Day One Travel to USA: Gramsy’s Quest 2020
Day One Travel to USA? Please forgive me, but I cannot help quoting Charles Dickens as 2020 truly is the best of times and the worst of times for many, and definitely for our small family. It is the remainder of the passage that pierces my soul: ” it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair”. Friday, Vanja drove me to Calgary to fly to Salt Lake City amid the height of the coronavirus wreaking havoc across the entire USA. I was scared to death. I am weepy again, just writing about it.
Why would Gramsy travel to the USA on her 65th birthday with 40% lung capacity by air with land borders closed? First, my daughter is having her third baby on August 31. Second, our darling little 3 years and 3-months-old Miss E was recently diagnosed with LCH which is a rare form of cancer. It was more terrifying to be so far away than to brave the travel and be able to help this exhausted beautiful little family.
Could Gramsy get special permission to travel across the land border with almost no risk to her personal health? No. We found that US Customs had moved to Calgary and everything is online now. No one was answering the phone there and we tried for days. There was no time or even any possible process to make a plea or a request of any kind online. There was no one to help and nowhere to turn. The only choice was to book a flight, take all the necessary precautions possible, and pray.
(Past posts: Gramsy Glimpses)
Day One Travel to USA: Making the Plans
Booking the flight was an ordeal. There are very few flights flying anywhere right now and all flights from my home city of Edmonton to Salt Lake City had 2-4 stops before my destination and were 11-13 hours or more. Vanja found a flight out of Calgary with Delta (my favourite airline in the US) with only one-stop and my usual 6 hour travel time from take-off to departure. So, we booked a one-way ticket, not knowing the need of my little family, with TWO seats on that flight to avoid anyone sitting near me. Of course, the flights cost more now. One seat one way cost more than the usual 2-way flight. So, two seats were pricy, but that was not even an issue at this point. Once the flight was booked, a calm settled upon me and I felt a peace that I would be fine.
Then, I had to book a hotel to self-isolate for 2 weeks after travelling as I could in no way present myself into anyone’s home after such a public travel day. Though Utah has no quarantine requirements after entering the US from Canada, our family would never consider seeing one another without being sure that we were all healthy and safe. So, I booked my favourite travel-for-business hotel, the Marriott Residence Inn close to their home near South Jordan, Utah.
The risk of personal health and the sacrifice of this two week time in isolation quarantining would not be necessary with land travel (let alone the expense of all of this, though the least of these considerations) – but no way to have any possibility of requesting an exception. That was the really upsetting part. No process in place. No place to ask. No Grandparent rights among COVID travel restrictions. Immediate family only of dependent children. That’s it.
Day One Travel to USA: Travel to Calgary
It was a tough few nights prior to the travel day. I found myself not only praying for little Miss E, but for me. I was really scared and felt so silly. I am Gramsy. I had never had such fears since I was a very small child. Oh, I’d had fears, but not ones like this. So, yes. I found comfort and strength in my prayers, just like little Miss E did when she prayed, “and please help me to sit up and stand up and walk again tomorrow.” Tomorrow was the day she sat up, and stood up and walked again – and though my travel day found me very weepy inside, I was so full of gratitude for the opportunity to get to my other family. I was so fortunate I could do all I was doing to make this happen.
We arrived. I donned my mask, my face-guard, my gloves: my war gear. And then my first gift. The Calgary Airport was empty. I thought maybe there was a mistake. It was such an eerie feeling to be walking to the Delta counter, every breath fogging my face-guard, from such a distance with not one person anywhere in sight at 10:15 am.
I checked in, safely. I went through security, safely. I found my gate, effortlessly. I sanitized my seating area, easily. No one in sight until just shortly before boarding. I was a little anxious until I heard them call one row at a time to board. Very well organized. I got into my two seats, and got all sanitized amongst my foggy face-guard, really cleaned that seat-belt, and settled in feeling completely safe and so far – uncompromised.
