At 5:30am our laptop’s “Banana Phone” alarm song went off for the last time. We each put on our one clean outfit (saved especially for the plane ride!) and packed our meager belongings into our new suitcases…rather, our two cardboard boxes. Here I am posing with our new luggage set. I suppose our belongings can’t technically be called meager; they are bigger than me!
We’d reserved a van to bring us to the airport in the morning and for the first time didn’t get ripped off on transportation in Istanbul. A porter with an extra large trolley cart met us at the curb and we decided to pay him to help us navigate the check in lines. He went over and above his duties and actually spent the entire time we waited in line maniacally smothering our boxes in multiple layers of tape. The check-in lady told us that our boxes were all under the weight limit, but we would have to pay a fee for our bicycles anyway. We were really annoyed (as usual) because people with super heavy golf clubs or scuba equipment are never charged a penalty fee, but after an unsuccessful try at telling her that bicycles were supposed to be free on international Turkish Airlines flights, we forked over the 80 Euros required.
The first plane flew from Istanbul to Chicago – 12 hours of flying fun. Normally I can sleep without a problem on airplanes, but maybe because this plane departed at 9:30am I was unable to sleep at all. Neither could Jamie. It wasn’t fun.
We arrived an hour late in Chicago and on top of that found out the panic inducing news that upon arrival in the USA all passengers had to collect their baggage, pass through customs, take a train to the domestic terminal, and then recheck everything back in! What a nightmare, especially given that we only had an hour and a half until our connecting plane left! We went into full panic mode and split up – Jamie waited for our regular sized boxes and I ran to the oversized luggage area to look for our bikes. We shouldn’t have worried about splitting up and running around to reclaim our boxes because they were the last things off of the plane. I did manage to have fun while waiting for the bicycles, though, because I was reveling in my ability to have a conversation in English with anyone!
We finally gathered everything and loaded it onto a trolley to go through US customs. On the plane we’d filled out a customs form which required us to list all the countries we’d visited since we’d left the US – in a tiny 2″ by 1″ box! We’d been to 17 countries and Jamie told me there was no way I was going to be able to fit everything in that tiny space. But I was up for the challenge! I got out my super fine tip pen and went to work. In the end I fit all 17 countries with room to spare. Super-tiny writing ability is one of my secret talents, and I am happy that I was able to put it to good use on the trip. We were a little nervous about getting through customs given how long we’d been out of the country plus the amazing amount of baggage we were traveling with, but it ended up being a breeze. We told them we’d been on a one year bicycle tour, they said “Welcome back to the USA!” and that was that.
Getting our boxes on the train between terminals was no fun, and neither was rechecking our luggage. We missed our connecting flight by quite a bit and I was starting to get really depressed about the thought of being stuck in Chicago for Thanksgiving. However, there was another flight two hours after ours that we were able to get on, and amazingly enough this later flight still left us enough time to catch our final connection to Wilmington. A Thanksgiving miracle!
We arrived in Wilmington around 11:30pm and our whole plane cheered as we touched down. My mom was there waiting for us, and snapped a homecoming picture of us in front of the American flag.
We waited around for an hour or so for our boxes, but three of the four never came. Instead there were about 15 unclaimed suitcases that had been mistakenly loaded onto our plane. Who knows where our stuff was! This was great timing for losing our baggage, though, because we were pretty much wearing everything we needed.
My brothers were waiting for us at home, and we all marveled at the fact that it’d already been a year! The next day we had a big Thanksgiving dinner with my mom, grandma and grandpa, aunt and uncle, and brothers. It was so much fun to see everyone. And fun to eat a meal that hadn’t been cooked in one pot! And to be able to use a fork, spoon, and knife!
Now that the holiday is over we are brushing up our resumes and looking around for our next jobs. Seattle is looking like the front runner, but we are still keeping our eyes out for interesting opportunities in other cities.
Finally, here are some things that feel really luxurious and strange to us, after a year on the road:
– Having a large, clean, well lit bathroom to yourself. Taking a hot shower with good smelling products. Drying off with a clean fluffy full sized towel. Doesn’t sound like much, but feels like pure heaven to us right now!
– Eating meals that consist of multiple dishes. A meat, a salad, fruit, and a grain dish. Using utensils other than a plastic spork.
– Looking out the window and noticing that it is cold, rainy, and windy…and not feeling a dread about having to ride in it.
– Getting hungry, opening up the refrigerator, and being astonished at having so many options to choose from.
– Walking through the parking lot of Target on Black Friday and marveling at the size and number of all the cars in the lot.
We’re collecting our thoughts for a final post with our impressions, advice, etc. Stay tuned.