Part 2: Getting there is not half the fun
DAY ONE: As we all know, travel days are the worst part of vacation. And there were going to be a record-breaking four travel days on this trip. God give me strength.
The first travel day is not as bad as the last, because you’re still fresh as vacation hasn’t started yet and there’s all that anticipation about how great it will be. Once you get there.
But first comes the waiting. You get up and sit around all morning waiting to go to the airport. You go to the airport and wait to check baggage. Then you wait to go through security. Then you wait for your flight. Then you go to the airport Burger King (the second slowest Burger King in existence — I’ll tell you about the slowest one on the trip home) to get lunch. Wait some more for the airplane to arrive. Wait to board the plane. Wait for others to board the plane. Wait for the plane to leave the gate. Wait for the plane to take off.
Longtime readers know all about my fear/hatred of airplanes. I’ll spare you all the details but one: I suffer from the debilitating pain of barotrauma, aka “airplane ear.” I don’t mind takeoff, but descent causes indescribable pain in my head. And believe me, I’ve tried to describe it, but no one really understands. I’ve tried everything — chewing gum, antihistamines, screwing little plastic things into my ears. All in vain.
A few weeks before takeoff, Jeff Peine offered me his recipe for surviving airplane ear. It involved taking Sudafed for two days before the flight, then snorting some Affrin before takeoff and again before descent. It sounded crazy, but desperate times… A few days before the trip The Wife went into Walgreens, signed 45 forms claiming she wasn’t a meth dealer, and walked out with a box of generic Sudafed and some Affrin.
Now, there is no airport in Whitefish. I guess pilots are also afraid of bears. Since you cannot fly anywhere direct from St. Louis, The Wife came up with the following route: St. Louis to Denver, Colorado; Denver to Spokane, Washington. Two descents.
This means I will have to snort four doses of Affrin within 6 hours, something the instructions definitely do not advise me to do. I don’t want to die of an Affrin overdose on the tarmac in Spokane. I consult with Jeff, he assures me it’s OK.
The flight into Denver is relatively smooth. As the plane begins its descent, I notice something odd: I’m not doubled over in pain. No pain at all, in fact. Jeff Peine is my new best friend. We find our gate and sit around for an hour until leg two of our travels. As the plane descends into Spokane, the pain hits me. Not as bad as previous flights, but not pleasant either. I take Jeff off my Christmas card list.
We get our luggage and go to the Hertz counter where a young man hands us the keys to a Subaru Tank, I mean Outback. For someone used to driving a Saturn, it’s as good as a tank. We drive 45 minutes into Idaho, stopping for the night at the Comfort Inn outside Coeur D’Alene.
I find our hotel room and sprawl out on the bed. Nothing beats the post-airplane hotel bedroom sprawl. Sadly, The Wife cannot sit still in a hotel room for more than 10 minutes, so all too soon we were back out looking for a place to eat. The Wife refuses to eat at chains when on holiday, so we wind up at a nice place called the Classic Car Grille, or something like that. You can imagine the decor. Went back to the hotel where I checked to see if it had Free HBO — it did, but it was Saturday night so nothing was on but boxing. Went to bed but didn’t sleep well.
DAY TWO: It’s a 4.5-hour drive from Coeur D’Alene, Idaho to Whitefish, Montana. I would later learn that it’s roughly a 4.5 hour drive anywhere you go in Montana. Twenty years ago, a 4.5-hour drive would have been a trifle. Not so any more. We had to be at the Grouse Mountain Lodge by 1 p.m. so The Wife could be there for the gavel banging, so we needed to leave the Comfort Inn by 8 a.m. Did I mention that we went through 3 time zone changes the day before? And I didn’t sleep well? At this point I’m not sure what day or time it is. And it’s only Day Two.
We load up the tank and head out. It is indeed a lovely drive. Who knew Idaho was so pretty? However, 4-and-a-half hours of driving is still 4-and-a-half hours of driving, no matter how scenic the view.
Myths about Montana 1: There is no speed limit in Montana. It’s all flat and wide open country and you can drive as fast as you want.
Fact: Montana roads are all steep hills and curves and you can’t build up speed even if you want to — unless you’re suicidal. Plus, every 30 miles there’s a small town, and Montana roads do not go around small towns, they go right through the heart of them.
The drive was chock full of scenic beauty. Unless you’re the driver. The driver can’t really admire the mountains and the clouds hanging over the mountains and the acres of giant evergreens along the way because he’s too busy navigating the steep hills and endless S-shaped curves. And watching out for the free range cattle the signs are warning you to watch out for. And the falling rocks. And the wildlife. I do not want the tank to be rolled by bears before I even get to Whitefish. I’m sure the Hertz people would hit us with many fines if that happened.
Four hours later I’m starting to get that loopy, out-of-body feeling one gets after four hours of driving in unfamiliar, challenging terrain with little sleep. The Wife takes over the last half hour and guides us safely into Whitefish.
We arrive just in time for The Wife to check in and attend the business meeting. However, we cannot check into our hotel rooms until 3 p.m. so I cannot sprawl. Instead, The Son and I go to the hotel restaurant for lunch. Grouse Mountain Lodge looks exactly like you’d expect a Montana mountain lodge to look like. Lots of wood. Antlers. Two bear skins hanging from the lobby wall. A stuffed bear in the restaurant. I’m beginning to understand why the bears have it out for people around here.
After lunch we go walkabout the golf course and eventually go off campus and have our first bear encounter. That night there is a dinner which gives us our first of many opportunities to eat, drink and schmooze with lawyers and their families. I sleep much better on night two.
I was later informed that we were given “the scenic route” to get from Idaho to Whitefish and there was actually a more direct, quicker way to get to the lodge.
That’s Strike Two, Triple A.
Next: Cherries, huckleberries and the terror of ski lifts