In the morning I started on a new journey, it will be my third visit to the U.S.A and my second visit to Tennessee. This adventure will not be a continuous bike ride. I will be visiting Solo, to tour parts of Tennessee and look for the beautiful fall foliage.
Solo lives on an amazing ancestral farm near Nashville. Here I will have my base for the next three and a half weeks, and from here we will tour Tennessee together. Since I have visited him before, I know what to expect. And that includes the most comfortable bed, in his guest room, that I have ever slept in. Before I went to see him the first time, he had sent me photos of the farm making me feel welcome and “at home” at his place. This time, of course, it seems the same; so I will refer to his farm as “home” when we travel together this year. I have been counting days for a while, for this day to come. But now that I am back on the road I can only hope my three and a half weeks won’t pass too fast.
I am on my way toward Nashville, which I will reach by plane via Copenhagen and Toronto. I choose to fly via Toronto because of the bad experiences Solo had when he returned home in 2014 via Newark. I didn’t want to spend hours in customs only to miss my connecting flight. Flying via Canada seemed a good alternative to try. In a few hours, I will know more.
Everything worked out as smooth as I had been hoping. The pre-booked taxi arrived on time, and my journey started as I had planned. I was somewhat surprised to see the driver choose a different route than the one I knew; this made me wonder if he was about to take me to the wrong airport–there are three close to where I live. When I asked about it, he told me this route would be better, and I would arrive on time at the airport. It turned out he was right.
During today’s first, of two, security checks my camera was swap-tested for drugs. The extra precautions didn’t surprise me because it has happened at this airport several times in the past few months. Since everything so far has worked out, I now have some time left before boarding my first of three flights. Enough time to have a stroll through the airport and relax a little. It does not feel like I have been waiting for a long time when I finally board my first flight, which is taking me to Denmark.
In transit in Denmark
The ninety minutes of the first flight went by fast. I arrived on time in Copenhagen, where I now have two hours to make it to the departure gate for Toronto. Since I am leaving the Schengen Area on the way to Toronto, I have to go through a passport control, which takes less than five minutes. Wished some of the other airports that I have used in the past would learn from Copenhagen.
So I find myself with some time to spare at the boarding area for my flight to Toronto. One leg of the flight journey already behind, two more still ahead. I will arrive in Nashville this evening–Nashville time, in Europe it will be past midnight by then.
The time on the flight toward Toronto passes fast, even though I have to get through almost nine hours in flight and I cannot sleep. I dozed off a little at some point, but no more than an hour. Unfortunately, it is cloudy outside and even dark by the time we are flying over Greenland. I had hoped to see a little bit of it from the airplane window.
When I left Norway this morning, it had been cold outside. But now in this cabin, it almost seems to be freezing again, will it snow in here soon too? That is the only complaint I have about this flight, so I am fine anyway.
Upon arrival in Toronto, I am greeted by summer-like temperatures; it must be over 20˚C here. I am considering to change into summer clothes. But with the experience of the icy plane behind me…I rather don’t.
Some time before we land in Toronto one of the flight attendants gave me the form for U.S. customs because this check is done in Canada. It gives me some hope that the queues will be shorter than what Solo told me to expect if I had flown through Newark. It also means that my last flight from Toronto to Nashville will count as a domestic flight.
Toronto and the security adventure
My flight arrived on time, in Canada, where I now have 1.5 hours to make it to the departure of my connecting flight to Nashville. Little do I know what to expect, or if the time between flights will be long enough. I have prepared myself as good as possible. I watched the videos that describe how to get from the arrival gates of European flights–through U.S. customs–to the departure gates toward the U.S.A.
Since I have never been here before, I still cannot tell how far the distances will be or, worse, if there are long queues before customs.
If things aren’t as smooth as I am hoping for, things might go sour after all.
So after disembarking my flight in Canada, I am rushing on to find the US Connection area. I pick up the information from which gate my connecting flight will leave on the go. Staff from the airport is available in strategic places to offer directions. Arriving at the U.S. Connection Area an employee directs me to a hall with Terminal computers. At a free Terminal, I have to fill in half of the form again, that I already wrote in on paper. It seems paper is nothing worth these days, or at least not one single sheet of it. The machine takes my photo and fingerprints too, before giving me a receipt. Taking fingerprints takes a while because I am holding my travel documents in my hands. There is no place to put my papers on while I work the computer, but in the end, I get it done and receive my receipt. Yea, that photo of me on the receipt must be the worst ever taken of me, well it’s not going to hang as a wall decoration. But I wasn’t done yet. Of course not, that would have been far too easy. I have to go to the next machine and scan my boarding pass. This way I get into a waiting area–some people can skip it, I wished I was among them. Instead, I have to wait until my initials and flight to Nashville show up on a screen on the wall. And here I am waiting, and waiting some more. Time is already passing too fast. I am glad that the information screen shows my next flight as delayed. I hope this will provide me with enough buffer time to reach my flight…but I am still waiting. Will I miss my call if I go and use the restroom? Do I dare? After some more waiting, I have to make the run for the bathroom, hoping that I won’t miss my spot. Returning from the restroom my initials still don’t show up on the screen. Should I go and talk to somebody? It is getting tight now. If my flight had been on time, I would have to board it right now…good, it is not on time. Some more minutes pass by without my initials showing up. There is still the talk with the customs officer and the security check ahead.
