Last weekend we had one of our most unlucky travel experiences ever. We were headed to Spokane, Washington for another of my daughter’s volleyball tournaments, the Pacific Northwest Qualifier. I have to admit, when I first heard about the location, I had to look up where it was. Everyone warned us that getting to Spokane was tough, but we booked really early and reserved tickets on a flight at the time (and price) we wanted through Alaska Airlines. There are no direct flights to Spokane from San Francisco International (SFO), so we chose to fly to Seattle and take a connecting flight to Spokane. Many families from the team took different flights to Spokane, so it wasn’t unusual that we were the only ones to connect through Seattle. We had hoped to get to Spokane by mid afternoon and have time to explore the city and surrounding areas.
The morning of our departure started out smooth enough, we left the house with plenty of time to spare before our midmorning flight to Seattle. Upon arrival at SFO, we noticed that our flight was delayed, making it impossible to make our connecting flight to Spokane. We talked to the ticketing agent and they were able to book us on a later connecting flight. Ok, this is part of air travel, we just lost some time to explore Spokane, but these things happen. About 2 hours after our scheduled departure time we boarded our flight and as the airplane was backing out, we noticed that the airplane became eerily quiet, like they shut everything off all of a sudden. Soon there was an announcement that there was a leak in the engine and that we would have to deboard the plane as they checked out the situation. I was grateful that they were being cautious and, really, gettting to our destination alive and in one piece is what mattered. After about 30 minutes of waiting in the terminal with the rest of the people on our flight, the captain came out and let us know that they needed more time to “run tests” and to be patient. Thirty more minutes ticked by and we started to doubt whether we would even make the later connecting flight. We noticed there were a number of flights to Spokane, the latest one being 11 pm, so we breathed a little easier thinking at least the late flights will have seats.
As I was looking up driving routes from Seattle to Spokane wondering if it was even possible, the gentleman sitting next to me started up a conversation about our flight being delayed and at some point in the conversation he told me that his home town was Spokane. I asked him if the 4.5 hour drive to Spokane through the mountains was doable and he said he had done it a number of times, but “it was boring.” Also, he warned me that the road can close depending on the weather. I let the that idea go, the thought of driving for so many hours on a boring road that might not even be open wasn’t worth it. We just needed to get to Spokane that night, even late if need be, because tournament play didn’t start until the next day, Friday afternoon. We got in the long line to talk to the ticketing agent to get us on yet a later connecting flight. The captain finally came out again and announced that the plane was fine and that we could board. I heard him tell a passenger that in all of his 20 years of flying, this has never happened before.
As my daughter and I boarded the plane, my hubby finally got to talk to the ticketing agent who told him that all the flights to Spokane were full that day, but he could get us on a flight midday the next day. Nope, that wouldn’t work. The agent also told us that we could possibly make the connecting flight because the gate for that flight was really close to where we would disembark. We started out hopeful that we would make our connecting flight, but as the minutes passed waiting for the plane to move away from the terminal, we started getting nervous. Then we heard an announcement that the delay was due to their crew looking for luggage that belonged to a passenger who decided not to take the flight. Ugh, no hope for catching the connecting flight. So, we started talking about renting a car and driving to Spokane again.
Once we landed in Seattle, we headed over to the Customer Care counter and made sure there were no other flights to Spokane on any airline that we could take and also find out how to get our luggage off the plane. I’ll skip the Seattle airport experience which took another hour, but finally we were on our way in a rental car to Spokane with our luggage in hand. It was 6 pm by now and we had a 4.5 hour drive ahead of us through the mountains and desert to get to Spokane (did I mention that my hubby just got back from Europe the day before on a business trip and was pretty worn out?).
