We took off over the white sands of the national monument west of Holloman. As we turned north, hardened black lava flows split the desert floor. Surrounding both were only the tans shades of desert. The colors of the Tularosa Basin. We met a gray tanker, a converted 3-engine DC-10 airliner, a “KC-10”, in the skies above Socorro, NM, south of Albuquerque. As we flew west over Arizona and California, the reds, golds, and greens of Sedona, the Grand Canyon, Red Rocks, and California mountains were muted from high above. Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam passed under our wings just before Las Vegas’s bland daytime hues. A few more snow-capped peaks, then nothing but endless water – rolling in ocean waves and suspended in silent clouds – for the next 4 hours until the coastline of Hawaii snuck into view. Snorkelers in Hanauma Bay, sightsee-ers on Diamond Head, and surfers off Waikiki passed in quick succession as we were sequenced into the endless stream of airliners for landing at Honolulu International beside the green-blue surf.
Color assaulted our desert-accustomed eyes as we drove from Hickam AFB to Waikiki for the traditional dinner at Duke’s on the beach. The immense variety of landscapes, flora, and birds in the USA never ceases to amaze me. Vibrant clusters of reds, yellows, white, and greens leap forth almost anywhere you look on Oahu Island. A grey bird sporting a bright red head strutted around the beach as we prepared to launch into the surf the next morning. Lying on a long board, feeling the rise and fall of warm water, I relaxed and marveled at the wonder of creation and Diamond Head on the eastern horizon. Then I turned and paddled for all I was worth to catch the next swell and glide toward land.
We took off shortly before noon the next day from the “reef runway” and out over more beautiful water, slightly disappointed we couldn’t spend more long lazy days in the tropical paradise. For me, time with the Flakes and Sanders made the one day there fly by far too fast. And now I was again soaring west, chasing the sun. Thankfully, few clouds barred our path and a helpful tanker crew avoided as many of them as possible. Thankfully, too, the “mating of the whales”, the refueling of an airline-sized KC-10 by another of the same, was uneventful, though it’s still disconcerting to see two aircraft of such size airborne in such proximity.
We split from the tanker under the edge of the towering thunderstorms over the Japanese islands and continued over to the rugged peninsula of South Korea. The weather phenomenon of clear skies and good visibility up high and terrible haze down low was in full effect, and the approach controller subtly challenged me to find the airfield. I accepted his challenge and not flawlessly followed my instruments until, almost directly over it, I finally picked out the airfield through the tangible whiteness. We landed uneventfully and I began my second introduction to this “land of the not-quite-right”. AKA: the Republic of Korea.