We have begun this leg of our adventure in waves – waves of organization, waves of leaving, waves of good-byes, and alternating waves of excitement and melancholy.
After more than a solid six months of planning and preparation, Colburn, the kids, and Fig all left Reno in late July to drive east and see his family. Our truck, now nicknamed Olaf, has everything we will use over the next year – a four person roof-top tent, camping gear, two jerry cans, water storage, a 12 volt car refrigerator, emergency recovery gear, sand trax, an extra water pump, tire repair kit and a myriad of other miscellaneous items. This was the first full test-run of the rig. It worked beautifully! Everything has its place and there is a place for everything….even Fig (who won’t be going with us – she will be staying with Colburn’s sister and her family and their dog).
I joined the family in late August when I finished my contract at UNR, just in time to deliver Olaf to New Jersey so that he could be loaded into a 20 foot shipping container and sent to South Africa. Shipping your vehicle internationally is an adventure in itself. After months of research and planning, we still were unclear how the process would work but figured that it would all become clear as the steps unfolded. Unfortunately, it did not. As I was confirming the details of our shipment, the shipper moved up the date we had to deliver the truck for loading while simultaneously moving back the date the truck would arrive in Durban by a week. This necessitated a complete reshuffling of our schedule and an additional two weeks of car rental, essentially upping the cost of shipping by one-third. Unhappy but with few options for changing, we were stuck driving from upstate New York to New Jersey on a Monday morning to deliver Olaf to his container.
With only a street address to go by, we arrived at what looks like an abandoned warehouse in the dark heart of Meadowlands. As we drive in, there are quite literally hundreds of mostly-but-not-fully wrecked cars lining the street and packed in to the yard; weeds are growing up in between the cars and overtaking not only the ground but the sidewalks and paths as well; the building itself has broken windows and sparse, dirty, dilapidated signage. We have to dodge a fork lift moving a bent Land Rover from one area to another. A semi truck is jack-knifed, blocking our path, as it attempts to back in to tiny opening between the broken down vehicles. It looked and felt very much like something straight out of the beginning of a Sopranos episode.
We eventually find our loading agency on the backside of the warehouse. The only indication that this is the correct location is a faded piece of paper taped in the doorway stating Prestige Shipping. Entering the building, a man with a strong Russian accent curtly says, “I will get Dimitri for you” before we have had a chance to say a word. He magically knew why we were there and to whom we should speak. This was very odd to me because the person I had been corresponding with was named Rubin, but goes by the nick-name “Muscles”. Dimitri has never been part of the equation. We sit down at a cramped desk surrounded by various sports memorabilia from professional teams – an Eli Manning signed football, a large print of Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan playing against each other, also signed by both athletes, a signed hockey jersey, and several other smaller items. Another man, also with a thick Russian accent, demands our paper work. We hand him the original title for the truck, our Carnet (essentially a passport and bond for the truck which acts as a temporary import permit to avoid luxury taxes in each country), and certified copies of our passports. He makes copies and hands us back all of our original documents except for the truck title, which he keeps. We only get a blurry black and white photocopy. When we ask for the title back, he states “this is needed to clear customs”. This does not feel right, but we are willing to go with it until we get more information.
Finally Dimitri arrives. Also speaking with a noticeable Russian accent but less so than his colleagues, Dimitri briefly reviews our information, asks for the keys and tells us we can be on our way. At this point, we don’t know anyone’s last name or have any indication that they have any connection to the company I have been working with as it is a totally different company. There is no receipt, no review of the condition of the truck or terms of loading, no review of the manifest of the contents of the truck, no explanation of how or when the truck will be loaded, no indication of when or how we will get our title back. It is beginning to feel surreal – as if we are being set up for a great con. Our truck and all of its contents was suddenly out of our control with only a blurry black and white photocopy of our title as evidence of its existence and our ownership. We are not happy about this but really don’t know what else to do. Getting in to our rental Buick, we look at each other and a wave of concern overcomes us. Fighting the urge to want to control everything, we calmly drive away knowing from our previous travels that things usually work out, even if you are uncertain at the time.
As we exit the yard, there is a heaviness wondering if we have somehow been duped or too trusting this time. Silence envelops us as we each quietly ruminate on our potential error. Finally, Colburn and I look at each other and ask, “It’s going to be ok, isn’t it?” We decide that whatever happens, it is now out of our control so we will simply deal with any error that we have made. The six hour drive is quiet and tense with the unease of our decision to trust the unknown. Three days later, we receive a full bill of lading, confirmation photos which document the condition of the truck when we dropped it off, and acknowledgement that the truck has cleared customs. Our hearts are lifted and stress-level greatly reduced. Our trust in the goodness of people has once again been strengthened. With Olaf comfortably settled in his new shipping container, we were able to enjoy the remainder of our time with family.