“If you’re waiting for hell to freeze over to accomplish that thing, you’re doing it tomorrow.”
That and other memes about the Polar Vortex of 2019 ripped around the internet on January 29. Husband performed the perennial crowd-pleaser that evening, tossing a pan of boiling water into the air in the back yard so we could squeal over the instant snow. Flights were cancelled due to cold, but the following day—a supposedly chillier one—was when I would fly up to Thief River Falls, Minnesota, in an eight-seater airplane.
During coffee with a friend earlier in the day, I told her about my upcoming flight. I delivered the facts, but a shade of worry must have colored my expression.
“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” she said. “The pilots don’t want to die either.”
The next morning, January 30, the temperature gauge registered minus twenty-seven degrees in Minneapolis. The thermometer at my mom’s house on the other end of my trip read minus forty-one. Husband drove me to the airport.
“You’ll be leaving out of Flying Cloud in Eden Prairie now,” the woman at the MSP ticket counter said. “Because of the extreme temps, we had to park the plane overnight in the hangar there. We’ve got a cab for you.”
I tailed her out to a waiting car. A man joined us, and he slid into the back seat with me. The woman said something to the driver.
“How was flight?” the cabbie said, shooting me a look in the rear view mirror. His accent was thick but his jacket wasn’t. A windbreaker? On a day like this?
“Haven’t flown yet today, but I’m flying out soon.”
He shook his head, confusion flitting across his features. Did he understand what was happening and where we needed to go? He fiddled with a dial, and heat blasted us, his choice of coat now making sense.
As the cab driver pulled away from the curb, the man next to me stated our destination: the Flying Cloud Airport. The cabbie mumbled something. The man then set his volume to high and morphed into a backseat driver, doling out verbal directions with hand gestures. And sometimes the real driver even followed them.
“Are we the only two passengers on the flight?” I asked the man during a break in his GPS duties.
“No, it’s just you. I’m the pilot.” He motioned for the cabbie to take an exit off the freeway, but it was too late.
I raised an eyebrow. “Oh.”
The pilot bounced his leg, his gaze darting out the window. More directions from the back seat; more missed turns up front.
While our driver took us on an adventure, I ignored the questions writhing in my mind and texted a few people. Soon the biggest question nudged me hard enough to say something.
I turned to the pilot. “Isn’t it dangerous flying when it’s this cold?”
He shrugged. “We’ll adjust. We just fly a little lower.”
My phone pinged. A text from Mom.
If you have any hesitation, just cancel out. Not worth any risk. Does the pilot feel confident?
He said we’ll just fly lower, I texted back. And if I fly to Jesus, that’ll be okay too. Kidding.
At the Flying Cloud Airport, I climbed out of the car.
“As-salaam-alaykum,” the cab driver said to me before I closed the door.
I probably needed the encouragement. No, I definitely did.
“Peace to you too,” I said.
I clomped into the hangar, my Canada Goose coat and bulky winter boots a sharp contrast to the pristine white floor. A small crew awaited me, their only passenger on the flight. Someone had laid out a red rug the size of a bath mat at the base of the plane’s stairs. So this was how the other half lived. I swallowed a chuckle.
Inside the puddle jumper, I had my choice of seats. The hangar’s doors opened, and the plane rolled out onto the tarmac. The engine revved to life, and while the cabin warmed, the two pilots conferred, twisting buttons and jotting things in a book.
The pilot from the cab came back to me and rattled off the safety instructions. His only student, I listened and nodded at the right times.
“We ask that you use the restroom only if necessary. Mainly for privacy reasons for you, because we can hear everything,” he said. “And we have to pull out the bucket by hand and dump it later.”
Soon, the plane sped to the end of the runway and lifted, leaving my worries back on earth somewhere. The terrain—white stretching to the horizon and above—tapered to a pale blue thousands of feet above the earth. Maybe I’d live through this one after all. If people could fly to Antarctica, these pilots could fly to northern Minnesota, couldn’t they?
An hour and fifteen minutes later, the plane landed in Thief River Falls. I texted a friend: Just so you know, I’m texting from TRF, not heaven.
Inside the airport, Mom greeted me with hugs and good news: while the wind chill was still minus fifty-six degrees, the temperature had risen to minus thirty-two.
And my visit with her would warm me up even more.
*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date
*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.