Saturday, February 9, 2008

How not to get to Crested Butte.

I was in Crested Butte, Colorado last week shooting a feature story for Backcountry Magazine.  Turns out just getting to Crested Butte was the most difficult part of the entire shoot.  Here's how it all went down.

-Original flight on Friday morning from Burlington, Vermont gets cancelled due to a mega ice storm slamming New England.

-Spend an hour and a half on the phone with customer service for United Airlines (which happens to be in the Philippines) trying to get another flight to Crested Butte.  They tell me I won't be able to get another flight from Burlington, VT till Sunday afternoon.  I ask the woman to check other airports.  There is a flight from Boston's Logan airport Saturday, but it will cost me $125.00.  I decline.  I call back customer service.  (this time the agent is in India)  10 minutes later I'm booked on the flight out of Boston with no additional cost.

-6:45 am Saturday, I catch a bus from Hanover, New Hampshire to Logan Airport.  Very easy, it's direct to Logan, they even serve free bottled water, snacks and show a movie.

-Waste away three hours in the airport.  Get some breakfast, read the paper, even find a ten spot on the ground, sweet!

-Flight to Denver was fine and on time.  Things are really going my way.  Head out to my gate for my connecting flight to Gunnison, Colorado.  I even have time to stop for a couple of airport beers.

airport beers

-Flight to Gunnison gets cancelled.  This is where things stop going my way.  I sprint to the customer service counter. (this time the agents were right in front of me, not in India or the Philippines)  Seems that the next flight I can get isn't till 8:00 the next night.  Mike Horn, the writer of the story is in Crested Butte and reports it's going to snow for 2 days and he thinks there is no way I'd get in tomorrow.  CRAP!

-Options?  Sleep in the airport like Tom Hanks in the The Terminal?  Get a room someplace? (who is going to pay for that?)  I could rent a car and hit the road.  I'm told it's only five and a half hours to Crested Butte.  I call a few rent-a-car companies.  They want $225 for a one way rental.  I call Mike Horn to see if the Magazine would cover that.  He thinks he can get it covered one way or another, I think not a chance.

-I overhear three very nice ladies talking about renting a car and driving out that night.  Another gentleman chimes in that he would help split the cost and hop in for the ride, he's heading to Crested Butte himself.  Without much hesitation I too offer to help split the costs and be the fifth in the car.  I warn them that I have a ton of bags and gear, but they seemed unfazed.  Looks like it's a plan.  I tell the customer service woman that I will need my bags off the plane.  No problem but it might take an hour or two.
All my gear.  One boardbag with my skis, snowboard, backcountry gear and tripod.  Big rolling duffel with snowboard bindings, snowboard boots, ski clothes, various photo gear, and regular clothes.  Grey camera bag with all my lenses, bodies, flashes, slaves, cards etc... And one rolling carry on duffel with ski boots, computer, hard drive and jacket.  Gotta stay under the 50 lb. limit.

-The ringleader and motivational point woman behind this mission to get to Crested Butte is Deb.  She secures the SUV and heads out to pick up the car.  I meet the other passengers in this fur brained idea, Susan, Charlotte, and Gordon.

-We are now all waiting for our bags.  One hour leads to two.  We talk to the baggage counter.  Seems no one knows where our bags are.  Two hours lead to three.  No sight of any bags.  Finally after three and a half hours our bags are spit out onto the conveyer belt and the newly formed group of best friends are headed to the parking garage.  I have twice the bags as anyone and am now concerned it won't all fit.  I would be back to square one, sleeping in the airport.

Susan and Gordon waiting at the empty luggage rack.
The empty ski rack...waiting...waiting...waiting.

-I make all my gear fit into a Ford Explorer and my new four best friends and I hit the road.  The ring leader Deb takes the first shift behind the wheel.  Gordon is the copilot (not a very good copilot, he missed a turn) and in the back seat is Charlotte, Susan and myself.  The story is this;  Deb, Susan and Charlotte are all friends from Kentucky who like to take ski trips together.  If I recall correctly Gordon is from Ohio.  Deb is a pharmacist and Charlotte is an orthopedic surgeon, not sure what Susan and Gordon do.  Turns out that Charlotte is getting over a cold and is all doped up on codeine given to her from Deb.  (lucky her)  We chat and converse all 6 hours to Crested Butte mostly to just stay a wake and give support to whoever was driving.  Along the way I learn that Gordon grew up in Reno and his first concert was the king himself, Elvis.

-After 4 pee breaks, one gas break and a sketchy ride over Monarch Pass, we get to Gunnison and take the right towards Crested Butte.  We drop off Gordon at his fathers house and continue on to my hotel.  It's was now 3:45 in the morning Colorado time, 5:45 Vermont time.  I had been up for over 24 hours but am now in Crested Butte.  Mike Horn came down to help me with my gear.  After a few beers I sleep...

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