In the top right hand drawer of my library desk is a faded wooden box which in its first life held an English Leather gift set. After that it served as the first aid kit for my post-high school multi-week trip out west with my best friend Al. Now it holds all of the yellowing photographs from that trip. For some reason I felt compelled to look at them this morning. That's when I stumbled upon...this:
This is exactly why we take pictures, so that one day while drinking coffee you can look at them and be astonished. That's my friend Al Thomason to the left. Back in 1976 neither one of us were particularly anxious to go to college just yet. He was 19, I was 18, and we were both idiots. We worked all summer after graduating high school at Lowe's hardware on Broad Street in Richmond, saved every dime we made, then pooled our resources, loaded up his Vega GT and hit the road.
As you can imagine, this scheme of mine didn't go over particularly well with the folks. It didn't help that I sprung my plan on Dad in the midst of a 5 hour drive to visit Bluefield College. "So Dad, I fully intend to do the college thing and all, but first I've decided to blow all my money and six weeks of my life roaming around the great northwest." It was the first time I had ever seen my father at a loss for words. But, there we were, posing for a picture in the back yard in August of '76:
Fortunately, Al is blocking the now embarrassing Jimmy Carter for President bumper sticker that we proudly paraded around Montana and Wyoming. Youthful exuberance, indeed! But, getting back to
that first picture. We were about to launch out on our first three day, two night hike in the Grand Tetons. We had boarded the ferry boat that would take us across Jenny Lake to the trail head, and the captain of the boat was kind enough to take the picture...probably because he sensed that at some point someone would need help identifying the bodies. We were about as green as green could be. Sure, we had a fair amount of experience hiking the Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia, but the Blue Ridge is to the Rockies what a Volkswagon is to a Lamborghini. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Just look at us! Al, with his red bandana, which would come in real handy 48 hours later when it was SNOWING. Me, with my "Nothing is better for thee than me" Quaker t-shirt, the perfect shirt choice for a hike to 10,000 feet of altitude. I only wish someone had taken an after picture. Oh, and don't even ask about the hair...chicks loved it.
I often wonder what I would have done if either of my children had announced plans to do something so manifestly reckless as my 1976 voyage of discovery. The only thing my Mom said was that we had to call home every Sunday that we were gone at 1:00 eastern time. We did...from pay phones since cell phones hadn't been invented yet. When Dad asked me when we were expecting to come back home, I had answered, "when our money runs out." He had let out a resigned sigh then added this nugget.."When you get back, you're going to have to pay for your first semester at University if Richmond with your own money, understand?" That was it, his only protest.
The thing is, I blew $1,000 in 1976 dollars on that trip, and if I had it to do over again, I would. Yes, it was foolish, dangerous and irresponsible, but I had a blast. I needed to get it out of my system and I think my Dad knew that. Most of what happened out there will go unsaid. This is a family-friendly blog, after all. But, an 18 year old kid can learn an awful lot about the world roaming around the Rockies with a horrible perm. For one thing, Olympia Beer was a truly vile brew and leads to this type of decision making: