STW1998 – third part: USA
Highlights: Flight (Düsseldorf – Island – Minneapolis) — 2 day at Tim’s cabin at the lake — Camp Phillips close to EauClaire,WI — caravan like trip to Pinedale,WY — Yellowstone — Grand Tetons — multi day hike — Shoshonnen Indian Reservat — Devils Tower — Badlands
Dies ist das ultimative Tagebuch über die gesamte Fahrt, unseren amerikanischen Freunden zuliebe auf englisch aufgeschrieben vom A.
Sunday, July 12
Leaving Germany is easier than I thought. At the baggage check at Frankfurt International Airport they are not very interested in what I have in my two packs. Only the metal detector seems to be more interested in me: my belt and my shoes contain metal pieces which require me passing the check a second time without them.
Flying to Iceland would be nice, normally. But in my plane there’s a group of young girls on their way to horseback riding vacations. They behave much sillier than their horses would do in the same place. For a moment I am happy to travel alone. Actually, the rest of my group is already in Wisconsin. I had to work, so I’m two days late. Finally, the plane lands in Reykjavik, Iceland. Landing is no fun. The airport in Reykjavik is tiny, but nice. Partially I regret that I can’t stay in Iceland, one of the countries I definitely want to visit one day. Though the surrounding of the airport reminds me of the pictures from the Apollo landings…
The second plane could be more quiet, if there wasn’t a child crying for six hours without interruption. Finally we land in Minneapolis. The guy having the place next to me corrects me: “That’s not Minneapolis, it’s Twin Cities”.
First I can’t find C.J., who has come to pick me up. Then we can’t find the way out of Minneapolis (sorry: Twin Cities). We stop at a McDonald’s, but I can’t eat much, though I had very good appetite in the plane. Anyway, we arrive at Phillips Scout Reservation late in the night (late in the morning in German time). I’m so tired that I do not even ask for the names of my cabin buddies, all of which are leaders of Troop 88 from Eau Claire. I try to sleep, but I hardly do.
Monday, July 13
The other guys in my cabin are Jim, Bob and Nick. Jim will be my host for the week after camp, so it’s good to see that he’s a really nice guy. My state today should be described as sleepwalking rather than being awake. The other Germans staying like me with Troop 88 are Sandra, Caro, and Philipp (Phillip’s Scout Reservation, you know?). Apology: Sometimes I can’t resist making jokes of poor quality.
First flag ceremony, first breakfast (to introduce the horrors of camp food). I have subscribed for two merit badge classes: Pioneering and Canoeing. First Pioneering at nine o’ clock. Not very exciting today. We learn some knots, half of which I forget almost immediately. Then Canoeing. This is definitely fun, though Mike and me have severe problems with the navigation. We learn about the J-stroke which is the basic technique to get your canoe going.
I forgot to mention: I had to pass the swim test before canoeing. Safety first.
The afternoon is free for me: no classes. I could help the other Germans pitching the Jurte (big black German tent), but I prefer to relax a little bit, since I’m close to falling asleep while standing. Unfortunately, relaxing isn’t very relaxing today. It’s incredibly hot and humid. Unrelaxed as I am, I somehow survive the evening.
Tuesday, July 14
The first day that I really enjoy. In Pioneering we learn about splicing a rope. Awfully complicated thing to do. A scoutmaster of one of the troops more or less takes over the class from Jack (the staff guy in charge for the MB), saying that he has 21 years of experience in splicing. I hope it will take him less than another 21 years to learn that discouraging young staff members is not one of his duties as a scoutmaster.
Canoeing is pretty cool today. Cool in both meanings of the word. 93 degrees are easier to bear near the water.
After Lunch, Eric, the chaplain has an announcement that gives us an important advice for the whole trip: “There is no merit badge for napping”. Megyn, another staff member, gives us a tour to the high adventure base. Asked why there are so many female staff members this year, she answers: “You know the philosophy of this camp. They simply want the best of the best.”
In the afternoon, every activity besides water fun is forbidden. I decide to ignore this and work on my napping merit badge instead. From now on every announcement starts and ends with the words: “Scouts, drink water!” And we do. Drinking fountains, by the way almost completely unknown in Germany, become the most important places in camp. Encouraged by the heat, mosquitos raise their production of discomfort by a factor 10.
This is the day when many of the Germans make friendship with staff members from camp. Neat to see how much communication grows with every new day.
In the evening I present a slide show about German scouting. Many people see this, and it’s fun to show them some of our ideas. Maybe some of the guys will have the chance to experience German scouting in “Scouting the World 2000” or “StW 2004”.
Though I hate T-storms at camp, tonight’s storm comes almost as a relief to anyone, bringing some cooler winds. A second storm, without lightning, at 4 a.m. is so heavy that it makes our cabin move. On the next day, three people are not enough to move it by hand.
