Sunday, 9 May 2010

Epic trek

I arrived in San Antonio, TX, late on Friday night after delays caused by mechanical problems with the Continental Airlines Boeing 767-400 (a fault with the hydraulics on the braking system - very important on landing!) causing us to miss our take off slot from London Heathrow and then a big detour due to the volcanic ash, which meant the flight took 11 hours instead of the usual 8.5 and fighting 100mph headwinds over Canada and the northern US didn't help. Because of this I was four hours late into Houston, and missed my connection to San Antonio.

The detour was interesting as it took us up the centre of the UK and over the coast of northern Scotland (there's still snow in the Highlands), past the Faeroe Islands and north to just over the Arctic Circle. I could see Iceland - the cause of all the ash trouble - to the south and pack ice and icebergs in the Denmark Strait, between Iceland and Greenland. Other jets were in the sky, including one on a parallel course a few miles from us, on our port side, it looked highly impressive speeding along at 500mph with the contrail streaming behind - I expect we looked just as impressive to them.

Excuse the poor quality of the photos, airliner windows are not made of optical quality glass! The crap on the windows is ice crystals; according to the flight path map data, it was -64 outside.

Pack ice in the Denmark Strait

We flew over Greenland, and from the plane there were fantastic views of the coast just north of Angmagssalik; it was clear, displaying incredibly beautiful Arctic scenery with mountains, snow, huge cliffs and, at the coast, icebergs and pack ice. It looked lovely but I would not want to live there, too cold and it doesn't get dark at all in summer although I would love to visit. 


Icebergs and pack ice on the Greenland coast


We left Greenland behind just south of Godthab (Nuuk) and flew down over Canada (which seemed to take forever), the Great Lakes and into the United States. Our route over the US took us over Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, the top left hand corner of Louisiana and into Texas before landing at George Bush Intercontinental in hot and humid Houston.
I'd missed my connection to San Antonio so, once I'd cleared US Immigration and Customs (the queueing took an hour, the actual process about three minutes) I had to go to Continental Airlines' check in desk, fully expecting to be told there were no more flights to San Antonio that evening and already forming my contingency plan (find a hotel and try to get Continental to pay for it! At least find a hotel) but, fortunately, that proved not to be the case. I got the last remaining seat on the last departure of the evening and made it to San Antonio just after 10 pm.

We're setting off for TSP tomorrow (Monday) and hoping the weather will be good. The forecast has already changed twice from good to bad to indifferent. Let's hope it changes back to good again. At the moment we're in for one totally clear night, four partially clear ones and a cloudy one with thunderstorms. I hope it improves! But, even if the weather's crap, it'll still be a fun event with great people and scenery. And it's a change of scene.

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