Day 1 – Melbourne, Tullamarine, to Los Angeles, LAX The beginning of my wild adventure
I boarded a flight to begin my 90-day solo tour of the United States by motorcycle. We decided I would go after my partner’s visa was rejected to Australia. Four years ago I came up with the idea and now I had only 1.5 months to prepare. I arrived safely in Claremont, Los Angeles, and made contact with ‘The Famous James Tucker’. He found, purchased and prepared my bike for the 20,000 mile journey. I stayed in his bungalow out the back.
This ride is dedicated to my Uncle Shane Senini who passed away a week before the ride.
Departing Melbourne Airport
It was 6am. Everything was packed the night before. I bought a suitcase from Facebook Marketplace for $10 so I could throw it away. I had my backpack to carry-on. I’d flown enough to see my partner in Malaysia to know the protocol. My father offered to drive to the airport. The traffic was bad. He ignored Google Maps advice and took the route he ‘felt’ was faster. The 40 minute journey took 1.3 hours. It made me nervous. We arrived on-time, I shook his hand and said goodbye.
I waited in line to check-in and analysed those I’d be sharing my flight with. They were mostly families. Louder and more open than I was used to travelling to Asia. The line progressed and a man in line called to me, “that one’s open!”. I waved to him and rolled my over-stuffed suitcase to the counter. I handed her my passport and loaded the bag on the tray. “Are you a business customer?”, she asked. She should know by looking it up I thought and replied anyway, “No”. “This is for business customers, who told you to come here?”, she sounded agitated. “I’m sorry someone in line. I shouldn’t have listened to him”. I went for my bag and she allowed me to stay. “Your bag is over the limit”, she said abruptly. Shit. “I thought it was 32kg for one bag?”. “It’s 23”. She starred at me. “I’ll take something out”. I didn’t want to hold up the line. I fumbled my suitcase and lock as she tended to another passenger. The middle-aged business class passenger, wearing a cap and casual clothes looked down to me, “take the jacket out”, he said as if he’d been there before. It was a great idea. I could wear it on the plane. I removed it and thanked him. I fumbled some more. The man nodded goodbye and I placed my suitcase on the scale. The attendant pointed out it was far under. “That’s fine”, I said. I wanted to leave.
I grabbed a Bacon and Egg McMuffin and coffee after check-in. Routine before the lengthy 7.5 hour flights to Malaysia. I paced the airport. There was nothing to do but head through to the departure gate via customs. A border security guard marked me for an explosives test in the empty hallway. She noticed the boots and motorcycle jacket from the corner of her eye, “Where are you headed?”, she made playful conversation. “I’m riding a motorbike around the US”. We chatted as she moved the sensor bar over my limbs. “I’d love to do that”, she said admirably. “You’re welcome to join!”, I said enthusiastically as she let me go. I would’ve loved to have a travel partner but I was comfortable on my own.
I placed my items on busy conveyor belt and moved slowly through the body scanner. I went to gather my bag and motorcycle jacket. They didn’t come through. The x-ray operator looked back towards me. “Is that your bag?”, she questioned. I could see the image on the screen. “Yeah”, I replied. “What’s the big metal thing?”. I peered at the screen. “It’s a lock, for a motorcycle”. She accepted the answer and moved my backpack on. My jacket didn’t return. I waited a few minutes and another officer returned carrying it. “That’s mine”, I pointed out. She held my jacket in one hand and my Leatherman in the other. “Shit, that’s a knife. You can’t keep that”, I’d left it in a small inner pocket to test the fitting. The officer looked at me with a wondering look, “You have to check-it-in”. “Can I go back out?”, I asked. I was guided out of customs. I checked-in my backpack with the Leatherman. I took out the laptop bag my mum made and used that as carry on. I managed to stuff my jacket in my bag. It was too bulky.
I waited at the gate for the flight. An officer at the gate looked me up and down and checked my ticket. “Nice boots”, he commented with a hint of disgust as if it were a fashion choice. “Thanks”, I replied as I took my ticket off him. I sat down and made a post to Facebook. “Day 1 – Melbourne to Los Angeles”. I never post on Facebook, except major events. I’d journal the trip day-by-day for my family. My father bought a roadmap of the USA. Each post will need to include a map of where I’ve been so he can track it. It’ll be good if people know where I am. Especially alone.
I boarded the crowded plane. I took my aisle seat next to a young couple. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in between others on a 15 hour flight, especially if someone falls asleep. I greeted them. “Hey, I’m Dylan, if you need to get out don’t hesitate to let me know”. We conversed a while. It’s a long flight. They were heading to a wedding in the US. The girl was from there and the boyfriend Australia. He was quiet. She did the talking. “We have a cabin on Lake Tahoe”, she said proudly. It was a destination I’d heard a lot about. ‘You must see Tahoe’, people chanted on the ADV forums. I tucked into my seat, read a book and settled into the 15 hour flight.
The pilot alerted everyone of our imminent arrival to Los Angeles. I managed to play the Tomb Raider movie on the flight. It passed time surprisingly quickly. I’d never been on a long haul flight. The couple next to me asked to move a few times during the flight. It was awkward. It would’ve been worse if I wasn’t on the aisle. We touched down. I was tired.
Arriving in Los Angeles
I got off the plane. I followed others to find the bagging area. It was warm. I was wearing thermals from the Australian Winter. I was in the Northern Hemisphere. I ducked into a bathroom and removed them. I got out and the flight of people I was following had dispersed. I was on my own. I took an escalator down to immigration. A large US flag hung above it. I still regret not taking that photo. It’d make a great ‘landing’ shot. I’d learn a lot about photography on the trip. Particularly about ‘opportunity’ and how you can’t miss it.
I tried to connect to the WiFi in the airport as I waited in line. The people were different here. It wouldn’t connect. I needed to contact Tucker or check my emails to get the instructions to his house. I overheard someone mention their ‘eSTA’ number. I didn’t have mine. I freaked out. The line shuffled and I was next. He stamped my passport and welcomed me to America. I continued to the baggage area.
I collected my bag and re-arranged my gear. I searched for a cafe to sit down, charge my phone and get my bearings. The lobby of LAX felt like madness. It wasn’t well laid out well like the shopping center of KLIA2 in Kuala Lumpur. I expected it to be bigger as it’s the hub for all flights from the Asia Pacific region. I decided to head straight to Tuckers. I emailed him. He replied promptly: “I have you down to stay on the 7th!”. Shit. I double checked my messages and I definitely told him the 6th. What else could go wrong? “That’s okay, take the bus to Union Station and get the train to Claremont. Message me when you’re on the train and I’ll pick you up. I went to information and asked for directions to the bus. The polite woman told me to walk out the main entrance and wait in the middle island for the bus. It will cost $10. Thankfully my sisters exchanged cash before I left.
I walked out of the airport into the warm Californian heat. It was busy. I avoided eye contact for any taxi hustlers and hurried to the median strip. I looked to my right, saw no cars and proceeded to cross. Shit. I turned my head to the left and saw the cars coming towards me. People drive on the opposite side of the road! Thankfully no one was coming. I crossed and joined others presumably waiting for the bus. There were no signs. What was I looking for?
A shonky looking van pulled up. A latino man jumped out and walked around, “Who needs a ride to Union Station?!”. He had a limp. The van didn’t have any official city insignia. It wasn’t legitimate. “Anyone Union Station?”, he repeated. I looked to see if others joined. There was someone inside. We shared eye contact, he turned to me “You going to Union Station?”. I didn’t want to wait. I asked him how much. He replied, “10 dollars”. I said, “Let’s go”. He took my bags, threw them in the back and I jumped in. A young couple followed suit and sat in-front of me. I lounged in my seat and prepared to take in the ride.
The driver did a loop around the airport to pickup more passengers. Will I ever get to Union? I thought to myself. He jumped out and ferried more people on board. Another couple jumped on, two girls and a group of Asian boys behind me. One of the girls sat behind me. We rolled out of LAX. The van filled with nervous chatter. The driver made conversation with one of the girls in-front. “Where are you headed?” he said enthusiastically while looking in his rear-view mirror. “We’re going to Hollywood!”, she raised her hands in excitement. Her accent was East European. We bounced onto the interstate that facing directly to Los Angeles. The raised road providing a clear view of the city with the backdrop of mountains. Wow. It was a stunning sight. I noticed the girl next to me was also in awe staring at the city. I made conversation, “that’s something”. We shared a ‘we’re really in the US moment’. “What are you here for?”, I asked. She and her friend were from Romania. They came for a working holiday. They had no jobs and would find some as waitresses. It was impressive. She asked the same and I explained my trip. “You must be very brave”, she said to me with a smile. I didn’t feel brave. I didn’t know what I was doing. It took me by surprise. I managed to reply, “So are you”.
The bus arrived at the station. I wished the girl next to me all the best. She smiled warmly and hesitated as if to say “you’ll be okay”. I jumped out, paid the driver and grabbed my bag. The driver left. I took in the sight of Union Station. James didn’t mention it was impressive. I walked inside the vast, church like building. The ceiling high with strong wooden beams. I found a small booth for information and asked where I could get the train. He directed me further inside. I decided to take a picture of the building before I went in. I bounced my huge bag over the road and into the sun. I didn’t want to leave it. I didn’t know if it was safe. Some people looked at me. I took a picture and felt like a tourist. I quickly pulled my giant suitcase across the road. I jumped up the gutter and my handle broke. Shit. A security guard looked at me. I fixed it and went to buy a ticket.
I went to the booth to buy a ticket. Inside was the first African-American woman I’d met. I asked about the ticket. She looked at me blankly. “Over there”, she pointed. “Oh”, I moved to another booth and was greeted by another, friendlier, woman. She instructed me toward the platform, took my money and handed me a ticket. I thanked her and sat on the comfy, quality seats in the waiting area. A man asked for my ticket before sitting on the nice chairs. A mother lectured her son across from me. He became frustrated and changed seats. They were African-American. I’d only seen them in the movies. Everything looked like it did in the movies.
At 12:15 I headed to the platform. I found the double-decker train waiting. I’d never seen one before. It was old. I jumped on and found a seat with space for my large suitcase. I read a train line map and counted how many stations to Claremont. It was a long ride. I almost fell asleep from the flight. I listened to the conversations of others. They were different to back home. I messaged James and he said he’d meet me at the station.
I arrived at Claremont. It was nice old station. I walked across the tracks as instructed carrying my huge suitcase. I didn’t know what James looked like. A man walked slowly towards me. It must’ve been him. He was short like me.
“You must be James, how you going mate! Great to see you!”, I said enthusiastically trying to hide my exhaustion.
He was quiet, said hello and took my bag. We jumped into an old yellow Volkswagon Beetle. He used a bungie cord to keep the boot down. It was a run-about.
The Famous James Tucker
We arrived at the home. It was a large property. A DRZ400 sat out front. “That’s one of the renters, I convinced him to buy it”, Tucker told me.
I followed him to the back of the house to the double-garage.
“There it is!”, I exclaimed as I saw the bike for the first outside of pictures.
It was among another 5 – 6 bikes. It looked exactly as I expected. The panniers looked small. I looked over it but didn’t know what for. It was a simple machine. The engine and parts obvious and easy to access. James said some words about the bike and ignored things I said. I didn’t know what to do. He showed me the bungalow. It was a home-job. There was a bathroom. I excused myself to shower and have a nap. The jet-lag caught up to me. The bathroom had motorcycle magazines. James told me there were beers in the fridge. He’d done this a lot.
