The getaway we planned to Jackson Hole, Wyoming was the honeymoon of our dreams. Picture it: scenic views of snow-covered landscapes, adventures in skiing and snowmobiling, and when we were ready to relax-a rooftop hot-tub and cuddling up together by a cozy fireplace. And we got all of these things. But not without a little effort...
Our original flight was for 2:30 PM the day after our wedding. Before we left, I checked the flight status and it said "on time" so we headed to the airport. We parked our car in the Parking Spot and after boarding the shuttle van to the airport I got a text from American Airlines that said our flight was cancelled. I immediately called the 800 number for the airlines and asked them to put us on another flight. The next available flight was for 7:30 AM the next day. Since we were still in Houston, it wasn't so terribly bad since we could simply go home. In fact, it may have even been a good thing-in the hustle and bustle of the wedding festivities, we had forgotten to pack a few things! Our spirits were still high at this point. Little did we know...
This was the longest day. Ever. We woke up at 4:00 AM, in order to park our car and be at the airport by 6:00 AM so we could make our 7:30 flight. Our flight departed mostly on time to Chicago (our connection city). Upon arriving in Chicago we grabbed a bite to eat while waiting for our flight to Jackson. After eating, we checked on the flight status and found out that no planes were arriving in or departing from Chicago. So we waited. And waited. And then waited some more. And then politely asked if there were any changes, but found out that everything was still on hold. And then more waiting happened. Finally, at about 6:30 PM they cancelled the flight. Swear word.
After picking up our checked luggage, we stood in line to talk to an American Airlines agent. The lady was kind and sympathetic; however, there was nothing she could do. There were NO flights into Jackson until Tuesday afternoon, although she did say that she could get us to Salt Lake City and then we could drive the rest of the way (about 4-5 hours). A few friends had mentioned they had done this drive before so we eagerly jumped at the proposition to be that much closer to our final destination and dream honeymoon. We rushed through airport security and boarded the plane to Salt Lake City.
Immediately upon landing in Salt Lake City, around 11:00 PM, I started vomiting (most likely due to altitude sickness). I struggled through it and we headed to the rental car area to get the car that would take us to Jackson.
We began our 4-5 hour trip to Jackson around midnight. We stopped at a gas station to get barf bags (you're welcome for sharing). The car (a 2009 Chevy Impala) was quite spacious and smooth riding; however I needed to stop within about 30 minutes of leaving the airport to relieve my nauseated stomach. I forgot to mention that we needed to turn the car in by 5:00 AM in Jackson, otherwise it would be $109/hr each additional hour it was late. This didn't seem like a problem to us because the drive should've only taken about 4 hours. Things were going as well as they could - I was trying to sleep and forget about the sickness while my new husband was wide awake and determined to get us to our honeymoon destination.
About 3:00 AM we arrived a gas station near Arimo, Idaho and stopped to get me a few more vomit bags, Sprite, and some crackers. Justin also asked the woman at the counter how the weather was in Jackson and whether we should take I-15 north through Idaho Falls or Hwy 30 east towards Soda Springs. She said that the roads were closed up near Idaho Falls due to blizzards, so Justin opted to take Hwy 30 toward Soda Springs. We brought our Garmin GPS and after knowing which roads we needed to be on and where the next turn would be, we pulled out of the gas station. About 20 minutes later we passed through Soda Springs, Idaho and the weather began to get a little more blizzard-like.
Due to the combination of blizzard-like conditions, a compact car with no snow tires, and a couple from Texas with limited knowledge of driving in these conditions, the car hit a groove in the snow and began to slide off the road. Despite attempts to control the skid, there wasn't much Justin could do. So into a snow bank we went. Imagine my surprise at waking up to us skidding off the road! The instant I woke up, the nausea returned and I found myself with my head in a bag...When I looked up, Justin was climbing out the window because the snow was too high to be able to open the door. At 14 degrees and with our cold-weather clothes tucked away in suitcases, Justin's efforts to shovel away the snow (while admirable) were in vain.
There were no lights except the ones coming from our car. We're in a very remote place about 7 miles from the closest town. Swear word.
We have AAA, however cell service was quite bad and we could barely get in a few words before the signal goes out. Finally we got through and they said that help could come in a mere 4-5 hours. Wow.
After a few minutes of trying to think of other options, I climbed out to access our suitcases (with warm ski clothes stored inside) from the trunk when...(cue heavenly music)...a car's headlights shone from a distance. I ran out into the middle of the road jumping up and down and waving my arms (editorial comment: not a smart thing to do in such a fragile state of stomach. But a girl has to do what a girl has to do.) As the car got closer, it seemed like it was going to pass right by us, but it was really just trying to slow down safely and not end up like us in the snow bank (how wise). Our angel from Heaven, named Brian, got out of his car, then the following dialogue ensued:
Brian: Are you guys okay? Me (in a shaky, but excited voice): Umm...not really. We need help. Brian: Where are you from? Me (reluctantly, since I didn't want him to think we were country bumpkins without a clue): Texas. Brian: Me, too. Where in Texas? Me: Houston. Brian: Me, too. Where did you go to school? Me: Texas A&M. Brian raised his right hand and I saw his Aggie ring. In case you're not familiar, let me bring you up to speed: the Texas Aggie family is just that-a family. You don't meet a stranger. An Aggie ring symbolizes hope. And in this case, it symbolized the warm bed that was waiting for us at Hotel Terra that we were getting closer to.
On with the story. Brian tells us not to worry, that he'll take us to our hotel, which just happens to be about 30 minutes from where he lives! One minor [to be read: major] inconvenience occurs during this time: Justin's wallet goes missing. We figure that during the transporting of our luggage to Brian's car and the climbing in and out through the windows caused it to get lost in the snow. At this point in the story, we didn't realize that it was lost until we pulled into a gas station about an hour later to get some quick snacks and found out it wasn't there. Justin was 99% sure that it just got left in the rental car. Of course the reality fell on the other 1% chance...
About 6:30 AM (why yes, we have been up for 26.5 hours straight) we arrived at Hotel Terra in Teton Village, just outside Jackson. We were exhausted and pretty much ready to go to our room and sleep until noon. Which I did. Justin, however, was up soon after and had to spend the day on the phone with Wells Fargo, AAA, Progressive, Discover, Hertz, and..his mother. Just the person we wanted to talk to on our honeymoon! Not knowing whether or not he'd ever get his wallet back, he had to cancel all his cards. So far, we had checked nothing off of our amazing itinerary.
So let's talk about the rental car: the Hertz woman kindly informed us that the "ticket" was going to have to stay open (at $109/hr) until they retrieved the car from Soda Springs - which they have no incentive to rush out and pick up. We asked the woman if she knew about what time they would get out there to pick it up and she said that it would be quite a while because the closest Hertz location was in Pocatello, Idaho about 60 miles from where the car was stuck. On top of that, the weather was getting worse out there so the delay would be even longer. Justin told her about the wallet and she said that she would inform the towing company to look for it once they got the car back. One last detail: we have the keys to the rent car. Before we left in Brian's car we locked the doors and kept the keys with us, in hopes that the car would be towed to our hotel where we could retrieve the wallet. This was just wishful thinking, friends.
After spending multiple hours on the phone, we went to pick up the rental car that we had originally reserved to get around Jackson. Since Justin's wallet was somewhere in the snow, I had to drive. But since I am under 25, we incurred additional fees. Of course. We payed the ridiculous amount of money to rent a car for 4 days and then went to eat at a place called Billy's BBQ in town. Good food. Even better service. Go there if you have the chance.
For Christmas Eve, we had scheduled a couples' spa treatment with massages, which is just what the proverbial doctor had ordered (and I bet if I had seen a real doctor, he would've said the same thing). Our original itinerary included snow tubing on Monday, snowboarding on Tuesday, and then getting all those muscles worked on and relaxed with the massages. Regardless of missing out on those activities, our bodies appreciated the pampering in light of everything that we had been through.
We scheduled a sleigh ride, followed by dinner, that evening, as well. While it sounds cozy, 11 degrees + an open field leaves one feeling a bit chilly. It just made our lovely fireside dinner that much cozier.
We originally didn't plan any activities for Christmas Day, however, since we didn't get to go snowboarding on Tuesday, we decided to go this day. But before we went, we exchanged gifts and had our first annual Christmas brunch. A friend from home was thoughtful enough to send a little pre-lit Christmas tree and all the trimmings to the hotel. So we felt right at home on our first Christmas together.
