Anthony on , , , , , , , , 03 Jan 2009 03:59 pm

Oh, *that* was fun.

We could see it coming a mile away.  Well, more accurately, a day away. That was a “weather bomb”, the term that meteorologists use to describe a really low pressure system. They happen reasonably often on the Atlantic and are characterized by heavy precipitation and hurricane-force winds, and typically they don’t move so fast.  Almost like a hurricane, but they don’t have the well-defined shape.

Anyway, as luck would have it such a storm was forecast to strike Nova Scotia on New Year’s Eve and last well into New Year’s Day. 30 cm + of snow, 100 kph winds. Not such a big deal, right? Wrong. We were scheduled to fly out of Halifax at 7:30 am on New Year’s Day.

Fortunately we decided to take most of the day of New Year’s Eve to pack. The damage from the various gifts was harsh — we ended up borrowing two bags from my parents, giving us a grand total of 5 suitcases, 2 car seats, and a stroller. Plus the carry on: laptop bag, day bag, diaper bag, Aidan’s bag. Oh, plus the two kids and the two of us. Luggage management was going to be tricky.

And so, at 6 pm when we checked and saw that out flight out the next day was already cancelled, we breathed out a sigh of relief. There would be no rushing to the airport at 5 in the morning through unplowed and drifted streets along the highway admist a blizzard.

Instead we got a phone call at 8 pm from a friendly WestJet agent telling us about the cancelled flight and that WestJet was going to put a flight out at 11:30 pm THAT NIGHT to try to beat the storm. I hummed and hawwed and asked what other options we had. The agent went away for a bit and came back with the news that the next time he could get us out was next Wednesday, standby. Obviously that wasn’t going to work, so I told him we’d take the flight and we shifted into high gear to leave.

Unfortunately we were supposed to spend New Year’s Eve with Gwen’s brother and his girlfriend Pier-Nadeige. They came over while we were rushing around preparing to leave. Fortunately we were mostly packed, so it was just a matter of checking around to see what was left and putting the bags in the car. We also got Aidan up out of bed, having just put him there, because we figured it was better than waking him up after an hour’s sleep.

By 9 pm, when we left for the airport, the snow what coming down pretty heavily. The drive to the airport was slow and difficult due to the snow-covered highways and white-out conditions. Fortunately there wasn’t a tonne of snow down yet. The trip to the airport was complicated by the fact that we had to take two cars since all the luggage wouldn’t fit in one. Actually, we would have had to have taken two anyway since the two car seats filled the backseat of my parent’s Santa Fe leaving only two more seats … and therefore no way to get the truck back to my parents without a second vehicle.

It was 10 pm or so by the time we arrived at the airport (typically a 25-30 min drive). All flights had been cancelled except ours and a second escape flight that WestJet had thrown together. Ours was supposed to leave at 11:15 and the second at 12:10. The check-in counter agents were pretty upbeat despite spending their New Year’s Eve dealing with us. Our agent even invited Aidan behind the counter to push our bags on to the conveyor belt. I don’t know what she was thinking (the liability concerns obviously didn’t enter into her head) but Aidan was in full flirt mode and was having a blast.

We pushed our way through security with our full array of hazardous carry on (see the previous post) and to the children’s play area conveniently located beside our gate. And waited. And waited.

By the time we boarded and pushed back, the girls’ ringette team that was on the flight was counting down to midnight. Well kinda.  They only had cell phones as time pieces, and none of them actually had seconds on them. Close enough. I wasn’t sure we were actually going to get out of the Halifax airport … the snow intensity had increased and I didn’t think visibility was going to be good enough for take-off. But we did! And, in a rather unconventional way too. The pilot put us at the end of the runway, stood on the brakes and ran the engines up to full power. When the brakes were released, the plane literally jumped forward and we were in the air in the shortest take-off I’ve ever experienced.

Once airborne, the flight was uneventful.

With the exception, of course, of dealing with Aidan. Aidan doesn’t sleep on the plane and once again, despite the hour, he didn’t sleep. Until, that is, the last 2 minutes of landing in Toronto. One second he was watching the street lights out the window as we were landing (he insisted on the window seat) and the next he was asleep. He didn’t wake up through landing, taxiing or disembarking. I had to carry him off the plane, completely asleep. In the jetway where we had to pick up the gate-checked stroller, I tried to put him down and get him to stand while we juggled bags, but he wouldn’t wake enough to stand. It was eerie. We unfolded the stroller and instead of putting Quinlan into it we plopped Aidan into it.

By the time we got to the terminal Aidan was awake enough to walk, but he was walking like he’d consumed a bottle of Baby Duck. A passing airport worker driving one of those courtesy carts took pity on us and took Gwen and Aidan to the luggage area (this thrilled Aidan to no end) while I puttered along with Quinlan in the stroller (the cart driver wouldn’t take us for some reason).

By now it was 2 am Toronto time, 3 am Halifax time.

As we were waiting for our bags, the other flight from Halifax arrived too. I mention this fact because we were all being put up in hotels for the rest of the night, and transportation to the hotels was by the standard hotel shuttles. With 300+ people trying to make their way to the hotels, this was shaping to be pretty chaotic … and pretty time consuming.

We grabbed our bags and put them on two of those annoying Pearson carts. These carts ($2 each!) have deadman’s handles on them so that they only move if you’re pushing on the bar. Plus they don’t have seats for small children. So, there we were, trying to push these two carts loaded with bags and carseats, a stroller, and two small children through the airport to “Post C22” to pick up the hotel shuttle. Difficult and slow.

Plus, it was -15C in Toronto.

Our hotel shuttle was a 10 person van.

It was only coming ever 30+ minutes.

There were literally hundreds of people milling about Post C22 since all the hotel shuttles (some of which were busses) were picking up at the same location.


In the end we took a taxi. A taxi, I might add, that cost us $60 (after tip) to go the 15 minutes to the hotel.

The hotel (the Valhalla Inn) was weird. Clearly a 2nd or 3rd rate hotel, stuck off the 427. They only had one luggage cart, and the elevator was about 200 ft from the check-in desk.

By 3:30 am Toronto time (4:30 am Halifax time) we finally got out heads on our pillows. Aidan was still awake. The alarm was set for 7:30am.

We all woke in surprisingly good humour and were up and dressed by 8 when Gwen’s brother Steve and his wife Megan arrived to have breakfast with us. The plan was to go to the restaurant in the hotel and use the $60 in food vouchers that WestJet had given us.

The plan was poorly executed.

When we went in the restaurant, I asked the manager if they honoured the vouchers and he affirmed that they did. We sat down and ordered and then things got complicated. The server told us that we would have to take the vouchers to the front desk and exchange them for restaurant vouchers, which I did. However, the restaurant vouchers were for a specific breakfast … essentially eggs, toast and coffee. I asked the front desk if that meant that we had to have those specific items, but the clerk assured me that the restaurant would be flexible. I went back to the restaurant and saw the server and manager having a none-too-friendly conversation and sure enough, the manager came over and told me that we’d have to have only the items on the vouchers. There was some considerable back-and-forth and much confusion on the part of the manager (who had apparently only been there for 3 weeks and had obviously not dealt with these vouchers much before) and in the end we left the restaurant without having had any breakfast and having wasted a considerable amount of time. I got my original WestJet vouchers back though.

And so we now had to get our hungry selves to the airport. Steve’s car wasn’t big enough for all of us and our bags so Aidan and I went with half the luggage on the shuttle and Gwen and Quinlan went with the rest with Steve and Megan. Having seen the size of the shuttle first hand, it was laughable that WestJet expected to get us, a family of four with all our bags and car seats and sundry to the hotel and back using this meager van. We would have completely filled it ourselves never mind trying to get the other displaced flyers there too. And it only ran every 30 minutes!

It turns out that the other hotels that people were put up in were the Sheraton and the Hilton. Both closer, both much nicer hotels. W.T.F.?!?

In the end we all got to the airport in a timely fashion and got ourselves checked in and bags sent on their way. Aidan was in full charm mode again, and the security agent who was running the x-ray machine at the special baggage counter invited him back behind her desk so that he could see the images as they went on by. Um, this seemed like another incredible violation of policy, but it goes to show that Aidan is going to be a force to reckoned with in the future in terms of getting his way.

Remember those food vouchers? Turns out Tim Horton’s honoured them. And there was one right by our departure gate. I spent $40 of vouchers at Tim’s buying breakfast and lunch for us. Breakfast for Aidan was 10 Timbits, a bottle of orange juice and two doses of Gravol. Awesome.

The flight to Vancouver was again uneventful. Aidan didn’t sleep, but also didn’t get airsick despite the double-dose of Gravol. Moving ourselves and bags around in YVR was much easier than Toronto: no-charge carts without deadman’s handles and with child-seats. Ah, bliss.

And the taxi ride home was a better experience and cheaper — $35 (including a $10 tip).

What waited for us in Vancouver, though, was the sorriest, most embarrassing excuse for snow management I’ve ever seen in my life. But more on that later.

Anthony on , , 16 Aug 2008 04:46 pm

I was chatting with my mother last week, and she had mentioned how she and Dad were out caching a few weeks ago and managed to scratch the BBT up a little bit.  That reminded me of the 3 province geocaching trip that Gwen, Aidan, and I took while we were back east in the spring.  Not because we scratched the truck up, but because we certainly took it places of the like it hadn’t been too much.

According to my geocaching logs, it was May 30th, 2008.  It was a nice sunny day and our plan was to drive to PEI via the Confederation Bridge.  We were going to cache along the way, making sure that we got caches in each province.  We made the decision that we weren’t going to try for any caches until we got north of Truro, and so the first one that Gwen picked out (we had a Pocket Query that found all the caches along our route within 100m of the highway) was GC16EQC Blueberry Fields.  The cache description, though brief, sounded alright and so we went for it.

The directions on the cache page are simply:

Do not stop or park on highway 104 to access this cache. You can get to this cache by exiting at exits 8 or 10, depending on the direction you are coming from. This way you will see the beautiful scenery and also avoid the toll on the Highway.

As we were heading north, we took Exit 10.  This was the Bass River Road, leading into Londonderry.  A typical Nova Scotia rural road.  The GPS then routed us north again … and then most unexpectantly the pavement disappeared.

In fact, we were driving on a dirt road for the next 25 km or so.  As dirt roads go, it was in very good shape, probably having been repaired after the winter.  In fact, it was in better shape than some of the paved roads up around Amherst (Hi Buffy!  She’s the engineer at NSDOT responsible for roads in Cumberland County.  It was a tough winter apparently).

I’ve got a fair bit of experience driving dirt roads now (Gwen and I drove up to Iqaluit — and back —  on the Dempster Highway in 2004 and it’s 99% unpaved) so it was a fun drive.  Well, other than the fact we really didn’t know where we were going.  OK, so we had the GPS with us, but still.

Anyway, after some time of driving along the dirt road, we came to a nice overpass crossing the TransCanada.  The bridge was paved, but the approaches weren’t.  Weird.  I guess that’s what happens when you have a private company build and operate the Cobequid Bypass.

A short time after that, we arrived at the “Pioneer Graveyard” that served as parking for the cache.

Westchester Mountain Pioneer Cemetery

Westchester Mountain Pioneer Cemetery

Westchester Mountain Pioneer Graves

Westchester Mountain Pioneer Graves

We hoofed it up into the graveyard and happened upon a snowmobile trail.  The cache itself seemed to be directly ahead of us, but the trail ran perpendicular to that.  After a short walk in the wrong direction, we turned around and followed the trail to the cache.

Which was up quite a hill.

Snowmobile Trails Leading to Blueberry Fields

Snowmobile Trails Leading to Blueberry Fields

Within spitting distance of the TCH.

