Monday, October 21, 2013

Turns Out I DIDN'T Break the Plane...Yay!

As a refresher, today's post picks up where the last one left off... I finally was in the air, enroute to my Yukon getaway, knees-a-knocking, but excited!

The first leg would be a five hour flight to Vancouver, B.C., where I would have about an hour stopover, and then I would hop on a plane to Whitehorse, Yukon.  All in all, I was expecting to be in the air for about 7 hours total.  My plan of attack was to keep myself distracted.

One of the flight attendants started walking up the aisle selling earbuds for watching the inflight satellite TV or movies.  They had a special promotion on where you could purchase pink "I CARE" earbuds and all proceeds went to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.  Being a former employee of the Foundation, I was excited to buy them, so I waved Jay over.   If you are wondering why we were on a first name basis, the truth is that we weren't.  I had simply memorized his name from the safety demonstration because he looked the strongest and calmest person on the crew, and I wanted to have at least one name memorized in case I needed to scream over the chaos, "Jay! I can't do this... you need to push me down the yellow slide!"  Jay sat down beside me, and asked if I'd like to start a tab for the flight.

I totally felt like I was a high roller in first class!  I excitedly asked him what else I could put on my tab.  Movies? Blankets? Pillows? Souvenirs?

Turns out that Jay jumped the gun on the tab situation a wee bit.  Turns out that I just swipe my credit card along the screen in front of me to watch a movie, and as for anything else that I could purchase on the flight, there really wasn't anything.  All of my food and drinks were free, and as Jay annoyingly murmured aloud, they wouldn't be serving alcoholic beverages until after 10am - long after I would have de-planed in Vancouver.

I immediately started looking for a replacement for Jay.  He was far too indecisive and uninformed to hold the responsibility for pushing me off a plane in an emergency.  At least he seemed to know how to work the in-flight movies, so I sent him off, opened up my new fancy earbuds and started perusing the movie selection.

Success!  Star Trek: Into Darkness was playing!  I had missed a perfectly good chance to see it on the big screen, and had been regretting it ever since.  I swiped my card like the high roller I had been hoping to be, and settled in to kill 2 hours of my flight.

In hindsight, Star Trek was kind of a stupid idea.  Every single flipping Star Trek movie features several heart stopping incidents where the Enterprise has either been under attack and is falling to pieces, or drifting into a black hole, or crashing into San Francisco Bay or what have you. I should have known that the likelihood of the Enterprise burning up or crashing into Earth was pretty high - not a very good distraction from my fear of flying!  I reminded myself that that the WestJet crew were not there to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations; or to boldly go where no man has gone before.  They were just trying to get us to Vancouver International Airport.  That seemed to help, and I lost myself in the rest of the movie (which was awesome, by the way).

When the movie was over, I forced myself to look outside for a bit.  I thought maybe a little bit of old timey systematic desensitization might do the trick and calm my nerves.  The longer I looked out the window, though, the more things I could think up that could go wrong.  Why, oh why hadn't I taken everyone's advice and grabbed some Gravol for the plane?  I decided that if there wasn't any wine available to me (thanks for nothing, Jay), that I would just calmly eat the entire bag of Hershey's Drops I had brought with me.  Sure, it was supposed to last me the entire week, but desperate times call for stupid measures.

So, turns out a whole bag of chocolate makes one mighty thirsty.  On top of the coffee and water they gave me at the beginning of the flight, I added another juice and 2 more waters to the mix.  So much for my plan to stay safely strapped to the plane for 5 hours.  There was no denying anymore that a trip to the bathroom could not be avoided.

So, I took a deep breath, muttered a swift prayer to prevent turbulence, unbuckled myself and made my way to the bathroom.  Yes, I am still here to tell the tale, but I must say, I was never so happy to get out of that broom closet.  First of all, no one told me that flushing the toilet sounds EXACTLY like the door being ripped off the plane and sucked into the atmosphere.  That was scary.  Second, only I could mistake this button for a person holding garbage and looking for a place to put it.

The toilet and the sink and everything else were pretty high tech... I just naturally ASSUMED that there was a special button to magically open up and reveal to me a waste bin.  Turns out that, no, this wasn't a magic button for your garbage.  Nope, this button magically makes the flight attendants make fun of you when you come out wondering if that "bing bong" noise means you broke the plane and we all need to evacuate. 

So, once I gathered up my dignity and went back to my seat, and read and re-read every magazine I had brought, and had checked my seatbelt a few more times, I felt it would be shameful if I didn't start looking for the Rockies.  I figured we would be crossing them soon, and in addition to likely being beautiful from the air, they would also be a welcome signal that the flight was almost over.

