You might say I’m not the luckiest person, when it comes to travel.
I’ve spent a lot of time on planes, trains and boats over the last three decades. I’m fortunate enough that my childhood is filled with memories of exciting adventures overseas, with family vacations in Scandinavia, Canada, North America, France and Scotland . I attended university in Sweden for a year, took a field trip to Kenya, and upon graduating, immediately got a job that required extensive UK and Europe-wide travel. A few short years later, disenchanted with the idea of “settling down” in Blighty at the age of 24, I strolled into STA and purchased a round-the-world ticket, with very little idea of exactly what my plans might be, other than escaping the mundane.
And now, 11 years later (4 of which were spent in Australia, in another job that involved flying all over Oz, New Zealand and South East Asia), here I find myself in Seattle, of all places.
Maybe I should have just bought myself some Athlete’s Foot cream, to cure these itchy feet!?
In all those years, with all those boarding cards under my belt, I was upgraded once. Once. I’m sure I’ve lost over an inch in height from all those miles cramped up in a cattle class window seat.
On the other hand, I’ve actually lost count of the number of times my luggage has gone missing, I’ve been “randomly” drugs / explosives tested, or I’ve arrived in a city at a time of unrest / celebration / strikes, and been unable to get out of the airport. Let’s not even get started on all those taxis that crashed, broke down or simply got completely and utterly lost between the airport and my destination.
Then, of course, there was the time we journeyed to Montreal, for a friend’s wedding. I was lucky enough to have a great friend who worked as cabin crew on a budget airline, and was able to get us “mates rates” tickets to Canada….and unlucky enough to have that same airline go bankrupt while we there, leaving us stranded in Quebec, with no travel insurance. D’oh!
Most recently, we all had to fly out to Delaware for a family wedding. Admittedly, the flight out to Philadelphia was fairly uneventful. After nine days of sweating through an East Coast heatwave, we were looking forward to an afternoon in the Airport Hotel swimming pool on our last day. Having checked in, quickly changed into our swimmers, and headed outside, the kids were having a blast in the cool water. Evie quickly made friends with a little boy in the shallow end, while I bounced Henry up and down, up and down, up and….oh holy crap, I’m suddenly surrounded by floating baby excrement. So. Much. Shit!
We’d been at the hotel for less than half an hour, and already we’d managed to close the pool. Way to go, Peppers. And goddamn you, Huggies “Little Swimmers” – I want my money back!!!!
Things would only get better. Upon arrival at our gate, the next day, we soon learned that all 4 toilets on our plane had broken. Some time passed, before the engineers admitted defeat, and the hunt for a new plane began. Having walked to the other side of the airport, boarded said plane, stowed our hand luggage and made ourselves as comfortable as you can be with two toddlers in a confined, overheated space, you can imagine our delight over the latest development. The plane next to ours had somehow dropped its fuel all over the tarmac, and we had to wait for the fire brigade to come and safely clean up the spill.
Needless to say, the rest of our journey was a whole catalogue of errors. We finally backed away from the gate, just as a plane directly behind us “broke”. Yet another delay while that one was repaired…and by the time we made it anywhere near the runway, there was a queue of 18 aircraft in front of us.
Our 6 hour flight just became 9. We could have flown back to the UK in less time!
Because of the sudden plane switch, the catering company hadn’t managed to catch up, so there was only enough food on the plane for 22 passengers. On a 747. A couple of broken conveyor belts in Seattle meant that three incoming flights were all unloading their luggage onto a single carousel, (not disorganised and chaotic at ALL, then), our long-term parking shuttle bus took forty minutes to come and pick us up, and by the time they finally found our car keys, after a few “Erm, no, these aren’t mine either” mindless shrugs, we found that the batteries were dead and we couldn’t even unlock the bloody thing.
A few choice words might have been spoken, at this point.
Deep. Breaths. Count to ten.
After all of this, plus more than a few pretty crappy months of X-Box enforced single parenthood, a couple of good friends took pity on me, and invited me and the Pepperlings out to their cabin for a weekend.
I can’t tell you how happy I was to get that text message. The timing wasn’t perfect – there were plenty of things that would have to be rescheduled / cancelled before we could go – but ohmygod, I needed this break. We would make this happen, godammit.
