Tuesday, January 15, 2008

You may find this post not as interesting as others, if you've found any interest in other posts. This post doesn't tell about wild adventures in exotic countries, with funny toilets. it is dedicated to all the people who helped us in Israel and California.

Last time in "Our Bicycle Trip"...
Due to the coming winter and Ramis' hernia, we decided not to continue cycling in Europe, but to go back to Israel and prepare for chapter B (Gals' dream) - The Latin America Bicycle Trip!
We played with the master-plan of Rami going into surgery in 2 weeks and recovering 6 weeks later. During these 2 months we'll spend time with family and friends, do homework about our new touring bikes, that Rami has been fantasising about and actually plan our route.

Lost in Israel 11/11/07
On 11/11/07, at 07:30, we were on the deck of the Iris "Love (to gamble) boat", staring at the Carmel mountain, far away, in the horizon, and we had cellular coverage! We called our family and a few friends. It was strange for us; not using Skype, when we finally found Internet that is working, or SMSing a number and waiting in the hotel lobby.
At 08:00 the Iris dropped us at Haifa port. We were amused of how small the Carmel mountain was. The workers at the port were surprised to see us (with the bikes). Because we bordered the cruse boat in Turkey, we needed to go through passport control, but after a few minutes of confusion, we were passed in quickly and received a warm welcome from our parents, who woke up at 05:00, to be in time for our arrival, and came with 2 cars, so they can carry our stuff home. They even made this embarrassing billboard, which we liked.
We started cycling out of Haifa, but, after 20-30 minutes Gal said the Israeli driving is not worth it. We loaded the stuff on the cars and 1 hour later we were in Ra'anana, at Ramis' parents house.
We found ourselves in Israel, with out our own apartment, without a job, with plans on leaving in 2 months and most important: our bikes and trailers locked in the garage and our gear stored up in a room.
After a year of cycling, experiencing new things every day, we were now doing nothing. Which is supposed to be fun, but it wasn't.
"What are you doing?"
"I just returned from a 1 year bicycle trip."
"But, what are you doing now?"
It was as if all this amazing year has disappeared in seconds.
We were moving all the time: a few nights in Ra'anana, with Ramis' parents, a few nights in Shoresh, with Gals' mother, but most of the time in Tel-Aviv, which we enjoyed and missed a lot. We slept at Yossis' and Sharons' apartments, but most of the time at Yaels' place, messing up everybodys' schedule and ours, moving our car, to avoid parking tickets, carrying too much of our stuff with us and in between enjoying going to the market and to the beach. It was far from a vacation, planning all the time, but we got a chance to spend a lot (but, not enough) of time with people we missed.

Hernia IV
A major reason for the stop in Israel was to check Ramis' hernia. By luck, Rami found an available ultrasound appointment only a few days ahead. The examination showed nothing! So what do we do now? What about our 2-months plan? The Doctor could only guess Rami has some injury in his belly muscles (probably because our upper body was out of shape and fragile) and we can't do much about it.

Full power
A week later we ordered flight tickets to California, for 25/12/07 - Christmas eve. Tickets for that day was much cheaper and air ports (which we saw 4 of) would be empty.
We finally had a deadline. But, then we realized we still had a million things to do and 3 weeks to go. In addition to our nomadic lifestyle, at night we were calling bike shops in California and contacting friends and family, trying to catch the most of our quick and expensive visit to California. During the day we were reading as much as we could absorb about cycling in Latin-America, in between our other chores, like vaccinations, more doctors (dentists), helping Tamar, Gals' mom, to rent her old apartment, and many more things we already forgot.
And then Gal had this stupid idea of finally updating our post marriage name. We needed new passports anyway, so why not with the new name "Elhalel-Rosenbaum" (as opposed to Jewish tradition where it should have been Rosenbaum). The procedure took about 5 minutes.
A week before the flight we had to pay for the tickets. Then we realized that "Elhalel-Rosenbaum" are not the owners of the tickets and it is impossible to change the name of the reservation; a new reservation is needed and there are no tickets available for the next 3 weeks! What looked like an easy solution was to change our names back and get other passports ($200), but turned out to be an almost impossible bureaucratic process. During the 3 hours we stayed at the office of ministry of interior affairs, we heard of similar horror stories ("...especially after 9-11!"), and that Gal may have problems with her visa to the USA! While writing a special request letter to the minister himself (or some other boss) we got a call from the travel agency. Ziva, our fantastic travel agent was abroad, but finally her co-workers found 2 tickets for the same date. The lesson we and many others learned was - don't change your names after marriage.