Staying in Teton Village is great because snowboarding and skiing is right out the back door and you can rent everything you need from the Treehouse store located on the bottom floor of the hotel.
This was my first time snowboarding and of course it had to be difficult-why deviate from our honeymoon theme? There was a TON of fresh powder and I kept falling deeply into it. After seeing that icicles were literally forming in my hair, we opted for hot chocolate in front of a fire place and snuggling up to Christmas movies for the rest of the evening.
This day we planned to go on a snowmobile tour, which included a stop at a natural hot spring and lunch. We bundled up even more than when we went on the sleigh ride because we figured it would be pretty windy. The shuttle was supposed to come and get us in the hotel lobby at 7:45 AM, however, two of their vans got stuck (who are we to judge?) so they were delayed in picking us up. We were just pleased it wasn't cancelled, which seemed like more of what would happen to us.
They took us to their headquarters in town and give us jumpsuits, boots, and helmets (a welcomed treat to keep us even warmer) and fed us a quick breakfast. Then we piled back into the van with a few other couples and headed out to the meeting spot where all the tours depart from. From there we got on the snowmobile and took off through the mountain trails. The scenery was breathtaking and we kept warm, given all the layers we had on. After driving for about 45 minutes, we reached the hot spring. There are a few log cabins (restrooms, changing rooms, information station) around this medium-sized spring that hangs out around 109 degrees. Ah, warmth.
The changing rooms were no bigger than 8'x8,' one for the guys and one for the girls, with no partitions. While we wanted a 'cozy' honeymoon, we didn't particularly want to be this cozy with strangers. But aside from that, it wasn't too bad. It was pretty chilly, especially on our feet, but once we got into the water it was delightful! It is amazing that so much heat can come from the ground that is covered by tons of snow. We relaxed in the water for a while and then prepared ourselves for exiting the warm water and back into the cold winter air. Surprisingly, it wasn't that bad. It was really refreshing and again, the only thing that was hard was dealing with cold feet (luckily something that didn't happen before the wedding!)
After we changed, our tour guide had made us lunch. Now we knew lunch was included, but we thought it was just sandwiches or some other "snack-like" dish. No. We had steaks, beans, bread, and pasta salad! This was probably my favorite part of the honeymoon. Don't judge me. Those steaks were delicious and juicy. The snow-covered ambience may have something to do with it, too...
We sat outside while eating our delicious steaks at a picnic table with very light snow falling on us. Just an all around pleasant afternoon. After lunch we headed back down to our snowmobiles and continued on our journey.
The tour wrapped up just in time because the weather started to digress. We made it back to the hotel safe and sound and began the arduous task of packing for our trip home, dreading leaving what finally ended up looking like the honeymoon we intended.
Our day began with optimism. We were packed and ready to go, we returned the rental car without incident, and our flight claimed to be on time.
Since Justin didn't have any form of ID after losing his wallet, his mom overnighted some documents (birth certificate, voter registration card, an old college ID) in hopes that TSA would just let us get home. Thankfully, Jackson Hole airport security is quite relaxed and the good folks there let him pass through. So we sat down and waited for any news to come across the PA concerning our flight. We were supposed to board the plane at 2:00 PM. About 1:30 PM we heard a family in front of us saying the plane that we were supposed to use had not even left Chicago to come get us because of bad weather. So the plane we're supposed to be on is stuck in Chicago (again) and there is no telling when it will be here to pick us up. We were supposed to have a little bit of a layover once we got to Chicago, but with every hour passing, it was looking pretty dim for us to make our connection from Chicago to Houston.
So we waited. And waited. And waited some more. (Sound familiar?) It was now 4:30 PM and we overheard that the plane had finally left Chicago and should arrive in Jackson to pick us up by 6:10 PM. Well, as delighted as we were to hear that news, our flight from Chicago to Houston was going to leave at 7:25 PM. So even if we just ran out on the runway, fired some sort of cannon with a grappling hook attached to it while the plane hovered above us, and hung on for dear life...we still wouldn't make it to Chicago on time.
