Any parents out there will certainly appreciate this little tale. I'll call it "Excursion".
As I'd told you, Last Wednesday I headed to New Orleans for work. The show I attended was to finish on Saturday, July 10 and I would be homeward bound. Michael had come along with me, lazing by the pool reading as I worked. Tate and Amanda had left our house on July 1 and were making their way to Tate's next Coast Guard base in Kodiak Island, Alaska. Before the kids left we made sure they had new tires on the Hummer 3 truck they drive ($900) and a tune-up ($400). All was well.
In New Orleans the 110 degree weather kept me sweating, which makes the whole city smell like garbage. Anyway, Thursday night we get a paniced call from Tate....and a parent's worst night mare....a message.
"Mom, Dad, call me immediately! We have a crisis!" Naturally my phone doesn't work in the convention center and Michael's phone wasn't turned on until later. When service finaaly comes, we have 15 frantic, "Call me!" messages. Any parent out there knows the dreaded feeling, where your skin crawls across your body and your heart stops.
We finally get to Tate. His voice is trembling. Here's the conversation.
"Mom, Dad, the Hummer blew up! I mean we were driving down the road about 55-60 mph, we hear a little pop! and we get worried so we hit the OnStar button and ask them to run a diagnostic. They tell us that it should be okay to make the next 15 miles to Whithorse, Yukon Territory, Canada to have it looked at. So we drive on."
Right about now, Michael and I are thinking, "Here we go. They were probably driving 100mph pulling that trailer and hadn't checked the oil since they left our house." (Parents, you know you'd be thinking this.)
They continue. "So Mom, we drive a little further and all of a sudden, (That's how trouble always arrives, isn't it?), smoke starts coming out of the engine, flames are shooting up all over the place. I get the car to the side of the road and tell Amanda to grab the dogs and get out. (This is where we see God's hand in things.)
We jump from the car and before we even could pull anything out, a young man named Eric (no, they didn't ask his name right then) pulls over, jumps out with a fire extinguisher and puts out the flames. (Really? A fire extinguisher? Who carries those?) Eric then gives the kids a ride to town. Onstar gets them a tow truck and has the truck and trailer towed to Whitehorse. By then it's too late to do anything more than pass on the bad news to the parents and figure out what to do next."
On Friday, Tate startes making calls, first to our agent, Larry, whom I'm a little bee peeved at. All he does is give Tate a phone number for some woman in New York. Here's the catch. In Canada there is no "Progressive" agency, so Tate couldn't get any insurance adjustor until "New York" approves one. But the lady in New York is three hours ahead of the kids time and not answering her phone. They leave twenty messages. Phone calls are flying back and forth between the parents and the kids as we try and help them. They had planned in an extra day or two to get to the ferry that would carry them across the bay (14 hrs) to Kodiak with the trailer and dogs. (Did I mention 2 dogs, pit bulls?) The ferry was to leave last night (Sunday) at 9:30pm.($700)
Long story short here. The agent finally gets to the kids at about two on Friday (NY time). She tells them she'll have an adjuster there shortly. She does. The adjustor looks at the vehicle and says he'll probably suggest they total the car, but must have permission from NY before Tate and Amanda can be sure what to do next. Guess what? New York lady goes home. It is Friday afternoon after all and it really doesn't matter that two kids are stuck in the Yukon Territory (who knew that place even existed?) now until Monday.
Here's the caveat. The kids had taken what they thought was enough cash and were going to use credit cards for gas, hotels, etc. (Yes, probably our credit card. Don't judge me.) Well, in Canada, don't ja know, they don't like using credit cards because they are too cheap to pay the fees. (Kinda like the Dutch in Pella.) So they are very short on cash. They can't use there debit card either. They try to get a rental car. Can't take them out of Canada. We are talking about 800 miles yet to Anchorage, then another 5 hours to Homer where they are supposed to jump the ferry. They have enough money to eat. the young man, Eric and his wife drive Tate around to look for a vehicle, etc. Poor Amanda is stuck at the hotel with the dogs who take to loud barking and pooping on the floor if they are left alone. (You get the picture.)
On this end, Amanda's folks are trying to wire them money to buy a vehicle. ($12, 900) ( Nope. It was too late on Friday. They closed.) We told them to leave the trailer and we'd get them and the dogs tickets on a plane for Kodiak. They could go back later and retreive the truck. Had it all set up, but WOW! did you know that from May until September the airlines in Canada will NOT fly pets. They need the cargo space. Slap that solution.
