After possibly the most manic and surreal 3 weeks of my life I’m home from the Clyde Region Explorer Belt.
We have had such an amazing time, it feels like so much longer than 3 weeks ago we were wandering around the Smithsonian. So much has been achieved in those 3 week, participants have walked 4900+ miles on Explorer Belt Treks, leaders drove over 3000 miles visiting them and we have encountered Racoons, Bear, Monkeys, Spiders and too many flies to mention but most of all we have encountered the amazing generosity of the American people who too so many of our groups into their homes for the night, fed them, gave them a bed and even washed their clothes. Our thanks go out to every one of them along with the businesses, fire departments, sheriffs and churches who also supported the team. Without your generosity the Explorer Belt would not have been what it was, truly special.
There will be so many stories which I’m sure the participants will be telling for years to come (and some I’m sure they won’t be telling!!)
To the participants – thank you for making it such an enjoyable experience, the past 24 months have been hectic to say the lease but every minute was worth it to hear the stories and see you all back in Harpers Ferry when you had completed the hike. Well done everyone.
To the leaders, it was a pleasure working with you all, thank you for giving me the chance to be part of such an amazing experience, there was never a dull moment with you around. To John Raffery, Kevin O’Gorman, Paul Crolla, Louise Drain, Diane Swan and Robert Hay, when are we doing it again?
20/07/13 and 21/07/13
Off home today, it’s a sad day for everyone and it’s going to be very long one too.
We were getting picked up at 10.30 but before that we had to get everyone packed and all the tents cleared and the huts and toilets swept and washed out so plenty of stuff to keep people busy.
Just enough time to get a last group photo at the Camp La-No-Che gates before getting on the bus and driving back to Orlando airport.
Orlando have it sussed for groups, they must have lots of experience with them being so close to Disney after all. We arrived to two dedicated check in desks where all out boarding cards and luggage tags had been pre-printed for us and everyone went up in order and just swapped bags for passes and that was it, totally hassle free. Next stop security, thankfully for one and only time today, not like arriving where we had to go through it twice. Quite quick.
There is quite a lot to do in Orlando airport, but we didn’t see much of it as our flight was on time and we didn’t have much time to kill, just a quick snack at a Mexican place the off to the flight.
Getting to Philadelphia was hassle free; I read a chunk of my book forcing myself to stay away for the long flight later.
Just a couple of hours to kill in Philadelphia and there are plenty of places to eat in Philadelphia and we ended up in an Irish bar, we had to eventually, is it not some unwritten rule of being a Scot abroad you have to visit and Irish bar.
After amassing everyone at the gate the flight was delayed by an hour because of a routine maintenance delay, surely routine maintenance should take a known length of time? Anyway the plane eventually makes it over from the hanger but after I’ve finished my book and left with nothing to read, not a problem as I was planning on sleeping anyway.
While we were sitting waiting to board we were treated to a nice lightning storm in the distance with some amazing fork lightning as well as sheet lightning. We were called to board and all shuffled onto the plane just over 90minutes later than planned only to be told that we wouldn’t be going anywhere soon as the storm had moved right over the airport and it wasn’t safe for the ground crew to work so the baggage was left sitting out in the rain and there was no fuel in the plane. Let the waiting games commence.
After about 20 minutes, it seemed a lot longer, the storm passed and everything was finally sorted and we left.
Could I get to sleep? Not a chance, I spent the next 7 hours being far too awake for my liking. We were supposed to arrive in Glasgow at 0655, we arrived at 1020 slightly more knackered than planned.
It was very nice being met at the airport by Shona, made me happier to be home from an amazing trip. It was also nice to see that Stuart Imrie, the regional commissioner, who waved us off 23 days ago, was there to meet us at the end of the adventure.
The final day of activities today, more shooting, alpine and cope for some and tubbing for the Poseidon team.
There were a lot of very tired people today and there were a few who didn’t make activities who decided sleeping and packing was a better idea, I agreed with them and did the same. It’s amazing how when packing you realise how much you brought with you and didn’t use. I still haven’t got the hang of it and probably never will. Anyway, it all somehow went back in the bag, even the personal information folders.
Somehow managed to fill the rest of the day with cleaning and faffing about not doing much.
Tonight was the main camp closing ceremony held in the dining hall as we were in the middle of a thunder storm. It was almost as good as the opening ceremony, this time they had a leaders quiz and we got Kevin up to answer a question on rap music, he didn’t get it but Max did and I think we won in the end.
