Unexpected inconveniences are just part of the trip…

Most of us have our own version of “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” – that classic 1987 comedy where Steve Martin and John Candy’s characters endeavor to get home for Thanksgiving while encountering every possible travel snafu. While the movie version is exaggerated for entertainment purposes, I’d venture to say that many “real life” travel experiences have come close.

A recent trip, while not coming near that movies level of travel chaos, provided a few travel anecdotes including a semi-wild ride down a mountain with questionable brakes.

It started out innocently enough. A plan to spend Mother’s Day with my two adult children in Charlotte, North Carolina – where my daughter lives. My son and his girlfriend, who reside in Chicago, suggested we meet there for Mother’s Day. It’s a quick direct flight from O’Hare for them.

I, on the other hand, opted to drive two-hours to Indianapolis and catch flight from there instead of the regional flight and the resulting layover and connection. The drive to the airport went smoothly and within a few hours, I touched down in Charlotte. After a quick trip to the luggage carousel, I met my daughter and son at the passenger pick-up. So far, so good.

The next day, we loaded up my daughter’s SUV and headed to Asheville for the weekend. We planned to explore the town, do some hiking and visit the Biltmore estate on Mother’s Day.

We agreed that I’d drive for this part of the trip. I felt that would cut down on any sibling back-seat driving and also, I was “clearly” the safest driver in the group. As the roads became a bit twisty heading into the mountains, I noticed a disconcerting shudder each time I braked. I convinced myself that the tires just needed rotating (or something innocuous), but I was apprehensive for the rest of the trip. Thankfully, we made it safely to Asheville and I put any car issues out of my mind as we explored the area.

The next morning, we drove up the mountain to a trailhead for a scenic hike. On the trip back down, the car shaking was markedly worse. The mama-bear in me began to visualize treacherous outcomes as I white-knuckled it back to the hotel.

After googling “is it safe to drive a car if the front-end shakes when braking?” I determined that it really wasn’t. Following a lengthy call to AAA and a frustrating (yet eventually successful) attempt at getting a one-way car rental, we were back businesses.

Naturally, my kids thought I was over-reacting, but after I gave them the “I’m your mom and I care about your safety” speech, they acquiesced – realizing that we were here to celebrate Mother’s Day and maybe they’d just let me have this one. We later learned that the culprit was a “hot spot” on one of the brake rotors along with a few other issues.

The next day, we toured the Biltmore Estate – the massive “summer home” that was commissioned to be built by George Vanderbilt and completed in 1895. The Estate is the largest single-family home in the country and is a major tourist attraction. If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend visiting it – if only see the indoor bowling alley, pool and gym. George was definitely ahead of his time.

Me and my kids outside the Biltmore estate in Asheville, NC

After touring the “house” and gardens, we stopped for our daily ice-cream indulgence, piled into the rental car and headed back to Charlotte. I’m happy to report that there was not one brake-shake on the return trip trip.

The following morning, the Chicago contingent Ubered to the airport for an early departure. My daughter had to get to work early and I had an afternoon flight – so we said our good-bye’s and I spent a few hours tidying up her house – as a moms will do, before departing for to the airport.

I was determined to have an uneventful trip home. My first step was to return the rental car. Relying heavily on GPS and laser focused on the airport directional signs, I proudly arrived with no glitches. I checked my luggage, got through security (very thankful to have TSA pre-check), had a quick lunch at the Ambassador lounge and then power-walked to my gate where I waited in an endlessly long, slow-moving line to board the plane.

Once safely buckled in, I put in my earbuds and started listening to an audio book. The flight time was just over an hour – by far the shortest leg of this adventure. Before long, I was picking up my suitcase and heading to my car – which I located thanks to the parking notes and photos I had taken and texted to myself when I arrived.

After plugging my home address into the GPS, I was dialed in for the “easy” two-hour drive and anticipated arrival time of 5pm CST. I was really feeling the independent travel-pro mom vibe at this point.

Since my sole need for the GPS was to exit the airport and merge onto the correct road, I turned off the routing shortly after merging onto 74 West. I was puzzled when it attempted to route me through Jamestown, but didn’t give it a second thought as I’ve had many a GPS try to take me through the country on past trips to Indy.

I soon regretted not deferring to the all-knowing GPS after encountering a major traffic back-up. While moving less than two miles in two hours (and being thankful the entire time for having a full tank of gas, a water bottle and having used the bathroom right before leaving the airport) I popped in my audio book and tried to make the best of a bad situation.

Finally arriving at an exit, the GPS then took me on a tour of rural western Indiana before spitting me back out onto 74 West for the remainder of the trip. After four and a half hours of what should have been a “easy” two-hour trek, I was finally home. I pulled into my garage and breathed a sigh of relief. I’d like to say I bounded out of the car – but stiffness from hours of driving (and let’s face it, being 59) made it more of an unfolding and a shuffle.

I then said a silent prayer of thanks for making it home in one piece.  Sure, I had a few travel snafus – but in the end it was well worth it. Spending precious time with my kids, making memories and being together for Mother’s Day made up for the unnerving drive through the mountains and few extra hours sitting in traffic.  

Here’s to safe summer travels for all.

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