During this crazy month & a half we had only 2 real rest days, at Ehud Daharis' bicycle shop (03-6493260, הדר יוסף 12, תל-אביב), where we were fixing bikes. We finally learned how to build a wheel. A year ago Ehud taught us to replace spokes, but said we will not need to know how to build a wheel; "there will always be a mechanic who is more experienced", but after the mechanic in Xining did a terrible job, we had 2 wheels sent to us.
Building wheels is extremely relaxing! For maybe 4 hours we were thinking only about spokes, nothing about preparations.
The Dahari family - Thanks again!
While building the wheels, we talked with a nice fellow about his 'childhood neighbourhood'. He was interested in our trip and asked interesting technical questions, for example - about maps we use. He introduced himself as Avigdor Orgad and Rami asked if he is the "Orgad" from the well-stocked map shop אביגדור אורגד חנות מפות at 03-החשמונאים 88 ,ת"א, 67133 טל: 6842817 . He invited us to his shop to take any map that could help us "on the house". So, we had fantastic maps for all of Central America, our 4-5 months, and future work will be done on South America (which is a very difficult task - no high resolution maps of the big countries).
Ronen and Joe welcomed us warmly at the offices of No-Flats, who have supported us all along, with their bicycle products, their connections and their support.

Rachel, Ramis´mom.
One of Ehuds´creations.
The beach of Tel-Aviv.

After a year, washing our sleeping bags.

Adios 25/12/08
After a lot of work in packing (Rachel, thanks for packing the trailers), and Gal in drawing our new logo (did we mention the work on our 'growing' website? If anyone has some Java skills, and is willing to help in the important "expanding menu", which helps in navigation, please contact us), we were ready to go.
Again, loading 2 cars with our stuff (no bikes) at 03:00, soon we were at the airport. Hugs & kisses to our loving and concerned parents, Gal with her tranquilizer pills, and another adventure begins.
The long flight went well, except for the usual calling of our names at the Paris airport: "Passengers Elhalel-Rosenbaum, we are all waiting for you...", so we did a bit of running, till we found our plane.

Above Greenland.

Lost in California
A bit exhausted, 24 hours later, we were in LA, Christmas eve, waiting for over 2 hours at the Avis car rental. They didn't have enough cars in stock, so we got a small, gasoline-eating Mustang Cabriolet. We could barely fit all our stuff inside, and it was to cold to enjoy the open roof.
Much later than we expected, we arrived to the Rosenbaum clan in Long-Beach. It was the second time in 3 years that we woke-up Janice & Roger in the middle of the night and received an extremely warm welcome. What more can one ask for after over 24 hours, uncomfortably on the road? Gal was after a tranquilizer pill (did we mention she hates flights?). A private, quiet corner, a bit of food in the fridge, a warm shower and a comfortable bed.
The alarm clock woke us up at around 07:00. We were tired, but ready to attack the day.

