Saturday was the final full day for campers at Birchwood. The girls needed to pack and have normal activity schedules, which were challenged due to heavy rains most of the day. Leslie and I spent a very leisurely day reading by the lake, then when the rains got too heavy for the trees to protect us we retired to our cabin and spent a relaxing (read lazy) afternoon just resting and reading.
The final evening at camp is pretty emotional as the girls who have been at Camp Birchwood either two or four weeks begin to say good-bye to each other, their counselors and to camp. The final campfire is filled with songs, awards, songs, and some very touching commentary from the girls themselves as several tell their friends what camp and their friendships mean to them.
On Saturday I posted about Camp Birchwood and why Leslie and I send our girls for camp. On Saturday night listening to the girls describe why they like going to camp, and why they do not want to leave, we received full validation. The word "home" was used by almost all of them, "be myself," "learning," and "love" were not said to appease anyone but to tell their fellow campers how they felt about them and themselves.
Birchwood is a very hard place to leave.
Sunday we had to leave along with about 160 girls travelling out of Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. The logistical organization of getting the bags loaded on a rented truck, girls loaded on buses and then everything to the airport so each bag and each camper is loaded on the right plane at the right time is amazing. And it always works.
We woke early Sunday, 5:30 local (3:30 for those on the West Coast) and walked over to camp for a cup of coffee and to collect our girls; I'm not sure which was more important but at our first stop Leslie went immediately to the gas station coffee pot and poured a tall cup.
The vibe in the car was very different with two more passengers than we had on the first 2,150 miles.
At 7:00 we were on the road with our destination being the Holy Smokes Resort in the Black Hills next to Mount Rushmore. As we wound our way through the Minnesota woods towards Fargo our girls slept in their seats, their new home for the next 2,000 plus miles. Hitting Fargo on an interstate and then making our left hand turn south into South Dakota we were again in the Great Plains.
Looking at a map of South Dakota we had to go from the Northeast corner to the Southwest corner. And South Dakota has no diagonal roads or highways. About thirty to forty miles into South Dakota we left the interstate and began our jiggity-jog across South Dakota mostly on two lane highways. Mostly on two lane highways that had no bends or turns for ten, fifteen, sometimes twenty miles. The roads cut through the farm lands of South Dakota that were flat and thinly populated. We could go quite a while with seeing no other cars, towns, people, just us and the corn or wheat or alfalfa growing on each side of the road. The desolation made for good driving times however.
When we hit the state capitol of Pierre I was exhausted and Leslie took over. Once we crossed the Missouri River in Pierre the landscape changed immediately to rolling hills covered in green. The sky began to change as well as we forged west becoming grayer and we could see a large storm to our south with lightning strikes. As we pushed closer to our destination the road began to fill with more and more bikers from across the country heading for the major rally at Sturgis (thanks to my brother for pointing our the misspelling in prior post). Not only did we see hundreds and hundreds of bikes on the road, but a significant amount of trailers being hauled that contained bikes headed to the rally. Looking at road stops along the highway (by now we were on an interstate) the parking lots were filled with Harleys lined up.
Approaching Rapid City and the turn off to our destination at Holy Smokes the road became about five to one bikers to automobiles.
We reached Holy Smokes at 6:00 and we were bushwacked, at least I was. We quickly learned that we had gained an hour as we were back in the Mountain Time Zone. A good dinner of ribs, chicken, baked potatoes and a beer for Mom and Dad revived our energy and we decided to head to Mount Rushmore for a look and see if we could make the evening lighting show.
Best decision of our trip, and one of the best of my lifetime, was the decision to visit Rushmore in the evening and make the lighting ceremony. Mount Rushmore is a national park, it costs $11.00 per car load and you are given a pass that lasts to the end of the year for as many return visits as you like. Upon leaving the parking structure you look up and there they are, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. I've seen the pictures my entire life but was not ready for the awe that came over me upon seeing the carvings in person.
We walked the Presidential Trail that had some great views of the monument and faces from different angles and plaques along the way telling of each President and why he was chosen. We went to the gift store and looked at books and the story of the making of Mount Rushmore. And then we sat in the outdoor amphitheater and waited for the ceremony to begin.
A female park ranger took the stage and began to tell the story of Mount Rushmore. Her story is filled with patriotism and history. A video made by the Discovery Channel is shown that tells of each president, the site and the monument. Then when I thought the show was over the ranger takes the stage again.
She tells of the importance of liberty and freedom. She tells the story that has made its way around the internet and YouTube of Red Skelton's break down of the Pledge of Allegiance and recites to us what each word in the Pledge means. At which point I was thrilled Blaire and Jenna were with us. She then asked that we rise, and below the four Presidents, recite the pledge.
The flag to which our attention was directed was at half mast, as were all the flags in South Dakota in honor of police officer James Ryan McCandless of nearby Rapid City who was shot and killed on duty last Tuesday day.
After the pledge the video played a beautiful rendition of "America" sung by I do not know who. As the song and video are playing the faces of the Presidents high above us are lit. We are then asked to stand and sing the national anthem. I will admit to difficulty getting some of the words out.
After the anthem the park ranger asked that any Veterans and active duty military personnel join her on stage. As veterans began to walk down to the stage we stood and applauded for several minutes until everyone was gathered, about fifty to sixty in all. Shouts of "Thank You!" and "God Bless You" rang out from the audience to the collection of men and women, many in their biker gear for Sturgis, collected on stage and reached out to each other shaking hands and making introductions.
The range asked three of the men to join her at the flag pole to retire the flag for the evening. One man raised the flag to full height from its half-mast position and then lowered the flag to the waiting hands of two other vets. As they folded the flag into its three corner position the ranger read a piece thanking all veterans through our wars and battles from the Revolution through Vietnam and those serving today.
She then said, "as you leave the stage I would like each of you to come and touch this flag as so many veterans have before you and so that I can personally thank each of you for service."
As the men exited the stage the audience, still standing, again began to applaud until every man and woman had touched the flag and left the stage.
As we were exiting the amphitheater a grizzly looking guy dressed head to bandanna wrapped around his head in biker gear said, "Man I have never been so humbled in my life."
That statement perfectly captured what I was feeling.
God Bless America, our Veterans and our every day men, women and families who continue each and every day to make this the greatest nation in the history of mankind.
Day seven of the Great American Road Trip continues tomorrow, after some sleeping in.