Europe Epic: Getting There (or, Ode to the End of Covid)
Updated: Mar 16, 2022
It wasn’t only us who had been waiting for this moment.
The 5am check-in line at Erik Neilson Airport in Whitehorse was packed with March Break travellers itching to finally fly “away”. Some hadn’t seen their family in Quebec for three years, while others were heading to Victoria to feel the spring sun and smell the budding lilacs. Regardless of destination, each eager individual wore the same expression of a wizened grizzly emerging from a longer-than-wanted hibernation, relieved and bewildered at the sight of natural light again.
The big difference for our family was that we weren’t coming back to our Yukon home any time soon - six months, to be more precise. We were giving Covid the big ol’ bras d’honneur and strutting our way to Europe for an epic bike tour we’d been planning for years.
And it had been a rollercoaster last few weeks wrapping up our Yukon lives and getting to the start line.
Our collective family cheer could probably be heard in Europe when Denmark declared that Covid was “no longer a socially critical disease” in late January, and soon others like Spain followed suit.
Then Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. Asshole.
Could we justify a family fun trip in the midst of such global tragedy and turmoil? “Are you sure it’s safe?” was again the first question our friends and family asked. Should we could postpone again and wait for a better time?
Life is always uncertain, we decided. The present is all we know for sure that we have.
So “away” we went - with a one-week pit stop in Ontario.
So far, it has certainly been the right time. Three years away from one’s hometown makes the nostalgia hit that much sweeter. The narrow, maple-lined streets of a childhood in Niagara whisk back a reassuring calm ahead of an epic journey. Walks and waffles and dinners and getting shoes caught in tree branches, with parents and great-grandmas and siblings and nieces, fill one’s bucket to the brim and confirm the wisdom of living for the present.
In the midst of all the troubling news overseas, Ed’s aunt Linda told us her stem-cell donor was coming to meet her - from Germany - ten years to the day that Linda’s life was spared from leukaemia. Anke had volunteered for screening in hopes of helping a stranger. But the conventional collection method didn’t work, so they needed to take the riskier route of taking blood from her main artery. She agreed without hesitation, and Ed still has his beloved aunt who brings inappropriately large bags of jelly beans to her great-nephews for long flights to Europe.
We found more reminders of human kindness when Andrew the Air Canada agent at Toronto’s Pearson airport offered to check our heavy carry-on panniers for free so we could wander more freely in Geneva, which we did after a rough overnight flight (Sitka choosing screen over sleep for a while until Joce noticed the light through her eyelids). Ed plotted out a four-hour tour of the lively, delightfully European city - with its 100-metre-high fountain, progressive political history and life-sized chess boards at the Parc des bastions.
En route to Malaga, the rollercoaster jolted us again, as Ed lost half of this blog to a new app glitch, and Sitka lost half his lunch after going six full flights without barfing - a new record nonetheless.
Our months of planning and document prepping led to a stunningly smooth path through Spanish customs (we were sure someone would chase us down once we emerged into the cool Mediterranean night without showing our $2,000 Spanish visas to anyone), then we coaxed Juan our cabbie to believe in our family car-packing plan (all four bikes, plus us, into a minivan!) and finally arrived to meet the truly magnificent Ramon, our AirBnB host who had so far made police inquiries, booked visa appointments and ordered camp fuel on Amazon for us. We must stop asking him how we can do stuff because he just goes and does it all for us.
It would seem that those better times we considered waiting to happen are always there waiting for you when you seek them out.
For us at least, we have faith that the light at the end of the tunnel is real. The long wait is over.
Time to get away.