January 27, 2003
Got up feeling a bit stressed about all the things I needed to do. I decided I would go out to Jeff's house to use his computer with the highspeed connection since I needed to do a lot and also work on my webpage. First, I made a trip to the Bookstore and picked up the newest lonely planet book for South America and also I bought a book by Jorge Amado, a famous Brazilian author, that was suggested to me by Doug McLean.

I spent most of the day working on the computer and nothing of note occured. That night, I met up with Cory and Sue (Mike's Mom and brother) for dinner which was great. I think they might be more excited than I am...well pretty close anyway:) Came home and I was absolutely exhausted. Crashed early.

January 28, 2003
Woke up early and worked on the computer. I had made plans to meet up with my Mom for lunch and I wanted to squeeze some trip preparations in before that. I ended up spending quite awhile reading "The Catcher in the Rye" which I had bought up in Evanston last week. It hasn't seemed as good the second time around but somehow it is still quite absorbing.

My Dad and I met up with Ma for lunch around 12:15 and we ate for an hour. I had made plans to visit my friend Cortney after that so I stopped by her place and we chatted for awhile. It was cool. She has the cutest little daughter, Sydney who is 4. Cortney is doing a great job raising her and I am proud of her. It is amazing to me how much I have seen many of my friends change over the years as they are starting to build families...there are certainly several people out there that ten years ago I couldn't have ever pictured as a parent.

From Cortney's I decided to go and see my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Giller. It was a great experience. Not just seeing him...which was GREAT. We hadn't talked for about 3 years or so. I told him my story that I was leaving and he seemed pretty excited. I'll tell you one thing...I hope I can age like that guy. He still looks the EXACT same as he did 15 years ago...I'm not kidding. He's the Dick Clark of Unit 5:)

Anyway, after we chatted for awhile, he introduced me to his class (he teaches 5th grade now). He briefly told my story...I had been in his class many years before...went to ND...worked on Ph.D...and now was about to take a trip to South America. Then he kind of opened the floor to the kids to ask me some questions. You should have SEEN how excited those kids were. They seemed so impressed with me...even though I had really done nothing special. They all had SO many questions. They were so excited about the trip that it made me excited. We had about a 10 min. Q and A and it was great. At first, I didn't think that any of the kids would care about some old guy coming into their class distracting their teacher...but I couldn't have been any more wrong. I could actually see in some of their eyes that they were thinking "I want to be like THAT guy". It was a very weird experience. I hope that my little visit actually had an effect on a few of them. Thanks for such a great experience Mr. Giller. It was a kind of a turning point for me in the last days before leaving. From that moment on, I think my excitement level was just a bit higher.

From there, I headed back home and I just hung out that night...trying to upgrade my parents computer. We rented a movie (The Bourne Identity) and it was pretty good. Crashed around 1:00.

January 29, 2003
Wow, the pressure really started getting to me on what would be my last full day in the United States for who knows how long. I spent most of the day running around trying to buy a few things and that evening I began to pack. I quickly realized that there was no chance of me bringing about 30% of what I thought would fit in my backpack. As usual, I over estimated. I got things packed to a decent state, ate some dinner with my parents and then headed out to see Jeff and my friend Ryan, who had driven up from St. Louis just to see me off. I made it out there about 2 hours later than I had hoped.

We went out to a bar that night in Minonk and it was good to chat with old friends for a couple hours. I finally was able to relax from the VERY hurried state I had been in all day. I had not talked to Ryan in a long time so we caught up. Later, just before we left, he said something that was pretty interesting to me. I was saying how I had not seen the ocean since a full year ago when I was in Florianapolis...what seemed like a long time to me. I reflected a moment about the first time I ever saw the ocean...in 1994, just after graduating from highschool, I did a road trip to Daytona Beach Florida with 4 other friends (including Jeff and Ryan). I think it was the first time on a beach for all but one of us. These things happen when you live 800miles from the nearest beach. Anyway, after I commented on how a year had been a long time, Ryan said that he had not seen the ocean since that trip we took in 1994. It might seem strange for most people reading this, but it actually SHOCKED me to hear it. I was reminded how much my world has grown since college...how many places I have been to, and things I have done. For the folks back in Illinois, it is completely normal to go years without seeing the ocean...hell, my parents are almost 50 and they have NEVER seen it. Hey, it isn't their fault...geography has a lot to do with it, but it made me feel like a bit of an outsider...I can't understand anymore what it feels like for them to think about the ocean and beaches. But it isn't just that...I mean, I don't know what it feels like to not know another language, or tons of people from all over the US or other countries, or to have travelled to foreign lands...I guess I just forgot how much my world has changed over the last decade. So when he said he had not seen the ocean, it just made me pause for a few seconds and think, "What!?". But I was the only person in the room who did that...and that is the point I am making. It made me realize how far apart my world is from many of the folks back home and why what I am doing must seem so unbelievably crazy...just as crazy as not seeing the ocean for 10 years.

Anyway, I finally said goodbye to Jeff and headed home around 4:00a.m. I still had to finish getting things packed and we were leaving for the airport around 8 the next morning. After finally finishing packing, and doing a little writing, I finally got a chance to lay down at 6:30a.m.

January 30, 2003
Finally the day had arrived!! I was half dead in the morning but the adrenaline was pumping pretty good. After a shower and a last minute check of everything, we piled in the car and we were off. I spent most of the next few hours making final phone calls to many of the people back in Houston. When we finally reached the airport, I was pretty excited. Tony even gave me a call from Spain, just as I was about to cancel my cell phone service.

And that was it...I said goodbye to my parents and was on my way. After checking my bag I finally sat down and took in the situation. My flight connects in Miami and after that, it is going to be Brazil for the next few months...and then, who knows? All I know is that I'm ready for it. To quote one of the greatest sports movies of all time (Rudy)...

"I've been ready for this my whole life!"

Picture me rollin'



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