Member Spotlight: John Dranchak, Parsons, Kansas

John Dranchak on his most recent trip to Egypt.

My dad always seemed to be working and his vacation time was used to paint the house or work on his car. Thus, when I was a kid, our family never went camping at Yellowstone or experienced the routine vacations like many of my friends’ families. Our definition of traveling abroad was to cross the river into Canada because we lived in Michigan near the border. Times were simpler, and passports were not required.

Encouraged to learn new things, my earliest memories take me back to grade school. The teacher wheeled in the black and white television for the class to watch the NASA Gemini launches. Together with the Apollo moon landings, these in- spired me to chase my passion of becoming an astronaut or fighter pilot—every space mission was followed closely.

I actually took flight training while in high school before I got my driver’s license. Even though I didn’t fulfill that dream, I still joined NASA as a thermal protection systems engineer on the space shuttle program. That big orange external fuel tank? It requires insulation to keep the cold cryogenic fuel from boiling away; that was where I spent most of my earlier career.

Life always seemed to get in the way of travel. With college, graduate school, work, marriage, home ownership, there was always something at home that kept me busy just like it did for my dad. I was faced with the same problem as most young employees in America, vacation time was limited. But when I could, even if it was a long weekend trip to nearby national parks, I traveled on long road trips and slept in tents. If you haven’t woken up to the vision of the sun rising over half dome in Yosemite National Park, it is well worth the discomfort of a tent … at least it was back then.

Upon taking a position with Boeing as a thermal analysis engineer on unmanned launch vehicles and spacecraft, I moved to Southern California. Here, I befriended a professional travel photographer who introduced me to the Travelers’ Century Club list. I remembered she would return from one exotic destination after another, bring- ing home hundreds of 35mm film rolls. Her photos inspired me to see more of the world. I was now hooked and travel became the priority.

My personal travel evolution in how I got to where I am today can best be explained in the next story. I was to take my first trip to Egypt in October 2001 but it was postponed because of the events of September 11th. In the spring of 2002, facing temporary unemployment, I used the time to catch up on trav- el—prioritizing that delayed trip to Egypt.

On my way to Cairo, I elected to take a nine-hour layover in Amsterdam to explore the city. I think I got baptized into travel when I arrived exhausted in Cairo around midnight, and stood at the luggage carousel for almost an hour with no luggage appearing. Finally, someone from the airline came out and said that KLM “forgot” to load all of the baggage on the 767 before leaving Amsterdam! Although it was not amusing at the time, those are the kinds of memories that you look back on and laugh at. After a couple of days wearing the same warm-weather clothes in the desert heat, my luggage, thankfully, showed up at the hotel just prior to my overnight departure on a train south to Aswan.

Following a day trip to Abu Simbel, I joined a six-person group and two-member crew as the lone American in a three felucca parade. Setting sail down the Nile and reclining on a padded wooden deck which covered the shallow hull of the boat, I rested comfort- ably because I knew my bags were securely stored under the deck. After a day of sailing, our group would tie up on the shore or a sand bar, usually in the middle of nowhere. The crew would set up a small latrine tent on shore, build a fire and then cook a simple but fantastic meal. Later, the crew emerged with musical instruments and the evening was filled with music, singing and dancing around the fire. A great time was had by all.

Every night we fell asleep on the deck of the boats, and in the morning, the crew untied the mooring lines while most of our group were still asleep. We headed back onto the river, gliding downstream just as the sun was rising—a truly magical experience.

After four days of sailing, the trip ended in the historical city of Luxor. Our small feluccas pulled up alongside the much bigger river cruise ships. I distinctly recall looking up at a portly, older tourist wearing a Speedo. With a cigar in his mouth, presumably German, he yells “Guten Morgan” to our group.

It’s funny, because on a recent trip to Egypt, I found myself standing on the top deck of a big, fancy Nile cruise ship, looking down at a small sail boat gliding by on the water far below. I saw the younger traveler I once was, sailing the Nile on a felucca. I am now that older, fat tourist on the top deck gazing down at the kids having fun. There is no doubt that I’m still seeking adventures, but I prefer to do so in a little more comfortable fashion. Both Egypt trips were unforgettable, providing lifelong memories.

Several years ago I reached the 100-country mark and immediately joined the TCC. Like other members, countless adventures have been experienced across all continents but I remain in awe of all of you and the places you’ve conquered. Friendships have been made with interesting people along the way and all are part of my memories. These are my prized possessions.

At the time of my retirement, my final job was working on the design of the heat shield of the new NASA Orion crewed spacecraft. An unmanned test flight is coming up this fall and one day it will supposedly take humans back to the moon and Mars. I guess we shall see where our future travels will take us but until then, I look forward to many more experiences and am thankful for the ones to date.

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