We say goodbye to Marie & Mike, and Kay & Dave and board the flight for the last leg of our journey home. Compared with our last two days of travel from Guangzhou, this final hour-long hop from Chicago to Louisville will be a cake walk. It's the Friday after Thanksgiving and the plane is nearly empty - no more than 20 seats are taken. There's plenty of room to spread out and relax, maybe even catch a short nap before we get home. I settle into my seat to finish off my final journal entry while waiting for our plane to push back from the gate. I'm pleased with the ending for my 11/29 entry - the mixed feeling of sadness at the end of a great adventure and anticipation of the future. It seems to be the perfect finish for our story, so I put my dog-eared notebook away. Little do we suspect our story has one remaining chapter.
After 15 or 20 minutes of sitting at the gate wondering "when are we going to get started?" our thoughts gradually shift to "I wonder if something's wrong?" Finally the pilot comes over the intercom to inform us that there is, indeed, something wrong with the plane. A technician is going to try and fix it, but if he's unsuccessful we're going to have to deplane and wait for a replacement plane. After another 20 minutes or so we get the bad news, the plane can't be fixed quickly and we're sent back into the terminal to wait for a replacement. I phone my brother, who is going to be picking us up at the airport, and let him know that we'll be delayed a bit. Then we sit down to wait for the new plane. We're not too worried, after all we've traveled half-way around the globe in the last 2 days and we're only an hour from home. How bad can it be?
After a little while Kathy asks if we have any Pepto Bismol - it seems that her McDonald's lunch is disagreeing with her a bit. A short time later she jumps up and makes a dash for the restroom, leaving me with the baby. She returns a few minutes later looking decidedly green around the gills. This isn't just a case of eating too many greasy fries for lunch, she's really sick. After her third or fourth express trip to the restroom I start to feel kind of queasy myself. At first I try to convince myself that it's just the power of suggestion, but it quickly becomes apparent that I'm sick too. On her next return I hand her the baby and make my own sprint for the bathroom. What a predicament - we're in the middle of O'Hare Airport with a new baby and both violently ill with some sort of gastrointestinal ailment - there's no way we can get on a plane now. Louisville begins to seem a lot farther away than it did just an hour ago.
I head to the United Airlines gate counter and explain our problem to the attendant. She is a godsend! She changes our tickets for a flight the next day, calls ahead to have our luggage (which is already loaded on the new plane and can't be retrieved) held for us in Louisville until the next day, and even gives us a coupon for a discount at the Hilton in the airport. Thankfully we have just enough supplies in our carry-on bags to last us for one more night. With a few stops at the restrooms which are located strategically along the concourse, we make it to the Hilton and check into a room. After the last 45 minutes in the airport, having a bed and our own private bathroom is like being in heaven.
I call my brother to tell him that after 2 weeks of watching the boys, he's going to have to keep them for one more night - after a few tries I finally convince him that it isn't a joke. We crawl into the bed and take turns dozing and watching Hope who, thankfully, is just as jet-lagged as we are and spends the bulk of the next 12 hours sleeping. Luckily the mini-bar in our room is well stocked with ginger ale and Gatorade. By morning we feel more or less back to normal - we're tired and achy, but not sick anymore. After a hot shower and some muffins from room service I feel even better still. We're ready to make another try at getting home!
After the previous day's disastrous attempt to get home, we're prepared for anything. But as it turns out, we have no need for concern. The departure gate is a short 10 minute walk from our room through the concourse. Our luggage was already checked the day before, so we breeze through the check-in counter and security, arriving at our gate with plenty of time to spare. Our flight boards right on time and, since we're still a day ahead of the crush of returning Thanksgiving travelers, there are plenty of empty seats (actually plenty of empty rows) to choose from. At the appointed departure time we pull smoothly away from the gate, taxi to our runway, and leave for Louisville without a hitch. Our long, wonderful adventure has finally come to an end.