What are these boards strapped to my feet and why am I sliding downhill – Part 1

Saturday, January 7 – Departure day

Our flight is at 4:07pm.  We’re flying out of Orlando International, which is about 20 minutes from my house.  It’s 5:45am. Why am I awake? Oh yeah, I have to work today from 6am-2pm.  Luckily, I’m allowed to work remotely when I work weekends, so my “commute” takes all of about 16 seconds.

After a mostly uneventful day at work (during which time I used my lunch break to shower … you’re welcome, unknown person sitting next to me on the airplane), it was time to go. Loaded the car, and headed for the airport.  Parked at The Parking Spot, and a bus was right behind us as we pulled into the space.

Amazingly enough, there were only 2 or 3 parties ahead of us at the United check in counter, and we were soon headed to Security.

Security at MCO bugs me.  You’d think that with Disney, Universal, and Sea World in this town, someone would know how to design a queue line.  Whoever that someone is, they don’t work at MCO.  Today’s queue line (which seems to change it’s layout constantly) actually had 2 lines intersecting with each other, and a designated TSA agent to act as a crossing guard to keep everyone in the right line.  Despite that, we ended up getting through security in a reasonable amount of time, and made our way through the Automated People Mover* (APM) to the gate

*Side note: MCO is in the middle of an APM modernization project, and they’re only running one train on each line.  Which means that it usually takes about twice as long to get from the terminal to the gate, or vice versa.  I don’t know when the project will be complete.

Once we reached the gate, we learned that our flight was delayed due to a late inbound aircraft.  Oh well, I’ve got several books on my tablet, might as well start reading.

About an hour late, the plane arrives, and we board.  And then we sit. And sit some more.  They’ve closed the boarding door, but no announcement has been made as to why we’re waiting.  I’m going to assume some sort of ATC delay, but I have no way of finding out.  Finally, after about 20 minutes of sitting at the gate, we push back, and takeoff.

The plane we’re on is an A320, with United’s “Personal In-flight Entertainment” system.  What this means, at least in coach, is that there’s wifi on the plane, and if you use the United app on your smart device, you can watch free TV or movies.  It’s a nice idea. I hate it.

If you’re asking “why?”, you’re probably not alone.  This particular gripe is specific to United.  Like most airlines, United used to have an in-flight audio system, where you could plug your headphones into the armrest, and choose from 10-15 channels of mostly boring music.  However, one of the channels that United (and nobody else) had was “Channel 9 – From the Flight Deck”. Anyone that knows me knows that I’m a bit of a geek.  I thought it was really cool to be able to hear the cockpit radio, and listen to all the exchanges with ATC along the way. And now, with the new entertainment system, there is no more Channel 9.  That’s why I hate it.

Minus my disappointment at not being able to listen to ATC, the flight was pretty OK. Nothing really noteworthy happened, which is always a good thing when flying.

Landed in Denver at around 9:30 (as opposed to the 8:15 we were scheduled for). While waiting for our luggage, I called my brother. We had initially discussed getting together for dinner – He lives in Vail, we were staying in Avon, Vail is on the way from Denver to Avon, it should work out. Well, we were pretty hungry, and didn’t really want to drive the 120 miles to Vail before we ate.  So we said that maybe we’d get together tomorrow, but today just wasn’t going to happen.

After getting our luggage and making our way to Hertz (all the rental car locations at DEN are a shuttle-bus away), we were on our way.  We stopped at a Fazoli’s for dinner … We like breadsticks, and there’s not one near us.  As we were getting ready to leave, the manager comes up with a bag of breadsticks, and says “Here, take some for the road. They’re warm from the oven”.  No need to ask twice! I thanked him, and took the breadsticks, and walked back outside into the cold.

Denver to Avon is about 135 miles.  Should be about 2 1/2 hour’s drive, right? Well, the first 60-70 minutes went pretty smoothly.  Then things started to go downhill.

As we got into the mountains, it started snowing.  At first, it was a pretty light snow, then it started to get heavier.  I moved to Florida in August of 2004, it’s been a while since I’ve driven in snow.  And my driving experience in mountain areas is pretty much non-existent.  I forgot about one of the basics – use your gears not your brakes to slow you down.

There were a good number of downhill grades that were posted.  Right before Dillon (which is about 90 miles west of Denver, and about 45 miles east of Avon), there was one that was 12 or 15 miles long.  Halfway through, during a level area, there was a sign posted “Don’t be fooled. You still have 6 miles of 7% grade left to go. Stay in low gear” … Shortly after that sign, and towards the bottom of the “hill”, I started to notice a burning smell … the next place I could pull off the highway was Dillon.  I pulled into an empty parking lot, and got out of the car, hoping that it had been the brakes of the truck in front of us that I had been smelling.  The truck also pulled off at that exit, and it immediately pulled to the side of the road.  As I passed it, I noticed smoke coming from one of the truck’s wheels.  I felt somewhat relieved.  But the burning smell didn’t fade as we passed the truck.  I pulled into a parking lot, got out, and walked around my car.  No smoke, but my brakes were definitely giving off a burning smell of their own.

At this point, I really didn’t know what to do.  It was only 45 miles to our hotel, but with the snow and ice on the roads, it would’ve taken probably 2 more hours to get there. I didn’t really want to drive with brakes that were noticeably burning.  Also, by now, it was about 12am, mountain time.  Remember earlier when I said I had been up since 5:45am ET?  To my body, it was now 2am.  Functional decision making was clearly beyond my abilities.  After some discussion with Tracy, we decided to find a hotel and stop for the night.

We ended up at the Comfort Suites Summit County.  Their 1 night AAA rate was $220, which seemed a bit high, but we weren’t going to find anything else, so we took it.  We hit the bed and were both asleep pretty much instantly.

Next Up: We finally get to where we’re going

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