Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Philmont Trek   2 comments

In 1996, I went on a trip to the Philmont Boy Scout camp with a group of friends.  I kept a journal of the experience and briefly published a transcript on my college website.  Here, I’m converting it to my blog.  Enjoy!


Sunday (7/07/96) – Colorado Springs


7-7 (8:07) St. Louis– The plane ride was uneventful but a little bumpy.  Everyone’s excited and ready to go.  I found a guy who has a Tilley hat and we had a little talk. Our flight leaves in fifteen minutes, so I’m just hanging around.

7-7 (11:45/10:45) Colorado Springs– Well, I think we changed time zones this time and we gained an hour.  I had a great nap on the plane and feel wide awake.  I woke up to landing noises and looked out the window.  The sun was shining off the wing so I couldn’t see the terrain.  We banked left and the sun slowly rolled off the wing revealing beautiful Pikes Peak and the other mountains around it.  We started to land and I noticed the control tower was WAY below us.  We pulled up and started to circle the airport.  The loud speaker crackled and the captain basically said, “We missed the airport and we’re turning around.”  My pack made it with all but one pin in tact.  Not bad!  Now we’re heading to a pizza buffet  (Boy am I hungry!).

7-7 (2:26) Air Force Academy– Just finished our tour of the beautiful facilities here.  The academy is located at the base of the mountains and has a great view in all directions.  The neatest building is the academy chapel.  It’s over a hundred feet tall, has seventeen metal spires along the ridge and fits wonderfully with the surroundings.  The tour itself was mainly aimed at getting us to join the air force.  I don’t think that’s for me.  We’re riding around in an air-conditioned bus and sight seeing (not my idea of roughing it).  This is interesting, but I’m looking forward to splitting up into separate groups.  We’re on our way to the Olympic Training Center.  Not a drop of rain yet!

7-7 (4:10) Olympic Training Center– Everyone’s gone to Atlanta except those athletes who didn’t make it, and today’s their day off.  We did see a guy “shooting the running boar” (no longer an Olympic event).  The training center is being added on to, so there was a lot of construction mess.  Our tour guide said that on Sunday they have to lock all the doors to force the athletes to take a day of rest.  Since there wasn’t anything to see, we’re going to the Velodrome.

7-7 (4:18) The Velodrome – The gates are locked; you can’t get to anything worth seeing, so I’m staying on the bus.  I’m constantly amazed by the towering mountains to our west.  I never get tired of seeing them.  But, we’ll see how I feel after I hike up one.  Off to Fort Carson.

7-7 (5:50) Fort Carson – We made it to Fort Carson where we’ll spend two nights.  There are bunk beds, bathrooms, TVs, and fans.  We’ll be OK.  My crew picked me to be their crew leader.  It’s probably so I have to do the leader type work, but it’s still a good feeling to be a leader and be chosen by the people you’re with.  Karl and I made a duty roster and it seems pretty fair.  This is a good group and I’m getting really excited.  It rained for about twenty seconds, but we were inside. On the ride to Fort Carson I saw a deer, my first sign of wildlife.  I’m getting to know Cory’s friend Reid and he’s a nice guy.  We’re going to eat dinner at the “Flying W”.  I heard you’ll go hungry if you don’t like beans.  Everything is just about perfect.

7-7 (10:20) Fort Carson (After the Flying W)– Dinner was a lot of fun.  The ranch is like an old cowboy ranch.  We ate off of tin plates and had a killer meal.  I say killer because I’m still feeling it.  After we ate, we went into an open stage area where an awesome band was playing.  They played mostly cowboy music and one of the guys yodeled up a storm.  The crowd had a blast.  I would go back to the Flying W ranch any time.  There are lots of stars here.

Monday (7/08/96) – Arkansas River, Royal Gorge, and Fort Carson


7-8 (12:44) Arkansas River Tours – Rafting was fabulous!  The view from where we started was tremendous.  Huge mountains with billowing white clouds.  The Arkansas River charging past us.  Our instructor was the best and we had mastered white water rafting in a few minutes.  Around every bend in the river was a new mountain and a new look at the beautiful state if Colorado.  We went through five or six big rapids including one where we plummeted off a large rock because we had to pass another raft that was stranded in the easy pass.  We worked together and managed to stop ourselves from flipping.  At one point, a train passed by the river with about a million coal cars.  The guide let me get out of the raft and float for a while.  Everyone thought it was hilarious that my hat didn’t get wet in white water rapids.  Rafting is a ton of fun.  While I’m writing, we’ve seen these neat looking plants called scrub oak.  I think they would be great trees for out at the lake.


7-8 (4:48) Royal Gorge, CO. – We spit off the side of the bridge and counted the seconds it took it to hit.  We had one really good one that took twenty-four seconds.  We also calculated that taking a sled down the ramp, you would be going one hundred and fifty miles per hour by the time you hit bottom, one thousand fifty one ft.  If you’re confused it’s because Reid wrote this part and said basically what I would have said.  We could have rafted down the gorge.  About half way through our visit, it started to rain and it still is now.  That is one deep gorge.

7-8 (7:00) Garden of the Gods– This is a state park with huge clay colored rock formations.  You can see some shapes in the rocks like the ‘kissing camels’ and ‘the crying Indian’.  But, I mainly just see the beauty of nature and get a feeling of discovering new things and seeing things many people will never see.  There’s something about this state, Colorado, that’s hard to explain.  Is it the weather? Is it the smell of the air? Is it the grandeur of the mountains surrounded in a veil of clouds?  Whatever it is, I get a mysterious feeling of peace.  – Cory, Karl, Reid, and Mike just got back on the bus, Late!  They said they saw a rock so they climbed it.  Then they saw another rock and they climbed it too.  And then…..  well you get the picture.  This is probably the most gorgeous park yet.

7-8 (9:55) Fort Carson – This will be our last night in Fort Carson which is OK by me.  There is only one shower / bathroom for sixty people.  The bunks aren’t bad.  I didn’t think it would be possible, but I’m having more fun than I thought I would.  We haven’t done many difficult things yet, but the altitude hasn’t affected me yet.  This is going to be a heck of a crew.  Tomorrow we head to Philmont.  Now that it’s over, the sight seeing wasn’t too bad.  Today was the best.  I can’t get over how much fun white water rafting was.  I bought a cool picture of us rafting and I hope I can get it home without wrecking it.

Tuesday (7/09/96) – Camping Headquarters



7-9 (9:20P.M.) PHILMONT!!!!!– It’s raining!  It’s raining a whole lot!  We woke up this morning and got on the bus for a three-hour drive to the reservation.  When we got here, there was a lot of paper work to sift through, but after a half an hour we got off the bus and found our packs.  Next, we met our ranger Laird.  At first, he reminded me of my cousin, Matt McKinney.  I went to a crew leaders meeting with a camp coordinator and found out that there’s more to this position than just a title.  First, they showed me the big wall of information to track who goes where.  We have to figure out how to read it and fill in our information.  Next, we looked at the water availability chart to figure out what’s safe to drink and where the water is.  I learned that if you don’t purify your water properly, you could get Giardia, a real nasty little bacteria you don’t want to mess with.  Next, we looked at the trail conditions map.  This one’s real important because some of the marked paths are no longer useable.  I might get some people mad at me if I take them on a path that doesn’t exist.  We went over the itinerary of the places we will be hiking and what we need to know about them.  I learned one of the places we’re hiking to (Urraca Mesa) is haunted.  I’ll have to see about that one.  I was shocked when I heard that an average of six hundred hikers come and go every day!  The camp coordinator gave me a sheet of paper that he said is “More important than breathing”.  Without it, you can’t get food, you can’t camp, and you can’t participate in any of the activities.  I’m going to keep it in my journal so I don’t lose it.