I was so very grateful and issued a prayer of gratitude. I felt the tears soak into my mask. I felt hot and silly. What world is this? It was a lot to take in. How much this world of mine has changed, along with the people in it and out behaviours, so dramatically, in such a short period of time. I was overwhelmed and just breathed.
There were only 17-18 on this flight. No one in front of me, beside me across the aisle or behind me.
Day One Travel to USA: Arriving in Minneapolis
No drink. No food. Just sat still touching as little as possible and putting myself in a bit of a meditative state to handle the itchy nose that I couldn’t scratch and runny eyes from the fog of my breath. I can thank my teacher training for my bladder of steel. My pulmonary specialist said to drink a lot of water every time I travel to avoid the sickness I almost always get from the recycled air, but this time, there were more important issues at play.
The departure was not as methodical as the boarding on this flight. I was a bit worried but had lovely people in front and behind me that definitely respected my space.
Out into the airport, I was immediately gobsmacked. I found a corner near a window wall where I was sure to be near no one and just took it all in. So many people everywhere. So many.
Everyone had a mask secured in place. Check. I could see some attempting to social distance. Most were not. A guard hired to keep such processes in place was propped against a wall, face-shield up, just taking it all in.
I had to very carefully plan my path, but it was actually very doable with that moment to plan. On the far side of the travelling-walk, there was no one. I walked the entire way there with no problem of being anywhere near the throngs until I got to my turn off point. Now what?
The seas parted, and I darted! I was so lucky! I got to my gate without anyone close to me and then must have been sending out the “stay-away-vibe” or, could it have been my frazzled appearance? I was definitely the only one in this area with a faceguard and gloves. In Canada, there were quite a few, but here, just me. My grey hair was sticking up all over as my elastics wrapped around my head in all directions. I am sure I looked like I was definitely affected if not already infected!
The boarding was so good for me, again. I had all three seats in my row. Purchased one and the one in the middle was a Delta initiative to leave vacant during COVID. I sanitized like the mad-woman I had become by this point. I knew what I had to do and did it well. I used half a bottle of wipes on my seat belt, then settled into my meditative (comatose?) position and focused on the miracle of still feeling clean and uncompromised thus far.
This was the leg of the trip that I felt a bit of a transformation settle within me. The most surreal circumstance I could ever imagine myself and my world living through and I was in the middle of the eye of this storm on this day which was the very safest place for me for now as I had to get to where I needed to be. I felt truly blessed once again.
Day One Travel to USA: Arriving in Salt Lake City
I was prepared to sit til the plane was empty, but every row stayed seated until the row in front of them had almost departed. It was such a safe departure. I was very far from anyone en route to baggage pick up in Salt Lake City. I know this airport well. My bags were there before I was and my family, bless them, had come to see me and drop off their second car for me, filled with groceries, for my 2-week hotel stay.
I could not figure out how to get a cart. I tried. It read 25 cents. I had a quarter. I tried it again. No one was around to ask. Do you know, I have never needed a cart before when I travel alone and when we do, Vanja gets it. It was like: I can’t open the bottle! It’s child-proofed!
I had two checked bags, so I lifted one and stood it on top of the other, and somehow managed to get over every crack in the sidewalk in the 90-degree evening weather, with my foggy faceguard almost blinding me (tripping over myself at this point) from sheer emotional exhaustion, relief, gratitude and desperation. I could see them, but they were so far away. Hoisting my big bag up and over the crack, turning to do the same with the other two. Next crack, hoisting. Puffing. Panting. Sweating. Pushing. Sputtering. I was so slow and my littles were waiting! “I can do this. I can do this.” muffled the little Gramsy that could.
Day One Travel to USA: Social Distance Hugs
My son-in-law has such a huge heart and I saw him coming, but he cannot. He must not. I can do this. He has been self-isolating since March 11, too. “Let me take your bags – you just take your carry on, and go.” NO! “I insist”…. but NO! They are compromised! I am tearing now, recalling this moment. I was doing it, but it was just so awkward and I know how he felt, but did not want him touching my bags. But, he did.
