It was only about 6 or 7 weeks before the filming that we actually booked our flights, thank goodness, because that gave me much less time to stress out about the whole thing. I went back and forth every other day between being so excited I could hardly function to being so petrified that I didn’t even know if I would go.
I didn’t tell anyone at the gym that I was going. I’m not really sure why, I think part of me was worried that people would be angry at me, upset that I hadn’t included the larger group that had talked about going together for so many years; but I think the real reason was that I was afraid to say it out loud because it meant that it was really happening. I know it seems so counter-intuitive and crazy, this was my dream, and here it was coming true before my eyes! But fear was running through me faster than I could control. I was exactly equal parts petrified and over the moon.
I finally broke the silence about three weeks before the trip to two friends while we were out doing a “paint and cocktails” event. I just blurted it out with no interlude or segue whatsoever. “I’m going to New Zealand for filming”. Thank goodness the girls were amazing and reassuring and so excited for me that I started to get more and more excited for myself. It was seeming more and more like this was really going to happen!
I posted that I was going on social media the week before I left asking if I could pick up Reebok clothing for anyone while I was there, and was rewarded with an absolute avalanche of texts, messages, calls, comments wishing me well, telling me how excited they were for me. At this point, I was excited for me too. In my mind there was only one barrier left between me and my dream: 13 hours of ocean.
As time has this funny way of doing, it kept chugging along one day after the other, and before I knew it, the moment was upon us. I was giving Matt a huge hug, not really sure if I would ever see him again, my dad was dropping us off at the airport and my mom was doing the same with him, and then it was just the two of us, our absolute MAMMOTH suitcases (mine was over 70 pounds – just like it was on our European honeymoon for 2.5 weeks…..oops….) and all the nerve we could muster. We were off to conquer the world!
My angel parents had taken pity on me and upgraded my seat to business class so that I could sit next to my mom the whole way there. Can I get a BOOYAH?! Lucky, lucky girl over here. Our first leg was Toronto to San Francisco, 6 hours. I spent an entire year flying back and forth between Toronto and Vancouver, so wasn’t overly stressed about the 6 hour flight. You know, more so than the usual terror anyways. I remember our flight attendant in Business Class like it was just yesterday. This tall, thin Asian lady named Tracey with a neat bun hairstyle and a great sense of humour. She learned my mom and my names right away and kept bringing us chocolate bars, chips, anything we even hinted that we may be interested in for the entire flight! There was one patch of turbulence that lasted about 20 minutes, and my nerves got a little frayed in that section. My mom got up to use the washroom just after the seatbelt sign turned off, and ran into Tracey in the galley of the plane, and Tracey told her that she had “spoken to the captain, and told him “NO MORE TURBULENCE” because she was going straight home when she got to San Francisco and didn’t have time to re-do her hair”. It got a smile out of both of us, and eased my mind that the rest of the flight would be smooth; which it was.
We landed in San Francisco and I got off the plane feeling like a hero. One leg down! I still couldn’t fathom on this earth how the next leg was going to happen, but we had a couple of hours to kill in the terminal and mull that conundrum over.
We were both exhausted, as by now it was after 1am our time (or 10pm San Francisco time). My mom fell asleep sitting up in the Business Class lounge while I nervously stuffed my face with bite-sized brownies and anything else I could get from the lounge buffet. I also had a nice, long text conversation with one of my instructor friends back home (who should not have been up at that hour!) which killed at least an hour for me. I had so many people sending me messages wishing me a wonderful trip, telling me that I was living their dream as well as my own, and it all meant so, so much to me. I knew that whatever happened on this next leg, that I had made the right decision. I was where I was supposed to be at this moment.
We made our way down to the gate like zombies for our scheduled boarding time. I had been pretty wired upstairs in the lounge, but by the time we got downstairs to the gate, I may as well have been an extra on the Walking Dead. I wasn’t even scared anymore; I just wanted to get on the plane so that I could close my eyes. It was a bit of a torturous wait at the gate, I guess it takes a while to load up a big beast of a plane like this for a 13 hour trek, but finally, FINALLY we were ready to board.
The greatest miracle of all was that our Business Class seats extended into fully flat-reclining sleeper seats (if I haven’t said it already – I am one lucky girl!!). We sat down and it was all I could do to keep my eyes open until takeoff so that I could put that seat down and get to sleep. There was a bit of an adrenaline pickup when we finally did take-off, enough for me to snap these pictures of the crazy flight path (something I’ve never seen before!!), and then I was back to zombie-land, put my seat all the way down and passed out for 6 hours cold. Unbelievable. Who is this girl sleeping for 6 hours on an airplane bound for Auckland, New Zealand?!
