Out of control.
On June 4th, 2018 I departed for South Africa to participate in the Ultimate Human Race, the Comrades Marathon. The day started with the scheduled car service not showing up at 8am as planned. After a phone call to the owner of the car service company and minutes ticking away, I made the decision to drive the one and a half hours to Denver International Airport.
Yes, I was frustrated with the screwup and my mind kept going to all the stories of "how could," "he should have," "I can't believe..." All that chatter does me no good when it comes to catching a flight in 3 hours, an hour and a half drive, parking, shuttle service, and passing through security.
So where does my focus go in a situation like this? It still goes to blame, the victim, and all that trash. So, I choose to focus all my energy on the details of making this flight. I drive on.
When I travel, I always put myself in the mindset of adventure. I never know what surprises will pop up and how far off the plan I will be taken. You see, when traveling by way of an airplane, I am completely out of control. Being inside that cabin always puts me at ease. I know, this might sound crazy to some, but I have made a choice to be on that plane, and now I surrender to faith, and other people who are managing all that comes along with the travel experience.
Once I'm up in the clouds, as much as I may want to convince myself that I'm in control, it's just mind torture - it's the ultimate surrender experiment. At that moment, I'm not flying the plane, I'm not the weather, I'm not the maintenance crew that did the safety check, I'm not the air traffic controller managing the flight patterns, in other words, this whole thing is more significant than me. So, as I arrive at the gate in time for boarding, I'm surprised by the availability of an exit row seat, Yesssssss. It's the long legs ya know.
After one pleasant surprise, I'm greeted by another surprised not so desired. As we prepare for taking off, the captain informs us that we'll have to return to the gate because of a reason that I understood as a safety check after his long-winded explanation. Then the mind starts up again with its chatter.
You see, the scheduled arrival time to New York for my connecting flight to Amsterdam is only one hour before take off. The captain assures us that the delay will be brief. However, the mind still goes through the worst case scenarios. Then I remind myself just how out of control I am. I sit back, relax, and enjoy the slow breaths easing me into closing my eyes. As we go through a quick safety check explained by the captain, we are back on the runway waiting for taking off.
And we're off.
A few minutes into the flight and the woman next to me grabs hold of my arm as we encounter some turbulence. She says "I'm sorry." I respond with a "No problem." At that moment I'm reminded of our human connection. That woman could have grabbed the armrest, but instead, her instinct was to grab hold of another human. She went on to say, "It makes me feel better." It made me think of our human desire to feel we aren't alone. Instead, the act of holding on to the arm of another human gives us the experience of feeling we're together on this out of our control adventure called flying on an airplane.
Just then, I looked across the cabin at the human heads peeping above the headrests and realized we have all surrendered at the mercy of this flight whether we know it or not. The time is now ticking, and it's getting closer and closer to the departure of my connecting flight to Europe, eventually taking me to South Africa. I start to estimate the arrival time, arrival gate information, distance to the departure gate, and what my friend is thinking as she waits for me at the departure gate. I do all this as I stay present with the fact that so many factors are out of my control. All I know I can control is my actions once that airplane door opens.
I ask the flight attendant for the departure gate directions, and she provides me the instructions on how to get to gate B28. The instructions didn't sound as if the departure gate was too far away and after the captain makes his final announcement, I estimate I will have approximately 15 minutes to get to the gate. In the midst of all the anticipation, I'm texting my friend as much information as I know about our status on that plane, and she is talking to the crew at the departure gate informing them of my minute by minute status.
We wait for the airplane door to open. Thankfully I'm seated toward the front of the plane, and the crew has asked the passengers without a tight connection to stay seated to allow people like myself to get to our connecting flights. The doors open, and I'm sorting myself in between the slower moving passengers, out the plane door, zig-zagging in a tip-toe walk-run motion in between people as we exit through the gate tunnel. I reach the tunnel exit and spill out into the terminal open space. I'm free to run. I make a quick right with my roller bag behind me and get into a full out acceleration weaving between people. At this point it appears I'm going at snail pace and I'm scouting whatever open space I can find in the midst of the crowd.
I'm running on my toes now at a full sprint as if I'm at the Olympics running the 100-meter dash. Everything around me is a blur. I can't even make out distinct faces in the crowd, as I'm focused on what I can control - running as fast as I can without knocking any people over. I'm running, and I'm running. Then I approach an escalator, luckily without many people on it. I'm now skipping steps focused on reaching the top of the escalator and how much longer to the gate. I get to the top and see the straight shot down the corridor. I start counting down the gate numbers, B46, B44, B36...
In my full-out sprint, breathing in all the oxygen I can, I never even looked at the watch to see if I'll make it.
Gate B28... I made it as the last few passengers are boarding the plane and my friend waving her arms at me. I slow my pace as I hand my passport to the woman behind the counter and hug my friend. We are both laughing at the comedy of it all, and we walk over to the tunnel entrance to have our boarding passes scanned. We're on our way to Amsterdam.
As I sit in my seat, I reflect on the fact that no matter how many times I was faced with being out of control, it all works out. All we can do is sit back and enjoy the ride.
This is part 1 of a 3 part blog series featuring my experience of running the 2018 Comrades Marathon. Read the next part of the series here.
What do I do now?
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