So, people who know me well know that I’m not a traveler. I mean, not even a little.
Its sad, because when I was young I had all these ambitions of working for the CIA as an undercover spy in Eastern Russia and saving the world. It turns out, that I can’t really save the world. And Eastern Russia is really cold and probably looks like either a frozen tundra or an abandoned parking lot right now.
Aside from the non world saving opportunities in Russia, if the truth be told, I have trouble traveling outside my own zip code. At the mere mention of international travel my breath turns shallow and I start to lose feeling in my hands and feet. (the paramedics told me once that was just a panic attack, which was actually super helpful.) Don’t even get me started if one of those destination countries were to dip into the “2nd” or “3rd” world category.
Sadly, I can’t say its even for a good reason. Health care infrastructure and all around safety is a factor, (who am I kidding, so is comfort) but my biggest fears are silly things like bed bugs and dysentery.
But I digress. I was not traveling to Europe or Eastern Russia this summer. In fact, I wasn’t even getting on a plane. My destination was a mere 3 hours north to Lake Tahoe. No big whoop, right? Guess again.
The first moment I knew things were starting to take a turn was when the dog (yes, the tiny smushed face, compromised respiratory system pug) started coughing. Coughing. Dogs cough. Did you know that? I didn’t. I’ve had a dog for 11 years, and my dog has never coughed. “Ok -maybe this is a fluke.” I thought. I took the dog to the vet, and blamo - he has kennel cough. “It’s ok…after a couple days of the antibiotics he’ll be great!” says the vet. “Phew,” I think. “I guess I won’t have to stay home and watch his every move to make sure he doesn’t die,” I say to my husband. He rolls his eyes. Double Phew.
Long story short, apparently kennel cough equals me not having anyone to watch my dogs. Which proved to, truthfully, not being that big of a deal. House sitter, problem solved. But still. This was just one more tiny snag in the ointment, or a fly in the armor, or whatever. It just got the tiny hairs on the back of my already sensitive neck standing on end. What was going be next?
Well, I’ll tell you. PG&E called telling us they needed to come and service the electrical lines at our place that next business day. The day we were supposed to be happily boating around Lake Tahoe. Yup. That was officially the third thing. But then, these things happen in three. So maybe that was it, and if that was it, then we should be fine. All we needed to do was hire an electrician to be at our house, call a friend, and all good. Right?
We get in the car, stocked with electronics for the kids, smutty romance novels for me, and enough snacks to last for days. Unfortunately, what should have been a smooth 3 hour drive turned into a parking lot that extended, near as I could tell, from the end of our driveway all the way to the condo that we were staying in at North Star. Six and a half hours later, somehow more tired from sitting in a car than we would have been if we had run there, we arrived. We were hungry, cranky, dehydrated and also in dire need of shower. I was also mentally exhausted from the mental gymnastics of making sure we didn’t die on the road. More than a few times during that drive, I was clinging to the “oh shoot” handle in the front seat, scared that the silly 20 year old in the car behind us texting was either going to ram into the back of us, or swerve into another lane and cause one of those fatal highway pile-ups that eventually cause a gas tanker to overturn and blow a crater into the freeway the size of Sacramento.
I know - its a little overly dramatic, but I had to be prepared. Yes, as you can see from the fact I’m recounting this tale, we survived. Barely, in my mind, but survived.
The trip did seem to go a bit more smoothly after that, minus a few hang ups. For instance, the time that we took the gondola up the mountain to grab lunch and got stuck because of a lightening storm. No, the sun was out, and there wasn’t any lightening where we were, but apparently there was lightening 20 miles away. And if there is lightening anywhere within 20 miles of the gondola, they shut it down. Makes total sense, and I really love the conservative and safety minded folks at North Star. However, that information might have been more helpful to have gotten when we took the gondola up. Getting down a mountain that you took a gondola up is tricky when you don’t have skis, snow, a mountain bike or even shoes to hike in. I was wearing flip flops. Not exactly the best all terrain shoe, I’ll admit. Lesson learned. Thankfully the Ritz Carlton has angels working for it, so we were transported down after about an hour being stranded. I mean, I guess “stranded” might be a strong word for where we were. It was more like being stuck in a well furnished waiting room with 5 star cuisine and a well stocked bar. But, stuck non the less.
A few hours later we headed to the pool. And just in time for the lightening and thunder storm to make its way to us, finally. Which, ok, I’ll give you, wasn’t such a terrible thing. There’s the whole drought and forest fire risks, so sure. Maybe there were a few million people relieved by the storm, but whatever.
Rain, however, did not create the best environment for those of use who came to swim, boat and play on the beach.
While trying to overcome my travel fears, keep a good disposition, make the best of the situation, I couldn’t help but feel that maybe we were still being told to go home.
We trudged on. After dinner that night (awesome sushi at Mikuni) we retired to our gorgeous and spacious room and tucked the kids into bed.
We had just gathered at the dining room table for a game of cards with Grandpa when the lights twitched, and then shut off completely. Completely. Total black out. The entire room, suite, condo building and village of North Star was completely dark.
Luckily Steve Jobs was smart enough to have anticipated the situation, and the three of us reached for our iPhones, and then our iPhone flashlights. We had all just finished charging (a smart decision on our part given the signals the universe had been giving us) and we all had hours left on our respective digital utility belts. And since we had no idea when power, and thus refrigeration, would be turned back on, we did what any good samaritan would do. We grabbed the ice and the bottle of Joel Gott making sure they didn’t go to waste. Some of us (ok - maybe just me) also had to quell any building fears that somehow we hadn’t seen the last of our vacation hex.
After several hours of attempted night/iPhone flashlight photography, we finally gave up hope that the lights would return that night.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have the foresight to go around the condo and flip all the lights that had been on to “off.” That was fun in the middle of the night when they finally went back on.
I bet after all this, you think that I might have had an awful time? Nope. Not true. Near as I can tell, the room was clean of any bed bugs. The kids didn’t get sunburned. The rain didn’t ruin our day on the lake or at the beach. We got fun photos of the thunder storm, and ate plenty of great food.
After a quiet and uneventful journey home, we found ourselves tucked neatly back into our life. The journey north had given us just the break we needed. Fresh air, fun adventures, heroic black out near death escapes and enough perspective to realize that my carpets needed shampooing to alleviate the “dog-esque” affront upon re-entry.
Do I feel better about travel now, you might ask? Was all that needless worrying a thing of the past? Am I now able to look at my next vacation with the kind of awe and anticipation it should deserve?
Sadly, the answer to that question is no. While I feel as though I narrowly escaped death and tragedy at the Five Star resort that is North Star, each journey beyond the zip code brings to bear a new and fresh list of dangers. Will I remember the EPI pen and the four bottles of potions for my highly allergic son? Will our luggage get lost and I end up having to wear tourist shop tee shirts? Will our hotel have landed, last minute, on the bed bug registry, with no place to flee? Yes, its risks like these that keep me on the edge of my seat whilst planning any trip that might take me to the vast regions that lie beyond the 101.
Maybe I’m not risking my life in the CIA everyday as an undercover spy, as I once thought I might be. But, somehow, in my own, highly neurotic way, its just as exciting.