Breaking the Curse of Seattle: PCT Travel Day(s) 0
My brother drops us off at the airport.
“Mom said I have to take a picture,” he says.
After hugs and “cheese!”, my husband and I walk into the YYZ terminal and take our first steps towards hiking the PCT.
We breeze through baggage check for Nicks backpack and security where we take off our shoes. At customs, the guard doesn’t smile. He takes our passports, glances at our faces, and then proceeds to type on the computer. “Where are you going?”
“Purpose of visit?”
Nick and I look at each other. “We’re hiking the PCT!”
The customs agent stops and actually looks at us.
“So what do you guys eat out there?” He finally asks. After a moment he waves us through and makes us promise to stay safe on the trail. It looks like not only our moms have to tell us that!
With two hours to go before the flight, we quickly sit and order an airport beer. And then another. Who cares about the insane cost of an airport pint? This is the start of our grand adventure – a real reason to celebrate!
After boarding the plane and stowing my backpack with our most expensive gear safe and sound, we sit, buckle our seat belts, and wait for the safety speech that implies the start of the flight.
We wait an hour. The pilot eventually comes on and tells us and the other weary, pretzel eating passengers that the left engine did not start and the plane mechanic was on his way.
Well, that’s not the kind of announcement anybody wants to hear while strapped down into an aircraft, but with all our excitement and after two beers and a gravol, we were feeling good about anything.
Another hour passes. The pilot announces the good news: the engine is fixed, and the bad news: the staff has timed out. He cheerfully tells us a new crew is on their way.
Another hour. This time, it’s the sheepish flight attendant. She tells the plane quietly that no crew is coming. The flight is cancelled. The full plane of people at 10:30 p.m. erupt into a grumble of “god damn it!” and, “are you serious?”
After a long phone call and wait at baggage claim we have a suitable outcome: the Seattle hotel reservation changed, a new flight with one layover the very next day, and a hotel room in Toronto with airline compensation.
The next day we take the hotel shuttle to the airport. Again. This time, we wait in line to check Nick’s backpack because of an error that won’t allow him to print a tag. We chat to a woman with a cat named Robot who’s lived in many beautiful places. When we see the backpack drift down the conveyer belt, we jokingly say goodbye to it. This is a moment we’ll think about later on with an extreme sense of irony.
There are no airport beers this time. I buy extra breakfast sandwiches when our first flight to Montreal is delayed for two hours right off the start. I imagine us running through the airport, missing our connection, and having to buy food on the airplane. We prepare for the worst when we’re sitting on the tarmac for half an hour.
But then it happens; the plane lifts off, we’re in the air, and our first real metaphorical step towards the PCT has begun! (However, it was a physical step backwards as YYZ to YUL is actually further away from our destination and truly a nonsense flight connection).
When we land in Montreal, it’s raining.
By the time we’re off the plane, we only have hour and 45 minutes to make our connecting flight which, of course, is showing green and, “on time!”
Running through the airport, I feel like we’re on The Amazing Race. We arrive at the gate with just enough time to pee, eat, and stretch out for five minutes. We board late. We’re sitting and can hear the loud raindrops pelting the plane. Then a flash of light and the now dreaded crackle of the intercom, “the grounds crew cannot do their jobs during a thunderstorm,” the flight attendant says. “We will be holding until it clears up in about 60 minutes.”
Two berry granola bars, two little bags of pretzels and three episodes of The Last of Us later and the plane is up in the air. We arrive into Seattle around 1:30 a.m. and slowly make our way down to the baggage claim. This is it: the light at the end of the travel day tunnel. I imagine flopping into the nice cushy hotel bed we splurged on. I can feel the air-conditioned room on my skin. The water pressure of the hot shower.
And then the conveyor belt stops.
There are dozens of people around us swearing. “That can’t be it, can it?” and, “There no way they forgot everybody’s bags!”
I look at Nick through the crowd gathered. He shrugs. No backpack in sight. And there it is, I think, the cherry on top of the worst travel experience ever.
He’s quickly on hold to file a claim while listening to the worst hold music ever invented, and I scour through the hundreds of bags strewn about the floor in Sea-Tac. When we meet up again, we both say the same thing: it’s gone.
The airline promises to ship it to us before we leave the hotel for our start date. We both doubt that completely and start making a list of everything in the backpack. Our down jackets, rain clothes, socks, bathroom and kitchen stuff, maps and food storage, all left in Montreal.
Nick and I are both occasional optimists, and we’re looking to make the best out of every day of this experience, so we carry on in tourist mode in Seattle. We take a picture of the space needle, shop for our resupplies, sample the local beers, pizzas, the many far above average coffee shops (seriously, why is Seattle coffee so delicious?), and try to keep the thought that we could be dropping a bunch of money at REI in the back of our minds.
We’ve been wearing the same clothes for three days when I’m chewing, (sampling gummy bears from the resupply), and bite down on something hard. I can feel a giant hole in my teeth with my tongue. My filling has fallen out!
One or two circumstances of bad luck in a row can be a coincidence, but a big bunch of them all back to back to back to back?! That’s just a curse. We go to bed that night wondering who we pissed off in a past life.
The next day I have an emergency dental appointment to get a $250USD filling and 45 minutes of my life to call our travel insurance. After, we sit in a Seattle park, looking at the water and eating Chipotle. My mouth is still numb but I’m starving. Through mouthfuls we say a eulogy for his faithful six year old Gregory Paragon backpack.
Shortly after, we get the first bit of good news: our gear will be delivered before 6:00 p.m.! We are ecstatic!
At the post office, the clerk mailing our boxes gives us two free packages of protein packed oatmeal from his favourite brand he just happened to have with him. How wonderful!
We are able to secure public transport and a ride to the trailhead through Facebook. Perfect! One less thing to worry about!
At REI, there’s a sale on hiking poles!
The backpack actually shows up! (It was also soaking wet, but we’re still counting this one as a major win!)
And just like that, on a Monday of all days, our luck began to turn around.
Our final night in Seattle is July 4th. Our first Independence Day celebration ever. As we’re watching the fireworks and eating funnel cake, we talk. The first few days of our adventure had all the highs and lows we expected to encounter on the trail. We talk about how we handled the challenges as different people and as a couple, about how excited and absolutely nervous we are for the upcoming months, and of course how we will absolutely miss eating funnel cake.
Tomorrow, we’ll set an alarm and start the long road to Harts Pass. When we take the first steps onto the trail, we are happy to do so thinking we’ve left the curse of Seattle behind us.
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