Saturday, February 25, 2006

Day 8 - The Line Of Woe!

Saturday - We awake early and get things packed. I toss out my bipod now monopod seeing that it did not grow new legs and shed a tear, good bye old friend, at least you get to stay in the islands. We have a 2:00 flight and were thinking we could catch the 10:00 ferry to St. Thomas.

This is the sad part - DJ and I each walk around the cottage and say good bye to paradise. I will honestly say that we both were teary eyed.

The drive to Cruz Bay is quite. We're early but that's not a bad thing. I pull up to the ferry and we unload the bags.

Penn's take Robin, no hassle, I pull in and a guy just takes the car. No questions asked, perhaps I should have asked if he works for Penns LOL.

Walking to the ferry to get a ticket we find out that the window ONLY opens 10 minutes before the ferry pulls out. I get tickets, which are $1 less going this way and a guy and we enter "The Line of Woe". (Tickets have gone up in price I hear).

At this point a guy with a cart comes up and asks where were going and we say Red Hook. He takes the bags, yells something incomprehensible to a worker mate and our bags leave us. Eagle eye DJ watch's those bags the entire way to the ferry saying she does not want to loose those bags.

We board the ferry and see all sorts of people we have met in the last week. The Italian couple from Trunk, the couple from Ram Head, a family that we flew down from Chicago with, another couple from Salt Pond.

Arriving at Red Hook the group of us wait for our bags to be unloaded and everything goes well, FOR US! The scary thing is that one bag is missing and they have an extra bag. All the ferry people can do is tell you go to Charlotte Amelia and get the correct bag. Obviously somebody in Charlotte Amelia is pretty disappointed and has to taxi out to Red Hook. What a freaking nightmare.

We're taxied to the Airport with a driver that is racing another and it's pretty funny. If you have ever seen the movie "Meet the Parents" with Robert De Nero and Ben Stiller racing from stop light to stop light, it was pretty much like that. A one block at a time speed race. HINT - take the ferry to Red Hook 5 hours before your plane leaves to avoid LONG lines.

At the airport DJ fills out a paper saying we have not purchased over $1500 in goodies so we can get into San Juan. We go through customs and the guy asks me where my final destination is and I blow it. Chicago, no Madison, no Chicago WELL, WHICH IS IT!! I ask define "final" and we're all good. I think DJ was flirting with him behind my back and he lets us go. We did hear a story of one woman that was "detained" for being stupid and complaining about WHY she had to do this.

I'm hungry so I get into the mile long line at the cafeteria and see that Starch is only $1.50. I've never had anything actually called starch but pass on it anyway.

An hour later we board The Line of Woe #2 on the tarmac and sucking in our last breath of St. John air we climb the stairs to the plane. Now the exciting part comes. We take off and are heading straight up when the bottom drops out beneath us, DJ's hand slams down on the hand rest on her left which is already taken by another woman. After the 1 second 100 foot dead drop like a stone excitement everybody lets out a good laugh and tension is relieved. I think there is a down draft from the mountains next to the runway and I would not be surprised if this is not unexpected. Just be prepared, if it happens, it's NOT a surprise.

United airlines has a really cool thing, you can listen to the air traffic controller and all the pilots in the vicinity. I LOVE this. In fact I listened to 5 straight hours of this banter on the way home.

Its only a 20 minute flight and I hear it's going to get bumpy when we have to drop through a cloud layer in late afternoon. I tell DJ and we fly over San Juan bumping all the way.

HINT - if you go to the duty free store with your boarding pass you can buy even MORE liquor to take on the plane with you. Looks like everything is a little less then 1/2 price. I bought a liter of Kahula for $12.

HINT #2 - it did not happen to US but I saw perhaps 70% of the boxes that carry 6 bottles of Cruzen rum with ripped handles. Duct tape was the preferred fix.

HINT #3 - I was told to take duct tape on the trip. We did and it DOES come in handy.

The NEXT plane arrives and we fly to Chicago with about 1/3 of the plane full. Two movies are played but I listen to the air traffic controllers and pilots the entire way. It's fascinating. The group has to be the most polite group of people I have ever heard.

We have light chop here and there and I hear pilots asking and helping others looking for a smooth ride. I hear WHY we turn an odd times and WHY the engines seem to stop from time to time and love it. We're flying at 39,000 feet and mach 0.79. DJ looks at her watch every 15 minutes and I have my face pressed against the window for a good part of the trip loving every second.

Night falls and we fly on. The pilot asked the controller about the chop we were just in and the sweet controller says "United 6227, you have a smooth road all the way, it's all behind you darlin" "Thanks Miami, g'day" We are passed from controller to controller and then things change. As we are handed off to Chicago by Indianapolis our new Controller sounds different, more . . . .professional, somehow. This guy is not just making sure we have a clear road, this guy is bring us into and landing us in O'Hare.