I’m enjoying the atmosphere of youth leadership without adults taking over.  I’ve been told that if the adults try to take control of the trip, it’s my duty to put them in their place.  I hope I don’t and don’t think I will have to do that, but I will if it becomes a problem.

After the meeting, we got our tents and other camping supplies which we inspected very carefully.  It’s our homes for the next ten days.  AJ and I are in a tent together which should work out fine.  Laird did a shakedown of our packs where we all found out we brought way too much stuff.   We’ll all have to be leaving things behind.  Even the wool sweater my dad said I should take.  Laird told us that to save weight, we should cut the ends off our toothbrushes.  None of us are going to do it.  Then, I had to go to another meeting which proved to be pretty useless, but I didn’t mind.

After dinner, we went to the camp gathering.  It wasn’t a campfire because New Mexico is under a fire warning, so no fires are permitted.  The camp staff enacted the history of Philmont which was very interesting.  From Spanish colonization to fur trappers to the man who donated the land to scouting, Waite Phillips.  It was all very interesting.  Before the campfire there was a great church service that I’m glad I went to.  As soon as I went back to my tent, I started to pour.  The rain is just now starting to slow down.  We knew the rain was coming.  Since two o’clock, a huge storm cloud engulfed the southern mountains of Philmont and headed towards us all day.  I’m glad I wasn’t caught out in this on the trail.  Base camp has a great view and I can’t wait to start hiking tomorrow.  Things couldn’t get much better than this.

Wednesday (7/10/96) – Old Abreu


7-10 (9:40) Zastrow Turnaround to Old Abreau Camp – It rained all night!!  When I got out of the tent, it looked like the thunderstorm had landed right in base camp and dumped a weeks worth of rain.  When I went to sleep it was raining, but the ground was cracked and dry.  Now it looks like we’re recovering from a flood.

Laird was late for breakfast so we ate last (he’s kind of a slacker).  He’ll tell us how to do things after it’s too late to do it right.  We missed our crew picture because he told us we could do it later, which we couldn’t.  He’s nice and funny, but he doesn’t do his job very well.

It started raining at two thirty and lasted until six.  We got a little wet and disheartened but the sun brought up our spirits.  Hiking was good but very muddy.  At one point we couldn’t tell where we were; you can make a lot of mistakes and end up on the wrong path because the map isn’t very detailed.  We didn’t take the path we wanted to, but we got where we wanted to go.  Old Abreau is a wonderful campsite.  It’s set back in the woods right next to a creek.  The creek has a shallow section where you can see the mountains over the cascading waterfalls (well more like little rapids).  It still looks neat.

Dinner was very nasty.  Laird mixed the vegetable soup with the macaroni and cheese to save time and water.  They just don’t mix.  We’re learning that water is one of our main concerns.  We ran out quickly and Cory and I had to hike back to New Abreau for purified water.  We will have to be more careful from now on.  The human sump idea (drinking your own dish water) is weird, but we’re getting used to it; we have to.

I have to mention the mini-bears.  These little critters are really cool looking.  They’re like chipmunks with ringed tails, striped backs, and really light fur.  They’re cute but the rangers say they chew through things and cause a lot of problems.

Philmont is giving me an uplifting spiritual boost.  The priest yesterday gave a great service and explained how our trip could be used to learn to grow in God’s love.  Spirituality is a big part of Philmont.  Reid and Carl are going to do a prayer reading each night after a group talk we have.  I think this will be a great addition to our trek.  I’m sure this experience will be twice as meaningful with a religious outlook.  -One note:  I didn’t get very wet and neither did my pack, but trash bags don’t make good rain covers!

Thursday (7/11/96) – Urraca


7-11 (9:40) Old Abreau to Urraca Mesa– We woke up this morning to a dry camp and a cloudless sky.  The morning couldn’t have been more perfect.  Then came the Pemmican Bars.  Pemmican Bars are breakfast energy bars that weigh about a ton a piece.  The first half isn’t bad, but once you cross the Pemmican midway barrier, you’re in trouble.  It took us two hours and fifteen minutes to get on the trail; a time I’d like to shorten.

On the map, today’s hike looked easy, but it was a killer hike (mostly uphill).  We hiked back through New Abreau and across the plain where Zastrow Path was.  Then there was Urraca Mesa.  I’m finally getting the idea that it’s hard to climb a mountain.  Tom got pretty tired, so we took a lot of breaks.  For some reason there were a lot of buzzards around the mesa; I guess they eat hiker’s that don’t make it.

*One addition to the journal:  when we got back to base camp, we found out that a guy had a heart attack and died while trying to climb the mesa.**

At least they don’t have to eat Pemmican Bars.  Tom’s been calling them pelican bars.
The path up the mesa was hard but beautiful.  You can see the plain below and many other mountains far in the distance.  I found a better way to rig my trash bag on my pack so it was a lot better.  I also noticed that one of my frame poles wasn’t inserted right, so I fixed it and I feel a big improvement.  We only got about a mile lost today.  We hiked across the mesa instead of down it.  We learned that a few years ago, there was a controlled burn if Urraca.  After it was put out, it flared up two days later and charred most of the mountain.  You can still see ash from the trees, but the now trees are healthy.

The hike down the back side of the Urraca Mesa was easy hiking.  The Urraca campsite is centered around a prairie and has a beautiful view of the mesa.  We set up camp in a record ten minutes.  Then we did a challenge course where we learned about teamwork and about not setting your goals too high or low.  And of course, the WALL!  We all had to get over a fourteen-foot wall with only three people on top.  We put Reid up first because he’s big but light.  Next AJ, and then me.  Mike was lifted to me and Reid by Cory and Karl and he was scared to death.  Karl helped Cory.  Finally we had to get Karl up without the aid of a boost.  On his first jump, I caught his fingers, but couldn’t hold him.  I had the longest reach, but I couldn’t reach him.  We touched hands about seven times, but no luck.  So, Reid and I decided that he would stand next to me so that once I grabbed Karl, he would grab my hands and we would have him.  Karl leapt as hard as he could, I lunged forward and caught his wrist, Reid grabbed my hands, and up came Karl.  It was a lot of fun.  We only got a few drops of rain in an otherwise dry day.

At eight o’clock had a campfire (without the fire) with two of the rangers playing guitar and four singing.  The guitars were excellent.  We learned about the history of Philmont from the Anasazi Indians to gold miners to Waite Phillips himself.  We also heard a few ghost stories about the lost scout of Urraca Mesa and the Anasazi portal to the next world.  The stars are dazzling tonight.  I can’t wait until the morning when we watch the sun rise over Urraca Mesa.  I’ve having a great time and falling in love with New Mexico.  Being a crew leader is interesting and sometimes difficult.  The adults are letting us make the decisions and I’m glad it’s working out.  I feel strange when my mind says get ahead and reach the peak as fast as I can, but my gut says wait for the people in the back.  Mike told me today that I’m doing a great job holding the crew together and his comment meant a lot to me.  This is a great crew, in a great camp, in a great state, making unforgettable memories.

Friday (7/12/96) – Miner’s Park


7-12 (9:15) Urraca Mesa to Miner’s Park – Today Laird left us to go to Black Mountain.  We all woke up early to see the sun rise over the plains of Philmont.  We grabbed our breakfast and hiked to lookout point on the side of the Urraca.  It was cloudy so all we could see was the clouds lighting up, and the plain getting more visible.  Then the clouds started to break up and golden shafts of light poured through the holes in the sky.  We said good-bye to Laird and he was off.

We broke camp, threw on our packs for Miner’s Park.  One of the things that’s interesting about Philmont is that a lot of their power is solar, so you see solar panels all along the trails near staff camps.  We took another wrong turn and got two miles out of our way, but we backtracked and found another trail that got us where we wanted to go.  It was my turn to cook, but Mike and I hadn’t cooked yet because breakfast and lunch were ready to eat.  We did, however, make the best dinner yet.

The afternoon event was rock climbing on a training wall, like they had at Galyans.  I thought it was fun and really easy.  We might do the real thing tomorrow.  After I got off the wall I looked out at the mountains and there was a beautiful rainbow arching across the plain and into the mountains.  It was gorgeous.

Today’s hike was tough.  I really got tired out, but I still had a fabulous time.  Hiking seems different without a ranger, but it’s not anything we can’t handle.  I met some people from our sister crew 709F4 (we’re 709E5).  They’re from Washington DC.  I hope we get along OK.  We’re going to try and get on the trail early so we can rock climbing and still make it to Black Mountain for black powder rifle shooting.  I’m going to sleep.

Saurday (7/13/96) – Black Mountain


7-13 (10:34) Miner’s Park to Black Mountain – Before I write about this day, I have to express that it was perfect.  Perfect in a way that can’t be put on paper.  But, others should be able to feel the joy that I felt today so I’ll do my best to describe this wonderful day.

We woke up early and broke camp quickly.  Then we hiked to the junction where rock climbing was going on.  The instructors got there twenty minutes later and we started climbing.  Everyone got stuck a little bit, but everyone had a blast.  It was a thirty-five foot cliff that overlooked the ravine.  The only bad thing was that Mike skinned his knee a little.


When the climbing was over, we hit the trail.  This trail is no doubt the most beautiful trail in Philmont.  It runs through a valley and crosses the stream forty-seven times.  The valley is filled with towering birch and aspen trees and the riverbank is covered in wild flowers.  Occasionally, a butterfly would flutter by as the sun glistened off the clear stream.  The trail has a very gradual grade.  When you started to get tired, the trail went downhill.  Every turn was a new rock face and glittering waterfalls.  We stopped for lunch on a huge flat boulder of quartz and mica (a mirror-like rock) that jutted over the stream where it dove over a set of descending rocks.  The sun was shining in the valley and everyone was in the best possible mood.   Even when it started to rain we were happy.  I took off my hat and poncho and let the Rocky Mountain rain run down my face.  It was so refreshing.


We reached the camp that was totally unlike the others.  The staff members live in a one hundred year old log cabin.  They have two burros and a black smithing shelter.  We got to shoot black powder rifles at handkerchiefs (Karl’s and mine) and Cory’s hat.  I hit my handkerchief, but everyone else missed.  Cory wanted a musket ball hole as a souvenir, so the ranger said he would do it for us.  He collected the handkerchiefs and put them in the hat, put the hat on the end of the gun, and BOOM!!!  The handkerchiefs blew through the hat and landed on the ground on fire.  Cory’s hat had a huge hole in the top of it.  We were all surprised.
After dinner, we played some challenge games, talked with the rangers, and had a great time. Then the stars came out.  We talked for a while and went back to camp.  We sat in the dark talking about how perfect the day had been and I cried which is something I haven’t done in ten years.  Mike and I took a hike back to the field to watch the stars.  The sky was filled with stars.  Not like in Indiana, I mean tons and tons of white dots FILLING the sky. We could even see the Milky Way.  While I’m sure this day seems impressive, there is no way I can pay any justice to the fabulous day that I’ve just experienced.  In the words of Tom Jordan, “THE DAYS WILL GET BETTER!!” I don’t see how they could, but I’d love to see it happen.

Sunday (7/14-15/96) – Comanche Camp

DAY 8&9

7-15 (8:37) Black Mountain to Comanche Camp – The dew soaked all of our tents, but they dried quickly.  As dawn melted into day, the sun peered over Black Mountain warming our clearing.  It seems that the higher we get the colder it gets.  We slept in until eight o’clock.  The rest was greatly needed.  Our hike looked incredibly long on the map, but it seemed quick and effortless in the trail.  We are all getting used to hiking in high altitudes and brakes are becoming much less frequent.  We stopped at Philip’s Junction (PJ) for a shower.  We all finally got rid of our mid-trek funk.  I bought an extra camera because there are lots if things to take pictures of.

One strange thing about PJ is it is infested with mini-bears.  I think I’ve described them before, but I’ll do it again.  They look like blond chipmunks with ringtails.  They aren’t scared of people and they get into everything you don’t protect.  They’re just another part of Philmont.

Then, we took a quick one-hour hike to Comanche Camp.  Every campsite has been more beautiful than the last one so far.  This site is no exception.  It is surrounded by a small creek and there are patches of ivy wherever the sun can break through the trees.  It’s cold but nice.  We visited with our sister crew 709F4 from Washington DC.  They care more about getting home than being here.  Dinner was good except the banana pudding, which we buried.  We shouldn’t have done it, but it was too nasty.

We got back to camp after visiting with the DC boys and a few people realized that they had things to go in the bear bag, so Cory, Mike, AJ, and I went and redid the bear bags.  When we got back to camp, AJ went to bed and Mike asked me if he though their tent was too close to the cooking area.  I said that if he wasn’t comfortable we could move his tent and he agreed.  We moved the tent and we all went to sleep.  I’m enjoying the fact that part of the Philmont experience is helping other people have a good time as well as yourself.  Our tent is right over the creek and it was great falling asleep next to its quiet rippling.  It was too late to write last night so that’s why I wrote this this morning.  Today, we climb Mt. Phillips which has a wonderful view of the camp.  I can’t wait.

7-15 (12:24) Red Hills Camp– We stopped at Red Hills to eat dinner and get water because Comanche Peak has no water source.  The trail was different than other trail we’d been on yet.  The forest is full of Ponderosa pines covered with a stringy moss.  White butterflies are everywhere.  Around the trees, the stream, and even around us.  The red rocks in the stream reflect the sun and sparkle in the cool water.  I’m sitting on a moss covered rock in the middle of the creek in the shade of a pine tree.  It’s beautiful.  But, there are lots of flies here.  The Rockies really affect all of your senses.

– The smell of the sagebrush, the Ponderosa Pines, the mix of pine needles and mud.  The smell of the brook that moistens the air.    The Smell of the Rockies.

-The sound of the birds and crickets and insects. The sound of the wind whistling through the trees.  The sound of the creek gently flowing over the rocks. The sound of our packs as we hike through the forest.  The sound of the absence of all people.    The Sound of the Rockies.

-The sight of the sun coming over a mountain, a storm rolling through a valley, the sight of a deer wondering who we are and what we’re doing.  The sight of a bird soaring over the mountains and the sun sparkling off the water.  The sight of the camp you hiked all day to reach.    The Sight of the Rockies.

-The taste of the air that changes from day to day.  The taste of the water we purified from the stream and the pemmican bar you ate just for the energy.  The taste of the rain as it rolls down your face.    The Taste of the Rockies.

-The touch of a cool stream on worn out feet.  The touch of the sun on your face after a cooling rain.  The feel of the trail beneath your boots.  The touch of the pack you’ve carried for thirty miles up rivers, through valleys, and over streams.  The touch of the morning dew that cools the earth to prepare her for a hot day.  The gentle touch of the wind through your hair.    The Touch of the Rockies.

Our senses are too often things we take for granted.  The Rocky Mountains show you what you’re missing.

