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The Epic DK 200 Gravel Grinder

An alarm blares out of the darkness. After the third or fourth time I comprehend the noise and reach around for my phone which reads 4AM. The groggy mind reels with the instant realization, I am two hours away from premier gravel race Dirty Kanza 200.

Ok lets hit the pause button…

How did this roadie get dragged into this atrocious race? Back in January my brother convinced me how wild the race was being a two time finisher of Dirty Kanza himself. The fast sellout as well as highly sought after entries convinced me I could always sign up and sell the entry later easy peazy.  Juggling my road season as well as completing Dirty Kanza right before Tulsa Tough was something at the time I thought I would not be willing to compromise.

However a unfortunate crash early on in the season left me with cracked ribs causing any strenuous training to be put on the back burners. Suddenly I was signing up for training events and rides much similar to my brothers training strategy. While avoiding races that had been on my race schedule only months earlier.

The longer I held onto the entry the more attached I became to the idea of actually riding. There was now only one problem I currently did not actually own a gravel bike. The weeks trickled down and I found myself two weeks out. I needed a bike to make Dirty Kanza a reality. I briefly took a browse on EBAY and like a pure miracle one of the first bikes that popped up was the perfect size with the perfect buyout of $800 dollars.

Spoiler ALEART…

Yes, a bike of $800 dollars can get you across the 200 miles of gravel in a rock solid time of twelve hours and forty minutes..

 

UnPause….

Meanwhile back in Kansas I am grabbing all my gear then proceeding to jam food down. This girl loves food but the thought of another spoonful of granola with almond milk almost caused me to upchuck.

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We reach the start and briefly go over strategy for the three rest stops while I anxiously double check that I had everything needed. I head to the start line thirty minutes early and to my surprise the entire street was already packed.

Gotta give it to these gravel riders they’re a tenacious bunch all eager for the front spot with 200 miles to prove their worth. Least I was prepared for the criterium style start that would proceed for the next five miles. As we reached the gravel a stampede ensued. The air now ridden with dust made eye sight extremely difficult.

The pace twenty minutes in already feels like a typical Athens WBL ride sprint finish. I hear folks around me breathing like freight trains. Sure enough gaps begin to appear every few minutes as we wind our way into the Flint Hills.

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Mile 30

I find myself in between groups so I pause my tt sesh to wait for a larger group close behind. The group surprisingly contains Amanda Nauman, the reigning champion. Apparently, she had the unfortunate luck of a flat a few miles back. A victim like many that day among the cruel terrain of the Flint Hills. This group was the ticket.  I found myself clinging on for the next twenty miles pulling through sometimes but only momentary.

The first aid station at mile fifty found me frantically grabbing two water bottles and immediately departing fast but alone. One of many lonely stretches I find I would encounter that day.

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Emporia Gazette

Mile 58

I see a distant figure coming back toward me that looks somewhat familiar.  The shape morphs into my brother shouting, “I broke my wheel have to go back. Multiple flat tires are one thing but to tack on another sixteen miles would leave any hopes of him winning at the wayside. I sigh heavily continuing to smash the pedals with a even stronger vengeance than before.

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Another few miles go by and I look back again to see a somewhat larger group I had managed to leave behind in the feed zone rapidly gaining ground. This time headed by none other than Amanda Nauman. I stay on for a few miles but as we approach a hillier section I find the pace Nauman pushing too ferocious for me to hold anticipating the trek ahead.  The pace would eventually deal a blow causing me to be beyond recovery.  I forcefully make a conscience effort to let off the pedals as I begrudgingly settle into a tolerable pace.

Mile 60-100

I continually catch, drop, and recatch groups the next forty miles as I head into stop two.

The effects of the hard efforts and dust are now starting to affect me. As I whip into feed zone two I almost miss my support crew waving me down. I frantically drop my bike as I reach for some blueberries, pickle juice, dates, a blueberry smoothie, followed by more blueberries.

