Kenna Gottschalk, Staff Writer
“I’ve been to 23 countries but this one hit differently.”
Born and raised on a farm in the Midwest, Kirk Gottschalk was desperate to go explore any place he could. His determination to travel led him to join the military, which took him to a range of places and countries. One trip in particular though, was a little more noteworthy to him than the rest.
In the months of April and May 1990, Kirk Gottschalk found a way to travel to Greece for a total of 10 dollars. Yes, ten dollars. But how? Being a soldier in the military, there are flights available called MAC flights, standing for Military Airlift Command. Military members can register for flights overseas because planes are flying cargo and other equipment all over the world, all the time. These flights also serve as a convenience for service members to vacation or visit family.
When asking Gottschalk how he reacted to finding out about this opportunity he said, “Well, I can’t tell you the exact words that came out of my mouth, but let’s just say it had the same meaning as, ‘holy smokes’.”
A chance to travel overseas, and for ten dollars no less, Gottschalk didn’t hesitate to say yes. When initially stationed in West Germany he took a civilian flight to get back home to visit family. Once back in the U.S., Gottschalk realized he could take a MAC flight to most Air Force bases around the world, so he took one to West Germany and immediately started looking for places to travel using this system.
With a destination in mind, he got approved for leave and with his leave form, headed to the military airport.
“Once your leave is submitted at the air base, you just wait to see if you are going to make the next flight in the direction of your destination. I waited around in the airport on a list which is based on first come first serve. I found a way to beat the system, you probably shouldn’t put that in there, but that’s how I did it. On my flight to Greece, I had like 20 minutes notice before preparing to leave. ”
Skeptical thoughts surely would have gone through Gottschalk’s mind; wouldn’t one think? I asked him if he felt unsure about this “too good to be true” deal.
“Hell no! When I first heard about it in Germany I was, but I talked to enough people that I felt fine doing it.”
When Gottschalk’s commitment to the army was nearly over he had yet to visit Greece and wanted to do what he could to get there. “I didn’t care about getting in trouble as much as I was driven to experience the Grecian culture,” he said, trying to see as many places as he could.
Once landing in Germany, (where his connecting flight was), Gottschalk said him and fellow soldiers were told to wear civilian clothes because there was terrorist activity taking place in Greece during the time.
“Did this make you nervous at all?” I inquired.
“Nervous? God no. I was 26 and had no fears. I was jumping out of airplanes as my job, I wasn’t worried about terrorists. I wanted to see these places. I wasn’t gonna let that crap stop me from seeing what I wanted to see.” Gottschalk replied.
Once he landed in Athens, Greece, it was just a short bus ride to his hotel, which was only eight dollars a night for soldiers. From then, Gottschalk planned his schedule by talking to locals and tourists to find out what to do and see each day.
Gottschalk said he spent three days running around Athens, walking along the beaches, and experiencing the culture. Not only was he having an incredible time, but Gottschalk also made sure others knew he was having fun.
He explains, “There were all kinds of nude postcards, so I’d send those to my brothers and college buddies. I’d write something stupid on there like, ‘Guess where I am!’, or ‘I met her yesterday’, etcetera.”
After some time in Athens, it was a long ferry ride for the price of $16, that took Gottschalk to a strip of islands, finally stopping at Santorini.
“Once you step off the ferry people are trying to sell you rooms, so I bargained and got a room for seven dollars a night,” Gottschalk bragged.
Gottschalk then got into a van filled with other travelers, and the hotel owner drove them to their destination.
“That initial drive scared the piss outta me driving up this steep cliff because we were so close to the edge in a dilapidated van, I prayed that guy knew what he was doing,” Gottschalk scoffed.
While at the hotel, he drank wine with the hotel owners and laughed for a couple hours, communicating mainly through gestures he said, because the owner spoke no English.
While there, he made friends with a guy from Albuquerque and they rented mopeds, riding them all over the island.
After experiencing what Santorini had to offer for a week, Gottschalk then moved on to his next stop, the island of Ios. The laid-back, late-night Grecian island culture was where they found a place to sleep for just three dollars a night.
Some stays were cheaper than others, “I did sleep in a vineyard one night,” Gottschalk recalled, “going from one place to the next and we hadn’t found a place to stay. That’s all I’ll say.”
With no plans or any set agenda, the entire trip was a “play by play” strategy. Gottschalk eagerly went from island to island trying his absolute best to cross off as many bucket list items as he could. This meant that boredom could strike at any time, but that certainly didn’t stop the adrenaline junkie.
“One night, I was just bored,” he chuckles, “I rented a moped and was riding that sucker all over the place. I was terrorizing this town at three a.m. on a moped!” he laughs some more, “My buddy from Albuquerque was a bit hesitant at first, but I talked him into it,” he pauses and smiles, “It was a good time. Some stories are too good, well…too unlawful, to share.”
After about three weeks, Gottschalk had no more spare days of adventure remaining and had to make his way back home. Which was basically done the same way he got there.
“I had to be back at base in North Carolina by a certain hour and I cut it too close, I think I was late…but I checked out of the army three weeks later.”
And that was that. A twenty-minute wait in the airport, a ten dollar charge, and three weeks later Gottschalk was back to his routine in the U.S.
When asked how to describe the entire experience, he said, “Wooo,” (long pause), “one of the most memorable and culturally enlightening trips of my life. I mean, 30 years later and I remember it vividly.”
An experience that was so different from the environment he grew up in, Gottschalk took several pauses to stop, smile, and reminisce on the trip during the interview. I couldn’t imagine what was possibly going through his mind during those moments, probably trying to edit out some of his R-rated language. But after some silence, he sighed and said, “I had fun, I took chances, I met a variety of people and did a variety of things, most of which were not illegal.”
Kirk Gottschalk is my dad, and growing up meant the older I got the more stories of his travels I was “allowed” to hear. Several of which I heard during this interview, (he said he’d prefer if those weren’t in print though).
Getting ready to close the interview and hang up on facetime, he grinned at me and said, “Someday when I’m dead, you can read my journals about it.”