycling again? How was it going to be cycling in Nicaragua? You’ll have to wait until the next post to find out.

Lessons Learnt from our experience flying with bicycles:

  • Don’t use a cardboard bike box when flying with bicycles! I think next time we’re going to just try wrapping it in plastic (though my environmentalist instinct hates this wasteful idea).
  • Try and get a direct flight, if this isn’t possible, double check with the airline whether the flight will connect your baggage, or whether you will need to collect it during transit.
  • Riding from the airport when you haven’t slept for 24 hours is never a great idea! Don’t fool yourself!
  • Aeromexico has shit customer service – no way around this!
  • Don’t count on being able to put the bikes together at the airport! Even if you want to try and put them together, have a back up plan in place, in case it’s not possible.
  • If ground staff can’t tell it’s a bike, then they will probably toss it around, A LOT!

If you have some tips on flying with bicycles, then let us know! We definitely appreciate any advise to help make our next experience not so stressful.

Cycling the Erie Canal Trail and New York

Cycling the Erie Canal Trail and new york

Cycling into New York

I was pumped to be cycling in New York state, and to start cycling the Erie Canal Trail to Buffalo. I’d heard so much positivity about the trail, and the countryside, I couldn’t wait to actually experience it for myself.

As soon as we crossed into New York State, bicycle route signs and a hard shoulder appeared! This made the cycle to Albany a fairly pleasant one. That was until a guy in a car pulled out in front of us when we had the green light. He gave us the finger, and then proceeded to get out of his car and start yelling at us. We’re not really too sure what his problem was, but two guys in a nearby café whom witnessed the entire thing stood up for us, and took over the argument on our behalf.

This was a strange introduction into the state, and just one example of the two extreme perspectives of cyclists. It seemed you are either pro-cycling or anti-cycling. Sadly, it actually reminded me of cycling in Perth. In both places there is a definite sense of aggression on the roads between motorists and cyclists (not by all, but by some).

At the end of the day just like there are good and bad motorists, there are good and bad cyclists. Though regardless of this, a car can easily kill or seriously injury a cyclist. I think some motorists need reminding of that.

New York’s capital, Albany

As we entered Albany the awesome network of bicycle paths became immediately apparent! It was a super easy city to cycle in and out of, and was also the starting (or ending) point of the infamous, Erie Canal Bike Trail, which we were both pumped to start cycling.

In Albany we had the pleasure to stay with the wonderful, Becca! We stayed at her place for two days, and enjoyed the sun, mediation and some great food, drink and conversation.

Cycling the Erie Canal Trail

From Albany we started cycling the Erie Canal Trail. The rumours were that the Erie Canal Trail was the longest bike trail in North America. The trail was supposed to be a 365-mile bike trail all the way from Albany to Buffalo. What is it they say about something sounding too good to be true?

We got about 20km outside Schenectady when the trail disappeared. This was just the start of our constant battle to relocate the bike trail. Often when we did reconnect with the trail it was unrideable with our heavy, fully loaded bikes. So we ended up on State Bike Route 5 just as often as on the actual Erie Canal Trail.

To be totally honest, cycling the Erie Canal Trail was a bit of a disappointment, but it wasn’t all bad. Some parts of the trail were really beautiful. We passed several cute towns, camped at a couple of canal locks and took full advantage of the abundance of picnic spots along the route. There were also lots of cool heritage sites to visit along the route.

Cycling the Erie Canal Trail
One of the locks that we camped at on the Erie Canal Trail

Our big 100 mile cycle day

Struggling to find somewhere to camp near and around Rochester, we were forced to book into a hotel. It had been 3 days since we’d had a shower, so I was pretty happy for the luxury of a hot shower, a comfortable bed and buffet breakfast. I had also developed a chest cough, which was starting to affect my riding and also my mood, so I was definitely in need of a few days recovery.

We still had 100 miles (160km) of cycling the Erie Canal Trail until we reached Grand Island (near Niagara Falls). In Grand Island we had planned to stay with a family for a couple of nights, before heading towards Ohio.