Less than five minutes later I depart the crowds distant roar drains away. Little did I know these fifty miles would be the longest, hottest, and most trying miles I would have to encounter that day.

Mile 100-160

This leg found me always being caught by people but never being able to hang.

Mile 115

The defeat really starts to set in more so by the empty roads ahead and behind. Multiple times I think I see people just ahead but never fully. Just wishful thinking. Now I wonder if I am hallucinating at this point. The only proof that i am indeed not imagining things are the freshly trodden path layered with wheel tracks.

Mile 120

The heat blares down with a intolerable ferocity. I finish off a second bottle of water now only the smallest one remains. Forty miles left. One water.  I am almost mentally defeated.

I regain a smidge of hope as I make out a figure in the distance. The figure slowly turns into a little girl holding up  a ice cold bottle of water. My savings grace; my little angel.  I now only wish i knew her so i could tell her how crucial she was that day. How much that simple bottle of water meant. It ignited my dim fire to a roaring blaze.

Now the shapes that had continued to elude me earlier in the day appear closer and closer as my pace quickens.  I began to climb a steep section of gravel and prepare for a right when I hear a familiar voice shout, “get on my wheel”. My brother had returned from his extra sixteen mile trek . I feel a surge of energy and gratitude as I jump onto a welcoming wheel.

Around five to ten miles from stop three I find I cannot hold onto his wheel any longer and we part ways. The extra effort required to hang on has left me completely destroyed. I take my last sip of water and begin my five mile crawl toward checkpoint three.

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I arrive at the checkpoint and let my bike be grabbed from me as I hobble toward the cooler. Hmm what I can shove down this time. Everything looks unappetizing even the iced chocolate coffee makes me want to hurl. I Swallow a few swigs of pickle juice followed by more coffee.

I want to cry my stomach screams with resounding NOOOOO at the thought of  stomaching any whole food.  My throat  becomes even more tight and constricted as the thoughts of my breakdown ring louder and louder. I slump onto the ground as I try to regain control mentally.  I finally pull myself together with supportive comments from my crew long enough for me to swing my leg over and slug my way out of station number three.

Mile 160-100

Again I am left alone as I struggle to keep the pedal strokes going strong.  Grabbing wheels for a few minutes here and there only to watch them escape up the road.

Mile 170

My stomach has halted its cease and desist long enough for me to start jamming gels down. A mere few miles later I feel myself kicking into overdrive. I slowly begin to reel riders in one by one.

The last five miles I finally catch onto a rider I had previous rode with fifty miles ago. He seems surprised and re energized. Momentarily distracted by thoughts of finishing  I forget to tell him to turn. Luckily I spot my Garmin frozen  and look behind to see the two racers behind turning. Enraged at the prospect of another added mile I scream, “we missed our turn” flip a hard u-turn and furiously engage in a full on tt assault. As we approach the guys ahead we had previously passed the railroad road tracks light up with signs of a approaching train.  I immediately jump up out of the saddle valiantly surge up and over the tracks. I then proceed to limply wag my elbow signaling my comrade to take over.  I was spent for the time being.Not long after we hit the pavement and proceed down the hill onto the finishing stretch.

A million thoughts were running through my head and if you asked me now what I remember….

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Linda Guerrette

I would tell you how the loud roar from the crowd brought chills.

The children outreached hands eagerly waiting for high fives lifted me up.

Welcoming faces of my family almost brought tears.  

The touch of the pavement on my back was as comfortable as the finest memory foam money could buy.

Yes, 200 miles of gravel makes you comfortable with being uncomfortable.

I suffered.

I survived.

I lived.

I am STRONGER.

