Adam and Stephen, both of whom I met yesterday, were the only people I'd met so far from the Roller Coaster Club of Great Britain. However, it wasn't difficult to find the group in Gatwick; large groups of coaster enthusiasts stick out like a sore thumb, particularly in any airport in the early hours of the morning. The chairperson Andy Hine arrived moments after I did, and passed out information packets to everyone including the all-important flight coupons.
One thing I had not realised about the RCCGB was its organisation structure, which can be summarised by one sentence quoted from its literature; "The club is owned and operated by Andy Hine". Rather than being a committee run affair like the American Coaster Enthusiasts or the European Coaster Club, the RCCGB is very much a one man show. Running trips for a large group of people is a huge undertaking, and it was a real eye opener to discover that the vast majority of the work had been done by one man.
Flight BA2025 from London Gatwick to Houston departed on time, and though it actually arrived a few minutes early it was still my longest ever non stop flight, a full ten interminable hours. The crossing was reasonably pleasant otherwise, however. Three hours were killed by two of the in-flight movies, and a chunk of time was occupied by my book, but we were still several hours from our destination by the time I got bored with that. Sleeping was out of the question giving the time of day, although I did try.
I couldn't help but feel sorry for the other passengers on board. Having eighty or so coaster enthusiasts on one aircraft doesn't exactly make for a quite and relaxing atmosphere. Turbulence, when it occurred, was greeted by an abundance of cheering, resulting in more than a few odd looks from the general public. The plane was hit by a crosswind as the pilot attempted to land, resulting in a bounce a few feet back into the air before settling properly. The pilot came over the PA system and apologised to everyone on board except the coaster enthusiasts, who, he felt, had probably enjoyed that!
For the last few hours of the flight I had been eager to deplane so I could stretch my legs properly. As the doors were opened the reverse happened, with me wishing I could stay in the cool air conditioned plane to return to moderate temperatures in Europe. The heat was almost overpowering as we stepped between the aircraft and airbridge. We only experienced it for a second or two, but it was still an unpleasant taste of what was to come. Walking out the door of the airport felt like walking into a sauna, the principal difference being that there was no cold plunge pool nearby to escape into.
My room in the Fairfield Inn in Houston featured an extremely powerful air conditioning unit that the previous resident had left running at full power. The net result was I put my coat on again as I entered the room. One of the perpetual mysteries about America for me is the number of places that operate air conditioning at ridiculously low temperatures during the summer. I'm all for getting out of the heat, but not if doing so leads to hypothermia. After a brief peek at my e-mail, I joined the rest of the group in the outdoor swimming pool. It was far too crowded to swim properly, but even slow movement around the water was very refreshing.
Most of the group opted for the nearby Pizza Hut at dinner time, although this option was not open to me due to my incompatibility with cheese. Instead, myself and a few others chose Fu's Garden, a local Chinese restaurant. The food was, as in everywhere else in America, both plentiful and cheap. The quality was also fairly good, although I was so hungry at this stage in the day that I would have eaten anything.
It was nine in the evening by the time I made it back to my room, which accounting for the time difference means that I had been awake for almost twenty one hours. It did not take me very long to fall fast asleep.