The “boring” drive on I-90 through the Cascades in Wenatchee National Forest
The drive on I-90 through the Cascade Range was anything but boring. The desert section which we drove through in darkness could have been the boring part the man at the airport was talking about, but the roads were nice with no traffic once we left Seattle. I loved that there were rest areas, gas, food, lodging all along this route. There was just enough cars on the road to not make it feel isolated, sometimes I get a little creeped out when we are the only ones on the road in the middle of nowhere. Our talk of bad luck soon turned into how lucky we were to be able to see all this beautiful scenery. The weather was nice, the roads were clear and we had our tunes. We enjoyed this drive so much! Our tiredness evaporated as our energies were focused on seeing all the beautiful snow-covered mountains, lakes, rivers and forests we passed by. We talked about coming back to explore all the state parks and recreation areas that we had to drive right by. I had no idea at the time we drove this route, that it is the longest interstate in the US, starting in Seattle, ending in Boston and connecting many major northern cities. I hope we will have a chance to come back along this route someday when exploring the National Parks of northwestern US and Canada.
We arrived at our hotel around 10:15 pm after a 14 hour travel day. It turns out we were the last family to arrive and no one else had any problems with their travels, just us. Fortunately, the Davenport Grand Hotel for $170/night was amazing! So modern, bright and spacious even with 2 king beds in the room. We loved this hotel, especially the fact that it was so close to the Spokane Convention Center where the volleyball tournament was held. The only thing I didn’t like was their $17/night parking fee. The hotel was very conveniently located across the street from the Riverfront Park as well as the Performing Arts center. There were many restaurants nearby and it was within walking distance to the Spokane Falls, a must see.
Friday was a new day with no airplane travels we had to navigate. My daughter had team obligations and took off mid morning to join her team. The only thing my hubby and I had to do that day, other than to watch volleyball, was switch rental cars because renting from Seattle (with a one-way drop off rate) ended up being way more expensive than renting from Spokane International airport (and returning the car at the same location). So, we parked the car at the drop off section of Alamo, went inside, did some paperwork, then walked back out and got into the car across from where we just parked the other car. Sounds pretty silly, but it saved us over $150 for the weekend. From the airport we drove to Central Food (menu) for lunch. We wanted a casual, relaxing place on the river to grab lunch and this was perfect. I had their Korean Pork sandwich and roasted brussel sprouts, so tasty!
After lunch we strolled along Centennial Trail which meandered along the Spokane River. This section of trail was part of a 37-mile trail that starts from Sontag Park in Nine Mile Falls in Washington to the Washington/Idaho border. This is a multi-use trail, and I’ve read that certain sections are great for bike riding. The Centennial Trail in the Riverside State Park system looked especially inviting for a bike ride, while the section through the Riverfront park looked a bit too congested with so many people walking around.
If you only have time to do one thing in Spokane, seeing the Spokane Falls (especially the lower fall) should be on your ‘to do’ list. Especially during the spring months when the Spokane River is roaring through downtown Spokane. This year the river is showing the highest flow in 20 years, they even officially closed Spokane River by closing the pedestrian bridges the week before we were there (it was reopened by the time we got there). You really have to stand next to the fall to feel the power of the water, it’s awe-inspiring. It’s even a bit scary how powerful the water is, you end up having conversations as you stare at the water like this, “If you fell into this water, you would most certainly…” or “I wonder if anyone has taken a raft over the fall… and lived to talk about it.”
The afternoon session at volleyball tournaments usually goes from around 3 pm to 9 pm, so whenever the team had their break, my hubby and I strolled along the paths of the Riverfront Park. There was so many interesting art sculptures all along the trail next to the river. We were lucky to witness sunset time at the park and with the Spokane River backdrop, it was just breathtaking.
This park was built for the 1974 expo and still contains structures like a giant metal frame that once formed a pavilion. There is major construction going on as they add many more features to this park, like a carousel, playground and more public spaces.
Even though it was a challenge for us to get to Spokane, we found the city to be interesting, beautiful and filled with very friendly people. There is a ton of construction going on around the city especially along the Spokane River, so I can imagine it will be even nicer if we ever visit again. Our unlucky travel story unfortunately doesn’t end with our travels to Spokane, but continues on our way home. I will leave that story and our Riverside State Park visit for another post. If you ever have the chance to travel along the I-90 corridor traveling through the Cascade Range, make sure to stop and visit Spokane and, at the very least, see the falls.