Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a nomad one step at a time?
Our book Running All Over the World, Our Race Against Early Onset Alzheimer’s will give you a birds eye view.
The publishing of our book, Running all over the world, our race against early onset Alzheimer’s is going slow but steady. The editing was just finished after 12 weeks by Newman Springs. It is now off to the typesetter for a month or so then on to cover design. As we all wait I thought I would give you a sneak preview of chapter 20.
We’re Not on Vacation, This is Our Lifestyle
It’s better to look back and say, “I can’t believe I did that,” then to look back and say, “I wish I did that.” —Richard Branson
I say, “We’re not on vacation, this our lifestyle,” over and over to people we meet. What it means to me is that, unlike others who have saved up for a trip or adventure and want to see it all, we have to budget and can’t do and see it all in each particular place we visit. For the money to last until I’m being pushed around in a wheelchair, we can’t spend like there is no tomorrow. Also, we need to take a day every now and then to just kick our feet up and relax. If it was easy anyone could do this.
So far, we were on destination number 176, and day number 593 of running all over the world. That averaged out to 3.37 days per destination. In other words, every three or so days, we were packing up our bags and heading somewhere else. Originally the plan was to do this for five to seven years, but now I can’t imagine living out my retirement days any other way, and I’m sure Catherine would agree.
After a quick stop in Atlanta, we were off to Africa, where I was determined to overcome another fear of mine: wild animals. I was once actually afraid to fly, but I managed to fly planes as my career. I dug deep into what got me over that fear and applied the same principles when it came to the Africa trip.
Catherine wasn’t looking forward to Antarctica next March, so as a trade-off I was going to Africa. She was afraid she would get seasick on the ten-day cruise there and back. She has been on many cruise ships and has done fine, but people who have done it before have said that the ship making that journey really rocks and rolls.
Our first night was in Nairobi, and we did a day tour where we got up close and personal with some orphaned, baby elephants and visited a giraffe-petting park. Some fed them by putting the food pellets between their lips, but I just gave them a few the old- fashioned way—with my hand. Baby steps, I always say.
Our second night we stayed at the ARK, which got that name honestly. It looked like one, and plenty of animals came up to the nearby watering hole at all times of the day and night. They have an elaborate notification system depending on what is going on outside the ARK: one chime in your room for elephants, two for rhinos, three for hyenas, and four if there was some action going on. We heard there was some action the week before we arrived, but there were no kills during our overnight stay.
After the ARK we went to the Silo ranch, where we saw plenty of rhinos, giraffes, and various other animals in the wild—but no lions. We did see some of their leftovers, but since all the other animals seemed so relaxed, we guessed the lions were enjoying their recent kills under the tall bush.
At Aberdare Country Club, plenty of somewhat domesticated wild animals roamed around during the day— but at night it was a different story. All we could hear was screaming from all the nearby animals. I’m not sure exactly what was going on, but I took a Sleep Ease tablet and got 8 great hours of sleep.
Our next destination was Sweetwater’s Tented Camp. I was not looking forward to the whole tent idea. I spent my high school summers at Boy Scout Camp, but as an adult, I enjoy the finer things in life like actual walls and a roof, especially since it was going to get down to the mid fifties at night and I didn’t have much adipose tissue.
Large sections of the roads were dirt and or gravel, with speed bumps everywhere for no apparent reason. A few were so extreme we had to go over at one mile an hour to keep from severely damaging the van. Every now and then we’d see a shakedown point along the major highway system. A few cops along the side of the road would pull over vehicles because they were speeding—so they would say. The driver would then have to negotiate and pay in cash to continue on. Our van got stopped once and the driver was able to get the price down to twenty bucks. We all anted up a dollar each to reimburse him.
It turned out that tented life was not so bad, especially since they provided plenty of covers and a hot water bottle to snuggle up to at night. On the game drive the next morning we saw a few lions and a lioness cooling out in the shade of a huge tree. Plenty of baboons were hanging out in the tree since they didn’t want to be a lion’s meal. We even saw both white and black rhinos on this trip. To be honest, they’re both grey in color, but the white are grazers with a wide mouth and black eat off tree branches and have a narrow mouth.
A small setback took place when Catherine stepped on a spiny, needle-like object that fell off a yellow fever tree. It went right through her shoe and into her foot. It was the same material that was used for Jesus’s crown of thorns, and Catherine said it hurt like hell. The name really scared us, but the nurse said it wasn’t poisonous.
We were planning to run a half- marathon in three days, and I was sure this wouldn’t stop her. She walked a half- marathon in a boot six weeks after breaking her foot in three places and just two weeks ago ran a half- marathon after bruising her little toe when she hit the foot of the bed. She’s very competitive, so the thought of me completing a race without her was out of the question.
After one more cold night, we were off to a place called the Sanctuary at Ol-Lentille. The road trip was a true adventure. We actually got lost, but did get a preview of the race course we were going to run.
The mastermind behind the Ol-Lentille development, Gill, gave us an intriguing talk on his vision. After his career, he wanted to give back and decided that Africa would be a perfect place for that vision to become a reality. After a year of research, he decided to take this side of the mountain that had been abandoned by another developer and create a place that would marry conservation, tourist development, education, and health care. With his plans in hand, he convinced the local elders to let him finish the development that can only house sixteen folks at a time.
He bought all the land and paid for the building, then donated it back to the community and has been managing it with his wife since 2006. The project had a total staff of two hundred, including those onsite and the ones who patrolled the area for poachers and ranchers who wanted to use the land for grazing—there was no fencing anywhere in the area.
With guests year-round, Gill and his wife stayed at a nearby house they also built, and I could only imagine what that might look like, since the Sanctuary was truly something out of a dream.
Listening to Gill speak about how he was able to see their vision come to reality, I could truly relate, since I was seeing my vision of traveling the world also come to reality.
The four separate but semi-connected buildings can house from two to six people at a time. We got the Eyrie unit. When we first approached there was an enclosed area set up like a dining area with windows all around. Adjacent to that was the kitchen area where someone was standing by to prepare our breakfast and afternoon tea and do our laundry.
The living room area, where we relaxed and enjoyed our favorite beverage by the fireplace, had the same circular design facing the east. There was also an outdoor sitting area featured a tub overlooking the valley below, and last but not least, we slept on a circular bed with ten-foot windows and two doors halfway around.
Lunch and dinner were outstanding, and we had them both in the library since there was rain in the area. That was very unusual for this time of year, but nobody was complaining. After dinner, we were escorted back to our unit and told that someone would be in the living area all night if we needed anything and/or to protect us from whatever wild animals were in the area.
It was like nothing I had ever seen or experienced before.
Others in our group were staying in tents where the “long pits” were being dug. I had never heard that term before, but basically, it means holes in the ground for temporary latrines. I was glad we had paid for the upgrade. This wasn’t going to be the most expensive trip we had been on so far, but it was pretty darn close. The jury was still out if it was worth it, but it was Africa, after all.
Included in that upgrade were nature walks and ATV drives. Catherine was a bit nervous about the ATV drive at first, but was able to think back to her motorcycle days when she drove by herself to the west coast and back. Her true worry was that she was going to further injure herself prior to the race.
The next day we had the opportunity to visit the nearby village at a price: The elders there asked for fifty bucks per person, and it was worth every cent. They put on quite a show for us, and even let us go inside their dung and mud huts. Before we left, they laid out their wares for us to buy. It was very strange to see some of them checking their cell phones.
Catherine was in heaven
Race day was like no other. Since the creation of the Amazing Maasai race, they have raised over $150,000 for the girls in the area. That increases the GDP by 3 percent, which considerably increases their chance of breaking the cycle of staying at home and having, on average, seven children. (The mother we met back in the village had twelve children.) So far, proceeds from the race have helped 10 percent of the girls to finish high school.
Those who went on to the Tented Camp also had a tour of Daraja Academy, where the girls went to school, where their motto was “Mimi ni Daraja,” meaning “I’m the bridge.” All the 2014 graduates received national exam scores qualifying them to attend college.
