The Pioneer Loop. Day 1: Take-off.

20 September 2018.

(Location: Heathrow-Salt Lake City)

That was a short night. The alarm going off at 6am felt like the middle of the night. It should have been the middle of the night on an hours basis, but sadly we had to get up and out. We noted in our way out that it looked like quite a nice hotel, had we been able to spend slightly more than 6 hours there.

We left shortly before 7am, dragged the cases back to the car, and were stunned by the very low level of the planes overhead. We were clearly near the end of the runway and the overnight transatlantic flights were landing one after the other.

We drove the 1.5 miles around the corner to the car park, which was directly behind where we started. After a bit of hunting we found a suitable space, parked and unloaded the cases. We had considered getting a taxi (I was almost excited at the prospect of getting my first “Uber”) so that we could arrive at the Virgin Wing, the dedicated upper class concierge service, however we decided just to get the shuttle bus instead. This decision was promptly rewarded by a bus arriving at the bus stop at exactly the same time we did. As a result we were soon at Terminal 3.

We checked our luggage in, went smoothly through the dedicated security channel and made our way to the lounge. Waiter service breakfast soon followed (plus I had probably the best blueberry muffin ever) and we relaxed for an hour before getting ready to board the plane.It wasn’t far to gate 24 and, with priority boarding, there was no queue at the gate. We were straight on to a waiting bus which took us out to the plane. We were somewhat surprised that it was not a skybridge, but a case of climbing the steps, but at least it wasn’t raining. On board, we didn’t exactly have far to go to reach rows 2 and 3 (we were sitting line astern so we both had window seats, although the window blind on my row had a mind of its own and kept coming half way down). After a welcome drink and a long wait for buses to bring other passengers, the doors were closed and we pushed back at 1015 BST. Peering around to see what other planes were taxiing I spotted a little old plane in the corner…

At 1045 (although the plane seemed to be in UTC time) we lined up on runway 27L. With 10 hours and 11 minutes, 5,000 miles to go, and the rain now falling to remind us what we were leaving behind, we commenced our departure. We were in cloud before we reached circuit height at around 800 feet, emerging from the lower layers at about 8,000 feet.

Now I have always commented on the food service on the Virgin flights. It turns out that Delta isn’t too shabby either. After drinks and (not for me) nuts, dinner started with large amounts of salad (tasty) and soup (which I didn’t try), followed for me by macaroni cheese, and ice cream with a choice of topping for afters with coffee. This I devoured whilst watching the Han Solo movie, followed by Paddington 2…this I treated as a bedtime story and reclined my seat towards the horizontal so I could stretch out. At the end of the movie I checked to see how far we had travelled. Only just encroaching on North America, still 5 hours to go.

I wondered whether to go to sleep but, despite the earlier food I was a bit peckish. And it was at this point, that I gathered that warm cookies were about to be brought round…definitely not sleeping yet then!

I did snooze after that, no deep sleep but restful, but eventually, with two hours to go, gave up and put ‘Back to the Future’ on. Needed something I already knew the ending of. Andrew got a good few hours of sleep and only two movies, so that was good.

A short while later the lights came on and breakfast/lunch was served (I’m not sure what meal I’m on now). Yes, I was hungry again and yes it was tasty again. This also meant I could open the window blind. To begin with there was just a field of cloud, but the forecast for Salt Lake was clear skies and sunshine and sure enough, as we got closer, the cloud started breaking up and fields, then desert, then mountains and lake came into view…exciting!

The approach into SLC was really quite spectacular with the mountains as a backdrop and, as usual, I could barely put down my phone between photos.

There were far fewer non-US citizens than Americans in the immigration queue, but unfortunately this didn’t help. There was a problem with the computer based ESTA system, so processing was extremely slow. Then, when they got it working, they did people with connections first. There were only four people left behind us when we were finally processed. Still, the luggage was all there and we made our way out and to the car rental desk…to find another long queue! The car rental person was friendly though and gave us a choice between a Nissan or a Chevy. We weren’t really familiar with either. I made Andrew choose and he picked the Nissan. It is the first time in years that we haven’t had the option of wandering up and down to look at them and pick one (actually…no, we got what we were given last year in Denver late at night when they upgraded us…), but I guess it is a smaller airport. It turned out to be huge. Again! Just like last year.

Despite all the queueing, we drove the 6 miles to the hotel without issue and were there about 4pm. They even had my name on a welcome board! The room is lovely, big and cool.

Room no 2. Holiday Inn Express, West Valley.

We showered (heaven after travelling) and then went to the nearby IHOP diner for tea. A detour to a 7-11 on the way back for beer and windscreen cleaning equipment (!) and we were back in our room relaxing by 7pm. Only 20 hours so far today but with last night being so short I don’t think we will be staying up very late.

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