We had two options: either get on this plane, get stuck in Chicago, and hope that the weather clears up enough to make it home the following day; OR, stay in Jackson Hole and fly out Monday morning at 7:45 AM with a connection to Dallas, where we wouldn't have to worry about inclement weather. Given the fact that TSA security was pretty lax in letting Justin board and not knowing if Chicago would be as lenient, PLUS, the fact that there was no guarantee that we would be able to fly out from Chicago because of the bad weather conditions...we opted to stay in Jackson Hole and rebook a flight that would go to Dallas.
The bad news came (you knew it was coming...) when we realized that our checked luggage (you know, the ones with all our cold weather clothes?) was on the plane headed to Chicago. After pointlessly asking the agent at the counter if there was any way we could get those bags back, we proceeded to call Hotel Terra, hoping that they would have a room for us. Our new front desk friend knew exactly who we were (we were famous around Hotel Terra) and did the best she could with booking us a room for 2 nights. The best price she could give us was $199 a night. Though I'm sure we could've found someplace cheaper (with a decline in quality, as well), we decided to stay with something familiar and they even came out and picked us up. The people at Hotel Terra took great care of us and everyone there was quite sympathetic. It's on the upper end of the price range, but we highly recommend them and their hotel to anyone who wants to be treated respectfully, but in a friendly, more casual sense.
We made it back to the hotel and ordered some comfort food (a.k.a. pizza) and went to sleep.
Since we didn't get to go snow tubing as originally intended, we had planned on going today. However, since all of our warm clothes were in suitcases headed to Chicago, we tried to come up with a way to make it work. There was a bus system that would take us from our hotel (in Teton Village) into Jackson (about 13 miles away) and had multiple stops along the way - one of those stops being in front of a K-Mart. So we thought we would ride the bus to K-Mart, buy some cheap warm clothes, and then head out to go snow tubing.
After realizing that this was going to take up a lot of time, plus we didn't have room in our carry-ons for the extra clothes (we didn't want to just throw them away, even if they were going to be cheap), we decided to just stay in and get another round of massages. It didn't take a lot to convince me that this was a better idea.
That night we ordered room service and then went to bed, hoping and praying that our flights the next day would not be delayed or canceled.
Just like the previous Monday, we had to wake up pretty early in order to get out to the airport. OR so we thought. After standing in line to print our boarding passes, I overheard the American Airlines agent saying that our plane was diverted to Salt Lake City the night before and hadn't left yet. Are you kidding me?? Why can't we get out of this place?!? As beautiful as it is in Jackson, the familiarity of home was sounding pretty good, too.
We grabbed some food and waited - we're pretty good at that game now. This time we got a flight connection in D/FW instead of Chicago because of all the weather nonsense that had prevented us before. So we waited around to hear any news from Salt Lake City. About 1:30 PM we heard that the plane would be arriving in Jackson shortly. However, we had to push back our connection flight. So instead of being home by 1:30 PM, we would be lucky to make it home by 7:00 PM. At the rate things were going, we didn't have high hopes. However, the plane arrived close to their adjusted time and we boarded the plane without any problems.
The plane touched down in D/FW around 5:30 PM and again, we had some more wait time for our final flight. We perused through a bookstore and then sat down and watched as a bird flew around aimlessly inside the terminal. Yes, you read that correctly--we were not hallucinating from stress and exhaustion. There was a live bird. But no one else seemed to think it was weird...
The plane arrived and we boarded again without any problems.
Since our luggage traveled ahead of us we thought we might have some difficulty locating it, but the American Airlines luggage man was very helpful and we picked up our bags without any problems. (Notice how I'm now using phrases like "without any problems." What a change in events!)
Finally, we got back to our car and began the trip back to our apartment. It was a wonderful feeling to be back in our own car, in our own town, and see urban and suburban areas not covered by snow and ice.
So we made it home safe and sound, folks. It was a trip for the books. We definitely never thought our honeymoon would include so many out-of-the-ordinary things, but it makes for a good story, at least. We do feel like we weathered the storm pretty well and were just happy to be together, even if it was difficult. All I know is we're saving up for a "honeymoon do-over" (maybe to some place with sand and sun...)
We still highly recommend Jackson Hole (you know it must be awesome if we still recommend it after all that!) Maybe just consider going in the summer time...