Day 70: From small-town Nebraska to a dot in the Pacific

Mom and Dad on Kwajalein

One week ago, Jake, Brad, Nora and I were racing along Ocean Road, watching an airplane descend like an oversized albatross from the clouds and approach the runway. We called and waved and pedaled as hard as we could, hoping to reach the airport before the passengers disembarked.

At the tarmac, we waited until we saw two familiar faces peer out of the airplane door to begin walking down the passengers stairs. My mom and dad had arrived on Kwajalein.

Mom and Dad on Kwaj

Meet my folks

My parents have lived in rural Southwest Nebraska most of their lives with brief stays in rural Kansas and metropolitan Minneapolis. They both grew up in farming families near Curtis, Nebraska, and – while they weren’t high school sweethearts – they attended school together. Dad graduated from a state college in Nebraska with a degree in mathematics and a license to teach and coach, and Mom went to school in Minnesota to become a laboratory technician.

After a few years at a high school in Goessel, Kansas, Dad’s teaching job took them to Hayes Center, Nebraska, less than an hour from the farms where they each were raised. They bought a two bedroom house with a basement just a few blocks from the high school and settled down to raise three kids.

My parents have lived in that house for nearly 40 years. Dad is retired (although he can’t seem to stop working at the school, and he’s coaching the girls’ basketball team now). Mom is a lab tech at a clinic in a nearby town.

Even with all their staying in one place, my parents have always loved a good adventure. When my siblings (I have an older sister and a younger brother) and I were small, we spent summer vacations in the Rocky Mountains or the Black Hills. We took one crazy and memorable road trip to Disneyland and San Diego via the Grand Canyon. My parents still escape to Colorado as often as possible to hike and camp. They were in Mexico building houses when my son was born. In the last couple years, they’ve visited Niagara Falls with Airbnb, the Grand Canyon with their camper, and the Caribbean on a cruise. And they’ve visited me all over the country, wherever we’ve moved: central Texas, along the Mississippi in Illinois, the central California Coast, northern Maryland, the suburbs of Washington, D.C., northern Alabama and now the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Usually, they could make the trips to visit us in a car. My dad likes to drive, but my mom prefers to fly. Sometimes they’d each just get to us their own way, one in a pickup, one on a plane. Once, Dad called me when he was a couple hours away from our house after a two-day drive. While I knew he was planning to visit, I didn’t know he was already on the road!

Getting to Kwajalein

This trip, however, began its planning stages the day we called to tell Mom and Dad we were moving to Kwajalein. They were thrilled. I think Mom started looking at plane tickets the next day, although she waited to purchase the tickets until we were actually here. Planning a trip to Kwaj is complicated. We get a flight in from Honolulu every other day or so, and a flight from the other direction (the same plan on a return route) on the off days. So Mom planned her flight based on the last leg from Honolulu to Kwajalein. She called, confirmed the dates, and hit purchase. The plans were set.

On our end, we had to get Mom and Dad cleared to visit. Jake filled out paperwork to sponsor them while they are here, and they had to pass a basic background check. Without that clearance, they wouldn’t be allowed to stay on the island since Kwajalein is an Army garrison with controlled access.

On departure day, my parents faced a long trip. They drove from Hayes Center to Denver then flew from Denver to San Francisco and on to Oahu after a brief layover on the West Coast. After spending a few hours overnight in the Honolulu airport, they boarded the final leg of the journey to Kwajalein. 5,889 miles, and Mom insists it was really easy to get here.

While the time change to Honolulu is a jarring five hours, the flight to Kwajalein took Mom and Dad over the International Date Line. Essentially, they skipped a day and landed 17 hours ahead of Central Daylight Time. This disorienting time shift usually takes several days to get used to, but as we watched Mom nearly dance down the airplane steps (anyone who knows Dad knows he was taking the same measured steps he always makes), and we saw them squirm impatiently through the safety briefing all visitors get in the airport, we knew they had landed ready to go.

Welcome to Kwajalein, Mom and Dad!

We’ve got plans for your visit. Here’s the list:

  1. Get back your luggage (left behind in Honolulu)
  2. Watch the sun rise over the ocean
  3. Scuba dive a shipwreck
  4. Snorkel in the lagoon
  5. Follow the World War II bike tour
  6. Swim at Emon Beach
  7. Take a boat ride across the lagoon
  8. Fish from a boat in the ocean
  9. Snorkel a Japanese pool at low tide
  10. Night snorkel an American pool at low tide
  11. Look for critters in the tide pools
  12. Eat an Italian ice from Brain Freeze
  13. Drink from a coconut
  14. Watch the sunset