The alarm woke me up at 6:45. My roommate, Mike, was already up & showered. After a quick shower of my own, we made our way to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. One of the amenities offered at our hotel (besides the fact we could sleep 7 scouts to a room), was a complimentary breakfast. Let’s get it on.
Much to my surprise, Miles and his roommates were already seated in the restaurant when we got there. Nothing motivates a teenager like food.
Even thought this is my first visit ever to the great state of Minnesota, I have a 3rd cousin that attends the University of Minnesota. There was a chance that we would get to meet up with her and her sister on this trip, but I got the word this morning that they are not arriving in Minneapolis until two days later. Too bad!
Everyone was told to be in the lobby at 8:30am and be ready for a 9:00am departure. As we were congregating in the lobby, and later outside near the bus, I heard from another Dad that he saw a snowmobile last night cruising by our hotel. It is obvious we’re not in Oklahoma anymore.
It also turns out that last night, several of the boys went outside after our Troop meeting and built a snowman. Miles was not one of them. I think he was enjoying the warmth of his sleeping bag too much to try that.
We pulled out of the hotel 8:55 – 5 minutes early. I mentioned to my friend, John, that we seemed to be making a habit of leaving early. He noted that it was a bus full of males. We high-fived and then belched in unison to celebrate our manly superiority.
Our destination was the Mall of America. The 2 ½ hour bus ride was very quiet, as most of the boys stayed up late the night before.
When we arrived, the bus unloaded and our group met inside the main entrance for a few minutes while we waited for our instructions. There were no organized activities. Everyone was free to do what they wanted until we met again at 2:30.
Contrary to what I thought I knew, the Mall of America is not the world’s largest shopping mall. It is not even the biggest shopping mall in the United States – that title belongs to the King of Prussia Mall outside Philadelphia. The Mall of America was built on the site of the old Metropolitan Stadium, where the Minnesota Vikings & Twins used to play. Miles and I even stumbled across a plaque that represented where home plate was in the stadium.
With over 4 hours to kill, Miles and I decided to just start walking around to see what we could see. We had no plan at all for how we would spend our time there.
We quickly ended up at the “ropes course” in the Nickelodeon Universe amusement park that sits at the center of the mall. This is the largest indoor theme park in the United States, and we ultimately tried out several of their rides.
The ropes course is difficult to explain. You have to put on a harness, and they attach a rope to your harness that has a plastic fitting on the other end. The fitting slides into a framework of beams above your head. So, you are free to walk across tightropes, bridges, etc. at heights up to 40 feet in the air. This was a very exhilarating experience – especially the gangplank located at the very top of the attraction. The gangplank extends outside of the structure, and once you make your way to the end, you can pull two ropes that starts a foghorn. I wish that it took your picture when you pulled the ropes, but no such luck. Both Miles and I, as well as some other scouts doing it with us, pulled the ropes.
We had walked right up to the ropes course and got on after paying our $6 a person. While visiting with the staff when we finished up, he said that the wait to get on the course on a Saturday can be up to 2 hours long. Wow! We spent about 30 minutes on the course and had to share it only with a few other people.
After a very brief walk around the mall, Miles wanted to ride some more rides. We rode a roller coaster called the Rock Bottom Plunge. It was actually quite good. At the beginning of the ride, the car goes straight up, and immediately goes straight down. Yeee-Haawww!
We wrapped up with the log ride. Miles is such a gentleman. He let me sit in the front seat on the log so that he could stay dry, and I could take my chances. I ended up getting a little wet, but not too bad. This was a good outcome since I was carrying my phone and two cameras.
The rest of our time we spent walking around the mall, and investigating stores that we found interesting. The mall had a Microsoft Store (right across the hall from the Apple Store) and we spent some time playing soccer on their Xbox Kinect. We had a hard time using our bodies as the controller, as it promised, but I’m sure this is the future of video game controllers.
Everybody showed up at the appointed departure time and we made our way out to the bus. It was snowing quite heavily at this time. That might explain why the mall was not very busy at all.
On the bus, the boys were busy showing each other what they bought at the mall. Popular items included small items like pens & lighters that would shock you when you used them. Just what every boy needs.
Traffic was awful and slow. We managed only 15 to 30 mph for the first several hours. We had to make a pitstop at a Walmart when we got near our camp. The snow had been plowed into piles that looked like the size of iceburgs. That snowpile will not melt until May!
We arrived at Camp Stearns at 6:30. The camp website says it is conveniently located within an hour of Minneapolis, and it took us well over 3 hours.
From the time we arrived, until 10:45, we were kept busy getting outfitted for gear, learning about what to expect, learning about hypothermia & frostbite, and even getting educated on how to undress at night to get into your sleeping bag.
The wonderful thing about this camp is that they outfit everybody with the clothing & gear they need in order to keep warm. Wool pants, wool socks & sock liners. Three layers of gloves, boots & boot liners. Stocking caps and my very first balaclava! We are certain to look like a terrorist boot camp while we were all wearing these.
For our outing tomorrow, they have split our party of 44 people into three crews. Our crew was given the name of the Stuck Expedition. So named after Hudson Stuck, who led the first expedition to successfully climb Mt. McKinley. I doubt our crew will do anything noteworthy enough to be a namesake.
The evening ended with some activities in the lodge that included not only all of our traveling party, but also a troop from Nebraska, and one from Minnesota. The activities included a 9:00 bedtime snack of pretzels, cheese & crackers, and carrot sticks. This was a big hit with us, as we had not eaten since lunch!
We retired to our bunkhouse for the evening. There were rooms full of scouts and rooms full of adults, and I happened to be in a room of scouts & adults. There was not enough room so that we could keep ourselves fully segregated.
I laid down on my bunk and listened to the scouts in my room recite lines from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I am comforted that there is hope for America’s youth! And then I bravely went to sleep…