During the morning, at the hotel we discovered there was a crazy storm forecast to hit later that night. The thought of camping in a storm was not too appealing – so we did what any sane person would do. To beat the storm, we decided to smash out 100 miles in one day! This is actually the furthest we have ever cycled in one day. It was one of those days where everything went against us. I won’t bore you with the details, I’ll just say it was a bloody challenge!

After a very long and very challenging day, we arrived at the bridge that went from Niagara to Grand Island. From there it was only a couple of kilometres to where we were staying. Finally we arrived at 9pm. I have never been so happy to see a bed! I can honestly say I slept like a baby!

cycling the erie canal trail
Cycling the Erie Canal Trail in Rochester

More Tornado Warnings!!!

The storm arrived overnight, bringing with it tornado warnings, flooding and freezing temperatures. Seriously, it’s May – when will spring arrive? I was extremely grateful to not be stuck cycling in the storm, but still it would have been nice to do a few hikes and explore the Niagara area a bit more.

The storm and bad weather hung around for 5 days. We did manage to find a break in the storm to visit Niagara Falls and seek out an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet, but other than that we were confined to the indoors. This was probably actually a good thing as my cough had gotten worse, and my body probably needed the rest.

Grand Island and a Change in Plan

On Grand Island we stayed with the Cook family – probably the best people on the island (I’m totally not bias)! They had a little log cabin out the back of their house, which we stayed in. We had originally planned to stay with them for 2 nights, and then continue cycling; however the chest cough I had developed changed all that and got us re-thinking our initial plan.

After our epic cycle day cycling the Erie Canal Trail, my cough got worse (not really a surprise), to the point I couldn’t cycle anymore. We couldn’t afford to stay somewhere in the US and wait until I was better, so we started to look into either taking the bus or renting a car for a portion.

The buses and car didn’t seem to work out how we wanted, so in our frustration and strange logic, we came up with the idea to fly somewhere. This somewhere ended up being Nicaragua!

niagara falls
Niagara Falls from the US side

Our Strange Logic

While in Halifax we actually spent more money than we had budgeted for, and our funds were slowly running out. By flying to Nicaragua we would skip at least 4 months of cycling. Plus it would mean I could rest and recover somewhere for a couple of weeks (in the heat), while we take Spanish lessons. Though this was a snap decision, which meant flying with bicycles, I think it was a logical decision!

So after spending 5 nights on Grand Island, we boxed up the bikes (which was more hassle than we thought) and headed to Toronto Airport, to make the long trip to Managua, Nicaragua!

What Nicaragua brought us was not what we expected… and perhaps would lead to another change in plans!

Cycling New England: Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts

Cycling New England

Excited to be on the road and cycling NEW ENGLAND!!

Cycling in Northern Maine felt like an extension to the Maritimes in Canada – fishing villages, sailboats, pine trees, granite rocks, the Atlantic Ocean and super friendly people. From the border we started cycling New England by cycling down route 1 (for the most part). We asked to pitch our tent on people’s land when needed. Occasionally we got invited in, other times we were given gifts, like a dozen farm eggs.

The random acts of kindness from people totally blows my mind – coming from Canada where people are known for their friendly and kind nature, to the US, where you really hear a mixture of things – it was hard to know what to expect.

Like a lot of cycling destinations, it’s the people and the random experiences that are the highlights. Personally I found the cycling in Maine very repetitive and a bit boring. This could be from staying in Nova Scotia over winter, with it’s similar environment or just readjusting to spending so much time off the bike. Either way I found the highlight in Maine to be the people we met.

Cycling New England
Pitching our tent in someone’s yard after they gave us a dozen eggs for free! Got to love cycling New England!

Don’t trust the maps of Maine!

One thing we discovered about Maine is that google maps and other map apps don’t always accurately show the roads. Actually, I found the maps less reliable in Maine, compared to some other countries we’ve cycled through – like Uzbekistan! We were recommended to take a short cut – this short cut actually added several kilometres and hills on our trip.

