After 45 days traveling throughout Asia, including some of the most foreign places we’ve ever been, we were finally back on US soil. The trip across the Pacific had been more eventful than expected, with our direct Hong Kong to Chicago flight changing course for an emergency detour to San Francisco when we were still a thousand miles from the shore. The cause was some mysterious mechanical failure but as far as I could tell the flight attendants weren’t weeping in the bathrooms so I kept the panic in check. Surprisingly, we still made it to Chicago later that day and my connecting flight to Minneapolis was conveniently delayed just enough that I didn’t miss it. Carla skipped the last leg of this journey and instead took a bus to Milwaukee to spend the holidays with her family. We would be apart for two weeks—the first time we had spent even a day apart in over six months.
By the time we left Asia I was very much looking forward to the comforts of home. Water from the tap, normal bathrooms, fresh vegetables (that won’t get you sick), cell phone service, clean air, and maybe even a Chipotle burrito would all be very welcome. The downside: I was going to Minneapolis on December 20th of the coldest winter in years. My two weeks there exhibited the full brutality of the Minnesota winter, with nighttime temperatures dipping below zero Fahrenheit more often than not (night starts around 4:30 this time of year) and several days of real snowfall to keep drivers on their toes. After spending the last couple months either taking beachside naps or sweating out humid city pollution, the cold was more than a little shocking.
I spent most of my two weeks relaxing around the house with family or seeing friends. Most importantly, aside from a short trip to Duluth to see my uncle’s family, I was not traveling or sightseeing for the first time in over half a year. I had caught something in Manila (six words you never want to say), which made it easier to be lazy and do things like reading on the couch while I recovered. I had the usual great family Christmas with my parents and sister, with more relatives stopping by on Christmas Eve. My gift from Carla was tickets to a Timberwolves game, which I had been itching to go to all year. My whole family went and despite a loss in the final seconds due to a blown call we had an awesome time. The two week break in Minnesota was just what I needed: family, friends and familiar things.
Meanwhile, Carla had met up with her family in Milwaukee and later drove to a town just outside Toronto to see her mom’s side of the family for Christmas. Despite the distances covered, her break was much like mine. She had a wonderful time with the Canadian side of her family, relaxing and catching up, then spent more time with her immediate family back in Milwaukee. One particular highlight was heading down to Chicago for an annual family New Year’s party that she hadn’t been to in a decade.
By January 4th I was ready to be back on the road. I said goodbye to my family, flew to Chicago and walked out into the beginnings of a snowstorm. Carla’s family picked me up and we had a nice sushi dinner together before they got on the slow, slushy road back to Milwaukee. Carla’s friend Yoni and girlfriend Shira, who live in Chicago, were good enough to host us for the night while the snow piled higher and higher. Our worries about making it out of Chicago the next day piled up along with the snow. Yoni happens to work for United’s operations team so he was able to give us real-time insider updates on the flight situation. By this time we were pretty much fed up with winter (all two weeks of it) and ready for the hot Australian January.
The next morning the four of us walked out into a winter wonderland and had a delicious brunch on Chicago’s Northside. After brunch, despite continuing snow and hundreds of flight cancellations that day, United was still telling us to go to the airport. We said goodbye to our gracious hosts and started the long journey to O’Hare (if not Sydney). On the bus to O’Hare, I particularly enjoyed overhearing a conversation between two off-duty flight attendants complaining about what a waste of time going to the airport was when all the flights were cancelled. I was already planning my second snowy evening in Chicago.
It turned out maybe 5% of scheduled flights went out of O’Hare that day. In a stroke of pure luck, ours was one of them. We cleared the snow-clouds of the Upper Midwest and landed that night in a very pleasant Los Angeles. A few hours later, we were flying south/southwest to Auckland and, after waking up over the South Pacific, got on a final three hour flight to Sydney. Total travel time from the Northside of Chicago to Sydney airport: 26 hours. But something about the new surroundings and warm weather made us feel as happy and alert as if we’d woken up in our own beds.