Flying West

Friday, May 6 2128 CDT
32,000 ft. – somewhere over Missouri

Our grand trip came to its grand end today, and as much fun as it was (and it was a whole lot of fun) I am certainly glad to be out of the car and done with the 50+ hours of driving we did. At the moment, I’m on American Airlines flight 1288 to Phoenix to meet my stepdad, Richard. My mom and sister should be in Denver, about ready to take the second leg of their flight in to Phoenix. Kinda funny that I was just there, and now they’re in Denver, too.

Anyways, when I last left you we were on our way to Rapid City, SD to meet up with one of my all time best friends, Nate Lail, and spend a day in his home town. We arrived there about 6:30 in the evening, met with Nate, and then went to his dad’s house for dinner. We ate and chatted, and I talked with Jocelyn, Nate’s sister, about our project for Dr. Lennox’s class and how he said himself that our encyclopedia was the best in the class. Yay…all that hard work paid off, I suppose.

We left Rapid and went out into the Black Hills, which I believe is one of my favorite places in the world. We camped the night, complete with roasted hot dogs and two games of poker (what is camping without a little Texas Hold’em?) Then slept very soundly until the next morning. Our morning hike was of Mount Baldy, which is right next to Mount Rushmore. It’s a great hike of about 5 miles, and includes not only your standard trail hiking, but culminates in about 200 feet of bouldering (rock climbing, but not the kind you need gear for) to get to the top.

We also did part of the Sylvan Lake trail, which basically leads to a really cool cave that we climbed down in. You climb up 150 feet or so, and then once you get to the top of rock, then you climb back down about 50 of that into a small cavern, and then squeeze through a really narrow corridor, and then end with a really hard maneuver to get into the final cavern. All in all the whole thing probably takes an hour, and you don’t necessarily go very far.. but parts can be extremely challenging, and the fun part about the cave is the way you have to rely on others to get up and down. It was the only part of our trip where it took everyone working together to get to the destination—and it was a lot of fun.

After climbing, we did some driving through the hills before ending up at Hill City, where the Alpine Inn Restaurant is. One of my all-time favorite restaurants, they serve two menu choices: small and large. It’s a bacon-wrapped fillet mignon, with a baked potato and salad. The salad is fun because all they do is cut up a lettuce head into quarters, and then give you a quarter of a lettuce head with dressing on top. It’s really good, and very much unique. The steak is amazing, and what really seals off the meal is the dessert, which is made in house and unique to this one restaurant, and no where else in the world. It’s amazing. Sheer amazing.

The five of us ate with Nate’s mom, grandma, and Jocelyn. It was a lot of fun, because Nate’s whole family is just a lot of fun to be around. It’s especially great when Nate and his mom start getting into a verbal “war” of sorts (all in love, of course :) …things can only get funnier when that happens. Mama Lail paid for our dinner, a very blessed surprise, and then we all went and crashed at her house for a couple of hours, took showers, and prepared for a very long car ride back.

We left shortly after 11pm from Rapid City, and began our way home. I drove for about 150 miles, and eventually got to the point where I was fighting sleep too much, so Eric and I switched places. For the time I was driving, and about the first 50 miles Eric drove, we talked about anything and everything, no matter how silly, just to keep ourselves awake. So at first I tried to keep talking with Eric while he was driving, but as the night wore on me, I began to say things which just didn’t make any sense at all, such as “The chef got unclipped, and we could also get unclipped when you’re rock climbing, or driving in a car, you know.” And then I would insist that I was making perfect sense and that Eric just wasn’t paying attention to me. But eventually he told me to shutup and go to sleep, and he downed 60 ounces of energy drinks over 8 hours and drove us all the way to Wisconsin. I sure am glad he had the ability to do it, because none of the rest of us did.

We eventually got to Justin’s house, where his mom had lunch for us and warm showers for those of us who wanted them. We rested for a while, figured our final numbers on trip cost, and then got ready to go the rest of the way home. Our trip came in $150 under budget, thanks in large part to the Jones family’s donation of food, and much better than expected gas mileage in the west, as well as a few things here and there, all of which added up over the week. So, the trip ended up costing me just $158, an amazing price for 3500+ miles of driving, four days of camping, and food for all of those days, as well.

We left Justin’s house a little after four, and I was in O’Hare a little after 6:30. I checked in, and was actually through security and my way to the gate before 7. I had over an hour until boarding, which gave me time to grab some dinner, and also talk to Steph for about a half hour while I was waiting (which was great, because for all the times I had tried I hadn’t been able to talk to her since Monday :). There are very few open seats on the plane, but I happen to be sitting next to one. On the other side of that is a very nice lady from Kankakee, IL. She is on her way to Phoenix to see the birth of her first great-grandchild. This is her first time flying alone, and it’s been quite a while since last time she was in an airplane, so we chatted on the tarmac and during takeoff, just to pass the time and ease nerves. The weather has been hit or miss up here. Right now we’re in some clouds and I can’t see a thing, but it has also been clear, and I even got to see a couple of lightning storms off in the distance when we were leaving Chicago. Our flight is about 20 minutes ahead of schedule, so may actually get into Phoenix before my mom and sister do.

Eric and I are already talking about taking another trip next year. It may be of a slightly different nature, but we definitely want to do something similar again next year, when I’m graduated and ready to move into the next chapter of my life…very, very scary.

So long, farewell, and all those things they say in Sound of Music.