Alaska; Leg One: IAD to SEA
“Reagan all the way,” Megan stated, grimacing as she darted her eyes around the interior of Dulles. I spent my childhood crisscrossing the terminals of Dulles International Airport, tagging along behind my mother, the flight attendant. Dulles sort of felt like a guest house. Megan, an uproot from South Western VA to the DC area, always chose the Ronald Reagan International Airport as her departure airport of choice. Except not this time.
“It’s not that bad,” I retorted, slinging my backpack over my shoulder. “Here, I’lll show you how it’s done.”
Megan and I are over efficient travelers, so we arrived at the airport two hours early, waltzed through security, glided in and out of the terminal trains, and found our way to our gate in an estimated time of twenty minutes, with a tight hour and forty minutes to spare before our plane took off. We claimed some seats, and after I secured a cup of coffee, we got down to business with our itinerary.
“Ok, so land in Seattle, book it to the next gate, land in Anchorage, get our rental car, Air B&B, I was thinking… Snow City Cafe for breakfast?”
“Is that the place Sarah recommended?”
“Ok sounds good.”
“Sweet, then National Park Center, brewery for lunch? Then back to the Anchorage airport and then onto Cordova.”
“Sounds great,” Megan nodded, before scrunching her face and looking uneasy. “I hope Greg didn’t forget about us.”
Greg was our Alaskan coworker who was seemingly not a fan of communication. Greg was also our ride from the airport.
Megan waved her hand to dismiss the suggestion. “We’ll be fine. And if not… We can take THE Cordova taxi. …Like I think there’s literally only one.”
General plan in place, we climbed on the plane and claimed our seats with an excited buzz for the adventure ahead of us.
Alaska; Leg Two: SEA to ANC
The first half of the trip was relatively uneventful, although I did get an entire row to myself, which is the equivalency of a golden ticket in today’s airline industry climate. A lot of tv, a lot of reading, and toward the end of the flight a lot of pictures of the Seattle sunset out the plane window.
Upon landing, I had one goal: Beecher’s. In 2015 I flew into the Seattle airport on a layover to Portland, and my arrival gate happened to be across from an artsy, craft house-esque coffee shop called Beecher’s. I had stayed up all night packing and rolled off the plane in a disheveled, haphazard ball of layered sweaters, so I bypassed the food menu featuring the self-proclaimed “World’s Best Mac n’ Cheese”, collected a strong coffee, and retired to a rocking chair in the Terminal C food court behind the impressive floor-to-ceiling checkered windows that overlooked beautiful snow peppered mountains, fighting my heavy eyelids in a drowsy bliss until my next flight. But the “World’s Best Mac n’ Cheese” scribbled out in chalk on the menu behind the register stuck with me, almost as a haunting regret. If I ever flew back through Seattle, I was trying that damn World’s Best Mac n’ Cheese.
We arrived twenty minutes early which put us at a full half an hour before we needed to board our next plane. My hopes were high, but when we stepped out at the gate I was in unfamiliar territory. Terminal N. No Beecher’s in sight. My dreams were crushed.
We were standing by our assigned gate when I got the alert on my phone.
“They changed our gate to C15!”
Megan was skeptical. “Wait, let me just check my ap- Oh I got the alert too.”
With 20 minutes until boarding and a shaky grasp on the Seattle Airport layout, our concerns shifted to missing out flight and we took off in a panicked fast walk to find our new boarding zone. Turns out, it was right around the corner. And right around the corner also contained something that was suddenly more important to me than our next flight.
“Megan,” I stated excitedly, confirming with a map as I spoke. “There is a Beecher’s,” I thrust my finger onto the display to exemplify my point. “RIGHT THERE.”
She nodded. I nodded. We were getting that Beecher’s. 15 minutes until boarding.
We took off down the concourse walk way and around the corner, aggressively dragging our roller suitcases behind us, striding right up and through to the front of the Beecher’s line. There it was. The World’s Best Mac n’ Cheese in all its gooey glory. 5 minutes until boarding.
We each ordered eight ounces of heaven, and turned to go back to the terminal when I felt a nostalgic tug to go to the window room and see if it was as impressive as it was the last time. We were past the boarding time at this point, but I dragged Megan the quarter of a mile down the rest of the walk way and into the food court to show off the beautiful view I had bragged about on the way over. I didn’t account for the setting sun, and by the time we got down there, it was mostly dark out. Flashing Megan an apologetic smile and shrug, and swearing it was as impressive as I had toted – “in the daylight though; I thought we were going to see the sunset” – and at 10 minutes past boarding time, we hoofed it back through the concourse, past Beecher’s, walked right through our boarding line, and found our seats.
Now it was time to test the cheesy claims. We popped our tray tables down and peeled off the lids of our mac and cheese containers, instantly being met with a slightly sweet, decadently creamy smell wafting up and engulfing the air around us.
“Oh my God,” I caught myself saying, in awe of the smell. “Holy shit.”
We dug in. The quality of cheese was unparalleled. I cannot call myself a cheese connoisseur, but sometimes when I am going to wineries or feeling fancy I will buy the nice cheese from Wegmans. This tasted like they took the nice cheese and melted it down to the perfect velvety consistency and dispersed it generously over handmade pasta.
“I’ve had better,” Megan joked. At least I think she was joking. I gawked at the suggestion that better mac n’ cheese existed and she pulled back her statement. I can’t tell if she was serious and then softened the blow due to my reaction, or pitched the notion in order to get a reaction out of me, but her honest conclusion in following several minutes of indulgence was that it was “uh, some pretty damn good mac n’ cheese”. Ok. I added in the damn. But I could tell she was feeling it.
With happy stomaches and a content sense of accomplishment on my end, we clicked back in our tray tables at the Flight Attendant’s orders, and settled in for our next three and a half hours to our next destination: Anchorage.
Alaska; Leg Three: ANC
The Anchorage airport is surprisingly sprawling at midnight. As soon as we stepped off of the plane and out to the gate, we were littered among an array of people. More surprising, at least to me, was that every establishment within the airport was still open. I was used to exiting late night flights to silence and dimmed lights. For some reason, the darkness seemed to draw out the masses.
The flight over had mostly been a series of continuously shifting positions in order to try sleep comfortably. Neck pillow, cramp. Window lean, cramp. Legs pulled to chest, cramp. Head to knees, cramped. Groggy and confused, flight landed.
Past the terminal, we rented a car, post-poor-plane-nap drool still caking the corners of our mouths, and headed toward our Air B&B.
Seven minutes from the airport and accessible from a side entrance, our Air B&B was the cutest lodging we had ever seen. Adorned with a small disconnected stove-top fireplace and flourished with a sign that read: “Welcome Megan & Guest” we gushed about our arrangement before conceding to our exhaustion and began to get ready for bed. That’s when I found out that something terrible had occurred mid-flight: My leave in heat protecting hair spray had exploded.
I unzipped my checked luggage to the overpowering stench of hair product chemicals, that – in small doses – smelled fresh, but in large doses, had a pungent, dizzying aroma. “Noooooo,” I groaned, quickly ripping the affected articles of clothing from their damp packaging. “I can’t believe this happened.”
Megan offered me a few words of encouragement to combat my mourning, which in hindsight might have been a veiled reminder of: “suck it up, this isn’t that bad, you idiot.”
After draping my outfits from every surface of the suite, we got ready for bed and set our alarms for the next day in Anchorage.