Over the Top
Heading over the top this afternoon—headwinds as high as 129mph. 500 miles from Detroit, heading north at 32,00 feet. With 6000 miles left on this leg of the flight, I am thinking about how unfamiliar things look already. Gone are cell phone service, text messaging, English as the primary language. At this altitude it is -46°F. The in-flight map shows that we will be skirting the edge of Hudson Bay before bending west, north of Alaska, then arcing down across Siberia to Korea. Unfortunately most of what I am looking at are clouds and a very big wing. From the look of the land below, this route leaves behind the signs of civilization that are apparent over the rest of North America.Eventually I will also be leaving behind quite a bit more. Credit cards and coffee, most of the diet I am used to. Driving to get where I want to go.
To get to this remote corner of Mongolia, it is taking a huge dose of technology, some of which is on display on the screen in the back of my fellow passenger's seat in our Boeing 777. I learn that we now have a headwind of 113mph. Now it is 98. Now it is -60°F outside. Now (3:40pm EDT) we are at 59° 6' 7" north. Make that 59° 11' 17". At 100° west, 60° (+ 12' 17") north the sun is getting low, even at 2pm Mountain time, even as we chase the sun toward the west—the geometry of the earth plays out under our ship. And now at 101° 51" 36" west, 60° 53' 30" north the blanket of clouds below begins to break up, revealing water in bright reflections everywhere. Lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, all highlighted from their dark surroundings.
At 106° 47' 17" west, 62° 52' 53" north we slipped back into low cloud cover. At 108° 28' 11" w, 63° 35'17" n our headwind is 23mph, the calmest since takeoff, as we slip out of the cloud cover. Haze now at 109° 36' 29" west. The woman in front of me stretches, touches my screen with her fingers, makes my flight data disappear. A few clicks and I have it back.
At 138° 11' 8" w we are heading due west at 71° north—crossing open water north of the Yukon before heading south again somewhere west and north of Alaska. Heading SW into Siberia the breaks in the clouds show snow on the ground, then more clouds. Finally, as we arc toward the south, the sun passes around the front of the plane, giving some relief from the blaze that has been following right beside my window, though it still catches the scratches on the plexiglass.
I ran into some heat with the flight attendants about my looking out the window. A quick look through the cabin showed dozens of screens and sleeping passengers, some of whom had complained about the light from my window. It seemed an unresolved conflict, but for me a serious one as we crossed terrain that I am not likely to see again. No problem as long as it was cloudy, but as pieces of snowy mountainous areas broke through the clouds and the weather cleared, I found myself at odds with the other passengers. It seemed a losing conflict, them with their electronic screens and naps, me crossing Siberia with my camera and a window seat.
A layover of a few hours in Seoul, then on to Ulaanbaatar.