I looked out the window and saw clouds in every direction.  I tried to let my mind wander as I lazily gazed out over the horizon.  I wondered what it would be like if it were physically possible to jump out onto the clouds and just roll around in the cushiness of it all.  But of course, I couldn't QUITE lose myself... I suddenly saw a gap in the clouds and pictured my happy little romp in the clouds coming to a startling end as I tumbled off the edge of the puffiness and fell 40,000 ft to the ground.  So much for my moment of zen!

And then, off in the distance, I saw them!  The snowy peaks of the Rocky Mountains piercing the downy blanket of clouds.  They made me thrilled and fearful all at once.  We couldn't get to them fast enough for me.  I was suddenly obsessed.  Memories of our family vacation out west flooded my mind, and images of my nose pressed up against our van window while I strained my eyes upwards to see the tops of the mountains around us as we drove through the valleys.  This also brought back the  painful memory of my prized Jordache purse being absent mindedly left behind in a public bathroom somewhere in the mountains, never to be seen again, but that's another story.

After forcing back Jordache tears, I snapped my attention back to the mountains.  As we drew closer and closer, they took my breath away!  Unfortunately, I didn't realize I could use my phone set to flight mode to take pictures, so I don't have pictures from my flight to Vancouver, but I think that it really gave me the opportunity to just soak it all in.  The clouds seemed to have been poured in and around the mountains like applesauce or a smoothie or something (forgive me... similes are only a hit or miss strength of mine).  I was awestruck.  It is so much more overwhelming to see mountains as an adult when you really have an appreciation for the power of Mother Nature.

Happily, I was blissed out on mountains and similes when I felt the plane descend ever so slightly, and heard the captain give us our final chance to use the washroom before we made our approach into Vancouver's YVR.  I had a goofy grin on my face as we made our descent, and my eyes widened in awe as I saw only the tops of the tallest towers of Vancouver eerily peeking out from a layer of fog that stretched from the bottoms of the mountains out into the ocean.  It was like nothing I had ever seen and it was so beautiful.  We soared down into the fog, and I remember myself looking out the window into the whiteness of it all and wondering, "I wonder just how low to the ground this fog is?" when we broke through the fog just in time to hit the runway.  I guess the fog was pretty low!  :-)

I whispered a quick thank you for a safe landing, grabbed my things and headed off to find my next boarding gate.  Getting to Vancouver had gone pretty smoothly... I had no idea that the next 5 hours were going to be some of the strangest hours of my life.  Stay tuned!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Up, Up and Away! (The first of about a million blog posts about my trip to the Yukon Territory)

Oh Coastal Ridge Californian Chardonnay, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.

That would be, one way from Toronto to Vancouver, and then from Vancouver to Whitehorse, and then again right back to Vancouver!  And then back to Whitehorse.  And then back to Vancouver.  And then back to Toronto.  That’s six ways!  Which doesn’t come close to how many glasses of chardonnay it took for me to stay calm during my Yukonian adventure… Phase 1.

Confused?  Sit down, pour a glass of Chardonnay in my honour, get comfy and continue reading.  I likely won't get to the Chardonnay in this post, but stick with me... we'll get there!

Let me start from the beginning.  I’ve had a really life changing and difficult year.  Our families have had a really trying year.  I know we’ll all be ok, but my best friend, Marlaine, pointed out to me one day that someone (namely ME) who has had such a rough year AND who has recently turned 40 might benefit from a little getaway.  Originally this was while she was still living in Winnipeg (a 24 hour drive from me), and we eagerly planned a weekend getaway to spend some time together.

One day, Marlaine sent me a message that said something along the lines of, “We might be crazy, but we’re moving to Whitehorse for a year!”  I didn’t think she was crazy at all, until she said they were doing it in the next 6 weeks or so!  But in true Marlaine style, she had a move planned for her entire family of 5, plus dog, with a pitstop in Vancouver enroute for her sister’s wedding in no time at all!  Somewhere in the midst of this lightning fast relocation, Marlaine called and said, “Hey… wouldn’t it be cool if our get together could be in the Yukon Territory and we can see the mountains and rent a cabin and go on a Northern Lights expedition?”

Um, yes… that would be extraordinarily cool.  Like, “bucket list” cool.

It took about a nanosecond of convincing on her part.  She had me at “Yukon”.

So, at her urging, I booked the flight quickly to take advantage of the milder temperatures in October, and the cheaper air fares with WestJet before they stopped their seasonal flights to Whitehorse for winter.  I’ve never organized a trip so fast!  I would fly from Toronto to Vancouver, change flights and fly from Vancouver to Whitehorse.  7 hours in the air total.

Only one problem.  I am terrified to fly. 

But, as my mom says, if you want to live life, and go to the places you want to go – and that happens to involve a plane ride – you just get on the plane and do it.  So, I mustered up my courage and told myself that I would be just fine, and that thousands of flights take place every day without incident.