7-15 (7:30) Comanche Peak– I am sitting in the most beautiful place in the world.  I’m sitting on the north face of Comanche Peak watching the golden sun set behind the Rocky Mountains.  On the East face, you can see the entire rest of our trek.  It slips away so fast.  The sun gleams off the valleys and plains in the far west.   The clouds appear golden and you wish you could take them with you.  To the north is the barren but beautiful North Country of Philmont.  Rolling hills as far as the eye can see.  Ponderosa Pines blanket the earth in all directions.  Green trees, red rocks, blue skies, bleached fallen trees, white clouds, good friends.  Absolute, unquestionable PERFECTION!


-We went up to the peak of Mount Phillips and were astounded by the sight.  Beautiful scenery to the north, a huge storm to the south.  So, we decided to eat back at Comanche.  Then we went to see the sun set.

-There she goes behind the clouds.  Leaving us to enjoy the splendor of God’s country.  Complete SILENCE.  Sure people are talking and laughing, but it all fits.  The sky is so perfect, the golden clouds look like someone scratched the sky a little too hard and broke through to heaven.  The horizon is now turning pink and the mountains are going to sleep.  Soon, the moon will take his seat on the throne of stars and guide us through the night.  PEACE, TRANQUILLITY, SOLITUDE, FRIENDSHIP, LOVE, WONDER,………………………..PHILMONT

Tuesday (7/16/96) – Sawmill

DAY 11

7-17 (6:20AM) Sawmill– I had a very busy day yesterday and had no time to write.  So I’ll write what happened yesterday today.  – We woke up early to see the sun rise, but we got there a little too late.  The sky was still fabulous, but the sun rises early in Philmont.  As we sat and watched the sun, I turned around and saw a big white cloud coming towards us.  As I watched, it dove over us and into the ravine.  This was followed by several more clouds that leapt to the valley below.  It was amazing.  I thought to myself,  “This day is going to be perfect.”  Boy, was I ever wrong.

7-17 Comanche Peak to Sawmill– The first part of our hike was uphill.  Straight up hill.  So far on our trek, every campsite was a little higher than the last.  Comanche Peak is over 10,000 ft. high.  Sawmill is in the bottom of sawmill canyon.  The hike down was very steep and rocky.  The more I hiked, the more my feet hurt.  The sun was hot, and the rocks slipped out from under our feet.  We were miserable.  But, because of the stories Karl’s dad told us about Sawmill, we pushed on with little fuss.  We reached sawmill and were glad to see showers and purified water.  We got our campsite and started to set up camp.  Then we noticed the flies and horse “decorations” all over camp.  I had to walk ten minutes or more to the staff cabin for check-in and my feet were killing me.  Then I went to take a nap and AJ tried to discuss the next day’s hike with me.  I was in a really foul mood.  The evening program was 30-ot-6 rifle shooting which turned out to be a lot of fun.  We reloaded a shell and shot three rounds.  At the rifle range, six guys from North Carolina attacked Nat (the range master) but he was OK.  I used my pants as a target and they got a few holes in them.  We also got an unloaded shell as a souvenir.  After shooting and a warm shower I felt much better and the rest of the evening went great.  Mike found a bag of vegetables in the swap box and we all enjoyed them.  We saw the heating tank Karl’s dad told us about (the one that heats the showers) and I thought it was funny that the cabin he stayed in now has solar panels.  The day was hard and upsetting, but it slowly got better and I’m ready to go.  Tomorrow, we go to Harlen.  It seems like a hard hike, but I know we can do it.

7-17 (4:12) Sawmill to Harlen – The path between Sawmill and Ute Gulch almost equaled the hike to Black Mountain.  The trees and the stream and the may apples remind me of home, and I realize how lucky I am.  After a quick lunch at Ute Gulch, we left for Harlen.  We hiked on the side of the mesa looking at the plains and mountains we have already encountered.  The hike was long and hard, but satisfying.  We got camp set up and everyone jumped into their tents to avoid the rain.  Everyone except me. I was just about to join the others when I remembered the words I’d heard at the Mesa campfire:

“If one day you find yourself alone, find a quiet place   and think.  If you see a storm, don’t hide, watch it and   see how it rolls across the Rocky Mountains.”

So, I took the advice.  I climbed up to the edge of the mesa and watched the storm as it engulfed the mountains.  I felt the rain on my face and the earth shaking under the pounding fists of the storms thunder.  Fearing that I was impeding the storms path, I returned to camp to find it asleep.  A father and his son under the dining fly.  Two friends in their tent who just finished covering their packs.  An old man taking the nap he so rightfully deserves.  And me, sitting on a throne of rock, created by some previous guest, watching the storm pass.


Out of the storm comes a spear of gold.  The sun reclaiming its sky.
As the storm flees from the golden blades it dies and no longer torments the earth.  And now the sun is warming my face with its gentle caress and I search for the rainbow in the sky that I’ve found in my heart.


The wind is blowing and all is silent.  The ground is drying and the sky is blue.  The mountains reach to the sun for warmth.  A single bird sings in the distance.  The sleepers sleep soundly, oblivious to the world around them.  A trail of ants marches back to work after the interruption of rain.     I sit thinking of home and family and friends.  I wonder what the world is like outside of Philmont.  I think of my future and what I can make of it.  I think of the new friends I’ve made.  I listen to the fading thunder in the distance and I am at PEACE.

Wednesday (7/18/96) – Harlan

DAY 12

7-18 (5:50a.m.) Harlen – I’m back at my storm watching post to see the sun rise.  I forgot to mention burro racing.  When we got here we were excited about the race but found out that they had escaped (all except for one who was mad that he got left).  The ranger chased them and caught up with them in about two hours.  We weren’t sure what burro racing was, but it sounded fun.

Burro racing is holding a burro, running from one end of the field to the other and back, and trying to get your burro there first.  We got first and second place with a burro named Lightning.  It’s hard running in the mountains.

Harlen is a great camp.  It’s big, 18 campsites, and we have a great view of the plains and Cimmeron.  Last night, the lights in the city twinkled and looked lonely on the plain.  The clouds are turning pink, and a new day is started.  The lakes on the plains are shining and the birds are singing.  It’s hard to believe that we only have three days left.  I’ll miss Philmont, but it will be nice to get home.  It’s great to get up early, see the sunrise, and watch Philmont wake up after a long night.

7-18 (3:00) Harlen to Clark’s Fork – It’s a hot hot day in July.  Everything is wonderful, but I’m starting to get tired.  Carrying your house on your back for a week is hard work.  And now, I will write about the strangest phenomenon in nature: THE HILL THAT WENT UP BOTH WAYS!!!! We hiked up the mesa yesterday and knowing that it would be downhill the next day, we decided to backtrack and not hike on roads.  So, the next morning we started back UP the trail we came UP to get there!  Now call me stupid, but by every scientific law of the natural world YOU CAN’T DO THAT!! Oh well. We got here and it’s a great place.  There’s a western theme and a chuck wagon dinner (REAL FOOD!!).  They have everything a tired hiker could want; purified water, hot showers, horseshoes, lassoing, and branding. I learned how to lasso a fake steer. It’s fun.  I got my journal branded and I’ll explain the brand.


__ PS = ‘Bar-P-Crazy S’ = Cattle Brand

/S  = ‘Slash-Crazy S’ = Horse Brand

The showers felt great (AJ might smell a little better now) and I can’t wait for dinner.  Well, I’m off to play some horseshoes.


