Thursday, December 31, 1998

Our 1998 Christmas Letter

                                                                       31 December 1998

Not much happened this year, except we both retired, took a four-month bicycle trip to Europe, and lived at various times in Oakland, Alameda, Hayward, Gualala, and with whatever friends and relatives would take us in for a day or two or more.  At present, we are living in Walnut Creek in the home of Jeanette, Kieran, and Kevin, while they are visiting Kieran’s parents in Northern Ireland.

First, about retirement.  Our goal was to retire at 55 years of age, since only four months, different parents, and other extraneous differences prevent us from being identical twins. Translation:  we’re roughly the same age.  Alice didn’t make it, but I did.  In fact, Alice is working harder in her version of retirement (except for the bike trip), and is making me work harder for her, than I ever did for any of my real bosses.  She seems to have a mysterious power over me that none of the others ever had.  

About the bike trip.  We were not bicyclists.  But we are now.  In fact, I could write a book, and I think I shall.  Why shouldn’t the world (and us) benefit from all the experience we gained overcoming all the mistakes I made.  While Alice pored over bicycling books which covered Germany, England, Wales, and all of Ireland, and made plans that would have made the D-Day planners jealous, I cruised the Internet and found us two folding full-sized (26”) bicycles with canvas bags we could take on the flights with us as luggage, plus two large panniers and two small backpacks that we could put everything in that we would need for our four-month holiday.

We left San Francisco on June 9 for Dover Air Force Base, Delaware.  We waited at Dover for ten days before we gave up on getting a free flight to Europe and took a Continental flight to Paris. From Paris we immediately went by train to visit my oldest son, Bruce, and granddaughter Leaha at his Army base near Heidelberg, Germany.  On the evening of 23 June we set out along the Neckar River, followed by the Rhine, the Zell, the Mosel, the Tauber, and the Zen.  After 800 bike miles, several train trips, one bus trip, and lots of castles and museums, on 3 August we caught an Air Force flight (a “hop”), from Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany, to Royal Air Force Base Mildenhall, Suffolk County, England.

Mildenhall is near RAF Bentwaters and Woodbridge, where I was the Budget Officer from 1970 to 1975.  I wanted to share my memories of my favorite bases and job with Alice, but both bases are casualties of peace and are fenced off from the public.  We enjoyed visiting my good Budget buddy, Arthur Sharman, and his daughter Valmai, in the charming coastal town of Walberswick, and visiting the Streetfarm, where Marilynn and the boys and I lived in Saxmundham.  

On 13 August we went to London via train, and had a wonderful week bicycling all over what we had been told beforehand was an unfriendly city for bikes. We went to the “theatre” for “Beauty and the Beast” and “Miss Saigon”, and Shakespeare at the New Globe Theatre. Also toured Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London, visited Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, and did many other memorable things too numerous to mention.

Next we went to Windsor Castle, then a farmhouse in the Cotswolds near Cheltenham, followed by more Shakespeare at Stratford-on-Avon (“The Merchant of Venice” - what a performance!”).

Next stop, the Isle of Man via ferry from Liverpool, 31 August, just in time for the famous - but unknown to us - motorcycle Gran Prix races.  We cut short our planned stay, leaving the roads to hundreds of racers and racer wannabes, and arrived in Belfast by ferry on 2 September.  Among the highlights of Northern Ireland - the friendliest people in the world, visiting with Kieran’s parents and family in Keady near Armagh, the Giant’s Causeway, and scenery rivaling Scotland.  

Then we went to the Republic of Ireland, and on our trip around the Ring of Kerry from Tralee to Killarney, we found more of the friendliest people in the world and more spectacular scenery. Highlights - The Skellig Islands, a couple of forbidding rocks eight miles off the coast where Christian monks operated a monastery from the fifth to the twelfth century and helped preserve Western civilization; the Bog Village, which showed how the Irish used peat for fuel; and Alice coasting down mountain roads at 35 miles per hour after we had pedaled uphill for hours.  Better than an E-ticket at Disneyland.  Remember?

We went by ferry to Wales on 25 September, and spent a week in Laugharne near Carmarthen, Wales, where Dylan Thomas lived and wrote and drank…and where Alice and I spent a wonderful week at a time-share exchange holiday park. We then went to Bath and its Roman ruins, followed by another highlight, Salisbury, which we had prepared for by reading “Sarum”, by Edward Rutherford.  Salisbury Cathedral occupied us for three days, and we also visited Old Sarum and Stonehenge.   

During the fourth month of our bike trip, I became tired, homesick, missed the kitty cats we had to leave behind when we sold the ranch, and was eager to get back to California.  Alice was just the opposite.  She was ready to do another four months, or more.  She knew that she had a lot of hard work to do for her company, Vulcan, when she got back.  If I had known the work we had ahead of us, I would have voted to just keep on pedaling too. As it was, we went back through London to Cambridge, then returned to Germany via a hop from Mildenhall.  One last visit with Bruce and Leaha at Heidelberg, then back to Dover via a hop from Ramstein, and on to the Bay Area and to Gualala.

We have many pictures, and detailed stories, which we hope to share when (if ) asked.  As always, more later - happy holidays (belatedly) - and best wishes for the New Year!

Alice and Michael