Here is the final edit from my 2006 trip to McNeil.  I hope you enjoy my ramblings and a special thanks to my good friend Lynne Slater for taking the time to edit my crazy notes.  Enjoy!

-Mark Hardgrave 

Day 1: Travel Friday, June 16, 2006

Departure

Today was the big day to go to Alaska. My day began at two a.m., allowing me enough leeway for my six-forty-five a.m. flight from Little Rock. By three-thirty a.m., Becky, Natalia, and I were headed out the door. At the airport, Becky and Natalia helped me check my luggage and we all appreciated the wheels on my new large duffle bag from Cabela’s ® . The wheels and retractable handle made it easy to travel with a lot of gear and I highly recommend this bag.

After checking in and saying my goodbyes to the girls, I was off to the security check point. To speed my passage, I had arranged the loose items from my backpack into zip-lock bags for easy sorting. This systematic arrangement allowed security personnel an effortless look at the items. I was quite early, but that's just the way things are after 911.

Houston

My smooth and trouble-free flight to Houston lasted slightly over an hour. A large airport, Houston can take a while to get from one place to the next. My arms tired quickly as I carried my camera pack in addition to my "Geek Gear Bag” containing my laptop, battery chargers and other gear for the trip. With my camera bag on my back and my geek gear in my hands, I realized I needed something after observing busy travelers with their rolling bags. In search of relief, I entered an airport store and purchased a nifty rolling cart. Although I paid way too much, the convenience resulted in my now happy arm and proved worth it in the long run.

As I arrived at the gate for my flight, I sat down to enjoy some music when I heard the yelling and screaming of a small child. I investigated and observed a kicking and sniveling little boy who was lying on the floor in the middle of the airport. His defeated looking mom sat about 30 feet away, ignoring her two year old’s meltdown. I am telling you, this kid was doing the Curly Shuffle! I could not resist the chance for this photo opportunity to pass me by, so I grabbed my point and shoot digital out of my bag and proceeded in his direction. Stopping to ask the mother’s permission if I could photograph him while he was having this meltdown, she said “Sure!” Off I went to snap his photo. After taking one photo, I started talking to him and asked him if he was having a bad day. He stopped his fussing and sat up as I snapped another photo of him. Then he smiled. As I walked away, he got up to rejoin his mom. Did I help? I don't know, but it was fun.

An hour later, my plane to Anchorage was ready for boarding. The flight was full, as are all flights to Alaska. Earlier in the morning, some area thunderstorms delayed the day's flights. As we sat on the tarmac waiting to take off, it was obvious we were going to have to wait a while before take off. As soon as the announcement was made allowing passengers to use geek gear, I quickly tuned into my iPod for a bit of music. Thousands of songs in a little box, that's amazing!

To pass the time, I showed several people how to do Sudoku puzzles and I advised them that these things can be addictive. At first, my fellow passengers were not overly interested, and I think some accepted blank puzzles just to be polite. After about 30 minutes, they were hard at it, forming small groups and collaborating to solve the puzzles. They sure are a lot of fun! An hour passed quickly on the tarmac, and in no time we were ready for take off.

Anchorage

My seat on the flight to Anchorage was next to Donna and Jim Sublett, a couple from Florida with whom I enjoyed some great conversations. The pair is seasoned with world travel and I really enjoyed the stories they each shared. An avid crossword puzzler, Donna thought she might enjoy the Sudoku puzzles, so together we worked a few. Without reflecting on her lack of prior experience with Sudoku, she was hooked after only a couple of minutes! By the time the crew began handing out drinks and snacks, I was ready for one.

The long flight to Anchorage, the fuel wasting delay on the tarmac in Houston, and a thunderstorm detour reroute, resulted in an unscheduled refueling stop in Juneau. Initially, the Juneau airport was not going to provide us with any fuel! I found this odd, but I imagined that either Continental Airlines doesn’t normally fly into Juneau, or their credit card was declined. Despite the mysterious problem, we were finally able to get some fuel after about 30 minutes and were soon back on track to Anchorage.

When I finally got to Anchorage, I still had another four hour layover before I could catch a flight to Homer. I was relieved because in my experience, it always takes a long time to pick up luggage in Alaska. After flying for many hours, passengers usually wait at least thirty minutes to get their stuff. As the bags rolled up on the conveyer belt, I delighted and relieved all mine were there!

Luggage in tow, it took me a few minutes to figure out where to go, but I finally got checked into ERA Airlines for my flight to Homer. With another three hours to wait before my plane would depart, my stopped up ear was really bothering me. The shot and medicine I took before I departed was helping, but the doctor said it would take about a week to heal. I felt like I was talking in a well most of the time.

After checking in, I spotted Lucas with all his gear. He and I sat and talked as we waited for our hour-long passage to Homer. The smooth flight was on a small plane which carried only about a dozen people. The man next to me talked the whole time, and although I wished I could have heard what he said, he was talking into my stopped up ear! I just smiled and acknowledged what he was saying. I think he previously lived in the area for a long time and was returning for a visit. Too bad I couldn’t hear him; because I’m sure he had a wealth of knowledge.

Homer

As we arrived in Homer, Kevin was waiting to pick us up. It took several minutes for the airlines to deliver our luggage to us and we quickly realized Lucas’ luggage was not there. He had checked it on through to Homer and Alaska Airlines is notoriously bad about sending it the next day. Although Lucas was a bit annoyed about the whole thing, Kevin assured him the luggage would arrive on the first flight in the morning. With that said and nothing we could do about it because we were the last flight in, we headed to town to get something to eat. It was great to get some food and to be off the plane. Kevin took us to the hotel where we unpacked our belongings and readied for sleep. After being awake for twenty four hours, my slumber was welcomed quickly.