Diverted to Pocatello

Have you ever been to Pocatello, Idaho? ...No? No one? I didn't think so. It just so happens that I have now been to this tiny mountain town twice. The first time was several years back when I went to spend a few days training at a surprisingly good ballet academy there before competing in an international competition. The second time was just recently, when our plane was diverted on the way to visit Yellowstone National Park.

Our flight to Jackson Hole, WY was scheduled to land around 8PM, and right on schedule, we were on our final approach, dropping down below the mountains. We saw the green mass below us gradually become individual trees and bushes. Then, just moments before the expected touchdown, there was a noticeable shift and we started gaining altitude again. Ok, it was a botched landing, I thought. We'll turn around and try again. But we didn't. We just kept on flying. Pretty soon, the captain came on the intercom and announced that due to technical difficulties, we were rerouting to a nearby airport. Actually, it sounded more like a cross between a radio stuck between two channels and the teacher from Charlie Brown; I'm merely guessing what he said based on the events that transpired afterward. Looking back, I can't help but laugh. It was the beginning of a night of adventure. 

Once we landed in Pocatello, we got another update: the flaps (on the wings, used to help slow down) hadn't been working properly, hence our diversion. There was a little confusion about what the next steps forward would be. Would we be able to take off again and return to Jackson? Would we be deplaning in Pocatello? Would another plane take us to Jackson? Or would we have to go by bus? Regardless of the outcome, we couldn't deplane until they knew more. We sat on the jet way until it was dark. We made the best of the only option we had: we waited. David shrugged, and while the people behind us frantically discussed alternative arrangements, prices for hotels in Pocatello, or if any rental car companies would still be open, we resigned ourselves to the fact that travel plans don't always go as expected. We would wait it out and see what the United's next move was. No point in worrying or obsessing over problems you can't change.

Pocatello Airport

Finally, they confirmed that we wouldn't be taking off again and would be allowing us to deplane. We had to wait for the jet bridge operator to arrive, and based on the time it took, he must have been asleep at home, but at least it was forward progress! Before leaving the plane, they assured us there would be more information shortly and that there would be drinks and snacks for us once off the plane. I'm pretty sure my mother told me once that hard candy doesn't qualify as a snack, but she's must have been deceiving me. We waited in the boarding area as different stories flew around. The busses were coming from Salt Lake City and would be here in two hours. No, they were coming from Idaho Falls and would be here sooner. No, Jackson! No, Teton! The busses were chartered Grey Hound busses. No, they were vans! No, school busses! David found a place to plug in his phone and we sat together, mildly amused at the various reactions of other passengers.

Airport and baggage personnel had to help with another flight landing, but soon afterwards, they allowed us out of the boarding area to wait for the busses in the airport lobby. Sometime around midnight they pulled our luggage around so we could retrieve our checked bags. Since I hadn't paid too much attention to the different announcements before, I wasn't certain about the bus situation until they actually arrived. They were, indeed, school busses. They had come all the way from Teton. The first one arrived around 1:00AM. David and I let it depart without getting on because we were told it was going to the airport while the other two busses would be going to the city, where our hotel was. There must have been a mix up though, because all of the busses were going to the airport, and we were later told that they were not allowed to stop in Jackson at all. We were assured however, that there would be plenty of taxis and rental car representatives waiting for those of us that needed transportation into town. David and I boarded the second bus and found a seat. (On a side note, I must have fit better into a school bus bench as a kid. I don't remember my knees being jammed into the seat in front of me, or the severely upright seat backs. I remember disliking riding the school bus, but I don't remember it being particularly painful!) David was actually a bit excited. According to him, it was just like the American movies! He had never ridden in a yellow school bus before! I couldn't help but smile as we boarded the bus. There were many bright little moments like this throughout the evening, and they continue to shine in my memory. Things weren't nearly as bad as they could have been, and what a story we have to tell now!

