Traveling During the Polar Vortex = “Go with the Flow’

Who knew when we began our journey to Orlando for Walt Disney World’s Marathon Weekend, that our trip would go from a quick flight to an endurance event unto itself? After all, it was a harmless, fun, “siblings trip” comprised of me, Greg (not siblings!), my sister (and frequent contributing writer) Rachael, and Greg’s sister Kathryn. Hooray, fun race-times! Greg’s first Dopey! My first Goofy! Kathryn’s first race, period! (10K)

You all, of course remember the Polar Vortex that gripped the United States and Canada in the days leading up to Marathon Weekend. It brought colder than usual temperatures and snow squalls which began snarling the travel plans of many.

Oh, she COLD!
Oh, she COLD!

We had arranged to fly out of Buffalo, rather than Toronto, and were patting ourselves on the back for that fact as we watched flights out of our fair city being cancelled the day before we were set to leave. We congratulated ourselves for not having to embroil ourselves in the chaos that Toronto Pearson Airport was becoming due to the cancelled flights. We wallowed in hubris.

The day of our departure, we kept a watchful eye on the weather between Toronto and Buffalo. The drive promised to be reasonably clear, albeit windy, but Buffalo was starting to get hit with flurries. We chose our hour of departure carefully, had a last minute swap of cars thanks to Greg’s parents insisting we take their more SUV-ish vehicle over the sedan we were gong to take, and started our drive through 50 KmPH winds.

We had clear roads almost until the border of New York State, but when we did get to New York… Hoo-boy. We asked the Customs and Border Patrol guard what route he recommend we take to our hotel, and he informed us that the highways were closed. In fact, most roads were closed. If we came across any police, we might find ourselves with an escort to our hotel.

Bah, no problem. Surface routes to our hotel, and we were there within half an hour. Since we’d never taken anything but highways to our airport hotels before, we “ooh-ed” and “aaah-ed” our way through the snow-kissed city, marvelling at how beautiful the old buildings were and how quiet the city was muffled under inches of snow.

It was a surprisingly idyllic drive.

We checked into our hotel, were assured by the desk clerk that the airport should be reopened in the morning once the snow let up later that night (it had closed hours before), and found a place to park the car.

We parked alongside an igloo.

Look! An Igloo!
Look! An Igloo!
That's no Igloo...
That’s no Igloo…

We got ourselves settled, made our way to the hotel bar for a night-cap, and congratulated ourselves on a trip well-started. With our boarding passes already acquired, we were assured to be in the air tomorrow with warmer climes ahead.


Except, just as I was falling asleep, I got a text. It came during that foggy grey period of almost-sleep when you’re not sure where you are, or what time it is, or how many Yeunglings you just had at the hotel bar. (Two?) At first, I was going to ignore it, but something urged me out of my warm bed and towards the phone.

Who breaks up over TEXT?
Who breaks up over TEXT?

A quick phone call to Southwest informed us that there were no available seats to Orlando until Saturday night. You know, Saturday. The day before the Marathon. The day before the LAST day of Marathon Weekend. The day that means “Hey, dummy. You missed EVERYTHING”. I had a moment of frustration when I realized that in my anticipation of getting there as early as possible (first flight out), my planning could very easily be what’s keeping us from making the trip at all… if I’d booked a flight later in the day, we’d probably have made it. Yuck.

We went over flight options from other cities, or returning home to Toronto to try and catch a flight from there. All those solutions came up very cost prohibitive even though Southwest was offering us a full refund for the cancelled flights.

I was worried, more than anything else, about Greg’s Dopey attempt. We’d obviously be missing the 5K at the very least at this point. I had read rumours on various Facebook groups that runDisney was going to honour the Dopey status of anyone who was unable to make the 5K due to the weather, but I hadn’t read anything official. Still, the rumour was enough to go on. When I told Greg about it, he said: “Ok. We’re driving”.

We got in touch with Rachael and Kathryn, told them of the change of plans, and then agreed to meet the next morning to figure things out. No rush. The roads weren’t open yet.

Over breakfast Wednesday morning at the Cracker Barrel, we worked out our plan. Ideally we would arrive in Florida in time to get to the expo before it closed on Thursday night so that we could all pick up our Minnie 10K bibs. With this goal in mind, we hit the road.

The first day, we made it from Buffalo to Princeton, West Virginia. With our late start, that seemed pretty good, but it also left us a pretty good chunk of driving to do the next day – a good 10 hours worth, basically. We hit the road a little later than intended (because that’s how we roll) and pushed our way through the sunrise.

Your standard West Virginia, Mountain Momma.
Your standard West Virginia, Mountain Momma.

It was touch and go – we timed our arrival into Orlando to coincide with rush hour, because apparently we’re masochists.

Brake lights as far as the eye can see.
Brake lights as far as the eye can see.

But before we knew it, we saw a sight for sore, travel weary eyes…

A beautiful sight!
A beautiful sight!

We wasted no time in getting over to Wide World of Sports, and hustled our way to bib pick up. We had a quick boo at the expo, but there was really no time to do anything more than buy a pair of sunglasses for Greg before we were given the bum’s rush out – to be fair, they were closing.

We hit Carrabba’s for a “quick” dinner, grabbed some breakfast items from Goodings and checked into our 2 bedroom Villa at the Wilderness Lodge. After two days in a car, the villa seemed like a palace. A woodsy, folksy palace. Of course, it took forever to check in, and two of the four Magic Bands didn’t work, but that’s a whole other issue. We were “home”. That was all that mattered.

We laid down our weary heads for a brief sleep before our first race early the next morning.

Coming up: The Inaugural (Inaugurual?) Minnie Mouse 10K!


tabethawells View All →

I am an actor/writer/director based in Chicago, IL.

7 Comments Leave a comment

    • Thanks, Karla. It didn’t even occur to us that it was a drastic move until we saw people’s eyes go saucer-like when we told them we had driven down. Talk about tunnel-vision! We were super-committed. (or we should be committed, either way).
      We were so glad we made it, we had a wonderful race weekend (updates to come) and we had a great time seeing sights on the much more leisurely drive home.

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