Now it's late, late Friday night. The kids have run out of cash. They have no options left except to wait until Monday or Tuesday to see what might happen. Tate has to report before then to get housing. So at 2am on Friday night, Saturday morning, Michael and I hatch a plan. We'll fly Michael to Anchorage, get a truck with a hitch, and drive to get the kids, return to Anchorage, store the trailer in Anchorage on a Coast Guard base, fly them to Kodiak and that should solve the immediate problem. He gets set to leave on a 2:40pm flight on Sat. I will close the show at 3pm, he can cab it to the airport an hour or so sooner. Next glitch. He did not travel with his passport. I always do. Change of plans. I'm going to Alaska!
Just an hour before the show closes, I make Michael tear down my booth while I rush to the airport. I fly to Anchorage (total flight time from New Orleans about 9 1/2 hrs). I did mention that I only had 2 hrs sleep, right? I make a million phone calls trying to set up a rental car. ($47) No car allows towing. Enterprise finally reccommends Alaska 24 hr rental. They don't answer the phone. Enterprise reccommends 24 hr Auto Rental (see photo). A wonderful young man named Jesse booked me a truck then came to get me at the airport with one of his army buddies in his buddies personal car. They were so wonderful and sweet young soldiers to boot. I take the truck (broken windshield, cigarette burns in the seat, almost bald tires, no gas) but Jesse assures me the truck will make it without issue. ($385 for 2 days)
It's about 7:30pm Alaska time. I haven't eaten. I haven't slept but 2 hrs. I pull into the gas station just around the corner from the rental place, fill the truck, ($63.87). I look at a map. (There's only one road, the Alaska Highway) and start the 800 mile journey. No sooner had I put my foot on the gas pedal then does the "engine light" come on. I drive back to the auto dealer where the boys decide maybe I shouldn't take the truck. They are really so sweet, but they have no other vehicle to give me. Knowing my quandry, (they probably smelled it on me by now) they make a bunch of calls to try and help me. Finally they find a young man named Shawn at the Alaska 24 hr auto rental who says he has a car. The boys give me a ride and I sign up for the rental. (now $525). Shawn is so kind and reduces the $1000 plus rate down to $525 and allows me to drive across the border. The truck is huge. (broken windshield, decent tires, cigarette burns in the seats. Really, all the vehicles in Alaska look like this. I'll explain why in a minute.
About 4 hrs later than expected I hit the road. Or should I say, it hit me. Little known fact about Alaska and the Yukon Territory. At least little know to me. The one road they have is littered with humps and bumps and gravel and holes like the Department of Transportation had actually planned them out. I felt like I road a washboard the entire way. I didn't make it past about 60mph the entire way. Good news is, it stayed light for 19 hrs. I drove and drove and drove passing few cars, but loads of mountainous beauty. It felt like the northern equivilent to the Kentucky backwoods. I heard a banjo planning in my head more than once.
Gas is a real issue. I took everybodies warning and stopped at any hole in the wall when I saw a station open. I drove and drove. Every fillup is around $85.00. By now I've been sleep and food deprived for about 40 hrs. I'm starting to see things. I swore I saw a cluster of Moose. It looked like a bunch of antlers. Okay, it was late, I was hungry, it was probably one moose and a bunch of sticks. Now I've got to pee. No worry folks, just stop your vehicle, cop a squat right in the middle of the road because you aren't going to see a car....ever.
I drive and drive. It's 2:30am. I have crossed the Canadian Customs. The agent asks, "What are you doing in Canada?" I reply, "Here Iam to save the day, you know it's Mighty Mom, she's on her way!" She stares for just a moment, then waves me on. Like this happens every day!
The roads change to dirt, like Canada can't afford pavement. Then again, their health care is not so great either. It's raining. I arrive in Beaver Creek. The sky is finally a shade of dark like just before the sun really disappears. I'm not good in the dark and I'm fried. I pull into a small "hotel" lot. The sign says full. I ask if I can use the restroom and park in the driveway. (Very loose term) The bathroom is shared amongst the twelve rooms. You can tell it must be all men who use the toilet. (Floor puddles, the seat's up)
I get into the back seat of the truck and pull the stolen United airlines blanket over me. (I knew I'd never find a hotel.) The seat belt is poking into my belly, and I've wadded up the clothes I brought with me. (I did mention that New Orleans temperture was over 100 degrees.) It drops to forty. I have a pair of short socks over my feet, my sleeveless top rolled into a pillow and the stolen United blanket covering me. I sleep for two hours. At 4:30am the sun beats through my window and wakes me. It's light so I must be rested I think and hit the road again. I ride on torn up and gravel roads the rest of the way arriving in Whitehorse at 10am. Michael is near panic at home, helpless. I have no phone service. I think they use tin cans up here.