All the girls from the Daraja academy ran the 10K race, and many of the young men in the area either ran the half or full marathon. Four Kenyans did lap us as we were passing 15K for us. The terrain was tough, and Catherine managed to stay on her feet even though there were a few close calls.
The race started at an altitude of six thousand feet and at least half a dozen runners came in with cuts and bruises. The views were spectacular. Every now and then, kids would run alongside us. All the different villages had folks out to cheer us along. Watching them herd their livestock for one grazing area to the next, all that I could think is that we take hot showers for granted.
Catherine was clearly in heaven as she ran with many of them hand in hand. We were told that the only animals we had to worry about were elephants, but we didn’t see any during our race.
Since we only did the half, we were able to go back to our accommodations to shower and have lunch. We returned in time to see others cross the finish line of the marathon. Luckily the clouds cooperated and stayed in the area, so once again we had a bit of rain and the temperature didn’t get out of hand. A few people got lost. I wasn’t sure exactly how, since I thought the route was well-marked with orange rocks. I guess if you zone out while running, anything is possible. The same is true for those that fell. Catherine’s close call with terra firm-a was while she was giving high fives to some of the kids.
I had totally gotten over my fear of wild animals. I learned that they try to coexist with everything and everybody in their ecosystem. Yes, they can be dangerous to humans, but mostly because we as humans are just downright stupid. As they look as us drive by, they understand that the vehicle is not on their diet. It’s only when you get out that they say to themselves, “Now that is a meal.”
During the race we saw just about everything out there, and none of them had humans on their menu. It was great to run by them and see them just look up from their grazing routine—if that—then just continue what they were doing. Most of the time there was someone heading up the herd of whatever, and they would wave and say, “Jambo,” which means “hello.”
The day after the race, our private charter took off from a nearby dirt strip, headed Governors Camp in Masai Mara. For took the hour-long flight in a twelve- passenger Cessna Caravan, which really took me back to my 3095 early flying days. I sat right behind the co-pilot and had my poker face on so no one would worry. I usually don’t like to see how the sausage is being made, but I just couldn’t resist in this case.
Governors Camp is famous for its location close by the migration path of the wildebeest as they travel from Tanzania to Masai. The 1.5 million of them that make the three-month trek are not the smartest animals on the planet. The males lead the way, and the scent in their hoofmarks guide the rest, sometimes across streams and rivers.
This is where you really see the food chain in action. As they cross the water, many alligators and lions lie in wait for their daily meals. We were able to see many crossings of several thousands in large herds, and some would even go back and forth in confusion. We were glad that we didn’t actually see a kill, but many in our group did.
Like Ol-Lentille, the place had no fencing around it, so they had 24/7 guards protecting the guests, and no one could go anywhere at night without an escort. All that wildlife came to pay a visit at night, and they sure did make a racket. I learned that it was best to take a sleep aid so that when all the screaming, yelling, and roaring woke me up, I could easily roll over and fall back to sleep. This was also a tented camp, so and if they really wanted to come visit or lunch on us, I’m sure they could have.
We did have an incredible experience of seeing a crossing of the Mara river during the last breakfast here. The first and near the last wildebeest were alligator bait, but I was enjoying my omelet during that time. Someone in our group was able to take a photo of a dead wildebeest hanging from a tree. A leopard, who can carry 1.5 times its weight, did the heavy lifting, and would come back and snack on its prize throughout the day and night.
It is going to be a very long day on the way home. I figured somewhere around thirty-six hours from check-out to check–in at the hotel back in Atlanta. There was, I thought, a strict thirty-three-pound weight limit per person for the flight in and out of Masai Marra, so we left a bag at the Nairobi hotel. We normally carry 140 pounds excluding our backpacks, so getting down to sixty-six pounds was quite a feat.
Something I hadn’t seen before occurred as we were about one mile from the airport. The driver said that we had to get out, and he would meet us on the other side of an elaborate security system. We had to go through metal detectors, and the van pulled forward and was searched. After the gate and the tire puncher spikes were raised and lowered, we got back in the van and proceeded to the airport. Right at the door of the terminal we had to go through security once again.
