One weekend recently I was on my way home with the Haines (Alaska) High School cross- country running team when we picked up lunch and something to read in the Seattle airport.
Seattle is not on the way to Haines. It is almost 1,000 miles in the wrong direction.
The towns in southeast Alaska aren't connected by roads, and only Sitka has two high schools, the local public school and a state-run boarding school for rural Alaskan students. To get to all our "away" meets, we have to take a boat, a plane, or, in this case, both. We ferried from Haines to Juneau Thursday night, flew to Sitka Friday morning, ran the race, and then flew back to Juneau Saturday morning to catch the boat home - almost.
The Juneau airport was buried in fog, so we missed it.
We turned sharply and rumbled back down for one more try at a landing. The wind slammed the jet sideways, the cabin swung back and forth. I shut my eyes. I hate flying.
I almost felt the wheels touch the runway, but the stubborn fog wouldn't budge, and the whole plane shook as we zoomed up again.
I imagined the scene in the cockpit: "Pull up, pull up!" the copilot yells. Red lights flash, alarms beep, and the brave pilot wrestles the careening jet up and over the mountains - just in time to save us all. Which was why I was relieved when the pilot said we were not trying that again - rather, "We're going to Seattle."
The 6 a.m. flight from Sitka to Juneau takes a half hour. I'd told the kids to wear sweats, or their jammies, and we'd take showers, change, and eat in Juneau. I was in a team sweatshirt and dirty running pants. I don't think I'd combed my hair. At least it was a breakfast flight.
"Unfortunately" the flight attendant announced, "since we didn't land in Juneau, we didn't get catered. But," she said, "we have lots and lots of those terrific Alaska Airlines peanuts."
I assumed we would overnight in Seattle and come home on the first flight in the morning. Our outfits ruled out dinner and a show.
But we could go to a Mariners game.
"I'll buy the tickets." I told my team. I felt almost like a big shot, flying all the way from Alaska for a baseball game. It was sunny and 75 degrees F. in Seattle; this was turning out great.
Then the flight attendant announced we had been rebooked on the next plane back to Alaska - and it left in 40 minutes.
As soon as we landed in Seattle, I checked us in and sent the team on a food and newspaper run.
The clerk at the gate was not happy. When one of the boys asked "Do we get miles for this?" she snapped "No, just for the distance on the tickets you purchased." She emphasized that last word as if we had flown down the entire west coast of Canada to get free miles.
That's when I got a little cross, but since I'm a coach and should set an example, I said "You know, we don't want to be here, either. We thought we were going from Sitka to Juneau this morning. Can you believe it?"
I did not scream: "Do you think anyone in his right mind would travel to Seattle dressed like this on purpose?!"
And that's how the Haines High cross-country team went all the way to Seattle, picked up some turkey sandwiches to go, and flew home again.