Monday, July 4, 2016

30 Days of Blogging, Day 4: Oregon Trail to Hell

Remembers the game Oregon Trail? For the unfortunate, Oregon Trail was a computer game where you buy some oxen and supplies and take your family out on the frontier. You hunt, encounter snakes, and die of dysentery.

Great game for children to play.

Say someone has an idea; the idea is to teach children about the real Oregon Trail. Get kids out on the plains in the wilderness where they can experience the real lives of the settlers. Also, let's do this in the middle of the summer on the hot plains where there is literally no shade and the days start in the 90's and end with ravenous thunderstorms. Let's also make the kids 10-11 years old, because it's time those little bastards learn survival skills. We'll also teach them the stereotypical lifestyles of Native Americans by using real Indians. We'll also call them real Indians  to their faces.

This was my 5th grade camping trip.

I transferred to Rock Ridge Elementary school in the 5th grade. It was a pretty big change in schools, not only in location but the kind of school. This was in a county that raked in a lot of dough for their schools. Their history books went all the way up through George Bush in Castle Rock, not like in Littleton where the books only went up to Jimmy Carter. This was a fancy school.

I found out on my first day that I was just in time because the class camping trip would be going out to the Aurora Plains Conservation Center to camp in the middle of July. By the way, this was a year round school, which meant we were in school in the summer. I'd gladly take back my Jimmy Carter history book and take the summer off, thank-you-very-much.

This is a very common theme in all of my stories, but to set the scene in my social standing--I was a couple of pegs below awkward nerd. I maybe had two friends in my class, both who would not be going on this trip. I actually begged my parents to not make me go, but they wanted me to build character, and they would go on the trip if they could because it sounded amazing. 

If they went on these trips for me they wouldn't have made me go.

We arrived at the conservation center on a Friday. Now I will say my 11 year old self was pretty thrilled to pull up to this place and see real covered wagons, and oxen, and gigantic tee-pees that we would actually get to sleep in that night.

We were taken through safety drills first. The biggest concern out on the plains is rattlesnakes. We were instructed what to do if were to encounter one. Remember this, because we'll need it for later. 

Once we finished our safety demonstration we were introduced to Toby, who was our designated, honest to goodness Native-American guide for the weekend. Toby and his family worked for the conservation center, teaching little white children about life on the plains. He took us into a tee-pee where he showed us how they were constructed and also taught us the value of cow-patties. In the middle of the tee-pee was a small hole in the ground filled with dried cow patties. We learned that if wood was scarce, dried cow patties were a valuable source of kindling.

We were set loose to wander around the camp, where we learned out to tan deer hide, make fry bread, and make deer jerky; it would left hanging, fly-ridden in the hot sun. They were so surprised none of us ate any!

We were sent out to have free time, so I went back into the tee-pee with the girls who I was assigned to camp with; these girls turned out to be the most popular and pretty girls in our grade. They were also the designated class "Mean Girls". 

When I had initially put my things down in the tee-pee I had put my things far against the wall, where I was most comfortable hiding. When I got back in the tent, however, I found my things had been moved right next to the open pit of cow patties. I didn't say a word and just started unpacking my things, since there was nowhere else to move.

I was setting up my sleeping bag when the girls started pouring in with boys. I sat there watching them and asked if I could play too, and they very baldly said, "No way." Then one of the girls turned around and asked me if I was wearing deodorant, to which I said no because I didn't have sweaty armpits. Then they all started making fun of me for not having deodorant and that I had sweaty armpits. One of them threw a fit because they had to share a tent with someone with B.O. 

Now I have to defend myself, even now, because I sweat everywhere but my armpits. Even now, as a 36 year old woman, I sit here in my hot apartment with no fluid coming from my pits. 

They were just being mean.

There was one girl in particular who was the ringleader of the teasing. Let's say her name was Mag. She had bright blonde hair that was always fixed with sky high mall bangs, and her face was always bright red; as if she had ridiculously high blood pressure at age 10.

The whole incident of course ended with me running from the tent crying. I spent hours in the bathroom hiding with my Babysitter's Club book, reading. When I came back out my teacher was upset because she had been looking for me, to which I was surprised that she never looked in the bathroom. 

I had missed dinner but she saved me a plate. She told me to change into my PJ's and come eat by the fire with her and the other teachers. This was the best part of the trip for me. I always connected with adults so much easier than children my age, perhaps because there was safety in their presence. An adult would never terrorize you the way children would. One hopes.

I tucked into my sleeping bag without a word to any of the girls last night. The morning would find me inside the hole filled with dried cow patties. The girls laughed at me as I woke up and scrambled out of my sleeping bag.  They told me I rolled into it but I was later told by a girl from another tent who took pity on me that Mag pushed me in. 

