The alarm started low
The soft sound of chimes growing increasingly louder and rousing me from my slumber. Out of instinct, I grasped for my phone and hit the “snooze’ button, rolling back over. It was still dark outside, and sleep and I are pretty much besties, but today it didn’t matter; there was no more dozing for me. Within minutes I was up and out of bed. I was headed to the inaugural Uncharted Veterinary Conference!
I brushed my teeth, put on my make-up and donned the carefully folded clothes I’d lain out the night before. I double checked that I had everything packed and I was out the door for the drive to LaGuardia.
My chest was tight with anxiety as I inched along Grand Central Parkway, glancing at the clock every few minutes. Had I not planned enough time for rush hour traffic? Was I going to be late for my flight? I finally made it to long term parking where I impatiently waited in the rain for the shuttle to the airport.
I made it to the terminal an hour before my scheduled flight. Would it be enough time to get through the ridiculous security at a major New York City Airport? The TSA line was miraculously short. I stepped barefoot into the backscatter machine, then grudgingly submitted to a (minor) pat down, getting through with time to spare for a quick bite to eat. As I waited for my food, I checked the flight schedule only to discover a two-hour delay. All that rushing for nothing.
I decided to use my time for a sit-down breakfast.
As I ate—fork in one hand, smart phone in the other—I checked on my fellow Uncharted members through our Facebook page. Suddenly a slight delay seemed like a blessing as I saw member after member talk about flight cancellations and being stuck at their lay-overs. I refreshed the flight tracker every 15 minutes or so, confirming things were still on schedule—until they weren’t. I scrolled through the list of flights again, making sure I hadn’t missed it. Flight 5382 to Greenville, South Carolina was gone.
I gathered up my bag and hurried to my gate in a panic. “What’s going on with the flight to Greenville?” the woman in front of me inquired?
“We’re about to make an announcement.” I took a seat and waited until a man’s voice came over the intercom to inform us that our plane was delayed in Columbia and scheduled to arrive at 2PM. Another two-hour delay. I breathed a sigh of relief that my flight hadn’t carried the same fate so many other Uncharted members’ had.
Determined to use my time honoring the Uncharted spirit, I headed to the book store and helped myself to a price-inflated copy of Adam Grant’s “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.” I took a seat and started reading.
One chapter and a free bottle of water and Rice Krispee Treat later, and I was officially flightless.
I rushed to the help desk, but wasn’t fast enough. A slew of people had already beaten me there. I waited for a couple of minutes before deciding to think outside the box and call Delta.
“How can I help you?” the costumer representative asked. I explained my predicament. “Well, let’s see…” she paused for a few seconds. “Hmm, it doesn’t look like I’ve got anything else today from LaGuardia to Greenville. Would you be willing to leave from one of the other New York area airports?”
“Sure,” I agreed without hesitation, happy for any solution I could get. A couple of minutes passed with no sound but the background din of the airport and the click-clack of her keyboard.
“Well, we could…no, that won’t work. How about…uhh…Maybe we could get you into Charlotte?” Silence again. “Well…let’s look at Atlanta…” This went on for a few more minutes before we had to give in to the reality. Hundreds of flights had been cancelled that day. Tens of thousands of flyers rescheduled on every available plane for the next two days. I wasn’t flying to Greenville until Saturday—by the time I got there, Uncharted would be more than half over.
I heard some people on the line next to me discussing their options. “The train is going to be $900,” I heard one of them say. Well, that was out. There was only one reasonable solution.
I was driving.
I typed “Greenville, South Carolina” into Google Maps and saw it would take about 12 hours.
Next, I opened the Facebook app on my phone and went back to the Uncharted group. “I’m driving down from New York leaving now. Anyone want me to pick them up on the way?” It seemed only natural. I was not the only one with a cancelled flight and 12 hours was a long time to be alone in a car, even for an introvert like me.
There were a few joking Reponses asking me to swing by Dallas or Portland, and this–“If I’m stuck in Philly, I’m messaging you!!!” It was from a woman named Katie—a phenomenal writer whose work you’ve seen on DrAndyRoark.com. She was one of those people you’ve known through Facebook so long that you forget you’ve never actually met. But it appeared that her connecting flight from Philadelphia was set to go off as planned and she boarded her plane.
I got my luggage back from Delta, and my car back from long term parking and I was on my way.
Of course I was in such a rush to get a move on, I didn’t check my GPS route and the next thing I knew, I was headed straight into the mouth of the Midtown Tunnel.
