To kick off this look back at the year, here are my Top 10 Most Memorable Trips taken in 2011:
10. AHEAD OF THE STORM: Hurricane Irene struck the East Cost at the end of August, coincidentally, the same week I was gathering for my account there, which covers North Carolina and South Carolina. I decided to start on the coast side early in the week and work my way inland to avoid and severe weather. It was a smart move, until the Friday before when I was trying to get to the airport in Raleigh, N.C. Wilmington, N.C., is less than two hours from Raleigh, so those residents were heading to Raleigh to avoid the destruction. What should have taken me 45 minutes took twice as long. All week I kept track of the path of Irene, hoping it didn't speed up and hit that Friday, but luckily, I made it out safely with no flight delays.
9. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!: I travel a lot with my job, and since starting in 2009, I had been on a work trip my last two birthdays. Not in 2011, however, as my travel schedule had me home to spend my 27th birthday with Rachel and my family. The Friday before, however, I got a request to cover a special event at one of my locations in Georgia, and I was basically demanded that I be there for it. After some griping, I made my peace with it, and set up the trip. I got the event covered successfully, and headed for the airport in Jacksonville, Fla. I went through security in plenty of time, found my gate and to my surprise, learned my flight was majorly delayed because of bad weather in the Midwest. I spent the next hour pleading with the gate agent to find me another way to Atlanta so I wouldn't miss my flight, but to no avail. I boarded my connection to Chicago, only to miss my flight home by about 10 minutes. As a backup plan, my office had arranged for a rental car from O'Hare to the airport in Bloomington where my car was located. I made it to the Bloomington airport at 11 p.m., dropped off my car and made it home just before midnight. My mother had made my traditional birthday dinner (cheeseburger and fries), so I ate and opened my presents before crashing for the night.
8. RACHEL'S BIRTHDAY WEEKEND: I always feel guilty that, when I'm not traveling, I never want to do anything. Rachel will want to go to a movie or go someplace, but I've gotten so used to airports, rental cars and crappy hotels that I truly enjoy lounging around in the comfort of my own home. Knowing how disappointing it must be to her that I reject her ideas, I decided to treat her to a birthday weekend in Chicago, complete with a round-trip train ride and a stay at The Hilton on Michigan Avenue. I had such a great time just relaxing, with no work hassles, no looming deadlines and no one else to consider when we wanted to go eat or do something. We paid a visit to The Field Museum, and she even let me walk across the street to visit Soldier Field.
7. GOOD TIMES IN IOWA: My sister Jamie and her husband Chris decided to make the trip to Iowa to see my niece, so we went over for the weekend to see them and my nephew, Liam. We celebrated his birthday that weekend, so we went to a restaurant that was like Chuck E. Cheese, but I will admit, I think I had about as much fun as Liam did playing games. He's such a little man now!
6. THE GODFATHER: My sister Tracie and her husband asked Rachel and I to be the godparents for their first child, Ellie Grace Kennedy, so we headed to Des Moines for her baptism Oct. 9. We stayed the weekend, which is always great because Ellie is growing so fast that each visit brings new things she can do, making her even more fun to play with than the time before. She was baptized at the Lutheran Chuch of Hope, where Tracie and Neil regularly attend. They had multiple baptisms that day, so it was kind of like a grocery store checkout system of bringing a family up front and running through the ceremony before moving on to the next. It was great that we also got to spend time with my parents, who came over, and Neil's family that came down from northern Iowa. Admittedly, however, I am selfish and wasn't crazy about sharing time with my niece. HAHA!
5. A 3-HOUR TOUR: OK, so the drive from Lincoln to Des Moines, Iowa is three hours, and we spent an entire weekend there for the birth of my niece, but I liked the title. Anyway, Ellie was born February 18, and us being so close, we planned to go over to see the new addition. She was born earlier that day (a Friday), so I had already seen pictures, but it was so great to be that close to family, and to be able to hold her. It was easy to tell from that day that she was going to be a stinker. In ever picture I got, she was wide-eyed and taking everything in, and she was the same way all through the weekend until we left on Sunday.
4. BEST MAN BESTED BY BOURBON: My best friend Kyle finally tied the knot in June, and for whatever reason, made me the best man. HAHA! Anyway, Rachel and I endured the long 12-hour drive to Louisville, Ky., so I could stand with him on his big day. Rachel has been to Louisville several times in the past, but it was only my second trip. We had visited a few years ago, right as he and Katie began dating, but it was easy to see how his life had changed in a lot of great ways. Among the positive highlights from the trip were seeing comedian Jo Koy at a sports bar/restaurant, and getting through my best man speech without much issue. There was free booze at the reception, which was great too, until after the party was over and we hopped in the party bus with Kyle and Katie, Katie's parents, Kyle's dad and my parents, among a few others. In my intoxicated state, I felt it necessary to take a few swigs of a bottle of bourbon being passed around, and that was it. I don't remember much else, but let's just say, Rachel wasn't too happy with me. YIKES!
3. ROCKY MOUNTAIN ADVENTURE: Granted, my work trips are hellish, and often leave me stuck in an airport thanks to flight delays, but when things line up right, I appreciate the chance to use my work travel to get to see my sisters and their families in Colorado. Prior to the Fourth of July holiday, I was on my typical work trip, but knew I wanted to visit over the long weekend, so we tweaked the typical plan and got me a few one-way flights to make sure I landed in Denver that Friday night. My whole family was supposed to meet out there for a little get-together. Well, most everyone's plans fell through but mine, so I was on my own for quality time with my sisters, nieces and nephew. It was so great to see them, so it didn't even matter what we did. I don't get to see Eileen, Elise and Liam very often, so to have a few days with them was amazing. They're growing up way too fast, and becoming smarter than me every day. Such a fun way to spend a long weekend.
2. THE GREAT OUTDOORS: In April, I decided to make the trip from Nebraska to southern Illinois to spend a few days with my dad and a close family friend and his two sons, both my very close friends. I made the 12-hour drive to spend time camping, fishing and relaxing at Shawnee National Forrest, and there were a lot of great times had in those few days. Being so far away, I never get to see Kyle, so it was great to spend a few days with him. It was even nicer to see my dad and spend some time together without having to juggle seeing 30 other people like our typical trips home.
1. MOVING HOME!: As stated in a previous post, Rachel and I moved to Nebraska in 2008, and spent the subsequent years trying to make the best of being eight hours from our family and friends. When we got the news in August that Rachel got a job at the Illinois Farm Bureau, I was SOOO happy. We'd made a lot of friends and I'd grown close to those I work with, but nothing can replace lifelong friends and your family. Getting packed up and moved was brutal, but that was, hands down, the happiest 8-hour drive to Illinois we'd made in three years.