Dirty Kanza number one in the books. Round number two anyone? The atmosphere, the people, the racers everything is contagious. I’ve never felt so truly supported and lifted up as I have in those moments of comradely with fellow competitors and supporters. #BucketList

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I Climbed a Mountain And Turned Around…Then the Landslide almost brought me down…

“I climbed a mountain then turned around… saw my reflection in the snow covered hills till the landslide brought me down”

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Life for me is like a mountain. I’m always climbing reaching for a life that means something. For now spending my time riding bikes while alternating between college every fall is the ultimate enjoyment. Sure, it’s tough. Rewards are far and few in-between but does that matter…

Riding bikes in the lovely winter out here in Georgia is the life. In these moments life seems easy everything is carefree…you simply ride. Riding is enough. My mind is to busy to calculate…pressing through the pain as as the group surges along. In these moments I’m to busy to acknowledge life outside of cycling despite the warnings whispers. I hear a lot of ‘there’s no money in cycling’ …

Finish your degree get a real job… thoughts like these add to the pile of woes pressing the carefree moments down…submerging me.

Instances like these cause me to dig deep to clutch the most important thoughts.

First of all I was never worried about money.  I have the rest of my life to spend in the office plugging away, calculating numbers,earning for the weekends.

Cycling goals may not be forever but for now I choose this life. These goals may change in a year or two but I’ll be dammed if I’ll let others opinions dictate my life.

I simply want to live life. Youth is not eternal I choose to spend mine wisely.

I love riding bikes and getting to meet beautiful people all at different points in life striving for their goals or dreams.

You never know maybe along the way I might just find my calling. Maybe it won’t be bikes. If that falls through you might just see me backpacking across Europe putting that Irish passport to use. 😉 But I’ll never know I guess I’ll just have to keep meandering along.

See you out there.

Scotland…barely in one piece

Somewhere on Lancaster Campus Located in the United Kingdom I found myself situated on a suitcase loaded full of bike gear waiting for my much-anticipated car ride to appear. I would be traveling with the University club for a weekend getaway to Scotland. A typical collegiate cycling trip in the United States was usually overrun by a horde of guys or in this case “boys” sorry Lancaster peeps if your reading this…if your 21 and under your classified as boys”.

My first mountain biking trip from the University to Scotland was nothing far from the usual. I see a car roll around the corner loaded to the brim with mountain bikes and camping gear.

Yes, that’s my ticket a typical collegiate getaway is never complete without a cozy fitting transportation. Despite the rearrangement of doing our best to play the shuffle game I found myself situated with a bag between my legs on the floor squished into the back along with two pleasant British mountain biking dudes. As usual with groups we were running late… according to the others we would soon make up the time with the current dude situated in the drivers seat.

I soon learned that to be more than true as we turned off the main free way heading into the hills we were hitting the straight always at nothing short of 90 mph in the pitch black on skinny European roads. If your in the US some of these roads could almost be considered one ways. Somehow despite the overloaded car we managed to make air on multiple occasions. And the corners were nothing short of criterium racing pro1/2 style.

I was clenching the corners of the car with a rather rigid grip as we zipped

…right

….left

…than right.

Every time we would hang a hard left I could most definitely feel the left tire undulating under the weight. I could only pray it wasn’t my time to leave this planet so soon…

And the long blonde haired pony tail guy named Hamish seemed to have a confidence of driving that was very comforting.

Almost three hours into the trip with only one to go and the shared cookies earlier had somehow managed to switch places with my dinner which should have been almost completely digested… Jeesh another typical day with a group of bike loving fools…all we know how to do is hammer hammer hammer…

At this point I couldn’t even bring myself to think about the cliffs situated on every other corner as we wound our way deeper and deeper into the thick of Scotland.