New bicycles
Our main goal was buying new bicycles. While in Israel we tried doing the impossible: buying the perfect bikes for our needs, from afar. We did our homework in the Internet and found out that touring bicycles for 3'rd world countries (26" wheels on a steel frame with touring geometry) are hard to find. We even emailed Sheldon Brown, the American bicycle guru, who told us that "within your budget it will be very difficult to find. You may have to compromise on a 80's steel mountain-bike frame, which has a similar touring position and connectors for racks. And, no, I don't do fitting on the Internet!". He receives about 200 emails a day and the replay came quickly. Thanks.
We called over 30 shops in the area of our 3 'bases': LA, San-Diego and San-Francisco. Almost all didn't have a clue of what we were talking about: "...touring steel frame with 26" wheels? Oh, you mean mountain-bikes? No, we only carry aluminum.". Others knew what we were talking about, "Expedition bicycles" or "Trekking bicycles" or something else, and referred us to the more expensive brands, like Koga and Rivendell. Only a few shops talked about the Surly Long-Haul-Trucker. We have already read about all these bikes, and the Surly seemed almost perfect for us. The 'Almost' was that for Gal there were sizes a bit too large and a bit too small. But, how do you know that without sitting on the bikes? We will be sitting on the bikes 6 hours a day, 5-6 days a week! How accurate were the fitting measurements we did, according to different measurement techniques, found in the Internet (what the hell in an "inseam"?). But, one thing was obvious: the Surly will be too small for Rami. The largest frame with 26" wheels is size 54; after that, it changes to 700c wheels, where spares will be difficult to find down south. What does 54 mean,we don't have a clue! But, we'll remember it as long as we live. It's the "Top-Tube" something.
So, we were scared of ordering Gal a $430 frame, the wrong size, but even more about not finding Rami a frame at all and ending up buying him a $3,000 frame (with a $850 paint-job) or an aluminum mountain bike.So, we had a list of 3 shops that gave us a price-list, 1 near Long-Beach (40 minutes in the freeway) and 2 in San-Diego. On that morning we started driving to LA, to another shop, but, as we saw the famous LA traffic jams, we quickly U-turned (and this was on Christmas!) and drove to the first shop on our list. Nothing special and no solutions for Rami.
The rest of the day, among many others, was spent searching for camping equipment, to update our gear, with the experience gained. It's extremely important for us that we trust our equipment. If our cooking stove will fail, or our headlamp break, it will be very exhausting, especially after a long cycling day, with no restaurants or shops around. It was especially difficult to find sport sandals (yes, we'll never wear them back home, but they're useful: you can wear thick socks under, in cold weather; Rami has only cycling shoes). It was winter, so there were only leftovers (at least on sale). On our Silk Road trip Ramis' expensive 'The North Face' sandals failed after 1 month, and during that year were fixed quite a few times.
Exhausted, we returned to the Rosenbaum clan and enjoyed a warm and tasty dinner: soup and Christmas leftovers.
Next morning we drove south to San-Diego. We could have bought the bikes in San-Francisco, but it was a cold winter, not good for cycling, and cycling on highway 1, on the side of the cliff, with all the tourists staring at the scenery while driving next to us, and the time & money better spent in Mexico (and on Mexican food) eliminated that option.
San-Diego was the ideal place to start cycling: only 30km from the border, a big enough city to find everything, so we hoped. We visited the 2 bike shops on our list, but still didn't find the shop we were looking for. There was still no consensus about Gals' frame size and we became even more lost about Ramis' frame.
As usual, we finished the day searching for more camping gear. We found a potential tent, the MSR Mutha-Huba, more expensive than what we planed, but we didn't find the ' The North Face' tent we wanted. We bought interesting winter gloves, which were very small and light and against everything, but we were sceptic about them.

Warm showers
Before we noticed, it was after 21:00, and we were in a hurry to our hosts, Julie & Jim. On the way we stopped for a quick McDonald's, a mistake we still regret now, while writing these lines.
We contacted Jim via Warm-Showers, a cycle-tourist community, while still in Israel, and were invited to stay with them. It was 21:40 when, embarrassed,m we knocked on the door. Jim opened the door, looked seriously oat his watch: "It's 21:40, and we said you can come before 22:00, so I guess you can come in". After a short introduction, he gave us the grand tour, showed us our bed and everything we may need, and sent us to bring in our stuff. After we settled in, we joined them in the kitchen and the ice slowly broke.
The next day we went for another round at the shops. By luck, Rami managed to try out the Surly LHT, size 54, owned by 1 of the mechanics. As we expected, it was way too small.
On the way back north, to Long-Beach, we stopped at another shop, in a small town. The shop was more of our style. It reminded us of Ehud Dahari's shop, but much bigger. We saw a Rivendell Atlantis frame in the back, but were told it is broken. Gal liked the color. We thought of the shop as an option, but the owner/mechanic told us he is booked with work for the next 2 weeks. Asking about a frame for Rami, he gave us to try an old 80's mountain bike, that fit, but he wanted $400 for it - way too much for this rusty peace of shit!

