People fly for many reasons. Some fly for work, some because they seek adventure. Others fly just for the joy of being in the air. And some fly because they have no choice. That's me right now.
It's been a long time since I last visited my family in Central Queensland, six and a half years in fact. Even longer since my last stay in Gladstone. I would still have been of primary school age then.
We had no intention of visiting Gladstone, but Cyclone Debbie filled the catchments and the Fitzroy rose, flooding the airport. So I contacted Qantas via their web chat and rebooked our flights to Gladstone. Then I booked us a night and changed the car hire.
I was tempted just to cancel the whole thing, but familial duty stopped me.
In the weeks leading up to this trip I have actually been quite excited about the prospect of flying. But with a few days to go my subconscious interfered again
. It is incredible how visceral reaction it is. I actually felt really bad. The stress hormones act on my guts, my sleep. I feel ill, but I know that it is me and I know that I am wrong. There isn't anything to fear but I can't seem to stop it.
I didn't want to write another post about my fear of turbulence, but I would be mischaracterising my experience if I painted a simple happy picture.
This morning I feel physically ill, to the point of dry retching. Food tastes bad, I just want to curl up in bed. The wind is gusting and dark grey clouds skid across the sky. Will I have to fly through them? I don't want to fly through them. Bring back the clear blue skies!
At each point of the day if I could pull out I would. But I can't. And I know that it won't be anywhere near as bad as my subconscious makes out. I will be able to cope. My subconscious doesn't believe me.
It's B and Alex that stop me from quitting. I can't stop because of them. We catch the bus to the station, the train to Domestic, walk to Terminal 3. I have already checked in using the Qantas App, changed our seats to over the wing. I put our one checked bag in under my name, now if I quit the others can't fly without my bag being unloaded.
Through security, my bag of electronics is pulled aside as usual. Walk up to the Qantas Club, Alex insists.
The others eat a late lunch. I just sip drinks. Maybe it would be easier if I drank alcohol. I don't. I'm not going down that path.
Time to go down to the gate. I want nothing more than to quit as I watch aircraft landing from the north in front of the bitter grey rain clouds. But there are patches of blue the other side. I try to hope.
Our aircraft is a Qantas Boeing 737-800, the workhorse of the fleet. The 737 recently celebrated its fiftieth birthday, a remarkable achievement. New models are still under construction.
Our aircraft has a refurbished interior. Gone are the faded grey and yellow hexagon fabrics, now charcoal and deep reds. The majority of 737s, including this one, are without any inflight entertainment apart from small fold down ceiling screens and seat sound. However, earlier in the week Qantas unveiled its first 737-800 with fast WiFi Internet onboard. It's a pity it isn't this one, though they hope to roll it out to the entire fleet by the end of next year.
The gate agent asks Alex his age and as we board we are handed a small activities pack by the flight attendant. A luggage tag, pencils and a puzzle book.
Our seats are just ahead of the overwing exits. There's no recline, but we don't use that anyway. On the plus side we get two windows to our row.
Breathe deeply. Now it is time to relax.
The aircraft fills quickly, every seat taken, and it is time to push back. The screens fold down from the ceiling and support the flight attendants in their safety demonstration as we taxi out towards the third runway.
Alex is already falling asleep.
We thunder down the runway, heading south into the blustery winds of the huge low that is right now threatening New Zealand, towards those deep dark clouds. Quickly we make a left hand turn, but we cannot escape.
White envelopes us and the winds shake us. Of course it is not as terrible as I feared, but I can still feel it. I can feel the aircraft turning through the clouds. They thin, they thicken, they thin again and finally we are through.
I have survived. Of course I have. Now there is blue sky and the puffy threats are all below. Now I can admire their beauty, and I do. There is something magnificent about a cumulus, a cumulonimbus. They are made of nothing but tiny droplets of water, yet they contain such power.
Now I can relax. I take out my photo and listen to music. I start with "Adrift", the music that really relaxed me last trip, but I don't feel I need it. A random selection works better.
We are handed a box of snacks. Inside are rosemary crackers, a block of vintage cheddar cheese and a pack of salted caramel popcorn biscuits. I haven't had lunch and am actually hungry, so I eat mine. Quite nice, though my stomach is still a little uncertain about "savoury".
The clouds thin and I can see patches of coast. Long beaches and small towns.
I feel our descent before it is announced. Below us a Qantas jet takes off far below us from Coolangatta Airport. I recognise the shape of the landscape and the mouth of the Tweed River from our flights to Japan from there.
North Stradbroke Island appears, complete with a sand mine wound as we cross over Moreton Bay. Great sandbars sweep below us, while white horses dance across the blue-grey surface, replaced by the shimmer of the Sun as we turn to face the south on final descent.
The aircraft fights the crosswinds as we touch down in the golden light of the late day.
As we taxi I look across the airport and see more dark clouds. I hope they will not interrupt our next leg, especially as it will be on a turboprop.
I point out to Alex the Bombardier Q400s taxiing around us.
"Our next flight" I tell him.
Then we are out at Brisbane Airport. It feels like a long time since I've been here, yet it is all so familiar.