What will I learn about myself this time around? My Camino del Norte experience this summer was still a bit raw. I’d felt pathetic that I had trouble enjoying the trip because Elaine wasn’t there with me. I did have some new tools though, a new appreciation for what drives me and why I like to travel off the beaten path.
I’d woken 15 minutes before the alarm was set to go off. The anxiety had kept my brain in overdrive and my back muscles tied up in knots. I tested my back as I rolled out of bed. Nothing…no pain. I walked carefully to the kitchen, made some strong coffee and sat down. Still no pain. It was 4:15 AM.
A recurring symptom of preparing for a long trip is lower back pain. It’s caused by an old injury having to do with an Alabama tornado and a frantic search for bodies buried under the rubble of a leveled apartment complex…but that’s another story. Mix two months of laziness with two days of tension and a flurry of last minute activity and bang, electric jolts of pain running through my lower back. It puts me down fast. Elaine had to do all the work yesterday while I stayed put on the couch, high on Tramadol and muscle relaxers. As long as I’m active and exercise routinely my back is fine. I haven’t been and it wasn’t.
Finishing my coffee, I walked over to the couch where my backpack was sitting. One final test. I lifted it to my shoulders, strapped it on and walked around the living room for a few minutes. Ahhh..no more pain. The painkillers and muscle relaxers did their job. I pulled out our bathroom scale and stepped on…214 lbs. Subtract 183 lbs. of me and I have a 31 pound load. Not too bad. I’m not carrying it 500 miles on the Camino de Santiago, we’re going to find some place in the world and just stay put for awhile…I hope.
Elaine woke about 30 minutes later and came walking out of the bedroom. I made some more coffee and we were soon loading our backbacks into the car while the early morning sun was starting to rise behind the hills of Sandy Hook. An hour later we arrived at Westover AFB and checked in with the folks at the front desk. Space-A was a breeze. They gave us boarding passes that would take us all the way to Rota, Spain. A couple hours later we walked up the long boarding stairs and stepping through the small hatch in the side of the huge C5 transport.
Our flight was perfect, no breakdowns, no crowds, no delays. We first flew to Dover, Delaware to pick up some more passengers and cargo, that burned about 5 hours. We took off again and nine hours later we walked into the Rota Naval Air Station, it was 6 am in the morning and midnight back home. I knew Elaine had visions of immediately checking into a hotel for some sleep but I lead her first to the Departure side of the terminal. Walking in the front door, I went straight for the monitors hanging from the ceiling. Elaine headed for the bathroom. I waited for todays departures to come up on the display screen. There it is! The next flight leaves in 2 hours and it’s going to Sigonella, Sicily. Elaine then came walking out of the bathroom and into a slight deviation of her plans.
The C5 and the C17 have one thing in common, they’re both military cargo planes. Their similarities then diverge. The C5 has a separate passenger compartment with about 80 seats large enough that they could be used in First Class on any commercial airliner. The C17 is much smaller and focuses only on cargo with little attention to passengers accommodations. Elaine and I stepped up the narrow set of stairs and boarded the plane along with about 25 Navy enlisted heading for the Middle East. The crew chief came up to us and introduced himself. He then led us down a narrow path between the cargo and the curved side of the fuselage. This was not first class. He unfolded two canvas bench seats from the side of the aircraft and handed us some earplugs. As the sailors readied themselves for the flight, the crew chief kneeled down on the floor in front of Elaine and I and gave us our personal flight safety brief. Pretty much the same as any stewardess would give except a lot more relaxed. He breezed through it with the knowledge that we’d all heard it before and we all wondered why we had to hear it again. So much for TSA rules and regs. We strapped in and were airborne 15 minutes later, heading for the middle of the Mediterranean sea.
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