Bombadier Q400. The name of the plane always brings to mind an old war plane, and I wonder if the interior has changed in size from those old days. It gives a new meaning to “cattle car”, with not enough room under my seat to store my carry-on. Note: nobody weighed my carry-on. My two suitcases did put me less than 2 pounds overweight, which is completely remarkable, since I can barely pick up the larger one – something I’m required to do multiple times on my road trip - it’s where all my summer clothing is, and boy, is it hot!
Sitting crunched into my window seat, it’s dark out, and Eugene’s light rain forms strands of pearls down the window. I suppose it's fitting to be leaving in this, rather typically Oregon, weather. There’s a low misty fog and I can’t help a smile as the plane thrusts itself into the sky, pushing me back into my seat. The lights of my 18-year home fade into darkness below me, and I wait for the sky to lighten. I'm so tired, I cannot wait to get past Seattle and hit that long flight to Dubai so I can sleep.
I woke at 2am on Monday morning – not that unusual. I’ve had trouble sleeping since my back injury and months of dealing with an awful specialist whose skills should probably have been better targeted at bicycle repair, rather than human repair. It wasn’t the pain that kept me awake, but my mind, fighting him in ways I couldn’t do in reality. Months of anything creates a habit, and now, insomnia is my reality. It’s one you never grow accustomed to – just a constant feeling of tiredness pervading every waking moment. I spent Monday cleaning the apartment, and doing some final packing. Monday night delivered no sleep, either. After saying goodbye to my wonderful friends, I made sure everything was ready to roll. And then I spent the rest of the night staring at the ceiling. By the time I reached Eugene Airport at 4:30am Tuesday morning, I was staying awake aided by airport coffee and a stale muffin. The alternative to collapsing in a heap and hoping someone would carry me onto the plane.
It’s foggy over Seattle, but I managed to catch a glimpse of the beautiful, small islands that make up the region around the city. Collected my carry-on and wandered into the airport to await my Emirates flight. I found a wall at SeaTac that clearly was in need of support, and waited for my flight to be called.
Settling into my Emirates window seat, hopes of comfort were dashed as someone took the B seat in my two-seat aisle. Not just any someone, but a very tall man, who struggled to find a space for his legs and his elbows – and I dreaded being scrunched into a seat next to him for the next 14 hours. Fortunately, so did he, and as soon as we were airborne, he moved to a center aisle, where he was able to take up 2 seats, and I returned to what I had wanted when I selected the seat: the row to myself.
9:40am, and the plane starts reversing away from the terminal.
This is it. This is when the last 18 years are left behind, and my entire life changes. One often hears about “life changing” events, but more often, they’re a dramatic hiccup in the course of a life lived more stably than mine. Relatively few simply upend everything they know, and fly into the unknown. Granted, it’s less dramatic than the last time I did this: heading to America with 5 dogs, with absolutely no plan, no connections, no knowledge of what was awaiting me, so this is easier. Still, dramatic and life changing.
The half hour delay in departure was due to Seattle’s famous fog. If they could bottle that, instead of coffee, they’d be truly onto something. We leave the fog at the airport, and taxi slowly down the runway, and I start noticing planes on the runway opposite us taking off. We're in a long queue and I start to count the take-offs.
7 – 8 – 9.
This is a big city traffic jam.
We’re 11, and I can see another four planes behind us, waiting to join the skyway.
At 10am, lift off, and snowy mountain peaks reflect the light in the distance. I'm leaving winter behind, but the snow is going to be around for a lot of miles.
Emirates video screen shows us at 31,000 ft, around Mt Alberta, and we’re close enough to touch the snow. John Denver creeps into my mind as we head over the Rockies. The monitor tells me the temperature outside is -47C, but inside the plane is rocking and something smells delicious.
13 ½ hours to go, and we’ve travelled 400 miles. And then it all goes white.
