Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Run to Kununurra

Off in the early evening for SFO, a hot East Bay night. This departure felt substantially more complex and random than in 2009. This was largely attributable to house chores. Last year, preparation consisted of arranging my plants on my table, setting timers and stopping my mail. This year, with my increase in property and space, there were many new tasks, more moving parts: ranging from installation of drip irrigation to killing my weeds I mean lawn to covering all of my windows to keep the interior cool. The randomness was more a function of being over capacity emotionally and mentally – I did not feel as organized and prepared for this trip, as empty and ready as it were. I already have a list of things forgotten, albeit short so far.

But the departure: an emotional leaving from my sweetheart, lugging my bags onto BART, and then feeling the leading edge of this adventure stop looming and finally assert itself. This was the BART ride of the cyclists. After a couple stops, a Cyclist #1 boarded; he looked like a student based on his street clothes. He had a fairly new street bike, red with yellow tires, modern brakes and derailleur, plus the inevitable Crumpler messenger bag. A stop later he was joined by Cyclist #2 in full cycling mufti (bright yellow), with a very high end lime green bike: disk brakes, direct drive gears; and a fancier Timbuktu messenger bag. I could see cyclist # 1 eyeing him. Both bikes were aluminum-framed; watching them was like seeing a mismatched stereo photograph. I enjoyed this dichotomy for a couple stops, and then Cyclist #3 got on. Another aluminum frame, but there the parallel ended. This was the punk model. #3 was easily the oldest, wearing much worn jeans and a torn t-shirt, with a ratty Timbuktu messenger bag, all smelling strongly of cannabis. His one-speed, drum brake bike was scratched, dented, and plastered with decals. Parts of the frame were covered in plastic bags. Much of this had been spray-painted silver at some point. Multiple strata were evident. The bike’s handlebars were severely cut to at most 10 inches width, and covered with ratty silver duct tape. Cyclists #1 and #2 studied him, as did everyone else in olfactory range. The train filled up; all three bikes became jammed together. We vibrated together as a mass under the Bay into San Francisco. They untangled and pedaled their individual ways at the first stop; I can only imagine to three separate destinations.

Into the SFO International Terminal. The Qantas gates were at the far end: not a problem. Even less of a problem was check in; I’d done this online, so I literally walked up to the agent and handed in my bags. This left me feeling oddly anticlimactic; the anticipated stress of seating, luggage weight, and carry on density (mine is easily 200% of max) was removed. I waited for Paul, and we had a bite and decompressed before flight time.

Another Qantas 747-400, somewhat tired and worn on the inside. I was happy to have gotten an aisle seat, but when I got to it, I discovered that there was a metal box filling almost half of the space under the seat in front of me –where my feet were supposed to go. Bugger. I kicked it in frustration, but it was clearly part of the plane, so desisting seemed indicated. Some centered observation showed that I could fit myself pretty well, but I was annoyed. A bad travel omen? Too soon to tell.
A long take off roll, and all 438 of us headed out over the Pacific. I settled in, hoping for a cycle of naps and movies. I don’t sleep well on planes; they are such an orthopedic nightmare if one is two meters in length. These ridiculous long haul flights are worse, as blood pools in my legs and my contact points – heels, butt, and shins – are squeezed. Oh well, I suppose it beats three weeks on a boat to get to the other side of the Earth. I also carry background excitement and anxiety about travel logistics. This is a holdover from my early trips, when I was na├»ve to the process and had a thick sheaf of paper tickets. More unknown and more to loose. Plus now I have semifashionable travel shirts that have seven pockets (I just inventoried), so I can keep all the stuff I’m worried about literally on my chest.
Wide-body jets have a unique suite of noises; the murmur of passengers, the muted roar of the engines, the rush of air turbulence over the fuselage, and a bunch of transient sounds: the toilets flush, a burst of audio, and the creak of seats. These sounds are a psychic cue: when I hear them I immediately enter the vibe going somewhere far away. Having conjured this historical pattern, I have to confess that this flight added a new sound: the baby alarm. The family seated to my right included an infant boy in a bassinet. He was on a three hour sleep and wake up and scream cycle. This was quite clear, even through my noise-cancelling headphones and earplugs. A different kind of time stamp, but it did prove to me that I got at least seven hours of sleep. Not bad at all.

Landing at Kingsford Smith Airport, Sydney in cloudy dawn light. Customs had been rearranged from last year, with a clever minimum of signage. More annoyance. I was eventually waved through, and officially entered Australia. A wait in the domestic terminal, which also provided fruit and coffee, and we were off to Darwin.
More of Australia from the air, cryptic beneath scattered clouds and haze. Over the channel country of inner New South Wales and Queensland; tan-brown earth and occasional saline lakes. I dozed. On my next look we had entered the subtropics; a greener landscape, with more clearing and farming than I had expected. A dozen bushfires added smoke to the sky. Descent into Darwin, a hairpin over the Tasman Sea, and the second of three flights was over.

Darwin Airport is at most six gates in size, but you can fly from here to Kununurra, not to mention Singapore and Denpasar (Bali). Another place to sit for a few hours. I left Paul sipping his Diet Coke and wandered the length of the terminal. All of five minutes journey. I went outside. Hot, but less muggy than Maryland. This didn’t seem proper, especially in the brighter than normal sunlight of the tropics. The sun is just a tad closer, it seems. The airport entries were decorated with recent Aboriginal art – a series of funeral poles, and murals on the undersides of the awnings. I smiled; back in Australia for sure, if I wasn’t already convinced by the weight of the money, the long broad Aussie accent, or the abundance of ginger beer.

Finally, Kununurra. A night landing, abrupt in the dark tropical night. A five minute ride to our hotel, a quick dinner, a rinse, and blessedly horizontal for ten hours. In summary, a few numbers from this leg:

3 flights
~17,100 miles
4 meals, plus 30% of a Krispy Kreme doughnut
15 time zones
41 hours between beds; 29 hours involving airplanes

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