May 25, 2009: The Ralstons Leave for the Congo

Today is the big day.  We have nothing planned for today except to see that the Ralston family, missionaries to the Republic of the Congo, get onto their flight at JFK in New York City and off on their big move to the jungles of central Africa.

Art and Danielle really did not sleep at all last night.  Dominica did pretty well but was up pretty early.  I actually got to sleep in quite late which was awesome.  I really needed my sleep.  Today is my only day actually off from work (my second since approximately New Year’s – including weekends) so getting some rest is critical.  So it was around ten thirty when I got up and then I showered and got ready so it was around eleven when I came down to see how everyone was doing.

We had a light lunch but pretty much there was nothing to do except for final preparations for the trip.

The Ralstons’ flight is at eight twenty tonight but the airlines, Royal Air Morac told them to be at the airport at 2:52 pm this afternoon so since we do not have a good idea of how long it will take to get to JFK from Peekskill we decided that we needed to leave by 1:00 just to be completely safe.  We can not take any unnecessary risks today.

Art, Danielle and Michael said their final goodbyes to Dominica and Liesl (who was asleep when they left) and it was 1:05 when the four of us pulled out of the driveway in Peekskill to head to New York City.

Our first stop was to get gas on Crompond on our way to the Taconic Parkway.  We had planned for this so it was not a surprise and did not impact our time table.

The trip was rather interesting since Michael and I were sitting up front in the only seats and Art and Danielle had to ride in the back of the Ford cargo van sitting on their duffle bags holding on to the front seats to keep from getting tossed all around.

The drive through Westchester County and down to the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge and over to Queens and then down to Brooklyn.  Nothing too dramatic happened on the drive.  Definitely not a drive that I would want to do very often and especially not in a cargo van.

We made really good time and arrived at the airport at roughly two thirty.  Very good time.  I dropped the Ralstons at Terminal 1 and drove off to make an attempt at finding a parking spot.  Finding parking turned into a thiry plus minute adventure.  Parking an over-sized cargo van in a very tight parking lot with hordes of crazy New Yorkers who can’t differentiate between Brooklyn and the third world is rather an adventure.

It was after three when I finally went running into the terminal to see if there was anything that needed to be done.  When I got in I found that the Ralstons were standing with all of their luggage.  It turned out that the ticket / luggage booth for Royal Air Moroc would not even open until four twenty – four hours before the flight was scheduled to leave.  That means that we arrived a long time before there was anything at all to do at the airport.

Art and I were pretty pleased, though, that we were there so early.  Standing around waiting is a pretty minor inconvenience compared to so many potentially disasterous things that could happen today.  There is just so much that could go wrong here that being very, very early is not a bad thing at all.

The good thing about being so early is that we were first in line to get the luggage checked when the booth finally did open.  It turned out that there was more luggage here than was allowed per passenger and the flight was completely full so there was no way to buy an extra seat or maneuver any luggage or anything like that.

It turns out that since we were first in line there was some flexibility and the nice lady working at the counter decided to just accept the two extra bags.  She sure did not have to do that and we were definitely considering panic luggage scenarios.  The Lord was definitely watching over us – having the airlines tell us to get there way too early and then having that be the reason that the luggage managed to go to the Congo!

It took rather a while to get all of that luggage checked and ready to go.  Only the two heaviest duffle bags ended up getting flagged as being over the weight limit which was very surprising as everything was over to some degree.  They must have been really over the weight limit.  In the end the luggage ended up being an additional $1,300 USD fee over what they had originally estimated.  It could have been far worse.

That was pretty much it.  Art and I moved all of the luggage over to the TSA luggage handling people and they took all eight hundred pounds of it from there.  We had a little bit of an adventure moving all of the luggage from the airline check in point to the TSA folks but that was pretty minor.  We were definitely covered in sweat by the time that we were done moving all of it.  That was exhausting.

After the luggage was all set it was time to say our goodbyes.  It is really difficult to really conceive of how long it could be before we will see them again.  If all goes really well in Impfondo then it could be as much as four years before they return.  Michael will be about to turn sixteen and Liesl will be in school!  Oreo is very unlikely to still be with us as he would be thirteen then – Oreo and Art will definitely miss each other.  There is only a moderate chance that we will still live in Peekskill.  Four years is a long time to be completely cut off from the outside world.  This is about as remote as it gets.

So at roughly four thirty Danielle tweeted her last, shut off her cell phone and handed it over to me – no service in Impfondo so the phone is staying in the US.  Then we all hugged and they headed off to the security gate where I could not follow.  In four hours they will be in the air and on their way to Casablanca in Morocco then, after a five hour layover, on their way to Brazzaville in the Republic of the Congo.

I hit the little cafe by the security gate and had a sandwich while I waited to make sure that they did not have a last minute panic and need something.  Once I was done eating I left the airport and picked up the van and drove, in rush hour traffic, back up to Peekskill.

The drive back to Peekskill was fine.  I got home and immediately Dominica packed up Oreo and Liesl and we ran out to Enterprise to drop off the van.  No reason to let that go any longer than necessary.  That was a quick trip out and back.

It was six thirty when we finally got back to the house.  Five and a half hours from door to door to get the Ralstons to the airport and they still have two more hours to go before they are even in the air!  (It would end up being almost exactly 36 hours from this point before they were finally done with their initial set of travels!!)

Katie, who arrived at the airport half an hour after we did, managed to get into the airport, get through security, board her plane, fly to Washington DC and tweet her arrival half an hour before I got home and two and a half hours before the Ralstons even took off!

I was pretty exhausted when I got back home.  We did some cleaning and mostly relaxed this evening.  I checked my email tonight and it appears that my new desktop, an HP dc5850, is due to arrive via UPS tomorrow afternoon.  How exciting.  So tomorrow I get to build by new Windows 7 machine and, hopefully, have a nice, fast, stable environment from which to work.

We got off to bed at a reasonable time tonight.  It is nice to have some time to relax but awfully sad that the Ralston family has now left us for a very long time.

Leave a comment