We have lift off!

Recent scientific tests have proved that the booster rockets required to put the Challenger into orbit are under powered to accomplish what we've done in the last month.

For weeks the four of us have been immersed in ever expanding to-do lists. At times we'd each slump into either a panic or catatonia when we realized the enormity of what we were doing. But our fears were temporary, lasting only until the next to-do list, deadline, or unexpected chore shoved its way into our face.

One history lesson we've learned has been the realization of why the great explorers, the Eric the Reds, the Marco Polos and Lewis and Clarks were so great. History suggests their greatness was due to their discoveries--we know it's due to the success of their preparations.

Lao Tzu wrote centuries earlier, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." Mr. Tzu clearly didn't live in a large American house, have daughters, had to worry about passports, visas, Visa cards, homeschooling or the myriad other details. For us, as an average American family, erasing our former lives in order to travel, for no real reason like drought, famine, dust bowl or war was far more difficult than we expected--or budgeted. For us, a journey of several thousands miles was to begin with a billion details before the first step could be taken.

Once our decision was made we plowed ahead like draft horses. In the final few weeks, after the shock and surprise wore off about what we were doing, our departure became much like an Amish barn raising. From every corner of the county, buggies pulled up unannounced. The simple four-wheel drive basic black buggies were loaded with picnic goods, moving supplies, old travel books, tools, maps and plenty of good cheer.

I wish that it only took us a sunny Saturday afternoon to raise a premiere barn, or in our case to pack and store a life time's worth of flotsam, but it didn't. Instead, it took us weeks, painful weeks full of decisions and weighing the importance of what could stay and what had to go. But we did it, and the only reason we did it successfully was because the cost of divorce lawyers and child psychologists is too high.

We left our home in Anchorage two weeks ago. Our home was empty, cleaned from stern to crawl space. And with only a few spare moments to rejoice before our first flight, we decided we'd take what was left to Phoenix and sort it there. At midnight we quickly piled everything in our friend's van (oh bless you, Fred Jenkens, for all your help). And then, standing as a family, facing our empty home, we embraced one another and wished each other a great trip ahead. It was 28 degrees, the Big Dipper and North Star, Alaska's symbol stretched clear and cold overhead. We were chilled, thrilled, confused, fearful and hopeful for what was ahead, the long road around the world.

Fred drove us to the airport. We all talked, still unbelieving of what we were doing. The pressures and craziness of the last few weeks wouldn't let go of us enough to really appreciate this "first step of a journey."

We got to the airport and quickly hauled our many piles to the counter. We had cut-rate tickets, the red eye to Phoenix, Arizona. The airport was filled, even at that hour, and we loaded our expedition tonnage in shifts. The flight to the Southwest was long. When we arrived the following morning and stepped out into the 100 degree plus heat it was as if we were in a dream. We drug our goods out to the taxi pick up and piled them up--it was the first time we actually saw what we had brought with us. The pile was so high on the sidewalk that despite the heat we expected it to snow at the top.

Cassidy crying as we left our home to go to the airport.

One family. One Year. One World. One Ton. Maybe Two.

But we'd made it to our first destination. Or at least we were at the airport for our first destination. Somehow we had to get from the airport, across the desert and into town. Camels? A hundred loaded camels with my family steering them to the oasis? But nowhere would anyone rent us camels, or for that matter a taxi or shuttle. Too much stuff.

Just then a stretch limo, white of course, pulled up near us. I talked to the driver and was surprised to learn he'd take us where we needed to go for less than the cost of a taxi, and he had room for our stuff. We filled the spacious trunk with our packs, filled the front seat with our "Alaskan luggage" (that's large cardboard boxes held together with silver duct tape), and filled the cavernous interior with ourselves, and assorted other haul-alongs.

Blinded by the desert light, exploding sweat from the 80 degree difference between where we'd just been and where we now were, exhausted from the trip and gripped with the many emotions of what we were doing, we entered Phoenix in style. Salli even stood up in the open sunroof to yell, "I'm home, Phoenix. Yahoo!"

Salli's parents (ah, Bless you to Phyliss and Si) arranged for us a rental van and a motel room. We transferred our tonnage into the van, squeezed in the remaining room and drove to her place.

We spent a week running around buying last second items and visiting Salli's family. One of the high points was attending the surprise party for Salli's brother, Ric's 50th, and meeting his and Barbara's new babe, Gracie. It was a good time, but far from restful except for the early mornings and late evenings when we'd sit on the breezeway and listen to the many birds, laugh at the bobbing quail, and breathe the hot, dry, orange-scented air of Sun City.

Within a week we had distilled our tonnage down to a few very heavy bags, and of course our backpacks and multiple carry-ons--probably the same amount as Lewis and Clark had to transfer from their first river boat to their canoes. When we arrived in San Francisco we were lighter, and our pile reached a little above tree line. My mother and step-father met us at the airport in two cars (Mucho thanks to Connie and Mason for having the good sense to know that at this stage of our expedition, we don't travel light).

For the last week we've been visiting in San Francisco, taking care of all of our last minute details such as visas, shopping and saying good by to friends and family. And whenever a spare moment could be grabbed, we'd head to the beach to breathe the salty air and stare at the power and majesty of the Pacific Ocean, knowing that very soon we'd be in the middle of it, and soon after we'd be on its far western shores.

A week goes by quickly when you're having fun. And even if you're not having fun, like dealing with visas and computer salesmen, a week still goes by fast. It wasn't long before Salli's sister and brother in law, Randi and Larry were ferrying us off to the airport, our cargo now trimmed down to a size that would require only a few trips between base camp and camp one. And camp one was 2,500 miles out to sea. Hawaii.

Our first step, our first two stops on our Odyssey were not at all filled with the kind of adventures we were after. They were not part of the reason to travel the world. We'd had no time to see natural wonders, explore new sites, meet new cultures, learn about the animals, insects, flora. We'd had only time to shop and prepare, and say good by to dear family and friends.

A journey of a thousand miles, or in our case 30,000 miles may begin with the first step. But if that first step did not include honoring our parents, family and friends, it would be a doomed journey.

When we boarded our flight to Hawaii, we were leaner, well equipped, and had closure with the people most important to us. Our first step already felt "right."

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