Monday 30th July 2001, Chicago IL

When we got up, the humidity was such that when we opened the door of our motel room, condensation quickly appeared on the mirror. Breathing was uncomfortable, almost to the point where one felt one might drown! A thunderstorm was clearly on the cards.

Sure enough, soon after we hit I-44, black clouds appeared on the horizon. We stopped to wrap the luggage in our ponchos, and change into our wet-weather gear.

Luckily with over 400 miles to ride to Chicago, we managed to outrun the worst of the storm, and the sun soon dried us off. We arrived with the Beyers in Orland Park shortly after 6pm (later than anticipated, due to some roadworks on I-80).

Fred and Diane quickly made us feel at home. Within minutes we were showered, changed, and fed, and plans were being made for the rest of the week. Mark and Gina Atilano arrived to loan us a car, and Joe Miroballi came in to say hello. (Anyone reading this who knows these guys will appreciate the noise-level in the Beyer kitchen at this point!).

John’s daughter, Ree (Anna-Marie), was due to land at 11pm, so Fred went to check that the flight was on time. We gave him the flight number, AA99, and he rang the airport …

A deathly hush descended over the Beyer kitchen (and not because Mark, Gina, and Joe, had gone home …) AA99 had apparently landed at 9am! Panic began to set in. How could we have possibly made this mistake? We knew that Ree had almost certainly not read the e-mail telling her that we were staying with Fred’s family (new boyfriend … need I say more?), so she would have no way of contacting us. Why didn’t she alert us when she received the ticket? She must have noticed that the flight arrived at a different time to the one we told her … she would have had to take an extra day off work … or, perhaps, she just missed the flight…

John went to find the original notes that Brigid had made when she booked the flight. PHEW! Ree was arriving on AA91, which was on time, and due to land at 11pm. Having allowed a few minutes for our heart rates to return to normal, we set out for O’Hare airport.

After a few minutes, Ree appeared. Despite a delay with Immigration (Ree had no idea which ‘hotel’ she would be staying in, so was detained, until – in tears of desperation – she invented one. Luckily the officer was feeling sympathetic.), she had cleared Customs rather too quickly … and found no-one to meet her at the gate. By this time, understandably, Ree was becoming worried. She went outside the terminal building to look for us, and Fred, seeing an ‘obviously British’ lost soul wandering around with a small rucksack, spotted her.

If she was surprised when a large, strange, American shouted “Ree!”, she never said so. Fred gave her a 30-second history of the Mother Road Rally, and she gratefully handed over her baggage, then came back into the building to find us.