Moment of truth: The interview…

And so it began!

The one-story school building had that “summer-cleaned-ready-to-start” look and smell, which I quickly picked up on the moment I scurried inside out of the downpour.

It was nighttime now, and the interior of the place was dark, with the exception of the small office directly ahead of me, and the library a couple of doors down. It wasn’t hard to figure out that this would be where the board meeting would be held, and the sound of voices from there confirmed this for me.

I didn’t have time to stand around and assess the situation, as a short, slightly balding man approached me from the school office. He smiled and introduced himself and said that he was glad I’d made it all the way from “up North.” He told me to make myself comfortable in his office until they were ready for me, and he’d come get me when they were.

Like waiting in a doctor’s office, a million thoughts coursed through my mind as the minutes seemed to plod on like molasses. Finally, the principal came and got me, and we headed the short distance to the library where the superintendent and the entire board of education were seated around a couple of long tables in the center of the room. In front of them was a single chair, no doubt for me to sit in and perform to the best of my ability, if I wanted to secure a teaching position—my first—in their school. And as I managed to put on a “happy” face and look relaxed (I was anything but), I eased myself into the chair and took a couple of deep breaths, all the while noticing that each member seemed to be studying me very closely. A few friendly nods of heads were extended my way, but most were stoic, serious demeanors.

I don’t recall after all these years exactly how long the interview lasted, but it seemed as though it was much longer than it really was. Throughout the whole ordeal, I could hear the rain pounding unmercifully on the roof, which made hearing difficult. When the interview had come to a close, and I was still a functioning human, I had a pretty positive feeling about it all. I seemed to have handled all of their questions–unexpected ones as well as the “usual” type. If nothing else, I had gained a valuable bit of experience in the interviewing process—and with the whole school board, superintendent, and principal, to boot! 

Afterwards, the principal told me that he thought I’d done well and that the board seemed to be impressed. Of course there were other candidates to interview in the days ahead, but I could expect to hear from him—one way or another—by the first of the next week. He wished me luck and reminded me to travel back home safely that night. 

And so, I returned to the car where dad was waiting, and the rain had eased up a bit. I gave a quick rundown of all that had taken place and how I felt about things. I knew I’d spend many miles on the ride ahead, rolling things over in my mind of how I could have done better, and I was awfully glad that my dad was with me on that dark and stormy night.

But now, we needed to get ourselves northbound, as it would be very late when we got home to Western Springs. Without further delay, we pulled out of the school parking lot and turned back to the interstate to head a short distance eastward to Vandalia where we’d connect with another old and famous highway to begin our travel north.

Until next time…

Iconic roads & parts unknown…

 ( In my previous post, I wrote of my attempts to land my first teaching job. The story continues here.)

My dad, God rest his soul, offered to take a day off from his work and spend the day with me visiting Munster, Indiana, and then down through “parts unknown” to the Mulberry Grove, Illinois, School Board meeting that same night!

And that’s exactly how it went, on what turned out to be a very memorable and important day and night in my life. As for the morning interview at the Munster school, I never heard from them again afterwards—although the experience seemed positive, unlike my first one a few weeks before. I didn’t have time to stew about anything since we had a long trip ahead of us in order to reach the 7:00  p.m. school board meeting that night.

While I’d been with the Munster High School principal, Dad had planned out the route we’d take to get to Mulberry Grove. The closest and most convenient route from where we were at the moment was US Highway 41, at one time the major route between Copper Harbor, Michigan, and Miami, Florida. Of course, it would later be replaced by Interstate slabs, but at the time, Highway 41 would serve us well, getting us to Terre Haute and I-70, where we’d turn west to get to the town of Mulberry Grove way down in Bond County in south central Illinois.

With the Munster interview finished, we set out on the next leg of our “job interview” adventure, southbound on Indianapolis Avenue—U.S. Highway 41—through a drizzly, dreary July morning. Dad drove; I sat back and closed my eyes, pondering what lay ahead miles down the road, hoping that the rain that had set in that morning, as we made our way south, was not a harbinger of things to come.