Children are terrible people.

That day we were to leave our Native American lives and embark on to our Settler lives. We helped load up covered wagons, and embarked on a trail. According to my teacher we were following a trail to some pre-arranged tents on the plains where we'll lunch and take a break from the hot sun. After that we would hike to a small built up village where we could see an authentic prairie small town. It was complete with an old school house, a bakery, and we would get to dip candles. We never made it to the prairie town. 

Cue ominous music.

Remember how I said the days would start in the 90's and end with thunderstorms? That was no joke. We hiked along the trail, absolutely miserable from the heat. Mag encountered a rattle snake, because we were on the desert plains in their territory. 

Not gonna lie, I was a little disappointed she didn't get bit. I didn't want her to die, but let's remember she pushed me in cow shit and called me smelly. 

As we grew closer to our destination the clouds grew thicker and darker. To my 11 year old recollection I had never seen clouds so black and dangerous looking, and I had a terrible fear of thunder at the time. 

We marched on as the thunderclaps grew louder, and suddenly as if someone turned a bucket on our heads we started being pelted with freezing cold rain. That rain started turning into marble sized hail, and at this point we were running to the tents.

The tents were strangely army fatigue printed tents, which I found odd for an Oregon Trail type of setting. We ran in the tents where there was food set up for us, but the rain and hail was so heavy the tent was dripping and soaking the food. Water started to log around our ankles as the teachers tried to get us to sing camp songs to pass the time; I assume hoping the storm would quickly pass, like most summer storms do. 

As we sang "Down by the Bay", one of the teachers came running in saying she saw two funnel clouds. 

Of course this was immediately terrifying, as they herded us in to tornado drill positions. I don't know if you've ever been part of a tornado drill, but what you do is you squat down into childs pose with your head against a wall, then you cover your head. If we were in school we would have used our schoolbooks, but since we were on the plains we used our rain-soaked backpacks.

What happened next as I pressed my face into my knees to avoid the 3 inches of water was a mixture of sounds. Children screaming and crying. Hail pelting the tent. Teachers reassuring. Wind so loud and and fierce that it sounded like a freight train.

I didn't cry. I very distinctly remember feeling anger. I was angry my parents made me go on this trip. Angry at the horrible children and the futility of the activities we were participating in. Most of all, I was pissed that I might die with these assholes. 

Dark thoughts for an 11 year old, I know.

We didn't die. 

The tent wasn't swept up and we weren't thrown into the next county by the tornadoes. Miraculously, as close as they touched down they traveled in the opposite direction from us. The storm slowed down to a steady rain, and the teachers radioed the conservation center. They sent vans back and forth to transport us to the center where we were met with hot cider.

We crowded into a room not big enough for 80 children. Kids were taking turns calling their parents, telling them their harrowing tales of plains survival. I called my parents and begged them to come and get me. They told me I was being dramatic and they would see me the following afternoon, as planned. I sulked back to the crowd of wet, disappointed children. I ended up in the same corner as Mag and her cronies. 

Due to the lack of space it was sitting with them, or the wall of snakes they had on display in various terrariums. Mag was wailing; she said her legs were numb from the cold. I was suspicious of her because literally nobody else was complaining of being cold to the point of numbness. 

Also, I hated her.

Her cronies were comforting her, which only increased my anger, because they made this trip miserable for me. They were vile to me, but sweet to each other in a way that made me sick with the injustice of their cruel pecking order.

They were touching her legs tenderly and rubbing them, asking, "Can you feel that? Can you feel this? Can you feel anything yet?" She continued crying and waling, "No! I can't feel anything!" 

Then, completely out of character for me, as if having some kind of out of body, Hulk-like experience, I balled up my fist, reached over and punched her hard on the thigh and asked her, "Do you feel that?" 

She jerked her leg up and cried even harder, screaming, "YES!" 

The cronies were in shock. They began to admonish me as I picked up my things and moved over to the wall of snakes. 

I called my parents again and begged them again to pick me up, and my father relented and said he'd get me in the morning. I slept that night in front of the wall of snakes. I felt bad for punching Mag so hard, and tried to justify it to myself that she deserved it for being so mean.

The following morning while I waited for my dad I walked up to Mag and her cronies. I apologized for punching her leg, and asked if she felt better. Mag did not speak a word to me, but her cronies chided me, telling me she was probably going to get a bruise. I said I was sorry again and went back to reading my Babysitter's Club and waiting for my dad. 

When I saw our big white Ford Aerostar minivan pull up I could have sworn I heard a choir of angels.

I never really played Oregon Trail after that. I became a huge Solitaire fan.

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