A few weeks after graduating college, in the summer of 2003, I was chosen to travel around the Midwest with two complete strangers to teach peace, justice, and environmental issues to youth campers. We were called the Youth Peace Travel Team, and those two strangers became two of my dearest friends. Mandy, Laura, and I shared and created so many fond memories together, that I could probably write a book on that summer. I’ve been wanting to blog about my adventures as a Peace Team member for a while now, but I’ve always struggled with how to do it. Each week was a new adventure in itself, and some of the funniest moments were just that: moments–not enough to be stretched out into a blog entry.
The experience is too great not to write about, so I’m going to start with a few days we spent in Wyoming. I know, I know. I said we traveled the Midwest, and that’s mostly true, but there was a 2-week stretch where we set out from Elgin, Illinois to spend a week in Boise, Idaho, and then drove back to Milford, Indiana. So anyway, back to Wyoming.
Driving from Illinois to Idaho, we made a few stops with families who volunteered to host us with dinners and a place to sleep. This was before the days of GPS or smart phones, so our only guidance between addresses was a printout of MapQuest directions and an atlas of the states. We were unable to find our Wyoming destination due to major road construction and detours, and we weren’t able to get in touch with the host family for help. We decided to follow the highway towards Boise and just find a motel, but the road was lacking in human settlement and dusk was quickly approaching. We finally came across what looked to be an abandoned inn, so we decided to check it out in the hopes that someone was there.
We were in luck. Down the hill behind the closed up inn was the home of Dirk and Tammy, along with their kid Stephen and their two dogs. Dirk explained to us that he owned the building and was fixing it up to use as a business someday. He invited us to use his vast amount of land behind the inn to rest for the night, and seeing as he had a whole family, it felt safe, and we decided to stay. A stream ran through the back of his property, and near the stream, was a campfire pit, a picnic table, and our very own port-a-potty. We thanked him, and drove our little Toyota Echo down to the area where we would sleep under the stars.
Stephen stayed down by our campsite with his dogs milking as much attention as we would give him while his dad helped arrange our area. I imagine the boy yearned for companionship since he was living on a piece of land in the middle of nowhere. The poor kid looked like a mangy mountain boy, but he was sweet, if not weird, and we accepted his company.
Before it got dark, Dirk wanted to get us a fire going to keep us warm through the night. Instead of kindling, he doused the wood with practically a whole bottle of lighter fluid. As we spent the next 20 minutes watching the ten foot tall fireball burn down, all us girls could think about was how the environmentally aware Peace Team just contributed a massive amount of pollution to our air.
Regardless of how the fire got started, it did keep us warm as we stayed up talking through the night. Or maybe our warmth was mostly contributed to the alcoholic lemonade we consumed. All I know is that we fell fast asleep warm and cozy in our sleeping bags surrounding the fire, and woke up at the butt crack of dawn freezing our asses off! When my attempts of holding in warmth by remaining in the fetal position began to fail me, and I couldn’t force myself to sleep through the cold any longer, I peeked my head outside of my sleeping bag to discover a fine layer of frost covering our sleeping bags and pillows.
With numb fingers, we scribbled a thank you note, haphazardly threw our damp, frozen belongings into the car and drove off with the heater on full force. Miles down the road, and still shivering, we saw this posh looking mountain lodge ahead of us. We decided we would pull in and beg them to let us have a cup of coffee to warm up. The receptionist heard our story, and let us in to the dining area free of charge and without hesitation.
We filled our cups with steaming hot coffee, thanked the receptionist, and continued on our drive. As we rounded the mountain away from the hotel, we could see the Grand Tetons ahead of us, with the first rays of sun shining just right upon them. It was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen, and one I will never forget. If not for getting lost and sleeping on some random piece land in the mountains of Wyoming, we never would have been able to experience that exact moment.
Gotta love how life works out sometimes.