Tuesday, January 12, 2016

It's all about the destination. Or is it the journey?

Lost under a Tuscan Sun                                                           Source

I’m a big planner. Always have been.  I don’t really like the unknown and planning has always been a way to avoid it to some extent.  Family Vacation coming up- List of sites to see - Check.  Maps of the area around them and the best way to and from – Check.  Reviews of the site and the best times/prices - Check.  It’s helped out as far as maximizing our vacations, cramming in a bunch of stuff to do in a short time, and getting the best deal.

I supposed I planned my way out of my hometown too.  It wasn’t a detailed plan, but I knew in my early teens that I was going to go to college and join the Navy.  And that required a plan consisting of good grades, sports, and other things that would make me attractive to the US Naval Academy. 

The Annapolis School for Wayward Youth

Growing up in the woods of Southern Oregon was fun, but I had a lot of fun memories of my time in San Diego before my dad retired from the Navy.  My best friend Don Lee, another Airedale Chief’s son, lived across the street and was in the same class as me at Louisa May Alcott Elementary School.  We were inseparable- thick as thieves, having a ton of fun and a little mischief together.  We were good kids though and the mischief was nothing serious- maybe a little ding-dong ditch or lighting some fireworks in a neighbors trash can, harmless stuff really.   And most importantly, we never got caught.  We’d ride our bikes all over our neighborhood in San Diego, the largest one in the city, going miles from home.  With decent bikes, and parents who trusted us to be home before the streetlights came on, the independence was wonderful.  Although it wasn’t something I truly understood until we moved to Oregon.

Ye olde homestead
In San Diego, I was a 3 minute bike ride from a 7-11, but after moving north, we were 9 miles from the nearest store and 2 miles up a rocky dirt road.  The last half mile of that was a steep and unmaintained single lane path, lined with bushes and trees that closed in on the route, like some dark and forbidding enchanted forest from literature.  One could barely call it a road since every time it rained, the water would continue to erode the two ruts formed by car tires, exposing more and more rocks, and becoming two not-so-small rivulets we had to drive through.  Once we were down that hill, the rest of the road wasn’t much better- with no shortage of deep and muddy potholes.  The logging companies kept up the roads, but not often, not very well, and not at all unless they were harvesting somewhere nearby.  So riding a bike there was tough.  I must have gone through 5 or 6 tire tubes in my first couple years there, not counting the times I patched them myself.  Eventually, my dad quit replacing them, and walking (or was it hiking?) became the less desired - and much less used - alternative.  I was stuck, and my more adventurous childhood was left behind.

Reading became one of my hobbies at that point, and I became voracious.  My parents would take us into the next town over which had a county library, and we’d raid the shelves, checking out the max allowed each time.  The things I learned and the adventures I read probably helped spark my interest and desire to leave Southern Oregon, and being cooped up in the woods helped it burn.  While I didn’t like my lack of mobility, that upbringing probably pushed me to where I am today.
I didn’t hate growing up there, but as I progressed through high school and my plan for a post-Oregon life started to gel, I was looking forward to college.  With a little encouragement from my father, I pursued an appointment to the Naval Academy.  Securing a couple nominations from a State Senator and Congressman, as well as a VP nom since my dad was retired, proved easier than the actual appointment to the school.  Well before the time of corrective eye surgery, I wasn’t able to secure a waiver for my not-quite 20/20 vision.  When the rejection letter arrived, my dad drove to the school and called me out of class to tell me.  With the school Principal there for support (he was a Naval Officer before becoming an educator), I was able to keep my composure, but only momentarily.  My whole plan had collapsed and I was crushed. 

When I was stationed in Florida and the minnow was 7 or 8, we signed him up for Cub Scouts.  With him being on the spectrum, I usually stayed in the room during the meetings, helping him feel comfortable and confident, knowing dad was nearby.  I became a de-facto Assistant Den Leader just by being there and helping other boys while helping my son.  I had no intention of getting more or officially involved, having avoided filling out any paperwork on myself or purchasing an adult Scout uniform.  The Den Leader wound up leaving the Pack however, leaving the boys with no one except me.  I reluctantly accepted the Scoutmaster’s request to step up and lead the boys, if only because I didn’t want my own son to be left out.

Some of you might remember my posts from a few years back when my wife and I traveled to Rome.  I had planned that trip to a gnats backside, to the point of reviewing Google street maps for the locations we’d visit, pre-purchasing a combo pass for museums and city bus tickets, having alternate train schedules in case something happened, and knowing how to ask for rudimentary directions in Italian if somehow, despite my excellent planning, we got lost.

