“What is the farthest you have ever traveled?”
Douglas C-124 Globemaster
Prompt: “What is the farthest you have ever traveled?”
Now that requires some thought. Should I pull up Google Maps and start measuring distances? Not yet. Let me think about some of my long-distance trips and see what stands out — in no particular order.
Our trip to Bermuda comes to mind. Then there was our trip to Hawaii. That was a great trip and long both in distance and in duration. But our land/sea trip to Alaska was a long one too.
Our trip to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic was a good one. Thinking about the Caribbean recalls our cruises. There was one to the western Caribbean, one to the eastern Caribbean. Neither as long as our Panama cruise, where we cruised south on the Atlantic side and north to Los Angeles on the Pacific side. I can’t think about cruises without remembering our Mississippi River cruise from Memphis to New Orleans, on a Paddlewheel — certainly not the longest but possibly the best.
Speaking of the Mississippi makes me think of our RV trip along the Great River Road following the river from its mouth at Venice, Louisiana to its headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minnesota. That was a long trip, but not as long as our 80-day adventure, the trip where we traveled to the northwestern US pulling a pop-up camper. We covered 11,000 miles on that trip and decided that we should buy a truck and a fifth-wheel and make this our lifestyle. That was a lot of miles but not so much distance.
My son was responsible for my two adventures to Europe. The first was a trip to The Netherlands as part of his soccer camp. The second was our “10 Degrees of Latitude” adventure where I got to tour Scotland, England, and a bit of France.
The mention of Scotland tripped the memory of a very old trip which was for sure the farthest distance traveled in my life. Here’s the story.
In 1963, I was a 1st Lieutenant assigned to the Equipment Lab at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio. I was the Project Engineer on a new aircraft arresting system identified as the BAK-12. An aircraft arresting system is a device that stops an aircraft in a very short distance. I’m sure you have seen pictures of them in action on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. The Air Force was interested in the idea of a portable system that would allow a fighter aircraft to land on a 3,000-foot runway instead of an 8,000-foot runway. The war in Viet Nam motivated this interest.
In October, after completing development testing of our one prototype at Edwards AFB in California, I learned that our protype was to demonstrate itself in a Tactical Air Command exercise and I was to take it there. Thus my “furthest distance traveled” story. Forgive me for not remembering the exact dates, save one. Suffice it to say that the entire story took place in November of 1963. I recreated the trip on Google Maps to get the distances right. So, let’s go.
I joined up with my BAK-12 at Shaw AFB in Sumpter, SC. Its bright yellow frame was clearly visible against the dark interior of the C-124 Globemaster, framed by the massive clam shell doors open to receive cargo. It sat firmly strapped to the cargo floor of the giant beast. The C-124 was the “heavy hauler” of its day. It was the go-to aircraft for moving big heavy stuff around the world. Over the next few hours, the BAK-12 disappeared amidst tons of other cargo being loaded for the trip.
Day 1. The aircraft, heavy with cargo, fuel, a crew of four, and about 20 airmen as passengers, made its way from Shaw AFB, SC to Goose Bay, Labrador, a distance of 1,650 miles. Goose Bay is the western terminus of the great circle route over the North Atlantic. It was night when we arrived and at 60o north latitude it was cold. But it was warm in the Officers’ Club where aircrews from around the world enjoyed some food, drink, and good company before or after their trip across the North Atlantic.
Day 2. We spent the day over water, crossing the North Atlantic from Goose Bay to Preswick, Scotland adding another 2,197 miles to our trip. The passenger seats were canvas, mounted to the walls of the cargo bay, and not very comfortable. The airmen, many of whom knew each other, read books and magazines, talked together in small groups, and played cards. I was the lone stranger and an officer. I read a lot and frequently went to the flight deck to chat with the crew.