Yes we arrived alive! I plan to come back eventually…maybe not in the same car though  😉

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oooo yum
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Take a pic while i act cool
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another one
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another one
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Oooo me to
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Aww Sweet Beauty
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Out of shape mtb
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Get the landscape more so than me
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Tippy Top timer selfie
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Wooooods
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Regroup lets take ten minutes to decide where to next
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Alright im out of here
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Day 2
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Deep and Dark
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Mud trouble
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OOOOOOO
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Its kind of cold but that view…
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Just a pole
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Scotland Coffee on point
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Look at me i have a cool shirt
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Decor
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More decor
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Goodbye sweet Scotland

Adventures in Europe “Stressed Arrival”

Drifting off in between sleeplessness I could swear I’m on a flight to another country millions of miles away. Is that a dream…as a shaking begins to jostle me into a alert stage I hear the call for seat belts to be fastened and now I surely know it is real. I look across at my fellow passengers and see the brightly lit sunrise beginning to peak up over the city we shall shortly be landing in Manchester, United Kingdom.

 

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                                                                        Lancaster Campus

 

After a rather rough landing I find myself off the airplane walking toward a bus which would then shuttle us to the airport security check through. If your rather in doubt of where your headed be sure to follow the crowd which in most cases brings to the correct destination. As I round the corner I say goodbye to the line of American Passport holders with my Irish passport in hand…”suckers”, perks of being a Irish Citizen as well as American. Passing through the checkpoint I head to luggage claim where the shits about to get real.

 

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I see my luggage and my two bike bags, WOOOO my baby made it! I have now grabbed all bags off of the carousel and have proceeded to grab a trolley for my luggage, but to my dismay the trolley will not pull out…at this point I am severely yanking on the trolley when I look over and watch another person casually pull one out by inserting a pound. I have all my luggage surrounding me but no way to transport it across the station to the shuttle waiting to pick me up. Alright now I am thinking am I the only idiot that doesn’t think ahead…why didn’t I have cash. I spot a cash machine to the left that exchanges money. The machine is in line of site so if I leave my baggage I would still be able to keep a eye on it. I go over and insert card after card without success; now I am really bewildered. I had planned this tripped months ahead but failed to think over a simple scenario like this one. As I am inserting another card a nice person asks me if I needed one of these handing me a pound. Which at this moment seemed like a million dollars. I was ecstatic thanking the kind lady and proceeded to grab the trolley and collect the gaggle of bags.

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                                                                        Campus Map

 

Tip: Always pull out money when traveling abroad incase your card has problems (If your like me you will probably read tips like this but fail to implement said tip. Just know you are destined to learn lessons the hard way.

I began my struggle with finding the right direction after asking numerous people then I am on my trek across the skywalk with my trolley piled high. The bags are towering higher than my height of 5,6 and I am constantly craning my neck right then left then right…as I trek down the walk way.  I can only think that I have at least over 150 lbs situated on the trolley who’s wheels seem to be unfortunately wining from the weight. After asking yet another person I take yet another elevator to walk around the corner to see the most beautiful site welcome Lancaster shuttle.

Tip 2: If your university says you are only allowed two bags on the shuttle completely ignore these instructions if you’re a cyclist who loves to bike. If you’re a normal person with excessive baggage problems or a bag entirely devoted to shoes then by all means you should be governed by these limits.  I however only have two bags.

My two bike bags are not included in this count right? I swear I’m not one of those dramatic people I just really really love to bike madam.

The nice young lady retires her demand of only two bags and finally gives in after my persuasive rant. Either that or her volunteer leadership position as a abroad coordinator wasn’t enough for these types of problems; either way I found myself on the bus with plenty of room heading for my new home in a different country with no cash at my disposal, jetlagged, and entirely too tired to be dealing with any more problems in my current mind state. I should have been soundly asleep in my bed in the United States with a time read of 4:00 AM but instead I had jumped 6 hours ahead to 9.30 am completely ignoring any sleep regulation and my adrenaline of new…new…new was slowly starting to wear off leaving a completely disoriented, braindead 23 year old.

                                                 First week of pictures upon my arrival

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                                                                     1st dinner

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                                                                          First Meal

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Jubes
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1st long ride
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1st long ride
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Cars backwards
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1st long ride
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Bay area
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2nd Lune Group Ride
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Ride researching
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Lovely tree

Processed with Snapseed.                                                                       Feeling Social

 

 

I was almost completely incapacitated the entire ride to Lancaster past check in then into my room finally closing the door along with my eyes.

