Turning 50 was a bit of a surprise. As in, “Baby, pack a bag!”

I still have trouble believing this happened to me.

On March 4, we had just pulled into our RV site near Marrietta, GA — where I thought we’d be spending my birthday week — when Tim handed me a card.

I did as I was told, and packed the suggested items into my suitcase.
And it took me about an hour to make the attitude shift from control freak clenchy, “Oh shit. I am not in charge of this trip,” to realizing that I’d been given the gift of a burden lifted.
I was not in charge of this trip!

Our first stop was a hotel near the Atlanta airport, so I kind of knew we were flying somewhere the next morning, but he wouldn’t tell me where — or actually even admit that we were flying, not driving, to our destination.

My suspicions were confirmed. As we waited to board our 5:00 a.m. shuttle bus to ATL, Tim handed me my passport. The plot seriously thickened.

We checked in at the domestic terminal, and I obediently used my passport as ID, even though I thought we probably should have gone to International Departures. But remember, I was not in charge.

Then we headed to security, and Tim (who rarely bothers to read directional signs) got in the line designated for Sky Priority passengers. The hell???

“Um… Honey? We don’t even qualify as priority travelers on the road. This is not our line.”

“It is this time,” he said. “We’re flying first class.”

I made a squealing noise that I’m pretty sure only dogs could hear. I’d never flown first class! And that may have come up a time or two over the course of our marriage. Cough cough.

Spill it, sister. WHERE TO?

It was only when we checked in at the priority lounge that I learned that the passports were but a ruse. “Pre-boarding for your flight begins in about 30 minutes,” the attendant said. “Enjoy your trip to Hawaii.”

OMG. Hawaii??? We’re going to Hawaii???

I didn’t make the squealing noise again. I couldn’t. I’d lost my breath.

Hawaii had been a running joke between us for decades, each and every time we were asked if we’d been there. Tim had visited dozens of times — once as a child on a family vacation, and several times in his years of active duty as a Navy officer. But I’d never been there. He’d even spent our anniversary there once. But I’d never been there.

So this. was. huge.

We were in the priority lounge, it was not quite 6 a.m., and I’d just learned where we were going.
The details he managed to keep secret!
The multiple little white lies and deceptions it took to keep me in the dark!

But… hasn’t he done this before?

Yep. Some of our friends and family might remember that Tim also pulled off big surprises on my 30th and 40th birthdays, and are now wondering why I didn’t detect the pattern and see this one coming.

Short answer: I no longer needed the escape. 

In 1999, I was a stay-at-home mommy to a toddler and a preschooler. I needed an escape. So the man hired a limo — which he’d secretly won at a silent auction we’d both attended — to take us around the Baltimore-Annapolis area for a grand evening out. I was so clueless, that when it pulled up, I said, “Oooh, the people across the street must be going somewhere fancy tonight!” Duh.

In 2009, I was juggling two part-time jobs in Norfolk, VA, while also wrangling the needs of a tween and a teenager. I needed an escape. So the man flew my mother in (I thought that was the surprise), threw a dinner party in our home (then I thought that was the surprise), and presented me with two tickets for a weeklong trip to The Bahamas. That was the surprise and the reason my mother was there. She kept the boys! 

But now, in 2019, we live simply, we travel where we want to, we work when we want to, and the boys are grown and flown. I really didn’t need an escape from this reality, nor was I expecting one. At all. Especially not one this freakin’ big!

And when you got there?

Here’s one of my favorite parts: When Tim planned this 10-day trip, the only arrangements he booked in advance were our round trip airfare between the mainland and Honolulu, and our first two nights of lodging. That’s it.

He wanted me to be able to point at a map or guidebook and say, “Let’s go there!,” even if that meant flying to another island. Which we did.

There were times when we didn’t know where we’d be sleeping that night, where our next meal was coming from, or where we could do a load of laundry.

Luckily, the thrill of uncertainty has a way of nourishing my spirit, so I was okay with all of that. Our lodging ended up spanning a wide variety of options: 2 airport hotels, 1 luxury military resort, 1 no-frills military campground, and 1 Airbnb.

And that is how “Emily’s Hawaii 5-0” happened. Here are a few of the pics, in roughly chronological order.

First stop, the island of Oahu, where we stayed at the Hale Koa resort, visited the USS Arizona Memorial
… climbed to the top of the Diamond Head Crater
… enjoyed poke in several forms …
… and attended a luau, at which Glen Madeiros was the host (yes, the “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You” guy from the 80’s).
He asked all those celebrating March birthdays to stand, and that is how that Glenn Madeiros ended up singing Happy Birthday to me this year.

On the 4th day, we flew to the Big Island, where we rented a car so that we could see as much of it as possible.

We spent two nights at the Kiluea Military Camp, inside Volcanoes National Park
… and we spent a full day exploring it.
Parts of the park are still closed (or just gone) after last year’s eruption and earthquakes. We were told that this view of the Kilauea crater is vastly different than it was prior to May of 2018.
At the time of our visit, there was no moving (molten) lava on the island. The solidified stuff is still pretty cool, though. No pun intended.
We stared at this marvel too.
We then headed southward toward the tip of the island, and took in a tour of a coffee plantation
… admired the sea turtles on the black sand beach at Punalu’u …
Bloop!
… and made the unpleasant 5-mile round trip hike in high winds and blasting sand just to set foot on …
… one of only four green sand beaches in the world.
Oh, and Tim stood at what his GPS indicated was the southernmost point of the island, which makes it the southernmost point in the US. It’s unmarked, but a short hike from the end of the aptly named South Point Road will get you there.
From there, we went to our Airbnb rental in Kona. It came with a dog!
We later hiked down to the Pololu Valley and beach
And also spent some time just lying on a beach and playing in the waves. A sea turtle swam with us. I may need a new tattoo…
And then there were the sunsets. Ooooh, the sunsets.

And now for the bad news: Honey, I’ve found where I want to live. Mahalo!


Author’s note: This is my first post using the newly and extensively upgraded version of our blogging platform, so things might not work like they used to for you, any more than they did for me. If you take the time to let me know of any issues, I promise I’ll do my part to figure out how to fix them.