December 23, 2008
The search for a way home.
Postless in Kelpville for a bit, but guilty with two explanations: right before I left for Chicago, the hard drive of my main business laptop up and died. Crash! Boom. Just like the percussion section of those wind bands I went to hear. And just like a lot of the louder pieces they played, I knew exactly when the final WHAM! was coming, so I had backed up virtually everything. Phew. I immediately ordered another laptop that awaited me and my patience upon my arrival home. Getting things back up and running was 93 percent amazingly simple, and 7 percent ridiculously frustrating, including the programs I use to upload, edit and post these blog pics. Thus, a delay.
Also trying my patience and adding to the kelp-fest delay was the 36-Hour Winter Solstice adventure that ensued as I attempted to make my way home from Chicago on Saturday, during one of the biggest blizzards the Northwest has seen. And now, you have too, courtesy of my camera.
I had arrived back at the Seattle airport in time to hop on the 3:30 puddle jumper to Friday Harbor from Boeing Field, a 15 minute shuttle van ride to the north. I’d heard that another big storm front was on its way, and as I got on the plane-ito, flakes already began to fall. I thought, wow, we threaded the needle on this baby, no problem, the storm won’t really kick in for another couple of hours.
This, as each flake stuck and magnetically attracted more such flakes.
Flakes like to stick together, methinks. (remember high school??).
So nine passengers, plus an adorable, non-flakey young pilot who barely looked as though he’d graduated high school, headed down the tarmac to get de-iced. The snow ramped up big time in a matter of minutes, as we sat there getting doused by a couple o’ mellow guyz who didn’t look as though they’d ever actually seen a de-icer before. Heck, that canister just looks like a rusty old oil drum anyway and… uh, where are ya supposed to shoot this thing??
As we were getting our gel-groove on, Baby Pilot was on the horn to the tower, which informed him that visibility had dipped beneath the window of opportunity for us to depart. Once we were done getting all gooed up, he turned to tell us the bad news. Within a matter of twelve minutes since we rolled onto the tarmac, all of Boeing Field had now been shut down. No flights whatsoever. Frankly, staring at the thickly-snow covered traction-less runway and the even thicker onslaught of flakes (high school level and above) pummeling down and mostly sideways from the windy sky, I felt not disappointment, but relief. Our little flying Beetle-mobile headed back to its cute parking spot in front of the terminal, and we all headed for Plan B.
Skating rink. I mean, tarmac.
To some of my fellow travelers, Plan B seemed to be “cram onto a shuttle or limo, drive a couple or five hours and try to catch the 8:25 ferry to Friday Harbor.” But as the nice folks at Kenmore Air drove us back to where we began at SeaTac, I saw nothing but deteriorating, bumper car-ready road conditions and realized that with the high winds forecast for the evening, it was entirely possible that the last sailing would be canceled anyway. I opted not to spend several white knuckle hours on the bobsled track known as the I-5 North in the nighttime blizzard, denied the pleasure of actually seeing my bus careen off the road. No, I want to know which culvert I’m ending up in, gosh dang it.
SeaTac was virtually shut down as well, and upon hearing that many of the airport hotels were already full, I called the Holiday Inn and was transferred to one of their lesser satellites four miles away. They had a room. Hooray. It was mine.
All I had to do was wait for the courtesy shuttle. And wait. And wait some more. And shiver. A lot. The waiting area is an outdoor concrete underpass, under which passed the coldest 20 degree temperatures I ever want to spend an unprotected 65 minutes in anytime soon again. Finally the van arrived, packed with other stranded denizen, and in my newly frozen Alexicle form my numb toes and I managed to find their way into a seat.
The normally short drive to the hotel took over an hour as the freeway was all but immobilized in the midst of the storm. Our driver was impressively unconcerned with the laws of physics. As he repeatedly fish-tailed the van each time he gunned the engine to split lanes and push ahead of other cars, and then slammed on the brakes at the last possible moment, I questioned whether I’d ever get the opportunity to find out if there was free wireless in the hotel.
The first room I was put in was large, with a dramatic top floor view of the icy havoc being wreaked outside as 40 MPH winds pushed the snowstorm laterally. For all this luxury, it lacked any hot water, which, given my immediate personal thawing needs, was less than ideal. After four calls to the front desk to get an engineer up to have a look-see, I finally asked them to put me in another room. No problem.
