I never quite knew what I would find between Greensboro and Cape Town. As of last Thursday morning (the morning of my departure), my itinerary was made up of an afternoon drive to the Charlotte airport, followed by three flights with layovers in Boston, and Dubai. The length of travel seemed reasonable to me – a short flight and layover in Boston, followed by two long flights with a long layover in Dubai in between. It was going to be a long trip, but I was excited to begin my adventure.
Early Thursday afternoon, my family who was in town – parents and middle sister Maria – took me to the airport. Along the way we stopped for my last “Southern” meal at a Cookout in Lexington, where I devoured a Big Double Tray with fries, a chicken quesadilla, and a Huge Tea (for any athletes out there, this is not a good meal before a training session or competition!)
When we reached the airport, I checked my Osprey luggage-backpack and received my first boarding pass of the adventure. I held back a few tears while saying “bye for now” to my family, then found myself standing at the onset of my journey, alone. It was surreal and, much to my surprise, short-lived.
I made it through security and found gate A4. After exchanging a few GroupMe messages with the boys and talking to Kenny on the phone, I received a most unexpected text from my good friend Ashley: “ARE YOU IN THE CLT AIRPORT?!?! Because I am!” What a wonderful surprise! Her flight to Pittsburgh was preparing to board just several gates away. So I ran over and we chatted briefly before wishing each other safe travels.
Safe to say, that was not what I anticipated my first interaction through airport securities looking like. And it turned out to be the first of many surprises. Upon returning to the gate, I noticed a disabled veteran who was quite frustrated: “Y’all did this to me last time!” he was shouting at the airport staff. Apparently there was a storm along the east coast that was delaying out flight causing him to miss a flight to Dubai. The same Dubai flight that was on my itinerary…
My journey had presented its first challenge. I needed to figure out how to get to Cape Town through this storm. Per the staff’s advice, I called the airline telephone number in hopes of changing my itinerary before we had to board. My first call was dropped after about 25 minutes. So I called again and an hour later was settled with a new itinerary. This one included a “sleepover” in the Boston airport followed by a short flight to New York City, a 14 and a half hour flight to Johannesburg, then finally a plane to Cape Town.
The planes were sweet. On the way to Boston with lightning in the distance, I was able to watch the finale of the Democratic National Convention. It was neat to see history made as Hillary Clinton became the first woman ever received a US Presidential Nomination from a major political party. I kid you not, the plane wheels hit the ground just as Hillary wrapped up her acceptance speech with “May God bless you and the United States of America.” Amen.
Meanwhile, it was about midnight. I stayed in the terminal working on my first blog post. As I was getting ready to settle in for the next few hours like this guy —>
the airport staff forced us out of the terminal areas to the main entrance. We weren’t aloud to enter until 3:30. I stayed up until it was time to check in because there was no way I was missing my flight to New York. After a Dunkin Donuts breakfast, I boarded the plane, closed my eyes, then we were landing. It felt like the shortest flight of my life.
That was good, because I was about to begin the longest flight of my life. For the next 14 hr and 24 min, I ate airplane food, watched videos, (David Beckham: For the Love of the Game and Silver Linings Playbook), and (to a large extent unsuccessfully) tried to sleep. Sooner or later we made it.
The line for customs in Johannesburg was filled with hundreds of travelers. I made a friend and received wise advice to follow what you love, try new things, and build a relationship with your heart. My muse over her advice came to an abrupt halt when I realized I had less than an hour to retrieve my bag, wait in another long line to recheck it and receive my new boarding pass, go through securities, and run to my gate before boarding.
This is where the South Africans hooked me up. A member of the airport staff helped me retrieve my bag and cut the long line to recheck it and collect my boarding pass. Before I started moving the other direction, he asked for a tip. I gave it to him because I probably wouldn’t have made my plane if I had to wait in the recheck line. Apparently someone else saw the tip exchange. I picked my head up to find a man running towards securities. “Come on!” he called out while motioning with his arm to follow him. I would’ve easily found it myself. When he asked for a tip, I was less generous this time around.
I soon found myself at the proper gate with minutes to spare before boarding started. So I wouldn’t forget, I started writing down what in the world had just happened. Just as I was finishing up my first sentence, a noticed a tourist out of the corner of my eye. He was taking a picture of the wall behind my head. I turned and saw this:
The Wright brothers. I couldn’t help but chuckle, as despite being the farthest I had ever been from home, for a moment I oddly felt I was back in the Charlotte airport (there are plenty of images of the Wright brothers in Charlotte.) During the 3 hour flight to Cape Town, I changed clothes, napped, and read through a treasured book filled with letters and pictures from family, friends, and loved ones (thanks everyone who contributed.)
My plane hit the ground, I gathered my bags, and there was Casey to pick me up. On we went to watch soccer for the rest of the day, and the adventure began…