After the official closing ceremony there was closing for the Jamboree were BJ showed a few pictures of the camp and said a few words and had a candle lighting ceremony to close the camp. Think this was supposed to be like the final Campfire at Blair Atholl Jamborette but on a smaller scale.
After all the official stuff was out the way the Clyde Jamboree unit retired to one of the campsite huts to have our own thanks to BJ and the rest of the staff who were presented with trip polo shirt, neckie and a signed scout shirt from everyone in the unit.
We then had a couple of smuggled beers before heading to bed for out last night in America, this time tomorrow we’ll be somewhere over the Atlantic on our way home.
Up and going in time for flag break today for everyone, first time since we got here we’ve all been on site to do it.
For people on Poseidon they were off canoeing to see alligators, snakes and monkeys. The monkeys are not native of Florida; they were imported for the original Tarzan movie and never rounded up when filming was finished.
Everyone else was at the same activities they were at on Tuesday when we were last on site. Alpine, shooting and cope being the choices.
I went back to shooting today and used the gun rest and was a lot happier with my shooting today, got 20 of my 25 shots in a very nice group, not in the target but with a bit of sight adjustment it would have been good shooting.
In the afternoon I didn’t bother with Alpine and took a nap instead, the first one of the trip, I think that was quite good going considering how busy we have been.
Dinner tonight was chicken fricassee, was actually not bad at all. Looked and tasted exactly like I remember from school dinners!
Tonight’s activity was a Native America Pow Wow which consisted of dancing demonstrations. After that was over we took over to run an international ceilidh led by our P.E. teacher Scott and done to a collection of traditional and modern music. We started off with a Scottish only dance then had a grab a foreigner for the rest of the dances finishing with an Orcadian strip the willow just to confuse everyone. Was absolutely amazing but far too hot for it and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves!!
Older ones were off site tonight at a local attraction 😉 while the rest were in bed, someone unfortunately had to stay back and look after them oh well, bed was nice.
Unlike the first day going to Universal we didn’t get away with not going to flag this time so we had to wait for breakfast and leave a little later than hoped. Bus drive wasn’t as talkative this time and the scouts weren’t as loud either, think the early start must have been starting to get to them.
Again we arrived and punted them off into the park in groups and told them to meet back at the bus at 9.
Today we splashed out and got fast passes for the leaders, out of our own money before anyone brings it up, so we could get more done in the day and they really work!!!
Straight up Harry Potter for the actual Harry Potter ride and the wait was still about 20 to 30 minutes with the fast pass and well worth it.
While we were there we took another shot on the red dragon and on the way out of Island of Adventure to go over to Universal we stopped off for another go on the Hulk.
First stop in Universal was Transformers, very similar to Spiderman but with different characters but still very good.
Quick stop for pizza, just a large one between us this time rather than each!
After that slid down a bit we went on the Mummy ride, it was amazing, probably the best ride in the park. It was in complete darkness and you had no idea what was coming next. So good.
Twister was a bit of a let-down. It was a story about the film then you went into a room and the floor shook a bit as stuff rattled and fell over in a bit of wind. Not very good really.
Men In Black was an interactive ride where you have to shoot aliens on the way round and get spun every so often, it was fun.
Disaster is set on a film set where members of the audience take on parts in a new film, you are then led into a subway car which is hit by an earthquake and your reactions filmed and after that they show you the film made of all the bits put together. Very cheesy but good fun.
Rockit starts off with a vertical climb before dripping into a long roller coaster, it was amazing fun!
Hard Rock Café for dinner tonight then a final trip round the shops for presents before heading back to the bus, camp then bed.
I didn’t manage to sleep through all the people moving about at 4.30 as someone in the room next door didn’t switch their alarm off and it woke everyone up. They soon switched it off after Kevin offered to put it somewhere…
Turned out for flag at 7.25 where there were announcement by the all too cheery staff. This any stereo typical image of a camp in America from any film you’ve ever seen and you’re pretty much there. Flags went up, strange things to note about American flag break. Firstly you don’t break the flat, you raise it. Secondly you salute it the whole time it is going up not just for a few seconds once it’s broken as you do here. Thirdly, the US flag has to go up first as it’s the most important flag then all the rest go up at the same time. After the flags were up, a volunteer said prayers for everyone and the camp then we were dismissed for breakfast.
Shooting was at 10am so I wandered along expecting some really strict range master shouting at people but what I got was a bunch of kids who were probably younger than me running it, except the range master who was a bit older but not much. We’d missed the first session as we were at Universal Studios yesterday so weren’t entirely sure what was going on but they gave a quick recap and then it was in to shoot 5 shots at 5 targets and that was that. It was seating position shooting and I never realised what the support block was for in front of me so I just shot holding the gun and got all the shots on the paper at least and was still better than some of the scouts who were using the support.
