Friday, March 27, 2009

Colorado blizzard says "Fat Chance" to Jamaica trip! My harrowing drive...

You might have read or seen on the news that Colorado got hit by a blizzard yesterday. Needless to say, it put a HUGE damper in my travel plans. It's Friday morning and I'm sitting back at home catching up on emails when I should be sitting on a beach. Not to worry, I've got a rescheduled flight tomorrow morning, but Holy Sh*$ what a day I had yesterday! I'll never forget it, nor do I ever want to relive it. In retrospect, it's so easy to say I shoulda, woulda, coulda. 

Here's how it played out.

My husband and I drove part way to Denver Wed night. It's 120 miles to the airport, over two mountain passes of about 10,600 feet. He had errands to run in Denver and offered to drive. I am selling my car (Subaru Outback) which had 31,900 miles. I wanted to keep it under 32K to increase sales value - it's a 2005 which is VERY low mileage. (In the meantime I am driving my husband's company car - a Mini Cooper). This little bit of useless information will be relevant later in the story...

We stayed about halfway to Denver so the drive early Thursday morning wouldn't be so far. Wednesday was dumping snow, but not blowing - something we're used to. Weather report called for more snow - I don't remember hearing anything about a  blizzard. Besides, for the past month most of the snow predictions were wrong (admittedly, it's hard to predict accurate weather when there are 14,000 foot mountains in the way to push the jet stream around).

4:00 am Thursday - on the way to the airport, it was a whiteout and driving was scary. It was only starting to snow in Denver, but was very slick. A one-hour drive took 1h45 min. I missed my 6 am flight by minutes, but so did dozens of others. I was put on standby for the next flight, but it was oversold, so they booked me for the 7:30pm flight to Dallas. I'd have to stay overnight in Dallas to fly to Montego Bay the next morning. (If the club could reschedule the orientation on Friday).

The reports were now calling for blizzard conditions, Jeff needed to get back as he couldn't hang out for 10 hours. We agreed the only course was to drive back home (120 miles) and I'd get my car and drive back down. Reluctantly, I agreed it was best to take the Suby which was safer than the Mini. Most of the blizzard was on the front range - it wasn't so bad in the mountains, believe it or not.

Then came the first automated call from American Airlines - my 7:30pm flight was cancelled. On the phone with an agent, they said I could fly out of Colorado Springs at 4:30pm to Dallas. Colo Springs seemed to be south of the major weather system (and she told me there were no cancellations there, even though Denver was totally canceled. Famous last words...) I called Jamaica, and they were able to reschedule the orientation to Monday, and Spin fitness was ok with it, and I decided to go with it.

But then it turned out that Vail Pass had closed for avalanche clearing, so I coudn't go via the main roads. I elected to drive the back way through the mountains to Colo Springs. It was snow-packed but good visibility - I don't mind that. But it turned out to be a dumb decision - so easy to say in retrospect isn't it?! I didn't want to let the students in Jamaica down, I was committed to help out with her Spinathon on Sunday, and I really, really needed a beach (especially at that moment)! If the weather had been bad the first half of the drive, I would have turned around. 

The doppler radar had shown much less impact from the storm south towards Colorado Springs and even in the mountains, and sure enough, it wasn't falling snow that became a problem. It was the wind. It was clear for 80 miles, but then it started blowing hard, and visibility dropped to near zero at times. It was a white knuckled drive on smaller 2-lane roads for hours. At one point I got behind a snowplow, which scraped up even more snow to be blown into my view - and no where to pull over. I was creeping along at 5-10 mph at times, wondering where the side of the road was.

Man, this was dumb. But who knew? If I had turned around it could have been the same on the way back, and by now Colo Springs was closer.

Cell reception was sketchy and my cell battery was very low (because I had taken my car charger and put it in the Mini! Thank God I thought to take my ice scraper)! I minimized my outgoing calls to save juice. 

Then I got the next automated call from American. My flight was canceled, but I was rescheduled for an 8am flight the next morning. I'd just spend the night in Colo Springs. Oh well...