Many of the people we met in Africa were talking about the adjustments they would have to make being back home. I made the comment that we don’t have a home, and I was reminded that the entire world was our home because we’re not on vacation, this is our lifestyle. A few times when I have told people about our nomadic lifestyle, their response has been that I must have won the lottery. In some ways that’s true. I was in the right place at the right time to have a very rewarding career in aviation. It wasn’t because I was a better Pilot/Manager than anyone else, but more that good fortune has come my way time and time again. Along the way, I’ve worked hard and have always treated others as I have wanted to be treated. In retirement, I was trying to treat myself as I treated others.
On our last adventure to Africa, we met two guys who brought this thought home to me. James, was a Detective with the Chicago Police Department and recently retired. His plan was that when his daughter went off to college, he would retire. He knew that it would be an early retirement and he would have to deal with the financial consequences. That didn’t matter to him because as he saw all the violence going on around him, and early retirement was worth the expense. His long-time friend, Alfred, was also on the trip and was counting down two more years until he could retire with his health care expenses covered.
I hear these types of rationales all the time. “If I stay X more years or months, I can make Y more or not have to pay for Z.” What none of us know is how long we will be on this earth. We all have bucket lists or, as I call ours, “life list.” We all have things we would like to do or see before we die, but most cannot be done while tied to a desk a cockpit or squad car.
I see others continuing to work or refusing to do any of the things on their bucket list because they’re saving for their kids and or grandkids. That’s a noble gesture, but since my parents and grandparents didn’t provide for me in that way, I have a hard time wrapping my head around that thought process.
Catherine and I were able to provide a college education for each of our children, so in my mind, that’s all they can ask for. I was always been there for them in their formative years, and I’m glad to say they’re all doing well for themselves.
Another rationale people use is that they really enjoy their job. I had a great job, but can honestly say that in the cycle of life, retirement is the best phase. I tell people all the time not to work a day longer than they have to. We all think we have time, but none of us know how much time there actually is.
You hear all the time about people who literally work themselves to death. By the time they finally hang up the keys to the office, they only have a few months or even days to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Some fear they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves if they didn’t work. To them I say, “Find and follow your passion.” I joke often about how I didn’t let any of my kids move back into the house as adults. I’m not saying that any of them wanted to because, in their minds, they were ready to spread their wings when they went off to college. My goal now is not to have to move back in with any of them when I get old. I figure I’ll take up risky behaviors if that ever becomes a possibility.
Over the last twenty months, we’d seen and done things that I could only have imagined many years ago, always with a healthy dose of activity, whether running, biking, or swimming. We’d done either a marathon or half-marathon in twenty-five different countries. There is something like 196 countries that have at least a half-marathon, and my goal was to complete as many as I could.
Our next stop was Chicago for the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP) convention. This annual event always seems to put things into perspective for me. I started in aviation in the late ’70s, and back then the percentage of Black pilots was less than 1 percent. Some forty years later, the numbers haven’t changed. It’s inspiring to be there to meet and greet those who have that sparkle in their eyes as they aspire to be a major airline Captain.
I still remember the day they gave me my plaque for achieving that status—I even shook Colin Powell’s hand during that ceremony. Now I’ll go up during the Gala event and shake the hands of those who have been promoted to Captain over the last year. I get goosebumps each and every time.
The Convention was a huge success, and we were able to get some exercise in with a great six mile walk of the area one day and a rain-soaked run the next morning.
The next day we went to Swallow Cliffs, where folks can run or walk a large and steep set of stairs. It also meets up with an elaborate trail system at the top. We did the stairs three times and another half hour of trails.
As we ran, I recalled another not-so-original thought about time that was quoted by a friend from our African adventure.
“Time is nature’s way to keep everything from happening all at once.” —Albert Einstein
I remembered how time played a crucial role leading up to and during my recovery from heart surgery. On one end of the spectrum was the period right before and after the surgery. I saw the gas mask as it headed for my nose and mouth and was told to take a deep breath—then in the next second, in my mind, I heard Catherine and the nurse’s voice in each ear, asking me to wake up.
I actually thought I was dead because when I opened my eyes, I couldn’t see anything and really didn’t feel anything. I guess some could say I was dead for about four hours as I was hooked up to all those machines, since they had to stop my heart to replace the valve.
During recovery I had to become a patient patient. That thought process was entirely new to me. I was used to going places at five hundred miles an hour, so having to wait patiently for hours for a blood draw was quite an adjustment.
We often try to wait for the perfect time to do such-and-such, but we might just run out of time waiting for that perfect situation to arise. As a dedicated nomad, I’m not waiting for that perfect situation to arise. Yes, it might be a bit complicated or downright distasteful, but the rewards are (most of the time) worth it.
After another touch and go in Atlanta, we were off to Kauai, Hawaii, to run the half-marathon there. They call it the Garden Island, and it rains on and off each day to stay so lush and green. The varieties of plants were outstanding, and most pictures I took didn’t do the picturesque landscape justice. We rented a very nice condo for two weeks at the Kiahuna Plantation Resort Kauai by Outrigger.
The race itself was over-the-top. The start was right outside our condo building, and even though we had to climb the hills for 3.5 miles starting at mile four, the rest of it was back down to a great finish area with some of the coldest beer possible.
They even had chips, iced coffee, and turkey wraps. The ice bags at the finish were a great way to cool down. Since we only did the half, we were able to shower and return to the finish to cheer on the final few marathoners who braved the weather.
I probably said ten times a day that I’ve found our new home if we decided to settle down one day. We loved this island so much that, even though we were actually on a budget and usually didn’t splurge, I made an exception on Kauai.
I actually wanted to be a helicopter pilot when I started my flight training, but decided I didn’t like the “drop like a rock” aspect of helicopters and the amount of maintenance needed to keep them up in the air. You would think after thirty-seven years of flying airplanes a helicopter tour of the island would be simple enough.
This was not the case, but Mauna Loa Helicopter Tours gave us the thrill and tour of a lifetime. For whatever reason, I thought we would be touring the island from thousands of feet over the ridges, mountains, and waterfalls. In truth, I felt I could have reached out and touched the leaves as we passed by. And of course, I opted for the “doors off” and extended version of the tour.
Once I got over the idea that this was how I was going to die, I truly enjoyed the experience. Catherine grinned from ear to ear the entire time. The cost was a bit steep, but it was worth every penny.
We were also able to get in some great runs around the different areas of the island. There are numerous hiking trails throughout the island, but we didn’t do much of that. I’m more of an open-road type of guy. I don’t like having to look down constantly to see where I need to place my foot so I don’t trip and fall, twist my ankle, or get bitten by something hiding under a rock. Not to mention having to duck under all the branches that have been cleared by everyone much shorter than me.
We couldn’t leave the island without taking one of the most popular tours, the infamous sunset cruise. We went with the recommended Captain Andy’s Catamaran sailing adventure. We went with the sixty-five-foot boat option, where the dinner was actually cooked onboard. Even though the clouds hid the actual setting of the sun, the views of the inaccessible portions of the island and the colors of the sky just after the setting of the sun were breathtaking.
Back on land, we couldn’t experience Kauai without experiencing the chickens and roosters. Simply put, they were everywhere. I’m not sure they actually served a purpose, but the reason they were so plentiful was because of their previous purpose. Cock fighting was big on the island, and due to a huge hurricane some time back, they were all freed by the high winds. Once they got out, they did what they do best and populated the island.
The locals don’t like them since they’re a nuisance, but for me as a light sleeper, it just meant that I was an early riser. Early to bed and early to rise was our agenda each day and night, which was no big deal since the first few days we were adjusting to the six-hour time change. Catherine thought the chickens were cute, so she took numerous pictures of them—and I couldn’t resist taking a few myself.
We were now off to Europe for a month, starting with an eight day Windstar cruise from Venice to Rome. My daughter Mariah visited Casablanca during her year-long European tour after college, so we were going pay a visit ourselves before heading to Amsterdam for a half-marathon.
They say, “Time flies when you’re having fun,” but it also speeds up when you get older. For a two-year- old, one year is half their life, but for me it’s 1/61st of my life. We were starting day 649 of being nomads, but it only felt like day 2.