2014 Home – Going ‘home’

28 times. Or is it 30? I guess you sorta lose count after the 15th time. It’s the curse of the ex-pat – flying back and forth between your birth country and your adopted country. And so it goes that this is either my 28th or 30th trip over the Pacific Ocean. I’ve done this trip so many times now that I no longer get excited or nervous – it just feels like a really long commute between ‘home’ and ‘past home’.

Indeed, if this is my 28th trip, with an average flight time of 14 hours (usually 13 going east and 15 going west), then I’ve spent around 392 hours suspended above the Pacific in a large metal tube. Yes, I’ve spent more than two weeks of my life in a no-man’s-land at 35,000 feet. But it is appropriate. I have lived in Australia for 13 years. It still does not feel like ‘home’. Yet I’ve been gone long enough now that the US doesn’t feel like ‘home’ either. So that in-between time sitting in a chair with 18 inches of width and 32 (if you’re lucky) inches of pitch is probably the only time where my setting matches my mind. Up there, the guilt of being away from family in the US falls away as do the struggles of life in Australia. For 14 hours, there are no demands, no responsibilities, no loved ones’ aging or illness, no worries about work or utility bills or the cost of petrol. I’ve come not to mind the in-between time.

This trip will be longer than most. It starts with a very crisp, pre-dawn start on the long, dark platform at Albury station. It’s a 4-hour train ride to Melbourne that is fortunately uneventful. The baggage car guy starts the friendly trend – helping me get the bike box in the baggage car. On the other end in Melbourne, a baggage guy with a trolley sees me attaching my small wheels to the box and offers to trolley my bike to the station exit. So kind.

Albury train station – it’s incredibly early and cold. But we’re ready to go!! The station platform in Albury is one of the longest in Australia because trains used to have to stop here and unload everything to be placed on another train to proceed further. New South Wales and Victoria had different line gauges, so there was always a shuffle at the state border in Albury.

The friendly trend continues all the way to Indianapolis. The hotel in Melbourne upgrades me to a suite worth twice the amount I paid for a basic room. The airport bus guy asks me where I’m heading off to tour and lets me on the bus – even though there isn’t really room for my bike, and he’s only supposed to take them on a space-available basis. The hotel bus driver at LAX expresses me to the hotel when she hears I’ve just come from Australia. The check-in woman at the LAX hotel asks where I’ve come from and how hard is it to carry a bike box everywhere. She thinks I must be exhausted, so she gives me a corner room far away from the elevators, so that I can get some sleep.

It’s an incredibly beautiful late autumn day. You don’t take a clear, sunny day for granted in Melbourne at this time of year. The guys and I go walk around the CBD for a bit. This photo is taken along the Yarra River with the Southbank area in the background.
When the front desk people see me lugging the bike along, they are inquisitive and friendly. Then they upgrade me to a suite room for free which has a spa bath – the guys are excited about this but I can never bring myself to use these and waste that much water just for me!
Aaaaahhhh…. a shower, soft bed and a robe. Overnight layover in LA. It always feels so good to get horizontal after sitting upright for 15 hours.

I start to wonder when all of the good luck will end. This trip, with its numerous legs and layovers, is just going way too smoothly. But the next day, the smoothness continues. The weather is good, my flights are on time, and the bike, backpack and crew all arrive in Indianapolis on-time and undamaged into the loving arms of my Mom and Dad.

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