Wednesday, July 15
What makes “Scouting the World” special is that you can learn about your own way of scouting by seeing the differences. This it what comes to my mind in the pioneering class. Today we learn the secrets of a pulley. Not that this wouldn’t be useful, but no German scout would have the patience to learn skills over three days without starting a project of some kind. We usually don’t even try to teach every single kid the same skills. While in American scouting emphasis is very much on advancement for individuals, learning is seen more as a group process in German scouting.
Rather than beginning with practising basic skills, a German troop would decide to build a tower or something. They would find out what to do, possibly fail several times, and would finally come up with a tower. Most probably, not everyone in the troop would have learned the same skills, but they would be able to raise a tower (or whatever) as a troop next time. As a side effect, scouts might have learned important things without even being aware of the fact that they were learning.
So, much more than learning Pioneering, what’s interesting for me in this merit badge class are the concepts of teaching and the way the kids respond to it (positively, most of the time).
Canoeing: It’s “Wet Wednesday” today. Seriously fun, learning what to do when your canoe tips. Unfortunately, trying to re-enter my canoe from the water, I cut my foot, and it bleeds quite a lot at the first moment. But it turns out to be not so bad at all.
During the meal, Eric the chaplain talks about the importance of having dreams.
In the afternoon we (most of the Germans and some of our American hosts) visit Camp Tesomas which is known to have a terrific OA ceremony. It really is. Supper in the dining hall of Tesomas is an experience of its own. I could not stand this for a whole week. On the way back (arriving at about half past two in the morning) we see a northern light. How exciting. My first northern light. And it fills half of the sky. Gotta keep this impression, don’t know when I will have the chance to see it again. As often, once things are already going well, other good things happen unplanned for.
Thursday, July 16
Business as usual. Lashings are today’s item in Pioneering, solo in Canoeing. In the afternoon I visit the “Citizenship in the world” class. One of the requirements of this merit badge is to talk with someone from a foreign country, and now I’m that someone. Most of the questions are about politics in the beginning, later sports turn out to be the more interesting part.
The evening starts with “camp wide games”. Some of these are really fun, and Troop 88 shows a lot of team spirit. Afterwards the SPL campfire where each troop shows a skit. Boy, this is boring! The only ones that appear to enjoy it are the mosquitos. Tonight there is also the slide show which shows the most important moments of this camp week.
Friday, July 17
I awake with a headache, having caught a cold. So I’m not terribly friendly to people this morning. In the Pioneering class we raise a tower. After all, this is an easy merit badge to get. A bit more has to be done for Canoeing, but the test is not too difficult, and everyone passes.
In the afternoon we take down the German tent and pack our stuff together. I have a nice conversation with Mike, the former camp director. The pictures of his new house, raised in 21 working days, are really impressing for someone from Germany where noone builds a house on his own.
The chicken barbecue in the evening gives the parents of the kids the chance to visit the camp. In Germany, we don’t allow parents to visit their kids at camp, because this often results in homesickness or disappointment by the not visited kids. But well, this is the last day of camp. My chicken is much better than the one I had four years ago in the same place.
After dinner there’s an award ceremony, another thing that illustrates the differences between American and German scouting. But also the Germans are proud of what they achieved. In addition to the mile swim badge, Daniel and Bolle should receive an award for the most impressing sunburns ever seen in camp. Everybody’s very friendly to us Germans. For example, all German participants of Archery are given an arrow with feathers in the German colors.
In the chapel service Eric once more proves that he does a very good job. The service leads directly into the OA ceremony. Especially the beginning is magic, canoes with drums crossing the lake. This year, Troop 88 elected Adam for the Order of the Arrow. His calling out is the coolest performance of the event. Unlike his fellows, he doesn’t wear uniform, but a very cool hat instead. Having seen more uniforms than I usually do in scout camps, I kind of enjoy seeing someone do things in his own way. After the usual ceremony, there is also a part where people are called for the highest honor of the OA. They invite their oldest member to do this, and he is so moved that he can hardly find the words.
As for most scouts, for us this is the end of the camp week, which actually passed much too fast. We say goodbye and are picked up by our host families, thinking we will not meet for several days. But this expectation turns out to be wrong. At the Pizza Hut in Rice Lake where we stop on our way to Eau Claire, we meet more than half of the group. Here I also meet Bob, Lisa and Matt, a family that will join us on our trip to Wyoming.
Finally, after midnight we arrive at Erdman’s house in Eau Claire, and I meet my host mother, Laurie. The shower and the bed are very good, and I believe that I will sleep for at least two hundred years.
Saturday, July 18
Sleep ’till 11. In the afternoon we go shopping for some equipment for the trip to Wyoming. At night we go to a cinema to see “Armageddon”, a nice film with a maximum number of explosions.
Sunday, July 19
Sleep ’till 11. In the afternoon we go shopping for some equipment for the trip to Wyoming. (Some days are best if you enjoy them twice.)