San-Francisco 29/12/07
We reached Crista & Yariv, in San-Francisco, after a boring long drive. As planed, they had the New-Year vacation, so we had a lot of time to spend together. We enjoyed Crista's cooking (Crista the chef, Yariv the cook. Yariv joined us and helped in our first shopping round. On the 4'th bike shop we saw a shining Rivendell Atlantis, size 54. It was second-hand and for sale for $600 (plus tax!), instead of $1,500. It seemed small, but we connected wheels to it and saw that it may fit. We hesitated for 10 minutes, took a deep breath and decided to take it. We also bought Brooks leather saddles, men and women model 17, which we fantasised on since west China. We were very excited. Every second sentence of Rami was:"What? Did anyone say Atlantis? Because I have a Rivendell Atlantis". We did enough for that day. Our only worries now were to order Gals' Surly LHT, choose the components, fit them to build the bikes, see that the bikes fit and find a shop which we like that will do that for us. Oh, and buying a tent (light, big, strong and waterproof), sandals, cycling shoes, cycling gloves, winter gloves (we wanted to change the ones we bought after reading bad reviews), cooking pots and more. Oh - and a rack for the panniers.
The weekend was rather quite. We all drove to San-Jose area, to visit Karin & Asaf Arieli and try to relax.
On Monday morning, New-Years' eve, we called Adams Avenue, one of the San-Diego shops to order Gals' frame and the components for the bikes. The guy who handled us was out, but will call us later, we were told, before 12:00, so the order will leave before the new year. After lots of waiting, many phone calls and irritating excuses, we called REI and found out that the distributor was closed for the holidays. Another wasted day! We were angry the 2 shops didn't tell us, or didn't even know about it earlier. We were looking for a professional shop! We knew our bikes will not be the most expensive and profitable for the shop, but we hoped for a better attitude and the 'surfer-dude', cool atmosphere of Adams Avenue and the complexity and lack of intimacy of the huge REI were bad choices for us. The clock was ticking and being in the USA, even without hotel expenses, with a rented car, was eating our travel-budget. We were afraid of big compromises.
We enjoyed a fun New-Year dinner with Crista & Yariv and Ronni & Yishai.

The Roaring Mouse 02/04/08
After a day & a half of nerve-tearing waiting, at 10:00 we called REI San-Diego, to order Gals' frame. They told us it'll take "4 working days" and more time for the components. And the order should be done before 12:00, today. We thought we can call bike shops in San-Francisco (the bay area) and buy the frame here and drive it south - we'll save more than 2 days! We started calling and calling and calling, over 50 shops of the Surly dealer list in the area. Only 1 "carried" a LHT, size 46 (yes, we decided on the 46", not the 50"), but it was RED, not BLUE!!! The search went on. How can one cycle 6 hours a day, 6 days a week, for a year,on a RED bicycle, knowing he could have waited 2-3 days and have the BLUE one?
10 numbers from the end of the list, at 11:40, a British accent answered "Roaring Mouse Cyclery". We gave the usual 2 minute introduction and he said it would take 2 days for the frame to arrive. Better order before 12:00, to save a day. We quickly ordered the frame, BLUE, and went to visit the shop.
After discussing some of our dilemmas (breaks, handle-bars, etc.), we asked: "Why not build the bikes here?".
"The bikes will only arrive on the weekend, the shop will be packed. We don't work on Sunday & Monday. Well, 1 more mechanic on Saturday, I can work on Sunday a bit (Penny will kill me), well, let's see what we can do".
After 3 long hours of detailed work, we had full specs of our future bikes. Chris impressed us with his eye for details and his knowledge of the LHT. Finally we found someone who cares.
We had a schedule: the bikes and parts will arrive on Friday morning, 1 extra mechanic will be at the shop, working only on our bikes. If all goes well, the bikes will be ready on Sunday.
Our plans totally flipped over. Building the bikes in San-Francisco! Where will we stay? we need some time for a test drive. How will we take the bikes to San-Diego? and more. We shared Chris with the dilemma, and he invited us to crash in at his place if we need, and he could lend us a bike rack for the drive south. We were overwhelmed and new we chose the right shop.

The next 2 days we spent with Karin & Asaf Arieli, who also spoiled us with good cooking. We went to a big mall in San-Jose, in search for sandals. Asaf remarked, with a smile, to look for the young Israelis, working in the shopping malls, saving money for their travels in South-America. We didn't find anything, not even a MP3 player, working on batteries (the USB chargeable ones are not good for our trip), but we did find a lot of young Israelis, after their military service selling stuff during "the season" (Christmas - New-Year). We asked one where can we find a MP3 on batteries). He said he will give us his, he just got a new one with a USB charger.