My watch is showing 12:55, flight time 1:55; distance travelled 1099 miles, 7145 to go and we’re somewhere past La Loche, Canada. I note that soft clouds can sure be bumpy.
12:30pm and we’re heading towards the North Pole, but still over white-as-white Canada.
I see ice floes, and it’s still not the Pole.
I haven’t slept since Sunday night and even that followed months (years?) of 3- 4 averages so with the very long flight ahead of me – the time intended to be spent proof-reading articles for their final send-off to layout, and sleeping - was rather spent miserably ticking off the hours as the promised on-board internet connection eluded my computer, and my brain rejected all efforts at focusing on work. Or anything else, really. It also rejected any effort at sleeping. Even the Melatonin, while it made me drowsy, didn’t knock me out as it usually does.
Lest I put too much blame where it doesn’t really (entirely) belong: yes, there was the obligatory high-pitched screaming child that I believe every airline is obliged to place in certain parts of economy class flights (it’s how they make sure you sign up for business class the next time you fly). It might break your bank, but at least it doesn’t break your soul, or clear out the ear wax. In my case, it was a clearly non-verbal child whose attempts at communicating were relegated to high-pitched screams, and his younger brother, a baby at that perfect age to mimic everything, obliged.
(And, just in case I hadn’t learned my lesson: the family were in front of me at the Arrivals line in Dubai and we were all allowed to appreciate his vocal range, and the parents’ infinite patience, all over again.)
4am by my watch, Oregon time – approaching Reykjavik; monitor tells me it’s 1:30am outside. Still no sleep, despite taking a stronger sleep-aid. It made me drowsy, but clearly I needed a sledgehammer. So, another sleepless night.
5:30 my watch, approaching Faroe Islands and heading towards Copenhagen. 4043 miles down, and 7 more hours to go. Maybe at some point in this, a nap attack could happen?
By the time the sky is light enough to see anything again, we’re over Romania, with 4 hours to go.
Its 8:20pm my watch, altitude 36,996 ft, and I hope it’s enough to clear those mountain ranges we’re flying over.
Turkey: my watch reads 9:45pm. Almost bedtime in America. Yeah, funny. Not.
Different snowy mountains this time at 37,000ft, it seems that’s all I’ve seen for thousands of miles: big, snowy mountains, with no sign of civilization anywhere.
The monitor shows us doing a sharp jog, avoiding having breakfast in Syria. I think that’s wise under current circumstances… although we are heading straight for Iran. And the snowy mountains continue. Iran, however, does have what appears to be roads traversing the mountains, and occasional buildings or villages can be seen.
We’re 10,282km from Seattle, and its 10:05pm by my watch. Definitely bedtime.
At 10:30pm, or 10:30am, depending on which timepiece you’re looking at, we make a sharp turn to head south along the border with Iraq. The snowy mountains turn gradually into hills, and brown landscape. Oops, spoke too soon: snow-capped mountains over Kirkuk. A lot of roads, but there’s no indication they lead to anything in particular, certainly as far as the eye can see, and at 37,000 ft, that’s quite a distance.
1 ½ hours from Dubai, and the snow tickles the tips of distant mountains only, but there’s nothing flat, either. Fascinating folds of earth as if some haute couture designer plucked the earth into random, close pleats.
Around 11:10, I start to see little rivers or dams, with no beaches, just a straight upward incline of mountain. The water is pure teal and a perfect complement to the brown of the mountains.
We’re flying between Basra and Shariz and I finally see a town. It’s the first actual sign that humans live on earth since we left Seattle nearly 9,000 miles ago.
I see water.
40 minutes out of Dubai, and we’re finally over the Gulf, and gradually descending. Small islands dot the waterscape, and one wonders how many gazillionaires have their Macmansions built on them.
We land in Dubai at 12:39 (am and pm). I haven’t slept since Monday morning, and the planned nearly 12-hour exploration of Dubai seems more daunting than anticipatory.
Part Four: Dubee, Dube, Dubai