Thursday, August 20, 2009

32, the Cavalry and a cold

For my birthday the universe decided to give me a cold. Gee. Thanks. It's not a complete, full-blown, snot-filled, phlegm-spewing illness (at least, not yet) but I'm still tired and hacking an icky, dry cough. Tea, tea and then some more tea. I'm not sure if the body aches are from the virus or the butt-kicking workout that Bernadette put me through a couple of days ago. Either way, I'm achy. Isn't it troublesome that the effects of exercise are very similar to being ill?

I turned 32 on Tuesday. We went out Saturday night to celebrate. There was a group of about 10 of us, including Ken and Bernadette. We had supper and then headed over to a nearby Irish bar to toss a few back. I was in good spirits. Yes, I did have a few cocktails, but the periodic glasses of water combined with an early night made the night enjoyable rather than hazy.

While we were at the restaurant we noticed a group where the guys were dressed up like General Custer and their gals were dressed up like 1940s pin-ups. Our Navy guys recognized the uniforms as Cavalry. I thought it a little odd that guys who ride horses into the Wild West were on Oahu (an awfully difficult thing to ride a horse across the ocean it would seem) but I didn't spend much time thinking about it. After our group made our way to the pub across the street it wasn't too long after that the Cavalry arrived with their dates.

At this point my curiosity got the better of me so as one of the soldiers and his date stood in front of me I tapped them both on the shoulder, begged their pardon, and asked about the uniform and dresses. They both seemed pleased to answer. The soldier answered, "We're Cavalry. We're deploying soon. We thought we'd all go out and celebrate before we left." Of course even though he didn't use the pronoun "the," I still like to think he said "THE Cavalry" which makes me grin even now thinking about it. Have you ever met "the Cavalry"? I mean, all those old movies where things are looking dire but then the music changes and someone yells out, "Look!! Just there - at the top of the ridge! Oh thank God! It's the Cavalry!"

I asked what seemed to be the obvious follow-up, "Do you guys still ride horses?" The cavalryman laughed and said no, that they're helicopter guys now. This group of Cavalry is based up at Wheeler Army Airfield which is located in Central Oahu. I can't remember their specific division number otherwise I'd gladly relate it here, just to give them credit.

I turned my attention to the lovely young woman he was with. I asked about the dresses and hair. She gave credit to another one of the gals about the 1940s idea. The ladies looked fantastic. Pin curls, some with little hats, ruby-red lipstick, perfectly tailored dresses that were equally sexy and classy. I thought I looked good for the evening, but when I looked at my shirt and jeans and compared them to a well-tailored dress . . . well, I was envious. Maybe our girls will have to try something like that some time. I let her know that she, and her friends, looked fantastic and that I thought it was a great idea. Both she and her cavalryman smiled in appreciation and we went back to our nights.

I'm not sure how long this group of Cavalry will be deployed. But all you readers know this - there are helicopter guys out there fighting for us that, when in dress uniform, are dressed like soldiers from the 1870s. I am comforted by this, as you should be. And I'm sure there will be at least once during their deployment that one of our soldiers or Marines will grin when they see those helicopters and think to themselves, "Thank goodness! It's the Cavalry!" And they'll truly mean it.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A couple random things

This is what my husband does on some days. He makes people worry about the sounds of gunshots coming from Pearl Harbor.

Toivo just recently started curling up in Zac's beanbag. I guess he needed a break from the strain of sleeping on his giant pillow. His life is not hard.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Absurd moments

Tonight I found myself at a sushi bar, stuffing my face with eel, sitting across from my husband who two hours earlier had been at the airport awaiting a dead body, still wearing sweaty clothes from playing 45 minutes of racquetball in an oven, wondering about the remnants of a former category 4 hurricane that's supposed to arrive in my backyard tomorrow. It's was one of those absurd moments that pop up every now and again.

Rewind two days to Saturday: Zac and I watched the movie, "Taking Chance". It's a great movie. Very moving. It is the true story of a Marine officer that escorts the body of a PFC home for burial. The movie is a quick hour and 15 minutes long, but it is packed with lots of raw emotion and great acting. Kevin Bacon plays the older Marine Lieutenant Colonel who is dealing with issues of guilt for not being on the ground. He's concerned that his desk job isn't being true to what he was trained to do - fight. He feels guilt, and even shame, that he has chosen the safety of a desk job so he could be with his family. When the name of a young Marine from his hometown appears on the list of fallen soldiers, the officer volunteers to escort the body home.

Never mind. I just decided that I'm terrible at movie reviews. Just trust me when I say that it is most definitely worth an evening of your time.

This morning Zac was asked to be a pall bearer for the body of a Navy Chief that was arriving back in Hawaii today. Zac agreed to help out so this afternoon he put on his summer whites and headed to the airport with three other Chiefs. After the body had been unloaded from the plane, they met the body and its (his?) escort in a cargo area. They saluted the body and loaded the body into the hearse. Afterwards Zac told me that the process was almost exactly like it had been depicted in the movie. He even noticed that, indeed, the bodies are always pointed feet first towards their destination.