Friday morning came around, and off we set. Damyan, of course, had to stay behind and work, so the kids and I set off nice and early, so we could take our time and allow for plenty of stops along the way. Winthrop, our destination, is about a 4 hour drive from home. I figured we’d allow 6, including a lunch break, and a few scenic leg-stretching / diaper changing / meltdown averting stops along the way. And so it was, that 5 hours and 45 minutes later, we pulled up in front of a little slice of heaven.
And…….relax. Nothing but the sound of buzzing yellow-jackets and the wind in the trees. No TV, no mobile phone signal, no schedule. A perfectly beautiful retreat from reality.
Oh, but hang on….oh yes, this is me we’re talking about. So…bring on the raging 2-hour long thunderstorms overnight, then let’s have Henry roll over Scout at 3am, so she would start singing “If you’re happy and you know it” far too enthusiastically for such an ungodly hour. And, hell, why not chuck in a 3 year old falling out of bed shortly after, banging her head on the bedside table on her way down. Given that it was pitch dark, and I desperately didn’t want to wake up the whole household, I hushed her, cuddled her, and stroked her hair in the place I thought she’d banged her noggin until she fell back to sleep.
Hmm.. There is something quite horrifying about eventually waking up in a blood-stained bed, then glancing over at your daughter…only to be met with the face of The Joker, dried blood caked all around her mouth, and no idea where it’s all coming from.
Having ascertained that we probably didn’t need to “rush” back to Seattle Children’s Hospital for a stitch-up job (phew!), we washed all the (new) bedding and set about properly relaxing into the weekend. And relaxing it was – the beauty of the North Cascades Highway, Winthrop and beyond warrants a post / brag photo fest all of its own (coming soon), but a weekend of exploring, swimming, dog-walking and just chilling out in the 97 degree heat were just what the doctor ordered.
But then, all too soon, it was time to head home. Knowing we had a 4 hour drive ahead, I planned to leave at 3pm, so we’d be home just in time to get the kids into their PJs, give them some milk and send them to bed. This would also allow me a good couple of hours to unwind with a glass of red and a brand new episode of Breaking Bad. The perfect end to a perfect weekend!
SO pleased was I to find myself on the road at 3.01 pm exactly, with the GPS declaring an arrival time of 7.03, I didn’t bat an eyelid at the lack of traffic on the main road out of Winthrop. The long empty road ahead of me, with no other vehicles traveling in either direction didn’t ring any alarm bells. The first sign I had that all was not well was a good 15 miles and 25 minutes into my journey. It was a pretty glaring one, for a first hint:
No explanation. No mobile phone signal, no radio updates. And what’s all this talk of snowploughing? It’s JULY!
And also…… fuck! Nothing for it but to turn around, head back the way I’d come, and blindly follow the GPS’s directions home. Pretty dismaying, given that Henry was now 30 minutes into his nap. By the time we got back to square one, we’d be an hour into the only sleep he was likely to take for the entire journey. And still 220 miles to go. Super!
Though I didn’t know it at the time, it turns out that those thunderstorms were just as impressive as they’d sounded. After a long period of such hot, arid weather, a few unfortunate lightning strikes managed to set the hillside ablaze at several points along the North Cascades Highway. These fires burnt away all the vegetation that was holding together the rocks and shingle either side of the road….so the torrential downpours that followed the impressive storm washed all that unstable debris straight onto the main route linking Eastern Washington to Seattle, .
An unprecedented and completely unpredictable turn of events, that’s for sure.
Unfortunately, this now meant that not only did I have to take the more scenic route home, but so did every other man and his dog that had to head back to reality that Sunday evening.
We saw a lot of this.
And some more of this.
After more than 20 miles of never seeing the speedometer go above 7 mph, whilst my ETA ticked up from 7.08, to 8.30, to 9.59 and beyond, I can happily report that Evie is still unable to repeat the letter F.
Thank duck for that!
It’s hard not to start feeling like you might be cursed, in situations like this. Two small children in the car, a limited supply of snacks and water, and nothing but trees and brake lights ahead and behind you. No gas stations, no 7-11s or Maccy-Ds, and no option but to just sit it out. For SEVEN godforsaken hours.
On the plus side – because you’ve got to find one in there somewhere, right? – we did get to drive through the quite spectacular town that is Leavenworth, Washington’s fabulously over-the-top, kitsch version of Bavaria:
Next time, we’re bloody well stopping right there.
Assuming I ever dare set foot outside my house again, of course. Can someone please send Saint Christopher my way? I reckon he owes me one….