I’d been on-and-off the road repeatedly for weeks, taking one brief trip after another for the entire summer. The latest stretch brought me to six different places over twelve days. I just wanted to get home and sleep in my own bed for awhile.
That lasted barely three nights. Then I headed right back out the door again and drove towards Norfolk, Virginia. I’d been offered a chance to spend two days on an aircraft carrier and I certainly couldn’t turn it down even if I wanted to stay home for awhile.
A Rare Opportunity
A coworker who’d retired as a senior naval officer asked me if I wanted to be nominated for the Distinguished Visitor Embark Program. It sounded awesome although I doubted I met the criteria:
Commander, Naval Air Forces’ Distinguished Visitor (DV) Embark Program places key leaders from all sectors of society – corporate, civic, government, education, non-profit and service – aboard a deployed carrier. While aboard, embarkees meet the talented young men and women who bring these ships to life, and they experience first-hand how the Navy is contributing to the security of the United States, and to the stability of the global community.
I didn’t think of myself as particularly “distinguished.” Even so, I put my name on the list and promptly forgot about it. Two years later, and unexpected, I got an email from the Navy. They had a vacancy for me in ten days and I could either accept it or go back in line. It seemed pretty clear that I might not get another chance for awhile — if ever — so I made it work.
I would fly to an aircraft carrier along with other participants on a Monday morning. That meant I had to get down to Norfolk on Sunday and stay somewhere nearby overnight. I wouldn’t be able to make it all the way down early enough on Monday.
It also meant that I needed to endure one of the most soul-sucking drives ever devised; and painful journey down Interstate 95 (map) on a Sunday afternoon during summer. That route never runs smoothly. Throw in throngs of people returning from weekend getaways and it guaranteed gridlock. Indeed, it took 90 minutes to cover the first 45 miles (72 kilometres). A trip to Norfolk that should ordinarily take three hours took four. I gritted my teeth and got it done, knowing I only had to arrive before Monday.
I hate I-95.
About three years ago, I entered Highland County on the western side of Virginia and finished the state. At that point I’d visited every county and independent city within the boundaries of the Commonwealth — all 133 of them. Or had I?
I go back through my logs occasionally, reminiscing about my county counting adventures and confirming their accuracy. I didn’t keep obsessive records in my early days of counting. Sometimes I sort-of guessed whether I’d crossed into a new county or not. Internet tools simply weren’t as good as they are now and I’m still doing some cleanup work. For instance, I stopped in Los Alamos, New Mexico a few years ago just to make sure. Now Virginia’s independent city of Poquoson gnawed at me for the same reason.
I couldn’t remember explicitly crossing into Poquoson. There were a couple of opportunities in the distant past, and I thought I must have done it while I visited a friend in Virginia Beach about 25 years ago. Anyway, I marked it down as visited at the time so it seemed plausible. Even so, I wanted to prove it to myself so I took a fifteen minute detour and clipped Poquoson’s corner. The little green sign in the photo showed my final approach. Open it up in another tab and zoom in if you don’t believe me. Virginia, if it wasn’t done before is certainly done now. I’m absolutely sure.
Longtime readers knew I had to sneak a brewery into this situation and I couldn’t disappoint. I visited only a single brewery though. That wasn’t the purpose of my trip.
Aircraft carriers don’t have beer. In fact, they’re completely dry and alcohol will be confiscated upon sight. I respected those rules and didn’t even try. Still, I had to eat dinner somewhere on Sunday evening and I found Elation Brewing only a couple of miles away from my hotel. I might as well eat somewhere with decent beer, right?
My hotel sat conveniently close to where I would catch a van to enter Naval Station Norfolk, to then fly out to the carrier. I didn’t have an exact departure time nor did I know which ship. That was a security thing. I could talk about it and share my experiences all I wanted once I returned, in fact the Navy encouraged it. However, they preferred to keep things quiet ahead of time, including little details like when we would embark. I got an approximate time and they’d be in touch the next morning; the actual time might be earlier or later.
My hotel window offered a “scenic” view of cranes at the Norfolk International Terminals of the Virginia Port Authority. As a bonus, they stayed active all night with generous truck traffic too. I got some sleep although not as much as I probably needed. Some of that might have been excitement about what I’d be doing the following morning.
Dawn finally came and I started watching my email nervously, waiting for those instructions. A message finally arrived and moved our departure up by an hour and a quarter. We were ready to roll. I would be heading to CVN-74, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis.
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr