The wintery months of December 2008 and January 2009 were tough ones for Portlanders. We experienced what became dubbed ‘Snowpocalypse’ due to the city’s inability to handle large amounts of snow and ice. We simply don’t have the infrastructure because such weather usually spares us here. The whole city was in a panic, the switches for our lightrail trains froze, rendering one line useless for at least five days. Buses acting as shuttles took its place, but some bus drivers’ lack of ability to drive such a contraption in snowy and icy conditions rendered a lot of people transportationless for fear of ending up in a wreck. I joined the ranks of the fearful and stayed inside most of the time. It probably sounds incredibly silly to people in most of the rest of the country, but I do think weather changes are the most to blame for traffic-related terror here, and none worse than snow itself.
I had a “full time” job for only 3 months before this weather hit. I say “full time” in quotes because though I was hired as a full time employee, there simply was not enough work to provide full time hours. The recession had effectively wrecked this industry as well as many others, at least for the time being. I was often sent home without even completing an hour’s work. So, I found this to be somewhat lucky at the time, being that I did not need to brave the weather and venture out on one of those scary shuttle buses to get to work. I did not own a vehicle of my own at the time, nor did I even have a driver’s license, a common occurrence in Portland because typically public transit can get you where you need to go, and failing that, cabs are plentiful. I think I went to work once during Snowpocalypse, thankfully before the switches on the tracks froze. Even still, I recall being bundled up at the lightrail station, waiting for a train to take me home in the 20 minutes it usually took. I think I waited over an hour for a train, continually watching the temperature as it flashed repeatedly from the clock/thermometer at the bank across the street. 20 degrees. 19 degrees. Oh my God the wind. I felt like I was not in Portland anymore.
Sounds dramatic, doesn’t it? It was, for me. I hate the cold! I understand the damp nature of Portland means the cold really gets into your bones. In winter months, I simply cannot feel warm. Ever. Even without a foot of snow and 19 degree temperatures and wind cutting across my face. Nope, it’s just not for me.
Gradually I came to detest staying in my house, even being stuck there on Christmas Day, though I did have a friend staying with me. We made the trek down the street to the store for food and amused ourselves with bad movies. Eventually he went back home and I was stuck there alone again. Going stir-crazy, hating the sight of snow blanketing my front yard. I decided a tropical vacation sounded really, really nice.
At first it was a fleeting thought, but my mind kept going back to it. I decided to force it into a reality. My anxiety was going into overdrive any time I let myself think about it too long, though. I needed to find someone to accompany me. I put my feelers out on whatever social networking site was active at the time, looking for someone who had the time, money and inclination to join me somewhere warm. After searching some airfare websites, I decided Hawaii was the most affordable. I chose Maui specifically, though I don’t think there was a reason other than public transportation existed on the island. Excellent.
No one could go. No one seemed all that interested in going. Really? It’s been snowing for what seemed like forever and NO ONE wanted to escape to a beautiful tropical island? Okay…shit.
Instead of resigning myself to failure I held on to the idea and a crazy little voice in the back of my mind asked, “Why not go by yourself?”
“Are you crazy? I can’t go somewhere I have never been and know nothing about alone. No. Not happening.”
But I did allow myself to do some more searching. This search found me a private room in a hostel for $50 a night. Seemed like a really good deal for Maui. Seemed spendy for a hostel, but again, my anxiety really did not want to allow me to even consider a dorm room.
Out of curiosity, I emailed my boss on a Friday night, when he was most likely to have already knocked back a few beers. I inquired about taking a week off in January, when the fares seemed lower, and perhaps the snow would be gone so planes could take off without issue. My work was actively encouraging us to take unpaid time off so as to save money in our crumbling economy. “Sure! Knock yourself out.” That was all I needed to hear to motivate me to pull the trigger.
Normally I am very careful with my money. Under usual circumstances, I would never spend money I didn’t have, particularly not hundreds of dollars. But I considered this a special situation. My excitement outweighed my fear for once and I felt that I needed to do this at this point. I excitedly pulled out the credit card that I had never used for things I didn’t need (instead using it for items such as cash advances to pay my rent since my job gave me hardly any hours) and booked a direct flight to Maui on Hawaiian Air. I also reserved the private room at the hostel. There were two hostels I found in my searches and without knowing anything about Maui, I chose Northshore Hostel in Wailuku. The other hostel was in Paia and was described as a surfer hostel and I figured that meant more of a party place and I wanted something quieter.
In an attempt to quell my anxious thoughts, I refused to do any more research. Maybe this seems backwards, however I know I have an issue with overanalyzing, overplanning, over-everythinging everything. I wanted to stop that kind of habit because I find it leads to panicky thoughts if there is one thing I forgot to look up! So all I allowed myself was the round trip flight, the room in the hostel, and assurance I could get around via public transit. All of that made me feel secure enough to stop looking into it.
I did pick up the Lonely Planet book on Hawaii when the snow started to melt and I could get to Powell’s Books. I didn’t read it though, just packed it up to take with me as I would not have internet access once there. I purposefully left my laptop behind, which was a bulky, aging Mac Powerbook; too much to carry and besides, I wanted to get away from technology, anyway.
Any time I started thinking about Hawaii between the time of purchasing my tickets and before the day of the trip, I pushed the thoughts out of my mind. Most of them were anxious thoughts. I told myself, “The money is spent, so either you do it or you waste hundreds of dollars you can’t afford to waste.” It worked, it helped. I did not allow myself to think about it until the day before, when I would need to pack.
The day before came quick. I had started to work a little bit again when the lightrail in my neighborhood was functioning again. It helped the time go by and helped me save up a little money to get going. I packed everything I thought I needed, which was pretty basic: clothing, bathing suit, toothbrush, cell phone & charger, a few books. I fit everything for the 9 days I’d be there into a duffel bag. I didn’t own proper luggage back then and was not into the idea of checking my bags, especially since it cost extra. I could fit this bag easily in the storage compartments on the plane and have everything I needed aside from sunscreen, which was the only thing I couldn’t find in an appropriate travel size in Portland in January. Considering we only see the sun for about three months out of the year, this was unsurprising. Also for this same reason, I knew sunscreen was an absolute necessity and would just purchase it there. …I got burned anyway. BUT that’s beside the point!
This trip would definitely provide me with a few learning experiences and I used those to improve my travel on other trips. In fact, I think I learn something new every time. Rule Number One: Yeah, the airport isn’t messing around when they tell you to arrive early for your flight. I knew I could electronically sign in and could avoid lines because I was not checking luggage, however I was so cocky I nearly missed my plane. I knew what to take out of pockets and bags and whatever for security and could go pretty fast, but, that doesn’t mean other people can, too. Those lines can move pretty slowly and wondering if I am missing my plane while standing in a huge line is just not helpful for my stress levels.
Rule Number Two: No more duffel bags. Due to chronic back and neck injuries, this was the worst idea of all. Rolling luggage or a backpack is definitely for me.
But I made it. I got on board, they provided a free meal even, and another thing I didn’t account for: customs forms. I didn’t even think about this since I was not leaving the country, and I did not have a pen with me. That became Rule Number Three: Always travel with a pen.
After about five and a half hours, we landed. Looking down at Maui while descending was amazing. When I got off that plane and hit the pavement outside, I was overcome with emotion and a wall of humid heat. I definitely was not in Portland winter anymore.
The meat and potatoes of my Maui experience will be summed up in my next post since this is running a bit long. Just thinking about this trip really has me smiling! I can’t wait to expound on the rest of my experience.
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