On Saturday, noon time Chris SMSed us that our bikes are ready. It was raining during all the weekend, so the shop was empty and everybody helped on the bikes. Excited, we arrived quickly. A few small adjustments and we tried them. Everything was a bit uncomfortable, like a new shoe (specially the brooks leather saddle, yet 'unbroken', but, we'll test them seriously first. It was late, so we headed to the house of Penny & Chris. The house was beautiful. Chris worked many years as an interior designer, before moving to the US, changing a carrier and opening a bike shop. We put our stuff in the leaving-room, changed to our zipper-pants and cleanest T-shirts and joined Penny & Chris to a party of the Roaring Mouse bicycle club. The party was a lot of fun, a nice celebration for the new bikes.
The following day, we finished working on the bikes. In the morning we searched in different shops for a 4'th good tyre. There were problems getting schwalbe tyres in the USA (we talked with the distributor) and Chris managed to get only 3 Marathon XR 26 X 1.90 tyres in all the USA. We bought a Specialized Armadillo Crossroads 26 X 1.95, which reviews went either ways. In the afternoon, we took the bikes to Jess & Tole.
About 7 months earlier, in Zhongdian, on the way to the Tibetan plateau, we net them. They were on their own 1-year cycle tour, in different places around the world.
We stayed with them for 2 nights and had a great time with them and the huka ;-).
While there, we took the new bikes for a 70km test drive. It was a beautiful day, no rain, and we found only one problem in Gals' front rim, a small hump. The next morning, back in the shop, Chris decided to ship in a new rim. He ordered one spare, just in case. It turned out that both these Sun Rhynolite rims had humps as well. We all decided to get a different rim, so, from the shop we called to few shops around, to see what we can find, not to wast another day of waiting. We found a $90 rim which did the job.
We spent the last 2 nights in San-Francisco with Christa. Yariv was working out of town. We enjoyed watching the classic The Triplets Of Belleville which we borrowed from The Roaring Mouse. Last test of the bikes, early in the morning, in the rain, and we were on our way south. The bikes lay steady on the rack Chris lent us (that rack won an industrial-design award, I was told - elegant, compact and good!). We stopped for the night at Long-Beach and early morning headed south to San-Diego.

At Chris's house.
Gal's new bike.
Cycling in San-Francisco.
San-Francisco beach.
A job well done.

Julie & Jim 11/01/08
We had 2 days of work, organising our stuff and, maybe, take the time for a deep breath before we take off.
Julie & Jim welcomed us to their house again. Jim has been into bicycles all his life, a "bicycle nut", in his own words. We tried out a few of his million bicycles, recumbent, unicycle and other sorts of 'cycling vehicles'.
We enjoyed Jim's company and help, especially his improvising skills. On the first night, tired after a long day (long month), still working on the bikes at 21:00, he pulled out a bottle of red wine, just what we needed/wanted - a tradition we kept till we left. The following nights we joined the family for dinner. Julie, Jim's counter-part/better-half, had the ability to calm us down,when we were getting too stressed. She gave us the best farewell gift we could ask for: a high-resolution Baja-California road-atlas. Very quickly we learned how valuable it was in desolated Baja and it quickly entered the prestigious hall of fame: Tool of the month!
We visited Merle, a neighbour, another of the San-Diego Warm-Showers community, who has also invited us and offered his help. He made a delicious Chili lunch, which we enjoyed.

On 13/01 we went for a 79km test-drive with all our luggage, in the area. Jim joined us for the first part, giving us a tour of the city. It was funny - bicycle lanes, smooth asphalt and people talking English. We reached the beach ad talked with an interested couple. Hearing we were from Israel, the husband remarked he wants to visit Europe. Rami wanted to add that the we want to visit Europe as well ;-)
The bicycles survived the test-ride!
Our last day was relaxed. Half of the day we read horror stories of armed robberies in the Tijuana area; we still couldn't decide whether to cross to Mexico from Tijuana, or a more eastern crossing, to the mainland. The second half of the day was wasted on returning the rented car - 2 hours and $500 more, instead of 5 minutes. Only 2 weeks later we got the money back.
For dinner we invited the family for pizza and lots of wine.
We're interested where & when we'll meet Julie & Jim again.

Our house in the last 3 weeks.
With Jim, going for a test drive.

Mexico 15/01/08
After a slow. late morning (new luggage packing) we were off. Jim escorted us to the border. As we were departing, we got a SMS from Rami's mom, that an Israeli cyclist had his stuff stolen a few days ago, near Tijuana...

The border.

So, what have we learned?
Buying touring-bicycles in the USA is difficult. Building a touring-bicycle from the basic components, in a short time is very stressing, especially when your experience says that everything will break.
We'd like to thank all the people in Israel & California who helped us, calmed us, spoiled us, supported us and made 2 homeless bums on bicycles feel at home while preparing for a dream come true, our new adventure - The Latin-America Bicycle Trip!