Monday, July 20
Again shopping for equipment. Seems that the Erdmans are buying their stuff for the next two centuries of scouting. Shopping is more enjoyable in America than in Germany. People working in shops are much more patient and friendly here.
I’m getting used to American family life and to the two dogs of the Erdmans. Kathy is an old collie, Ginger a retriever, a bit crazy but very friendly.
In the evening Jim takes me to a bar where we test the Leinenkugel beer. Very good stuff. We discuss about Star Trek, the meaning of life (42), literature, the importance and beauty of good stories, and everything. I’m glad to have Jim as my host father. Talking with him, you never run out of interesting topics.
There is, however, at least one question about the relation of our cultures to which we don’t find an answer: Why did they change the Swedish chef to a Danish chef when translating the Muppet Show into German?
Tuesday, July 21
Jim and I visit the Chippewa Valley Museum in the morning and the Paul Bunyan Museum in the afternoon. Now I am very informed about the history and the tales of the region.
In the evening there is a meeting of all hosts and guests in Alma, at the farm of Bianca’s and Sandra’s hosts. It is the chance to see a real Wisconsin dairy farm, and to celebrate Tim’s birthday. Tim will be 40 some days later, and there are some nice and some funny gifts.
Wednesday, July 22
The big day of packing. Tons of stuff are spread out in the house, and finally everything find its place in one of the backpacks. It’s Jim, Matt, and me who will leave tomorrow for Wyoming. About noon we visit the car wash of the Guldens, my host family four years ago.
Dinner’s very good today: chicken with lemon and pepper. Later Kate Erdman and I try to make music together. Kate on piano, me on guitar, we play some Beatles songs and other stuff. Matt’s guitar had only four strings yesterday, but we bought two new ones, so I have a guitar to take to Wyoming. Since Matt is a bass player, he probably feels more comfortable with a four string guitar.
We go to bed early, because the night will be over at four.
Thursday, July 23
Our departure is supposed to be at five o’ clock in the morning at K-Mart in Eau Claire. Eight vehicles and two trailers will take 54 people on a 3000 miles ride. (That’s Duesseldorf-Athens-Duesseldorf! America is VERY big. But the Suburbans are quite comfortable.) Somebody’s kidding, asking whether everyone has brought his backpack. Keith has not. Good that we are here and not already somewhere in South Dakota.
At Roberts Park and Ride we meet the people from New Richmond. Now we are (almost) complete: Adam, Ben, Benny, Betty, Bianca, Bob, Brian, Brian, Brian, C.J., Caro, Daniel, Dave, Didi, Emily, Goede, Gordy, Greg, Jens, Jerry, Jim, Joerg, Johannes, Julius, Justin, Kathy, Keith, Kyle, Leah, Lynn, Markus, Matt, Matt, Mike, Mike, Milan, Mindy, Nick, Nickel, Oliver, Philipp, Sandra, Sebastian, Shelby, Spencer, Steffi, Steve, Stu, Sven, Thorsten, Tim, Tini, and me (A.). Lisa will join us in Wyoming.
Today we have more than 700 miles to go. It takes us about 14 hours. The first few hundred miles are not extremely interesting. Two different places along the interstate claim to be the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Of the first 1000 farms, more than 900 look exactly alike. There are about a million signs along the interstate advertising Wall Drug, beginning about 400 miles before Wall.
After hours of driving without any turn, we finally see the Black Hills. Someone tells me that they are called Black Hills because they look similar to the Black Forest in Germany. Well, there is some similarity in some places, but it’s rather vague. Shortly before arriving at today’s destination we pass Sturgis. We learn that it is one of the more wild places in the West, and that a local politician from Eau Claire once was involved in a fist fight there.
Tonight we will sleep at a ranch in the Black Hills. As we arrive, the first thing we do is to ride on a horse wagon. Everything is well prepared by our hosts and by Troop 17 from Spearfish, SD. Old cowboys tell us about their wild life in the Wild West, and we enjoy the dinner sitting on hay bales. After dinner we sit around the fire, singing (more or less silly) German and American songs. Finally, the troops from Spearfish and Eau Claire present some skits. The best one is from Troop 17: “Brrring me the Rrroyal Paperrr!”
Brian Shores is my tent buddy for the next ten nights. He knows how to pitch our “Eureka” tent. It’s rather comfortable because of its height and the big windows, but I wonder what job it will do in the rain. The night is clear and cool, and for the first time coyotes howl while we fall asleep.
Friday, July 24
Kill all roosters! Roosters suck. On this particular ranch the rooster wakes us up at half past five. After two more hours in the sleeping bag there are two things that are fine: breakfast and the weather. And there is also a lot to see. We try to catch a wooden calf with a lasso (even though it can’t run away, this is not easy). Then we see how a calf (not a wooden one!) is branded.