The driver made a detour en route to Jackson in order to pick up pizza for the crowd of disgruntled travelers. When our busses pulled in, there was pizza waiting. Whomever arranged the pizza and had it hot and ready before we arrived deserves a promotion! The whole transaction went off without a hitch. They loaded each bus up with several boxes of pizza and beverages and paused long enough for us to sort out who wanted what. It could have been the worst pizza in the entire world, and I don't think it would have mattered. People were so happy to have SOMETHING to eat. After all, their last meal was probably lunch before heading to the airport and by now it was around 3 o'clock in the morning. Once we got going again, the bus ride grew cold. The windows of the bus didn't shut tightly, and the low that night in the mountains was in the upper 30's (Fahrenheit). I was wearing a heavy jacket and long sleeves and still I was shivering. Neither David nor I could sleep well or comfortably, but we tried to stay out of each other's way and keep each other warm. At some point, driving through a pass high in the mountains, we looked out the window and marveled together at how many stars we could see. Are you sure that's the same sky that we look up at from home? It's so much more beautiful in the mountains. The stars are so bright and many!

Photo by AdgPhoto/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by AdgPhoto/iStock / Getty Images

Before long, we pulled up to Jackson Hole Airport. I was cold and ready to get off the bus, but all in all, in pretty good spirits. When we arrived at the airport, it became clear that there had been some misinformation regarding the transportation situation waiting for us at Jackson Hole Airport. There were three or four taxis, but all of them were taken before I had even retrieved my luggage from the bus's cargo bay. And the only rental car company open was Hertz (we had previously made reservations with Enterprise). But when life hands you lemons... At first, we weren't sure what we should do, so I asked the bus driver if he had been in contact with anyone at United and if he knew if more taxis were coming. He offered to drop us and some other passengers off in the Jackson "for a handsome tip". I was incredulous! First we are told he's "not allowed" to let us off in Jackson, but suddenly it's ok as long as he's paid well, off the books? We politely refused and went to see if Hertz had any cars left. David and I walked across the airport, and I could see he was tired, but he made no mention of it. I was tired too, but tired on vacation is still better than any regular day at home. I was excited for even greater adventures ahead. Even at the time, I knew that we would look back on this night as an example of how well two people can work together in a less-than-ideal situation, staying positive and supportive, and what a testament that is to a good relationship. 

I was in no rush. Most of the night was spent already, a few more minutes or an hour didn't make much difference. So I wasn't impatient when I listened to the conversation of the couple in front of us in the Hertz line, merely amused. They apparently had a really difficult time deciding on a car. There weren't many options left, so the question was just white or silver? I'm sure they're really great people that had just had a really long night, but it's a good thing there were only two left, or they might have been there all day! When we finally got to the counter, the Hertz representative was down to his last car. What luck to get the last one! I know it was more expensive than the car we originally booked, but it was a Jeep Grand Cherokee, and we had previously booked a regular sedan. I think it was a reasonable price for what we got. It turned out to be a really nice vehicle, and we ended up enjoying having a higher profile vehicle when driving in Yellowstone anyway. So we loaded up our luggage and ourselves, and pulled out of the airport parking lot just as the first morning light began to diffuse gently over the horizon. It was glorious! Even after all we had been through, David was still solid, and undisturbed. We joked about just starting our drive to Yellowstone, instead of going to the hotel. We laughed at how late/early we were out and how we felt almost hung over, like we had partied all night. 

We checked into the hotel in Jackson at dawn. I have to admit, it felt a bit silly, but it was already paid, and we desperately need a couple hours of proper sleep. As we pulled our luggage across the parking lot toward our building, I realized how grateful I was to have gotten diverted with David. It made the whole thing feel more like an adventure than a dilemma. Either one of us could have been upset about the whole thing and carried around our bad mood like a dark cloud, but we didn't. In our daily lives, we argue time to time (like any couple) but I get the feeling that when things really get tough, he'll be there. Unwavering. And together, we'll make the most out of whatever lot we draw. In the end, we shared a memory. We'll look back and laugh. And maybe, it made us a little stronger too.

Driving near Jackson, WY

Driving near Jackson, WY

Sometimes we plan to make memories, yet often our strongest memories do not come from perfectly planned moments.