Jan 032020
 


Woke up the next morning feeling like I’d been hit by a truck. Not just any old truck, but a big-ass semi that had run me over, backed over me again, and then proceeded to run me over at high speed. Turns out lots of travel, craft beer, burgers, and poutine leaves you feeling not so great when you’re not 21 anymore…nor two times 21 even.

That said, a bit of Starbucks and I rallied by a champ to chair an important two hour meeting via videoconference from my hotel room before getting ready to check out and head to the airport.

I was mildly nervous because this had started overnight, and it was coming down harder and harder as the morning went on. But this is Canada, right? What could go wrong? Even a regional jet operated by a US airline will be fine because it’s Canada…right?

Uber had no trouble, and there wasn’t even a surcharge compared with the night before, so everything was great, right? I was expecting my usual grilling when traveling between the US and Canada from immigration, but nope, even that was a piece of the gate.

The view from my gate, however, really made me worry. It was coming down heavier than ever, and was really starting to pile up. At least my inbound flight was still showing on time. Would this be the trip when I finally had back-to-back flights cancel?

But no, thanks to the superpowers of Canada my inbound landed right on time, we boarded right on time to “try and get out early in case there are delays” and away we went.

United Express flight 5877 operated by SkyWest
Calgary, Alberta (YYC) to Chicago, O’Hare (ORD)
Depart 12:15, Arrive: 16:51, flight time: 3:36, flight distance: 1,385 miles
Embraer ERJ-175, Registration N150SY, Manufactured 2015, Seat 2A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 203,595
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,895,897

Gin and tonic for a PDB. I needed it after the night before, and I have no idea why I ordered it. I never drink gin and tonics, but it sounded refreshing. In the middle of winter. Go figure. There’s probably something wrong in my head.

Bit of a delay for de-icing at the gate, but we got the green slush AND the orange/pink slush today – Canada doesn’t mess around!

We were about 45 minutes behind schedule due to the de-icing delay, meaning my connection in Chicago would be about 20 minutes. That’s no bueno. So let’s have another gin and tonic in flight before lunch to try and forget about that…ok?

Lunch was next, and there was a reasonably good fruit bowl, a salad with cold beef on the side, and a cookie. Overall, considering it was a regional jet, I was more than happy with this. That said, this was my longest regional jet flight ever, at nearly 3.5 hours! That said, I’ll take an ERJ-175 to a 737-800 any day! Nobody to climb over me.

About halfway through the flight I started feeling bad, really bad. Not in a way that was likely related to my beverages and burgers, but really strange muscle spasms that had me majorly concerned…to the point I starting timing the intervals between them. After about 15 minutes they started getting longer and longer, and for the last hour of the flight they were gone. Nothing is quite as terrifying as thinking you might have to page the flight attendant and be that guy that forces them to ask if there’s a doctor on board.

At least we had absolutely gorgeous sunsets to distract me the last hour of the flight:

Landed in Chicago feeling reasonable, and with no problems the final hour the desire to get home won out over the consideration to see if there was a clinic at O’Hare, so I decided to run for my gate. Because running is exactly what you need when just a couple hours prior you wear feeling horrid, right?

Well, I got to the gate for my connection exactly 12 minutes before departure and…we hadn’t even started boarding. The reason? No pilots. They were “delayed getting to the gate” and when they showed up 10 minutes later with their fresh McDonalds takeout for once I was very happy they’d decided to stop.

United flight 624
Chicago, O’Hare (ORD) to Washington DC, National (DCA)
Depart 18:00, Arrive: 20:52, flight time: 1:52, flight distance: 612 miles
Boeing 737-800, Registration N14242, Manufactured 1999, Seat 2E
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 204,207
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,896,509

Nothing to say here – flight went quickly, snack basket and a good crew, and kept feeling better and better as the flight went on. The epilogue to the story is: stop acting like you’re 21. Eat some salads. Drink a whole lot less craft beer and wine. Hamburgers are not one of the major food groups, oh, and stop flying 250,000 miles and year and stressing yourself out prepping for meeting after meeting. 2020 is going to bring some big changes!

So, would I do the trip again? Was I’m glad what started as “join me for four days in Asia” turned into a 2.5 week trip that took me from Tunisia to Oman, Indonesia to Thailand, Toronto to the extreme Arctic? You bet. It was an amazing trip. It didn’t pair well with all the work travel that bookended it, and next year when I take a vacation somewhere I’m going to make sure it’s at a time where it’s not going to be a series of constant trips.

Best lesson from the trip? The Canadian Arctic is absolutely gorgeous, and I picked the perfect time of year to go with the short days and the pink, orange, and purple skies. I wouldn’t change a thing!!

Jan 022020
 


Nobody likes an 05:30 flight. I definitely don’t like an 05:30 flight. It was, however, really the only way to get out of Whitehorse and still have at least a tiny bit of time in Calgary. I could also have flown straight through to DC in the same day, but the way fares worked breaking it in Calgary saved a ton of money.

