The Longest Day Ever, and then some

As an experienced traveler, I have come to expect long travel days, mindless hours spent in airports, and unavoidable delays. But trying to get back home to Burlington, Vermont from Jackson Hole was one long misadventure. Here is what I experienced:

Saturday, August 27 

4:30 am Woke up to bring my brother to the Jackson Hole airport so he could fly to San Francisco for his next medical rotation

5:45 am Dropped the car off at my brother’s friend’s house and walked 15 minutes, with my luggage, to a gas station to meet the shuttle that would transfer me down to Salt Lake City, Utah for my flight. Due to Hurricane Irene, my original flight that stopped in JFK got cancelled, so now I would be flying out of SLC at 1:00 am. The next morning.

6:30 am We began our 5 hour drive down to Salt Lake City. I tried to stay away and watch the landscape as it passed by, but my eyes just wanted to stay closed so I gave up and listened to Adele with my head cushioned against the side window.

11:30 am We arrived at the Salt Lake City airport where I checked my bag and prepared myself for a 13 hour wait. I ended up catching a bus into the city where I found an outdoor mall (see last post) with Barnes and Noble and a Starbucks. I treated myself to a nice dinner at a sushi bar called the Happy Sumo. I had the vegetarian combo and some steamed vegetables. For those of you who don’t know me, I could eat (veggie) sushi every day and never get sick of it!

Sunday, August 28

12:55 am I headed back to the airport around 8 pm and spent the next few hours lying on the floor of the terminal with a coat sleeve over my eyes. At last it was time to board the plane to Atlanta and as soon as the plane took off, I took my contacts out, closed my eyes, and fell asleep

6:30 am I arrived in Atlanta, Georgia. I only had an hour layover, so I hurried to my next gate

7:25 am My plane departed Atlanta for Detroit

9:20 am I arrived in Detroit, Michigan. This is where it gets good. I get off the plane and look at the monitors to see what gate my flight to Burlington, Vermont will be. Instead of a gate number, it says cancelled. Great, I thought. So I went and stood in line with a number of other people trying to get places that Hurricane Irene ungraciously grazed. After 45 minutes of standing in line, the counter attendant informed me that the next flight available out of Detroit to Burlington would be Wednesday! No way, I thought, but what other options did I have? The woman in front of me mentioned that people were renting cars and driving to wherever they needed to go. A quick Google maps search told me that from Detroit to Burlington would be 13 hours driving time.

11:00ish am I made some phone calls to the car rental agencies and took the free shuttle to the Avis lot. I was prepared to jump in the car and drive the 600+ miles. I called my folks, though, and my dad convinced me to get a hotel for the night and see if I could stand by for a flight to Burlington the next morning. I gave in to reason and returned to the airport.

12:30 pm There was another flight to Burlington at 2:45, so I hung around to see if that one a) was actually going to happen and b) I could get a seat on it. An hour before it was scheduled to take off, just when I thought it might actually happen, they cancelled it. We were all directed, once again, to the customer service desk, where, once again, they informed us that we wouldn’t be able to get a flight to Burlington until Wednesday!

1:30 pm – 4:00 pm 
Not wanting to wait in Detroit for three days, I started asking around to see if anyone wanted to drive with me to Burlington. I recruited three other people. One was a woman (Charlene) who needed to be in Littleton, New Hampshire for a business meeting. Another was a woman (Natalie) from Montreal trying to get back east after a Usana conference in Salt Lake City. And the third was a soldier (James) trying to get back to school in Northfield, Vermont. All seemed like nice and reliable characters who just wanted to get to where they were going. We shook hands, stated our names, and exited the airport (after waiting almost 2 hours to receive our bags – mine never came). We also picked up a fifth person (Stephanie) who was stranded at the baggage claim and had no way to get home. While the other waited for their bags, Charlene and I went to the Avis car rental lot and picked up a shiny new Dodge Ram SUV. Charlene had her boss rent the car on her company’s account and paid for gas on the company’s card, so all we had to was chip in for insurance! It took an additional 45 minutes to fill out the paperwork and then when we were ready to leave, the car battery was dead. Another few minutes of scrambling and were fitted with a new car and on our way

4:30 pm A wrong turn sent us traveling north, but we quickly found our way again with Charlene’s Garmin GPS (supplemented with my iPhone). Since only Charlene and I could drive (only we had the insurance), I got to sit up front the whole way. We passed through Michigan and into Ohio. Then it was Pennsylvania and eventually New York. We stopped for food and gas several times, but pretty much we just kept trucking east.

8:30 pm & on Charlene and I took turns behind the wheel while the other tried to find updates on the storm and flooding conditions in Vermont. Everything that we found online and heard over the news told us it was bad. Really bad. Southern Vermont was getting evacuated and roads were closing left and right. Not what I want to hear after traveling since 4:30 the previous morning. We decided, though, that we would continue on as far as we could get and if we had to stop and get a hotel, we would. But not until we had to. I wanted to get home!

I think we were lucky. The only trouble we came across was somewhere near Albany, New York where we had to take a detour (thank God for the GPS!) and then on Route 22A in Vermont where we had to drive through a giant puddle. That was it. I think we skirted north and west enough to avoid any of the real flooding damage.

Monday, August 29

5:45 am We rolled into the Burlington airport, where we all agreed we would disband. I called my dad to come pick me up, Stephanie called her mom. Natalie waited at the airport for her brother to come in on his plane from Detroit (we were all slightly bitter towards him) and Charlene and James continued on for another 2 hours or so towards Montpelier and Littleton, New Hampshire.

All in all it was a good road trip. I met some interesting and very nice people and I got to see a part of the country that I’d never traveled through before. Would I do it again? Definitely not (unless I had to), but it wasn’t a horrible experience either. When I have long layovers or my travel plans become disrupted, I kind of get into this zone where time doesn’t matter anymore. Whatever happens will happen, and eventually, at some point, it will end and the next adventure will begin.