Great Ocean Road Road Trip Part I

Or, Strangers on Planes

When you fly to Australia, you have to make a stop half way. Our flight stopped in Dubai. It’s not a simple process of just getting on and off the same plane, even though that is what you do. Instead, you have to leave the plane, loop back through security, wind around through the whole airport, and return to the same gate and same plane. I did not know this and brought a nearly-full canteen of water with me off the plane. “Ahh security,” my eyes scanning the pictograph instructions. I chugged my bottle of water.

The flight is long and dehydrating though, so after I went through security, I filled up my stainless steel bottle half way again so I’d have something on the plane. You can imagine my surprise when at the gate, a guard instructed me to “drink it or throw it away.” Behold! A second security desk forbidding water before you enter the gate. So I drank another half litre of water.

Even though I peed twice at the gate before we boarded, I was nowhere near ready to sit in one seat for hours. One and a half litres of water was a lot of water. So as I nestled into window seat 84A for the 13 hour, second-leg of the flight to Australia, I was praying the seat next to me would be empty. I even dared to hope that I’d have the whole row, so I could come and go as I pleased. Boarding was nearly done; the flight was not full. I was smugly laying out all flight accessories in the empty seat next to me, when a coated figure slumped in the row’s aisle seat. He immediately closed his eyes.

“Oh God.” I’m going to have to wake him up every ten minute for the first hour of this flight. We hadn’t even begun to debark and I was already dying. I sighed. This was going to be a long flight.

By the time the “fasten seat belts” sign was finally off, there was no doubt I had to go to the bathroom. Mercifully, the seat gods had not put anybody in the middle of the row between us, but the aisle seat was occupied by the still-coated gentleman who was definitely asleep. I undid my seat belt and reached out tentatively, gently placing my hand of his elbow. No reply. I squeezed and nudged a bit. Keeping his chin tucked, his red-rimmed, blue eyes blinked open and looked up at me, a kind smile appearing.

Luke Barker has an asymmetrical hair cut and a lip ring, and he is wearing cool jeans. I’m fully suited up for the plane in a side braid, glasses, sweat pants and not a speck of make up. I’m not expecting that he’ll take any notice of me. We don’t talk much; he just mercifully let’s me out of our row and smiles at me with that little chin tuck when I return.

He must have let me out of our row half a dozen times on our trip. Each time with a look that made it feel like my constant requests were our little inside joke. After the sixth trip, as the flight was nearing to an end, we finally started talking. He was a 34 year old surfer and photographer, just back from a trip to Norway, returning to his home in Geelong. He was spiritual and open minded, creative, and thoughtful. We started talking about the universe and relationships, art, work, God. Whoa.

He asked about my plans while I was in town. I told him of the days in Melbourne and Sydney, and a hope that I could do some of the Great Ocean Road, though that wasn’t really a plan yet. I guess I would rent a car.

He was delighted. That was his part of Australia. He had a car and he would love to take me on a drive – if I wanted. Maybe Monday?

I was not totally convinced this was a good idea. Taking a train an hour out of town to get in a the car of a stranger you just met on the plane, to drive all over the southern bit of rural Australia. Alone… This is either the start of a romance novel or a horror film.

The instant connection we had forged on the plane, though… It was easy to put away my doubts. So we exchanged information and made a plan. “You don’t mind getting up early, right?” No, of course not – what’s 13 hour jet leg anyway?

Read on to Part II