March 31st was our last morning in San Diego and thus started our marathon of travel. We awoke before sunrise and piled 4 sleepy children into the van. Our first stop was to drop off our dog, Dixie, at my coworker’s home where she would stay until she traveled to Japan in late April. Next was a final stop at the Navy hospital to officially check out of the command. My orders were stamped and we were all loaded in the van by 6:45am. From there we hit the road! We spent the next almost 24 hours driving across California, Arizona, New Mexico, and into Texas. Our first destination was the Silos at Magnolia in Waco, Texas. As we traveled across west Texas in the dark we did hit an unidentifiable pile of road kill with the left front tire. Usually when one hits an animal the driver can identify the animal, whether or not one can avoid it or not. In this case, neither Heather nor I were quite sure what it was we hit. We didn’t think it was a coon, skunk, or opossum. It wasn’t until we stopped for a few-hour nap at a truck stop several hours later that I discovered there were porcupine spines sticking out of our left front tire!! I spent almost 10 minutes picking spines out of the tread and the sidewall of the tire. This was painful to me, not because I got poked, but because the tire was only about two days old. Some of the spines were in a little deep, and I was really hoping that the tire would remain inflated and not be a loss of $180 as I doubt a tire shop would put that many plugs in the tire, and they won’t plug the sidewall at all. Luckily, the tire made it the rest of the trip without losing pressure, so I think we dodged the bullet of buying a new tire.
On arrival to the Silos we first visited the Magnolia Press for some coffee and breakfast. We ate it on the outdoor patio as we watched the live entertainer getting set up for the day. The atmosphere was very pleasant. We then wandered through the shops at the Silos. We last visited the Silos and Waco, TX three years ago on our way to San Diego. Much has changed in the past three years with the addition of the coffee shop, a wiffle ball field, a church, and two rows of small shops that border a green space to name a few. Last time we visited it was right in the middle of a huge festival at the Silos, so this visit was welcomed with less people to contend with for space. If you happen to be a Fixer Upper fan and are in the area, I would suggest you make a stop at the silos.
Our next two stops along our journey were to visit some good friends of ours in Louisiana. The first stop was at the house of a nurse who I worked with in Ohio prior to starting travel nursing, who now lives in Louisiana. We visited, had dinner, and spent the night; and awoke to Mickey Mouse waffles, bacon, and fruit in the morning. After a delicious breakfast and a round of goodbye hugs we traveled about an hour down the road to another family who we knew from our time at Ohio State University well before either family had children. Now some 16+ years later our friendship continues and we had a wonderful multi-day visit with this family before bidding farewell and pressing north toward Ohio.
Our last stop before heading overseas was to visit the homestead in Ohio. Not only were we all excited to see parents, grandparents, and friends, I do believe that at least one of them would have tracked us down had we omitted the visit. This visit was full of visiting, feasting, and just spending quality time with loved ones. But of course, this too came to an end too quickly and it was time to prepare to leave. Heather and I spent a day and half organizing, preparing, and cramming military seabags full of our remaining items that had not already been shipped ahead. We joked about dragging four children, 2 carseats, 6 carry-ons, and 10 pieces of checked luggage through the airport. However, there was a degree of truth to that joke and we were cautiously optimistic it would go well for us.
Time to Fly
Before dawn we all piled into the van one last time to head for the airport. All 4 kids fell back asleep during the 1 hour ride, awaking only once we were preparing to drive up the departure drop-off ramp. As we began to unload all the baggage onto the curb a very nice airport attendant brought a large luggage cart and assisted us all the way to the airport check-in counter as our airline did not have curbside baggage check. His assistance was well worth the tip we gave him. Next was TSA security, but being so early in the morning there was literally no line. We walked right up to the checkpoint and we were through pretty quickly and without incident. Our first flight was to Georgia so we were only in the air about an hour.