They were placed in the car. And I could see my daughter’s mouth moving and see my grandchildren jumping through my fog and blur of what were now tears, but I could not hear her. Good thing she videotaped it. I heard it all later. Finally, I heard her say are you OK? “Yes!” I answered, but she couldn’t hear me and I couldn’t project… I couldn’t get a thumbs-up as my hands were full and my head was in slow-mo.
And then, there we were. Two littles holding a lovely handmade Welcome poster for Gramsy a distance across the sidewalk that I couldn’t and would ever cross beside my very pregnant and lovely gorgeous daughter that I couldn’t hug. My son-in-law had taken my other bags and I stood there focusing every fibre of my being upon standing and smiling – lifted my mask and visor so they could see it was ME – and not melting into a puddle on that steamy hot sidewalk in the 90-degree evening – overcome by an unsettling out-of-body experience as I saw myself standing there in this “new-world” not being able to hug my family.
It was perplexing and bizarre.
Day One Travel to USA: Hotel Arrival
They led. I followed. I had GPS but bless their heart. My mind was only good to follow and to do what I was told for a bit. Mask off at 8 pm, the first time since 10:15 am. Face-guard off. Ahhhh…..
Arrival, more virtual hugs, and check-in. All luggage and groceries on the trolly.
The room was spotless. I immediately took off all clothes, and showered, then used the toilet (!) and sanitized every corner of the room which was really very easy to do on chairs and surfaces.
RING! RING! Facetime! “Gramsy! Open my card!” What a lovely moment to say good night and thank you and express my gratitude once again. Unpacked, dressed. When down to move the car and pick up another couple of bags that were left behind, then back to the room at 10 for a drink of water and a bite to eat.
I was thirsty, but not really hungry, though nourishment felt so good. Especially the water. And knock knock! Look flowers for my birthday from Vanja!
Sleep would not settle over me. Likely due to the emotionally charged day releasing itself slowing from my grip. I made it. I should be OK. There wasn’t anything I touched that I hadn’t sanitized first or anyone I was too close to. Of course, there was the airplane air. But, again, so much gratitude. I have added a couple of images for you to snoop through my fridge and see what I had prepared for my 14-day stay.
I am truly grateful to be here and safe. It is, however, extremely unfortunate that one has to go to such lengths in our modern times with the technological capabilities we have without any opportunity for me to reach out to anyone anywhere to make this happen through a land border crossing by car.
Lucky me. Nice work station to keep me occupied through these long 14 days ahead but the most endearing moment of the entire day was when William presented me with his card via facetime in the evening and then Lauren sent me this following video with the message he wrote and the sculpture he created all by himself. Gramsy’s heart is so full.
What a world we are living in. This is just so emotional! Even the second time reading every word. What a testimony to what we do for love.
Valerie Lugonja says
Margaret@Kitchen Frau says
Wow, Valerie, your post left me with a huge lump in my throat and really hit home for me. Our daughter has been isolating at home with us for the last five months, and just left this morning to go to a job she accepted in London, England. She is driving herself to Calgary as we speak, heading for the Calgary airport, and will be on the plane in a few hours. I am terrified for her. I read every word of your story with huge emotions. I am so glad you can be there for your family and all they are going through. Sending you a big hug and wishing for many blessings for all of you.