When I had reawakened the first thing that grips my mind of course is my unopened bike bag. Having fully regained my cognitive abilities I began the struggle of rebuilding my bike.

Everything seemed to be going well except for the fact that my stem cap and bolt that I am furiously trying to screw in continues to turn with the top cap. As usual I figure I messed up somewhere along the way. So of course I resort to google and find the first bike shop located a couple miles away. Google to the rescue what would we do without google.

The only bad thing about my bike was that it had no turning capabilities. The good thing is you can still ride it straight of course. There was no way I was planning to walk a perfect rollable bike. I tentatively started out at a few miles slowly winding the mph up while pedaling.  Lucky no incidents happened I just kept getting disorientating feeling to go to the right side of the road on every turn it was rather disturbing. The simplest thing as turning your head over your shoulder to look left and then realizing your are on the left side and looking over the right shoulder would be the appropriate course of action. After arriving safely and some discussion with the mechanic we came to the conclusion that the inflator piece had slipped down within the fork forcing us to turn the bike upside down and knock it out. Sorting this problem out and tightening the cap we run into rather stiff staring in the head tube from side to side. Apparently I had managed to put one of the bearings on upside down. Jeeez wonder how that happened…

 

After asking the nice gentleman a million or so questions I managed to get the lowdown on the group rides in the area while the bike problem was successfully solved. Thanking the gentleman as I was leaving I managed to get a “CHEERS” in response. Little did I know this puzzling response would  evolve into a habit of mine after much interaction with the lovely british people. The most annoying thing I learned people greet you with when they see you is “you alright”. No matter how many times people greet me with “you alright” it still implies to me that I am unwell or do not look as I normally look. Your implying to me that I do not look OK British people. Alight enough of my rant so I have made my way home and am settling in at Lancaster University. Prepare to look for another post about my first adventure mountain biking in Scotland. Which managed to replace various other places as my favorite place in the World. If I would to describe Scotland I would so with words like

Rad

Amaze Balls

Beautiful

Breathtaking

A home away from home

Lovely

Unique

Quirky

These words still can not do it justice. There are some places in the world that you simply feel you belong and will always call your name.

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Stressed Departure “Adventures in Europe”

I have been planning to take a trip to Europe ever since I can remember, and it finally become a reality this October 1st. This was the day my study abroad journey began. The days before the journey were smooth sailing as I packed everything I thought I would need. The most import piece of my luggage included my bike carefully taken apart and separated into a frame and wheel bag. Two days before my departure I had set aside a night to disassemble the bike. I am not bike smart by any means; I typically learn as I go. If you fall into this category reserve a night for disassembly. The Hen House bags I was using were special ordered from a bike company based out of Des Moines, called Ruster Sports. If you YouTube Bike disassemble Hen House bags, a lovely tutorial will come showing you step by step directions. If you your impatient like me you might take a look at everything required to be taken apart and dive right in….

WRONG…the steps are specifically set up in order for easy disassemble.

 

Always document even the small things

 

SOOOO upon hearing this I uttered every word in my vocabulary (in my head of course), then did the only reasonable thing and opened up my other suitcases which were under limit. I then began shifting weight between the bags. I made a calculated guess as to the approximate weight and dragged the bags back through for round number two. This time the bags were under the weight limit…WHEW, I thought I’m done.

 

 

Quite a few hours later I had successfully taken the bike apart shoving it carefully into the bike bag with numerous other amounts of shit. Fun tip…so you can shove whatever else needed into the bag; it actually has quite a bit of extra room. Just make sure its wrapped as the grease will surely stain. Also, keep running tabs on the weight of the bag if your over 60 lbs by a tiny bit you will be charged another huge chunk of $$$$ at least for international flights. If your a college student and a cyclist your most likely broke…

BUT WAIT….the lady went on to hassle me with questions of whether the bag contained a bike or musical instruments. I of course went on to explain to the lady that I had pieces of art work and other odds and ends in the bag. The lady gave me quite a stare before begrudgingly saying ok.

