Realm Makers and Novel Writers Beach Retreat Part 4

Getting to St. Louis

credit: Ryan Dodd

I’d hoped we could make it to Val Dosta before sleep Monday night (July 29th), but there was no way we’d be able to leave that night. This meant the trip would be compacted into 2 days instead of 3. Don’t forget, I was the only driver.

We finally left about 2 Tuesday afternoon, which meant we missed rush hour traffic through all the cities we’d cross that day. Though there were storms to the right and left, we had barely any rain, just gorgeous vistas. Thank you, God!

The drive wasn’t bad, with the exception of construction around Atlanta (even at the late hour we got there). Traffic moved; it was just tight and nerve-wracking. Did I mention I hate driving? Yeah, I really wanted to go to this conference.

Even worse were the mountains just before Tennessee, when the surroundings seemed to disappear along with the road when going over a hill. Believe me, I was grateful we were almost to our stopping place!

Unfortunately, our instructions to the hotel in Chattanooga weren’t clear, and we missed a turn, ending up in an industrial section. We got back on the highway and backtracked to the first exit off I75, where we found a Holiday Inn Express.

Once again, the bed proved to be a problem. Not fun at 2 in the morning after a LONG day of driving! The manager had us check a couple of rooms, and then took the castors off the lowest bed himself. He also gave us the lowest rate he could find—a military discount—since we arrived so late. Huge blessing and completely God’s providence. The manager wasn’t even supposed to be on duty that night. His night auditor had a sick child, and he believed family came first.

The next day, we woke to rainy grayness. We checked out, got spicy chicken sandwiches at the McDonalds next door and got on the highway…only to stop.

Btw, those sandwiches were the best we’d ever had. The sweet tea I’d been looking forward to, though? Not so much. Can’t win ’em all, right?

We called my sister and she looked up the traffic info for us—accidents galore due to the rainy weather (thankfully, it wasn’t actually raining anymore). Fortunately the worst accident was on the other side of the highway (an overturned car—yikes!) and we were soon sailing, though not smoothly, because I discovered that I. Do. Not. Like. Mountain. Driving.

The clouds hung low, hiding the tops of the mountains beneath a drippy, gray cotton-candy ceiling. This, along with huge semis, made for a claustrophobic drive. I got in the right lane and stuck to my own pace around the speed limit. Let the other guys speed around me; I was not going one mile faster than I wanted to. 🙂

Realizing that we could hit a problem with the bed in St. Louis, we called the hotel. They measured it, saying it was ~23½”, but we could “press it down” to the 21” we needed. Uh, yeah. We spent most of the drive through Tennessee trying to contact a few other hotels, with even worse bed height numbers.

The worst part was getting to Nashville at 4PM. I remembered it being a tight, weird interchange when my sister and I drove through almost exactly ten years before, so I’d done the Google street view to see which lanes I needed to be in. Heh, guess which section of road is now under construction?

I almost hit an auto hauler. Almost.

Fortunately, everyone was getting onto the other highway, so after our single-lane interchange, things smoothed dramatically.

I would like to propose that we simply cut Tennessee out of the middle of the country so that no one has to drive those roads. All in favor? Aye. Motion passed; prepare for extraction.

Kentucky wasn’t much better, but for entirely different reasons.
We got there when the sun was starting down, and our route went west. My glasses are transitions and don’t change well in cars, so I used a pair of the sunglasses we got in our bucket in Daytona. But the darkened view made my body believe it was time for sleep. Not good.

Fortunately, the weather was beautiful and the drive fairly smooth.

We got to St. Louis about 1 or 2 in the morning, after a white-knuckle drive on part of the beltway. The room was nice and big, and the bed was nice and high—with a thick frame around it that left too much of a gap for my husband to cross, even if he could have made the lift.

No. No, no, no. This was not supposed to happen!!

Despite the fact that my sister would be leaving for Las Vegas the next day, we called her. For the next hour or two, we and the front desk manager called hotels around the city (again). No one had a bed that was low enough. My sister talked to a nice woman at a Drury Inn near the airport who mentioned having a pull-out couch we could try.

At this point, I’d have taken a manger. I have so much more appreciation for what Mary went through.

We got directions, got lost, and had to drive through the airport, but finally made it. I checked the handicapped room first, but the bed was 25 to 26”, so we measured the pull-out couch in the suite. Close enough for government work. My husband couldn’t fit into the bathroom (for brushing teeth, etc), but there wasn’t anything to be done at this point.

And it was nicer than a stable.

The woman suggested I book for the rest of the stay since she was giving us a discount and couldn’t guarantee it when she wouldn’t be there the next day, should we decide to stay more than that night. I agreed, but only booked through Saturday night instead of the extra day I’d planned to take for catching up on sleep and hopefully getting to visit the arch. Turns out, God was in this, too.

While unloading the car, the lady asked if we wanted some breakfast since she was setting up for the morning. (I think it was about 3:30 at this point.) Couldn’t tell you what we had, but it was good. So glad to find gracious people in the midst of these types of circumstances!

Then I made up the couch for my husband, getting another blanket from the front desk since he was worried about a pressure sore. I had looked up directions to the nearest Target (by the other hotel, of course) so we planned to buy a foam topper the next day.

The couch wasn’t big enough for both of us, so I had to sleep in the bed in the next room. I’ve only slept apart from him one or two other times in our entire marriage. 😦
Better than a stable, better than a stable…

The next morning, I clarified directions for Target, but they pointed me to a closer one, and we headed off. I cannot tell you how glad I am that we’d made it into St. Louis with a day to spare before the conference. Had we arrived Thursday night instead of Wednesday, none of this would have been possible to deal with.

We got supplies from Target (a nice, cheap twin foam mattress topper) and a few subs from Subway for meals at the conference. And, because we have to check out all the options, we looked at a few cheap motels:

Travelodge—My sister said they’d been surprised to hear about ADA compliance when she talked to them the night before. Sure enough, the entrance would’ve been hard to navigate with the wheelchair, and they had the fridge in the entry hall in the room, so my husband would’ve had difficulty even getting into the place…with a 24” bed. Sorry, not remotely worth the hassle.

Same with the Econolodge. Small room, 24” bed. No thanks.

We pressed on and passed a road that my husband recognized as the university address. So we turned in and found the place where the con would be. That’s when I discovered my south-of-the-south brain had led me to assume we’d be on flat ground. Not.

There was a ramp, about as long and almost as steep as the ramp up to the monorail at the Transportation, Ticket Center at Disney. There was no way I’d be able to do that in the heels I planned to wear to the dinner Friday night. Mental note that I’d need my sneakers, or mountain climbing equipment. 😉

Inside, we found the rooms, and a guy asked if we needed help. Turns out he was their university liaison, so he knew where all the events would take place and pointed out a handicapped bathroom (where I ended up changing Friday night). We mentioned the ramp and he told us we could park in the faculty lot around the corner, which had a smoother approach. Yay, God!

Though we were still short on sleep, we finally felt prepared for the conference.

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