My family was really supportive, and sent me texts the day before my flight that had thinly veiled attempts at reassurance.  My sister, for example, texted, “Have fun!  We will get together and hang out WHEN you get back.”  I love her.  J

So, to get ready for my 7am flight from Pearson International, I stayed with my friend, Shutterbug (long story, but I can’t say her real name without it feeling “wrong” – she’s just Shutterbug, and that’s all there is to it!) who volunteered to drive me to the airport. 

This was the perfect kick-start to a trip that truly had my name written all over it.  God only knows why she volunteered to drive me to the airport (except that I know she loves me, and would do anything for me) because of everyone I know, she is the absolute WORST morning person ever.  And I don’t mean she has trouble waking up…. I mean she is, shall we say, not a happy camper in the morning.  When I asked if I could stay at her place, which is quite close to the airport, I assured her that I could sneak out undetected in the morning, but she would have absolutely none of it.  She insisted on driving me, even when I told her I had to leave at 5am. 

Even when we were in our jammies getting into bed late that night, I again asked if she was sure, given that we had just set our alarm clocks for 4:30am, which was, as I pointed out, EVEN EARLIER than 5am.  Still, she insisted it would be fine.

Fast forward to 4:30am.  My alarm goes off and I quietly tip toe to her door to see if she is awake.  I ever so softly whispered, “Are you awake?”

And so it began…  the funniest morning of my life.  J

“Am I f___ing awake?  Do you think I even had a chance to sleep?” *exaggerated groaning and swearing*

I was half dying of laughter and half kind of scared.  But not really… she is all bark and no bite.  She is one of my best friends and she has the biggest heart on the planet.

I let her know I was going to brush my teeth, and from the darkness of her room I heard, “Ummm, yeah.  Definitely… because I am just going to lie here.  I can’t believe it’s this f___ing early. “

Ok, teeth brushed, clothes on.  I started to straighten my hair, which although bewildering to Shutterbug, brought her much relief and she flopped on my bed and declared that she was going to lie there with her eyes closed until I was done.  Oh, and by the way, we were going to f___ing Timmies.

I love her so much.

So, after her expletive riddled speech to me in the car about how I wasn’t going to die on a plane and that I should be much, much, much more concerned that I was letting her drive me to the airport in the MORNING of all times of the day, we arrived at the Tim Horton’s drive thru.  The drive thru window cashier, incidentally, has no idea how narrowly she avoided being on the receiving end of a Shutterbug enema.  My girl has no patience for drive thru miscommunication at 5am, and I loved every minute of it.

After we had our caffeine, she asked me what terminal she had to drop me off at, to which I said, “I don’t know, I thought we just looked for the sign thingies!”

“Emerald, I swear I am going to murder you.”

If I feel weird calling her Shutterbug, it should tell you something about her to know that I actually think she doesn’t know my real name.  LOL  These are our camp names for a certain organization that will remain unnamed so that we can keep our volunteer roles. 

Turns out the way we were going, there were no “sign thingies”.  Oops.

Fortunately, it only took her ripping my printed out flight confirmation out of my hands and then tossing it back at me exasperated, and then a quick Google search on my phone to find out that we were headed for Terminal 3.  Thank goodness, because I don’t know what an enema feels like, and I want to keep it that way!

We arrived at the Departures level, and by then our Timmies had kicked in, and my lovable Shutterbug had been resurrected by sweet, sweet caffeinated tea.  She unloaded me, did a triple check of the car to be sure I had everything, and wished me well and gave me the best hug and reassurance that I’d have a great flight and a great time.  Just like the big hearted friend she is, she asked for all of my flight info so that she could keep track of me, and I was on my way… with 3 minutes to spare, as Shutterbug proudly pointed out.

I checked my baggage, checked in, went through security (which, by the way, is a process that fills me with anxiety since I have a free-floating fear of authority mixed with an ever-present worry that my fear of authority makes me look guilty of something) and settled at my gate.  When I got on the plane, my fear of flying started to kick in.  I guess this was it.  I was on the plane, we were moving toward our runway, and my assumption was that they probably weren’t going to turn the plane back to the gate if I asked them to. 

My flying ritual began.  Check seat belt.  Knock my knees together at about 3kps (that’s 3 knocks per second for you lay people out there), read the safety manual obsessively, look to see if someone responsible-looking is seated near the emergency exit at the wing, check seat belt, look for loose screws on the engine and around my seat, visualize jumping onto a emergency slide, tell the flight attendants that my knees are knocking because I am a nervous flyer, make sure I am not pressing any buttons around me that might endanger our flight in some way, check my seat belt again, and then start praying and thanking God for everything I love in my life – including airplanes, because I really do think it’s cool that metal tubes of people can hurtle through the air on any given day, and it’s just a normal way to travel.

And then that roar of the engines comes to life, the force of acceleration seals me to the seat back behind me, and before I know it, that excruciating lightness replaces the friction of the wheels and the earth, and the city below me is just a busy miniature grid of moving lights.

And I am in the air.  So much more to tell, but that will have to wait for another post.