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Monday, October 5, 2015

Getting There

Getting there is half the fun.
                                    Cunard Line

Happy people, walking arm in arm, obviously having just enjoyed a rousing game of ring toss with equally happy fellow travelers, now on their way now to a comfy chair and a cool drink...

Getting there is half the fun!
Yep, that was pretty much what it was like for the Cycle Greater Yellowstone (CGY) and Piedmont tours. Well, for half of them anyway...

Getting There - CGY
There should be a sunrise picture on getaway day, right? Of course, so here it is:

"Sunrise" on getaway day
A street light stood in for the sun on this morning as we pulled out of La Crosse, the GPS set for Gillette, Wyoming. Once out of town, we started getting directions from our electronic guide: "In 750 miles, turn right." A retired engineer and a retired surgeon can certainly handle that degree of complexity.

A route even we could figure out
So it was. In spite of occasional bad press, we found the drive across Minnesota and South Dakota to be quite enjoyable. The scenery, if not of the spectacular nature, is varied and interesting and it helped that we had a good audio book to listen to. We made Gillette in good time, helped a bit by the one hour time difference, and celebrated this trouble free day with a good steak dinner - we were in Wyoming, after all!

To Gillette...
The next day was devoted to the much shorter leg to the start point of the tour, Red Lodge, Montana. This was going to require going over a mountain pass and we had two from which to choose. We opted for the longer, somewhat more scenic route and were rewarded with the really spectacular landscape that we didn't get in the first day's drive.

...and then to Red Lodge
Pulling in to Red Lodge, we took care of our first priority, finding a good place to eat. This could, after all, be our "last meal" as our expectations for the food in camp were not, I admit, all that lofty.

Bison burger in Red Lodge
At last it was time to join the tour and we checked in at the park, set up our tents and settled in. For me, preparing my tent required me to open up the one that had been set up for me as part of the CGY tent porter service. Bill chose to set up his own tent and easily found a suitably shady spot - an advantage as the tent porter "village" was generally in the most open space available.

CGY registration
My tent porter service home for the week
Bill is an expert at finding afternoon shade
The CGY camp in Red Lodge
And that was it. A nice drive, much of it through places I had never seen and an easy transition to CGY camp life. Half the fun? Probably not, but it was a most enjoyable start for the tour.

Getting There - Piedmont
Then there was the trip to Italy. This should be easy: hop on a plane in La Crosse, change in Chicago and New York on day one then get through the airport in Milan and onto a train to Alessandria. It would be just like the trip to Red Lodge, except for the fact that the airlines would be involved. Still, I could see no way that this could go badly ...

Well, there was terrible weather at JFK on getaway day. And a mechanical problem that would delay the flight from La Crosse long enough to guarantee a missed connection in Chicago. OK, so yes, there were a few ways for the trip to go badly and I had already run into two of them.

But it turns out that everything worked out well, something I really could not see coming. First let me offer up kudos for the American Airlines staff at the La Crosse airport. They handled the delay well and before getting on the plane I was rebooked to go through Chicago and London, connecting to Milan, now through Linate airport, not Malpensa. The fact that I was indifferent to the airport gave me more options and that helped. And it turned out that Linate provided an easier connection to the central train station in Milan.

Also, while waiting in Chicago, I saw that my original flight to JFK had been delayed - "I could have made it," I thought; but I didn't try (recall the observation about the weather at JFK). A bit later the flight was cancelled. So once in a blue moon, a mechanical problem on your first flight of the day can be the best thing that happens on the trip.

Rainy day at O'Hare but it was worse at JFK
The connection in London went smoothly save for a delay of about 40 minutes for the flight to Milan.

Terminal 5 at Heathrow
An upscale shopping center with a few planes in the parking lot
Now in the second day of travel and a bit tired from the long trip so far, I watched for my bags at Linate. Hmmm... perhaps I dozed off or was standing at the wrong belt. But no, it seems my bags - a large red rolling duffle and a bike shipping box - had apparently sneaked off unnoticed and gone on a side trip; they left no word as to where they were headed nor when or if they would join me.

Easy to see how these two could get lost in the shuffle!
(The staff at LSE did change the tags to ORD-LHR-LIN)
This was not good, but there was a sliver of silver lining. I was assured by the British Airways baggage service that my bags would be forwarded to the hotel in Alessandria. This would take care of an issue I had been a bit concerned with, that being the need to deal with these cumbersome items on the remaining legs of the trip – making my way to Milan's Central Station then taking two trains to get to Alessandria and further on to the hotel there. Luggage-less as I was, the trip was easy and I checked-in at the Hotel Alli Due Buoi Rossi in the late afternoon with John and Julio showing up late that evening.

Milan Central Station
Another upscale shopping center, this one with trains in the parking lot
And that was it. Half the fun? No way. But, successful with, in the end, a net delay of only about five hours. It was a difficult trip, but one that could have been worse.

Lessons Learned
In spite of the issues, I was again reminded that it is a great privilege to be able to travel and see the wonders of this place in which we live. And as always, the pain of problems fades while memories of the journeys will always bring a smile to my face.

I pause here to consider the question I know is on your lips, "Where was Bill through all of this?" Well, he decided to personally and rather dramatically illustrate the point that this trip could have been worse. More about this later. For now, let's just leave it at "The Piedmont tour was underway ..."

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