We’re back on the road at eleven, and we have a rough way to ride today. After 20 miles we reach the border of Wyoming. The country changes rapidly into prairie, interesting and boring at the same time. Behind Gillette, WY, 55 miles of nothing ahead of us, two people in our car mention that they need a pee break. But where stop in the middle of nothing? First of all, we write a sheet of paper saying “PEE” to inform the other cars. Very useful, but not the real thing if you don’t find a place to stop. People are getting more and more nervous, but suddenly (and not indicated by the road map) there is a rest area at the Powder River. Never was a rest area that important.
The names of creeks and villages show what early settlers thought of this area: Crazy Woman Creek, Dead Horse, …
Lunch break is at Buffalo, WY, one of the nicer little cities at the foot of the Bighorn Mountains. I am already fed up with McDo, so for the first time in my life I eat at Subways. I’m so hungry that I eat a one foot sandwich. I’m telling you: Now I know how long one foot is.
Now our cars have to climb from Buffalo (4645 ft) to the Powder River Pass (9666 ft). The scenery reminds of the Alps, although it is very unusual for us Germans to see dense pine forests at an elevation where there is no vegetation at all in Europe. The way down the Bighorns is even more spectacular. This does not look like any of the Middle European mountains. Plateaus ending in steep rock walls at both sides of the valley. We know this only from Wild West films.
The 28 miles from Tensleep to Worland are the driest part of the journey. Although we remember Worland as the most desperate place on earth from our journey four years ago, it’s not so bad at all this time. Less hot, more green, and a new McDonald’s, and: toilets that work. We continue our drive to Cody. The scenery is roughly the same as before, but a bit more interesting, because there is some scrap iron in the prairies along the road.
After Cody, the route becomes more scenic again. Tonight we will sleep at Camp Buffalo Bill near Yellowstone Park. We arrive there shortly before dusk, so there will be no time to show our slides. Anyway, the camp is quite nice, but everyone’s a bit nervous about bears. This is our first night in bear country, and we still have to get used to this fact. We have a late supper and then go to sleep, taking only the very important things into our tents, in order to avoid bear visits. Of course, there will be none of them.
Saturday, July 25
No Bears. Good. Camp Buffalo Bill has showers. And every troop has to present a cheer after the flag ceremony. Today the cheer must be about the word “Aloha”. Our Cheer is as follows:
“Gib mir ein A” — “A”,
“Gib mir ein L” — “L”,
“Gib mir ein O” — “O”,
“Gib mir ein H” — “H”,
“Gib mir ein A” — “A”,
“Das macht zusammen:” — “Aloha”,
“Sag’s nochmal:” — “Aloha”,
“Eins, zwo, drei” — “Oh”.
Thanks to Tim Scott for inventing this wonderful piece of prose. The “Oh” is spoken at a very high pitch, a feature that will be recycled in another cheer some days later. (Is this what’s meant by “A scout is cheerful”?)
Today, each vehicle will explore Yellowstone on its own. The only thing that is fixed (or that we still believe to be fixed) is the departure time at the park exit: 3:00 pm. I enter the white van (Bob’s), and we visit Yellowstone Lake, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and Paint Pot. Once we have to stop for quite a while, because a herd of buffalo crosses the road, and they know that they are stronger than us. Also we see pelicans at aptly named Pelican Creek, but no Gibbons at Gibbon Creek.
Our program is pretty minimal (no Old Faithful) in order to have more time for the two most beautiful things (Canyon and Paint Pot). Nevertheless, we arrive at the exit one hour late. And we are only the second vehicle of the six that are supposed to be here at three. We decide not to wait for the other ones, because we are the slowest vehicle, and we have most of the stuff for base camp. The road through Grand Teton National Park is very scenic, and we have a short meal (lunch or dinner? Nick decides it’s “dinch”, ‘cos “lunner” sounds silly.) at Jackson. If you order the cities of Wyoming by size, Jackson is number 11. But still it’s smaller than Loerick!
The road from Jackson to Pinedale is one of the most beautiful ones. It follows the very nice Hobback valley, and every once in a while you see the Wind River mountains in the distance. The weather is getting worse, however, and the gravel road to our campsite is not the best. But the worst part are the last 100 yards to the site. The thunderstorm, which is just passing away, has done its best to make the way almost impassable. We unload the trailer before Gordy pulls it to the campsite.
At the first moment, nobody likes the base camp site. It’s populated by not registered campers, bear warnings, and mud. The worst thing is that it’s about 10 minutes (by car!) to the next water tap. No showers, of course. We pitch our tents and wait for the rest of the group. It’s already dark, and we decide to postpone the packing of our backpacks to the next morning. Nobody sleeps very well, because everybody’s quite a bit excited about our hike starting tomorrow.