What a difference. He's controlling ten planes every move, from speed, to altitude to direction, everything. We're 10 miles from "Big Wavey" (shores of Lake Michigan), another plane is over The Bears Den (Solder Field). Flying over Chicago at night is awesome and even DJ is looking out the window in wonderment. The pilots and I are informed to be careful because there is a "heavy" 8 miles ahead and there might be turbulence. COOL!

Long story short - everything goes smooth, bags are found, shuttle is found and our FREEZING ride to the hotel is on time. HOWEVER - I overhear a conversation that there is a snow storm brewing in Wisconsin that might hit later tonight. It's about 9:00 Chicago time but 10:00 body time and we have been traveling for 13 hours now.

I jump into our Civic that seems WAY WAY too close to the ground (remember, 4-wheel drive jeeps are high up). Exiting out of the parking lot the car is 1 block away from I294. ZOOM ZOOM we're on the interstate going WAY WAY TOO FAST. I just spent a week at top speed of 20mph and now I have to drive 80????

What an experience. I'm a REAL good driver and I can not believe how hard it is to get up to speed on a 6 lane, flat highway with my butt scrapping the road. We're so low! We're both just holding on. Driving St. John was a piece of cake, this is nightmare LOL.

By the time we relax and are comfortable going fast I notice that we're on I94. I ask DJ, are we suppose to be on I94? YUP she says without thinking. You see, I94 and I90 both go into Madison. The key point is I94 comes from Milwaukee. This key piece of information escapes us at that moment.

15 minutes later I see another I94 sign and an alarm goes off in my tiny brain. I94 GOES TO MILWAUKEE, NOT MADISON. DJ takes out a map and ponders a solution. We take an exit which leads us to another super highway, then another that leads us further away. FINALLY we get to a NON-super highway and I find a McDonalds and we look at the map and have a burger. YUMMY! but LOST!

The only way out of this is to head back to where we started, we have only gone 30 miles and there was really no great way to get back on track without going through 60 small towns.

Heading back I see it. One Snowflake. ALREADY? Then another. We get onto the right highway a half hour later and we see that our turnoff was 1 block from the hotel. No wonder we missed it, I was still freaking out on driving.

My eyes are tired and body is tired but I'm doing OK, mind is alert and we drive on. It's only about 2 1/2 hours. What can happen. A few more snow flakes are randomly coming down but it's not really "snowing".

I start stopping at every toll booth and rest area to stretch. My body is getting tired, eyes are dry, mind alert. We're about 60 miles from Madison and I stop at the last rest stop and stretch. I think about resting for a little but sitting resting does not seem comfortable (it's been 16 hours of sitting for cryin' out loud). I'm not really tired sleepy-like, just achy. We drive on.

5 minutes out of the rest stop - the storm hits with no warning. BAM, snow! The snow is hypnotic coming at us in the dark. The highway turns into 1 lane and 2 tracks from an unseen car ahead of me that I follow like a lemming. Speed is 40. and on we go. Radio is turned down, no distractions, I concentrate on keeping the car on the slippery two tracks ahead of me.

I blink to keep my eyes wet, I blink only when I feel it's safe. I have never in 40 years had a accident and I'm NOT going to have one now. There is a purple glow ahead of me, sort of like those new car headlights, yet, I can not see the southbound traffic and there is no one around me, yet, there IS a greenish purple glow. Ignore it, follow the tire tracks ahead of me.

I can't pull over, I can't see the side of the road. Where did those trees come from, I know there are no trees that over hang the interstate, are those trees? they can't be, follow the tire tracks and what is that damn glow!. "how are you doing" DJ asks. Fine I say, "This is unbelievable she says" and on we go. I'd REALLY like to pull over but I don't have a clue where the rest of the road is.

I'm awake as I can be, the snow is coming at me hypnotically in the headlights, through the greenish purple glow, mile after mile I watch for mile markers and follow the tire tracks ahead of me.

Lights ahead - it's DeJope Bingo hall. I KNOW WHERE I AM! We're nearing Madison and all of a sudden the road is wet and salty, WE'RE SAVED! We both let out sighs and our last 6 miles are on wet pavement and everything clears in my head. That is the worst ride I had ever had in my life. I have driven from Dallas to Madison non-stop with 1 small break 2 years ago, 16 of 17 hours behind the wheel and this was 10 times worse (actually the Dallas/Madison was pretty easy).

We get home, take stuff out of the car as our Cardigan Corgi looks at us like "Who are you". Climb into bed and notice how quiet it is and sleep the sleep in our own beds.

We awake to a winter wonderland. Back to reality.

That is our adventure.

Grinder and DJ - out.