In my last post I talked about my first solo trip since losing Spence and how empowering it felt to reconnect with my love of travel and regain the confidence to do it alone.
The winter of 2018 seemed longer, colder and drearier than any in the past. Spurred on by the successful trip to Scottsdale I asked myself “where next?”
My next hurdle was to return to a place where Spence and I had many fun times, Laughlin Nevada. I needed find out if I could go back and create new memories.
By now, I’d passed the one year mark since my loss, had one solo trip under my belt and knew that the time was right. I felt Spence’s presence at every turn as though he was sending me good luck.
Just a few of my slot winnings over the course of my stay!
Situated along the Colorado River with Bullhead City Arizona across the way, Laughlin was a balmy and beautiful respite from the cold and snow I’d left behind. The hotel pool and the riverwalk were perfect breaks from the casino as was a spa day at Laughlin Ranch.
Of course I had to post a few fine dining photos……
They say “you can’t go home again”. They would be wrong – my trip to Laughlin made me realize that it’s all about timing, readiness and a desire to reclaim my happiness.
Having been with Spence for 26 years, it was a shock to the system to find myself alone. It’s taken a lot of time to figure out who I am without him. Part of self care involves getting comfortable with navigating all aspects of life successfully by yourself.
I took my first of two solo vacations in early 2018. Travel was a passion for Spence and I whether a spontaneous road trip or an international vacation, we were utterly simpatico. I needed to know that could travel alone and find myself along the way.
For the first trip I chose Scottsdale, somewhere I’d never been. I stayed at the Omni Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Montelucia. It was a magical escape from the bitter cold Michigan winter, with daily spa treatments, fabulous meals, hikes and a few visits to a nearby casino. I had nothing but time to be alone and reflect on my life. The true test was the last night which fell on Valentine’s Day. I’d thought I might be sad seeing happy couples celebrating over dinner and considered ordering room service. Instead I put on a pretty dress, jewelry and makeup and went to their fanciest restaurant where I enjoyed an amazing meal and attentive service. I took a long walk after dinner, enjoying the beauty surrounding me and realized, I was okay. In fact, I felt happy. It was empowering to feel that spark reignite.
A few scenes from the resort and spa.
This hike was on a warm, breezy day and allowed me to immerse myself in new surroundings, nature, silence and reflect on all the good things in my life.
Long before I started blogging, I was photographing (and journaling about) food. Spence always found this funny and would title our trips, “Laura’s Eating and Drinking Vacations”. That said, I had to include a few pics of the delicious food and adult beverages I enjoyed on this first solo vacation.
On February 8th, life took a serious turn. An emergency room nurse called to tell me Spence had been brought to a hospital in Ft Lauderdale where he’d been visiting his BFF for a month. I flew to Florida the next afternoon arriving at 1:00 a.m. February 10th. Little did I know how long we’d be there. As days passed, it became clear I had to get us back to Michigan. I googled “private plane charter” from my iPhone. True of any Google search, the choices were endless but my need was immediate. I chose the first option that appeared. That option was PrivateFly and I believe divine intervention led me to these angels.
Valentine’s Day was my first call to PrivateFly. I connected with Denison, explaining our situation learning he was even based in Fort Lauderdale. A worldwide company, PrivateFly is world class in every aspect – professional, hardworking and compassionate people that made me feel they cared. When I knew Spence would be discharged Saturday 2/18, it was late afternoon. I feared given the weekend and President’s Day that we wouldn’t be able to seriously begin the process of putting a flight back to Flint together until Tuesday.