Lunch today was sandwich, crisps, cookies and, again, unlimited coke etc.
My afternoon activity is Alpine Adventure. I had no idea what this was but it turns out it’s a giant egg timer tower with 35 different ways to get to the top. Since we were at Universal the first day hadn’t run as there weren’t enough people so the instructor was trying to fit two days course into one day. Most of the stuff was team building trust games, which were good but it is definitely on a different model to what we do in here.
The purpose of their summer camps is to get merit badges, you go to camp for a week and do the same classes every day, e.g. shooting, alpine, and learn everything about it and progress through the week to either gain or nearly gain the merit badge by the end of the week. There is very little instant gratification here which surprised me a lot.
By the time I got back to camp the after Alpine our intrepid sea captains were back, mostly with green faces and not much left in their stomach. Apparently they did a very good job of chumming the water and did manage to bring back a couple of small sharks for the Native American village to cook.
Dinner tonight was a stew of some sort, didn’t want to ask really after the horsemeat scandal I figured it was probably best not knowing.
After dinner there was a Scottish v’s Staff Football match which we won convincingly 9-0, quick swim to cool down after that then bed. Back to Universal tomorrow.
Early starts today as we were off to Universal Studios. All on the bus by 8am and on our way. Anyone who knows scouts knows how much we love a sing song and this bus journey was no different except for the age group. Thankfully we had an amazing driver called Alice who was an ex-cop and didn’t seem to mind one bit what we were singing and assured us she had probably heard worse before, our guys just took this as a challenge and got worse. At the end of the journey she thanked us for the entertainment and told us we weren’t the usual snotty bunch of boy scouts she usually picks up, I took that as a complement.
We arrived in the park just after opening and sent everyone off in groups to explorer and gave them a time to be back at the bus for. I decided today was the day to get over my fear of roller coasters, seen as I don’t know why I’ve got one seen as I’ve never been on one and I doubt Raff would really give me a choice of staying on the ground all day.
We heading into Island of Adventure and the first stop for the leaders was Spiderman, which is a 3D simulator ride where you get thrown about while Spiderman takes on the usual baddies from the films. Survived this one fine and it’s all good. Next stop was Hulk, a real rollercoaster and slightly more terrifying to look at but none the less we joined the queue, which was quite a bit longer than Spiderman but still not too long. This would be the test as to whether I liked rollercoasters or not. IT WAS AMAZING!!!!!!!! Spent most of the time laughing on the way round, not really that scary at all, it was fast, upside down, right way up, will try and find a video of it to add later. I have no idea what has stopped me going on rides before. After this the slightly more sedate Jurassic Park River Adventure, only got a little wet on the way round then headed off to lunch.
We met up in a restaurant where Kevin and Paul had bought nachos as a starter, this starter did all 7 or us no problem at all!! It was huge! Lunch itself was a pulled pork sandwich, very tasty, getting a bit of a taste for pulled pork, might have trouble finding them once I get home though.
After lunch we headed back into the park to find some more ride, seen as it was just after lunch we went for something inside so it couldn’t throw you about too much so we stopped at Poseidon, it’s a walk through in a big group and Poseidon and someone have a battle to control the earth and there’s fire and water. It wasn’t that good and I probably wouldn’t do it again.
More exciting stuff next and up to Harry Potter world where we avoided the Harry Potter ride, as it has a 90 minute wait on it and we are coming back on Wednesday so we will do it then, and went on the Dragon Challenge (what used to be Duelling Dragons). We started with the red one as it is supposedly the better one, again it was amazing! Off for a short break, and then back up to do the blue dragon. Just as we were about to join the queue the rides were closed because of thunder storm in the area and they don’t want anyone struck by lightning on the way round. We decided that it probably wouldn’t take too long to pass so we went up and joined the queue anyway and ended up near the front and after about 40 minutes the ride was up and running again, if a bit wet. It was almost as good as the red dragon but not quite.
As we were now pretty wet from the rain anyway more water rides were in order so off to Rip Saw falls, then Bilge Rats Barges. Rip Saw falls is a log flume ride which ends with a massive slide back to the bottom. Bilge Rats is a rapids ride where you go round in a big circular raft and get totally soaked on the way.
Had to stop off on the way back to the bus to buy a new t-shirt because I was soaked to the skin and didn’t much fancy sitting on the bus for an hour.
