Westward Ho – Day 18

Peru, IL to Buffalo, NY

(Dachary here)

I’m not generally a heavy sleeper, and with having to take penicillin every 6 hours, I have to wake up in the middle of the night to take pills… so I woke up around 3am, and found myself itching, bad. I went to the bathroom, and tried not to think too much about it, and went back to bed. And laid there, itching. After 15 minutes or so, I went back to the bathroom, turned on the light… and discovered that I had developed some red, painful, itchy welts. Uh-oh. After staring at them for a minute, I went and woke up Kay, saying I think I might have bedbug bites, and asked him to come take a look.

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He confirmed that they looked like the bites I got back when we found ourselves fighting a bedbug infestation in 2009 (which he had brought home from a prior cross-country trip… damn hotels). So we turned on the room lights, and looked around my bed for signs of bed bugs. We couldn’t find any. None of the tell-tale fecal stains, or dried blood, or any of the stuff that can tell you bed bugs are present. I was torn. It was 3:30am, we’d only had about four hours of sleep, and I didn’t want to get up and start driving. Especially when we couldn’t actually see any sign of the buggers. But the Great Bedbug Battle of 2009 was a bit of a nightmare, and the last thing I wanted was to bring any of those suckers home with me… and I knew I’d have a hard time lying down again and trying to go back to sleep when I thought I was getting bedbug bites. So we decided to move on.

But deciding to leave a bedbug-ridden motel is one thing; it’s quite another to do it intelligently so you don’t bring the buggers with you. So we hunted for some tips online, and triaged what we’d brought into the hotel room and what we thought we should do with it.

First thing’s first: the fabric stuff that had been lying on the floor had to be quarantined. That meant the clothes that we were wearing, and the fabric bag we’d been using to carry stuff into the hotel room. Also? Our laptop sleeves (fabric, had been on the floor) and the camera bag. And Lita’s harness. And the $90 dog bed. Bah.

Our clean clothes were in closed compression sacks inside the cloth bag on the floor in the corner. Mine was even a compression dry sack. Naive or not, I still can’t decide, we figured that with no signs of bedbugs in the room, there probably weren’t many present, so our sealed clean clothes were probably ok. So I showered, and put on clean clothes, and went to the convenient 24-hour Wal-Mart across the street to buy a few things.

But when I showered, I noticed a bug in the shower with me shortly after starting. I told Kay, who came and captured it… and it sure looked like a bedbug to us. So we put it in a plastic cup with some water in the bottom so we could save it to show to the front desk. Eek!

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Across the street I went. I was buying trash bags, and shipping tape, to try to quarantine anything we were bringing home with us until we could deal with it properly. Bought a replacement belt for Kay, and a replacement dog bed, since we’d decided to abandon our $90 Kong bed that had been lying on the floor next to my bed.

Back to the hotel, Kay had showered and dressed, and had gathered the stuff that we felt didn’t need to be quarantined into the bathroom (on the tiles) and the rest of the stuff in a pile on the carpet. We bagged the stuff in the quarantine pile, and Kay tied a crazy knot in the bag. And then, for peace of mind, we bagged the bag, and I used shipping tape to seal the second bag. Nothing was getting out of that bag burrito.

We then quarantined a second bag of stuff that seemed less likely to be carrying bed bugs, but was still fabric and had been on the floor, so we weren’t taking any chances. That stuff was our laptop sleeves, and Kay’s camera bag. He decided to leave the camera in the bag, since we’re essentially two days from home and just trying to make miles at this point. So now we have a second quarantine bag, which we double bagged in the same way.

We carried all the stuff down to the car, and then back to the room to preserve the evidence (the bug). We used some of the shipping tape I’d bought to tape the bug onto a white card that was in the room, and Kay was very careful to seal the tape thoroughly around the bug so as to not leave a way to escape. So we took the bug, and the dogs, down to the front desk to tell the night manager what had happened. At this point, it’s 5am by the time we’ve showered, quarantined and dealt with all the crap.

No-one was at the front desk, so I took the dogs out front to walk them (they hadn’t had a morning walk yet) and saw a guy standing out front (having a smoke) wearing a hotel badge. He greeted the dogs. I asked if he knew who was working the front desk, and he said it was him. I said that we had something we needed to talk to him about, and he asked what, so I said “Bedbugs” – and he put out his cigarette and walked back in, looking skeptical. I followed him back inside, where Kay showed him the bedbug taped to the card, and the guy went into the back room and disappeared. He didn’t come out again right away, so I told Kay I was going to walk the dogs and headed outside.

The dogs accomplished their business fairly quickly, so we went back inside where Kay was talking to the guy. There was a laminated sheet of some sort out on the counter with pictures of the bedbug life cycle, and Kay had images of bedbugs loaded onto his phone, so I guessed they had been trying to identify the bug. While the guy was poking the computer, I joked quietly to Kay that “I’m walking evidence – this shirt is sleeveless and it’s easy to see all the bites on my arms.” A minute later, the guy looked up and said that he couldn’t do anything about the rate, but we could talk to the hotel manager, who would be in at 7am. Kay replied that we’d call later, and headed out.

His tone was terse, but I figured no hotel wanted to hear that they had bedbugs and didn’t think too much about it. The night desk guy hadn’t been that helpful. And we didn’t particularly want to be leaving at 5am, having abandoned a pricey item and quarantined a lot of our stuff. So I didn’t think to ask why Kay’s tone was so unhappy.