It seems odd to me that we randomly watched a movie on this topic and then 48 hours later, for the first time in his naval career, Zac was allowed to see part of the process in person and honor the final arrival home of one of our Navy's sailors.

Go watch the movie. It will explain things better than I can.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Back from the Big Island, vol. 2

Friday morning we were back at the marina, ready to head out for two more dives. The seas had calmed tremendously and the boat ride was much more tolerable. (I was still pumped full of Triptone, but I think I might have been able to handle the ride sans drugs.) The dives were great but when we got back to shore after lunch I was tired and ready to be dive-free for awhile. We went back to our rooms and got ready for an afternoon/evening of relaxing in Kailua-Kona. For supper we decided on a sushi place that served enough deep-fried stuff for Ken's liking. We didn't stay out too late - we had a long day of driving ahead as we were heading towards Volcanoes National Park the next day via a stop at the top of Mauna Kea.

We took our time Saturday morning before we left. Based on the diving we had done on Friday, we needed to wait awhile before we hit the road. You need to be wary of altitude too soon after diving, just to be safe. Usually this applies to flying after diving, but on the Big Island it is pretty easy to get over 1,000 feet withing ten minutes of driving inland. Saddle Road itself, which runs between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, is around the 6,000 feet mark. We drove up the western coast and then headed over to Waimea. We stopped off and saw some sights along the northern coast and swung down into Hilo for lunch. Next we were heading to Mauna Kea.

Mauna Kea is home to lots of telescopes and cool scientific things. (I can't even begin to understand what all they're studying up there.) Due to the altitude at the summit (13,796 ft.) the air is particularly clear and they can "see" things that you can't, say, in Los Angeles or Newark. Also due to the altitude, there is 40% less oxygen at the summit, meaning that altitude sickness is a real possibility. There's a visitors center at the 9,300 ft. mark that they encourage people to stop at for about 30 minutes to let your body acclimate itself.

We decided that we were going to watch the sun set from the summit which, due to the number of tour buses up there, seemed to be what lots of people wanted to do. Our group had our "winter" gear - sweatshirts, hats, gloves. But some of the folks on the tour buses had full-body extreme weather gear: snow-pants, parkas, scarfs, mittens, hats. I haven't been that insulated since I was dressed by my mother to go sledding back in grade school. Now I understand that during the winter months that the summit of Mauna Kea is covered in snow and the howling winds make it severe, but we're in the middle of summer and it was only about 35 degrees up there with no snow. Seriously? Parkas?

[Side note: I delighted in the cold. I was so happy. I was skipping, yes skipping, around. It was fantastic to be chilly.]

The drive beyond the visitors center to the summit is intense. Much of it is not paved and it climbs the last 4,500 feet in about six miles. The grade is STEEP. If you get carsick, you need to be the driver on this part. Luckily almost all the traffic was moving the same way - up the mountain. I'm not sure how I would have handled two way traffic 12,000 feet up on a gravel road that is about a car and a half wide. Probably not well. It also didn't help that the sun was setting and it was absolutely blinding. For parts of the drive up I relied on Bernadette looking out the side telling me where I was because I couldn't see out the front windshield. (Not if I wanted to keep my retinas healthy. And yes, I was wearing sunglasses. The sun is just that bright.)

The summit is truly amazing. The altitude didn't really make itself known until you tried hiking around a bit. Then you found yourself respiring more frequently and your heart rate increased. I felt fine, but Zac wasn't feeling too hot. He was a little light headed and kind of sick. After about 20 minutes he seemed to be doing a little better, but decided that he'd leave the skipping and frolicking to me. We watched the sun duck below the clouds as it set and enjoyed the shivering that came with the lessening sunlight. It was strange listening to some of the giant telescopes fire up for the night, getting ready for work. Doors on the domes starting opening. Giant mechanical things started creaking and groaning. It was impressive.
We headed back down the mountain to hang out at the visitors center again. Every night they have stargazing available so we took a look at the moon, Saturn (I could see the rings!) and a green nebula. I had never seen the sky look like that. There were so many stars that the sky didn't look black, it was too illuminated. Zac and I cuddled in the chill and enjoyed the view for a little while longer until we all decided that it was time to head towards our lodging at the Kilauea Military Camp, at Volcanoes National Park - still two hours away. We finally got into our cabin around 10:30 and zonked out for the night.

The next morning we had some breakfast and walked around the Park a bit. We checked out a couple of lava tubes and had some sandwiches before it was time to head back into Hilo to fly back to Oahu.

The trip was great - the four of us saw some amazing things. I probably won't be heading back to the Big Island for awhile now (third time in 10 months!) but I've got some cool memories to tide me over til the next time.