Now, I’m not deathly claustrophobic or anything but I do get a little uncomfortable in tight spaces. Tunnels, in particular, make me more than a little uneasy. Give me a bridge with a view and I’ll happily plunge to my death but no way do I want to die being flattened by a few thousand tons of crushing water and stone. Still, there was no way I was turning back now. I sucked it up and drove through. I navigated the crowded streets of midtown Manhattan before suffering through the equally panic-attack-inducing Lincoln Tunnel.
As I made my way onto the Jersey Turnpike, the drizzle that had been the backdrop of the day turned into a torrential downpour—a remnant of the weather system that had caused all the travel problems to begin with. I made it through, and as I reached South Jersey, the clouds finally parted. I pulled over for a bathroom break and to check my Uncharted messages. Katie’s connecting flight was cancelled after all—mechanical problems. I was 25 minutes away. I got her message just in time—she was about to get into a rental car with a complete stranger.
When I got to the airport, I called Katie’s phone. When she answered, it occurred to me I’d never even heard her voice before. I pulled up to the curb at the terminal and
Katie got into the car with a complete stranger.
We drove for hours, talking about everything and anything. Around 9PM, I needed to make a pit stop and we were getting hungry. Unfortunately, it seemed like the interstate went on forever without an exit. When we finally got off, we found a shopping center with every type of store except a restaurant. I peed in a Marshall’s restroom and then we got lost in a rather unfriendly looking neighborhood outside of DC while trying to find our way back to the interstate. There was not a fast-food establishment anywhere to be seen. Another hour later we saw an exit sign advertising a Dairy Queen, Chipotle and Burger King. They were all closed, or so we thought. As we were about to drive away from the Burger King, Katie noticed that the drive through was still open. Hallelujah! We refueled and continued on.
I drove for a couple more hours, making it through Virginia, before my eyes got too weary to keep going. I handed the reigns off to Katie who took us another two hours to Durham. We tried to get a room at a Holiday Inn, but there were no vacancies. We went another exit and found a Red Roof Inn. We got the last room with double beds. We carried our luggage up a flight of stairs and stumbled into our evening accommodations. I immediately spied a freshly chewed wad of gum on the window sill. We closed the curtains—gum problem solved—and fell into bed.
We slept for a few hours before our alarm went off.
We each took a shower and got dressed, then decided to indulge in a sit-down breakfast at IHOP. I excitedly decided on the stuffed French Toast…until I found out it was no longer on the menu. It was tragic. I settled for Banana Fosters French Toast and Katie went with the Strawberry Banana. We went through two carafes of coffee and set out for the final stretch.
We hit some traffic and made a single pit stop for more much needed coffee, but the second day was way less eventful. At 1 o’clock, we finally made it to the hotel!
No rest for the weary. I tried to use the few hours before registration for go for a quick jog and loosen up my muscles, but they would not comply. I joined a few other Uncharted members for a little light yoga to stretch them out instead.
Finally, it was the moment it had all led up to—Uncharted was beginning.
We were served with a delicious dinner, and sat at a table with some amazingly inspiring new friends. Dr. Andy Roark got up to give the key note speech.
He spoke about how honored he was that despite all the delays and cancellations almost everyone had made it. Like “The Wizard of Oz,” he said, in tribute to this year’s conference theme of storytelling. We had traveled the yellow brick road to meet the Wizard, but like in the movie, the Wizard was just a man. A pretty awesome man who did some awesome things—but still, a regular man.
We could all be Wizards too.
The Wizard of Oz is just one iteration of the hero’s journey. A regular, ordinary person living their regular, ordinary life until she is called to adventure, like so many of us were called to Uncharted. She meets friends and allies like Katie, and encounters enemies and challenges like cancelled flights, claustrophobic tunnels, full to bursting bladders and someone else’s oral flora on her window sill. She goes through an ordeal like a 15-hour car ride. In the end, she overcomes the obstacles to reach her reward and fulfill her purpose. The hero returns to the ordinary world with the gift and knowledge that she received so that she may share it with her fellow man and woman.
This journey brought to focus for me what I’m passionate about…
You! the men and women that work in the veterinary field. I am passionate about teamwork. I want to empower everyone from practice owners and veterinarians to managers, technicians and CSRs to have their best possible careers and to elevate the practice of veterinary medicine to its best possible iteration. We can’t do that if we don’t respect the contribution of every single member of the team and empower them to be their best, happiest selves. I promise my journey is not over. I will keep working to make that dream a reality and to share that gift and knowledge with the veterinary world.