We went back across the street, where the local Starbucks had just opened (YAY for 5am Starbucks) and grabbed some drinks. And as we started to drive away, we compared notes and Kay told me that the guy had flatly denied that the critter we’d found was a bedbug. The topic of my bites came up, and Kay asked if I’d shown the guy my bites, to which I responded that I hadn’t called attention to them – we’d taken pictures of them up in the room – but the conversation hadn’t seemed to warrant it when I had come back into the hotel with the dogs. So he thought I’d already shown the guy when I came walking in with the night desk guy, and I thought he’d shown the guy when he was talking to him and I was out with the dogs, so neither of us actually showed the guy my bites. The night desk guy only had the bug to go on. We were both annoyed about our lack of communication and false assumptions, but I suppose we had an excuse, since we’d been rousted at 3am by biting bugs.

By this point, we were already on the highway heading east, so we weren’t going back. Kay was getting more and more annoyed about how dismissive the night desk guy had been. I was itching. Neither of us was particularly happy when we drove through Chicago in a heavy downpour, and then hit the same rest area we’d hit on the way West – a massive affair that spanned the Interstate. We grabbed some breakfast and went out to the car, and it had finally gotten to be 7am, so he called the hotel to speak to the manager.

It… didn’t seem to go well, at first. The manager said she could comp our room down to $90, and that the bug we’d handed over was a flea. Kay argued that we’d abandoned a $90 dog bed, had quarantined our stuff to ensure we weren’t carrying bed bugs away, and that the money was secondary anyway – we wanted to make sure they were taking the complaint seriously and dealing with the room properly, because bedbugs are a nightmare and we didn’t want to see other people suffering from this issue. Apparently the woman shifted gears a little when Kay said that – she explained it was company policy to quarantine the room and “clean” it since we’d made a complaint, even though it wasn’t a bedbug. Then she agreed to comp the room entirely. I guess they initially thought we were trying to scam them for a free stay?

Either way, while she eventually shifted gears and said the right things to Kay, we were both still annoyed that she was trying to pass off a bedbug as a flea. Our dogs don’t have fleas anyway – we treat them regularly with Frontline and Sentinel, and they don’t have the itching that indicates fleas. And I’ve never had this kind of bite reaction to fleas in the past, whereas I’ve definitely had it to bedbugs. And the bites are clustered similar to bedbug bites. Kay started looking up pictures of fleas, and comparing it to the picture he’d taken of the bug we’d captured, and it definitely wasn’t a flea. He was so convinced that he even called back to speak to the manager again, and describe the features that our bug had that a flea didn’t, to prove it wasn’t a flea. She didn’t care. We grew more annoyed as the miles (and time) passed.

The only ray of sunshine was that we had left the hotel early enough that we might actually make it to an RV dealer in Ohio before they closed for the day, so we could take a look at the Cricket trailer. There aren’t that many places that sell them, and even fewer that have them in stock, and even fewer that are anywhere near us… so this was going to be our only chance to check one out in person. So we drove on, in and out of rainstorms, until we got to the RV dealer about a half hour before they closed. They had the Cricket Gear, which is basically a big open cavity designed for you to carry large items, like bikes and kayaks. We’d rather have seen one with the Cricket’s seats and sleeping system in place, so we could judge the full build-out, but it was a useful exercise.

Back on the road, the miles rolled away under our wheels as we headed east. We drove. And drove. In and out of several intense, pouring rainstorms.

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In Pennsylvania, we stopped for a snack and a break, while I looked at the map and we pondered the rest of our drive east.

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We’d already driven 400 miles, and home was still 600 miles away. Kay wanted to push on home. He didn’t want to deal with another hotel and the potential for more bedbugs and stress. We both knew it wasn’t practical to expect ourselves to keep functioning on only 4 hours of sleep, so we decided to stop in Buffalo. The question of where to stay came up. La Quinta is a dog-friendly chain, that doesn’t charge additional fees, and we’d already stayed at the Buffalo La Quinta on the way out. But I thought I remembered not liking it for some reason – maybe a lack of grass for dog walking – and I was also super tired and very wary of another hotel stay after the bedbug incident. I admitted to Kay that the idea of staying in another crappy hotel made me want to cry – I just wanted to stay someplace nice, and I didn’t care if it cost more, because I didn’t want to have to think about bed bugs or anything else. So we hunted for something a little nicer, and ended up at Aloft.

It turns out, that hotel is way too hip for us. But it was clean, and it had a restaurant that would bring food right to our room, which sounded really good to two tired travelers. Even if the food was overpriced and on the mediocre side.

We ate dinner. We stumbled across Air Force One on tv, and watched it. And when we went to sleep, I passed right out, crappy pillows be damned. Not a single worry of bedbugs.

A day that hadn’t started out very well ended on a surprisingly decent note.

[Kay’s note] Looking at the close-up of that bug today in the comfort of home, it seems clear that it’s not a bedbug. It was obvious that it wasn’t a flea then, but in real life that sucker was tiny. Unfortunately, we know from experience that young bedbugs are white, and it’s very easy to get bit night after night by things you can’t find.

Dachary didn’t see the main area of the ALoft hotel, so she doesn’t truly grasp just how “not hip enough” we are for that hotel, but yes, it was nice, modern, and clean. The food was decent, and I even got an alcoholic beverage that I drank while we watched Air Force One on the TV. We were exhausted, but it felt so good to not deal with… almost anything that night and just chill with a movie.[end Kay’s note]

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