7-18 (9:45p.m.) Clark’s Fork– Instead of horseshoes, I worked on my lasso skills.  It’s a lot of fun and for a beginner, I’m not bad.  Dinner was good (mostly because there was real meat and vegetables).  Mike is having a great time because his childhood dream was to be a cowboy and this place is perfect for him.  There was another campfire without the fire and it was nice.  The sunset and the clouds turned the color of fire as they floated across the plain.  Another wonderful day at Philmont is coming to an end.

Thursday (7/19/96) – Clark’s Fork

DAY 13

7-19 (5:40p.m.)  Clark’s Fork to Tooth Ridge – I woke up surprised to find wild turkeys behind my tent.  About twenty-five wild turkeys just walking around enjoying the morning.  Then I saw a deer and her baby fawn eating dew covered leaves off the trees.  It was wonderful.
We also went horseback riding this morning.  My horse was named WD-40 and Mike’s was named Spider Monkey.  The wrangler made us switch horses because Spider Monkey was a lot bigger than WD-40.  He didn’t show it, but I think Mike would have liked spider monkey better.  The ride was beautiful, but my legs got a little sore.


After riding, we started one of the most strenuous days of our trek.
The trail was hard and rocky, but with wonderful views as usual.  Once we got to Shefer’s pass, we started up and down the ridge.  The trail was very rocky and Cory, AJ, Reid, and Karl hiked a lot faster than we did and I got frustrated, but we worked things out.  It’s weird knowing that tomorrow we’ll be back in base camp.  I love Philmont, but it will be good to get back home.

7-19 (9:30p.m.) The Coolest Thing Yet!!! – We tried to string up our bear bags, which took a long time because it was very high and there were six people trying to use one bear bag line.  We got ours up and were laughing at the groups who were still having trouble.  Karl, Reid, and I decided to go on a nature hike.  We hiked up to the north end of camp where Karl and I saw what we thought was a deer.  We made a little noise in acknowledging that we saw it and it turned its head and looked at us.  My first impression was that we were looking at a great dane.  Then, I realized, we were looking into the face of a mountain lion.  I’ll describe it as best as I can.  It was about five or six feet long and three feet high.  It had a long tail with black on the end and the rest of its body was covered in golden brown fur.  Its face was round with big black eyes and black-fringed ear tips.  It was incredibly powerful looking.  It took off right as Reid noticed that Karl and I were freaking out.  Then he saw it up on the ridge.  He said it ran up and lay down.  He pointed it out to us, but it looked just like a rock.  Cory came over and when we told him, he thought we were lying.  We decided to tell Mike and an advisor from our sister crew.

Mike, Reid, Karl, Cory, and I went back to see it, and sure enough, the rock was gone.  Then we saw our deer (I was so excited about the mountain lion, I forgot to write about the deer.  I’ll do that next) walking right where the mountain lion had gone.  At first we tried to get it to run, but when it wouldn’t, we decided to watch and see if the lion would attack.  We watched for twenty minutes, but figured it wouldn’t attack with people watching.  We haven’t seen it since.

Now the deer.  Mike and I were preparing dinner when Karl noticed a deer had wandered into our camp.  He walked within ten feet of the deer and we told him to cup his hands like he had something to feed it.  He did, and the deer slowly walked up and started licking his hand.  Cory took a picture, but the flash scared the deer away.  Karl was so excited.  We started eating dinner, and the deer came back.  We figured it wasn’t good to have him near the food, so I went to him, squatted down, and he came right to me.  He started licking my hand and I patted his head.  I noticed that it had a scab on its muzzle.  I wonder what happened?  We all got real excited about the deer, so you can understand our concern about having it ripped to shreds by a mountain lion.  I was going to sleep under the stars tonight, but the other guys have a problem with sleeping outside with a mountain lion.  Go figure.  Well, I think I’ll go look at the stars right now.  -Oh well, it’s too cloudy any way.  I’ve seen them and once is enough for a memory.

7-19 The Tooth of Time– About two thirds of the way down tooth ridge was the trail for the tooth itself.  Everyone but Tom decided to hike up it.  It was a bear of a path.  Almost like rock climbing.  We were all exhausted at the top, but the view was tremendous.  You could see base camp, Urraca Mesa, the stockades, and hundreds of other things anywhere you turned.  It was wonderful.  I was upset at the trash I found on the tooth.  I picked up everything I found and took it with me.  It’s amazing that people can be so inconsiderate as to ruin such a beautiful place.


Friday (7/20/96) – Tooth Ridge

DAY 14

(Note: This was not in the journal.  I’m not sure why I didn’t write anything for Tooth Ridge.)

7-20 Tooth Ridge – We spent most of the day carving a new path into the mountain side.  Every crew that hikes through Philmont has to add to the system of trails that crisscrosses the region.  I can’t recall what we did the rest of that day.


Saturday (7/21/96) – Camping Headquarters

DAY 15

7-21 (7:30a.m.) Tooth Ridge to Base Camp – We’re on the bus again.  It doesn’t even feel like we left the trail yet. We hiked down the ridge with base camp in sight and as we got close, I sang the song that had been in my head for three days.  I had to fill out a ton of paper work, but everything went smoothly.  It’s strange being in base camp.   Purified water, flush toilets, two hundred people.  Many of the guys who just finished their trek went to the snack bar for ice cream.  I thought that would ruin something.

When we got to lunch, it looked great.  Hot dogs and french fries and salads, but we could hardly eat anything.  Except Karl, who ate like a horse.  The showers felt great, but I felt strange being so clean.  It’s almost funny watching new crews about to head out going crazy trying to figure out who has the bear rope.  We saw Laird with another crew; he was showing them how to read the map.

The closing campfire was a nice way to end the trek.  They made fun of the food and the rangers, and had us give our crew American flag to our advisors.  Mike deserves it.

After the campfire, we returned to our tents and discussed our trek.  We talked about the ups and the downs, the good things and the bad things and slowly we came to an agreement.  We worked as a crew; we learned things about ourselves and others.  We gained a greater appreciation for God and nature and the world around us.  We did Philmont the way it was meant to be done.  We met the hopes and dreams of Waite Phillips.  We proved that we can do it.  We did Philmont right.

–We started to go to bed and I stopped to look up at the stars.  I turned and stared in awe.  Millions of stars put there so that there could be one perfect night.  I sat in the middle of the road and leaned back resting my head in my hands.  People who saw me stared in confusion and asked what I was thinking about.  My answer was nothing.  My mind was a blank.  All I saw was the stars.  I must have been there for forty-five minutes when a flash of light shot across the sky.  A shooting star.   Then two more.  A perfect sign that everything had turned out right, and we had experienced PHILMONT.


Rafting the Jinja Nile   3 comments

In the summer of 2009, while living in Kenya, a group of my friends and I decided to take a trip to Uganda to go white water rafting on the Nile River.  We hired a driver (something you have to do for long trips in Africa) and piled in for a fun weekend.  The first adventure was crossing the border from Kenya into Uganda.  In place of a formal currency exchange, your car gets mobbed by locals holding fists of bills and telling you they have the best deal.  It’s a bit unnerving, but we were warned in advance to expect it and the driver made sure we didn’t get ripped off.  Uganda struck me as being a bit better off economically than Kenya.  The roads were better, the buildings seems to be in better repair and people looked like life was a bit easier.

We reached the camp in Jinja later in the evening and after a few Tuskers in the bar, we settled into the bunks in our concrete rooms.  There were LOTS of mice scurrying around, but it was still fairly comfortable.

