Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Without a doubt, air travel to Alaska is a necessary evil. On the plus side I could avoid the 63-hour 42-minute 3,928.18 mile drive from my home to Anchorage. That's pretty cool! On the minus side I'd have to endure the TSA check-in gauntlet, airplane cattle-car loading and seating, baggage fees, bulging overhead storage compartments, cranky travelers, gate changes, and microscopic bathrooms. So anytime I could knock one of these nasties off my disgruntled list I consider it a glorious victory.
This trip's pleasant surprise was TSA pre-check. As an employee of the United States Air Force I could type in my special nifty number while booking my flight and qualify for this wonderful program. So at the airport while my wife Terry was doing the carry-on and body scans I got to go through a vacant special lane which didn't require the removal of my boots, belt, jacket or laptop. This was indeed a bonus! After doing a little happy dance I sat down on a nearby bench and waited for my wife. She was not amused by my "ain't I special" smile.
With that said, I have a great admiration for TSA. They have a thankless job yet from everything I have seen they conduct themselves with the utmost professionalism. I for one am grateful they keep air travel safe.
Whenever booking my flight I always choose an isle seat as it gives my large frame some extra leg and shoulder room. True the beverage cart and isle walkers leave my shoulder and knee bloodied and bruised, but it definitely beats the potential of being crushed by the gargantuan man again (see my 2004 trip report). This trip I needed the isle seat more than ever as my new artificial bladder (neobladder) had about an hour and a half worth of capacity and I would be making frequent trips to the bathroom. Fortunately, the airlines are not currently charging to use the toilet, but I imagine it is just a matter of time. The short trip from Dayton to Dallas required no bathroom trips, but Dallas to Anchorage was an exercise in patience.
There is nothing quite like that first airplane view of the Alaskan mountain range. You can sense the excitement as napping or reading passengers suddenly perk up and smear themselves against the windows. What a great side benefit of getting a flightseeing tour of those snow covered peaks!
Having Terry accompany me on the trip proved to be a godsend again and again. If I had any inkling that I was back to my old self the baggage carousel proved to me otherwise. I couldn't even lift the bags off the carousel much less cart them to the car rental counter. Terry rounded up a baggage cart and gave me the "incredibly important" job of guarding it while she quickly and efficiently retrieved all our luggage. I have always stood in amazement at her strength and stamina, but our Alaska trip made me realize once again that I am the luckiest guy on the planet.
On this trip we used the Comfort Suites near the Anchorage International Airport as our hub. As soon as we got to our room I opened up the picture window drapery and was flabbergasted to see a beautiful rainbow piercing the sky. I sincerely hoped this would be a good omen for our trip.
After making a few phone calls I called it a day at 11:00 PM (3:00 AM our time! Ouch!). It would be a short night's sleep as we'd be meeting railfan Chris Paulhamus at 6:30 AM.