If you travel often enough, you’re bound to have a “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” experience at some point. Mine was on the way to the Manitoulin Youth Conference in 2018. This is the story of the craziest trip I’ve ever been on; it began four years ago last night.
I had made plans to go to a Youth Conference on Manitoulin Island (in Ontario, CA), set for August 18-25, 2018. Months before the Conference, I bought my plane tickets for Richmond to Toronto with a layover in New York (LaGuardia) and made whatever other arrangements necessary, as well as planning to catch the bus from Ancaster up to Manitoulin with a bunch of other people from out of town who would also be attending the conference.
My flight from Richmond to LaGuardia was fine, and if I recall correctly, it arrived a little earlier than expected. I even had time to step outside the airport for a few minutes and look across the river before getting ready to board my flight to Toronto.
I waited inside the airport, and saw that my flight was delayed. No big deal, but I noticed a lot of people were just standing around in line for a long time; my flight was supposed to take off around 6:35 or so, but the previous flight had not even boarded.
Around 7:30 PM, I heard that my flight was cancelled. I still remember as they made that announcement, U2’s “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” was playing on the airport’s loudspeaker.
In a panic, I called home, and mom and dad suggested I call some other airlines to see if there was any way I could get to Toronto that night. I called around asking if there was any way I could get on a flight out of LaGuardia (or even one of the other airports in the New York City area), even explaining my situation to the representatives (as if they cared), and even offering to fly wherever necessary—Detroit, Dallas, Orlando, whatever—for a layover if it meant I could be in Toronto later that evening.
I was stunned. Most of the time, a cancelled flight isn’t too bad (annoying, yes); you just catch the next one. But I HAD to get to Toronto that night; the bus trip from Ancaster the following morning wasn’t going to wait for me. I was in trouble; if I missed the bus to the Island the next morning, I may have had to miss out on the whole week. I even considered renting a car and just driving all the way across New York and across the border, but I was advised against that. I tried calling Daniel and Dustin, both from fairly nearby in New Jersey; Daniel, to see if he knew anyone nearby who was going to the conference and could pick me up on the way, and Dustin didn’t answer.
When my flight was first delayed, I had been in contact with Mike, who was supposed to pick me up (we had even made plans to have dinner in Toronto), as well as a few others, at the Toronto airport; I reached out to him again and he got in touch with a few people who told me what I needed to do. He emailed me with some information about a bus that would run from near Toronto, up to Espanola, very late the next night. I called WestJet again, and they said they had already rebooked me on the Saturday 8 PM flight out of LaGuardia to Toronto.
I still needed a place to stay that night (since you’re not allowed to stay in the airport—as if anyone would want to anyway), so I called my old friend Justin, from nearby in New Jersey, and he and Brandon—his brother-in-law—graciously picked me up. They said Brandon and Sophia were moving the next morning and could use the help.
I slept surprisingly well at Brandon’s place, despite the stress of a canceled flight. Brandon brought us some breakfast bagels and coffee. I stood by the window for a few minutes, coffee in hand, thinking of what was ahead that day; will my flight take off tonight? Justin’s parents came over and we all helped Brandon and Sophia pack up their belongings to move down the street. Justin’s mom even said I was a “godsend;” an extra set of hands for the job.
We finished moving around 1 PM or so, and I took a shower before Justin drove me to the Morristown train station. My flight was scheduled for 8 PM; I figured that gave me more than enough time to take the train into Manhattan, catch the bus to the airport, get through security, get something to eat in the airport, and get to the gate.
Meanwhile, I had contacted my old friend Charity in the Toronto area; she said she would be glad to pick me up from the airport that night and drive me to the bus station where I would catch the overnight bus to Espanola.
The train was late, and with some added delay, it took about two hours to get from Morristown into Manhattan; I still had plenty of time; that wasn’t a worry; my main problem that afternoon was that I was walking around New York City with all my luggage for a week-long trip to Canada, and I was exhausted. I even thought at one point about just giving up and spending the rest of the week there instead of continuing my trip North. But I was determined; I had a responsibility at the Conference: a while back, they had asked me to be the official photographer. Plus, I had been looking forward to this for so many reasons.
I kept checking the weather forecast; from what I understood, my flight the previous night had been cancelled due to weather.
After a couple of bus stops, I made it to LaGuardia; security was a breeze and I was through in no time, and I saw that my flight out had already been delayed (yet again), until around 9:15. I was getting concerned; my bus from Toronto was to leave at 12:30 AM or so, but I still should have had a decent amount of time. Even so, I needed something to eat, and to this day, it’s the most expensive dinner I’ve ever bought for myself: a sandwich, a bag of chips, a bottle of water, and a KIND bar, for $22.
I looked out the window at the sunset; the second straight night that I had been here at this airport.
Time went on, and the flight got delayed again, to 10:30. Even if it had taken off exactly then, it would have been a huge rush to get from the Toronto airport to catch my overnight bus to Espanola.
Many of us waiting for the “rescue flight” got more and more frustrated; we had already had our previous night’s flight canceled and now were over 24 hours late in getting to our destinations. I was sad, and even angry; I knew that every extra minute that went by, meant there was that much less of a chance that I made it to the Conference by Sunday morning. It felt so unfair knowing that everybody else attending the Conference was already there and was having a good time, while I was stuck. I texted my friend Corey, who was already at the Conference, and he said he had enjoyed dinner by the beach with some brothers that evening, and that he had met some great people on the bus trip from Ancaster.
I met a few people waiting there in the airport and we got to talking; one in particular, Liz, was there with her son, waiting to get home to Toronto. Others were sitting with me around a table, charging our phones and making small talk. That helped; we all had company in misery and it passed the time.
The flight then got delayed again to 11 PM, and that was it; I knew I’d miss my bus. I told Charity that I’d still need a place to stay that night (assuming the flight took off), as I most likely now wouldn’t be able to get a bus to the Island until Sunday night, and I wouldn’t make it to the Conference until Monday morning at the earliest, and that was assuming everything would go perfectly from this point on. All I could think was, “LORD, just get me to Canada tonight. Don’t keep me here another night and make me come back tomorrow to try again. Just get me to Canada tonight.”
The previous afternoon, before the craziness started, I had stepped out of LaGuardia airport for a few minutes and could see CitiField (home of the New York Mets) and Arthur Ashe Stadium (where the US Open is played) across the river. I took a picture with my phone and posted it to my Instagram story, with Ian Hunter’s “Central Park N’ West” in the background; I thought back to those lyrics, “I think, I think, I think, I think, I think it’s the best, when I’m locked in the middle of New York City…” and it felt ironic; for the first time ever, I couldn’t wait to be out of New York.
The flight got delayed once more to 11:20, then to midnight; finally, just before 12 AM, we boarded, and we all clapped as the plane took off. I couldn’t believe it; we were in the air. I looked back at New York City, all lit up as usual, and it looked amazing; but I sure was glad to be heading on to Toronto. Had everything gone right from the start, there’s not a chance I would have had an adult beverage on my flight (cost, plus it just didn’t seem exactly “right,” because of where I was going), but after all the craziness, all I wanted at that point was an ice cold beer. Fortunately for me (and many others on board), WestJet offers complimentary beer to anyone (eligible) on the flight from LaGuardia to Toronto Pearson. I enjoyed a Molson and was thankful to be another step of the way to Manitoulin, albeit unsure of what was next. We arrived at Pearson around 1 AM. Charity and her mom, Deb, picked me up; I was really glad to see them.
Sunday morning, I woke up to a text from my mom, letting me know that a dear Brother back in Richmond had fallen asleep all of a sudden.
Charity and Deb and Elijah and I still went to meeting on Sunday morning, at Toronto West; it was great to be with those brothers and sisters (it had been over three years since I’d been there).
The four of us went back to their house afterward and we played Apples to Apples and had a lot of fun. Charity then drove me to the bus station so I could catch a ride to Espanola; my ticket from the previous night was unfortunately not transferable and I didn’t cancel it in time, so I had to pay again.
The bus left just about on time, around 6 PM, and it was about an hour to Barrie, my first layover; I had plenty of time to walk up the street and get a couple slices at Pizza Pizza, before catching my next bus to Sudbury, leaving at 9 PM. As I sat there waiting, there was a man nearby who introduced himself to me and asked where I was from; I said “Richmond, Virginia,” and he shook my hand and said “Welcome to Canada!” When the bus arrived to pick us up, he was not allowed on; he had been drinking and the bus driver didn’t want him to board.
From Barrie, it was a four-hour ride to Sudbury, in a dark bus, traveling up the Trans-Canada Highway. I was excited, though, because I knew if I at least made it to Sudbury, I’d get to the Camp soon after.
We arrived in Sudbury, the bus’ last stop of the night, around 1 AM. Everyone got off, and went their separate ways, except me; I had one last bus to catch, but not until 5 AM. I was alone there, in a foreign city, where I knew absolutely no one, with four hours until my final bus ride, to Espanola.
I stayed near the bus station; it was well-lit, but it was locked, so I couldn’t go inside.
A few people came by; I just stood there and said hello and they walked past. Maybe an hour went by and I was getting a little nervous; it was after 2 AM and I still had about three more hours until my bus arrived. I walked down the street and walked back to the station. Then I saw a man walking in the distance, coming my way. I just sat there hoping he was friendly, and I asked him for help; I asked if he knew of anywhere I could go just to feel safer (not that I felt “unsafe,” but being in an area I knew nothing about was certainly unnerving). He told me (obviously) that everywhere was closed except possibly some bars in town. I didn’t want to walk into one of those places with all my luggage, but I almost felt like I had no choice. I stayed around a little while longer, and then I’m confident that the LORD sent me an angel; some guy was riding around on what looked like a John Deere, mowing the grass—at 2 AM. I asked him if he knew anywhere I could go, and he told me of a Tim Horton’s a few kilometers away that was open 24/7, and he even called a cab for me. The cab driver took me to the Tim Horton’s, and he also informed me that the bus I was to catch would arrive at a different station in town, right down the street from the Tim Horton’s. I went inside and ordered an Ice Cap (as much as I love my Ice Caps, never in a million years would I ever imagine drinking one of those things at 3:30 AM). At 4:20, I walked over to the Ontario Northland Terminal and waited for the bus; I was the only one there, and the only one when the bus arrived. I got on and sat near the front; a recording came on the loudspeaker: “Manitoulin Island.” I was going to make it.
About an hour later, I arrived in Espanola; the bus dropped me off in front of some family restaurant in town, and I waited for Matt to pick me up. I had never been so exhausted: physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.
It took about an hour to get to the Camp; from the time I had left home on Friday afternoon, to the time I finally arrived on the Island, was about 68 hours. I got a very warm reception from so many people who had heard of my travel troubles. The morning session had just started, and everyone was on their way to the discussion groups. I was told that I could get some rest if I wanted (after all, I’d been awake for over 24 hours straight), and I thought about it, but quickly dismissed the thought: I had made it to Conference, two full days after it started; why miss more? That afternoon, I walked around on the beach by the lake and met a few people, and my group had a lot of fun that evening with the group we had met with for dinner. Somehow, some way, I ended up staying awake til after midnight; I was running on no sleep for the past 40 hours, yet I was having a good time, so it didn’t matter.
Glenn Beck once said, “sometimes the hardest part of the journey is believing you’re worth the trip.” Sometimes as well, the LORD wants to see what you’re made of. As I waited inside the LaGuardia airport for the “rescue flight,” frustrated, it was almost as if the LORD was saying to me, “Dan, I redirected you because Brandon and Sophia needed help moving (even Sophia’s mom said I was a ‘Godsend’); now I want to see how badly you really want to go to the Conference this year (since you’ve had reservations about going before, and had even planned to go in 2015, but you canceled a month before). You’re in a city you enjoy going to, and you know full well you could nix the rest of your trip and spend a week in New York if you really wanted to. What are you going to do?” I could have backed out at any time, but I wanted to be at Conference and to see and meet so many wonderful people, and I did; one in particular who has become one of my best friends.
I ended up having a great week, albeit shorter than hoped for.
One major takeaway was how special our faith is, that there are brothers and sisters I can call upon for help and they’re so willing (Justin even told me in the car ride, that I somehow knew that he was the only introvert in New Jersey who wasn’t doing anything on a Friday night).
On that Saturday night, I thought “I’m never going to look back on this and laugh.” But now, I look back on it and smile; I think of how much of an adventure I had in getting to Conference, and all the great people I got to see, such as my friends Justin and Brandon and Sophia in New Jersey, and Dave and Andrew and Charity and Deb and Elijah in the Toronto area, none of which I would have gotten to see if everything had gone as planned. Often I also think of the people I met along the way; the mom and daughter on the train, Liz in LaGuardia, as well as the other two couples, and Dan in Barrie and Leroy in Sudbury, all of which I’ll probably never see again.
Psalm 121, a favorite of mine, says, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.” (KJV) Yet, I had my Bible with me the entire time I was traveling—hardly ever was it more than six feet away from me—and never really thought upon those words, nor did I hardly even open it during the whole fiasco. But the LORD was always with me, watching over and protecting me the whole way, and especially in Sudbury; he sent his angels and provided for me when I needed a place to stay.
Looking back, I could have—and should have—just enjoyed the journey, the challenge, knowing that the LORD was in control and that things were going to work out. That’s a great lesson to hold on to in life as well; everything is temporary, good or bad. Day or night, heck or highwater, he is there (Psalm 139:7-12), and as one Brother once said, God is always good, win, lose, or draw. Through the highs and lows, be still and know that he is God.
Grace and peace,