August 2, 2107 — Sky Harbor Airport, Phoenix

I made it past my first hurdle: checking in my bike with United Airlines. I forgot to take a picture of it at check-in, but the check-in clerk was astonished and told me, “No! You can’t do that!” The problem, from her point of view, was that my bike is packaged in a large, heavy-duty plastic bag. and almost completely assembled. The only thing I did was remove the pedals, turn the handlebars sideways, and put some bubble wrap around the derailleur. She insisted that the bike had to be in a box or hard case.

Anticipating this, I had printed-out a copy of United’s rules for checking bicycles. They can certainly be packaged in a bag. I read the rules to her, and she double checked them on her computer before reluctantly agreeing to accept the bike.

I also left two of my four pannier bags attached to the bike. She told me I had to take them off. Here I was on shakier ground, but I asked her to show me the rule that I couldn’t pack anything with my bike. There is no such rule, and this time she didn’t even check. She called a baggage handler, who loaded my bike onto a cart and wheeled it off. It didn’t have to go through the normal conveyer-belt system, so it’s already getting better handling. I’m anxious to see what it looks like when it arrives in Lisbon.

Of course, I had to sign a damage waver. I’ve read a lot of online accounts of people packing a touring bike in a clear plastic bag. The bikes packed this way seem to fair better than those in a box, because baggage handlers can see that they shouldn’t pile other baggage on top of them.

Riding the bike to the airport was also an experience. I am used to riding a carbon-fiber racing bike, not  a touring bike with four heavily-loaded pannier bags. Controlling it was a challenge the first mile, but I quickly got the hang of it. The bike is much harder to control that my racing bike is.

Going through security, I took off my shoes even though I was in the TSA Precheck line. When the security agent saw the shoes on the screen of the X-ray machine, he said, “Oh, bicycle shoes!” I’m wearing touring shoes with SPD cleats. Hardcore cyclists will know that they are. They have recessed cleats for clipping onto the pedals, but otherwise they are walking shoes. The reason I took them off is because the metal cleats would have set off the metal detector.

Now I’m sitting in the United Club at Sky Harbor Airport with a long wait before my first plane takes off for Newark. I wanted to get to the airport extra early to handle any problems with checking in my bike.

Tomorrow, I will be dead tired when I arrive in Lisbon, so I will probably not have the mental energy to write a blog post. However, after that I plan to write every day including my ride to Santiago de Compostela in Spain and the perhaps to Madrid.