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Started: 2007-09-05 21:35:22

Submitted: 2007-09-05 22:33:37

Visibility: World-readable

Saturday, 18 August 2007 happened twice for me.

The first time around, I woke up in Sydney, showered, ate breakfast, finished packing, videoed my one-bedroom suite, and walked down to Pyrmont Bay to see the last thing I wanted to see in Sydney: the Chinese Gardens of Friendship, an island of Asian garden design next to the convention center nestled between the city of Sydney itself. I paid admission and walked clockwise around the garden, photographing and videoing what I saw, using the unique talents of each recording device. My still camera sought the single perfect shot, a perfectly-formed still image that would precisely capture the emotion of the place. My video camera captured movement, depth, spatial relationships, and sound.

I had tea at the tea house, sitting in the morning sun overlooking the perfect pond at the center of the garden, and wrote in my trip journal:

1035 AEST 18 August 2007

I'm sitting in the tea house at the Chinese Gardens of Friendship with only a few hours remaining in Sydney, and I'd sum up my current state as contented with my trip, happy to have seen some portion of Sydney, and ready to be heading home. I think I'll be back here, some day, although I can't yet know when or why. (Maybe next month, to continue what I started over the last two weeks; maybe in twenty years dragging a couple of annoyed teenagers on a trek to see the world.) There will still be plenty to see when I return.

I left the gardens and headed north, along the west side of Cockle Bay, to Harbourside for some last-minute souvenir shopping. I picked up a boomerang each for Willy and I and a set of coasters for my mother. I walked back to my hotel across the Pyrmont Bridge, taking in the water and sun and the city one last time. I finished packing my latest acquisitions, bid my room farewell, and headed down to check out. AU$400 for breakfast and Internet later, I walked to Town Hall Station, where the best way to get to the airport turned out to be to take the train to Central Station and catch a bus to the airport, since the Airport and East Hills Line was not running due to planned track maintenance. I tried not to be too concerned by the time the bus took to get to the airport; I left my hotel before noon, giving me less than three hours before my plane was scheduled to depart at 1440 AEST. We eventually reached the airport, stopping first at the domestic terminal, before reaching the international terminal. I recognized where I had entered the train station from the end of the arrivals level two weeks prior and headed upstairs to the departure level.

The queue to check in took for ever; the check-in agents started by making sure everyone on the earlier flight to Los Angeles was checked in before checking in those flying through San Francisco. Like my experience flying out of London last year, it wasn't apparent why everyone was taking so long. When I finally reached an agent, handed over my (laundered) passport, and plopped my first bag onto the conveyer, she remarked that I was traveling light. I didn't think so; I thought two suitcases was excessive, even for two weeks in a foreign country, but everyone around me had more luggage than I did. (My smaller, cloth-sided suitcase was filled mostly with dirty laundry didn't weigh very much at all.)

With my boarding passes and passport in hand, I headed in search of food. Sydney seemed inclined to minimize the number of passengers airside, since there were fewer amenities after passing security and outgoing customs. I ate lunch and looked around at the masses of British Airways, Qantas, and other planes arranged outside the windows. I found a display selling Boulder's favorite plastic clogs, Crocs and took a picture; apparently I can't escape them even on the other side of the planet. I called Kiesa (since it was Friday evening in Longmont) but had trouble with my phone coverage. (I later concluded that my phone was probably a tri-band GSM phone, able to access only one of the two frequency bands used by non-North American GSM networks. I now lust after quad-band world phones; if I can find an especially shiny unlocked phone I may switch my US provided to get access to a GSM network, and swap my SIM while traveling internationally.)

When the flat-screen monitor told me the time had arrived, I passed through the departure doors to outgoing customs, where I filled out a form indicating my intent to leave the country and saw several signs warning Australians that they could be executed for smuggling drugs into other countries. I got my passport stamped, passed through security (which wasn't quite as paranoid as US domestic airport security but did enforce the metricised version of "3-1-1": 100 ml containers in one, one-liter bag), walked past a bunch of duty-free shops, found my departure gate, and waited for my plane to board.

I played Picross on my Nintendo DS while waiting for my flight. Eventually they boarded the massive 747-400. I sat in seat 42C, an aisle seat along the left side of the plane. All of the seats in my row were filled; the guy in the window seat had a Sony PSP but I counted two other DSes in the plane in addition to mine.

The plane lumbered away from the gate and eventually took off, leaving Sydney behind for an epic, thirteen-hour trek across the Pacific Ocean. Jet lag protocol dictated that I should have slept, since it was approaching midnight MDT, but I didn't; I stayed awake through the meal service; as the plane crossed the terminator into darkness, I eventually decided to try to sleep. I wasn't as successful sleeping as I was on the way out. I played more Picross until my batteries died, listened to my iPod until its batteries died, made various semi-pathetic attempts at sleeping, and eventually gave up and declared myself awake again when light streamed in through the cabin windows. On any normal trans-oceanic flight, that would have signaled the next day, but it was still Saturday, thanks to the magic of the international date line.

1052 PDT 18 August 2007

According to the PA, we're thirty-five minutes from landing in San Francisco. I'm not sure I'll make my connecting flight at 1300 PDT; if customs is short (it never is), I'll make it; otherwise, I'm at the mercy of United Airlines to get me back home tonight.

We made landfall over North America near Half Moon Bay, crossed the peninsula to San Francisco Bay, and turned north to land at San Francisco International Airport. (When landing in San Francisco, I always wonder if the plane will actually make it to the runway before landing, since the only thing I can see outside the plane's window is the bay.) After taxiing to our gate and stopping, the pilot came on the PA to tell us we weren't properly parked and needed to be towed. Everyone was already standing in the aisles rummaging through the overhead compartments; we sat back down, waited to be towed to the gate, and finally got up again to leave the plane.

Immigration and customs wasn't as epic as I expected; I cleared both in maybe forty-five minutes and headed to bag recheck; the guy who scanned my bags told me my connecting flight had been delayed but I should hurry to my outgoing gate. I did, arriving fifteen minutes after my scheduled departure, just in time to see my aircraft (N592UA) pull up to the gate. I backtracked down the concourse in search of lunch and returned to the gate in time to wait for the incoming passengers to depart and to wait to board. Once we were on the plane, the couple sitting in front of me started freaking out about making their connecting flight (which may have been to the Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt); I made my flight because it was late but they might not make theirs for the same reason.

With forty-five minutes left to go in our flight, I glanced out the window and noticed a large flat mountain with a jagged road going down the side. I quickly identified the mountain as Grand Mesa and the road descending from Lands End. I grabbed my camera and photographed the mountain, the first piece of Colorado I saw after two weeks away.

1647 MDT 18 August 2007

This may be an artifact of my current sleep-deprived jet-lagged state, but flying between the massive thunderheads on descent into Denver, with the clouds orders of magnitude larger than the plane, makes me think that we're walking carefully between sleeping giants or ancient relics, or sailing between the two figures at the end of Fellowship of the Ring.

Apparently we did wake up some of the giants; we're now circling and executing what felt a lot like an S-curve to kill time while weather moves across the airport.

We landed in Denver without further incident and I found Kiesa waiting for me near my baggage claim. (I convinced her to come down to the airport to meet me, which involved a lengthy trek on RTD busses because I parked Motoko at the airport.) I was glad to see her again and happy to be home, tired and jet-lagged from gaining eighteen hours of daylight.