“Dude I’m fixin to die. We gotta crank that AC”, I told my roommate as we sped away in his car on the way to the airport. “I’m melting”

It certainly wasn’t that hot outside. Especially for Florida. The problem? I wouldn’t be in Florida long, and I was decked from head to toe in winter clothes for the mountains. I was on my way to R & R Ranch in Colorado for the 2016 Elk hunting season to guide. Rather than try and shove all of my winter clothes into my carry on, I opted to just wear half of it. A decision that I was regretting at that very moment in time.

Cold weather hunting boots, thick wool socks, long johns, jeans, a fleece jacket, hunting backpack, and gun case in tow, I sorta stood out like a sore thumb upon arriving at Ft. Lauderdale airport. I’d once again drawn an elk tag this year. After failing to fill my tag during last year’s season, I was excited to give it another go. I’d be arriving just a little bit later in the year which meant more favorable weather and with any luck, better hunting.

With all my information ready, I walked up to the United Airlines counter to get my boarding pass and brace myself for what would surely be an unnecessarily difficult task of checking my rifle in with TSA. I showed the woman my information for my 11:15 departure flight and she began busily typing away before finally responding.

“Hmmm….”

“I’m sorry? Hmm? Everything ok?”, I asked, beginning to get slightly nervous.

“Yeahh….But you missed your flight”

In a state of wild confusion, I glanced at the time on my phone. 10:00.

“But…It’s only ten…”

“Yeahh…Your flight was actually rescheduled. It leaves in 5 minutes. You already missed boarding.”

“Wait…I was never notified of a schedule change…”

“Yeah…There should have been an email sent. But I’m sorry. You’ll need to get in contact with your connecting flight’s airlines to sort it out.”

Great. Fantastic. My plan HAD been to fly from Ft. Lauderdale to Orlando. Orlando to Denver. Denver to Hayden. Then drive from Hayden to the ranch. Now there was a massive wrench in my gears. I quickly got hold of the ranch and explained my situation. The best solution we could think of was to try and rent a car and haul ass to Orlando. It was 10:30 and I needed to be ready to go in Orlando airport at 1:30.

Challenge. Accepted.

Still wearing all my hunting gear and dragging a gun, I practically ran to the car rental area of the airport. During my last trip out west, I rented a car for the first time ever from National, and it was cheap. So I made my way to their counter. Sweating, I told the guy behind the desk that I needed a one way rental to Orlando and quick. Miraculously, it was quite possibly the easiest process I’ve ever gone through in my life. within about 45 seconds he handed me back my credit card and the slip to get into a car. It was that easy. I gathered my stuff and just before I made it through the door to the parking garage, the man noticed my bright orange hat.

“Colorado huh? Skiing?”

“Nope!”, I replied over my shoulder. “Elk hunting!”

The man let out a gasp. “Poor Elk”. Then he paused after I assume he saw the look on my face. “I mean…Good luck!”

Not having the time to even get into a conversation with the man, I thanked him and walked through the door into the parking garage. I was holding a slip of paper with some illegible writing on it that was supposed to point me in the direction of my car. Not knowing what I was doing or where I was going, I wandered over to the first person I could find with a green National vest on. She was an absolutely ENORMOUS black woman.

“Excuse me”, I began with a chuckle. “I’m…Totally lost” I handed her the slip of paper and she glanced over it.

“Mmmhmm…Mmmhmmm…Full size…Mmhmmm…Orlando….Okay baby I got you”, she responded. “Follow me”

“So you got a choice of the Malibu…The Taurus…” she continued, pointing to each as we strode through the garage. “Or…”, she cut herself off as a Black Dodge Charger backed into a spot in front of us. “The Charger”

I gave her a giant shit-eating grin as the car finished parking.

“OOooo boy I know which one you gonna take!”, she laughed. “Key’s in the car. Thanks for choosing National”.

Thankfully my gun case fit like a glove in the back seat. And within just a minute, I had escaped the confines of the parking garage and was on the interstate heading toward Orlando. I was tight on time and there was no way I was about to miss my next (and arguably most important) flight. So  I stepped on the gas a little. I should note that I’ve never really even driven a moderately fast car, so I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the ride. I even slowed down long enough to take a quick picture.

Sorry Mom

Sorry Mom

I made it to Orlando airport in about 23 minutes.

Once there, I gave the car back to National and made my way into the airport. While standing in line, I actually ran into several of my hunters from last year. They’re all from around the Gainesville area and were on their way back again to hunt with me. It only took about a decade for someone to come check my gun in, and FINALLY, after an insanely long morning/process, I made it through security and was happily sitting at my gate, ready to board.

—-

The flight to Denver wasn’t particularly exciting. Which is a good thing in my opinion. A brutally boring and excitement free flight is exactly what I want. And after what seemed like an eternity, we landed safely in Denver. It turned out that one of the other guides, Cody, was sitting right in front of me during the flight, and upon landing I unbuckled and let out a groan as I stretched.