Well, that happened at least twice, mainly because I was either too confident in my own knowledge of the area, or a little too punctual.  In one instance, we purchased train tickets from Rome to Civitavecchia where the cruise ship was departing.  The ticket agent gave us the track number and told us to take our time.  Undeterred by that helpful advice, I forced my wife to rush to the track and we boarded the train that was already there.  We departed moments later, not 15 minutes like the agent had said.  It was the right track, but since we arrived early, I didn’t think to check the train number.  We had boarded a train headed for the airport, not the seaport.  Doubly unfortunate for us, it was an express train that wouldn’t return to Rome for an hour.  We made the ship with about 40 minutes to spare, but not without considerable stress on my part and a moderately perturbed wife.

The second instance was just a day later.  The ship docked for a day in Livorno which is the nearest port to the city of Pisa- the one with that famous architectural failure.  To visit the tower, we could have booked an excursion with the ship, but that would have only been an overpriced lunch and transportation to/from the ship.  I had read that it was easy to get there using the local bus so we set out to make our own adventure.  Making it to Pisa just minutes behind the charter bus, I was proud of my decision.  The return was not exactly according to plan though.  I read a sign at the bus station that listed several city stops for the bus, including Livorno and Pisa.  We queued up for that and boarded for the return leg.  After about 20 minutes I realized that the scenery on the way back, while beautiful, looked nothing like the route to Pisa.  I pulled out a map, gestured to the bus with it and asked a local – “Dove?”- or “Where.”  She pointed to the map and out ahead of us, showing me the town we were approaching, definitely not nearing the coast, we were deep in the Tuscan countryside. 

Through more gesturing, some broken Italian by me and some broken English by her, I communicated our desire to get back to Livorno by 5PM, after which we’d be AWOL, missing ship’s movement.  She spoke to the bus driver and told us to relax.  A few stops later at an intersection, she took us both by the hand, walked us off the bus to another bus stop, pointed down the road and said “Livorno.”  We thanked her profusely and waited for our bus. 

It was a longer and much more round-about way back to the port, but we saw some positively gorgeous landscape- with the colors of early fall enhancing what we saw.  The photos and paintings we had seen of Tuscany just didn’t do justice to what we saw just out our window.  We vowed right there to return one day.
With my hopes for the Naval Academy now dashed, I reluctantly looked into attending Oregon State University, but had no idea how we’d pay for it, with four kids, modest incomes, and a house we were still building, saving for college wasn’t exactly a priority for my family.   At the end-of-year academic awards ceremony at my high school, I had collected a couple scholarships of a modest amount- really only a thousand dollars or so, far from what was needed, even back then before college became insanely expensive.  I had also applied to the University of San Diego, mainly because it was my mother’s Alma Mater, a small Catholic college with a beautiful campus, but one that would be even more of a stretch for us.  At the end of the ceremony, the local Navy Recruiter walked on stage.  This was a little strange since the guys and gals heading to boot camp typically weren’t recognized in this forum.  The recruiter announced what was a total surprise to me, that I had been awarded a full NROTC Scholarship to any college, with a program of course, as long as I was accepted.  Somewhere along the way I had applied for that  Scholarship, or maybe it was my parents who submitted it, I can’t really remember.  Either way, my once derailed plan was re-routed.

With Scouting, I was very reluctant, but eventually I saw how much fun it was, how my son loved that I was involved and serving as his Scout leader.  While I didn’t want to get involved, I discovered that by giving up that stupid end goal, of having my time to myself, I realized how much more full my own life had become.  If I hadn’t been involved, I wouldn’t have done something else, I probably would have just watched more TV.  My stint in Scouting didn’t end with that little pack in Tampa.  I later started my own troop at his school here in San Diego, apparently the first all special-needs troop in the state.  He lost interest in Scouting once he reached Star Scout, but still fondly remembers his time in the troop and is proud that I was there with him.

Plans can sometimes be a bunch of crap- not worth the paper they’re printed on, or not worth the time and energy spent developing them.  There are so many variables that can affect the plan, obstacles that come up or are placed in your way by others, that how you hoped to get to your destination isn’t anything like how it turns out.  I’m sure that’s why there’s the saying, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.”  In your life’s plan, the enemy isn’t necessarily hostile, but time, reality, finances, and unforeseen circumstances can be just as brutal. 

As we got lost and misdirected in Italy, I discovered that my planning wasn’t perfect.  I also found that our trip was much more enriched by diverging from the expected- we spent a couple hours in the Tuscan countryside that wasn’t even originally considered as part of our itinerary, and “the great train flubbery” as I’ve grown to call it, made for an excited extra aspect of the trip and a fun part of the story.  The journey was made all the better because of those “problems.”

we can't forget what it took to get there.
While this was the end result...

While I didn’t get into the Boat School, the end result was the same.  What do you call a graduate of the Severn River Vocational School?  A Naval Officer.  What do you call a graduate of NROTC?  The same thing.  Four years earlier I was so focused on the road right in front of me that I didn’t see what was at the end of the journey, that the destination was the same.  I was probably better off anyway.  While I was a good student, College Calculus and Physics almost broke me.  Four years of rigorous academics at Annapolis might have ended my journey much earlier than expected.  And I was surrounded by a campus community in Southern California that was two-thirds women and phenomenal to look at- a much easier road with the same stop.