Literally 20-minutes later, I got my third automated call from American. My 8am flight was canceled as well. OK, by this time I was laughing (sort of). 

I pulled over at one of the first buildings I could see - it turned out to be a hospital - and went inside to make some calls and charge my phone a little. Natalie Desnoes of GoodFit club in Montego Bay was so kind and worried! No problem, we moved the orientation to Monday, and I'd try to stay a day or two longer. Then I spent an hour on the phone with American. The agent told me she hadn't seen so many cancellations from Denver in 5 years. Literally everything was canceled for both Thursday and Friday from both airports - Colo Springs had only just started to cancel. We scheduled a flight for Saturday morning from Colo Springs, but it's not really convenient with two layovers. I'll stay one extra day and fly back Wednesday (a net loss of one day on the beach).

Now what do I do? Drive all the way home? Certainly NOT the way I came. At this point it was just survival. At least it was a freeway for most of the 186 miles back via Denver.

The fastest I could drive was 40mph. On the highway C470, the road was deserted at times, and it was pure carnage on the sides of the road! There were so many abandoned cars, either run into each other or into snow drifts. The road surface itself was ok - mostly plowed. But earlier it must have been horrendous. Where C470 joins the main highway, I-70, I decided to go east into Denver just a few miles to a Wholefoods I knew of. I hadn't eaten anything since 7 am except a few mandarins and almonds I had for on-the-plane munchies, and I was starving (it was now 6:00 pm). 

But the shopping complex was completely deserted! All the stores closed, with hand written signs on the doors that said, "drive carefully, come back tomorrow". I guess it's good they let their employees go home!

Across the street I found an open Chipotle. At least I could eat something decent - I don't do fast food but their burritos are healthy (and yummy). On the drive back, I called a personal training and a massage client to try to schedule something for Friday, to lessen the hemorrhage of lost income (by staying the extra day on Wed). Fortunately I was able to schedule a massage for Friday night (thank goodness it's Spring Break and a lot of people are still in town). [Note: massage is one of the older hats I've worn, and I'm trying to retire... so I can focus on other things, but this one client is someone I'll still work on when she comes in town, and she's already had two massages with me this week. I can't turn down the income, especially now].

I arrived home just before 9 pm, 17 hours after first getting on the road. 380 miles on my Subaru (now over the 32K I was trying to stay under), and 240 on my husband's car. I probably could have driven to Dallas to fly out. I wish I had some photos to post, but it didn't occur to me until after the drive.

I walked in and went straight to bed....


brenlorken said...

I'm sorry :(. My husband's best friend is stuck in Denver, his flight to AZ was canceled yesterday. When I heard the news I thought of you, but was sure you got out in time.
Glad you made it back home safe and sound. I've driven over those passes and I don't envy that drive in the snow.

Varinka said...

ooooooh goodness gracious!!!!!!

Jennifer...TAKE A VACATION (in bed and wait!) hehe
glad you are OK!

Jennifer Sage said...

thanks guys!
Not sure if I had made that first plane if it would have gone or not. It was barely starting to snow at that point at the airport. but an American Airlines agent told me she didn't think anything got out.

But it's killing me that Vail only got 3" out of this (otherwise I'd be skiing right now)! North of Denver they got up to 20", so this went mostly north and east, and turned south right at Denver.

It'll kill me to get back in the car tomorrow for another long drive back to Colo Springs...but the call of the beach is very, very strong! ;-)

Karen said...

Sounds like you're ready for one of those nice, cool, pretty Jamaican run drinks too!

lamspin said...

Gosh, those moments in life for sure we don't want to relive them.

Just glad you were safe through out yesterday challenge. And that also shows your commitment to what you do.

Thank you for sharing your experience. I felt stress moving in just reading your 'harrowing drive'.

Will be a better day tomorrow for you. Salute the sun when you see it!

Charles said...

Wow Jen! So glad you made it safely driving. Sounds like a nightmare but it'll be worth it once you get to the Islands Man!

Shannon said...

Wow, what a day! Your safe and sound and hopefully on your way.

Kala Marie said...

Wow, what a fiasco for you, Jen. Except... right now you are on the beach!!! :) Yay!