Culver, IN: REUNITED AND IT FEELS SO GOOD (Days 10 and 11)

RAGBRAI was over but the fun would continue … we woke up early Saturday to get rolling (last bicycling pun, I promise) … for today we would drive all the way to Culver, Indiana to visit our 14-year-old son Max at summer camp!  He had been gone for five weeks now and we were excited to visit the Culver Academies, where he had spent the past three summers.  Had he grown?  Had he missed us?  Would he come running into our arms like Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, running across a field of daisies to each other in order to spend quality time together?  (Answers: yes, possibly, no.)

The RV campground we stayed in after Philip’s triumphant RAGBRAI finish was literally a big grass patch in the middle of a cornfield.  All night long, every 30 minutes or so, we would hear the chugging and the low whistle of an approaching train, which would go by about 150 yards from our RV.  To some, that would be an annoyance.  To me, that’s heaven!  It was so charming, terrifically old-fashioned, and such a departure from anything we ever experience in Arizona.  The 6-1/2 hour drive through Illinois to Indiana was under beautiful, ever-changing configurations of cloudy skies, and Philip was grateful for the “forced relaxation” to let his muscles recover from the day before.

We arrived at Culver ( just in time for “weekend permits,” the designated time when cadets can go off-campus for R&R time (though they must be in their full uniforms even when they are leaving campus).  Culver is built right on huge Lake Maxinkuckee, has been around since 1896 and offers a six-week summer camp; this year, 1,394 attendees came from 38 states and 39 countries around the world.  It is a military boarding school (primarily Navy and Air Force) for high school students during the school year, and a huge camp for boys and girls during the summer.

Because of Max’s interest in the military, he loves being with other like-minded young men, as well as the structure, the rankings, the advancements, the ceremonies, the marching … all of it!  This type camp is not for everyone, but they have a huge array of classes, in all sorts of crazy interests like fencing, sailing, horsemanship, lacrosse, biology, ice skating, military leadership, and 70+ more.  Each summer you take 15 different classes, 5 per two-week session.  His favorite this summer was Basic Aviation, which culminated in a 30-minute flight where he actually piloted a Cessna 2-seater!  (Don’t worry … there was an instructor on-board, too.)

Needless to say, Mommy was super-excited to see her “little” boy again!  We would have six hours on Saturday and four hours on Sunday to hang out.  Max brought along one of his best friends from camp, Austin from St. Louis Missouri, whose parents were not visiting this weekend.  (Max had gone with Austin’s family the previous weekend.)  He called me “ma’am” and Philip “sir,” which was both refreshing and disconcerting at the same time, and he and Max are already plotting to be dorm-mates next summer when they will move up to “upper camp” and out of the current 14-boy cabins.

At Culver, they have no electronics and basically little communication with the outside world, except a one-way system of writing to your child called the “Bunk Note.”  Basically, you type a message into a website program, and the camp prints the messages out and places them in their bunks the following day.  But for the campers, they do not have computers, cell phones, Ipads, Iphones, Ipods, televisions, or anything else.  So, as you can imagine, Austin and Max were not so much interested in deep, heartfelt conversations with grown-ups, so much as they wanted to immediately check Facebook, YouTube, and the various other online forums of which they had been recently deprived.

What else did they really, really want?  Juicy grilled cheeseburgers!

(Little ones for Bella and Sprinkles.)

And the final thing Max was really craving?

Love from home, a.k.a. snuggles from Sprinkles!

Max is a member of Culver’s Marching Drum and Bugle Corps, which dates back to 1919 and this year has 72 members.  They perform at various events, including a performance at Six Flags Great Adventure in Chicago each year (a 30-minute performance which earns them 6 hours of running around the park and riding roller-coasters until they puke).  

While visiting this weekend, we were lucky to get to attend the weekly Culver Garrison Parade.  The Garrison Parade is a long-standing military tradition, providing an efficient method for the Commanding Officer to inspect all of his troops at once, present special honors and awards, and honor special guests in attendance.  All of the units attend, including the 80+ horses and all 1,400 campers in full uniform, who perform a precisely choreographed program for all in attendance.  It is an amazing spectacle filled with lots of pomp and circumstance, cannon booms and fly-overs, music and patriotism and pride.

Max will finish one more week at camp and then fly back home by himself.  He mentioned in passing that there had been a wrestling tournament last week, and he had pinned a 273-pound guy to win the semi-final round, so he will be in the final championship on Tuesday.  I am afraid for whom he will be wrestling in that one …. 300+ pounds?  Nobody better hurt Momma’s little boy!

Sunday was the first day of the entire 11-day “vacation” so far that we didn’t have to be somewhere right away and could sleep in and, thanks to the miracle of modern conveniences, enjoy a Sunday morning on the road that is just like a Sunday morning at home!  Cardinals news in the Arizona Republic Sunday paper (online edition!  yay!) … check.  Emails and Facebook and Words with Friends (thanks to a handy little traveling WiFi modem called “Jetpack” from Verizon) … check!  Scrambled eggs, hash browns and ham a-fryin’… check.  Fire in the (electric) fireplace … check (OK, we wouldn’t be doing that at home, but it’s dang cold here today, and we woke up to 58 degrees outside!)

So, as you can see, there is no real reason to return home … ever!  Well, I take that back. We really miss having a washer and dryer, and Philip’s pile of stinky bicycling clothes from the past week had to be banished to the “basement” … a outside storage compartment where we keep chairs and folding tables and whatnot.

Indiana has been beautiful and scenes like this farmhouse have **almost** made us want to replace burritos y guacamole, with ham loaf and frozen custard!  Tomorrow, we reverse the direction of the last 11 days.  Where we have been going continuously “East” and “North,” now we begin heading slowly back “West” and “South!”  Wagons ho!

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