Oh, jet lag. I don't sleep on planes. Doze for five minutes here and there, but that's the extent of it. I drugged myself once, and that just made it worse: I was air sick, awake, and out of it. (I do take Dramamine for the motion sickness. It causes sleepiness but not actual sleep.) This flight was nearly thirty hours — eleven-plus hours overnight from SFO to London, a six-hour, vaguely mid-day layover at Heathrow, and another eleven-plus-hour flight through nighttime darkness to yet the other side of the world. I frequently glanced out the window at the yawning blackness speckled with infrequent lights below, "Wow, that's Africa down there."
By morning my mind was a scramble. I spent the flight making progress on an Iditarod race report I've been writing; when the battery on my computer died, I continued to write in a reporter's notebook, amusing myself with how bad my handwriting really is (one forgets such things.) It's probably mostly incomprehensible anyway; awake for two nights and trapped in small crowded spaces, I was approaching the cognitive state of a small child. I stuck in the earbuds to listen to Lord Huron and pressed my throbbing forehead against the cold window. The sun started to come up as we approached Cape Town over the Atlantic Ocean, and I watched a thread of deep crimson light slowly disperse into a pink wash over a rolling plain of clouds.
The jet descended as the sun continued to climb, stretching fingers of orange light through massive mounds of cumulonimbus clouds. The plane descended into these ethereal mountains just as sunlight broke open, casting the clouds in rich gold. It was intensely beautiful, a Grand Canyon of clouds, and the plane skimmed the billowing walls with intimate proximity that would never be possible in a canyon made of rock. Goosebumps prickled on my arms and my lower lip quivered, and I felt embarrassed because I was so tired that I was crying over clouds viewed from the stuffy seat of a plane. But why shouldn't I embrace that kind of beauty? Just because it's not made of rock, which on a long enough geological scale is every bit as impermanent as a cloud?
My camera was stuffed in the overhead compartment, which is just as well, because it's not the kind of thing one can photograph. Instead I indulged in letting a few tears roll down my cheek, and Lord Huron contributed the perfect accompaniment: "To the ends of the Earth would you follow me? There's a world that was meant for us to see."
Before we landed there was an oh-so-brief glimpse of Cape Town through what at that elevation was a thick fog, but by sea level it had developed into a roiling storm with downpours and howling winds. Jet lag ensured that I was useless for the remainder of my first day in South Africa. I contemplated putting my bike together but lost focus. I laid down for a quick nap that turned into a three-hour blackout. I had tea with Liehann's childhood friends and dinner with his parents. I tried to sleep and was back awake at 2:30 a.m. The wind continued to howl and I thought about how I miss Beat. I felt a little bummed that I planned this much time away. I wish Liehann and I could start biking tomorrow rather than wait for the June 10 start, but I'm also glad I don't have to in the state I'm in now. There is much to do this week, hopefully a few bike rides to be had, and then a two-day drive across the country to the start in Pietermaritzburg. After that, life will be whittled down to the simplicity of riding and sleeping ... and I can't wait.
And hopefully today (Monday?), amid the things to do, I will venture outside to see just how far I've travelled amid this sleepless haze. There's a mountain virtually in the backyard, and I want to climb it.