This time, I walked in to the same large room layout with an equally groovy view, only to be deafened by the sound of a semi-broken fan in the main heating unit. By this point I was so tired and cold and grateful to have any heat source at all, that the thought of playing Goldilocks, Diva of the Frozen Tundra and asking for yet a third room was unappealing. I brushed out my ice-crusted hair, and headed downstairs to the hotel restaurant, some generic sort of American “grille.” Apparently, placing an extra E on the end of anything adds a level of class that demands attention. But had it lacked an E or been reduced to mere numbers like a 7-11, it would still have made me smile. I had not eaten all day. I treated myself to a huge meal with two really good glasses of a Pinot Noir, and finished up with two, count ‘em, two desserts (I just couldn’t decide between the whiskey bread pudding and the chocolate decadence cake). I was finally defrosted and human again.
The next morning I headed out on the 10:00 hotel shuttle once again to SeaTac, in order to take the 11:30 shuttle to Boeing Field for the 12:30 flight to San Juan Island. I had heard another front was coming in, but supposedly not until much later in the day. At 11:15, as I sat in the glass-encased terminal underneath a magical, snowy winterland art installation that now mirrored the actual magical, snowy winterland outside, the weather shifted abruptly. Within minutes the sky was solid white and snowing hard again. It rapidly dawned on me that was no way the puddle jumper was going to be flying anytime soon.
Art mirrors life, vastly improved by pink lighting.
Not wanting to spend yet another night subjecting my body to two delicious desserts, I jumped up to find the bus that would drive the 90 miles north to Anacortes so that I could take a ferry home. No one was at the ticket counter. I looked outside just as they were loading the sole bus of the day that headed up the mainland. Fabulously lucky in my timing, I snagged a seat and enjoyed a daytime north-bound tour that, while icily treacherous, was stunningly beautiful as we passed miles and miles of thickly snow-laden woods. We only got stuck in the snow once.
One word: Brrrrrr.
Two thirds of the way up the long drive, I transfered to yet another bus that went from Burlington to Anacortes. I’d been on four buses so far this day, and it was only 2pm. Time was tight and the driver went as fast as he could to get the six or so of us to the boat in time. Thanking him profusely as we de-bused minutes before the sailing, I trudged as fast as I could through the thick snow with my roll-on, which was heavier than normal with all the materials I was bringing home from the conference. Did you know that a 22 inch roll-on makes an effective, but extremely inefficient snow plow? Well, now I do, too. Slow going, for sure.
No one was at the ticket booth in the ferry terminal. Unaware that there are automated machines (I usually drive on, not walk-and-roll on), I powered on to the long, uphill gangway that leads to the ferry. Finally reaching the edge of the boat, I was met by a kind man who stood at the entrance to what was to me by this point, floating Mecca. He reached for my non-existent ticket. Out of breath and red-faced from the cold, I gazed wide-eyed at him with, most likely, a notable amount of panic in my countenance as he declared that I’d had to go allllllll the way back down the ramp to the machine to purchase a ticket. Exhausted and crestfallen, I plaintively said that there was not enough time, and that the boat would leave before I could make it back.
I must have looked as though I was about to cry. I think I might indeed have been on the verge of tears at this point. I really needed to get home. I said something nice, pleadingly, and the man took my ten dollars even though he wasn’t supposed to, said that he would take care of buying the ticket with it, and allowed me to board. I was so grateful.
Snow on the isles.
Ice on the windows.
I had left Chicago at six in the morning the day before. Exactly 36 long, door-to-door hours later, I returned to my home sweet island home Sunday evening. It was nearly unrecognizable for the snow that buried it. Much more snowfall continued that night and I awoke the next day to over a foot of the fluffy stuff coating everything in sight. Glorious!
Normally we wouldn’t intentionally feed the deer (their skills at knocking over bird feeders not withstanding), but with this extreme snowfall and cold we sensed that unlike their Montana counterparts, they don’t forage well for plants under all this white coldness. So, the days have been spent stoking the wood stove and putting out a continuous flow of sunflower seeds, shredded carrots, apples and oats. At any given time there are two bucks and/or three does standing right on the deck, along with a family of four raccoons and a riot of about fifty birds. I think that they all may be as happy to be taken care of under these trying circumstances as I was to finally make it home.
Widescreen high definition TV for cats.
Never once in all those 36 hours, did it occur to me that I should live in a slightly more convenient spot on the globe. Never once. Ahhhhhh.
The island road home.
Have a seat!