Well today is the 20th of February and a day we have been pointing to for several months. Before heading out, however, I had to have a slight medical procedure done at the Richfield Hospital. When we shut the doors on our house at 10:00 am that morning we definitely were committed. I had a colonoscopy and learned a week later that everything was fine so we were pleased. We climbed into the van and headed east on I-70. We stopped in Salina at Arby's and got some food (I was famished) and continued east. We arrived in Rifle at 7:30 pm and decided to stop for the night, not knowing the condition of the Vail Pass.
When we departed Rifle the next morning (21 Feb) it was 6 degrees. The roads were clear, and we made our way through Vail and the Vail Pass safely. We arrived in Denver at 12:30 pm and had lunch with Alex and Alex Jr. near Alex's workplace and then drove to Parker and visited with Sarah, who was leaving that afternoon for the Phoenix Marathon (which she ran in a splendid time of 3:24--congrats Sarah!) Finally we ended up at Johanna's home and spent the rest of the day and evening at her home. At 5:00 pm family began arriving for a get-together with us. We enjoyed pizza and visiting. Everyone stayed until about 9:00 pm and then we said our goodbyes and they wished us well. We appreciated Johanna’s hospitality in providing a venue for the gathering. I had thoughts of leaving that evening but we stayed the night getting a good rest.
We were off for real at 6:00 am on the Wednesday the 22nd of Feb. We took the belt loop via E470 to I-70 and then east out of Colorado. We hoped to get in a lot of miles and make up some time. It took about 2 hours to exit Colorado and into Kansas. Thank goodness the speed limit was 75 mph. The last time we made that trip it was 65 mph and was sooo slow. The roads were clear, and we had a good drive through Kansas and got through Kansas City KS/MO without incident but lost an hour and stopped in Boonville, MO for the night.
We were on our way by 7:30 am on Thursday the 23rd of Feb headed towards St. Louis. Believe me that city was nothing like it was in 1983 when Johanna, Travis and I passed through on the way to Utah from Maine. We finally saw the Gateway Arch and I thought it would be easy when all of a sudden, we missed a transition that was very poorly marked and that began series of misadventures until we finally got on the Eastern side of the Mississippi and into Illinois. The freeway system was much like taking a handful of cooked spaghetti and dumping it on the floor and trying to find your way through the mess. I don’t think I could ever repeat where we went but it took about a half an hour and if not for help from Google Maps we might still be in St. Louis wandering around.
From St. Louis we drove through the bottom of Illinois and the extreme western end of Kentucky into Tennessee. We passed by Nashville on a belt route, so it was fairly easy and finally stopped in Murfreesboro for the night. We planned to visit Nic and Terri Mead the next morning and the stop was about 20 minutes from their home. We went out and found something to eat and were amazed at the traffic everywhere. You could hardly change lanes because every street was like a “parking lot.” We finally made it back to our hotel and considered it a “driving feat.” While eating we got a call from President Lee (Florida Jacksonville Mission) and we visited about our arrival time in Jacksonville tomorrow night. They wanted us to come to their home first.
Saturday the 24th of Feb began early (2:30 am) when a fire alarm went off in the hotel and it was piercing. It was controlled by the front desk and eventually they shut it off. We got dressed and went downstairs and outside for about 10 minutes and it was determined to be a false alarm so we returned to our room and tried to go back to sleep. The next thing I knew was Pam got up at 5:00 am and showered and washed her hair and by 7:30 am we were ready to leave. We followed the GPS to Bell Buckle, Tennessee and found Nic and Terri’s home and it was so nice to see them. They have a wonderful home in a beautiful neighborhood and we spent 30 minutes visiting with them. We returned to I-24 and continued southeast through Tennessee. The only major city left in Tennessee was Chattanooga and it wasn’t bad at all. After Chattanooga we took I-75 and stayed on that until we crossed into Florida. In Georgia we quickly came upon Atlanta and boy we were driving through that city for the better part of an hour. After passing the bulk of the city we stopped and had a late lunch and continued south the rest of the day crossing the entire state of Georgia. Tennessee and Georgia were beautiful states and if it was a couple of months later everything would be greened out, but we enjoyed what we saw. I was particularly interested in the limestone rock everywhere and the undulating countryside. The East has had a lot of rain and almost every field had standing water and flooding was a big issue. Shortly after the sun went down, we crossed into Florida and took I-10 towards Jacksonville. It took another 90 minutes to come upon the outskirts and we followed GPS to the home of President & Sister Lee in a beautiful gated community. Not much looked familiar to me but we arrived about 8:30 pm and it was nice to meet them. We visited with them for about 15 minutes and then they invited us to stay with them Saturday night and it seemed to logical thing to do. We got to sleep in the "general authority bedroom" so felt pretty special. We had traveled almost 2,400 miles since Tuesday afternoon when we left Richfield. The van ran beautifully, and we didn’t lock our keys in the van so that was good also. .
The next morning was Sunday so we dressed for church and met with the Lee's for breakfast and then a short meeting with them about our responsibilities, got keys to our apartment, and away we went. We drove to the Jacksonville Beach Ward building and I was amazed at the developments and growth since I was last there in the early 1990's. We located the chapel and the first people we met going in were the full-time missionaries Elder Pacella and Elder Lamb. We also met Elder Renee who has been doing some work at Mayport but not for many months since being called at the Mission Nurse. That has kept him very busy taking care of sick missionaries. We attended the entire block and enjoyed sacrament meeting, Sunday school and Priesthood/Relief Society meetings. Seemed to be a very active and mature ward and we were very welcomed. After church a man approached me and asked if we would come to their home for lunch. We were a little concerned because his wife was not there and had been sick, but he was adamant she would be okay with the invitation. We drove to the home and it was in a nice section of Atlantic Beach and reminded us of Hawaii a little with old homes being renovated and going upwards to gain more space. They welcomed us to their home—Jon and Charlene Bryson and their 7-year-old daughter Amelia. We spent about 2 hours with them, had a wonderful visit and shared information about our families and ate a delightful meal.
We left about 3:00 pm and drove to our new home. It was located in a gated community of 4 and 6 plex apartments and appeared was about 9 miles from Mayport Naval Station. We found the apartment and unlocked the door and did a quick walk through—2-bedroom, 2 baths with a kitchen, dining room and living room. Brother and Sister Mann, the housing senior couples came shortly thereafter and brought a couple of things, and we spent a half an hour with them talking about the apartment, the area, etc. They were really nice and lived over on the West side of Jacksonville (Live at home missionaries).
When they left we unloaded the van and then spent the next few hours putting things away. It was amazing how much we had brought with us. It would take a few days to get settled but by 7:00 pm we were pretty much settled and sat on the couch and relaxed and ate some leftover donuts, chips, and a bag of candy Sister Lee had given us in a welcome package. Finally, at 10:00 we called it a night—our first night in our new home for the next 18 months.