Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Jim's Brothers Spotted

For anyone interested in what Jim (formerly known as J118) looked like in his previous life with Brinks, I found his brothers J119 and J120, photographed by the google streetview cameras parked on a road in central London. Jim was in an older Brinks livery, but was otherwise indentical.

The location adds some additional mystery to what Jim's role was for brinks; the two trucks are parked in an area better know for bank headquarters than actual banks. I had presumed he was used for typical cash transfer jobs between banks and secure depots, but Brinks never had enough of these type of vehicles for this type of job so it is likely that his role was more specialised.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

The End of the Road

The end of the road for our first trip in Jim the overland motorhome. Photo taken at Red Rock Crossing, near Sedona Arizona

During our last week in America, we made and fitted three shipping boards to the truck, cleaned the truck inside and out, emptied the fresh, grey, black and hot water tanks, emptied and defrosted the fridge and freezer, charged the batteries and disconnected all non essential circuits, bought and packed two suitcases, and donated our Florida bought bicycles to charity. Thankfully we were not trying to arrange, the shipping and flight preparation from the side of the road, and had the generous hospitality of Fred and Denise in Arlington, and then Bill and Mary in Reston to make life easier for us.

In general shipping the truck back to the UK followed the same process as the outbound journey. Once again I booked the truck onto a K-line ship as they are the only line operating a transatlantic crossing via Southampton. NYK line operates a route via Liverpool, which whilst more convenient than the more commonly used European ports of Zeebrugge, Bremerhaven, Hamburg and Antwerp, is not as close to London as Southampton, and inevitably necessitates a trip to Liverpool. Once again I employed the services of NMT as shipping agent, partly because they did a good job on the way out, and partly as they remain one of the few agents with a presence on the east coast of America and at Southampton with experience in roro shipping.

A month before the proposed sailing date I contacted NMT and using the schedule that they sent me, gave them preliminary notice of my intention to put Jim on a specific sailing. With the exception of organizing shipping insurance, I then did nothing regarding shipping until five days prior to the scheduled sailing date, when I drove to Baltimore to drop the truck off at the docks. Learning from my experience at Brunswick last December, I did some research regarding port security prior to leaving Washington, and discovered that once again I would need a TWIC (Transport Worker Identification Credential) card to enter the docks alone. Therefore instead of driving straight to the docks, I first drove to A1 Escorts (not the kind of place you'd expect from the name) where I got all of the necessary photocopying done (five copies of the trucks registration papers, and a few copies of the delivery note prepared by NMT), and picked up a friendly escort who would escort me through the export procedure (and nothing else!).

Regardless of the requirement for an escort for security purposes, the process of just getting the truck to where it needs to be would be near impossible for a novice like me without assistance. The process at Southampton could easily be undertaken by a terrorist with severe learning difficulties, but at Baltimore this was far from true, and I was glad to have someone with me to show me the ropes. After about an hour spent at the docks, and with the security, export and shipping processes completed, I left Jim in his designated spot, with the key in the ignition, and the cab door unlocked. If it was sad on the way out, it was doubly sad this time around, and I had a hard time walking away from Jim after I had spent every night of the last 320 days sleeping, cooking and resting in him.

Jim the Truck waiting to be loaded onto a K-Line roro vessel at Baltimore / Dundalk docks

NYK Line roro vessel at Baltimore / Dundalk docks

Mistubushi / Isuzu chassis cab trucks waiting to be loaded at Baltimore / Dundalk docks

As on the outbound journey, the fact that the truck was not completely empty caused no problems (although it remains to be seen whether UK customs and Excise will be satisfied), but unlike the outbound journey I was not permitted to ship the truck with a tank of propane on board. I suspect that if I'd declared the propane tank at Southampton, I would have been told to remove it, but at Baltimore I was not given the opportunity to send it across the pond. Consequently I donated an almost full bottle of propane to the escort company.

After waving goodbye to Jim, I cheered myself up with a huge crab po-boy from Jimmy's Famous Seafood near Dundalk docks, hired a minivan to take Naomi, Boris, me, two suitcases and a giant air crate to the airport with, and drove back to Washington.

