A Sunrise in the Mountains

This week, I was supposed to be recovering from directing a high school age camp with my youngest brother, but sadly, camp never happened. Weeks of planning, and nailing down counselors over a month in advance (a rare treat) went down the drain as Kevin and I discovered that only four boys signed up for our camp. We had no choice but to cancel at the last minute. I initially thought that maybe the kiddos didn’t like me and decided not to return this year. But no, even though I’m an awkward wallflower that makes lets Kevin take the stage while addressing the group, there’s no way that I scared them away.  Turns out, it was primarily summer school that killed the fun.\r\n\r\nWhile it is a complete bummer to miss out on spending a week in the mountains, the plus side to it all is that we have camp all planned out for next summer!  It might not seem like a lot of work: (just let the kids run around and go canoeing in the afternoon), but there are a lot of hours to fill in a day, and too much downtime can lead to trouble. My brother and I are very low-key and go-with-the-flow kinds of people, but we do like to have some sort of structure. Plus, it’s fun to plan a random activity and think of all the whines and complaints we’ll get from the kids once they hear about it. I think whining is a teenager’s favorite pastime. It reminds me of my own youth, and one of my favorite, grouchy camp memories.\r\n\r\nI was around 16 years old. I wasn’t a cool, hip, sixteen-year-old, but rather a plain, ratty haired, grossly undersized, dork. That said, I still encompassed the innate traits of a normal teenager: the love of my Discman, sarcasm, and sleep. So when our camp director informed us that we would be waking up at the butt crack of dawn to watch the sunrise, I was none too thrilled. Most of us campers begged and pleaded for her to make it an optional activity, but she staunchly refused.\r\n\r\nNot only were we going to have this sunrise adventure, we would also be made to hike a quarter of a mile to the nearby lake in order to fully enjoy it. I know, wah, wah, wah, a whole quarter mile! But seriously!  When one could be snuggled warmly in a sleeping bag, but is instead forced to hike in high altitude before dawn, it makes that distance so much more daunting. In any case, before 5am the next morning, we begrudgingly rolled out of bed, and gathered to prepare for our hike. Thick with sleep, we mumbled and grumbled our good-mornings, and began quiet chatter amongst ourselves in an attempt to wake up. This is when a caveat was sprung upon us: We were not to speak the entire walk to the lake, nor while at the lake, until the sun had risen.\r\n\r\nWith one sentence, our director had removed any minute piece of fun that activity could have possessed. I swear it was like the cartoons: steam rising from our heads with the amount of teenage rage boiling within us. But, being the good, respectful, kids that we were, we didn’t challenge our oppressor and began our silent trek to the lake. Upon arriving, and taking a seat on the benches circled around the little wooden pier, we pulled our hoodies tighter around our faces and huddled together for warmth as we soundlessly implored the sun to rise.\r\n\r\nAfter what felt like eternity, the golden rays exploded over the treetops, and caused us to cower, and shield our eyes from the intensity that was much too bright to enjoy at that early an hour. When our eyes finally adjusted to the glow, we glanced over at our director. There she was, eyes closed, chin raised high, meeting the sun with a big, Muppet grin splashed across her face. I’ll never forget that image, or the dichotomy displayed on that pier.\r\n\r\nNow, as a director myself, I understand the gift she wanted to share with us. While I can’t say that I particularly appreciated the sunrise, I do know that she left me with a lasting memory that I still chuckle about. However, as much as I inwardly plead with my campers to lower their noise level, and as rare as it is to be able to see a sunrise in the mountains, I can tell you candidly, that a silent sunrise hike was not in our plans for our campers this summer.\r\n\r\n

It burns, it burns! (this is not our lake, but close enough)

It burns, it burns! (this is not our lake, but close enough)

Getting Lost in Wyoming

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.\r\n\r\nThe 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.\r\n\r\nDriving 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 print out 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.\r\n\r\nWe 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.\r\n\r\nStephen 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.\r\n\r\nBefore 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.\r\n\r\nRegardless 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.\r\n\r\nWith 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.\r\n\r\nWe 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.\r\n\r\nGotta love how life works out sometimes.\r\n\r\n

Mandy and I stopping to take a picture with Stephen and the dogs in front of the creek.

Mandy and I stopping to take a picture with Stephen and the dogs in front of the creek.

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Innocently happy, Laura, with no idea what this night has in store for her.

Innocently happy, Laura, with no idea what this night has in store for her.

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This picture, taken with a disposable camera, will never do the sight justice.

This picture, taken with a disposable camera, will never do the sight justice.