Sunday, July 26
We get up early and meet in the hiking groups for packing our stuff. It’s incredible how much fits into one backpack: Clothes, tent, ground pad, sleeping bag, tons of food, group equipment (like pots, stoves or bear proof containers). All in all, way more than 40 pounds for each of us. All this has to be organized, and so we are at the trailhead as late as 10:30, not a good time to start a mountain hike. At the trailhead, there is a book where everyone has to register who enters or leaves the mountains. No reports about bear sightings. By the way, “trailhead” is a word which simply doesn’t have any equivalent in German. Weird!
We fill our water bottles, make about three million group pictures, and start our hike. We are Group 3, which consists of Jim, Mindy, Matt E., Brian S., Thorsten, Didi, Sandra, and me.
The first mile is nice ‘n’ easy. The trail is not too steep and leads above the beautiful New Fork Lake, with terrific mountains up in the valley. Then the first difficulty: A river is to be crossed, and at the place where the trail meets it, it is to deep. So we move a bit upstream and find a place where it works (kind of): We have to get out of our boots. Crossing the river is not easy at all. You need a very good sense of balance, and without sandals (but with backpack) it’s almost impossible not to loose it. So those of us who have sandals help the other ones. On the other side, we can’t find the trail. The bushes are really dense, and it takes about five attempts to get through to the open plain, where we find the trail again. All in all, the whole river crossing business took us about 45 minutes.
We make a short rest on a rock, where the trail begins to climb. We still believe that we have plenty of time, and that our today’s hike will be some kind of pleasure cruise through the woods. After I look on the map that I got some minutes before the start, we know better. We still have 2300 ft to climb. That’s more than anyone was aware of, still I don’t worry, because most of the German scouts have done already tougher hikes from our summer camps.
The way meanders up the mountain and is quite steep. At least the maps are very good, so we can estimate the elevation we have already reached. We need more and longer breaks than I expected, and after several hundred feet of climbed elevation it becomes increasingly clear that we will have troubles to reach Rainbow Lake, our camp site for the night.
At 3:00 p.m. we rest at a meadow at the first plateau that we climbed, and still we have 1300 ft of elevation to go. Not all of the members of our group seem to be in good enough shape to do this. While we are discussing this, it begins to hail. The meadow where we are resting doesn’t seem to be a good place for the night, since there’s no water, and Mindy has identified some bear shit. So we decide to go down into another valley, nobody wants to go back the way we came. We test our cell phones to call base camp to pick us up there, but it doesn’t work. At least we reach Stan, a scout master back in Wisconsin, and he will do his best to inform our group.
Although I voted for going downhill, I am very disappointed to leave the mountains so early, actually almost crying for a moment. I feel that this trouble would have been avoidable if we as a group had obeyed some basic mountain hiking rules (start early, know what you’re going into, know your limits).
The trail down is totally beaten to a pulp by the hoofs of cattle. Definitely no fun to go here, and no fun for my boots, too. The sole of my left boot refuses to stay where it belongs and tries to leave my foot altogether to spend the rest of its life in the mud. Only a little spot of glue prevents it from doing so, and I walk the last mile with the only hope that I can keep together all parts of that boot. Thorsten decides that every problem on this hike should have a number:
This is problem number five,
number five, number five.
This is problem number five,
where is number six?
On our way downhill we have another phone call with Stan. He has informed the sheriff who sent his deputy to base camp to inform our group. Stan even has Topo maps of the area, so he can locate quit precisely where we are. For some time, the only song sung by the members of Group 3 is
I shot the sheriff,
but I did not shoot the deputy.
Finally we arrive at the wild watch station where we might meet people from base camp. While we are waiting, there’s problem number six. And we finally can call the sheriff. They did not yet find anyone in base camp, actually they didn’t even find base camp. But they promise to try again.
After hours of waiting, we decide to make supper and then pitch tents here, because it seems improbable that someone will pick us up here. Just as we start to do so, the white van arrives. To our big surprise, the driver is Bob, who should be leading Group 4 on their hike. We learn that they returned to base camp for more or less exactly the same reason as we did, and that they actually came out of the trail at the same spot where we did, and just about five minutes before us! We feel much better knowing that we are not the only group that had to return, and so does Bob.
Independently from Bob, Gordy arrives with his van, so there’s enough space to take all of us to base camp. Though we hiked maybe 6 miles, the way back is a 30 miles space trip on a gravel road of poorest quality. To boldly go where no man has gone before…
In base camp they already have prepared macaroni ‘n’ cheese for us. Strange, this time base camp doesn’t seem half as bad as it did yesterday. I guess everyone will sleep very well tonight.
Monday, July 27
Good morning. We are in base camp, who would have thought this? After breakfast, we discuss the possibility of leaving it again for a hike. It’s already too late to start today, but we could still do a three days hike with some members of Groups 3 and 4. Unfortunately, there’s only three of us who want to do this, so we drop the plan.
