About a week before that fateful day 15 years ago, I landed at MSP to meet with my good friend Luke Magnus. We were in a group of five who would head out for some canoeing and camping in the Boundary Waters, using an outfitter out of Ely, Minnesota.
I do not possess many good photos from the trip, because one of the five struggled with simple sentences, such as, “be careful, there’s a camera in that pocket.” The memory card was partially salvageable, but I was camera-less for the remainder of the trip.
Anyway, the bulk of the trip is not what’s interesting today, as I look back, but rather the last half hour or so, and then the dramatic days to follow.
As we were paddling in to the shore to meet the outfitters, who would drive our canoes back to camp, we passed some new paddlers just starting their journey. They told us that a plane had just hit one of the towers in New York City.
Now, having been in the woods for a week, with absolutely no contact of any kind except for a couple of run-ins with park rangers, we all looked at each other and muttered, uh, ok.
For they may as well have told us that, while we were off the grid, a nuclear war had broken out, or the zombie apocalypse had finally become a reality. We really thought they were just effing with us, as you can do with people who can’t possibly know for sure you’re effing with them.
It was when we collapsed into the outfitter van, exhausted, that he confirmed the other party’s story. We listened to the news, incredulous, for the entire ride back to base camp. And we spent much of that morning glued to the TV – watching those first impact videos over and over again, learning about the Pentagon, seeing the crash site in Pennsylvania, reeling from the glimpses of people choosing to jump, and watching the towers collapse live.
We didn’t speak much. We spent most of the time with our jaws on the floor, full of shock, disbelief, and sorrow. It was a very sad morning, and a very quiet four-hour drive to Minneapolis.
I had a flight scheduled back to Logan that night, but as you can imagine, I wasn’t on it. Not only were all flights canceled, Logan ended up being the second-last airport to re-open (only beating Reagan). Not knowing that at the time, I showed up at MSP every morning for a week, hoping to get on a flight. I didn’t have any kind of status back then, as it was before I started traveling a lot for work, so I was on a constant standby shuffle for flights to anywhere else reasonable – Providence, Hartford, Manchester, NYC, Newark, I didn’t care. Just get me on a plane. I finally made it home on the 20th IIRC, and would have rented a car earlier if I wasn’t convincing myself every morning that “this will be the day.”
I got off pretty easy, being very far away from everything. My wife has a friend who was actually in one of the towers that morning. She made it out and home to Connecticut, but I can only imagine…
Looking back on those days is hard. When I wasn’t in a long snaking line at the airport getting turned down yet again, we were glued to a television set, still full of shock, disbelief, and sorrow. I still feel that way, and catching Osama has not made a dent in my emotions in any way at all.