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.
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 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. 
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 hotel 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 of land in the mountains of Wyoming, we never would have been able to experience that exact moment. 
Gotta love how life works out sometimes. 
From the back of Dirk’s property looking up at his inn that sits off the highway.

Mandy and me playing with Stephen and the dogs.

Laura-warm and naive to the cold that will attack her later.

This picture (taken by a disposable camera) will never do the sight justice, but it gives you an idea of what we saw      

Nobody Like(s) Us!

Camp La Verne, located a tad below Big Bear in the San Bernardino Mountains, is a place I hold dear to my heart. 
When I first began going to camp, it was extremely rustic; it’s much more modern now.  Back then, the 4-bunk, simply constructed cabins each had a half-door that swung shut with a spring, and the siding of the walls stopped two thirds of the way up, all the way around, with no windowpanes.  Some of the nicer cabins had wooden pieces that could be swung down to cover the “windows” at night.  As far as bathrooms went, there were pit toilets near the cabins (which I’d always have to pretend to hate the smell of).  The water basin was down the trail from the potties, and it literally was a water basin covered with screen to keep out the tree droppings.  It had a few spouts hooked up above for hand/face washing.  As far as showers went, we would gather together under a few spigots in our bathing suits, surrounded by aluminum siding and nothing but the open sunshine above us.  Our water was heated in a tank by a rusty pufferbelly that was kept going with fire while we went swimming at the lake.  If our cabin was last for showers that day, we were pretty much guaranteed to end our cleaning with a shocking blast of cold water.  We ate all our meals outdoors on bright green picnic tables right outside the kitchen, and would take turns doing dishes in the small, 3-sink washhouse.  You might think all this sounds crazy and horrible, but that’s what I loved most about camp.  It actually felt like camping. 
Along with the joys of the rustic camping experience, I enjoyed meeting new friends and looked forward to seeing them again summer after summer.  Many of the people I am still close with today, I met while at camp; including my best friend, Shannon.  It was at Camp La Verne that most of my precious memories were made.  I often think back to various times at camp and find myself giggling or smiling fondly.  Although I have always been shy, it was there that I felt the most comfortable, and there that I truly felt that I could be myself and let loose.
When Shannon and I became old enough, we decided that we wanted to work a week at the Junior Camp being CIT’s (Counselors in Training).  Really, what this meant was we got a winterized cabin down by the kitchen all to ourselves (along with another friend our age who happened to CIT that week) where we helped with random maintenance and/or kitchen needs and bonded with the kiddos during different activity times.  The fun and freedom we experienced that week, led us down the path of being counselors for the Jr. High Camp the following summer.
All through high school, I’d attend my own camp, while also counseling at least one other group of younger campers.  I continued this tradition throughout college, counseling for all the camps each summer.  One of my favorite, and probably not the most responsible counseling times, was when I was too old, and no longer eligible to attend the High School Camp, while many of my core friends (only a year or two younger than me) were.  So I came back that summer as their counselor; even better yet, I had Shannon in my cabin!  It pretty much felt like I was a camper again, but with a small amount of responsibility.  I’m sure I wasn’t too much of a help that summer, but I don’t think that I added any difficulties to the week.  Quite unlike the time us counselors decided we’d let the CITs be in charge of our sleeping Jr. High campers while we snuck out to a winterized cabin to listen to CD’s and gorge ourselves on candy and hamburgers brought in to us from down the mountain.  Yeah, our dumb asses got caught. 
Thank you Directors: Jeff Brehmeyer, Jeff Pence, and Ron Hart for being so laid back and trusting despite my teenage antics.  And Janet Hart, if you’re reading this, I was WAY more responsible with your Junior Camp…I wasn’t completely stupid.  I’ve been a member of the CLV board for years now, and although I like helping behind the scenes, there’s nothing better than being at camp, and I’ve always wanted to direct my own.  Last year, I was given the opportunity to co-direct the Jr. and Sr. High Winter Camp with my brother, Kevin.  It’s so different as a director, but still just as enjoyable.  The main difference is that while I still have the young heart inside me, I have to keep up the act of being a grown up.  For example, as a camper, and even more so as a counselor, I participated in many pranks (the best one still being the time we hung Blair Witch figures everywhere and made most of the Jr. High girls cry all night long).  This year, when a few pranks got out of hand during Winter Camp, although my insides were cracking up at the creativity, the external words coming out of my mouth were about respecting property and financial reasons why their pranks were not appreciated.  I’d see the rolls of some campers’ eyes and smile, remembering my cousin Marissa and I sharing similar glances as teenagers when we felt an adult was being too serious and “ruining camp.”  I get them.  They don’t know it, but I do.  It all comes full circle, and I can’t wait to see what else Camp La Verne will offer me as the years go on.