So, let’s enjoy base camp. There’s enough exciting stuff planned down here, so this is no bad choice at all. Today we have the possibility to visit “a real life ghost town”, as Gordy announced it. Also, a group will go fishing, and another group will visit Yellowstone again. I decide to go to the ghost town, South Pass city. The way there is an adventure on its own. Along the road there’s sagebrush, sagebrush, and sagebrush. And sagebrush, of course. But I don’t need to mention this, since sagebrush is the only thing that grows in the drier parts of the prairie.
The first stop is at a post office in Pinedale. I buy stamps, and the officer says “Danke” as I give him the money.
Another stop is where the Oregon Trail crossed the continental divide. This is the pass where hundreds of thousands crossed the main obstacle on their way west in the old days. The pass doesn’t seem to be very difficult to pass today, but well, our Suburbans are more comfortable than what they had then.
“A real life ghost town” is a very good description of what South Pass City is. They are restoring the old buildings and making a museum out of it. Quite neat. Tourists can even buy equipment for washing gold and try to do so. But we don’t, knowing that the gold rush is over.
On our way back we stop at Farson, WY. This is definitely one of the more absurd places, consisting of a motel, a tourist information, an ice cream shop, a gas station, and a fireworks shop. All the five of them in the middle of nowhere (the nowhere being filled with sagebrush). O.K., the ice cream is needed because it’s incredibly hot here, but why do people need fireworks out here? And why are there people at all? They seem to go here miles and miles by car, eat an ice cream, and go back home. Should this place be the most comfortable place of the area? Probably the least uncomfortable one. We meet Daniel who has eaten some of the more interesting parts of a bull for lunch.
Singing at the camp fire is fun tonight.
Tuesday, July 28
Were it not Tuesday, this day would be Wet Wednesday again! Today we are going to go rafting down the Snake River. First of all, this gives us the opportunity to go again on the beautiful Hobback Valley road. People in Jackson at the company selling Whitewater rafting are as inflexible as we know it only from Germany. Finally, 25 of us got their tickets and enter the bus to the rafting area.
The bus is an old school bus, and the driver tries to prove that rafting is the less dangerous part of the trip. We enter two rafts, and I am glad to be together with the less adventurous people. We have to row for ourselves, but there’s a guy from the company guiding us, and he does a very good job. He also does a very good job in caring that everyone gets wet, because this is part of the adventure we paid for. After a while, Lynn asks cautiously, “Are we having fun?” We do. We raft down the river for about two hours, and after a while we begin to wait for the rapids during the more silent parts instead of worrying about them. Only the last five minutes are not so enjoyable, because there’s a T-storm coming. But we reach our destination before it gets us.
On the way back, some people meet Group 2 which has returned today (two days early) from their hike. They returned because C.J. had a flu, and for a mix of other reasons, including mosquitos. Anyway, they are having fun and will spend another night at their trailhead to relax. So there’s only one group still in the mountains.
Two staff guys from Camp New Fork, a scout camp near base camp, visit us in the evening. Both of them speak German very well, and they are very interested in German scouting and “Scouting the World”.
Wednesday, July 29
Around noon, Emily, Gordy, Mike and me make a short hike along the New Fork Lake. Basically it’s the beginning of the trail that my hiking group did three days before. On our way we meet the fishing group and a fish (at Matt’s fishing line).
After the hike we make a short visit at Camp New Fork to use the showers. Some of our leaders have agreed with camp staff that we get hot showers for an evening with German songs.
In the evening we visit a cowboy show in Jackson. For 14 bucks you get the show and a dinner which is quite good. A group consisting of Lynn, Lisa, Shelby, Adam, and Leah was there already two hours ago, reserving good places for the entire group. After the dinner (self-service, but good stuff) the show begins. Four cowboys, singing and making jokes. They are really funny, though I understand maybe 60 percent of the jokes. Good entertainment, and the guys know how to sing. Well, it’s Western music, but it’s good. Though the show sometimes passes the boundary of unintended satire. Which makes the whole thing even funnier.
Very interesting is also the ticket. The back of it looks like this.
Thursday, July 30
In the morning, Emily, Gordy, Thorsten, Didi, Sebastian and me leave the camp site by car for another hike. We start at the trailhead where Group 1 is supposed to arrive this afternoon and hike along the Green River Lake. Very scenic, with terrific views upon Square Top Mountain. Unfortunately, the trail is getting worse, with very steep rock areas on the left, giving you the chance to fall down quite a couple of yards if you stumble. After a while, I decide not to go further because the trail is getting too narrow, an I don’t trust my feet. So Thorsten returns with me. Later we will learn that the poor quality of the trail is due to the fact that we missed the trail.
Back at the trailhead, we have about two hours of time until the rest of the group will return. I spend this time near the lake, where I make lots of nice pictures. The weather is changing every five minutes, and not too pleasant in fact, but it’s good for taking pictures. The group finally returns (on the correct trail, this time) without having met Group 1.