I woke up an hour later. I installed my Quad Lock phone mount to the bike. Tucker came out to help me and sorted out the paperwork.
“You have insurance right?”, he asked.
“No, you were supposed to get that”, I replied.
After a back-and-forth he trundled to the house with my card. We went through some more.
“You’ll need a duffel bag for the back, you can pick one up from, what’s it called.. Cycle Gear”, he spoke with an Irish accent.
I used the WiFi to get the address, locate the nearest AT&T store and groceries. I put my gear on in the unusually hot Californian afternoon sun and started the bike. The clutch was lighter than I was used to and it took some revs to get going. I rolled up to the gate and heeded James’s advice to ‘watch out for the cyclists’. I looked to my left for oncoming traffic and slipped the clutch. I rode on the right-hand side of the rode for the first time. The bike leaned backwards as I rolled on the throttle. It revs smoothly and before I expected hit the red-line. It bounced off the limiter. I quickly pulled in the clutch, the bike fell forward as I kicked it into gear. It went back again as I accelerated. I loved it. The power was smooth and predictable.
I got to Cycle Gear. I caught the store just before closing. I admired the bike and that rode it on the opposite-side of the road for the first time in the US before I went in. The attendants joked as I walked in. I told them what I wanted. We found the perfect 90L bag. The price tag read $80 and I was stunned at the low price only to be dismayed when the total came to $96. Sales Tax isn’t included in the US like Australia. I said goodbye and headed to AT&T.
The store was empty when I arrived. The young Latin-American man looked bored. He was the first one I ever met. I told him I needed an unlimited data plan for Google Maps, searching destinations, Facetime with my partner and communicating with friends and family. He sorted it out without question. I paid with cash and he asked for change. I held out the coins I had.
“I don’t know which one’s which you’ll have to help me”, I told him.
He grabbed the ones he needed and explained what each was. I was confused when he said the Dime (10 cents) was smaller than the Nickle (5 cents) despite it being of higher value like a Quarter. I asked him why.
“I have no idea! That makes no sense I never noticed!”, he laughed.
We put the SIM card in and he assured me it would work immediately. The screen showed ‘LTE/4G’. As I exited I realised it didn’t. I’ll leave it overnight.
I found a Supermarket nearby. I realised I had no idea what to eat. I scoped the aisles for things I recognised from Australia. I bought cup noodles, some fruit and oatmeal. The reality of how unprepared I was set in. I drank an Arizona Ice Tea and ate a banana in the carpark. I was almost dark. I didn’t know my way back and the data didn’t work on my phone. I somehow found my way back to Tuckers.
I began unloading my suitcase and loading the bike. Tucker came out and sat down in the bungalow. We cracked a couple of beers and we exchanged riding stories. He had great experience Adventure Riding with his wife. He gave me so much advice I couldn’t keep it all in my head. The main piece of advice was where to find water.
“If you go to the large truck stops, you can get water at the drinking fountain where the soda is”.
It was the most valuable piece of advice he gave me. It sounds silly. His wife came out and offered suggestions on food and the importance of zip-lock bags.
“Take things out of the packaging and put them in zip-locks.. You could even crack eggs into them and cook them for breakfast”
She gave me a box of large zip-locks and told me to take as many as I needed. (note: Zip-locks proved invaluable but I never used them for eggs)
Tucker went to bed. I stuffed around with my gear and loaded the bike. He told me there was no ‘best way’ to pack and that I’d figure it out in a day-or-two. I realised I didn’t know how to dispose my throwaway suitcase. I went to bed exhausted. I slept on a large blow-up mattress the Tuckers had organised for me. They charged me $55 for the room, it was a great idea. I was so jet-lagged. The room must’ve been used for the family. There were old VHS tapes next to the old-television. I looked over the movie choices before I quickly fell asleep in the large, musty room surrounded by old couches, rug making machines and memorabilia.
I was excited to be in the US and nervous to hit the road.
Continue to Day 2