On the way to Vegas

As you may remember from earlier posts, I signed up to do the Rock and Roll Half Marathon in Vegas at the start of the year and, after 6 months of very little training other than buying a pair of running shorts for £45, using two energy replenishment gels and refusing one bacon sandwich at an event two weeks ago, I find myself on the 8th floor of the Stratosphere hotel in downtown Las Vegas, Nevada writing a blog post this morning.

As I look out to my right I can see a US flag flying over Vegas with the mountains off in the background with orange and dusty skies beyond and not a cloud in the sky.  Jet lag has me up at 5am and so I will attempt to write up my thoughts from the near 24 hour door to door journey that I undertook yesterday.

The story actually starts the night before with my usual last minute packing.  I am travelling alone which put Titchy in tight spot; she wasn’t going to pack for me or force me to pack in good time as she isn’t pushy and overbearing but I think leaving things until around 2 hours before bedtime before even thinking about packing was pushing her OCD a little too far and she ended up running through a checklist to keep me on the right tracks.  We had a great system going, she would shout out what I needed to take, I would take it out of the wardrobe and throw it in the suitcase and she would take it out, fold it up and put it back in nicely.  I hate packing, I hate the structure and organisation and forethought required to do it, I am glad she is around to manage me.

All packed up and taxi ordered, my overriding feeling as I went to sleep was one of fear mixed with excitement. Fear of the half marathon I had coming up in the dry desert heat and excitement of travel and the adventures I had coming up, all be it without Titchy.  I was travelling with a work mate and his wife (I will call them J and N) who I was sure would be great companions as they are such warm, kind and thoughtful people and then meeting a friend from the US in Vegas (who I will call C) who would be my guide of sorts as he was a Vegas veteran.  As a very tight accountant, I wasn’t sure that the hedonistic Vegas lifestyle was going to be my ideal home but I was looking forward to seeing the sights and soaking in the feel of the place.

My taxi arrived at 6.45 am and with tears building I said goodbye to Titchy and the cats and with a wave and heavy heart, the trip was underway.  My taxi driver was superb, as they usually are from East Coast Taxis; as chatty as could be and a fellow runner.  He spoke just like the Geordie handyman helper from Alan Partridge’s hotel and told me how he once ended up with bib number 97 and was four rows back from the elite runners at the Great North Run despite being an average runner.

I checked in and was through customs in about 5 minutes, it really is such an easy process now that technology is available to do the grunt work. Regular readers will know that I hate being late and had arrived a little before the recommended two hours before departure time.  I was stunned to find out that J and N had beaten me to the airport by a good half hour and, after I had taken the customary photograph of the view from departures, we had a potter around the shops for two hours.  I shared with them my ‘Cheapest-sandwiches-in-UK-airports-are-always-at-Boots’ top tip but they weren’t impressed and so we smashed out the Nintendo switch and had a quick run around a Mario world to kill some time.

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I will never get bored of watching people race to get into the queue for their preallocated seats on an aeroplane, always fun.  We were flying KLM for the short hop over to Amsterdam and were in the third row from the back of the plane.   I watched out of the window as the familiar sights of Whitley Bay, Newcastle and the North East passed underneath and then the boats and windmills in the North Sea, working away without fuss or consternation in the background.

We were a few minutes late and had a sprightly walk through Schipol to board the Delta flight to Detroit, Illinois.  The relief as I took my seat and plugged in a USB charger and recharged my phone was palpable as I had dipped below 25%.  I’ve said it before, whoever controls the power supply controls the world!  I had a blanket and a pillow on my seat and this tiny space on a metal smarties tube flying through the air was my space on the planet for the next 10 hours.

The metal tube was an Airbus A330-300 registration number N802NW.  Isn’t it amazing what things you will look up when you find yourself disconnected from the world for such a length of time and all you have for fun is an in-flight touch screen display?  In my section of the plane there must have been 100 seats and I would guess at only 20 were taken.  People were laid out across 4 seats and fast asleep and, I have to say, it made for a very comfortable flight.

It was weird going back over the North Sea and Newcastle again so quickly.  A huge part of me would have loved to have spent a while looking around Amsterdam and Europe for a little while before setting off, it felt weird to be in and out of a place I love so much as a passing through point.

A million thoughts go through your head when you have the time for contemplation and rest on these journeys.  Don’t judge me, but I spent a long time trying to work out quite why so many camp people are attracted to the airline industry in particular.  I couldn’t think of anything.   Not quite as controversial was whose idea was it to serve a red hot fajita wrap on an aeroplane at the very same time as giving you a mini magnum ice cream.  The pressure to eat something that was hotter than the surface of the sun at the very same moment you have a melting ticking time bomb almost literally on your lap is some sort of sick game invented in a Delta airline office by someone that hated travellers.