Later, back in base camp, we meet Group 1. They did complete their hike. Good Job! And they have a lot of stories to tell.
Tonight we have our visit at Camp New Fork, in exchange for the showers. None of the scouts in camp is visiting the event, but most of the staff are there and give us a friendly welcome. We sing all songs that are important for “Scouting the World” and some more. Four guys from Troop 88 also perform their famous “Dschinni” skit. (Nick as Dschinni, disappearing: “Unpoof!”) Tim invents another Cheer that becomes THE cheer for the rest of the trip (and probably for years to come):
Ach ja, Au!
where the Au is pronounced at a very high pitch. Tim makes everyone believe that this cheer is very traditional in German scouting. It might not be now, but it will become a tradition, sure!
After the songs I once more present our slides in the dining hall. The audience is very nice, and after the slide show an endless patch trading session begins. Also, they made hot upside down peach cake fore us. This is exactly what we need now. As we leave camp, it’s already late. So we decide to have our “award ceremony campfire” on another occasion. The drivers go to bed, because they’re gonna have a hard job the next three days. Some guys stay at the campfire, and we sing until early in the morning.
Friday, July 31
What a remarkable scenery today! But let’s tell things in the order they happen.
Today we are going to start our way back to Wisconsin. So once more we have to get up early, have a quick breakfast, and take down the whole base camp. This was our last night in bear country, and we are glad we didn’t meet one.
We start in the direction of Farson again, but suddenly the car begins to fool around, locking and unlocking doors and windows on its own several times. Spooky! We stop, check the fuses, and soon everything’s OK again. This time we actually use the South Pass to cross the Rockies, however on a better paved road and in the other direction than the settlers did. After the pass, the road goes down from a higher plain to a lower one, and on the way to Lander there are some very beautiful sights.
Our first stop today is Fort Washakie in the Wind River Indian Reservation. We meet Mr Schumacher there who is the lawyer of the Shoshone tribe (and Chris’ uncle). Chris’ T-shirt displays a Shakespeare quotation.
The first thing we do is kill all the lawyers.
First we see some Indian dances (and even have to join one). Then Chris’ uncle tells us about the legal status and the problems of the tribe. This is interesting, and so is the Indian food that we get. There is also an Indian museum that we visit.
We return to Lander to visit a McDonald’s (some people didn’t get enough Indian food). On the way there our cars have to find their way through one of the heaviest thunderstorms I’ve seen for a long time. Because of the bad weather, and because of an Indian powwow that could cause major traffic jams, we decide to take a detour south via Casper, WY. I can really recommend highway 26 from Lander to Casper. It’s the loneliest road I’ve ever seen. Plans like meeting at the first gas station in Natrona (Well, there’s Natrona county, so Natrona should be a city of some size!) fail, simply because Natrona consists of 3 houses and no gas station. Still there seems to be a reason for about ten people to live here, though we can’t figure out any.
On the way north from Casper to Buffalo, we meet the T-storm again. It’s even heavier than it was before, and sometimes we have to reduce the speed to about 10 mph. We pass Buffalo (though noone knows why we don’t stop and eat something) and go directly to Lake DeSmet, our camp site for this evening. We know this place from our journey four years ago and kind of like it, though nobody can explain why. 16 large Pizzas from Pizza Hut are our dinner which we order by phone.
… make sure it’s Tombstone, my dear.
Ja, ja, ja, ja,
Pizza from Tombstone is better, my dear.
(once more, even louder and more obnoxious…)
There is not much more to remark about Lake DeSmet, except that the night is clear, the high voltage wire is singing, and the same 23 guys are snoring that did so the nights before.
Saturday, August 1
The first thing to do after breakfast is the group picture. We ask a lady who’s also camping on this site to take them. She agrees, not knowing what she’s going into, there are about 3.897.453 cameras (or was it about 20, I don’t remember) waiting to get one or two pictures each. Luckily there are patient people in America.
Today the vehicles will take routes differing slightly from each other, depending on how much the people want to hike in the Badlands. I choose Tim’s van, planning a short hike there (in the Badlands, not in the van).
Our first destination today is Devils Tower, a steep rock which was formed when erosion left only the inner part of a volcano. There are myths about it, and Dave knows them all. We also have lunch there. Those who miss lunch see a climbing accident instead. There is also a prairie dog town, and we shoot some (only with the camera, of course). A short time after this we leave the incredibly rectangle-shaped state of Wyoming.
While driving, Tim insists in playing “Fun with famous quotations” with us. Daniel obviously has played this also the days before, knowing most of the answers even before Tim has completed his questions. The questions are about important things to know like “Who said on which occasion ‘Let them eat cake’?”
