Lost in America

I had a really good column this week. Only problem is, it’s currently riding the stratosphere somewhere en route from Minneapolis to Denver. That is if the profusely overworked man at the Delta Airlines baggage counter was telling me the truth yesterday morning. Seems Santa was extra kind to all the good people on my flight, forcing our small 737 into the red zone during the pre-flight weigh in. As a result, the cargo bay was put on a crash diet, with the bags of yours truly among the first to be chucked. And of course, said bags contained perhaps one of the most brilliant works of prose I have ever penned, something about the New Year, peace on Earth and salvation of humankind. Probably would have won a Pulitzer. But alas, it is imprisoned in a large Samsonite softside somewhere over Nebraska. Thus, I am now forced to write about whatever mundane items pop into my head at this 11th hour, like tales of luggage woe.

Which is better than nothing. Think of all those poor people who fold their clothes tighter than origami so they can cram it into a carry-on. They never get to experience the pain of waiting around an empty carousel for the miracle of Christmas miracles to occur. They never get to sit on pins and needles for two hours, wondering if their suitcase made the cut or is still sitting on the tarmac 1,300 miles away.

Of course, as soon as the flight captain came over the loudspeaker with the news that “just a few bags” would need to be spared, I knew they would be mine. That’s because when it comes to travel, I am just about as unlucky as one can get without actually going down in flames. I once was driving home to Durango from Boulder and left my wallet on the counter of a Boulder restaurant. Of course, I didn’t realize this until I reached Dillon, some 70 miles away, where I had stopped to fill up my empty tank. Penniless, plasticless and soon to be petroless, I was forced to turn around. Coasting on nothing but fumes and extreme anxiety down the I-70 corridor, I eventually made it back to the restaurant, where, but for the grace of god, my wallet was still sitting where I had left it, intact.

OK, so I’ll admit this is actually an extremely lucky thing. And after this incident I swore off hung over road trips forever. But here’s where it gets bad. See, as I partook in this wild goose chase across the Front Range, the storm of the century was bearing down on the state. And thanks to the fact that I had just squandered my three-hour head start, I found myself driving Vail Pass in the pitch dark with slush half-way up the doors of my truck, which actually felt more like a submarine. I had guessed, wrongly so, that traveling the interstate

would be safer. I mean, that thing gets plowed more times than Courtney Love on a Vegas bender. But it seems on this occasion, even the plow drivers had enough sense to stay off the roads. So finally, after several hours of free-form driving at a top speed of 30 mph, I was forced to pull off and spend the night in a seedy motel in Junction. It gets better still. I awoke the next morning to avalanche control work on Red Mountain and Lizard Head, meaning it was either spend the morning getting to know Junction or take the scenic route via Moab. I opted for the scenic route.

More than 24 hours after my odyssey began, I finally made it back home – another day older but years wiser. I spoke little of my interstate escapade to anyone, mostly out of sheer embarrassment.

And speaking of embarrassment, I won’t even go into the time, as a college freshman, that I showed up at the airport on Thanksgiving without my ticket, which was safely tucked away in a desk drawer. When I handed the ticket agent the flimsy itinerary sheet that I thought was my ticket, the peels of laughter (hers not mine) could be heard up and down the concourse. Suffice to say, people like me are the reason e-tickets were invented.

So here I am, years later, and I still can’t seem to shake the travel curse. Which is why I should have listened to the little voice on Tuesday morning that told me to just go directly to the baggage counter, give the nice people my address so they could ship me my luggage, and get on with my life. Instead, I stood there like a dummy, watching other people’s luggage come down the chute while they jumped around like game show contestants who just won the grand prize. Show offs. Eventually, it was just me and a few other dejected, luggage-less losers, who took our places in the loser line.

But, like I said, it really came as no surprise. It’s not like I believe in packing light. There’s a movement in modern alpinism that eschews gear in favor or speedy, minimalist ascents. Basically, these people embark on massive missions with nothing but the clothes on their back, a baggie of dried bean flakes and a wallet-sized photo of Yvonne Chouinard. I’m more like Hannibal crossing the Alps. The way I see it, they wouldn’t make suitcases the size of small U-Hauls if they didn’t intend for you to pack 36 pairs of socks for a long weekend. Unfortunately, it is this approach to packing that gives baggage handlers perverse pleasure in heaving your worldly possessions from an overstuffed cargo bay.

But in the end, being overly excessive just might pay off. After all, how many of those victory-dancing, baggage-claim show-offs are getting their luggage hand-delivered to their front steps? The way I see it, it’s a small price to pay for being sockless for a few days.

– Missy Votel



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows