Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Fools Go Where Angels Fear to Tread...

"Fools go where angels fear to tread..."

Well that pretty much sums up my Labor Day weekend!  My wife and I were scheduled to fly to Halifax, a beautiful city on the Atlantic coast, to attend the wedding of the daughter of some close friends of ours, a trip we had booked back in February.  There was just one last minute complication...

... Hurricane Earl

...and as of last Friday night, Earl was hurtling toward the Halifax area and due to make landfall just to the west sometime around mid-morning on Saturday, about the time our plane was to land!  And Earl still stubbornly refused to fizzle into a mere tropical storm, despite having lost some of its force after leaving the Carolinas. 

Our dilemma was that because of the way we had booked the tickets, we couldn't get a refund unless Air Canada actually canceled the flight.  So we kept checking the status of our flight on their website all day Friday.  "ON TIME" it said.  We even called and asked them how they planned to land their little Embraer 190 in winds predicted to gust to 139 km/hr.  Stunned silence on the other end of the line...

So at 10pm Friday we actually decided to pack just in case Air Canada thought conditions would be safe to fly into Halifax ahead of the storm.  We still didn't think they'd actually go through with it, especially since the other major Canadian carriers, Westjet and Porter, had already canceled their flights to and from Halifax for most of Saturday. 

The next morning we checked the Air Canada website at 5am and discovered the flight was still a go - damn, I was so looking forward to a leisurely long weekend at home by this time and figured anyone who would willingly fly into a hurricane shouldn't be let out in public unsupervised. 

Yet within two hours I found myself sitting, somewhat dazed, in Seat 15C on that very plane having those same thoughts: "They can't be serious..." I still told myself. 

Then the pilot came on and said, "Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  As you may have heard, there are some windy conditions between us and Halifax (!), but flying at 39,000 feet should keep us well above the weather."  Yes, that's true enough, I thought, but there's this phase of the flight called "descent and landing" that's tough to do without getting up close and personal with the weather.

Well, as we descended there were a lot of white knuckles on that plane, as the high winds battered us and caused the aircraft to roll wildly.  There were moments when I seriously doubted the pilot would be able to maintain control in that kind of wind shear.  Yet... somehow... whether thanks to his own expertise, guardian angels or both, he did manage to land us without incident.  And he got the "sitting ovation" he deserved (we still had our seat belts on).  And then...

...they shut down Halifax International Airport, practically the moment our nose wheel hit the tarmac!


An hour later my wife and I were eating lunch at a restaurant on the outskirts, enjoying our salad and pasta as the lights flickered and the windows gave signs of impending collapse.  Trying to walk back to our rental car was an adventure.  Have you ever tried walking against a 120km/hr wind?  Wow... With the wind cutting across our path to the car, we had to aim at a point way to the left of the vehicle and allow the wind to push us back toward our destination, a lot like walking in a strong ocean current. 

The city looked a bit like a war zone - a few big trees had been ripped up, large branches were down everywhere and on the radio was the voice of a friend of mine, the head of Emergency Measures Nova Scotia, asking everyone to stay home.  By this point, I wished I had!   All the traffic lights we came across were out and most residents, including our hosts, had just lost power.  

You can get some idea of the damage from this video.  This shows only the damage hours later, after the hurricane had past.  I was unable to find any video that would convey what it was really like to be outside during the worst of it.

Surprisingly, within a couple more hours the rain stopped, the winds died down and the sun even came out later in the afternoon.  And the rest of our holiday, including the wedding, went really well, just as we had imagined it before Earl complicated our lives.  We had a much needed weekend getaway, saw some of our favorite relatives, celebrated with some dear friends and had some truly memorable, if occasionally traumatic, experiences.  Who could ask for more?

Lessons Learned?

Okay, I'm used to taking risks, even big ones.  And I'm used to facing the elements and seeking out meaningful challenges - that's just part of working on Personal Resilience.  Resilience isn't gained by sitting in front of the tube or being afraid of a little discomfort.  

That said, is the lesson from all this that if you persevere in the face of apparently impossible odds, you can succeed beyond your wildest dreams?  Or is it that the line between daring and stupidity is a very fine one and we just got lucky this time?

I'll leave that decision to you, since I haven't quite figured it out myself yet!  I'll also leave you with one tiny piece of advice... 

The next time your airline tries to tell you it's perfectly safe to fly into a storm with winds in excess of 100 km/hr., trust your gut and stay home ;-)

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