Getaway With(out) Soleil: Traveling to Reno in 28 Hours

               I don’t remember a time when I liked flying. For most of my life, it’s the form of transportation most filled with catastrophizing and what-ifs. I’d have anxiety and, often, break out in a cold sweat prior to take off or—worst case—be sick. In high school, I’d count in Italian to distract myself. Turbulence would leave me with a white-knuckle grip on the armrest and prayers on my lips. This getaway, however, has proven that—most of the time—flying can be unremarkable. Maybe it will always give me a touch of anxiety to leave the solidness of earth, but after so many flights I can’t say it didn’t get tiring and a bit boring.

               I officially began counting my travel time home when my family took me to the Auckland airport. Time spent in transition, after all, is part of the extended journey. We left around 4:30pm and arrived at the airport by 5. While getting into New Zealand had been a hassle, leaving the country was easy. I checked my bag and delayed the leaving as much as I could with my family. We said our goodbyes, hugged, and took pictures. Everyone is taller than me now. In the past, I’ve been upset by this leaving because it never feels like I have enough time with them. I still felt that way, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t desperate to go home either.

               By 5:45pm, I’d breezed through security with a minimal pat down due to my bulky sweatshirt and was perusing the duty-free shopping. Since New Zealand, compared to many other countries, has only reopened its borders recently, many of the restaurants were closed. Obviously, this limits eating options past security to a bar and grill, a fancy McDonald’s, or a little café. Many of the restaurants that were closed sounded pretty good too, so I was a bit disappointed. I spent the time before my flight grabbing souvenirs, browsing the greenstone shop, and walking around.

               A little over two hours later, I boarded the plane. I’d hoped I might have a row to myself so I could lie out and sleep, but I had one seatmate on the aisle. The flight, compared to others I’ve been on to and from Auckland, had more empty seats than normal. At least with the window seat, I hoped for some sleep curled against the plane’s curves. Two girls in the row in front of me made small talk, which at first seemed forced but quickly developed into a rapport. A mustached hipster boarded with an old-fashioned snap suitcase. I’d never seen this before and loved it.

               By the time the plane fully ascended at 8:40pm, the sun had set. There’s something poetic about arriving in a country before sunrise and leaving after it’s gone. My getaway felt bookmarked by this. Unlike many of my previous trips, I didn’t watch films on this flight. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood for movies or wanted that childlike escapism into my thoughts. Others nearby watched Trainwreck or Elvis. I listened to 2022’s Into the Woods cast recording while a beautiful moon rose above a sea of clouds.

               An hour later, shortly after wondering what dinner would be, a flight attendant announced the options. Everyone received a potato, corn, and celery salad, wheat roll, and hokey pokey ice cream. We had to decide between chicken korma with basmati rice or slow-looked lamb in a tomato and thyme sauce. Twenty-five minutes later, I chose the chicken korma. It was pretty good and included chickpeas. It always amazes me how much food Air New Zealand serves. The meal also included creamy cheese and rice crackers which reminded me of communion wafers. Unlike on my way to New Zealand, I skipped the wine and stuck to Coke.

               While they brought the food out, we had our first bit of turbulence, and the seatbelt sign was turned back on without real explanation. This did cue up my anxiety, but I’ve generally learned to trust the process. However, it had mostly died down by the time my food arrived, so I was able to eat without worrying about spilling everything. My seatmate and I made our own small talk during dinner. She recommended a book I don’t remember. She enjoyed the extra space left by our empty middle seat and a flight alone with her family.  

               Most of the flight contained some normal minutia. A child screamed while being changed. I couldn’t figure out how to recline my seat and stayed upright. I took my medications and medicine to help me sleep. I listened to more playlists and albums before deciding to try for six hours of sleep. I went to bed around midnight (according to our flight map). Unfortunately, even with the extra seat and drugs, I couldn’t stay asleep or comfortable and tossed and turned for hours.