Thirty minutes to boarding…now finally my initials show up on the screen. Now I have to go to another machine and scan my boarding pass yet another time.
In the meantime in Nashville, Solo has started waiting for me at the airport, wondering where I am.
After scanning that boarding pass, I am now on the way to the customs officer. The queue is non-existing when I arrive so that I can pass through to officer. He only collects my Terminal computer receipt and the paper-form and lets me move on, without questioning me. I wouldn’t wonder if he knew that I was on a tight schedule…
So I am off, toward the last security check. It turns out to be a reasonable fast and smooth procedure. Even though I still have to take off my shoes and get my laptop out of my carry-on bag. But still, now I am in a hurry to make it to my departure gate before they close it for boarding. Of course, MY gate is the farthest one away from where I am. It could not be the next gate, with a nice short walk. No, they had to send me once through the airport area, on a sightseeing tour.
Meanwhile, in Nashville, Solo enjoys some company and starts to wonder about my arrival.
Could someone please explain to me, why they had to have carpet in the departure area? I am trying to build up at least some speed while walking through here to get to my gate. But that carpet is slowing me down; my trolley won’t roll fast enough on it. Can I add a tiny, little, shortstop to buy some water now? Better not. I hope they will serve something to drink on the next flight, else well I am only a few hours from Nashville now. So no stopping, just getting on toward the departure gate…F80…F85…finally my gate F91! I made it with ten minutes until boarding! I need some rest…and I need to check my emails too.
Solo has written an email, asking where I am…I only send him a very brief response with the newest flight information. Long ago I learned that arrival screens are not always up to date. They will sometimes show your flight as being on time when you should arrive in ten minutes but aren’t even airborne yet. I do not want that experience for Solo.
On my way to Nashville
Now the airline is looking for someone who volunteers to fly first tomorrow. I am not volunteering for this one! Not only is Solo already waiting for me, but I don’t want to spend two days in transit. A total of nineteen hours in transit is enough. Now I just want to get there… Finally, boarding starts. So close to my destination now, so close.
Just before I can go onboard, a member of the airline staff tells me that my trolley won’t fit into the overhead locker. It needs to go into Sky-luggage, together with the remaining checked in luggage. Now I have to hurry to get my laptop and camera out of my trolley so I can get them with me into the cabin while the bag goes into Sky-luggage. Finally, I climb onboard and find my seat…can we leave for Nashville now? I am ready.
But no, now we have to wait some more minutes for a missing passenger…wasn’t the plane overbooked just some minutes ago? Minutes pass, but no passenger shows up. Now they have to take the luggage from this passenger out again before the door finally closes. Yea, we are leaving the gate behind us. No, wait, why did we stop already? We have only rolled back 20 meters. This is not Nashville. This is not even the U.S. boarder…a technical defect occurred, which needs to get fixed before we can leave…this might take some time.
Meanwhile, in Nashville, the screens show that my flight is delayed in flight. Solo now starts wondering what might have happened to me, did I take a swim in the Great Lakes? Am I still alive? Did my plane crash-land somewhere? Or maybe the flight was directed to Alaska instead?
After a few minutes, we are finally ready to leave Toronto. Airborne again. And yes, the flight attendant starts serving some drinks and something to nibble on. Does Canadian Coke have cornstarch in it? I don’t know, and right now I don’t care enough not to have one anyway. This time I can enjoy the view out of the window without clouds. When we start the descent into Nashville, I have a closer look. After all, I might be flying over Solo’s farm, or maybe I can recognize anything else from 2013?
Where is my bike?
Finally, an hour later than planned, I arrive in Nashville. Now I only have to get my Sky-luggage back, then make it to the arrivals area to pick up my checked-in bags and finally meet Solo. Just follow some signs…that should not be too hard. Well, it is not, until that one sign shows up, pointing into the Pub?! I am confused. Tennessee is supposed to be a dry state, yet to get my luggage I have to visit the Pub first??? The confusion resolves when I see that there is a path right behind the Pub. That is what the sign was pointing too; it only looked like it was directing me into the Pub. Just through those doors ahead, and there is…wait there is Solo, why is he here? I should pick up my luggage first and then meet Solo; I should not be able to meet up with him and then get my luggage? After a welcoming hug, Solo tells me things are a little different here, so we go together to pick up my luggage. In Europe that would not have been possible. After all, anybody could enter that area and grab some bags hoping to find some nice stuff inside to sell…
Once we enter the luggage hall, I can already see my bag from a distance, but I cannot spot my bike. Did it not make it all the way down here? We go and grab my bag right away and then Solo is off to find someone who can tell us where my bike might be.
Eventually, he returns with my bike. Now we can get going home; gosh I am looking forward to dinner and shower. It is only about an hour drive to his place now.
I am “home.” Tomorrow we will put my bike back together and make some adjustments to it. Then I should finally be able to shift without the chain coming off all the time. But for now: dinner time followed by some relaxation. And then I will fall into that bed that I have been looking forward to falling into for so long.