The adventure really doesnt end until you are at your doorstep. I thought for sure it would be a simple day and that I wouldnt have anything to write about. Ha! First of all, we loaded all our bikes and bags into a large truck. Then hopped into numerous vans and drove towards Beijing. Talk about a ton of traffic! It was insane. Backed up for miles. I guess thats what happens when you live in a city of 20 million people. For reference, NYC only has 8 million. Thats 2.5x bigger!
Once we arrived at the airport, the vans dropped us off at Terminal 3. Which is fine if you aren’t flying international. Before we realized this, however, the vans left and we had to sit and wait for our bags to arrive, discussing, in the meantime, what the next move would be. Taxis refused to take us to the right terminal. According to Olivia, we would have to bribe them because it was against the rules for them to pick us up in this area. Or something like that. Nix that idea because 100 yuan apparently wasn’t a big enough bribe. We finally decided on taking the airport bus. Now how do we get there….OLIVIA!!! I don’t know what we would have done without that girl. The truck with the bags finally arrives, we grab everything and follow Olivia.
The international terminal at the Beijing airport is enormous. Its unreal. I guess it had to support traffic from the Olympics but wow. I snapped a picture which doesn’t do it justice.
Bags. Bags. Bags. Count em up. 15 bags in all. Which ones are going where. Some fly back with myself, Brian, Tanner, and Blair to Charlotte; some with Thomas to Greenville, some with Oscar, Casey, and Ty to Atlanta. It takes almost an hour to get tickets, move bags through security, and argue with the airport staff over the price of bags. Using Olivia of course. And then its time to head through security towards our gate.
Olivia knows this is it. And so do we. You can see she is trying not to cry. Its an emotional moment. I think back to the first moment I talked to Olivia on the bus driving back from the Grand Opening Ceremonies. She was timid, her English was eh, and it was kind of awkward for her and for us; being thrown together by force. But now, she is one of us. She’s sweet, refuses to teach us swear words, always eats dessert before dinner, and means well. We’ve convinced her forks are better than chopsticks, that we don’t want people smoking near us before races, and taught her that driving actually has rules which need to be followed. We stop and inadvertently form a circle around her. In turn, we give her a hug and promise to write. When she gets to Thomas the tears start to flow. They had cultivated an endearing father-daughter relationship. Thomas had taken it upon himself to teach our ‘little red’ the truth about the West. She chokes out a few words and we turn away, not wanting to see Thomas’s own tears. I myself have a lump in my throat. We go separate ways; her back to University and us on to the next race. If you are reading this, I miss you Liv, hope school isn’t too hard.
We board a train that takes us close to our gate. No one talks. Finally, Brian suggests getting some food before the flight. Nothing like some Pizza Hut to cheer everyone up! After the meal, we browse through some shops. I buy some candy in celebration of the end of the season: peanut M&Ms. My favorite. I sit down at the gate and put on my compression socks. I don’t know why. Its not like I need to. It just feels right. We board the plane. See ya China.
I thought that my blog would be done boarding the plane to the US. But the adventure doesn’t stop until you are at your doorstep. 14 hours after getting on the plane, we land in Chicago. Everything is great until we make our way to US Customs. Every inch of the room is covered with rope sectioning off lines and every inch of the lines are full of people. The line stretches out of the room and down a hallway. Incredulous, we slowly walk past everyone in search of the end of this line. It drags on and on. Angry passengers, US citizens and visitors, are both openly voicing their opinions and customs officials are not shy in responding back. We all stare at each other. China’s clutches are not easily shrugged.
Finally, we make it to the customs official. I love it when they grab your passport, stamp it, and then look you in the eye as they hand it back and say, “Welcome Home son.” Didn’t happen this time. Guy was having a bad day or something.
Right after customs, Thomas left for his flight. So did the Atlanta crew. Joe had said goodbye in the Beijing airport. We were slowly leaving each other. Once we landed in Charlotte, Brian left and then Blair’s mom arrived to get him. I looked at Tanner and said, “Thats it, we’re the last two.”
My sister Loren showed up to take Tanner and I to my house. His flight to Utah wasn’t until later that week. On the way home there is a Steak N Shake and Tanner and I had talked about stopping there for about two weeks prior. I got out of the car and just stood there and breathed in deep. The air was so fresh it stung my nostrils. You could see the moon and stars. A small tree was nearby. I gave it a hug for Casey who had declared when he gets home he wants to go into the forest and hug a tree for 3 days.
Finally. I was H.O.M.E. and it was G.O.O.D.