As my wife and are closing in on being empty-nesters, we look forward to traveling more, seeing parts of the world we haven’t visited before, and exploring other parts we only saw from the windows of a bus.  We realize how much we’ll miss our daughter though, as she heads to the east coast for college.  We’ve raised a great family, and love the time it took to build it.

The Road to Hanalei- the town was ok, but the road was beautiful.
We’ve taken up walking recently, looking for interesting paths, strange neighborhoods we haven’t visited before, and long routes that will make our Fitbits happy.  Sometimes it’s about the destination, sometimes the journey, but both are important and neither one should be neglected.  We’re enjoying life and are grateful for both what’s passed and what’s to come.  We’re living for the day, and what a nice day it is!


  1. Great post Tuna. You've been down many roads, seen and done many things, sounds like the trip was more than worth the effort. I'm really glad you shared this with us.

  2. Great post.

    Traveling in Italy. The Hot Chick from Philly and I had done some amount of travel in Europe and might just have gotten a little cocky. So when we were nearing the thirty years married time I pushed for a Med Cruise. We left Rome from Civitavecchia as your cruise did, and we traveled to Rome a full day early and stayed at the Rome Airport Hotel. The hotel had a shuttle bus service to Rome and we had planned a sightseeing day including getting advance tickets to the Vatican so we could cut the line.

    A great day of sightseeing ensued and all we had to do was catch the Metro from where we were at back to the bus pickup point. I was a couple of steps in front of my wife, I stepped onto the train and the doors closed like a bear trap. No amount of prying the doors open changed anything and the train pulled out with me and left my wife on the platform. I did not quite poop myself in terror, but to say I was agitated would be a huge understatement. And no cell phones. I got out at the next stop, and when she was not on the next train I looped back to the original stop. She was not on the platform. Turned out she let one train go by before deciding to get on the train. Now we were in true Brownian movement. I figured she might have gone on to our departure stop, so I headed there. No wife. I threw myself on the mercy of the Rome Metro stationmaster. Thank goodness she spoke English far better than I spoke Italian. She calmed me, took the information and a few seconds later I heard the loudspeakers say my wife's name and direct her to report to the nearest stationmaster. An instant after that, and too soon to be in response to the announcement, I heard a male voice on the loudspeaker call my name and direct me to the stationmaster. My wife and I had independently figured out what to do. My stationmaster called the station my wife was at and I traveled to meet her. Tearful reunion, (I might have been having a little tiny allergy attack) and we headed off together to get the shuttle bus.

    A couple of takeaways.
    We had no plan for accidental separation. Now the plan is, whoever is left behind stays there, and the other separated person returns to them. (and yep, that plan has come in very useful later)
    I am proud of my wife and her accomplishments. But I was never prouder of her on that day as she kept her head in a country where she did not speak the language and had been abandoned by her husband. (she did say that she had to hit a couple of stations to find one with enough English to communicate.)
    Finally, I certainly enjoyed cruising in the Med with my wife a bunch more than I enjoyed it with the five thousand male sailors the last time I was in the Med.

    1. Sounds a lot like our Rome trip which I linked to above if you haven't read the series. Fortunately, when we got lost, we were together. I know I didn't have a backup plan in that instance! Glad it worked out.

  3. Spent five years stationed in Italy (in fact met wife there--yes she was in the Navy too, no not in my chain of command---yes she was junior to me--no she never saluted me. Ever). Anyway, loved the country, loved the food, loved the people.Tuscany is beautiful, though our favorite town is Sorrento, closely followed by Venice.

  4. Anytime I go anywhere with the g'kids, immediately upon entering [fairgrounds, sports event, etc.) I find and point out a prominent "landmark" and tell them to go there if they get separated. (I also put a folded piece of paper in each kid's pocket with my name and phone number on it, for if'n they REALLY get lost, but that's never happened. Knock, knock.) It's worked well. :-)

    Will do same with traveling plan. It's like homeowners insurance: it's a backup plan you put it in place, hoping that you never have to use it!

  5. Ironically, whatever decisions we've made, we all end up wherever we are.
    What makes the journey enjoyable or not is our attitude about it.

    That said, it seems like a good idea to have a plan.
    Just don't plan the outcome.

    1. I agree Skip- plan FOR an outcome, but also have a plan for when that doesn't happen. Sometimes though, when it doesn't go the way you want, the outcome is for the better, at least it has been in my experience.

  6. I met the most amazing people and had the most amazing experiences by just bashing ahead with a phrasebook and a desire to see and do. Of course you can do that when you're single and indestructible.


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