Aidan Retrieves the Blueberry Fields Cache

Aidan Retrieves the Blueberry Fields Cache


Having cleverly located and signed the cache, we went back to the truck and tried to figure out how to get back to the highway.  The easiest thing seemed to be to go to the overpass and see if there was any way to get on the highway from there.  After rolling back and forth across the bridge a few times, it was pretty clear that we weren’t going to be able to do that — at least not with the truck we had.  So, the only options were to retrace our path or to continue along the same dirt road (which was the route the GPS suggested).


In actuality, the trip out was much shorter and we soon regained pavement.  After that, it was a short drive to Exit 8 to get back on the highway and continue to New Brunswick.

All totalled, we probably spent in the neighbourhood of 3 hours getting to and finding that one cache.  Not a great start to our tri-province caching adventure in terms of efficiency, but we had fun finding it.  You can read my log here.  I’ve provided a handy map below too, detailing the excursion.

View Larger Map

Anthony on , , , , 16 Jun 2008 09:57 pm

Dear blog,

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to abandon you. Really, I want to write about all the things we did while we were in Nova Scotia. Visiting family (mostly) and friends (briefly). Driving down dirt roads somewhere between Truro and Amherst…. more or less intentionally. Geocaching in PEI. Watching Aidan fall four feet off a trampoline. Flying back to Vancouver, with Aidan getting airsick again.

And then we’ve been back for a little over a week. Partying it up with the Girl Guides and parents on Saturday, riding the miniature train in Stanley Park followed by partying it up with the hippies on Main Street for the Car Free Festival on Sunday.

Plus, driving like crazy through Paradise City and trying to escape the crime of Liberty City.

Oh my.

Well, I still hope to cover all those things. We have pictures!

But for now, I’ll leave you with this… We were taking some pictures of Gwen for a project that she’s working on and this was the runner-up photo to the one she chose.

Anthony on , , , , 14 May 2008 06:18 pm

Westjet LogoWe’re back! Back in Halifax that is. I’ve managed to swing a deal with work to telecommute for three weeks and I’m taking a week vacation so that all adds up to a month in Nova Scotia.

We got another good deal (relatively speaking) with WestJet about a month ago, and before we knew it we were landing in Halifax for Mother’s Day. This time, it was a jump from YVR to Calgary, a short layover in the terminal there and then direct from Calgary to Halifax.

The boy was quite excited to get on the airplane, and the trip to Calgary was … I dare say … great.

In Calgary, Aidan puttered around the various play areas (which I’ve blogged about before) and the time flew. Then we got on the flight to Halifax and taxied forever. The pilot remarked that although it seemed like we were driving to Halifax, we would in fact be airborne eventually.

Unfortunately, Aidan got airsick on that leg. Not violently, but we did go through more than a few airsickness bags. He also slept for over two hours. He was sick again on the descent into Halifax. I don’t know how many transcontinental flights he’s had and he’s never been sick before, so we didn’t anticipate it. You can be sure that on the return trip we will be pumping him with Gravol well before getting on the plane.

And once again, I have want to give kudos to WestJet. The bags all arrived, the stroller was waiting for us, set-up, by the time we walked off the airplane, the staff was helpful, friendly, and so understanding with the airsickness incident. The flight attendants in particular were super helpful. The seats are comfortable, and we love having the separate entertainment screens.

Why does anyone fly Air Canada?

So, we’re in Halifax. Aidan perked up immediately after we landed. He’s been super excited to spend time (so far) with Grandma, Grandpa, Nana, Aunt Mary, Granny, and of course all of my parents’ animals. And he’s old enough now that we can literally throw him in the backyard and he will entertain himself for hours. >Sigh< He’s never going to have a yard in Vancouver.

With the extended stay, hopefully we can get some relaxed visiting in, do some serious toddler-less geocaching, and help out around the house a bit while my mother recovers from some ongoing health concerns. Posting frequency is likely going to be pretty low, but hopefully we can make up for quantity with quality!

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