GHENT, N.Y. — I’ve flown often enough that I didn’t expect our plane lifting off Monday morning to be an emotional event.
If there was any part of our journey that promised unbridled feelings, I assumed it would come when we reunited with our daughter Gracie on the west coast of Canada the better part of a day later. But, as our plane took off from LaGuardia airport — my first flight in almost two years — and headed through Tropical Storm Henri’s lingering rain and clouds, it felt good to be back in the air.
I’ve never had to travel much for business. Most of my air travel, starting when I was 8, a very long time ago, has been associated with pleasure, with the anticipation of new adventures.
And then there’s the simple miracle of flight, of being able to do something your body tells you is impossible — who among us hasn’t flown under our own power at least in our better dreams — and after all these years, and all the indignities of modern travel, it still ignites particles of my 8-year-old self.
Our daughter Gracie returned home for a month last Christmas. But, that still made eight months since we last saw her, if you don’t include Zoom meetings. Videoconferencing has its charms. But, hugging isn’t one of them.
However, there was a lot that had to go right before we could hold our daughter, whose career as a professional chef had taken her to the San Juan Islands off Seattle and then Canada, literally not days, but hours, before COVID shut down the planet in March 2020.
When the restaurant that invited her to the West Coast couldn’t open because of the pandemic and construction-related delays, she and her boyfriend Henry (not to be confused with the storm; or Gracie with the hurricane that simultaneously struck Mexico) returned to his nearby home in Canada.
We wanted to see Gracie and Henry. We also wanted to see their new life, the island off Vancouver where they were living, and perhaps meet some of the friends they’ve made. First, we had to get there. But, between COVID and the weather, that seemed no sure thing.
Canada requires proof of a negative COVID test within 72 hours of arrival. If the results don’t arrive promptly or the flight is delayed and the 72-hour window closes, you have to start again from scratch.
Kudos to WellNow Urgent Care in Hudson, N.Y., for returning our virus “not detected” results in less than 24 hours. But, there was still Tropical Storm Henri to contend with. It lashed New York City with record-breaking rains starting Saturday night, when Central Park experienced more precipitation in one hour than it had in 60 minutes for the previous 150 years. And that was even before the storm started in earnest.
It seemed almost certain our Monday 6 a.m. flight would either be canceled or greatly delayed. It was delayed, by about three hours — long enough to miss our connecting flight from Montreal to Vancouver — not because of epic precipitation, but because of late-arriving aircraft. Apparently, plane and flight crew shortages are a rather common occurrence in the second summer of COVID.
Air Canada rebooked us on a flight that would get us into Vancouver at 5:45 p.m., leaving in doubt whether we’d be able to make the day’s final ferry to Salt Spring Island, part of the same chain of islands as the San Juans, but across the border in British Columbia and known in Canada as the Gulf Islands. The journey now also added a new stopover in Toronto, with barely 15 minutes to make the connecting flight.
We did. But, missed connections are only one of the challenges travelers face. Three flights and four airports in a single day also increases the risk of being exposed to the virus, no matter the precautions one takes.
There was some peace of mind knowing that everyone on the New York-Montreal leg of the journey wasn’t just fully vaccinated, but also freshly tested — Air Canada personnel closely scrutinized documents — but, as with the United States, vaccination wasn’t required for travel within Canada. Nonetheless, the journey was about as comfortable as economy class can be these days, and we made the last ferry to Salt Spring.
It’s my personal, anecdotal, utterly unscientific belief that travel to new places allows the brain to grow as nothing else can, forming new and firing existing synapses that wouldn’t have occurred if one had stayed home.
As soon as we reached the ferry terminal, it was easy to see what had attracted Gracie and Henry to this part of the world. Seals fished, and gulls and cormorants circled the water directly below the ferry waiting room. And once on board and underway, the scale of sky, islands and water — Mount Baker, a glacier-covered Washington state volcano fading in the last remnants of reflected sunset, a porpoise here and there grazing the sea’s surface — made Maine seem charmingly modest.
The night’s final ferry was the local “milk run,” stopping at several islands before reaching our destination. By the time we spotted Gracie waving to us from the ferry dock, it was 1:43 a.m. East Coast time, almost 19 hours since a car service had picked us up at our Manhattan apartment.
But, we finally shared a hug that was months in the making.