Monday, February 5, 2024

From Raleigh to New Zealand via San Francisco!

Visiting New Zealand has been on my bucket list for quite some time, and I remember telling Joe that if he could find cheap flights to either New Zealand or Australia, we would go. Lo and behold, perhaps attributable to some post COVID-19 travel slump, relatively affordable flights started popping up (and on “real” airlines too), and we decided this was the year.

The travel to get to this particular country from the East Coast is brutal. A total of 26 hours of air travel on the way there, but less than two on the way back (due to the way time zones and the international date line are arranged). Knowing this, we decided to make the trip as long as our time off would allow, to make up for the full day of travel on either end of the trip.

Our group consisted, fittingly, of nine people. Given this would be our quest to the home of Middle Earth, I had a perfect built-in prompt for keeping track of this group. First, we had our wizard, Adam (Gandalf), the tall one. Then, two from the race of men, Tanner (Aragorn), Malarie (Boromir), a steady dwarf, John (Gimli), and one elf, Gabby (Legolas). Finally, the four hobbits - Joe (Merry), Justin (Pippin), Sam (Sam, of course), and myself (Frodo) completed the Fellowship. Gabby said this last particular assignment was very “main character energy” of me.

Our first flight left from Raleigh on Saturday morning. We picked up Gandalf and Gimli on the way and met Merry, Pippin, and Sam for lunch at PDQ. The security screening at RDU resulted in a few good laughs, as Joe’s extra large hitbox on the X-ray machine earned him an extra screening. Justin made sure all of our encounters along the way, including this one, were captured “for the ‘gram.” Joe’s, specifically.

Stretching at RDU
We boarded our flight to San Francisco and rode along with a couple of unhappy children. One couple was sitting directly in front of us with a baby. When we landed, the couple stood up, and the husband told me he appreciated my Northstar “Be the Church” sweatshirt. He said, “With those in-ears, I assumed you’re either a musician or a producer.” I told him I’m an audio engineer at my church and he told me he had just auditioned to play electric guitar for their church in San Jose’s (Echo Church) worship team. He also does audio production for his job, and he and his wife were investigating a move to Raleigh.

We arrived without incident in San Francisco and finally united our whole Fellowship at an airport restaurant. We grabbed some dinner, prepared for long flight, and finished up the last of our fresh deer jerky (thanks Jenna!) so that we wouldn’t end up carrying it through customs. Just before we boarded, we received word that our scuba diving trip we had scheduled for Milford Sound had been cancelled due to weather (more on this later).

The party row

Airborne livestream
The thirteen hour flight to Auckland was the longest single flight I’ve ever been on. It was a large plane, and Joe, Justin, Gabby, and I had the party row in the middle. Sam, meanwhile, wanted to sit as far away from us as possible, apparently. There was a small disturbance with an elderly couple that arrived late, but once everyone got settled down, we were off. Packing that many people into a metal tube for thirteen hours is an interesting social experiment, with total depravity on clear display. I generally make it a policy not to do any serious business in airplane bathrooms, but this long of a flight necessitated it. Unfortunately, just as I sat down I heard, “Flight attendants take your seats!” We had three meals while in flight: a chicken/pasta dinner (which was rubbery and not great), a sandwich, and breakfast (which was delicious). I also dipped into the Northstar livestream early on Sunday morning, while we were somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, through the magic of satellite internet.

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