In Georgia the kids had fun riding the underground train that connected the terminals with each other and had some lunch while watching the flurry of activity on the tarmac and waiting for our next flight. The second flight was longer and aboard a much larger aircraft enroute to Washington state, but this was made more manageable by video screens in the headrests in front of us and our laptops for the older two kids to play Minecraft on for a few hours.
On arrival in Washington we got all our luggage off the baggage claim, rolled it via 2 rental carts to the curb and loaded it onto a shuttle bus that took us to the rental car facility where we had to load it back onto rolling carts to take to our rental vehicle. I’m sure we were quite the spectacle for those traveling with a single backpack slung over their shoulder, but with 6 people moving overseas packing light was very challenging. We could have skipped the rental car, but the thought of loading all our stuff into multiple Toyota Prius taxi cabs was just not a process I was willing to entertain. As it was we packed a Toyota Sienna to the gills with a seabag occupying the middle seat in the second and third rows of the van seats. I’m glad we didn’t have to travel long distance like that. We obtained dinner from the Wendy’s drive-thru and proceeded to our hotel for the night where, you guessed it, we unloaded all the luggage into our room. While it was fairly early according to Pacific Time our bodies were still on Eastern time, and we knew we would again be up before the sun, so we hit the sack shortly after dinner.
It has been said that the military accomplishes more before breakfast than others accomplish all day. Therefore, in true military fashion our alarm clocks started making noise at 3:17am. We were all loaded up and on the road back to the airport by 4am, and were filling out military paperwork for our departure by 4:30am. The military flight, with some administrative/paperwork exceptions, operated very similarly to commercial flight including passing through TSA security and everything. Our baggage was counted, weighed, and tagged. One new aspect of travel was the airline agent weighing all our carry-on luggage and asking how much each PERSON weighed to account for the total weight of the aircraft. While it makes sense to account for how much fuel the plane will use, it is the first time I have been asked how much I weigh before boarding a flight. I can only imagine how well that question would be tolerated in civilian air travel.
Once we were boarded and in the air we enjoyed full meals and plenty of snacks and bottles of water. We all packed our own water bottles, but I think I only drank from mine once or twice the whole trip due to the quantity of refreshments offered by the airline. Compared to some civilian airlines that barely give you 6 crackers during the flight, it was a welcomed change, especially on such a long flight. The aircraft itself was operated by a contracted airline, not the military, so the plane was comparable to commercial flight. We seemed to have a few more inches of knee room and the TVs in the back of headrests had a limited number of movies on them, but otherwise was a typical commercial plane. The kids watched Toy Story 4 on repeat for around 12 hours straight since there were only around three children movies on the system. If we were to do it again, I would have purchased regular headphones for the youngest two kids as the airline-provided earbuds kept falling out of their little ears. The plane traveled from Washington state to mainland Japan where it made two enroute stops before landing on Okinawa. While I am sure it is regulation the airline provides the safety speech before take-off every time, after hearing the same information five times in a 24-hour period I think I could present the safety speech myself without a script.
On the Ground
Upon landing in Okinawa we were shuttled to the terminal via bus where we went through the military version of customs and collected our baggage. If I didn’t mention it earlier we knew there would be an overwhelming number of green military seabags on the flight, so prior to leaving San Diego Heather sewed a matching wide colorful stip of fabric around each of our seabags for easy identification. This was immensely helpful in picking them out. In fact, being close to the back of the plane our luggage actually beat us to the baggage claim and other military members had started a pile of our seabags for us since they inferred that they were all from the same group. We again managed to lug all our baggage out the doors of the terminal and met our command sponsors who helped us load our gear into their vehicle and transported us to our base housing. We received a warm welcome from the neighborhood on arrival including cupcakes, flowers, care packages, and welcome posters taped to the front of our unit. Once inside our housing we took a quick look around, flopped mattresses and sleeping bags on the floor and slept the sleep of the dead, until 4:00 am when we were all awake and hungry due to the time difference/jet lag. We were lucky enough to have our household goods delivered prior to our arrival so at 4am we started unpacking stacks of boxes while slurping down instant ramen bowls. It was time to get moved in.