2009-04-18 Jinja Rafting Day 1 001 Stitch v2

In the morning, the adventure began with some safety instructions and a bus ride upstream to put in the river.  We first practiced flipping the rafts so we made sure we could all get back in safely.  All of us were fully aware that the river is home to thousands of crocodiles and other Nile creatures and appreciated being able to get back in the boat quickly.  We were lead by very seasoned guides who knew how to traverse the impressive rapids safely.  The section of the Nile we rafted has legitimate Class III through V rapids which can be extremely dangerous in most rivers.  The Nile is somewhat different.  It is so tremendously deep that even crashing down hundreds of feet over rocks, there is still a large buffer of water between you and the rock below.  I will admit that every rapid made me question my sanity for going on this trip, but looking back, I felt safe the entire time. 

Jinja Map

One notable part of the adventure was a large widening of the Nile about half way through the trip.  While our paddles had been used solely to steer where possible, the became our only means of propulsion across nearly a mile of water.  It didn’t help that one of our paddlers (who will go unnamed, you know who you are) was extremely lazy and did more harm than good paddling.  We did get a nice snack break where the guides pulled out their machetes and cut us pieces of the best pineapple any of us had ever tasted.  Most of us took an opportunity to jump out of the sun and float in the Nile for awhile while the guides watched out for crocs.  At one point, we passed a tree covered island that appeared to be the home of a huge flock of birds.  Our guide asked if we wanted to see something interesting and began slapping his paddle on the water making a loud smacking sound echo across the river.  The island erupted in a fury of wings as giant fruit bats began to circle in wide rings around the island.  The smacking sound apparently is very agitating to bat ‘sonar’ and makes them all take flight when they hear it.  If you’ve seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, those are the types of bats I’m describing. 

Check out the videos here if you haven’t seen them on my facebook page…

We returned to the camp exhausted but satisfied with a wonderful day exploring the Nile.  Our next surprise treat was actually the post rafting shower.  The camp sits on a cliff overlooking the river and carved out of the side of the cliff are two open air shower stalls that hang precariously over the river below.  While cold, a fresh water shower felt wonderful and I lingered for awhile absorbing the view.  It’s actually really enjoyable to stand naked under the flowing water and look out over such a beautiful skyline.  I did eventually notice while toweling off that there was a group of people far in the distance washing clothes on the banks and I briefly wondered if the locals had just gotten a show as my wet body acted like a mirror reflecting the sun.  I didn’t mind and I doubt they did either.  As night fell, we rallied outside the campground where a group of huts had been set up to sell trinkets.  I found a man selling wooden masks and had a look around.  One mask that caught my eye was a large gorilla with a long leather tongue.   As I went to inspect the mask, the tongue suddenly slurped up inside the mouth leaving me a bit puzzled.  The owner laughed, turned the mask around and revealed the large rat living inside.  His tail had been hanging down out of the mouth.  Of course, I bought the mask and left the rat there.

Our final treat of the night was two brothers who fired up the grill in their chepati stand and started selling us the fried dough as fast as they could grill them.  Stuffed with avocado, eggs, grilled meat and other vegetables, they were the perfect meal after a long day of exercise.  We all slept soundly and left Uganda the next day uninjured by the Nile and with fantastic memories.

2009-04-19 Jinja Rafting Day 2 0102009-04-18 Jinja Rafting Day 1 0012009-04-18 Jinja Rafting Day 1 0092009-04-18 Jinja Rafting Day 1 0022009-04-19 Jinja Rafting Day 2 002DSC_51092009-04-19 Jinja Rafting Day 2 0042009-04-19 Jinja Rafting Day 2 0052009-04-19 Jinja Rafting Day 2 007aDSC_5017aDSC_5030aDSC_5059

I MUST give credit for the bottom three pictures to my fellow explorer and amazing photographer Angeli Kirk (

Posted May 8, 2011 by chrislux in Travel

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Newport Aquarium   2 comments

A couple of weeks ago, my girlfriend Liz and I met up with my friends John and Karen Hudek at the Newport Aquarium in Kentucky.  Newport is right across from Cincinnati on the opposite bank of the Ohio River.  They have a huge shopping center and aquarium.  This was our first time visiting the new exhibit.  The Newport Aquarium has a wide variety of tanks including a jellyfish exhibit, alligators, a room with exotic birds, shark petting and penguins.  There are several clear tunnels that run through the tanks so you can walk among the fish.  I’ll admit, that made me a bit dizzy since the tubes somewhat distort the image.  The $20 ticket is a bit steep, but it’s well worth the price.  Check out pictures below to see a few of the sights.  (A camera does not do the aquarium justice).

2009-06-14 Newport Aquarium 003 Click to see album

Posted July 1, 2009 by chrislux in Photography, Travel

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Wildon Dig   Leave a comment

Wildon, Austria – While in Africa, my mother reminded me that my cousin Patrick Fazioli was conducting a research project in Austria.  He is currently working on his archeology thesis project and told me that not only could I visit, but he would put me to work.  I spent a night in a sleeper car on a train from Utrecht to Vienna and then headed south to the town of Wildon near Graz where I was met by Patrick and his friend Gerhard.  Patrick received an NSF grant to conduct his research in Wildon and is currently joined by several assistants (Greg, Dustin and Darren).  After stopping by the house to drop off my bags, we set out for work taking soil samples in the Austrian countryside.  Patrick carried his maps and a GPS device and directed the rest of us to take core samples in a grid covering a local farm.  The farmer, along with just about everyone else we met, brought us shot glasses of home brewed schnapps.  Patrick tells me that a significant amount of his time is spent gaining permission to explore private lands over glasses of local liquor.  The evening was spent testing the soil samples for phosphate levels which can indicate that the area was populated in the past.


Excavation – Early the next morning, we set out to a neighboring property that had particularly high phosphate levels for an exploratory excavation.  Patrick selected a small region behind the main house adjacent to the rows of pear trees planted by the farmer and his wife.  No sooner had the sod been removed that the skies opened up as a flash storm swept into the valley.  Patrick took his team over the ridge to retrieve a tent to cover their dig site.


The crew painstakingly scraped thin layers of earth away from the surface with trowels and shoveled the pieces into a large sifting screen they had setup on a large tarp.  Tiny fragments of ceramic pottery, bone and metal were collected by hand and placed in plastic bags for further analysis.  Every ten centimeters or so, new measurements were taken and the soil was analyzed.  The farmer watched over the excavation with great interest and left only long enough to bring out a tray of home made peach schnapps.  The digging took the better part of the day until a layer of limestone was reached.  Nothing of great significance showed up at this particular site.  The hole was refilled, the sod replaced, and the team moved on to consider where next to dig.  I had a nice couple of days reconnecting with Patrick and gaining a better understanding of his work in Austria.  Next stop… INDIANA!!

Posted June 9, 2009 by chrislux in Travel

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My Alsatian Family   Leave a comment

People who know me well know that I have a pension for out of the ordinary adventures.  This story is certainly one of those.  For years I have heard my family talk of our origins in the Alsace valley between France and Germany.  We have an old family photo of the first Lux to arrive in America named Mathias (pronounced mu-tee-us) with the town of Baden-Baden listed on the back.  On a suggestion from another family member, my cousin Thomas Hays (his mother is a Lux) traveled the towns of Schirrhein and Schirrhoffen in the Alsace region of France and found a cemetery full of graves with the name Lux.  Knowing that I would have some time in Europe on the way home from Africa, I started a bit of research of my own.  My approach was rather unconventional.  I searched Facebook for “Lux, Alsace” and found about 40 people.  From those, I searched the faces for people that looked remotely related to my family.  I sent messages to 10 candidates in French telling them who I was and that I was searching for family members.  I got a response from a young man named Silvère Lux who lives in Schirrhein and is currently completing a masters degree in medical imaging in Strasbourg.  We continued a friendly correspondence for around a month and planned to meet up in Strasbourg when I arrived.  Days before my arrival in the EU, I sent a message asking Silvère for suggestions of good hostels in the Strasbourg area.  He responded that his parents would be happy to host me in their home.  I jumped at the opportunity.