This “shortcut” we took eventually lead us onto a truck route. The smell of gin and tonic from the overtaking trucks filled the air again. Like seriously, what the hell is that smell? Are the truck drivers gin lovers, or are they running off gin fuel? I guess it’s better than black smoke, exhaust fumes, but it does make me crave gin and tonics, which is probably not a good idea at 9am on a Wednesday morning.

Eventually, we arrived into Portland

Our Warmshowers’ host cancelled on us last minute, so we continued on cycling to find somewhere to camp. Unfortunately, this is where the urban sprawl began! We cycled on for another 40km, without finding anywhere to camp. We ended up staying in a motel – the most disgusting place I’ve probably stayed! The smell of stale smoke stained our clothes for weeks after. So gross – this is my only regret of the trip so far!

And we continued cycling New England into New Hampshire

We continued cycling through the sprawl of hotels, resorts and motels until we hit Portsmouth in New Hampshire. Portsmouth was a pretty awesome city. We spent the day there then camped in the office of another warmshowers’ host.

We were in and out of New Hampshire in a heart beat! The only true discovery other than Portsmouth being a pretty awesome town, was the cheap booze! If you’re in New Hampshire then it’s worth boozing it up before you leave!

Cycling New England
You can’t be cycling New England and not try out some of the local craft beers! There are so many good ones around!

Salem: The home of history and witches

The next state on the cycle agenda was Massachusetts! Since I studied the play, “The Crucible” at high school, there was no way I could skip a detour to the town of Salem! For those of you that have never heard of “The Crucible” it’s a play based on true events in 1692. The event, know as the witchcraft trials, involved a bunch of people that were taking to court and executed for being witches. The play was written in response to the anti-communist movement in the US in the 60s. Super interesting! Definitely worth checking out the play or movie if you haven’t seen it!

Salem was a pretty awesome town. One of the oldest European settlements in North America. It definitely was touristy and their were a lot of tacky witchcraft shops scattered all over the town, but it was still worth the detour.

Boston: Finally some rest days!

After spending the morning in Salem, we continued on to Boston, where we finally got a few days break off the bike.  Cycling into Boston wasn’t exactly fun. The city sprawled a fair bit, but once we found a city bike path, we were all good!

One thing that became immediately apparent in Boston was the aggressive drivers. Even with all the bike paths and cyclists on the road, driving in Boston was stressful and not really that much fun. Sure, if you can stick to a bike path, it might be fine, but stray from that and you’re risking your neck.

Cycling New England

To sum up Boston: food, beer, walking, more food, more beer, couchsurfing company and good music! We had an awesome time in Boston!

The Sam Adams free brewery tour with free beer was definitely a highlight and I highly recommend checking it out if you’re in the city! It’s a bit out of the way, but definitely worth it – they even have a bike path that leads pretty much to the brewery door! We also got to listen to some local music, walked the freedom trail, paid a visit to Harvard University (because we’re pretty smart) and visited the Fine Arts Museum (free on Wed evenings – and really impressive). Boston also had an awesome selection of vegetarian and vegan joints, so we were two very happy cyclists.

Cycling Western Massachusetts

From Boston we decided to take our couchsurfers’ advice and catch the commuter train to Worcester. Apparently the road from Boston to Worcester is pretty dangerous, and it was raining, so we didn’t need much convincing. From Worcester we cycled to Belchertown. After getting out of the Worcester town centre, the cycle actually was awesome! Lots of hill climbs, but amazing views and beautiful scenery!

We spent that night with a warmshowers’ family in Belchertown – amazing family, with the friendliest dog ever. I was actually tempted to steal their awesome dog – I think she would have loved cycling New England with us haha.

The following day was probably one of our favourite cycle days in the USA – awesome cycle paths, amazing scenery and yes, more hills! We camped next to a state park near the New York border. The campsite was beautiful, and so peaceful. Due to the bad and very unpredictable weather we ended staying with people a lot more than usual (mostly people took pity on us and invited us in to stay). In almost 1 month this was only the forth time we set up our tent! Crazy!

The following day we cycled to the New York state border! Finally, we had come to an end of cycling in New England! Next we were to cycle the “mythical” Erie Canal Bike Trail.