               I gave up on sleep around six. We had recently passed Hawaii, and the sun rose outside my tinted window. My plan was to find a lounge in Vancouver for my layover and sleep there. I continued listening to music as we began to jump through time zones more quickly. We were served breakfast around 10am. Both options included fresh fruit and yogurt, but we had to choose between scrambled eggs or cinnamon pancakes with berry compote and vanilla syrup. Obviously, I went with the second one. As far as flight breakfasts go, this was one of the best.

               The last few hours of the flight were spent with more music, some anxiety about our altitude, and a continual countdown in my head for land sweet land. We reached Vancouver at 1:10pm—a little early—and had to go through Canadian customs. Being in-transit was easier than when I came in, but I discovered not long after I would have to wait two and half hours to drop my bag off for my next flight. This meant being stuck outside security and the possible lounges.  So, I found a spot to lay down and stretch my back, called my mom for a while, and killed time with more souvenir shopping and TikTok.

               I knew I was going back to America when I had to take my shoes off for security. Four hours since landing, a laptop check, and a genial conversation with a border guard later, I finally made it into the terminal. Only to discover the airport was renovating the lounge! This was supposed to be my first trip where I splurged on this experience, got some rest, a little food, and prepared for the next leg. Instead, I had to choose between limited restaurant options and waited in line for a busy sports bar.

               Since the lounge idea was bust, I ordered a Stanley Park pilsner, roasted meat sandwich, and yam fries. Like many businesses, this restaurant appeared short-staffed and under-prepared for a rush. The table next to me took their food to go because their plane was already boarding. Either they hadn’t planned ahead, or service was also slow. Thirty minutes after ordering, my food arrived from an overwhelmed server. It was edible but definitely airport food. Shortly after that, I was reminded I was back in the land of tips and taxes when the bill came. I missed Australia.

               An hour later, after reading and killing more time, I boarded my plane to San Francisco. I was seated next to a couple, but we didn’t make small talk. I tried to listen to music, but already found myself nodding off and on. The exhaustion of hours of travel was beginning to set in. I ordered seltzer water but had little thirst for it. We landed in San Francisco around 9:30pm. I didn’t have much time to kill, and bitterly discovered their airport lounges were still open.

               It was almost eleven when I boarded the plane for Reno. The last flight of the Getaway. The ninth flight I’d taken in six weeks. I almost regretted not upgrading to business class at some point, especially when I saw literal children in the seats. I’ve never known this luxury and they have already experienced it before puberty. The screen on the seatback in front of me was broken. My head was pounding with an impending headache. My entire row was full, and I was squished against the window. I counted the minutes till this was all over.

               Five minutes before midnight, we landed. Normally, descending into Reno is a bit of a fiasco with lots of turbulence, bumps, and praying. This one, however, was actually pleasant. I smiled at the pink neon of the Atlantis casino. Maybe I teared up when the captain welcomed me home. Maybe the flight attendant could tell how tired and grateful I was when I disembarked. I walked through our small airport, Burning Man photography on the walls, and had a kind of welling inside me. Reno is small and not the fanciest place. It doesn’t have an ocean or great public transportation. My boyfriend isn’t here. But it’s still home.

               So, backpack, pink suitcase, and purse in tow, I waited at the curb for my mom. I wasn’t in any shape to drive to my apartment, so she dropped me off. After forty-one days, I finally got to hold my cat again. My apartment was both familiar and strange, as if I was staying in an Airbnb of my making. Still, it was my own shower with excellent pressure, my own comfy mattress and blankets, and a Squishmallow or two that helped me relax.

               Obviously, this isn’t the end of adventuring or my chronicles of them. It is, however, the end of this particular Getaway. I can’t say for sure when the next one will be, but I’m already looking forward to it. After, of course, spending my favorite time of year bundled up on a couch with scary movies and spooky décor. I’m not any different than I was before I went on this grand adventure, but maybe I am more open to what wild things the future might bring with it. Even if it does involve more flying.

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