Sunday, July 11, 2010


The Family Vacation (or A Lesson in Patience)

Since as far back as the beginning of the year I've become keenly aware of how much better I'm moving. It's not that anything has gotten easier, I don't want to give the impression that anything about being an amputee is "easy", but I have become much more comfortable as an amputee which has an impact on the way I move and the things I'm willing to do. I wanted some time traveling this year, so the first plan was for the whole family to go to Bellingham, WA for the music festival that my Uncle Michael conducts every year. He founded the Bellingham Festival of Music around 17 years ago, and Mom and Dad have attended it in the past, but Sarah, Madeline, and I had never been.

Getting there required a great deal of patience as well as a very long day. If you've ever flown east to west through several time zones then you know what I mean. We left Indianapolis at 6:45am and landed in Seattle around 10:00am even though we'd been travelling for at least 5 to 6 hours. Which, of course meant that we were all ready to go to bed when it was dinner time. For the most part our flights to Seattle were uneventful. The only issue for me was getting the bulk head seat on the plane that I need (due to the length of my prosthetics). When I called within the 24 hours prior I was told they could not assign bulkhead seats early because those seats are "held for people with special needs and can only be assigned at the ticket counter on the day of the flight". (My "special needs" also prevented my family from being able to pre-assign their seats online the night before.)

We arrived at the airport at 5am but all of the bulkhead seats had been assigned. When I explained that I had been promised that those seats were held for people with "special needs" the Ticket Agent said she could move someone, but that my family wouldn't be able to sit with me, which was just fine by me. I wound up sitting next to a very nice man and his daughter. His wife had been separated from them so that I could have the seat I needed. They were very nice about it, but it still bothered me to separate them, even for the length of the flight, so that I could be accommodated. As the flight was taking off I asked them if they had requested the bulk head seats for any particular reason. The man looked at me and said that they hadn't asked to be in the front row, where they sat didn't matter to them. I looked across the aisle at the other row of bulk head seats and realized that there were three teenagers who were part of a larger family with their Mom and Dad in the row behind them. None of them appeared to have any kind of mobility impairment, or issue that would require them to be up front. Midwest/Frontier Airlines obviously didn't follow through on what they told me over the phone and when we made the reservations. I could continue to rant about this, but I think I'll save that for another time.

Travelling can be very frustrating, even when most things are going fine. Dad rented a full size car for our visit. It was a very comfortable Cadillac with seat warmers and individual climate controls. (very comfy) Unfortunately it also was very difficult to get our luggage plus my wheelchair into the trunk. The look on my fathers face as he was trying to put the puzzle of luggage and wheelchair parts together was enough for me to know that any suggestions I had would just frustrate him further, so I went up front to mess with the GPS. Sarah and I were doing this together, and neither of us use a Garmin (Dad got it for Christmas) very often and we kept hitting the wrong button. This led to a funny moment where we had to enter the address 3 or 4 times before we got it right! Dad calmed down after we got out of the airport garage (it was all very confusing) and then we were on our way to Bellingham, about an hour and a half north of Seattle. It was a beautiful day to travel.

The pictures above and the time spent as a family (not pictured) throughout the week was well worth the long day of travel. We went Whale Watching on the second day, which was great fun and we did see a family of Orca's and some Mickey's (smaller whales), but I also managed to catch a pretty bad cold while sitting on the top observation deck exposed to the cold wind. It was a great experiment to see if I could get up there and, with the help of my father and the boat crew I was able to make it, but once I was up there I wasn't coming down until the boat stopped again. The cold persisted for the rest of the week but I was able to keep it undercontrol with sudafed and nyquil. Even with the cold, something about the Pacific Northwest allowed me to wake up refreshed every morning. I really enjoyed being there!

In the pictures you can see the view from my Aunt Jean's deck on Decatur Island and Decatur Island as viewed from the water taxi (her house is on the smaller of the two peaks/highpoints on the island). I have to say that after the accident I never thought I would set foot on Decatur Island again! (More on that in a future post.) There's also a picture of my Uncle Mike in the first rehearsal for the festival, a picture of the view from my hotel room at sunset with Orcas Island glowing in the background, and a picture of me walking, quite literally in the clouds, on Mt. Baker. On the Fourth of July we drove as far up the mountain as we could until the road was closed due to snow. It was a cloudy day and the whole experience had an otherworldly feel. I kept looking for mythical creatures like Hobbits, Dwarves, Elves, and Dragons! (Not really, but a dragon would have been perfect for the setting, after all, Mount Baker is a volcano.)