WAIT… your not done fellow bike enthusiast; you then have to drag the bags over to over-sized luggage for further interrogation. If you like quick changing flats like me your probably have air cartridges contained within the case. Just remember your only allowed two cartridges depending on which airline you fly with. A hard lesson I learned on the journey back to the States which I will eventually discuss.

Flying internationally with three checked bags the tally ended up being around $300 dollars. At this point I am wondering why I bought the $400 dollar Hen House bag if I was going to fly internationally rather than just shipping the bike in a bike box via Bike Flights which would have been around $250. Despite the hassle I do think the Hen House bag was worth it. If you were to go light and forgo the suitcase full of clothes and just take a carry on and one personal item the cost of flying internationally would only be $100 dollars. The first bag free and the second part of the bike bag costing you the extra $100 dollars. However this being the first time flying internationally I had failed to think through this scenario. A lesson I will learn on my return flight which will cost me another chunk of $$$$$$.

Right OK I have officially made it through luggage check and have almost made my way through the security checkpoint…Not before I was securely patted down by a somewhat unhappy security guard. Unless you are rather unlucky or happen to have a tiny screws in your wrist from a unfortunate snowboarding accident which sets off the scanner sometimes; you should be able to avoid this incident.

OOOK so I finally make it through and am seated within the waiting area. As my boarding time approaches I unfortunately hear my flight number come across the loudspeaker ‘ Flight blah blah blah will be delayed for maintenance reasons’ oh TERRIFFIC. Another two hours goes by then the boarding begins to take place. This is when you sigh with relief…WRONG. Once we are all securely fastened in the lovely flight attendant regrets to inform us that the flight will be canceled and we will be scheduled on another flight leaving  in a couple hours. My journey hasn’t even began and it appears to be riddled with problems.

Hours later I am again securely fastened ready for takeoff situated next to a lovely gentlemen from Scotland who offers me some hard alcohol which he claims tremendously helps with flight nausea. Had I not been severally nausea anticipating my flight connection which had been at 5 hours in New Jersey dwindle down to a mere 10 minutes; I might have taken him up on the offer. Upon conversating with the gentleman it appears that I have to make it from terminal A to terminal C all within 10 minutes…at this point I am EMOTIONALLY WRECKED.

If I miss this connection…

1

I will miss my flight to UK

2

Which causes me to miss my shuttle pick up from the airport to the university

3

Additionally causing further shit to be messed up

Add these problems onto a already stressful 23 year old and it makes for one stressed out girl. I give myself a small pep talk and as soon as I get the green light i am furiously running off the flight with my backpack and carry on in hand. You can imagine I looked quite funny…the back pack is jumping up and down on my back while the heavily stuffed suitcase is thudding into my shin causing my running stride to be quite fcked up. We have all seen these people running looking kind of foolish and laughed right…well until you have experienced it…its not as funny as you would imagine. Please resist the urge to laugh next time you see one of these unfortunate souls.

After numerous twists turns I arrive just as the shuttle bus is about to depart to terminal C. Whew momentarily I can relax. What seemed like hours later I arrive at terminal C to find out my flight gate is basically situated on the opposite end LOVELY. I continue the run looking a little less of a train wreck as the suitcase rolls behind. Right as the final boarding call rings out I come sweating in just in the nick of time. Now fellow travelers here is a crucial tidbit of information always carry deodorant in your carry on luggage in cases of rare occurrences like mine. Your fellow mates situated beside for you for 7 long hours might not appreciate your recent hard efforts.

Now I can finally relax I am flight bound for the Manchester, United Kingdom.

WRONG…Thoughts of whether or not my most prized possession made the flight continue to tease my mind for the entire 7 hour flight. Any shut eye that could possible come my way would most certainly evaded me…

TO BE CONTINUED…