The kids are ready. Tate takes the truck and hooks up the trailer, empties what they can resuce from the Hummer, while I grab a quick bite to eat at the hotel. We take off again. I'm in the back seat listening as the kids go through everything that happened. I was so proud of them, but they had just run out of solutions. The road is getting worse and worse. It's still raining. The dogs are getting car sick. I'm getting car sick. Tate stops and lets me drive. I drive all by about 50 miles back. We arrive last night into Anchorage at about 1am. No one has slept. We did find a hot dog at a gas station. 16 hrs again. They have missed their boat. The hotel won't allow dogs so Tate sleeps in the truck with them. ($199) At 4:30 Amanda wakes Tate and they work rearranging the trailer, taking the things they will need in Kodiak. I stay out of their way until 6:05
am. Tate is booked for a 7:10am flight to Kodiak. He is to go ahead, get checked in and try to get housing. Amanda will follow at 3pm with the dogs. That will give her and I time to get the trailer to the Coast Guard base. I say, "Buddy, you've got to get to the airport." "Mom, I've got to finish packing then take a shower yet!" Oh, I see this coming. "Son, you'll miss your flight! We just paid $300 to get you a ticket. You'll lose it if you don't get there. You need time to check in (3 bags $125) and go through security. By now we were hemmoraging money.
Next thing I see is a suitcase being heaved into the air and my son's temper going off. He's changing his clothes in the parking lot. Amanda is silent. This kid is no match for me. I'm a Mom. "Son, you can throw a fit, but you better drag your butt into that car...Now!" Amanda has booked him on Alaska airlines which it the first airline we get to. I drop him off. He apologizes. He's a good kid, just really frustrated with everything that has gone on and by having to leave Amanda behind to handle the dogs. My flight is scheduled for 2pm. Amanda's for 3pm.
I watch Tate walk away with three huge bags draped over him. He looks like a pack mule. He has hugged me so tight and thanked me so much still apologizing for getting mad. I understand. I slide some cash into his hand. I watch him walk away and I want to run after him and hold him like he was the little boy I still remember. "It'll be okay, Som. God is in control."
I go back to the hotel and Amanda has received a call from Tate. Alaska Airline has no reservation for him. Amanda gives him the confirmation number. It's for another airline. He is down to less than 30 minutes to takeoff. He has to run the entire terminal to the other end of the building with the luggage. He makes it. Amanda gets the directions for the Coast Guard station. 15 miles away. I suggest we stop by the airport to buy her ticket so another mistake can be avoided. The dogs have to have special paperwork. She will fill it out. We'll have plenty of time to drop off the trailer, drop off the rental car, feed and water the dogs, shower, eat. She comes flying out of the terminal. "The 3pm flight is sold out. the only flight is at 9:55am with room for the dogs." It is 7:45.
We drive like maniacs to the Coast Guard base. I would not be able to do it without her as she has military ID. We have a nice young man help us put the trailer near a woodline. He leaves us with a warning. "Yeah, we've had a few things broken into and stolen, but I'll try and keep an eye on this for you." We race back to the hotel to get her luggage. I feed, water, and drug the dogs. I want to take their drugs myself. We rusah to the airport where the line is long for Amanda to check in. She rushed out. We circle the airport to the baggage claim area. She runs in the dogs one at a time, then rushes out to gather her luggage and hug me goodbye. I watch her run away. I am grateful she makes my son so happy. I sit in the truck and praise God for getting us here safely, for the kindness of so many strangers and for the new life ahead for the kids.
I get back to the hotel by 10am. My flight is at 2pm. I finally shower, find food and drive the truck back to the rental place. John, Shauns' dad, drives me back to the airport offering to help Tate and Amanda when they have to come back to Anchorage next week to buy a vehicle. I am so amazed by the kindness of the Alaskan people.
I am in San Francisco writing this tonight. I have a four hour layover and will leave here at 11:55pm Pacific Time. I fly from here to Chicago, then Des Moines. I'll arrive at about 7:50am where my buddy, Anna and my boss, Mike will meet me and take me to work. I'll work today and Michael will come up and pick me up tonight. I'm hoping to sleep on this next flight though I did catch myself snoring from Anchorage to here.
I'll take Wednesday off to get my packing done for my upcoming New York trip on Thursday. Forgive me for such a long blog, but as a parent you'd have done the same thing. Don't forget about Alaska 24 hr car rental if you ever get to Anchorage. Shawn and his dad John are the best!
I will never forget this adventure! The scenery was spectacular as were the people. Though I had no time for anything more than running, it was good to be with the kids (captive audience). Alaska is beautiful as is the Yukon. Neither have good roads. No place for motorcycles either. Still a place to see before you die!
P.S. I returned the stolen United blanket on the flight from Ancorage to San Francisco last night:)! I'm home and sleeping for the next two days!