My top travel tip, which I will no doubt forget before the return journey, is to get up and have your ‘comfort breaks’ before the team bring out drinks and dinners or else you end up stuck in your seat holding a part finished drink that you either need to take to the bathroom with you or risk spilling all over the place while you’re away.

We were well looked after and the food and service were superb.  I watched three films on the way: ‘15.17 to Paris’, ’12 Strong and In Bruges. ’15.17 to Paris’ and ’12 Strong’ both had a backdrop of terrorism which made for an exciting journey! ‘In Bruges’ was a welcome and dark humoured blast from the past.  I once read something telling you that you never move in with anyone until you have seen what they are like when they have a slow WiFi connection.  I would like to extend that to seeing what someone is like when they have a faulty in-flight entertainment system on a long flight. My films would randomly, without the screen being touched at all, pause, fast forward or skip.  I saw most of the end of the film before the start, all be it without sound and in high speed, but it was weird that it seemed to stop at key plot points where spoilers were given out.  Again, some disgruntled employee in an office laughing at me no doubt with ruined films and melted ice cream being used to soothe fajita burnt chins.

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After what seemed an age, we landed in Detroit which looked to be just as flat as Amsterdam and looking lovely with its autumn colours.  My Costa Rican friends were worried about getting through customs in time to catch our transfer flight.  They had no reason to worry at all as they got through customs faster than me with my NESTA paperwork that should have made things faster.  I had a good chat with the immigration team and they advised that I took the time to people watch at the Bellagio fountain show and warned me that gambling was a risk game that only the house wins at; my kind of people!

We got from one side of the terminal to the other on their indoor metro system, which was cool, and I stole some Wi-Fi to let those at home know I had landed safely.  Like a huge fish.  I chatted very briefly with Titchy but as soon as she showed me the cats on the video call I got very excited and animated. I had not realised but an American lady next to us in the departure gate was laughing away at me and I ended up introducing her to Titchy and my cats and we went on to look at a picture of her dog back home.  Americans were very friendly.

It seemed like one minute I was looking at a glorious sun floating over the airport and then, like the flick of a switch, it had dropped out of the sky and it was dark.  I had no idea what time it was on which day in my time zone or my original time zone and tiredness kicked in.  We had a quick scran stop at a place called Popeyes.  I was very confused as it seems to sell mainly chicken with not a hint of spinach in sight.  The meals were served with a biscuit, which seems like a very weird way to spell ‘scone’, but you have to love the Americans bless them.  No jam, no clotted cream and no butter, just a shed load of salt instead.

The flight to Vegas was in the dark and four hours of how I remembered longer haul flights being.  We were crushed into a full flight and there was no space to move or get comfortable by straightening your legs out. It was a good job I was far from being a serious athlete!   There was a lot of black space that we flew over with odd outcrops of bright lights and stadiums that you could make out every now and then.

The pilot announced that we were starting our descent and hoped that we had enjoyed the free onboard WiFi.  I had no idea such a thing was available until then and so messaged home to say I was nearly there and was annoyed that I had missed free connectivity!  As the engines throttled back and the nose of the plane dipped, like a white light shining out of a crack in a door, you could see Vegas off in the distance as if someone had ripped a hole in a black out curtain.  I tried to make out any recognisable sights but couldn’t. It wasn’t until the plane taxied to our gate and the plane turned around did I realise that the runway feels as if it is pretty much ON the strip.  I could make out everything and the excitement began to grow, all be it curtailed by the creeping tiredness that was catching up with me.

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C had organised a driver to pick us up and we met him in the baggage collection zone which, weirdly in my view, was open to public access after customs.  Seemed very risky and, if I ever have a downturn in fortunes, I will go back to Vegas to become a baggage thief I think.  Our driver, Lionel, was a six foot ten square of a man with the happiest smile I had ever seen.  We had a quick chat as we walked to the car and each stride of his was like two of mine so I was running to keep up with him.  He asked us what we were doing in Vegas and my friend told him that we were there for the half marathon and 10k races.  He took one look at J and said ’Shit, you ain’t in shape for that’.  I couldn’t stop laughing at his honesty!  He dropped us at the hotel and warned us that we were at the very edge of downtown Las Vegas and so warned us to watch ourselves if we went outside the hotel after dark.

With that warning rising in my ears and tiredness muting my senses, I made my way to check in, my room and then bed.  I had no idea what time it was or what time it was meant to be, but it was time to catch up with some rest after 24 hours door to door with maybe two half hour snoozes.  A sleep that was made tougher by the sudden realisation that, once I had unpacked, I had no way of charging any of my electrical appliances…..to be continued!

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