Down through the rural Hoosier land we travelled. I dozed, off and on, and finally was fully alert and awake by the time we reached Terre Haute a couple of hours later. At this point, we’d leave one of the nation’s old, iconic roads and hop on I-70 and travel west. Being the first time that I’d ever been in this portion of either Indiana or, soon, Illinois, the surroundings took on a rather new and special meaning for me. It was my first introduction into south central Midwest. I had only heard or read about many of the towns and places we came upon.

Before too many more miles clicked off, Dad stopped for gas and a “necessary” visit to the facilities. Afterwards, I took over driving so Dad could nap a bit. If all went as expected, we would be in the Mulberry Grove area by mid-afternoon in plenty of time for that night’s meeting.

Of course, I had no idea that the Interstate on which we were driving was the replacement for another famous highway, U.S. 40—The National Road. As I later learned, the majority of its route through Illinois, follows this road. However, on this day I wasn’t at all concerned about any of that; my focus was on getting to the school board meeting on time that evening. Eventually, I’d appreciate the historic importance of these roads I journeyed on at the moment.

As we neared our destination in early afternoon, the rain had abated, leaving a hot and humid day in its wake. Dad and I were both eager to exit I-70, and the large, green sign couldn’t have appeared ahead at a better time! 

“Mulberry Grove Next Exit”

As I slowed the car to leave I-70, Dad said, “Well, we made it with plenty to spare. I think we need to find somewhere to grab a bite.” Although I was in complete agreement, that was easier said than done, since we had no way of knowing where anything was–or, if there were any restaurants nearby.

On first driving into Mulberry Grove, I read the sign that indicated that the town was comprised of 700 people. As it turned out, there was a gas station/restaurant just outside the town, which seemed to be the center of any activity. We took a quick drive through the town–didn’t take long!–and I had a rather sinking feeling in my stomach. What a difference from the hustle and bustle of the world we’d left up north that morning! Two words came to mind: Tired & Worn.

I now had thoughts of turning the car around and finding the closest road running north and forgetting this whole idea of going through with an interview in an unfamiliar area in front of total strangers. Dad had a feeling that I was thinking this, and he broke the spell and calmed my churning insides: “You’ll feel better after you relax and get something to eat. You’ve come this far, and you’ll do well.”

Although I was inclined to think that Dad was just trying to put me at ease, I agreed to give it a chance and to get myself ready for the upcoming interview that night. Besides, I was hungry, and we needed to find some place that offered a decent meal. And so that was our next objective!

Until next time…

A long-ago teaching job interview “adventure” . . .

I have now been retired from teaching middle school kids reading and English since June of 2007, yet I still can recall—with vivid clarity—the  job interview back in late-summer of 1973 that helped me get the proverbial “foot in the door” and eventually secure a teaching job. It had become rather a hectic and frantic “scramble” that summer to overcome the loss of a position before I even had the position! 

None of this helter-skelter would have been necessary had the job I’d thought was mine had acutally been offered to me. Alas, it wasn’t, and the whole unforeseen experience was a colossal wakeup call, one I very much needed, mind you! How naive I had been to believe that my first teaching position was a foregone conclusion. . . in the bag. . . a sure thing, etc.! I even had delusions of spending most of that post-graduation summer lazing around and taking my sweet time gathering up whatever I would need for my new life in a different town.

Oh, how wrong I was!

When June turned into July, and I still hadn’t heard from the superintendent, who’d previously “unofficially” assured me that I’d have a job in the school system back in my old hometown following my graduation, I began to worry. As much as I hated it, I called and spoke with him directly. After the general run-around, he informed me that the job was no longer vacant and wished me good luck on my future career endeavors. Thus, any thoughts of “lazing around” for the rest of the summer quickly flew the coop!

After a period of disbelief and shock, I came to my senses and knew I had to figure out a way to jump start my situation and get going on a now-crucial job search. During this near-panic-driven stage, I saw an ad in the local paper for a teacher employment agency.

Without hesitating, I contacted the agency and signed up to receive vacancy notices each week, even though I understood that any job I took would require me to pay a fee out of my first contract. At this point, I wasn’t too picky and didn’t rule out any opening that came my way. It was imperative to find something before the new school year was to begin. July didn’t offer me much wiggle room in that regard!

Soon, I began receiving the “vacancy” bulletins, with job listings and contact information. Had we had our computers and iPads and the Internet then, all of this probably would have been solved before it really got going!

