By the 2nd night there, pretty much all of my training group was together, and what a great group we had! Ranging from 21 to 42 years old, recent college grads to existing high school teachers, the 11 of us really ended up having a great time together. The experience could be compared to pledging a fraternity I guess especially since once you go through all of this together, it forms friendships quite quickly. We were in a sort of "basic training," waking up at early hours, working all day, cleaning, setting up, taking down, etc. Part of the weeding out process I guess. The total training was 3 weeks and everyone made it just fine with plenty of great memories forged along the way. Just a couple of days into knowing each other, and we were already talking about an end-of-season party altogether again.
What an eclectic group we trained with! Tashina is 24, she's lived practically everywhere in the U.S., loves the Hyabusa she's sitting on in the picture, and I knew she'd do great as a trek leader. Her artistic abilities are incredible. I saw some of her paintings online and they are really, really amazing. So welcome to California, eh? We did a "training trek" to actually go out and see what it's like on the road living out of the van. In Santa Barbara, I saw this dog, cat, and mouse living in complete and total harmony. (Picture above, and look closely to see the mouse on top.) This trio was just walking around on the sidewalk as if they were trying to prove a point.....which I think I got. Rodney King had something to say about this, too. (Okay, that's a pretty deep reference on a very deep thought. Bear with me.....I'm livin' the dream here!)
One of the spots visited on the training trek was Death Valley National Park. WOW, what an interesting and beautiful place to visit. We ended up seeing Badwater Basin, Devil's Golf Course, the Dunes, and more, including a hike up the hillside in the background. Our visit was during the first couple days of July, and yes, it was around 120 degrees each day. It cooled down to a comfy 75 or so at night, and I just love the fact that we got to camp out overnight there. It's a really fascinating place when you understand all the factors that go into making it such a consistently hot climate, and not to go unmentioned is the beautiful scenery everywhere. Funny part of the experience for me is that I had always envisioned Death Valley to be a wide open desert, with not much to look at. This could not be further from the truth.
All gay jokes aside, the picture above just shows how much fun we had during training. Matt, the one who's face is saying "this can't seriously be happening!" was woken by Clayton, the clown of our crew. Matt was actually my tent-mate for the training, and Clayton was the perpetual entertainer from Spokane. Clayton, I'll never forget the moment when you had a serious talk with us about saving money on food and such during training. You said "every 5 dollars I save now is another day I can spend in southeast Asia." That stuck with me, pal. I think about that often.Back at Suntrek headquarters, above is a picture of the whole training group "Team B.O.W.L." That self-imposed nickname indicates a humble status of the "Best of What's Left." (We were the last training group of 2008.) At this point, we were nearing the end of training and being assigned our equipment, tents, vans, and all the equipment we'd be responsible for.
Aside from all the equipment training, there's a mountain of paperwork and procedures we had to learn about, including paperwork that exonerates us of guilt should an accident happen and passengers are hurt. Our driving exams took quite a bit of time as well since most folks had never driven a 15-passenger van.....let alone with a trailer!
Above will help give a visual of what it's like around Suntrek headquarters. Lots of vans, lots of trailers, lots of grills, propane tanks, tents, and cooking equipment. We all work really hard to set up our gear for the tourists we take out on treks! This is the spot we call "home" during training, and in between treks (if your "between" time happens to be in the Santa Rosa area. Sometimes we finish one job across the country, and pickup another one somewhere else.) There are times when it's busy here at the campground and times when nobody is around. One thing's for sure: Get all the trek leaders back together after a few weeks out on the road, and you'll hear some of the greatest stories. My personal favorite? Brian Freeman had a group of Korean passengers on a 2-week trip, and one guy had forgotten his toothpaste and a couple of other things, so Brian took them to the store to fix the situation. A couple of days later, this passenger approached Brian with a funny look on his face and said in that Korean accent: "Oh...Brian. Something wrong with my toothpaste." Brian took a look at what he had been brushing his teeth with for two days, and it turned out to be tube of Preparation H!
Below are a couple more pics of what it's like around the training campground as all the trainees and active trek leaders get together for a 4th of July party. So many good stories, so many laughs. Admittedly, I'm guilty of trying to hang onto the grand memories of college life for far too long. This atmosphere brought me back to that life......and I absolutely I loved it.Just had to show one more picture of part of Team B.O.W.L. This was just a random moment near the end of training where Clayton decided we needed to hop in the same tent together. At about this time, we were splitting up as everyone was handed their first "orders" to go out on Trek. First Clayton....then Matt.......one by one, we slowly slid apart as we went out on assigments for the summer. Sad to see it happen, but I'm sure we're all off to make more new friends and have some great experiences.