Schirrhein – I arrived at the train station to find Silvère and his father Marcelle waiting for me on the platform.  We awkwardly introduced ourselves on what was unusual first encounter for us all.  A quick drive in the family’s Renault Twingo and we arrived in the town of Schirrhein where Silvère’s mother Monique was waiting for us.  Her welcome revealed the same curious excitement I was experiencing.  Monique and Marcelle speak French, German and Alsatian but little English.  My 10 year old French was failing me when I first arrived, so Silvère acted as our translator.  I was shown to my recently renovated room on the second floor and calling the accommodations 4 star is no exaggeration.






We drove to a local restaurant for Alsatian Riesling and a local dish called tarte flambe where we were joined by Monique’s brother Robert and his wife.  They explained that Robert had recently retired and spent much of his free time researching the genealogy of his family.  Silvère told me that Robert had spent an afternoon at the local town hall looking for the name Mathias Lux in the public records.  He had found a few leads, but nothing concrete.  Robert invited me to spend two days later in the week with him; one to tour the wine road of Alsace and another to conduct a more detailed investigation into Lux family roots.


Strasbourg – The next morning, Silvère, Marcelle, Monique and I loaded into the car for a day exploring the city of Strasbourg.  Our first stop was a newly constructed pedestrian bridge connecting France and Germany.  Built to promote friendship between the countries, it has recently been in the news as both countries argue over who should cover the over-budget costs.  We next visited the Notre Dame cathedral which was ornately decorated with statues of biblical scenes and countless amusing gargoyles.  In one wing of the church stood a massive ancient computer that was used to track time, the position of the planets, the phases of the moon, and the location of the sun on the horizon.  The scale and detail of the vast machine is awe inspiring today and apparently made enough of an impression on the people of Strasbourg to burn out the eyes of the creator to prevent him from creating a similar machine elsewhere.


The Food – In addition to offering me wonderful place to stay, the Lux family introduced me to a wonderful variety of Alsatian foods and drinks.  Most evening meals were preceded by a local drink called Picon which is a mixture of an orange liqueur, beer, and lemon juice.  One evening, we began dinner with foi gras (fattened duck liver) followed by honey roasted duck breast.  Bread fresh from the boulangerie is always a central part of any French meal and ranged from simple baguettes to dark breads studded with seeds.  We often ate brie or camembert and I even found I have a taste for anis seed encrusted Munster as well.  A special treat one evening was a sizzling pan of frog legs in a tomato and garlic sauce.  Meals were almost always followed with a small glass of schnapps called l’eau de vie (water of life).  Monique found a wonderful book of Alsatian recipes in English for me so I can make some of the many dishes we sampled back in Indiana.

Time with Robert – Monique’s brother Robert came to collect me early one morning accompanied by his English teacher Annie.  Our first trip was to Haut Koenigsbourg Castle.  The castle sits atop a mountain along the wine road and was rebuilt from ruins by Wilhelm II of Germany.  At the peak of the mountain, the castle offers a terrific view of the valley and vineyards below.  The rest of the day was spent hopping from town to town along the wine road.  We stopped at a quiet hotel for lunch and a glass of Riesling.  I helped Annie with her English and she worked on improving my French.  Annie told me that her husband is the editor of the local newspaper (called DNA) and that he would be writing a story about my visit to Schirrhein and my search for family members.  She promised to send me a copy of the article when it is published.

The next morning was spent with Robert searching the local town hall records for evidence that my family came from the area.  We searched birth, death, and marriage records back through 1800.  While we found many similar names (Mathias, Antoine, Johan) we failed to find a direct link to the Indiana Lux family.  The final place we wanted to search was the town hall in Baden-Baden Germany, but the were not open during my time in Alsace.  Robert and Monique told me that they would make a trip there in the future and see what they could learn.


Final Days in Schirrhein – Monique Lux had part of her week off from work (I later learned that she took part of her vacation to spend time with me) and we had a very nice couple of days together.  On Thursday, we took a bicycle ride to the nearby town of Soufflenheim which is well known for it’s pottery.  In the corner of a small shop I spotted a ceramic cake mold in the shape of a lamb.  My grandfather has had a tradition for years of making a lamb cake at Easter in Indiana.  I told Monique the significance of the mold and she told me that it is an old Alsatian tradition.  She insisted on buying a lamb mold for me to take back to Indiana for my family.  The next morning, Monique and I took a drive through the Black Forest in Germany.  While there, Silvère was in Strasbourg defending his masters thesis.  We got word that he had not only done well, but received the highest mark in his class.  We celebrated his success that evening with a glass of champagne.

Thank You – I need to take a moment and thank all of the wonderful people of Schirrhein.  I came to Alsace to hoping to have a quick coffee with someone named Lux and snap a few pictures of the region.  Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the tremendous outpouring of hospitality that would be offered to me.  We shared a name and despite never having met, I was welcomed as a member of the family.  I hope to one day repay Silvère and his family for the gifts they have given to me.



2009-06-05 Schirrhein Stitch

Posted June 8, 2009 by chrislux in Travel

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Kwaheri Kenya   Leave a comment

(Kwaheri = goodbye)

The previous week has been one of transition for me as my time in Kenya came to a close.  My list of loose ends needing to be tied was fairly long and took up most of my time, but Kenya found a few ways to give me pause and say goodbye in it’s own way.

Slamendas – In the last few days, I was asked to help make preparations for the arrival of a group of five first year medical students coming to Eldoret on scholarship as part of the Slamenda program.  Space needed to be found in the dorm for the two women coming and security for my room (which would go to the men) needed to be upgraded a bit.  My main goal was to help orient the students to the dorm, wards, and city.  I wasn’t able to be shown around the dorm before my arrival and this made for a difficult adjustment period.  Dr. Helphinstine and I took the students on the wards the first day they arrived.  Despite a lengthy talk about what they would experience on the wards, two of the students became weak in the knees within minutes and needed to excuse themselves.  Some had never seen a hospital ward even in the US.  This reaction was expected and I have no doubt they will be fine in the weeks to come.

Infusion Grand Rounds – Two months is not enough time to generate any significant change to a health care system.  Members of IU partnership live for years in Kenya to help improve the system and often meet with limited success.  Something I saw on the pediatric wards obliged me to take action, no matter how trivial the result.  While rounding on our patients, the nurses go from bed to bed administering medications.  On our crowded ward rounds, it is often difficult to hear the patient presentation and considerable effort needs to be taken to block out the background noise.  Something I could not tune out were the cries of agony I repeatedly heard from children during the medication delivery.  I snuck away from rounds to find the source.  What I found was fairly shocking.  When the nurses give drugs by IV to the children, they would grip the syringe tightly and use tremendous force to push the plunger as fast as possible.  This practice saves time, but is dangerous in adults let alone small children.  I fought off the instinct to stop the offending nurse and chose rather to think of a more sustainable solution.  As I returned to the ward rounds, we began to discuss a patient who had recently had his arm amputated.  The cause; his IV had leaked medication into his arm which became gangrenous and threatened to kill him.  The next day, we saw an infant who had an IV related chemical burn on the top of his foot near the ankle.  This will likely scar and complicate his ability to walk normally.  We have placed a major stumbling block in front of his first steps. 