That’s when PrivateFly surprised me as they worked on our behalf 24/7 – all weekend! Denison, Marion, Pierre (who’s based in London) and Jeremiah answered my calls on the first ring, updating me by phone and email as they searched for the right plane and best bid. By Sunday evening, they’d found our flight. In short order I was printing contracts on my hotel’s printer, faxing them back, finalizing everything by 10:30 p.m.. Marion was in constant contact that night, even arranging pickup from our hotel to the tarmac (in a brand new black Town Car no less). Our flight on Tuesday morning was stress free and pure bliss. Capping a wretchedly stressful thirteen days, these wonderful folks at PrivateFly put smiles on our faces. Denison even came to the airport to meet us. The flight lasted two hours and thirty two minutes from wheels up to wheels down, bringing Spence and I safely home in total comfort, seven newspapers, fluffy blanket included. With lovely gifts from PrivateFly and refreshments including a delicious fruit and dip platter, we’ve completed another item on our bucket list though not in the way we could have imagined.
Needing to get home quickly under crisis circumstances may not have made us PrivateFly’s typical clients. I rarely write endorsements on products or companies as you know if you’ve followed this blog. In a world where we’ve become accustomed to low expectations, I felt compelled to share our experience with PrivateFly. Every expectation was not just met but exceeded and I’ll be forever grateful for them.
Here’s a slideshow documenting the day we finally flew home to Michigan:
I love Michigan and have lived here all my life. Within one to four hours in any direction, you can take an endless number of road trips and discover fun things to do. (Under the “Michigan” category, you can bring up earlier posts – and I hope you will.)
We’ve got countless lakes at every turn, gorgeous weather and amazing vineyards as well as sports, casinos, festivals, concerts, theaters, galleries, universities, zoos, great restaurants, parks and markets….you get it, right?
I’m sharing a couple of slideshows of road trips I’ve made over the last four weeks, from St Clair and Marysville to Traverse City, Lake Leelanau, Cedar and Suttons Bay. If you have a chance to visit Michigan, these are a few of my favorite places.
St Clair & Marysville
2. Traverse City, Cedar, Lake Leelanau & Suttons Bay
Spence and I stay in a secluded log cabin in the mountains of Wears Valley when we travel to Tennessee but love that within ten to fifteen minutes we can be in Townsend, Sevierville or Pigeon Forge and within twenty minutes, Gatlinburg.
We’ve found several fun spots to enjoy a cold adult beverage, people watch, talk to locals and other tourists. If you’re traveling in the area, these places are worth checking out.
Dick’s Last Resort – Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg – From outlandish decor and servers with “attitude” this is a fun bar with tasty eats such as the Wicked Gator bites (yes gator – tastes like chicken) accompanied by deep fried jalapenos. And yes, there are numerous bras hung over the bar. Hilarious.
No Way Jose’s Cantina – Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg – Spence and I love Jose’s with ice cold beer and their outdoor cantina (in Gatlinburg) which overlooks the river. Food here is excellent as are the complimentary chips and salsa.
Loco Burro Fresh Mex Cantina in Gatlinburg – On a sweltering day, we walked by a doorway and felt a swoosh of cool air – that was all it took to lure us in. We hopped on the escalator to the second floor bar and restaurant (forgoing the rooftop bar one floor up). When we saw the funny barstools, we decided we’d sit there. Chris, our bartender, whipped up the most refreshing frozen banana dacquiris for me while Spence had beer. Chris was entertaining as were the tugboat captain and his wife from New Orleans that we bantered with. The menu looked great but we weren’t hungry – next time….
Crawdaddy’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar in Gatlinburg – While they have indoor seating, this second floor venue has a wrap-around-the-corner outdoor balcony, overlooking a main street in Gatlinburg which is a people-watchers dream – we always sit out there. I love their pina coladas and we typically order 1-2 dozen oysters as well as oyster shooters. Great service and a full menu of Cajun and seafood selections.
Friendly Falls Food & Stuff in Sevierville – This quaint place borders the Little Pigeon River as you drive along the curving mountain roads. Not only can you sit and have a cold beer overlooking waterfalls, you can walk down to Norbert’s Gem Mine and pan for gems and crystals (watch for a future post). It’s a fun, quirky, friendly place that is always on our list of things to do when in Tennessee.