Our next stop is Crazy Horse, a monument being cut into a mountain showing an Indian chief, as a counterpart of Mount Rushmore which represents the “white” history of the United States. It is still pretty much in the process of construction, and they say it might be finished 30 years from now. Someone also tells us that they said the same 30 years ago. By the way, the man who had the idea was an Eagle Scout. (By the way, the BSA homepage says that 33 of the American astronauts were Eagle Scouts too, and they also list the ranks of the other ones. More than half of the astronauts were in scouting for some time.) Anyway, the fact that we are scouts makes the fee cheaper for us at Crazy Horse, and so did it at Devils Tower.
Having seen Crazy Horse, we also have to see Mount Rushmore, of course. They changed it a lot since I was there four years ago. Lots of rectangular buildings for parking, dining, tourist information, and other stuff. It’s less natural, and too large, the monument itself appears smaller than it did because of this. Unfortunately, I miss the museum.
Time to eat, and all of us had too much fast food the last days. So we and another car decide to get some real food. We stop at a steak restaurant in Rapid City. The food is very good, and we eat as much as we can and yet some more. By the way, it’s already getting dark, and there will be no chance to hike in the Badlands. But the weather is bad anyway, so we set the right priorities.
On our way to the Badlands we see thousands of Harley Davidsons. They have a meeting in Sturgis, and they expect 500.000 bikers. This is several times the population of the whole area. Though it’s night, Highway 240 through the Badlands is very unusual and scenic. Unusual is also the snake that is lying on the road ahead of us. The camp site in the Badlands is strange, by any standards. We pitch our tents in this rather unreal scenery. The air is full of sounds, there is a constant loud humming of the crickets all through the night. There are also lots of spiders, and we don’t want to know what else. At least, this time everyone pitches his tent very carefully to make sure that no animals will get in tonight.
This is our last night together as a group, and we all say thanks to the people who made this trip possible. Thank you, Post 896, Troop 88, Tim, Daniel, and Joerg. Also the Germans finally get the merit badges they achieved at Camp Phillips. And all of us get newly created “Scouting the World” wooden badges. So it’s already 1:00 a.m. as we go to bed.
Sunday, August 2
Bad news first. Kathy’s van doesn’t start after the first break, and they can’t fix it today. So we have to leave Kathy and Lynn here in the middle of nowhere. At least there is a motel, and they have a free room in spite of the fact that the area is crowded with bikers.
This is the more boring part of the journey, nothing but corn fields for almost all of the day. And it starts raining and doesn’t stop for hours. Very hard job for the drivers.
We arrive at Eau Claire at nine. Now it’s time to say goodbye to many of our new (and old) friends. But everyone is also looking forward to spend the night in their host families, in a real bed, after a real shower.
Monday, August 3
Sleeping until eleven feels good, so does relaxing during the day. Laurie has a new job and seems to be quite happy about her first day. Matt is hanging around with his friends that he missed for some time.
In the evening, after spending some time in a book store, the Erdmans take me to a good restaurant, and for the first time in my life I eat ostrich. Great. A perfect last evening. Jim drinks German beer, I drink Leinenkugel’s, Laurie prefers wine.
Tuesday, August 4
The sad day of leaving. Saying goodbye to Jim is especially difficult, having spent more than 3 weeks with him. The bus takes us to Rogers Park and Ride (once more to meet the people from New Richmond), and then to the Twin Cities airport. We still have some time left to sing our (Tim’s) favourite songs. Some older passengers have a lot of fun with this.
Finally, at about 7:00 pm, it’s time to enter the plane. Feels bad to leave all those people there. But not as bad as it was last time, since this time there’s a lot of confidence that we will meet again.
Joerg and Daniel try to get a free flight to America by deferring their flight to the next day because of overbooking. But suddenly, there’s someone missing on the plane, and there’s space for them, so they have to join us again.
Ueber den Wolken
muss die Freiheit wohl grenzenlos sein.
Alle Aengste und Sorgen, sagt man,
blieben darunter verborgen, und dann
wuerde was hier gross und wichtig erscheint
ploetzlich nichtig und klein.
Wednesday, August 5
It becomes night only on the right hand side of the plane, so noone really knows when Wednesday begins. Even worse, noone knows when Bolle’s birthday really begins. So, suddenly someone defines that midnight is right now and starts to sing “Happy birthday”.
The flight is long, but not too bad. People spend their remaining dollars at duty free shops in Reykjavik airport. Finally, we’re back to Germany and have only another 3 1/2 hours to go by bus to Loerick.
Sentimental final remark, especially for Tim: It seemed to us that the flight back was slightly shorter than the flight to America. Maybe friendship can make the distance between continents shrink.
Less sentimental remark on the last remark: Save the Atlantic Ocean! Stop “Scouting the World” now!
Yet another final remark: Ignore the second remark. There are more important things than the Atlantic Ocean. And after all, the Pacific Ocean would be wider instead. (Sorry, C.J.!)
The return of the son of final remarks: Would you please stop this silly final remark stuff NOW?
The end. Ach ja, au!