I woke up a little over halfway through the flight, had missed the dinner service completely, but didn’t care because we were over halfway there! We were so close I could taste it. There were some issues in the second half of our flight that really left a bad taste in my mouth. My mom’s seat beside mine stopped working properly when she woke up from her snooze (it wouldn’t raise or lower anymore, the mechanism froze completely and couldn’t be re-set in the air). The flight attendants were extremely rude to us and made it really, really difficult on us, when we had done absolutely nothing wrong (and on the contrary, had paid an arm and a leg for the seat). I was really disappointed with the airline (that would be United Airlines by the way – if you thought I was too classy to say the name of the airline, think again). Really poor customer service, and failed to deliver on their business class promise. I would not recommend flying United Airlines if you can at all help it. My mom actually ended up in tears on the airplane because she was treated so badly and embarrassed so much.
Once the calamity had died down, my mom and I switched off seats so that we could each get a little bit more shut-eye. I didn’t really sleep solidly for the rest of the flight, but that was fine with me, because with every minute, half hour, hour that ticked by, we were getting closer and closer and closer. I watched a couple of movies (13 Going on 30 and Miracles from Heaven) which killed a couple more hours, and did a lot of gazing out the window day-dreaming about our destination as well. By the time breakfast was being served, a new flight attendant crew was looking after us, and things were starting to look up a little bit. Plus, breakfast meant that we were so freaking close.
When we first saw land, my heart skipped a beat. New Zealand looked just like I always imagined it would. Green, rolling hills. Sheep. Yes, we saw sheep from the airplane. As we started our descent, my heart was absolutely racing. Was this real life? Had we actually made it all this way? Was the only barrier that stood between me and this dream about to be lifted from in front of me?
When the wheels of our plane touched down in Auckland, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I ended up laugh-gulping a bit. I can’t remember feeling such a sense of relief in my life. My mom was still a bit hot and bothered by the really poor customer service on the flight, and insisted that she wanted to speak to an agent on the ground, but we never did end up finding anyone to talk to us. We were also so exhausted that the sting of the poor treatment was starting to pale in comparison. We had to walk down stairs off of the airplane and then took a bus across the tarmac into the main terminal, which was partially under construction. We were unapologetic tourists, snapping photos at every possible opportunity.
I had been warned over and over again that New Zealand is a country that does NOT allow fresh fruit / vegetables to be brought into their country (something to do with controlling pests and viruses). A friend of mine was charged over $300 for forgetting about an apple in her bag! We waited in a pretty gigantic line-up to go through customs to enter the country, and then had to have our bags x-rayed before we were allowed to exit. The first and only time I’ve ever had to do that on entrance into a country! My mom got held up in the line-up because she told them that she had anxiety medication in her bag (for the flight – the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree), which they wanted to see and examine before they finally let her go. They had the most adorable German Shepherds wandering around the area I was waiting sniffing bags, not for drugs but for food! #NewZealandProblems
We finally got through those magical sliding doors, and out into the terminal, and got our first real glimpse of Auckland. I had been getting sweaty and sleepy waiting in the line-up inside, but once we got outside, I was bouncing around and ready to go. We got into a cab to take us to our hotel which was the Hilton down at Princess Wharf, about a 10 minute walk from Les Mills Auckland City. I was SO impatient in the cab; I remember feeling like an 8 year old squirming in my seat, so anxious to get into the city and especially to see the gym. It really seemed like forever, but FINALLY, FINALLY we were in the heart of the city, and the cab driver gestured to his left that the Les Mills gym was “down there”. I knew it was a long shot, but I looked hard….and there it was. I could just barely see it across a gigantic parking lot, tucked in behind some other buildings, but my first glimpse of Les Mills Auckland City was that moment, and it sent this electric rush through me. I was desperate to get there! It was only 8am Auckland time, so we had our entire day in front of us, and I wasn’t about to let a day go by without being in that studio!
We arrived at our hotel which was tucked away down a really cute wharf overlooking the harbour, paid the early check-in fee and we were up in our rooms in 10 minutes or less. The room was beautiful, with two single beds and a balcony that looked just like a cruise ship room overlooking the water. I wasn’t feeling great from all of the motion and the excitement, so we decided to take a quick nap before heading back out to the gym to sign up for our memberships and take a BodyAttack filming rehearsal class with the presenting team. Um, what?
I slept like the dead for about an hour, and then was back up and ready to go! My mom was a champ and gamely came right along with me. We agreed that we would just go and sign up for our memberships right now, check out the gym, maybe watch some of the SH’BAM rehearsal class, and then go get something to eat, and maybe some groceries before the BodyAttack filming rehearsal class.
I must have been half-running from our hotel to the gym. It was only about 2km away, but it seemed to take forever and ever to get there. It was a bit of a meandering path through the streets of Auckland, and one that took us up a SUPER steep hill (oh how many times would we climb that hill over the next 10 days), and just when I was starting to reach feverish pace and think we were never ever going to get there, we emerged on Victoria Street. I looked left first, nothing.
And then, I looked right.