The 4th was our last night in Bellingham, so we opted for a nice dinner instead of Uncle Mike's proposed cookout in the park. We ate in a beautiful little restaurant called Cliff House, that overlooks the Bellingham Harbor. From there, as the sun set, we were treated to early amature fireworks displays. We watched the city fireworks from a terrace at Western Washington University. (A very funny story happened here, but I'm going to save that due to time and space. However, to whet your appetites I will tell you that it involves two strangers, one with autism, and the a discussion about legalization of marijuana.) Again, patience was a virtue as we arrived about an hour early to secure a good spot near the wall of the terrace. The fireworks were amazing.

The next morning (Mon. 7/5) I awoke at 7am prepared to start what would soon turn into one of the longest days of my life, hence forth know as "the travel day from hell." We had a great breakfast as a family before we left Uncle Mike to enjoy Bellingham without us (he'll be there for two or three more weeks). Then we headed south to Seattle. We got to the airport between 12 or 12:30pm for our 2:42pm flight to Denver, where we would connect to Indianapolis. In the original plan we were supposed to arrive home at 11:45pm Monday night. It is here that everything fell apart. We stood in line to check-in, again because I need a bulkhead seat and they wouldn't assign it in advance, for quite a while without moving very far. This wasn't a big issue because we had plenty of time and Dad was still in the process of returning the rental car. Then we found out that we had a lot more time than we thought.

Someone from the Midwest/Frontier desk announced that the flight to Denver had been delayed. It would not be taking off until at least 5:50pm, which was about 10 minutes before our connection in Denver would be leaving for Indy. (Very frustrating, unnerving, and boring all at the same time!) Eventually we got to the ticket counter and the ticket agent, who was actually kind of nice, began working on finding a way to get us home. It took at least an hour, seemed like 3, for her to get us transferred to an American Airlines flight that departed Seattle at 11:45pm (Which is three hours later than when we supposed to arrive in Indianapolis, so more like 3am for us) landed in Chicago around 6am, where we then connected to Indy and finally landed here at 8:40am on Tuesday the 6th. To be honest, spending the day in the airport wasn't really that bad. I had time to finish Twilight (yes, I finally broke down and started reading the series), which seemed a fitting book to read while in the pacific Northwest, but as the day wore on my cold started to get the better of me. I tried not to be too whiny, but I believe that I was still a test for the family's patience as every little thing that wasn't right started to bother me.

The hardest part of the day for me came as the first flight began to descend into Chicago. The congestion from my cold had made my ears clog up when we took off and I hadn't been able to pop them successfully. As the plane descended the pressure began to affect my ears more and more. It got a point where I was shaking my head, plunging my ears with the palms of my hands, yawning, rocking back and forth, and pounding on my leg to keep from screaming (good thing Mom and Dad were next to me on this flight, because a perfect stranger would have been really freaked out!) After I got home I quickly unpacked and then went to bed for a few hours. I got home at 10:00am, was in bed at 10:30am, and then back up at 12:30pm to get ready for speech at Marian College.

It wasn't until I was driving to the speech that I realized I had worn my prosthetics for more than 24 hours! That's just crazy. I've been pretty tired most of this week, which was filled with meetings and appointments, but I have to say the vacation was definitely worth it!

Judging by those gorgeous pictures, I should say that those travelling headaches were worth it. Makes me want to visit the Pacific Northwest!

As for the air pressure issue you had on the return flight, you'll have to ask Kelly about a similar experience she had recently. It's pretty funny ... now, after the fact, of course. ;-)

Glad you had nice time! Just think of the negative parts as character-building experiences. ;-) (Easy for me to say, right?!)

Sorry about the traveling problems but the visit on the island must have been wonderful. The pictures look like those in resort ads.
Thanks for sharing your daily trials with us. You seemed to enjoy the time with family.

Love from hot and dry Virginia,
Ok, I read your blog because it gives me hope in the world. I read your blog when I start to feel the 'greed' in the world. I read your blog when I become bitter with life...THANK YOU for making me realize that it's NOT about me. I thank you and praise you for your unconditional love you have for being alive!! Thank you!! Now, back to the hotel, your a hotel manager why didn't you just tell them how to get it done right then and there...the disability rooms? Really...I could just see you writing down ideas, delegating them and then doing a complete follow up...hahahaha!! Hysterical...ok, it's been TOOOOO long between visits. I am gonna call you and we are gonna do dinner!! NO too you soon!!
Love ya,
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