A quick Google search to define adventure declares it to be “an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity”. Well, it’s official then. Here begins my adventure.
Turning off of Highway 385 and onto Highway 20 wasn’t supposed to catch me off guard. Just a simple 90-degree turn on familiar roads. But with new eyes, the eyes of a person in search of an airport instead of those of an Overland traveler, I’m already out of sorts. A small green sign with a white silhouette of an airplane directs me to make a right turn instead of a left. It’s the first turn I will have made since leaving my hometown behind 100 miles ago, and it’s taking me in exactly the opposite direction of what I’d had planned.
Not more than a mile or two ahead I see another one of those airplane signs and take another right onto a little road that parallels the highway and leads me back to a large white Quonset-like hut with faded letters announcing that, despite all outward appearance, this is where I’m supposed to be.
This is all new to me, having never flown Boutique Air before. And while I was game for this in theory…the reality of a small collection of ramshackle buildings gathered at the edge of a grassy plain has left me less than enthused. No offense intended, Chadron, Nebraska or Boutique Air.
I park in the first space to the side of the ADA stall by the front door of a little glass-front building, unsure if I’m allowed to be this close for a long-term stay, and unload and go inside.
The distance from the front door to the back wall, including the entire lobby and security division of the airport, and the arrivals and departures and check-in desk, is smaller than the main floor of my standard home. A polite young woman waits at the counter to check me in. A man is seated by the door, the only other passenger here so far.
She confirms that this is the right place, that I can park just outside the front door for however long I am gone, that there is no parking fee, and that the flight is delayed. She asks me my weight and weighs each of my bags and makes some notes on a clipboard. She clicks and clacks on her keyboard and hands me my boarding pass and takes my suitcase to a roped-off section of this one-room airport and I go sit around the corner just out of arm’s reach of my now secure luggage. Two other people trickle in over the next half hour, and our outbound passenger list is all checked in.
There is a video monitor showing only the single outbound flight, and a safety video playing on a loop advising “if you see something, say something”. It’s all I can do to keep from laughing.
Forty minutes after our originally scheduled departure time, a local police car pulls up to the front door and a female office walks inside. Three TSA agents, in full uniform, come out from what I thought was a mop closet and take their places.
One at a time our foursome files through the security gate and takes our seats just in the other side of the metal detector and x-ray machine. I’m now sitting literally 15 feet from where I was sitting just three minutes before. The crew then walks over and locks the main door and completes a search of the bathroom and hallway just off the main room and announces the airport as “sterile”. The crew take down the rope barriers and advise us since no one else is here and they’ve checked the entire airport we passengers can now roam the whole room again. It’s adorable.
A sleek, modern jet isles up to the fuel tanks just outside the main building and fuels up. I’m impressed at how clean and well-maintained it is. Frankly, I’m a little relieved.
The jet goes through its pre-flight check. I watch the elevators go up and down, the flaps extend and retract and listen to the engines throttle up and then back down. And after a few minutes, it’s finally ready to go. And so it does. It taxis over to the runway, down to the far end, and hits the gas and glides up and away and out of sight. That wasn’t our plane. Well, shoot.
A few more minutes of waiting leads to the gate agent/baggage handler/fueler/announcer to come over the loud speaker to report our inbound plane has called in and will be landing soon. A few more minutes and it does just that, in all it’s brown, pollution-soaked, grungy glory.
We are motioned outside to our awaiting plane and crew. In fact, the co-pilot leans out and smiles and waves at us to welcome us aboard. This feels like an episode of the Andy Griffith show.
We duck and fold ourselves into the front door and crawl down the aisle to our beige leather seats. There are eight seats on board, the front two of which face the rear of the aircraft. The co-pilot runs us through the general spiel and goes to take his seat. I look out my dingy window and just make out a cow grazing in the pasture next to the airport.
We take off and nearly immediately drift up into the low clouds that have been casting a gray lull over this part of the world today. Not long after we rise above them and up toward a lighter, but not clear, sky.
I snap a few photos and then check my purse one last time for my passport and wallet, not that I could do anything about it at this point if I’ve forgotten them. They sky is a mixed bag of clouds, every siZe and shape and color. Soft, billowy cotton candy clouds and horizontal layers of mist. Dense layers of flat clouds, and fluffy, nearly invisible ones. And off in the distance looms a big black thunderhead.
We putter along for a half hour without much notice until we start to feel a few bumps. And then a few more. And then even more. The poor little plan seems to be drifting around a bit. The clouds thicken and darken and while I snap more photos, I catch sight of a storm wall ahead with great torrents of water falling from it and flashes of lightening exploding in its interior.
After some roller coaster moves and a couple more bumps, the co-pilot announces that they’ve decided to land in Greeley because of the strength of he storm ahead.
Just before dark we land and taxi up to the terminal at Greeley and shut off our engines. A minute later it starts to rain. Wind gusts rocks the plane gently back and forth. An airport worker comes over and the pilot crawls out to open our staircase door and tell him we don’t need anything and that we plan to remain “sterile”. We all tinker with our cell phones for a while and listen to the pilot and Co-pilot talk about their fantasy football teams. I rest my head against the fuselage and listen to the putter patter of the rain.
After a while, the co-pilot calls back from the cockpit and announces that the storm has passed enough for us to carry on. His voice calls me back from whatever mold form of sleep I’ve slipped into.
We taxi back out to the runway and carry on.
Let the adventure begin.