September 8, 2012

The Journey

I woke up at 6:30am on leaving day (Sunday) so that I could make sure all of my stuff was piled into one place before going to pick up the rental car. My lovely friend Lisa brought me to the airport to pick up the car from Alamo, which took no time since we were there at 8:00am on a Sunday morning (on Labor Day weekend). I headed back to the apartment to pick up my things & get the cats loaded. This took a bit longer than I anticipated because the cats were rather freaked out from the new roommate moving in the previous day. With help from Roomie, we managed to round them up and carry them out to the car. One of the travel crates went into the backseat with the door open, the other was taken apart and stuck in the trunk. One last hug from the Roomie and I set off to pick up Mom from my aunt's house.

(Aside... a few days previous Mom called and explained how she'd been so anxious about me driving to Denver on my own (because I've never driven across the country by myself, especially during the five years I lived in DC and drove back & forth to Minnesota twice a year /sarcasm), so she'd decided to get a one-way ticket from Denver to Minneapolis so she could drive down with me. I was sort of indifferent to the idea but thought she'd feel better about it so agreed immediately. By the time we separated at Denver airport, I was so ridiculously grateful that she was there. Moms are far more awesome than we give them credit for sometimes.)

Anyway, after a brief pause at the aunt's to transfer the last of my not-coming-with stuff (mostly bedding) to Mom's car, we set off. I had to pull over after half a block when I realized I'd left the directions in my carry-on, which was in the trunk. And then we were off!

Our route took us south into Iowa, across the whole of Nebraska, then into Colorado. Naturally we were driving the plains by day and didn't hit the Rockies until well after dark. The car's gas mileage was epic, nearing 40 miles/gallon. We only had to fill up three times, the final time right before dropping off. Not bad for a 14-hour drive. The first half of the drive was pretty uneventful except for the boys yowling offendedly for an hour or two. They spent the rest of the ride occasionally popping into the front seat to visit but otherwise quite calm. They even used the little disposable litter box I'd installed behind the driver's seat. In the last hour or so of the drive, they decided it was time for some lap cuddles. Luckily I was driving on a wide highway with cruise control, so they weren't too distracting. Fizzgig spent most of the hour on my lap as Mom fretted and tried to encourage him onto her lap instead. It was pretty much adorable.

At one point we passed through what appeared to be some sort of fog, but for some reason it smelled horrible. Like something had died, been eaten, then shit out, then eaten by something else and shit out again before whatever ate it died in the pile of shit. Seriously, it was horrible. The smell dissipated once we'd passed through the fog, but it still took ten minutes for it to fade entirely. We still have no idea what caused either the fog or the stench.

We spent the night at a hotel in Denver. I dropped Mom, the boys, and our luggage off and then drove out to the airport to return the car. Unfortunately there was a definite cat pee smell when I cleared everything out, so I stopped at a gas station near the airport where I vacuumed the car and hosed it down with Fabreeze, then drove around for a bit with the windows open. The Fabreeze bottle got left behind by the vacuum since I thought it would be a bit suspicious if I walked into the return office carrying it. I got a cab from the airport since the blasted hotel shuttle stopped running a few minutes after we checked in, stopping along the way for McDonald's provisions.

The next morning we loaded up the boys and got on the shuttle. The loud, rackety ride was far more traumatic for the cats than the 14-hour rental car trip was, which put me In A Mood. I did notice that the distant mountains (which I was seeing for the first time) looked more like a matte painting than reality, which would have been fascinating if I hadn't been in a state of growing anxiety over the cats. We brought them into the airport and took a half hour or so in a quiet spot to try to calm them down. Then we went to check in the luggage, where we found out that the cats had to be taken to a separate shipping facility south of the airport. My frustration growing, we went to find a cab who could hopefully find the way there and not traumatize my cats any further. I had a slight breakdown as we got in the cab, but between my mom and the ridiculously sweet driver, they had me laughing and somewhat less stressed by the time we arrived at the shipping place. The cats were whisked away rather abruptly, but I managed to hold it together. One of the gentlemen who worked there was ridiculously kind and gave us a ride back to the terminal in his personal truck. That was when I started to feel better about the boys, knowing they were in good hands.

Mom & I then had about two hours to hang out waiting for our flights. We found a surprisingly nice smoking lounge and spent our time there, chatting and laughing. We both managed to keep it together when it was time to say goodbye. We'd lingered in the smoking lounge long enough that I only had to wait about ten minutes to board my flight.

This is where the story gets really boring, because I was sitting on a flight for about seven hours. I watched The Hunger Games (finally), 500 Days of Summer, and other random stuff. I was sitting in an aisle seat because all the window seats were taken. I thought it might be a nice change, but it wasn't. Mostly I just got bumped into a lot. We landed in Iceland around 6:10am and I was already exhausted.

Then something kind of awesome happened. Because the gate we landed at happened to only be two down from the gate I would be taking off from, I wandered over to watch them offload luggage on the off chance I might be able to see the boys. And I did! I have to be honest, there was some mucus happening as I watched them load the crates onto a cart. I followed them as they were driven the short distance to the other gate and watched as they were loaded on the plane. It was a huge relief even though I couldn't actually see them inside the carriers, since one of my biggest fears about taking Iceland Air was that they would somehow neglect to be loaded onto the second plane with me. I was still smiling when we were ushered onto the flight an hour or so later.

The second flight was as uneventful as the first, but this time I had a window seat in the emergency exit row, so was considerably more comfortable. I also got a fantastic view as we descended over London; the Eye, the Shard, the Gherkin, Big Ben & Parliament, Tower Bridge & the Tower of London... I could make them all out in miniature below as we circled around to the airport. My forehead was all but glued to the window.

The happy didn't end there though... once we were landed and engaged in the impatient shuffle-wait that is part of disembarking any plane, I looked out the window in time to see the luggage conveyor pulling up. I kept watching, thinking there was no way I'd still be on the plane in time to see them taken off, surely they'd be the last ones off like in Iceland... then down the belt came two familiar crates. I was literally hands-plastered-to-window as I looked, because I could actually see them this time, see their heads moving anxiously to follow the sounds around them. See, the biggest fear I had in bringing them over was of course that they wouldn't survive the flight. That there may be just too much stress and things could go terribly wrong. But I could see, before I even got off the plane, that they were alive and well (if very, very pissed off). As I write this now, one is snoozing away next to me while the other munches cat food out of their new bowl.

Next there was the business of customs and border patrol, which was entirely painless. I chatted with the officer about school as he stamped my Visa and sent me on my way. Both of my bags showed up on the carousel and I whisked them through the "Nothing To Declare" queue because I definitely did not have a carton & a half of cigarettes nestled away in one of them. I got a cab to the Animal Reception Centre, which (as it says on the tin) was where I'd be collecting the boys. Procedure/paperwork went flawlessly but took nearly four hours (which I'd been prepared for). While there I chatted with some fellow Americans who had been on the same flights with me from Denver. Once I finally had the boys, we took a cab to our new home in the south of London. The ride took about an hour and was mostly on the small and rather terrifying streets of the city rather than on any highway. I was pretty well knackered by then (hello, British slang!) and just sat back to enjoy the scenery.

We arrived at the house, where I was greeted by my lovely friend/Sis Suzanne, right about 6pm London time. Subtracting six hours for the time difference, this made our trip just about fifty hours.

Next: settling into life in London.

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