A Transcontinental Expedition across the USA!
On the morning of 26 July 2019, a contingent of 25 young people and 12 adult volunteers from across Greater Manchester West (not forgetting Josh – our Welsh wisecracker) set off from Manchester Airport on a transcontinental expedition to the United States of America. We traded in Manchester for Dublin, where we cleared US immigration, before flying on to our first US city, the capital, Washington DC.
So, we didn’t see Trump, but we did see his house (it’s the white one). Fortunately for us, you can’t turn a corner in Washington DC without stumbling upon some kind of famous political or historic landmark. And so, after a hotel pizza party on the first night (starring a splash in the Holiday Inn’s rooftop pool) it was time to tackle the big sights. Tammy, our Scout-savvy guide from Blue Sky Adventures, whisked us around not only The White House, but the US Capitol building, the National Air and Space Museum, the Boy Scout Memorial – all the memorials for that matter – and the Arlington Memorial Cemetery. A few old school diners and photogenic pit-stops later it was time to say goodbye to the capital.
Next up, West Virginia University, our beds for the night before heading to the site of the World Scout Jamboree the next morning. Sure, we got to have a nosy around the sprawling Summit Betchel Scout Reserve, take part in a few activities and show off our badge-swapping prowess, but the best thing we did during our Jamboree day trip was meet up with SWARM 44 (the GMW Jamboree Unit) and leaders from Wigan District, who were on their own American adventure. But while SWARM 44 were wrapping up their Jamboree experience, things for us were just heating up. The next day we drove to Pittsburgh airport – which is where we had to leave our glorious guide, Tammy, who’d led us around the East Coast like a champ – for our flight to Denver, Colorado.
On arrival, we were greeted by our next Blue Sky Adventures guide, Derek – the lovable football fanatic – who took us from Denver Airport to his hometown of Colorado Springs, and the swanky Marriott hotel where dinner was served. In true desert-style we moseyed around the Red Rocks of sunny Colorado, before topping up our aviation knowledge with a tour around the US Air Force Academy
And this was just the start. The next day, Derek took us to the top of America’s Mountain, aka, Pikes Peak, which sits at a dizzying 14,115 feet above sea level. This, it turned out, was great altitude-acclimatisation for the adventures that lay ahead, and is where we gazed out across Colorado eating the Summit House’s world famous ‘high-altitude’ doughnuts. To top everything off was a trip to some grade-four rapids for an afternoon of spectacular whitewater rafting, before heading back for a splash in the (much calmer) hotel pool.
Then came our final morning in Colorado, where we tucked into another great breakfast and got ready for the 3.5-hour coach ride to our next destination, the place we’d travelled all this way to experience, the legendary US Scout activity camp… Philmont Scout Ranch.
Philmont is a Scout playground, and an operation so huge, it really has to be seen to be believed. At Base Camp, we were greeted with ceremonial song performed by the Philmont Scout Ranch staff (who come from all over the States to make Philmont what it is). Then we began a day of preparation, splitting into our three pre-designated patrols to organise kit and so forth, before embarking on an adventure of a lifetime – something that, we were told, would truly test our metal.
This, it turns out, was an understatement: ten days, hiking from camp to camp in the purest wilderness you can imagine, living off your wits and, more importantly still, your comradery. Every morning you’d open your tent to a passing herd of deer, or the gentle buzz of a hummingbird. It was 140,000 acres of glorious beauty. ‘Staff camps’, where we’d do our activities, were themed in Wild West style – from mining to horse riding and more. At these camps, we’d enjoy campfires with other patrols and singing staff.
I could talk for hours about Phimont – how it challenged us, awe-inspired us. There were storms, there were bears, there were wrong-turns and there were days where the climb seemed impossible. Yet, every day we managed it, together, and the sense of accomplishment for both the young people and adults alike was second-to-none. On our final morning, watching the sunrise over the Tooth of Time mountain, we all spoke about the ways in which we’d grown on this trip, as friends, citizens, and Scouts.
Back at Base Camp, we collapsed into showers, beds and devoured breakfast before travelling back to the Marriot Hotel in Colorado for lunch. Then it was onto Denver Airport one final time, for our flight to the City of Angels: Los Angeles, California.
On arrival in Los Angeles, we drove out to Glendale to stay with the Verdugo Hills Council Boy Scouts who hosted and catered for us at their lovely Scout Hall. It was a great opportunity to meet more American Scouts and share stories over barbequed chicken and before leaving the following day to explore Los Angeles. Surprising no-one, there’s a lot to see in the City of Dreams.
The Hollywood Sign and the Griffith Observatory were a moment of calm in the madness. The Hollywood Walk of Fame was the madness. Then we had a lunch at the Farmer’s Market – a quaint taste of Californian life. Our afternoon of shopping on Rodeo Drive, cruising around Beverly Hills and popping to the beaches at Santa Monica and Venice, it was time to head back to Glendale for our final night at the Scout Hall featuring, you guessed it, more pizza.
On the final day of the transcontinental expedition, we explored the inner-city of Los Angeles visiting City Hall, Olvera Street and the Dodger Stadium, before dodging the traffic and heading for LAX for our journey back to Manchester. And that, was that. Years of planning, years of hard work, and it was over.
Sitting here, months after our return, I can still see Larry the Bear, plodding around without a care, metres away. I can still remember the unbeatable tranquility of those early mornings at Phimont and the how the pinkish sky seemed to stretch on forever. I can still remember gazing up at the Washington Memorial, wondering how on earth they built it. I can still remember the Red Rocks of Colorado Springs, of screaming with laughter on the whitewater rapids. Of course, none of these memories would have been possible without the support of our friends and family who helped us back at home.
Most of all, this trip wouldn’t have been possible without the dedication of the leadership team, and the enthusiasm of its brilliant participants. I think it made all of us that little bit stronger, and that little bit braver. Long may it last.