Back at camp late and dinner was held for us, everyone else had been fed and were sat watching Captain America in the dining hall so we had to eat our spagbol, garlic bread and peach cobbler type thing in the dark pretty much.
Everyone went to bed early as the majority of people were doing the Poseidon activity package and were going to deep sea fishing and were getting picked up at 5am, thankfully I’m was doing alpine adventure and shooting which didn’t start until 10am, though I did sill have flag at 7.30am.
Later start today as the rest of the campers didn’t arrive until lunch time for their summer camp. The jamboree has about 110 people at it and about 80 of them are Scottish, 8 Ugandans and the rest are Americans. On site there are also about 300 other Americans at their summer badge camp.
Breakfast was sugar filled, think we all had our daily allowance in the one go but it was quite good.
There was nothing planned for this morning so we ran a basketball tournament and some basketball based games for the jamboree with lots of water breaks, it’s very hot!! Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.
Lunch today was a hot pocket and come crisps, nothing too exciting, I think this is a sign of things to come food wise.
After lunch we got a campsite tour before out BSA swim test before moving to the Native American village on site to hear about what they offer activity wise. They offer lots of activities including traditional cooking, hunting skills, weapons and survival skills.
Dinner tonight was a burger and a hotdog with crisps.
After dinner we filled the time played cards and games which we supplied by the jamboree teams to keep us amused before bed.
After the excitement of last night there were a few very unhappy faces when the leaders arrived in the hall at 4am to get everyone ready to leave for the airport and flight down to Orlando for the jamboree. The bus arrived at 5am and by 5.30 we were all asleep again. We had a slight issue with the bus, we were a seat short and only one of the luggage doors worked so it was a tight squeeze and I ended up going backwards on a seat with no armrests and sleeping, not really a good combination, I almost ended up in the stairwell a couple of times!
Go to the airport in plenty of time for the fight at 1000, just a short 2 hours 15 minutes hop down the coast. Can’t believe we were originally thinking of getting a coach all the way. It’s 892 miles from the KOA campsite at Harpers Ferry to the BSA camp La-No-Che in Florida, bear in mind that it’s only 838 miles from Lands End to John o’ Groats!!!
I remember sitting down on this flight and that’s about it, there was a bit of turbulence in the middle somewhere and the next thing I remember is landing, I woke up when the wheels hit the ground. I don’t remember anything else, not the safety briefing, drinks being offered, snacks, nothing, I was asleep.
Picked up at the airport, nothing missing this time so it’s off to a mall for a quick lunch break and some pillow buying for leaders. Got a nice deal on some Ralph Lauren pillows, should have been $60 but got them for $12 each due to a managers morning special even though it was 2pm by now, the morning special star conveniently disappeared and the sales assistant had to give us them at the advertised price.
Once at camp La-No-Che we went and settled into our accommodation. The camp site is split into 24 smaller sites which each have tents with 2 army style cots in them and a big wooden hall with tables and fans as well as two 4 person room at the back for leaders. Better than we were expecting, we thought we were all in the tents.
Shortly after arriving we get our first thunderstorm of the trip with some pretty amazing rain! It lasted for 90minutes, an hour of which we had to spend inside as the Thor guard siren had gone off which meant the lightning was close and there was a risk of strikes on the site.
The slightly delayed dinner was a chicken leg, some sliced chicken, potato salad, coleslaw and drinks, for the leaders it’s back to earth with a bump compared to the last 2 weeks eating!!
Not much information for tomorrow, there’s nothing planned until a tour and swim test after lunch.
Another, and final, late start for the leadership team.
Quick breakfast and a washing put on.
About lunch time the first team arrives back at the KOA. Another two teams turned up shortly after that. They have another days project work to do yet but have covered the distance.
I took one of the minibuses and drove to Harpers Ferry village; it looked very nice so I followed the signs for parking which took me all the way round to a car park 200 yards from the campsite gate.
Harpers Ferry looks very much like a heritage village and from what other teams have said that exactly what it is, at least the river side part, with some houses on the outskirts.
After getting almost back to the camp I decided not to bother going back down and went back to camp.
For the $5 a head the leaders organised a BBQ Dinner for the teams who had returned, so yet more steak, ribs and burgers were consumed along with potato salad, coleslaw, macaroni salad etc.
Paul was due to return tonight but there was a small issue with his flight being cancelled between Philadelphia and Washington where Kevin was picking him up. Prof O’Gorman travel agent extraordinaire got on the case and worked out that Paul could get the train from Philadelphia airport to Carlisle and stay in a hotel there and be picked up in the morning with one of the teams.
Early bed for some, it’s going to be a long day of pickups tomorrow.