Ascent


The diesel engine of the Ford E350 passenger van droned relentlessly as the North Dakota scenery slid past outside the tinted windows. They had been driving since seven that morning after eating a quick breakfast and hastily taking down their camp. It was the first full day of driving, but the group of 15, if you included the driver, wasn’t daunted by the looming journey.

Ford E350 passenger van

The counsellors were seated at the front of the van, one in shotgun and another in the first row of seats behind. Eli — the boys’ counsellor — was sitting in the first row while Ruthie — the girls’ counsellor — sat next to the driver. His name was Tanner. A former Menogyn counsellor, he was familiar with the way trips were supposed to go, and helped to keep them that way. Although it was never officially confirmed, there was a tangible chemistry between him and Ruthie which provided the girls’ group with a plethora of gossip-material.

Ruthie’s long brown hair would frame her freckle-strewn face on the rare occasion that she didn’t wear it in a ponytail. She carried the same liberal mentality that is almost a given for most camp counsellors at a camp such as Menogyn. An ultimate frisbee player in college, she always had a disk and would toss it around whenever there was down time. She had just as much, if not more, experience as Eli with the wilderness and was ready to take on the mountains.

The Atmosphere song floating through the icy, air conditioned car switched — “Oh my god I love this song,” exclaimed Willa. She was jammed into the back corner of the van along with John and Moira. Like most of the people who sign up for Menogyn, she was from Minneapolis — Southwest Minneapolis to be exact. She would always tell the group that she could see all of the edina people on the other side of her street. “I see a lot of cake-eaters,” she would say. Her upper lip was symmetrically decorated with two small birthmarks, each the size of a beebee. Though she was only 14, she was a very mature, open and accepting person. But what else would have been expected from the people you meet at camp?

The van erupted into conversation after Willa’s comment; and the music pulsed on. Outside of the van the geology rolled in a peacful blandness. The monotonous nature of the earth in North Dakota was boring in the most interesting way possible. The flatness would rise into an unexpected bump just when it seemed like it would go on forever. In the distance a lump would appear on the horizon, as if the earth were raising an eyebrow in surprise.

The van veered gradually right and exited the highway it had been glued to for the past 3 hours. Soon its tires had left the asphalt and were following a dirt road upwards to the top of the same hill that had loomed in the distance.

“Alright guys, field trip time,” said Eli with an adventurous glint in his eye. The van parked clumsily in the dirt lot halfway up the hill — taking extra space due to the trailer attached to its rear. The group exited the van and approached the spectacle that we had all come to admire.

The hill was home to an enormous cow sculpture. Named Bessie, it rose at least fifty feet from hoof to snout, and was the largest man-made object they had seen in 30 miles. They climbed to the top of the hill, which was higher than the cow, to drink in the beauty of the expanse that was below.

Rapid winds wrapped the foot-hill above, and below forced the high grasses to bow in wave-like patterns. Moira stood atop the highest rock and surveyed the entire view. She had an adventurous attitude, a necessity for this type of trip. She wore yellow crocs that were always speckled with dirt. The straps were pushed to the top of the shoe — unless she thought she would need the extra support while exploring. She called them the adventure straps. “It’s like an ocean!” she exclaimed to the group, although nobody was around to hear.

Those kinds of simple beauties were plentiful on the trip, and always seemed to have that effect. It commanded that you share the feeling with somebody. With something. Even if there was nobody there to agree with the beauty being aknowledged, it had to be vocalized. Though nobody could hear it except herself, Moira knew it was a necessity. It made her marvel at how something as simple as a field of grass below the only hill for miles could make her feel like she was home.

As the van sped along the highway the geology would mirror the building anticipation for arrival. In Minnesota the land remained a uniform flatness, littered with the occasional grove of pines. As they continued west the pine forests thinned and fell away to lonely, stretching plains. The blandness was contrasted with scattered folds in the landscapes which were overflowing with thick green foliage. The texture resembled a golden suede that stretched into eternity over knolls and into stream beds. Eventually the land would begin to roll gently, rising like waves on either side of the van. The pitching of the earth became ever more extreme as the miles westward increased; along with it was the Anticipation.

The motive for the groups attendance on a voyage such as this varied, but the core reasoned remained constant: a break. In the throws of summer vacation routine is a feared adversary. The trip to the bighorns would abolish this hated rhythm that hainted every single one of them, and would cast light from a new angle, providing an opportunity to garner new perspectives. As the miles ticked past on the van’s odometer, the apprehension to arrive compounded. The desire for isolation and immersion and contemplation and overall envelopment in nature heightened with each passing second.

The rolling would become more extreme, eventually evolving into foothills rather than simply fields. This increased occurence of hills continued until finally it reached an apex in Wyoming. The earth in the distance sharply lifted thousands of feet up. With the increased height also came an apex in excitement. As far as they were concerned they had arrived.

The change in landscape stirred the hunger for adventure in the entire group. Hunger for what they would experience, for what they would learn. Hunger for the wilderness. The routine had been broken and the trip had begun, but now it would genuinely commence. The trail was waiting.

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