Although I was not very familiar with much of Illinois outside of suburban Chicago, I was willing to go just about anywhere if there was job security and a pathway to a worthwhile career in the mix. I think it was kind of the beginning of my interest in setting off to previously unheard of spots. Of course, being twenty-three, I’m sure I didn’t always think things through all the way, but I had to go about things a different way now.

The first opening that looked “possible,” was at a high school in a small town in central Illinois, not far from Champaign. “Might as well get things going,” I told myself. I arranged for an interview with the principal there. I’d like to say that the two-and-a-half hour drive through the cornfields in typical summer heat a few days later, paid substantial dividends.

Quite frankly, it was a complete waste of time from the very beginning. The lethargic principal seemed merely to be going through the motions, not really showing any interest in what I might have to offer as a member of the teaching staff. Disappointed, I went back out into the hot and humid air and headed back northbound, thinking about what my next opportunity would be, or, perhaps, what other field of work I might consider.

I didn’t have to wait long to find out. The next job bulletin I received included a couple of potentially rewarding positions, and I quickly contacted the appropriate people at the two schools to arrange interviews.

The first one, in Munster, Indiana, just southeast of Chicago and not a far drive at all from home, would be with a high school principal on a Tuesday morning a week from my phone call.

The second one, in a place named Mulberry Grove, in south central Illinois, would take place the same evening of my Munster interview.

Two interviews in one day. . . Hundreds of miles apart. . . Could it be done, realistically? 

I had no idea, but at this point, I was willing to give it a try. After digging out my Rand-McNally Road Atlas, I figured that it would be about 350 miles between the two places. When I mentioned this situation to my parents, they were glad I was getting some leads for a job, but they thought my plan wasn’t a wise one to attempt alone.

Stay tuned.

Until next time

Discovering a highway & unexpected career direction. . .

I don’t really recall where I first became intrigued with all things “Route 66,” but I’m thinking that it probably came about during the many times I actually drove lots of miles on a great portion of the Illinois segment beginning back in the 70s. Of course, at the time I really didn’t realize the significance of the highway’s history between Chicago and St. Louis.

Upon graduating from Kent State in the summer of 1973, I was ready to head home to the suburbs of Chicago and while away the days until I heard from the superintendent of schools in an Indiana town in which I was certain I’d be teaching in one of the middle schools.

After all, I’d met with him a couple of times, and there had seemed to be a mutually good feeling between the two of us, and, more importantly, that he seemed eager to offer me the position—sooner than later—as soon as I had all of my requirements and a degree all secured. Now, everything had finally come together. It would only be a short time before I received the call with all of the details, the contract would be in the mail for my formal signature, etc., etc. 

I’m still waiting!

The famous line, “The best laid plans of mice and men, oft’ go astray,” was about to be perfectly illustrated as the summer wore on. I didn’t worry too much through the rest of June, but when the 4th of July came and went, I began to have that queasy feeling that things weren’t quite right. What was going on?

Realizing that teaching positions were probably being filled  pretty quickly in preparation for the new school year, I had to step up and find out exactly what was going on. I placed the long distance call from my parents’ home in Illinois to the superintendent back in Indiana.

When I reached him, I didn’t want to sound overly concerned—although I was all of that—so I simply told him that since I hadn’t heard anything pertaining to the teaching position we’d discussed earlier, that I was calling to find out where I stood in being offered the job.

The silence on the other end seemed to extend for a long, long time. In reality, it was only a few seconds before the superintendent replied that the position was being given to another candidate, and I wouldn’t be offered one.

Even though my stomach now had churned itself into a total maelstrom of sickening nausea, I managed to eke out a question as to why I had been passed over, especially since I had been led to believe that I would be getting the job during our previous two, positive meetings.

His answer was something about my student teaching evaluation (another story for another time, by the way!) and that I wasn’t right for the English teacher position after all. He didn’t care to go any further to clarify for me any of this, and when he wished me luck in my future endeavors, I was left confused,  shocked, and worried.

This late in the summer, would I be able to find something, especially since I was pretty much unfamiliar with any of the school systems in the state of Illinois? I only had lived there during summers after we’d moved from out of state after high school graduation. Whatever lay ahead, I knew I best get cracking and begin a search for SOMETHING.