Valerie Lugonja says
Yes – so many are facing such challenges now, Margaret. I know I am not alone in this – but these stories beg telling. Too many of us are falling through the cracks and there is more that can be and should be done to preserve the rights of the individual and balance them with the rights of all. I am all about following rules, but I have always understood all my life there will always be exceptions to every rule and there must be an opportunity and a process in place to listen to those exceptions and to provide safer options because they are possible.
what a journey — happy for you that the travel was uneventful & your situation in the USA is so comfortable.
sending my best wishes to you & the family–hoping that it all turns out as well as it can!
hugs all around
ps-do you have a toaster?—if yes, then that ‘temp quarantine location’ is OFFICIALLY nicer than my home – ha ha
Valerie Lugonja says
YES there is a toaster. HAHA! And, I can call to the desk to borrow other things – though someone else currently has the blender. HAHAHA. Thanks for your kind words, Su! OXOX
Diana Rich says
Valerie, here I thought you were having a special though unadventurous birthday at home with Vanja, Ragan and beautiful Helen.
I’m so sorry to hear about your precious granddaughter. I will keep her in my prayers. In spite of your unbelievable travel experiences (our new normal), you are safe and close to your beautiful family. How blessed to be there perhaps for the birth of your next little grandchild.
I’m finally going to be a grandmother in March (still early days),. Unfortunately my son and daughter in law are in Brisbane. Who knows if and when I’ll be able to see them. Even more than for me, I wish Lufeis mom could be there with her especially the first few months. Sadly, her family is in China so who knows.
I hope your isolation will pass quickly and you’ll soon be home with your beauties.
All the best. Thanks for sharing your adventures. You did it girl!
Valerie Lugonja says
Yes – we spend our twin birthdays quite differently this year. Sad to hear your children are so very far away.
I understand independence, but when grandchildren are concerned – to me, it’s family first.
Dear Valerie, What a fierce love you have for your family, and what courage in overcoming all the challenges to be by their side. I wish for all the best outcomes
Valerie Lugonja says
What a sweet message, Diane.
Big Hugs (only 4 more sleeps now0
Aileen Nadeau says
Well I am now a blubbering mess! You are such a prolific story teller I felt as though I was on that journey with you. i cried, then I laughed (love the pics of the food in your fridge) and then i cried again. Thank you for sharing your story and your family with us. Your love and strength is an inspiration to all of us. Safe travels.
Valerie Lugonja says
So sweet of you to take the time to comment, Aileen!
We are certainly in strange times, aren’t we? I am staying until the end of September, so am still here, completely exhausted. Savouring every day – and so thankful that I can do what is needed of me. I have no idea when I’ll see them again – when will the borders be open, etc… it’s tough.
Big hug to you!
So glad you got to come to the USA to be with your family. Keep us posted on your granddaughter and pray she will be cured. Safe travels back to Canada… from Phyl in Tennessee. We emailed last year!
Phyl, Thank you! So sweet of you to reconnect! I stayed 2.5 months. They did need me longer but mom is 90. Aaron’s mom will take it from here for a bit but I will be back once things are better- however before leaving, it became apparent the little Miss E had another tumor. She now has multi- focus LCH , a shunt implanted and chemotherapy weekly for a year. It’s killing me to not be there.???
How is Miss E doing these days? How is Abigail? And William? And is your mom still cooking and baking? I have enjoyed so many of her recipes!!! Phyl from TN
Valerie Lugonja says
Yesterday was W’s birthday, Phyl, and Abigail’s 6th-month celebration. Miss E had another tumor growing before I left Oct 1, it was discovered in her upper right hip near her back cheek. She had a shunt put in early October and has had chemo weekly since. We are grateful she is not sick from the chemo and has – as of yet – not lost her hair. She is a happy Warrior Princess.
I cannot go back yet – or now. We wait. We all wait until COVID is under control and we can see one another again.
Hugs to you, Phyl
Yes, this C-19 is terrible. We have lost several friends to it plus alot of friends and family have lived through it. I am so glad you got to go and stay. I will keep Miss E in my prayers. How is your mom? Phyl in TN
Please tell your mom I made the Angel Food cake. Everyone says it is SO GOOD!!! It turned out PERFECT!!! Sure hope she is feeling ok. I have prayed for Miss E. What is an update on her?