The flight home followed much the same protocol as the shipping in that it was very similar to the outbound journey, just more complicated. Flying two humans and two suitcases from America to England is of course extremely simple, but when you add a dog into the equation it becomes a little more complicated and a lot more expensive. We were aware that up to ten days in advance of the flight we needed to get a certificate of health stamped by a vet, but until we spoke to a local vet we were not aware of the requirement to get the vet's stamp ratified by the United States Department of Agriculture in the relevant state's capital. If we had had the foresight to visit a vet in the Maryland portion of the Washington DC metropolis, we could have visited the USDA office in DC, but we made the mistake of visiting a vet in the part of the city in Virginia, necessitating a 330 mile round trip to Richmond. In addition we also had to get Boris dewormed at the vet, and get the appropriate page in his passport stamped accordingly. On top of the visits to the vets, the process of getting Virgin Cargo to clear him for flying involved a huge quantity of paperwork, partly to ensure that they would not be responsible if our dog was returned to America by the UK customs officers whilst we waited patiently for him at Heathrow Airport.

Naomi, Boris and me are now safely back in the UK, homeless, jobless and largely destitute, but enjoying the company of our friends and family. When I've had the chance to gather my thoughts I'll write some posts detailing what worked and what didn't with Jim, and summarizing the major costs, complications and considerations for anyone else planning a similar trip.

Connecticut to Virginia in Photos

For the casual reader of this blog, the link may be hard to spot, but I can assure you that for the last eleven months there has been a direct correction between the urbanity of the areas through which we are travelling, and the frequency of the blog posts. When we are visiting national parks and areas of wilderness, we tend to spend the first half of the day hiking, and our afternoons relaxing in or around the truck; this gives me plenty of time to sit at the computer and write about our recent exploits. When we are visiting cities, the same is not true. Unlike forests, at night cities tend to be well lit and filled with things to do and places to visit once the sun has set, consequently the time that I normally spend writing the blog, is occupied by eating, drinking, and occasionally with listening to loud music.

Up until recently, our visits to cities have been interspersed with time spent in the back-country. However since arriving on the East Coast, the gaps between the cities have got so small, that our driving has merely been from one city to another. This has been great in terms of our cultural intake, but diabolically bad for the level of blogging productivity. In fact, it has been so long since I last had sufficient time to sit down and write about our travels, that in the intervening period we have finished our travels, dropped the truck at Baltimore docks and flown back to London.

If I was a diligent blogger, I would (mentally) revisit the places we visited during the last three weeks of our travels, and update the blog with detailed accounts of our activities. Sadly my enthusiasm doesn't stretch far enough, which is probably just as well for readers of the blog, because detailed accounts of the bars we got drunk at, and the galleries we visited would be of little interest to most people. It seems cruel, but when I'm reading the blogs of other overland travelers, the entries that I find most interesting are about the times the vehicle broke/got stuck/rolled over, or the travelers got ill/arrested/kidnapped. I would certainly not wish these unfortunate events on anyone, but I find that reading about travels that go exactly as planned can be almost unreadable boring. Thankfully there are clearly some readers of this blog that do not feel the same way, as I still get a satisfying number of hits despite having had no drama for a considerably long time. Nevertheless I am not going to inflict a detailed account of how I spent my time in some of the most visited cities in the world on the internet.

The following is a bare bones account of our final few weeks in America, filled with photos that will probably look very much like photos found all over the interwebnets from other people that have visited these places. After leaving New haven, we drove straight to New York City. Not wishing to provoke a terror alert, we elected to stay at the busy but conveniently sited Liberty Harbour RV park, where for around $55/night we got a dry site just across the Hudson from the south end of Manhattan. We spent about nine days in the city, mostly walking around doing touristy things, but also spending time with an old friend of mine from London.

After leaving New York City, we spent a a couple of days parked by the side of the road in Philadelphia, before heading on towards Baltimore.