And so that’s kind of where my travels on Illinois’ stretch of Route 66 comes into the picture. I vividly remember that  first time out there, in unfamiliar territory, driving the five-hour trip back from southern Illinois through a steady rain storm with my dad, following a job interview with the principal, superintendent, and the entire Board of Education earlier that evening. 

At the time, I didn’t pay any attention to the road or what it eventually would come to mean to me. I was only focused on landing a job. Would the one I’d interviewed for that night, the one so far from familiar surroundings, be where I’d begin my career?

After what had happened with the Indiana job falling through, I wasn’t willing to speculate one way or another as we clicked off the miles through the rain on Route 66 to get back to Chicagoland.

In the next post, I’ll explain how that distant job interview came about and how things eventually came together and just how The Mother Road would weave itself through it all.

Until next time. . .

Travel and new adventures…

IMG_5608As I’ve mentioned many times, one of the truly enjoyable things in my life is travel. And since I retired in 2007, I have been able to experience many, many miles “out there” on the road!

Of course, a good number of the travel adventures haven’t come about until we gave up our summer cottage rental a few years ago. We always knew that we wouldn’t be able to afford to do both: a summer cottage and the expense of nice trips. So, after several summers spent on Magician Lake in Sister Lakes, Michigan, we opted to give it up beginning in 2017 and take those trips to places we’d longed to see and visit.

And 2017 was certainly a memorable one for our travels. In mid-August, with a group of friends and otherIMG_5251 acquaintances, we embarked on a Holland America cruise to Alaska’s Inside Passage by way of Vancouver. I had been on one other cruise previously, and it couldn’t hold a candle to this cruise in terms of elegance, comfort, and amenities. It certainly whetted my appetite to “go cruising” in the future! There was never a time on the trip that I was bored or disappointed in the itinerary or the cruising life in general. My one regret for the whole trip, though, was my health (heart valve issue and A-fib) which hampered my ability—or desire—to walk and enjoy the ports of call: Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Denali, and Anchorage.

The smoked salmon we had in Ketchikan, the trip to Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, the train ride through history on the White Pass & Yukon Route out of Skagway and sampling Spruce Tip Ale afterwards, the stark beauty of Glacier Bay are all “moments” forever etched in my bank of memories.

Leaving the ship for the final time in Seward, we made the long bus ride up to Denali National Park where we spent an overnight, leaving little time for any real exploration of the area. The next morning we boarded the IMG_5375McKinley Explorer train, with domed cars for glorious views en route to Anchorage. As luck would have it, it was a crystal clear day, with visibility unimpeded, making Mt. McKinley/Denali as clear and close-up as anyone could have hoped for.

Through all of the miles, the only wildlife we saw other than birds and small game, was a black bear cub scooting back into the forest as we zoomed past. The ubiquitous moose failed to show, leaving me just a bit disappointed.

After spending the night in Anchorage, we had all of the next day free to sight-see and enjoy the beautiful sunshine of an Alaskan summer. The colors were out everywhere the eye could see, provided by flowers larger than we were used to back in the Midwest!

As night approached, and our bus hauled us to the Anchorage Airport, most of us were ready to get back home. Of course, our flight didn’t leave until midnight, so it would be a “red eye” special, of a full airliner, that took us back to O’Hare International.

Weary and travel worn, we made it back safe and sound and recalled all of those terrific moments of our group’s fun days just past.

But that wasn’t the end of that summer’s travel. In September, Carolyn and I would set out on the next adventure—driving Route 66! 

Until next time…

IMG_5335

Happy birthday to me…

I’ve been away from this blog for far too long, and what better time to jump back into posting some poignant and cogent thoughts than on my birthday? Yep, I’ve reached another milestone in this life, and it’s a terrific day outside to add to the occasion. At this writing, a few minutes past 10:00 A.M. Central Time, it’s sunny, clear, and 73° with a most delightful breeze. To say the least, it was perfect for my early-morning coffee on the deck, one of the few times I’ve been able to do so this “spring” with all of the chilly and rainy weather that’s been the rule rather than the exception here in northern Illinois.

The farmers have been desperate to find a “window” to be able to get their fields prepared and planted in time for a fall harvest. Usually by this time each year, corn and soy beans are sprouting up from the good, rich soil. It is doubtful if the field directly behind us will even be planted this year. It has become pretty much an overgrown wasteland. With the warmer dry weather lately, I look out each day to see if any tractors are getting going to break it up and get it planted. Alas, nothing yet!

Weather issues aside, we have spent several weekends “out and about,” mostly for family events: High school graduations in Omaha and West Lafayette; a three-day visit to see my mother in Ohio. 

In early May, I set out one Saturday and took part in the Illinois Route 66 Association’s Red Carpet Corridor event between Joliet and the central Illinois town of Towanda. The gorgeous day provided a wonderful backdrop for driving from town to town along the famous old Mother Road. The day brought back many memories of 2017 when we drove the whole route—Chicago to Santa Monica Pier in California.

And, of course, there have been the grandsons’ baseball games to attend, and the annual NASCAR weekend over in Brooklyn, Michigan. Again, it was a fun time, with the exception of having the big race rained out on Sunday. As always, that’s the chance one takes. Seems as though we’re hitting more rain issues every year. Mother Nature enjoys playing spoiler with us.

With summer about to bloom again, it’s time for me to get a move on and finish my writing projects that have lain dormant for too long. It’s time to continue my water exercise program I began in May at the YMCA three days a week. It’s time to go for walks and find those smiles once again. It’s time to bring this blog back to its original intent when I launched it a few years ago. It’s time to make this birthday one of re-emphasizing that life is good.

Happy birthday to me!

Catching up and some “Super Sunday” thoughts…

OK. It’s been way too long since I actually sat down with the sole purpose to write something to post on Down Many Roads—my long-standing blog about various topics of which I’m interested. And I’ve frittered away so many opportunities to do that very thing during the past several weeks and months. Reading, rather than writing, has still been my “go to” activity when I’m up before dawn most mornings, and I feel rather guilty about that—but not that guilty! Recently, I have enjoyed reading the following books: Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan; The Russia Hoax, by Greg Jarrett; The Saga of the Pony Express, by Joseph J. Di Certo;

Since I last posted regarding our wonderful adventure on the Oregon Trail with our grandsons, I have been busy with a few road trips to Ohio to see Mom and my older sister and husband. Mom turned 90 last month and is doing remarkably well. We had just returned from an 18-day Panama Canal cruise, and our intention was to make the six hour drive to northern Ohio to celebrate her birthday on the actual day—January 22. But a nagging viral infection entered the scene, as did the return of the Polar Vortex, preventing me from making the trip to the shores of Lake Erie.

About that same time, we had been inundated with continuous snowfalls, accumulations mounting daily. As such, I’m planning a trip out in a couple of weeks, hoping that this sudden thaw and this stretch of very pleasant weather will hold on for a while. Fingers crossed.

Our aforementioned cruise began on January 2, when we flew out of O’Hare to San Diego. From start to finish, the whole trip was wonderful, particularly the warm and comfortable weather all the way along, where we ended up in Fort Lauderdale and flew home from there. I will be writing about the highlights of this adventure in future posts.

Watching the Super Bowl yesterday left me in a total state of “the blahs.” Not only was the game a complete flop, the commercials—usually the highlight of Super Sunday—were non existent. There is definitely something going on in our world and society that has changed things that are supposed to be fun into anything but. Too much preachy content that caters to a generation I find difficult to comprehend much of the time. The outcome was not really surprising, and I’m not a Patriots football fan. However, I do admire their achievements and their adherence to off-the-field obligations. Enjoy your White House visit, Patriots!

Now, it’s time to focus on getting through February. Good to be back and writing! See you sooner than later…

Trail’s end…

Writing now from northern Illinois, and looking back to our wonderful mid-July trip out on a stretch of the Oregon Trail in Wyoming, I still smile at the many moments and memories forged in that three-day adventure.

Our final day dawned as crystal clear and bright as the previous two had. And this IMG_0022.jpegmorning’s breakfast didn’t disappoint, either. We weren’t sure how far we would travel on this last day, but we would find out that some beautiful, open country lay ahead. Morris told us that our part of the trip would be finished by lunch time.

Leaving camp, we headed out once more and followed the rugged trail through private land and that of the Bureau of Land Management. We encountered more Mormons making their summer handcart journey. Everyone was friendly and eager to stop and watch as our horse drawn covered wagon rolled along nearby.

IMG_4485.jpegGrandson Jack once again spent most of the morning riding Taz, and brother Matt was invited to ride up on the driver’s seat with Morris. After a time, Morris turned the reins over to Matt, IMG_0052.jpegwho drove us over more original ruts of the Oregon Trail.

Before we realized it, the morning had run on toward lunch time, and as we arrived at another of the many fence gates, Morris announced that our part of the trip was finished.

IMG_0080.jpeg

It was one final lunch out in the great wide open, breathing in the terrific air and basking in the glorious high plains sunshine. Then, it was time to load our trail backpacks and various other things we’d had along with us into the pickup that would haul us back to the remote spot where our car was parked.IMG_0101.jpeg

And it was as simple as that! It seemed that no sooner had our adventure begun, that it had just as quickly come to an end. Fond farewells to Morris and our other traveling companions occurred and then we climbed into the pickup that Randy would drive to get us to the cars.

It felt good to unload and put our belongings into our car. We pointed the car back toward Casper, where we would be spending the night before heading out the next morning to Devils Tower, Crazy Horse, and Mount Rushmore.

With a sense of accomplishment, we all relaxed and smiled at the notion that we’d be showering and putting on clean clothes for the first time all week!IMG_0161.jpeg

 

Wagon Westward! – (Pt. 2)

Day 2- Somewhere out in the High Plains of Wyoming on the Oregon Trail, near the Sweetwater River

35826461915_90e97a4cc8_b.jpgDawn arrived, seemingly quickly, and was spectacular as we awoke from a restful night. Once, during the night, I had found my way carefully out of the tipi to “check on nature,” and was treated to an awesome sky of billions of stars overhead, providing all of the light there was. Off in the distance, a few coyotes called out. Later, the hoot of an owl broke the stillness. By first light, most of us were ready to get on with the day’s adventure ahead.

Trail hand, Randy, proceeded with getting the morning fire ready for breakfast. Matt, always the helper, pitched in and lent a hand. The rest of us went about rolling up ourIMG_4453.jpg sleeping bags and packing our cots to stow once again in the goose neck of the trailer. We also had to take down the tipis and mess tent after breakfast. 

 We had some time to do all of this as we had to wait for Morris to get back with the pickup truck, having left in the night to drive back to Casper to pick up a family of three, who would be joining us for the rest of the trip.

IMG_9948.jpgBreakfast was nothing short of excellent! Thick strips of bacon, fresh eggs, potatoes all cooked on a flat top over charcoal were delicious. And the trail coffee truly hit the spot.

Following our morning’s feast, and quite satisfied, we finished breaking down the campsite and getting everything packed and stowed on the trailer and were just waiting for Morris and the new folks to join us. It was late morning when the blue pickup pulled into camp, and Morris immediately introduced the Collins family, and began harnessing the two horses up to the wagon. We were about to hit the trail once more.

IMG_1973.jpg
Hitting the trail – Day 2

What lay ahead as we bumped along the trail, was the infamous Rocky Ridge, considered one of the most treacherous parts of the Oregon Trail. I elected to stay in the wagon to “ride it out,” as the others walked to lighten the load. To say that it was a rough and wild ride going up and over the stairstep-like rocky obstacles would be a vast understatement.

IMG_9975.jpg
We continued on through land belonging to private owners and much of that of Bureau of Land Management. Along the way, we came upon IMG_9893.jpgMormons who were pushing or pulling handcarts along the trail. Thousands of Mormons visit Wyoming to re-enact traveling the Trail with handcarts to symbolize the suffering of Mormon’s who traveled
the  Trail in 1856-1860.IMG_4480.jpg

Before we knew it, we had come to our camp site. It was in a meadow that abutted a small grove of trees and a rather steep hill behind.

Since we “knew the drill” from yesterday, it didn’t take us long at all to set up the mess tent, the tipis, and to get things ready for that night’s dinner of rib eye steaks, green beans, and another dutch oven berry cobbler. Outstanding!IMG_0008.jpgIMG_1992.jpg

Afterwards, we all enjoyed spending some time around a campfire as the day gave way to dusk and then to darkness. Tired from another day’s journey, we climbed into our cots and sleeping bags and had no trouble getting to sleep.

IMG_0011.jpg

IMG_0012.jpg
End of Day 2 – All is well!

Next: All Good Things Must End-Day 3

 

 

Miles of Memories…On the Trail – (Pt. 1)

Our summer travels in our trusty Chevy Equinox have netted well over 4,000 miles. But, as I like to say, they’re all wonderful miles! Miles of memories! And it’s not just the miles alone that count for all of this, but rather the people who have ridden along with us down those many miles.

Back in July, we had the pleasure of having our two grandsons—Jack (12) and Matt (10)—outIMG_9931.jpg to Casper, Wyoming, as passengers and participants for a three-day journey along part of the original Oregon Trail in a covered wagon.

Going in, we had no idea of just what to expect, but we came away from the experience feeling like it was one of the best things we’d ever done.

And though they are too young to actually admit that it was an adventure of a lifetime, we’re pretty certain that Jack and Matt will carry the memories of the journey with them their whole lives, Grandpa and Grandma notwithstanding.

And this was no amusement park staged make-believe trip. Everything was authentic and custom made—from the covered wagon to the tipis we slept in for two nights out in the middle of nowhere on the High Plains of Wyoming.

Historic-Trails-West-1-770x480.jpgThis all came about nearly a year ago when my wife started researching outfits that provided these kinds of tours. And that is when she came in contact with Morris Carter and his business, Historic Trails West, out of Casper.

When the date to leave finally arrived (following the boys’ baseball season on July 15) we pointed our loaded up Equinox west for the long drive out, stopping in Fremont, Nebraska, for a quick overnight on the way.

After arriving in Casper the next evening, the boys unwound in the pool at the Ramkota Hotel, followed by a good night’s sleep in a comfortable bed.

IMG_4430.jpg
Matt in front of the Ramkota Hotel

Following a wonderful breakfast at the hotel the next morning, we were up and out to meet up with Morris by 8 a.m. to begin our three-day covered wagon trek. Little did we know just how amazing the next few days would be!

IMG_9851.jpg
First stop: Independence Rock.

Following Morris, who was driving his pickup pulling a 40-foot custom-made trailer that contained three horses, the wagon, various equipment and necessary items for the trip, and a porta-potty, we came upon

IMG_9847.jpg
Morris’s trailer

famous landmarks like Independence Rock, Devils Gate, and Split Rock. The early travelers and pioneers used these as guides and indicators of being on the right path west.

IMG_9865.jpgSeveral miles later, we finally reached our “setting off” place, a camp run by the Mormons.

The first duty was to get the trailer unloaded, the wagon cover (bonnet) attached, and make ready to “hit the trail.”

Jack and Matt’s first job became obvious when they each were handed a shovel and directed to the portion of the trailer where the horses had

IMG_9873.jpg
“Super Scoopers”

been riding.

Finally, all was ready and Morris called out to the two-horse team of big white Percherons (Jess and Jordan) to get going. And so we bumped along, crossing the first creek right away and slowly winding our way along a dirt trail westward.

IMG_9876.jpg
Tazz and Matt getting to know each other

We also had another horse (Tazz) for anyone who wished to ride. Matt started out on Tazz and later switched off to let his brother ride. They both enjoyed riding the trail atop Tazz!

IMG_9920.jpg
Jack up on Tazz

One of the horses (Jess) had developed a sore hoof along the way and was limping badly by this time. Morris knew that a change in the horse teams would be necessasry before tomorrow’s journey continued, and he was in contact with his home base to arrange for a switch during the night ahead.

After nearly eleven miles and experiencing so much wide open space and scenic surroundings, and the afternoon growing late, we reached our first night’s camping site. In a vast and wide open space, we had our first experience of setting up camp.

First, the horses were unhitched and watered and allowed to roam and graze in the vast open spaces. Under the guidance and instruction from Morris and Randy, we all helped IMG_9937.jpgto put up the cook tent and help with setting up a couple of long tables and chairs. Next, the two tipis were up in a relatively quickly, ready for our cots and sleeping bags.

Soon, Randy had the charcoal ready for the potatoes and pork chops,

IMG_9938.jpg
Morris “coaling up” the dutch oven cobbler

and the dutch oven cherry cobbler cooked slowly over the heat. It was a delicious trail meal that first night out, and afterwards we crawled into our sleeping bags relatively soon.

IMG_4452
Sun setting on our first day

Next: On the Trail-Day 2