December 7, 2014 – I spent most of this past week down in Oregon at a conference. It was a hellish week of travel, but it had its bright spots…like this….flying between Mount St Helens and Mount Hood on a tiny little Cessna.
It’s a common joke among our friends that we shouldn’t travel in the winter. More than one or two friends often ask if we are planning on traveling at Christmas and actually consider their own plans in relation.
It’s a joke, with a shred of truth.
We often end up in the middle of blizzards, stuck in airports during freak snowstorms, have been stranded somewhere because of roads storms that start with literally feet of snow and -30C temperatures followed immediately by above zero temperatures and rain, and then temperatures that go back down to below zero and leave the entire world (seemingly) covered in a sheet of ice making road travel impossible.
I went on a work trip this past week, to Pendleton, Oregon. There is a conference I try to attend int he first week of December every year, and it travels around…to small, out of the way places often.
I’m a moderately obsessively organized individual, but I do enough short trips that I’m comfortable tossing a few things into a bag a few hours before I leave and not worry about forgetting anything. So I was packing very late the night before and got down tot he last few things, travel documents.
Enhanced drivers licence? Check.
Nexus card? Check.
Passport? Check…..oh shit!!!
I’d mixed up my expiry date. My passport had expired! That meant no flight out of Vancouver in the morning.
I couldn’t believe that all those times I’d crossed the border this past summer, not once had any border guard said anything to me about my passport expiring. I know you don’t need it for the land crossing, but still!
So the next day I did go to the airport and speak with the airline and the Nexus office, and although the airline actually suggested that I try and feign ignorance if caught, I didn’t feel like losing my Nexus card on such a stupid infraction and chose to go ask at the Nexus office. He basically looked at me and said I was hooped.
So it was on the phone and see what I could book out of and back into Bellingham – a 7am flight. Poor Kirk, because this all meant he was now caught up int he mess as I needed a ride to and from Bellingham.
We were up at 3:30am to drive down and make my way to the conference, to which I arrived with an hour to spare rather than having an evening to spend over a beer with colleagues. The flight there was pretty; lots of fog and low clouds below, and I love the little planes for how low they fly over the mountains. We flew down and I could see Mount Baker in the distance, and the flight from Portland took us between Mount St. Helen’s and Mount Hood, just two of the beautiful volcanoes in our Pacific Northwest region.
The meeting was good, although I could have done without the horrible and pervasive smoke int he air at the casino-resort. I hate cigarette smoke, I can’t breathe when I am stuck in it. And I’m not a gambler, though I gave up my $20 in the slots…and came out ahead $60.
But as the time came closer to head home, a new travel obstacle reared its head. Freezing rain moved into the area.
One of my colleagues is a pilot and when he saw the forecast, he made a few comments about never flying (personally or on a commercial plane) when there was freezing rain in the forecast. On the final morning he got up and went to make a phone call, and never came back.
To get in/out of Pendleton one has three choices for airports. One can fly directly into Pendleton on a teensy little plane that seats up to nine passengers. Another is a long drive to Pasco/Tri Cities in Washington. And the third is an other long drive to Walla Walla, Washington. I had opted for the closest and therefore taken the smallest plane.
But that’s fine, I’ve flown on smaller planes than that, and I’m not a nervous flyer. Or at least I wasn’t until this trip.
When I’d flown in I’d made the mistake of looking forward through the windshield and seen that we were landing on a small strip covered in ice and snow. I thought that was interesting, and the skid down the runway had been somewhat exhilarating. But I almost didn’t get to fly out.
As I said, Pete never came back, and I found out later that it was because he’d decided to cancel his flight and caught a ride to Portland with others who were leaving early.
When I arrived at the Pendleton airport at 4pm, the kid (who looked to be 12) looked up at me, pulled his earbuds out, and asked if I was Paige (never a good sign) and then proceeded to tell me that he’d been unable to get ahold of me (the fact that I had a phone with me was irrelevant), that the plane hadn’t yet left Portland, and that I was going to miss my connection to Bellingham.
I ended up sitting outside, back on the phone with Alaska Airlines, trying to find a new flight the next day and desperately not wanting to return to the smoke pit of a casino/hotel I’d just left. The 12 year old came out a short time alter and said the plane was in the air and on its way, that it was unknown if it would get back out of Pendleton if it landed, and that I would still miss my connection, until I asked since when did it take four hours to get to Portland. He thought my flight was at 7:30pm when it was at 9:55pm.
The plane did arrive, and it was one of those lighting fast turnarounds where the three passengers were ushered to practically RUN onto the plane before it fired back up and headed down the ice rink of a runway.
That’s the first time I’ve been on a plane that was skidding and slipping and sliding about as it tried to take off.
I hope it’s the last time too!
That flight only had one more little incident.
I mentioned that I am not a nervous flyer. Even after all of that I was fine. Until the two “youths” in the cockpit decided to turn on the outside lights for a few moments and take a look around in the blackness. All I could see was snow and ice pellets and rain sheeting past the window and my blood ran cold. It wasn’t a relaxing flight.
But we made it to Portland…where I found Pete and he regaled me with stories of the dangers of flying in freezing rain and told a tale of a fellow he knew who had gone down between Campbell River and Comox – a ten minute flight – in freezing rain.
Pete’s flight went out to Vancouver on time…mine was delayed for mechanical problems. First 10 minutes, then 20 minutes, then an hour… I called Kirk and told him to turn around and go home. I didn’t know when the flight would go, but I wouldn’t be landing in Bellingham until well after midnight at this rate.
Then the board changed and suddenly we were loading and I had to call Kirk back again…”Sorry, can you turn around again and come now?”
In the end it was almost 2:00am before we finally got to bed.
I hate winter travel.
Next year the meeting is just south of Portland and, if I go, I’m driving!