“One more flight, then a drive and we’re finally there”, I told Cody. And it was just then that I caught the eye of one of my hunter’s, Ed, a few seats away.

“Our flight to Hayden is cancelled”, said Ed, over the seats.

“Bullshit!”, I responded, possibly a little too loud since half the plane turned to look at me.

“Yep…snow. Next flight doesn’t leave until tomorrow.”

No. Freakin. Way.

After the whole process, after traveling almost all day and over halfway across the country, here I sat. Once again, stuck. I soon grabbed my bag from overhead and filed out into the terminal where I met the other hunters. Everyone was busily discussing what to do when Cody and I walked up. Some said we should stay the night. Others argued that the weather might get worse, and we’d be stuck even longer. Some said to rent a car and drive. Others argued it’d take two cars to fit 8 people total (which was how many we had). Regardless, I wasn’t getting my gun into at least the next day at the earliest. The discussion seemed to go on and on before finally I spoke up. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s indecision.

“We don’t know if the weather will get any worse, it’s alright right now. Let’s rent two SUV’s, load up everything and just go. Sound good?”

Everyone seemed to nod in agreement, and then came the decision who should drive. One of our hunters happens to be a truck driver, so it was a given that he’d take the wheel of one of the two SUV’s. The other? There were no takers. Considering I practically drive for a living anyway, and no one else was willing, I offered to take the wheel of the second SUV.  Being a Florida boy, I’d never driven in snow before…But how hard could it be?

The drive out of Denver wasn’t particularly bad. The Explorer we were in handled alright, it was just slightly windy, especially in certain passes as we climbed higher and higher into the mountains. We made a stop in Silverthorne to eat at a Wendy’s and it was about that time I was thankful for wearing all my winter clothes. The temperature was dropping. Fast. Where only 10 hours prior I had been sweating to death in Ft. Lauderdale, I was now almost shivering in the mountains. After dinner we continued on, and it wasn’t long after we left Silverthorne that it began to snow. Hard.

I noticed that everyone in Colorado was still driving like a bat out of hell in the snow. Didn’t matter how horribly steep the road was, they were still flying. Hell, I was just doing my best to keep up with our other hunters in the car ahead of us. Just when I thought it couldn’t snow harder, it did. Then harder. Then even harder.

IMG_1385I was slowly getting more and more nervous as the weather worsened. Tires began to slide and I was having a terrible time. Our path down I-70 actually led straight through the town of Vail Colorado. Having the last name Vail, I’d always wanted to visit the place. Just for kicks. Well…I got to drive through Vail, but I never saw it. Total white out. The best I got was an interstate sign that read “Vail Next 3 Exits”. And that’s it.

We got off the interstate in Rifle and began our trek north toward the ranch. The weather simply continued to worsen. Soon there were only two cars to be seen driving down any of the roads, and both were packed full of Florida boys. The old county road leading to the ranch was probably where we saw the worst weather. At some points the car in front of us completely disappeared and they were only about 30 feet ahead. I actually began to worry that even if we -did- manage to make it to the ranch, we’d never recognize it. EVERYTHING was white and even roads leading off the highway were masked in the white nightmare outside.

Thankfully someone managed to get enough signal to make a phone call to the ranch owner who was able to drive down to the highway and wait so we’d recognize the road. We all met, then drove the last few miles to the ranch.

I was completely and totally exhausted. My hands actually hurt from the white knuckle grip I’d kept the whole ride. We finally made the turn into the 4 mile long driveway to finish the trip. We’d left Denver at what 8:30 on what was supposed to be a 4.5 hour drive. It was now 5 am the next day. With the ranch owner in front, the other hunters second in line, and myself and my hunters bringing up the rear, we approached the ranch house. Just a few hundred more yards to go, when suddenly….

The car in front of us hit a huge snow drift and drove right off the road….

We were so close. So damn close to calling it a day. Everyone bailed out and the other two cars set about getting the hunters and gear out of the stuck SUV and into the two remaining cars. We’d worry about the stuck one in the morning. Or later in the day. Or whatever. I was too tired to think.

IMG_1389

After finally getting into the house, I met more hunters. We were actually so late on arriving that they were already getting up to go make a hunt. I said hey to everyone, dropped my gear, and sorta zombied my way around the lodge. I was too tired to think, and actually too tired to sleep. I’d pounded an energy drink during the ride, and it was apparently still working. I ate some breakfast and watched as the sun began to rise along the horizon. The storm had finally passed.

IMG_1391

Soon after I made my way to my bunk, and passed out cold. We’d made it. Elk season 2015 was a go, and I was absolutely pumped to get out there after them…

Just a little bit later…you know…after I sleep a bit.

 

*Stay tuned…More of this incredible season to come!*