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Journeying to China by way of Newport Beach - Part 1 of 3

Clip Art Sailboat

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

Clip Art Sailboat

October 7, 2006

It is now October, almost two months since I met with Rodney Kittelsen’s family and caregivers to discuss with him the difficulties, risks and possible consequences involved with an 89 year old man traveling with his wheelchair to various cities in China. The two month wait was an anxious one. Rodney continued to consult with his doctor regarding his ability to travel, and some medical attention was needed, but his health concerns were not of the type that would keep Rodney from traveling. I wondered to myself if there might be difficulties with taking care of paperwork with the People to People Ambassadors program at the last minute or if there would be any complications with the passport and visa application process, but there were none. A week or so before we left, Rodney and I and his caregivers and family got together again to make sure that everything was in order. As the saying goes, we prepared for the worst, but expected the best. All airline tickets, passports and visas were ready and in order in an accordion file that one of the caregivers had put together. Also in the file was emergency contact information, medical information and other material that Rodney might need for the trip, and information to help me as his caregiver/assistant. By this time, it seemed that everything was a go, and on October 7, Rodney and I were ready, along with Wayne Albertson, an auctioneer and farmer and friend of Rodney’s. (Wayne had known Rodney all of his life, as Rodney and his father were friends before he was born. Rodney had handled the legal affairs of his family for three generations.)


After a couple of hours, we found ourselves at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport for our flight to Los Angeles. In general, traveling with someone in a wheelchair can have its benefits. Quite often, we are moved to the head of the line for special assistance. A wheelchair attendant provides assistance from the check-in counter to the gate, but this time, I carried our carry-on bags while Wayne pushed Rodney in the wheelchair. For some reason, we did have a slightly difficult time getting through security in Chicago. I went through quickly as I was prepared due to my own airline travel experience. Wayne was able to get through in a short time as well. It took Rodney a bit longer, though, as TSA agents took him through the security checkpoint separately and performed a hand-wand search complicated by the fact that Rodney apparently has some metal in his body. Given all of that, we did get through security in a relatively short time and had plenty of time for a McDonald’s hamburger before going to the gate for our flight. Once at the gate, it is typical in this country for those in wheelchairs and others requiring special assistance to be the first to board along with first class passengers, and for this flight, it was no different. The wheelchair was checked at the gate, and a small aisle wheelchair was used to wheel Rodney from the aircraft door to his seat. Fortunately, seating had been arranged close to the front of the aircraft just behind first class, and the first class restrooms were a reasonable walking distance for Rodney.

As it turns out, we were glad that we had this flight to LA to practice for the long haul to Hong Kong and flights after that. I was just getting to know Rodney and his abilities, too, and how I could best work with him (and Wayne). Ideally, I had been told that Rodney would require assistance in the bathroom. I was able to help him to walk to the bathroom, but realistically, direct assistance was not possible in the small aircraft bathrooms that we encountered. This was acceptable, because Rodney was able to manage in these small bathrooms, albeit not perfectly.

For those who are wondering, there were no free meals on this flight, and not even peanuts. Beverages were provided though, and box lunches for $4.00 were provided to those who were really hungry. Fortunately, we had thought to eat at McDonald’s before flying out.


About the time we had our baggage outside the American Airlines baggage claim at LAX, Brad, Rodney’s son, was arriving at the airport, making for excellent timing. After a quick exchange of cell phone calls, we were able to locate each other at the American Airlines baggage claim. Brad then drove us to his modest home in Lake Forest, in Orange County, near where Interstate 5 and Interstate 405 meet. Brad and his family made all of us feel at home. Carmel prepared a home cooked dinner with some help from their kids, Olen, Christie, and the twins, Even and Bret. Little did I know that that we would also have entertainment with a live concert, with Brad on the guitar, Olen on the drums, vocals by Brad and Olen and also vocal and instrumental support from the twins. Songs included old folk tunes such as “Show me the way to go home” more current classics such as “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”. The family is also involved in a number of other activities, including church, tennis, and bit acting and modeling gigs for the kids. Most importantly, Rodney was able to spend time with his grandkids, and I can see so many reasons that he loves them so much.

Photo Brad and Olen jamming

Photo Rodney and Grandkids>


By now it was after 9:00 p.m. and Rodney, Wayne and I were tiring out. After all, we had added two hours to our day due to the change in time zones, and we had gotten up early to catch our flight. Rodney and I shared a room so that I could assist him if needed. He did get up 4 to 5 times during the night to use the bathroom, and to be safe, I stood by in case he needed any assistance. Assistance was minimal and we were able to get back to sleep each time. But at 6:00 a.m. Pacific Time, Rodney was ready to get washed up, shaved and dressed and ready for his day, as he knew that Brad and Carmel and his grandkids would be starting their Sunday activities in an hour or two. As for me, I could have slept another hour or so, and found myself surprised at how Rodney was so willing to get up and go to be ready for more time with the grandkids.


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