Day 3. The cargo bay of that C-124 was starting to feel cramped and all aboard were beginning to get antsy. Each day, I spent more time on the flight deck as I got to know the flight crew and they got to know me. The view below was a mixture of seascape and landscape as we traveled south over the Irish Sea, Wales, the southwestern tip of England, the English Channel, the western provinces of France, the Bay of Biscay, eventually making permanent landfall over the mountains of northern Spain and on to our next overnight stop at Torrejón Air Base, near Madrid, Spain. Mileage for the day was 1,040.
Day 4. ESE was the direction for this day. After passing out of Spain, most of the day was over water — the warm waters of the Mediterranean. Then the barren sand of North Africa. Our destination was Wheelus AFB close to Tripoli, Libya. Wheelus is no longer there but at that time it was a major supply port for cargo air traffic. That day we traveled 1,061 miles. That evening, I couldn’t resist. I removed my shoes and socks and walked in the water of the Mediterranean Sea. I never got to do that again.
Day 5. A long day covering 2,214 miles. We continued flying ESE, passing over Egypt, the Nile River, the Red Sea, and almost all of Saudi Arabia, landing at Dhahran Airfield. Now known as the King Abdulaziz Air Base, it was initially built and operated by the United States Air Force. This hot dry world, occupied by dark people in robes and turbans fascinated me, but I was there for only one night.
Day 6. On this, our last day in the air, we changed course flying slightly north of due East. Right after takeoff we flew over the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz, the Gulf of Oman, continuing over southern Iran, Pakistan, the Thar Desert in Rajasthan, India, reaching our final destination at Palam Airbase at Delhi, India. The day covered 1,658 miles making our total 9,820 miles.
I spent three weeks in Delhi. It was a work trip, not a vacation. An army bus took us daily from our barracks to our workplace. We did get some time off for shopping and sightseeing and our Indian hosts threw a couple parties for us. But except for one day, I would have to call the time uneventful.
Our barracks was a two-story square building. Each room accomodated eight people and all the rooms faced inward overlooking a large parade/drill field. My room was on the second floor. Every morning a young Indian boy roamed the premises selling English language newspapers. Several of us would purchase one as we walked to the bus stop.
Saturday, 23 November 1963 was to be just another ‘normal’ work day. As I was preparing to leave my room, I heard the newsboy shouting “The King is Dead!” and waving a newspaper over his head. I stepped out onto the balcony and could see clearly, from the second floor, the headline, filling the entire space above the fold: “JFK SHOT.” I ran downstairs, purchased eight copies of the paper, returned to my room and passed copies out to each of my roommates. That day and none of the days to follow were ‘normal.’ We did our jobs and finished our mission, each day learning a bit more of the craziness – international conspiracy, Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby. We all wanted to go home.
Our gear was shipped home on another C-124, but we got to fly home on a C-135, so the trip only took two days. Our overnight stop was at Torrejón Air Base. A group of us went into Madrid for a quick shopping stop and a Spanish dinner at a nice restaurant. As Americans we stood out like sore thumbs. Passersby asked us if we were Americans, immediately followed by “Are you from Texas?”
Our two-day trip home covered 8,625 miles. Thus the total for the adventure was 18,445 miles. That was for sure, the furthest I have traveled. It was also the first big trip of my life. Now I am at the other end. I hope I have a few trips left. I will never visit all the places I would like to see, but one or two more would be great.
Boeing C-135 Stratolifter
Bing Crosby sang it best:
With strange sounding names
Faraway over the sea
Those faraway places
With the strange soundin' names
Are callin', callin' me.
Goin' to China
Or maybe Siam
I want to see for myself
Those faraway places
I've been readin' about
In a book that I took from a shelf.
I start gettin’ restless
whenever I hear
the whistle of a train
I long for the day
I can get underway
And search for my castles in Spain.
They say I’m a dreamer
Maybe I am
Somehow I’m burnin’ to see
Those faraway places
With the strange soundin' names
Callin', callin' me.
Songwriters: Joan Whitney / Alex Kramer