I had a discussion with two dedicated 6th year Kenyan students about the problem and we decided to ask for time to make a presentation to the nurses about the issue.  Our faculty advisor suggested that this issue goes beyond a peds nursing issue as several adults have recently undergone amputations for the same reason.  Our small team has been asked to give a hospital wide grand rounds on the topic in early July.  Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend the presentation, but we will be generating the materials over the next month together.  A drop in the bucket, but if it helps one person, it will be worth it.

Sally Test Says Goodbye – As much time as I could spare was spent in the Sally Test Center for Children working on small projects or simply playing with the kids.  My last day, the children surprised me with a goodbye talent show.  The IU carpenters had built a puppet stage and the kids used home made puppets to act out a series of nursery rhymes.  Apparently, they had been preparing for over two weeks!  They sat in a circle in their story area and sang songs they had been practicing and danced for us in their story circle.  One of the children I had become closest to brought me a small basket that had a sheet of cloth in it.  All the kids had made paint hand prints on the cloth and written their name on it.  The title, “For We Are Kenyan Children”.  It was a very touching sendoff from a group of children I had grown quite close to over the last two months.

Karaoke – Tuesdays are Karaoke night at the Spree night club downtown.  I sang there the first week I was in Eldoret and the invitations to return came about every week thereafter.  My last night in Kenya happened to be on a Tuesday and I had heard that the hostess insisted on my being there.  The bar quickly filled up with Kenyan medical students, friends from the IU house and even some people I had met in town.  By the time the night was over, I had been pushed to the mic at least half a dozen times.  It was a great way to unwind before my travels began the next day.

Emily – If you have been following my blog, you are familiar with the patient I have called Emily.  I wish I could say that everything was in order for her when I left.  It was not.  As with all stories, hers was more complicated that it initially seemed.  It would be inappropriate to go into many details, but I will share where I left things and what I hope for the future.  I was able to mobilize a significant team of social workers and a concerned physician to address her case.  They are aware of Emily, but with over 10,000 patients, they have not been able to dedicate a significant amount of time to her.  By the time I left, we had had several meetings about getting her moved to a public boarding school near home.  There were several good options and time will tell which will accept her.  The next session starts in August.  Max and I took one final visit to the IDP camp on a rain soaked afternoon so I could say goodbye.  Emily was alone in her tent so we sat on a bench beside the door.  I told her I had no immediate answers but assured her that many people were working to improve her situation.  I emphasized her role in this process and that she needed to continue to work hard and keep a positive attitude.  I hope we left her with a sense of her potential for success in this world.  She has many impediments to that goal, but I truly believe that with a little luck she may be one of Kenya’s success stories.  She has a stack of self addressed stamped envelopes to reach me.  I will be eagerly awaiting my first letter.

Posted June 2, 2009 by chrislux in Travel

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The Deep Scars of Colonialism   1 comment

Early in my time in Kenya, it was apparent that at many levels, the country is dysfunctional.  Two months is certainly insufficient time to become an expert on the topic, but I feel it’s important to record my impressions as I continue to process them.  Like much of Africa, Kenya was once part of the vast British Empire.  England and other colonial powers sought to bring order and civilization to what they deemed chaotic savagery.  Tribal lands were fragmented by geographical and political lines.  Indigenous leaders were supplanted by British diplomats who retained those willing to serve as puppets of the empire.  Western culture, commerce, and politics were introduced in place of tribal rule.  It was all seen as progress.  That was until the empire failed.  The economic and political will of England faltered and member countries seized the opportunity to expel the foreign invaders.  During my time in Kenya, the country celebrated it’s 46th year of independence.  Celebrated, however, is the wrong word; they acknowledged the occasion.  There is little to celebrate.

Politics – When the empire was expelled from the colonies, an inevitable power grab ensued.  The new Kenyan democracy was cobbled together from Kenyans who had held titles under British rule.  Cabinet positions, the court system, the senate, even the corporate world was populated by Kenyans replacing their English counterparts.  The new leaders lacked the knowledge and training to function in their new roles.  This was by design.  Empires maintain control by denying citizens of their colonies access to the inner workings of their government and businesses.  46 years is not nearly enough time to establish the knowledgebase and experience necessary to maintain a functional Western society.  The result is political corruption, a crumbling infrastructure and a collapsing economy.  Without appropriate leadership, the police force is more interested in shaking down citizens for bribes than enforcing law and order.  Even the public hospital administration turns a blind eye to faculty who accept a staff salary and spend their days in private hospitals never entering the public facilities. 

Tribalism – I have a sense that Kenya is a country torn between the Western promises of economic prosperity and a deeply rooted instinct to return to a pre-colonial tribalism.  America is idolized in Kenya.  Popular culture is almost entirely imported from the US.  Clothing styles have shifted from tribal garments and beaded jewelry to jeans and branded shirts.  While local music from various cultures can be found, most people blast R&B radio stations from their car stereos.  Barack Obama is more of a celebrity in Kenya that he is in the states.  Many Kenyans I spoke with expressed a desire to one day live in America.  Kenyans seem unified in a goal to become as much like us as possible.  The other face of Kenya was exposed during the clashes a year and a half ago.  Tribal gangs roamed the streets murdering those who did not speak their dialect with the appropriate accent.  Families were forced from their land as tribal homogeneity was re-established.  This went largely uncorrected by the government.  Intertribal marriage is still poorly accepted by many.  The artificial unification of these tribes under imperial rule continues to cause strife to this day.

Racism – The creation of a colony presumes the superiority of the colonizing power.  The British Empire considered people of darker skin color to be inferior to themselves as did most European cultures.  This flawed logic was employed to justify colonization and slavery.  In my time in Kenya, I witnessed first hand the lasting effects of social status being determined by race.  One of my first experiences was going to a local golf course with an American and a Kenyan friend.  We didn’t have the appropriate clothing or even clubs, but the business was welcomed.  As we were being checked in, the attendant assumed there were two of us playing and our Kenyan friend was our caddy.  As I left Kenya, I visited a businessman in Nairobi I had met at a wedding in Eldoret.  He was dressed in a suit and polished shoes.  I was in a t-shirt and jeans.  As we passed people he knew, they asked if I was his new boss!  We stopped for lunch and the waiters approached me before asking him what he wanted.  I understand that this treatment was more based on economics than race, but it is unacceptable that in a country of well over 90% dark skinned people, they should be made to feel inferior.   

Religion – A final theme I wish to address is that of missionary work and religious conversion.  One of the changes brought by colonization was the introduction of Christianity.  In the name of evangelism, African colonials were taught to abandon their tribal beliefs and accept Christian theology.  Those who were ‘saved’ and proclaimed their acceptance of church doctrine could advance in society.  Failure to accept the teachings would mark one as a heathen unfit for the benefits of Western culture.  Today, the churches remain, but appear to also be subject to the power struggle gripping the rest of the country.  I attended a Catholic church service and noticed an interesting practice during the collection.  Rather than sending baskets down the pews for anonymous donations, the entire congregation was ushered forward to rows of children holding large padlocked crates.  Money is collected with the eyes of the entire church on you.  I am also bothered when I witness Kenyans stating that “God will provide” and failing to take any initiative to improve their own lot in life.  The promises of a foreign religion are too often being used in the place of personal responsibility and ambition.

Final Thought – I realize that the tone of this post is relatively negative, but the content is based on my experience of the darker side of Kenya.  There are many fantastic and positive experiences chronicled in my previous posts.  My thoughts here seem to temper that a bit and are an attempt to help add more depth to the description of the trip.  I welcome any thoughts or debate on the subject.

Posted June 1, 2009 by chrislux in Travel

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