Given my disdain for hours before the sun comes up, I did everything possible to maximize sleep. Yes, the flight was sold out, but I was checked-in online, and that means 90 people max to get through the single security line in Whitehorse. I set everything out the night before, set my alarm for 04:00, and went to bed after verifying that the plane had taken off from Vancouver, so it would be overnighting in Whitehorse as planned.

04:00, jump out of bed, dash through the shower, and I was out the door on the way to the airport in my cab by 04:15. Just before reaching the airport I turned on my phone (oops, such a rush I’d forgotten, and was greeted with this gem from the previous evening’s flight:

Yes, it had taken off from Vancouver, but apparently had a mechanical and returned to Vancouver where they spent 2+ hours on a rolling delay before finally canceling after midnight, ensuring the crew timed out.

The airport was quiet when I arrived, confirming that everyone else had probably checked online and decided to sleep in. Total amateur mistake on my part to not double-check before leaving for the airport.

On the “good news side” the agents confirmed an extra section had been added and that we would leave around noon. Well, I’d have much less time in Calgary than planned, but nothing at all that I could do about it.

Grabbed a cab back to the hotel where they were happy to give me my room back, and by 05:30 I was back in bed where I slept for another three hours giving me a solid 8+ hour night when added up.

It also gave me a chance to explore Canada’s northernmost Starbucks…for research and science purposes of course!

Back to the airport around 10:30 for the 11:55 retimed flight, where I headed through security. I love the signs that are everywhere in Canada now warning that crossing the border with pot is illegal. Sadly, in Whitehorse they were accompanied by signs warning about the dangers of fentanyl.

No wait at all for security, and I was probably curb to gate in 5-6 minutes total, meaning I could have easily waited another 30 minutes. Just be warned, there’s only two security lines (and I’m totally usually one is only open) so plan ahead, because I’ve heard lines have the possibility of being much longer than I faced.

On the other side of security, the very small waiting area for security-required flights. (Like Yellowknife, flights headed north don’t have to go through security.)

Our plane landed at 11:10, giving them 45 minutes to turn it around, so no drama at all and we were all ready to go for our rescheduled 11:55 flight.

Air Canada flight 8771 operated by Jazz Aviation
Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada (YXY) to Vancouver, BC (YVR)
Depart 11:55, Arrive: 14:15, flight time: 1:50, flight distance: 923 miles
Canadair CRJ-900, Registration C-GJZS, Manufactured 2017, Seat 2A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 201,782
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,894,084

Gorgeous views of the Yukon on takeoff:

Fortunately, the flight had been re-provisioned with lunch instead of breakfast and started with a nuts and drink service. Can’t break my tradition of a glass of red.

Main course offerings were exactly the same as my Vancouver to Yellowknife the previous week, so instead of the odd General Tso’s Chicken I decided to go with the vegetarian pasta this time, which was surprisingly flavourful and quite taste. The blondie for dessert was actually excellent!

Had 90 minutes in Vancouver (I was offered a 35 minute connection, but was really not in the mood to run for it) and shockingly was able to find a seat in the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge, where I decided that a mid-afternoon snack of cookies and a Ceasar was in order. Mmmmm clams…

Boarding to Calgary was right on time with a lot of people that looked exhausted and disoriented. Turns out lots of connections from Asia on this flight, so no matter how tiring my day had been there were definitely people who had it much worse!

Air Canada flight 218
Vancouver, BC (YVR) to Calgary, Alberta (YYC)
Depart 16:10, Arrive: 18:34, flight time: 1:24, flight distance: 428 miles
Airbus A321, Registration C-GIUB, Manufactured 2001, Seat 1C
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 202,210
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,894,512

Due to the short flight time the nuts and snack were served together on this flight. It was a sort of deconstructed salad niçoise today, which was at least reasonably healthy. Could have used more protein though…

Arrived in Calgary approximately six hours later than I wanted so rushed to catch an Uber and get to my downtown hotel as soon as possible so I could at least enjoy a dinner out.

The room was rather odd – it was an upgrade according to the staff, but the only thing it seemed to have is a ton of empty space. I’m not used to hotel rooms that feel cavernous! The hotel was ok, but since it was also the host hotel for the upcoming Grey Cup in a few days the hotel was swarming with media and corporate sponsors, so I imagine they had taken the “better” upgrades long before I was in the queue.

It was already nearly 8pm, so after a little research headed out on a short walk to get some dinner. The Calgary Tower was nicely illuminated at night:

Ended up at Bottlescrew Bill’s Pub due to it’s relatively promising-looking craft beer list…and proximity to my hotel of course.

You really can’t go wrong with a burger and poutine…at least until you wake up the next day and that combined with several beers reminds you you’re not 21 years old any more and can’t get away with that. At least it was delicious.

Terrifying statue on the walk back to the hotel. Nobody needs a 20 foot tall hockey mascot in a ten gallon hat mocking them.

With that, my all too short day in Calgary was over. I’d really hoped to have the whole afternoon to explore the city, but sometimes things conspire against you. I guess it just gives me an excuse to do a trip I’ve been thinking of: fly into Fort McMurray in northern Alberta and then drive to Calgary via Edmonton – trying to understand Alberta on the way. Maybe that’s something for 2020.

Off to bed….and time for the last segment: HOME!

Jan 012020
 


My flight out of Inuvik wasn’t until nearly 2pm, and I only really needed to leave for the airport a bit after 12 so I decided not to set alarm since I really didn’t have anything I needed or wanted to see left in Inuvik.

I woke up around 10am, just in time to catch the tail end of breakfast, but not with enough time to do too much more before heading to the airport. Decided on a short walk in town before packing up and heading out, and then it was off to find gas before heading to the airport.

The price of gas was a crazy C$1.99 per liter, and the Suburban took nearly 50 liters to fill up. The trip up to Tuktoyaktuk hadn’t been cheap, but was certainly worth it.

The drive to the airport was only about 30 minutes, returning the car took less than five minutes, and I was on my way to check-in with Air North. It looked online like the flight might be pretty empty, and I was hopeful it would be.

Check-in agent confirmed that indeed there would only be about 25 people on the flight today, meaning each passenger could have an empty seat next to them if they wanted – score! Our flight was doing a loop today from Whitehorse – Old Crow – Inuvik – Whitehorse, and while waiting for the plane to come in from Old Crow I spotted today’s Canadian North flight being operated by a 737-200 with a forward cargo door – COOL!

Our flight touched down right on time, and soon it was time for the 15 or so passengers joining in Inuvik to join the 10 who had come from Old Crow to board our ATR for a nearly two hour flight!

Air North flight 362
Inuvik, NWT (YEV) to Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada (YXY)
Depart 13:55, Arrive: 14:50, flight time: 1:55, flight distance: 528 miles
ATR 42-300, Registration C-FVGP, Manufactured 1989, Seat 4A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 200,859
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,893,161

The seats were interesting, and I’ve never seen any like this before. The two seats we really made of one piece meaning it was really one big seat with a divider. Legroom wasn’t great, but with nobody next to me it was more than adequate.

Takeoff!

Despite being a propeller plane a choice of sandwiches was served – cheese or turkey were on offer and I went with the turkey…which came with a raisin cookie. Plenty nice snack for a tiny regional flight. Well done Air North!

Flight went pretty quickly, very little turbulence, and we descended into Whitehorse right at the golden hour. Gorgeous orange skies:

Great mountain views below:

A view of our ATR after landing in Whitehorse – there’s something about this orange, white, and blue livery that I really find appealing.

There was a free shuttle to most of the downtown hotels, and I had chosen the Best Western Gold Rush Inn for the night. Best Westerns definitely aren’t my chain of choice, but given the location in the middle of town I decided it would be “good enough” for one night.

Funny enough my room came with a jacuzzi in the corner (not in the washroom!) and the window was held together with duct tape. That said, the bed was plenty comfy for a good night’s sleep!

I had about an hour before sunset, so I decided to head out for a long walk clear across town about 2km or so to Yukon Brewing to sample their products. After all, it was advertised as “Beer Worth Freezin’ For” so I had to try!

Sampler tray was quite nice, and reasonable at less than C$10. Unfortunately, I didn’t find very many of their beers very good. They were rather bland and unremarkable. I really wanted a hoodie with their logo, but just couldn’t bring myself to spend $70 when their beers were not something I wanted to advertise – despite the super cool logo.

Back to the Best Western, where I had to snap some photos of the kitsch in the lobby. You could “mine for gold” in the lobby with some sifting trays….or use the non-functional old-time telephone to make a call. But beware, the Mounties are always watching you!

Walked to find some dinner, and ran into hometown hero Jack London. Who knew!

Unfortunately, the place I had hoped to go (The Dirty Northern) turned out to be closed for a private event, and being Sunday night there wasn’t too much going on in general so I ended up at the Best Western’s restaurant – which was shockingly completely packed!

I settled in at the bar for a beer, and ended up having a super tasty bison burger and some chocolate ice cream cake – definitely decadent, but still delicious!

I wish I had had a bit more time to explore Whitehorse, including the hot springs, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the little bit that I saw. What was striking to me was a huge number of Mexican tourists (who come for northern lights tours) and how much the town felt like Alaska to me.

Inuvik and Yellowknife had felt like something totally unique, but Whitehorse really struck me as if I had just hopped over the border from Alaska – lots of similarity in how it felt.

I’ll definitely be back one day for a longer visit, but for now, it was time to end this wonderful two week trip and begin the trek back home…