Well, I’m hot on the heels of it now. We left Cornwall and turned up on the doorstep of our official residence in Britain, the home of Lucy and Thomas. I got in touch with Lucy when I came across her and Thomas on a list of RTW families. She was the only one listed then who was travelling as a single parent. We hit it off right away. Before I ever left Georgia Lucy was rooting me along, giving me great advice and honest accounts of long-term travel as an only parent. We had set our hopes on meeting in New Zealand and travelling together, but Lucy got sick and had to head home early, after a mere ten or eleven months on the road. Quite a haul. These two had set us up for success when we arrived to Europe in April, helping us find a great car through a reliable mechanic and providing us with an address to make all the paperwork go down easier. (Lucy, thank you! )
We wanted to end our trip there with Lucy and Thomas, and with Rachel and her boys, and they were there cheering when the car auction ended. Yee-haw. Selling the car was one thing. Getting rid of it was something else. The buyers were in Germany, and they offered to come get it in one week. It’s hard to believe, after all those months of being on the move and sometimes finding ourselves at loose ends, that right there at the end we didn’t have a week to spare. We offered to drive the car to their town in Germany, and from there we planned to fly out of Ramstein Air Force Base. They agreed, and we spent the rest of the afternoon getting down to bags we could manage on the train and planes, sorting out liquids and scissors and Swiss Army Knives. We were getting ready to go home.
The end was messy and exhausting. It was the kind of travel that makes travel not fun. The highlight for me was leaving Britain by boat out of Dover, finally getting to see those White Cliffs. They are cliffs. And very white. And I saw them. From there, it was downhill. Our drive took longer than expected, and we missed the last train to Landstuhl by four minutes. We stayed the night in an overpriced hotel only to catch a 5:30 am train with three connections before we caught a taxi in the rain to the Ramstein Passenger Terminal where we found we had missed five flights that morning to Charleston, South Carolina, and would most likely have to wait until the following morning to fly.
We were trying to “space-a” back to the States. That stands for “Space Available,” and basically it means hitching a ride on a military plane. We had left America in October, 2009, on a space-a flight to Spangdahlem, Germany, and the balance-in-all-things side of my brain liked that we were flying home that way, too. Of course, the cheap and thrifty part of my brain liked it even more, because space-a travel is free.
We showed up at 0420 (that’s 4:20AM) for a flight to New Jersey and by 7am we were in the air. Our flight was unlike anything I could have imagined. Going to Germany we had flown in a plane that was essentially like a passenger plane, only with grid floors and tanks underneath the seats. Oh, and the seats were rear-facing for safety. Oh, and there were no windows. Well, this plane was a cargo plane. We climbed the stairs to find cargo under nets filling a massive cave. Our seats were fold-down jumpseats that lined the wall. Any hope I had of catching up on three nights of almost no sleep were blown away with the roar of the jet engines. Despite the insulation that lined the walls the plane was freezing and loud. Crew members handed out earplugs, but, as Rory noted, it was good practice for being deaf. Even with the earplugs out and his screaming mouth pressed to my ear I could hear nothing. We read lips for the whole trip. An hour into the flight the kids fell asleep, leaning on me, and I was into the second course of a full-blown pity party when the crew chief came over and offered me a sleeping bag. Bless his heart. As soon as we reached altitude everyone popped up, folded up their seats, and spread out their sleeping bags. One woman blew up a twin size inflatable air mattress and proceeded to put sheets on it. I found some floor space, nestled into a giant military bag (easily the warmest I’ve ever used), and managed a couple of hours of sleep.
While I snoozed Rory came to life. One of the Airmen took him under his wing and showed him around the plane. The highlight was a tour of the cockpit. Rory asked every question he could think of (remember, he’s a curious child), and the pilots answered every one. Later in the trip the same crew member took Nora and I up to the cockpit, so we wouldn’t feel left out, and it was amazing. Those Airmen made some real fans that day. In flight beverage service? Nope. Reclining seats? Not a one. Movies on demand? No, only aluminum foil over the two door windows to keep out the sun. Not a single luxury or comfort, except for the extraordinary kindness of the fellow passengers and crew, and it was our favorite flight of the whole trip.
We landed in New Jersey mid-morning, rented a car, and pulled up in my parents’ driveway in North Carolina before 8pm. We were home. Our trip was over. How do we know? No one thought to take a picture.