And We’re Off!

I’m a hardy traveler, but the first step of The Big Adventure ™ took the wind right out of my sails. At 8 AM in Washington DC, it was 80F and I don’t know what humidity. By the time I had walked the eight blocks to the Metro, my clothes were soaked and I was running sweat. 24 hours later, I didn’t have my wind back.

But enough about me. Let me tell you about my trip.

A pleasant two-hour ride on air-conditioned AMTRAK convinced me to blow off touristing in Philadelphia, where the weather was just as foul as DC. I went straight from 30th Street Station to the Philadelphia Airport, and settled down to write. Finding lunch was a chore, as the Philadelphia airport authority seems to have sought out the least appetizing fast food available on the East Coast. My burger choice was a mistake, as later, even the smell of dinner on the plane nauseated me, and I finally was sick this morning, just before landing in Dublin.

As usual, this was the 9 PM flight, and because it’s July 2, the sun had just set. By the time the plane was cruising over Long Island Sound, I’d spotted several large municipal fireworks displays, matched flash for bang by a line of thunderstorms running from the Hudson along the Sound and then up the seaward side of the mountains through Maine to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. The best show was in Maine, with ground strikes visible from the plane, inter-cloud lightning that ran for miles and what was surely vintage Mickey Hart thunder. In between the thunderheads, I could look into the West and see Mars gazing down on the festivities.

I dozed off after we passed the thunderstorms, and looked out the window when I awoke. There was the Dipper, hanging in the sky. Seems like every time I fly the red-eye, I see something noteworthy – comets, a star show, thunderstorms, something. If you are flying in August, look for the comet that exploded the other day!

This time, because we’re so close to the Solstice, I could see the pearly glow on the horizon from the Midnight Sun in the Arctic. Also, sunrise came very, very early. Sometime around 2 AM, Eastern, the glow became a liminal force, increasing from a presence in the night with symphonic force, intensifying, but not getting any bigger at first. The leading edge of the plane’s wings glowed with the silver fire.

Another doze and this time I awoke to the most splendid sunrise I have ever seen.

To date, the most memorable sunrises were in the desert. One was at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon where that silver glow just swelled and swelled until it overflowed the celestial bowl and poured over the Earth and the forest, singing and humming and chirping and barking in a glorious cacophony. The other was in Nevada City, Nevada. I slept out on a tongue of land with the sunrise on one side and a bluff above me on the other. It was wintertime, and so sunrise was pure light. No birdsong, the coyotes and dogs were quiet, and the little scurrying things were still puffy-eyed with sleep. The sun got up on my left and splattered rays all over the bluff on my right, and I lay there staring and thinking “The sun came up on both sides”

50,000 feet is a desert, I suppose, at -67F. But the action was down below the clouds. Surely the people on morning watch in ships below saw the cloud base spring to fiery life and spread from horizon to horizon. I saw it start as a stain through the thinner clouds, a dark magenta smear that splotched the clouds, then spread 180° and move to meet itself. I thought it would fade quickly, as it does when watched from Earth, but the entire thing lasted over an hour – until the sun came above the horizon for one last blast of glory. The show spread from the cloud tops into the air itself, fading from bloody orange to lemony yellow and finally a transparent smear of chartreuse where the effect met the daylight sky.

Here’s where the trip got long. “Sun’s up! We’re here!” kicked in and I was shocked to discover we were still mid-Atlantic. Dozed, still mid-ocean. Another nap, and the marker on the map hadn’t budged. My seat mate woke up and was just as surprised that when we looked to the North, that was Greenland glinting at us in the dawn’s early light!

There was still three long hours to go. I passed the time being sick. Breakfast was cold and horrid, and in the end I threw up the raspberry yogurt. Since I feel better now, that seems to have fixed things.

With no further fanfare, just the drone of the jet engines and the wind, the flight ground on towards its end. We spotted land, and grinned like a couple silly girls. The pilot came on to announce our approach into Dublin airspace by saying that we were in a holding pattern for the next 20 minutes as Dublin Tower changed traffic from landing Westward to landing Eastward.