Things started out pretty rough for a first time solo flyer kid from Uxbridge, Ontario, Canada. I was sitting in the secondary customs interrogation room in the Pearson International Airport, waiting for the very unimpressed U.S. Customs officer to finally call my name after what felt like a lifetime of waiting. Thinking back to the conversation I had with the first officer, I reviewed the exchange to decipher what had gone wrong.
“Where are you travelling?” he said as monotone as an answering machine.
“Bible school in Pagosa Springs, Colorado,” I said confidently.
“What?” he asked back.
“Bible school…?” I offered, apprehensively, my confidence dwindling now that he had actually looked up from his desk.
“Is it for credit?” he quizzed.
“Well… sort of.” I should have studied for this quiz. “Uhh you can get them, but you don’t have to.”
He gave me a puzzled look. “Do you have any forms from the school?”
“Uhh…no.” Who the heck brings forms? I asked myself. “I didn’t think I needed them…”
With that, he picked up the phone and dialed someone else who I imagined was having as bad a day as he seemed to be.
“Yeah, I got a kid here. He says he’s going to Bible school?”
Oh no! I thought. That must be code for terrorist!
He hung up the phone, took my passport, and reached behind his computer for a yellow folder. Sliding my passport inside, he pointed to a door down the hall with a sign that read “Secondary Interrogation.”
I’m done, I thought. At this point I was beginning to wonder if it would just be better to turn around go home right now, with my dignity still somewhat intact. I might even be able to catch up to my family and get a ride back, too.
But alas, I figured I would at least try. It might sound better to my mom if I told her I had tried. I pushed open the door and was met with the sight of what was possibly the dreariest room on the face of the earth. The walls were painted with the same colour you might find on hearing aid. A woman sat at her desk, with the same expression on her face as the last officer I spoke to. An older couple, as well as a few others who did not look like they were from Canada or the U.S., sat scattered about the waiting area. Needless to say, as a kid in a plaid shirt and trucker hat, I felt very out of place.
So I waited…and waited…and waited. I had no concept of what time it was and was nervous I would miss my flight. The words of the lady at the check-in desk echoed in my mind: “…You better hurry, this is the only flight out to Durango today….” I desperately wanted to pull my phone out to check the time, but the sign on the wall staring me in the face read “NO ELECTRONIC DEVICES.” So, at the risk of being shot, I thought better of it.
The wait dragged on. The older couple were called up first and questioned by the officer. Through the noise of the fan sitting behind me, I tried to pick up bits of the conversation. This was me studying for the quiz.
Finally, it was my turn. A man walked around the corner and asked for me. Luckily, he seemed much kinder. Maybe it was the “deer in the headlights” look on my face. He asked me the same questions but with a little more detail this time. Perhaps it was the fact he was aided by the use of the internet so he could check my facts, but he was more forgiving when I tried to dig for answers that were encased in “uhhs.” The interview finished and he pointed to a door that said “To Gates.” Glory, Hallelujah! I made it!
After that, the trip was relatively seamless. Apart from, “Sir, you can’t board yet. I haven’t called your zone,” and “Your belt is going to have to go through the metal detector too, sir,” I arrived at the quaint Durango Airport for the most part in one piece (I left most of my dignity back at the airport in Toronto). As I walked out into the hot, dry Colorado afternoon, Semester Staffer Jeff Hart was waiting by the Summit van to shuttle me and a few other students who had apparently been on the same plane (who knew?) to our final destination. As we rolled up and down the beautiful hills of Colorado Route 160, each peak brought new and magnificent vistas that included the surrounding mountains, picturesque barns, an old Ford F-100 and a few “John ‘Duke’ Smith for Sheriff” signs. As The Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy said: “Toto, we’re not in Ontario anymore” (Or something like that).
I arrived at my home for the next three months, Snow Wolf Lodge, and was immediately chastised for pronouncing “about” and “sorry” correctly. Regardless, I settled in nicely and was able to make new friends fast and easily. With only thirty students in total that wasn’t hard.
With the kind of scenery that surrounded us, there was a lot of snooping around and exploring that needed to be done and I found a partner with which to do it: Chris Nuzum. We roamed up and down the ridges that surrounded the lodge, with and without trails. We occasionally found ourselves waist high in the ever present scrub oak with no sign of any trail around us anywhere. We operated under the assumption that “whoever draws the most blood had the fun.” I had the most fun.
While it seems that one could spend the entire three months here at Snow Wolf Lodge and still not have explored the whole area, the staff makes it a priority to get out and explore the rest of Southwestern Colorado. Despite drawing the least tourist traffic in the state, there is plenty to see and do. Just last week we took the 3 hour car ride up the 160, over the San Juan, down through the San Luis Valley, past the small town of Alamosa to Great Sand Dunes National Park. Situated up against the Sangra de Cristo Mountains, the dunes are shaped from the storm winds that rush down from the mountains. Unfortunately, by the time we got to them, it had started raining. But that would not stop us as we made the trek to the top of the dunes through blowing sand and driving rain (which is easier said than done).
It is still early and many more trips are on the horizon. Our plan is to take the three hour trek to the Million Dollar Highway next Saturday. This scenic road that winds its way through the mountains is, as I’m told, best enjoyed around this time of year, when the aspens have changed from a dark green to a vibrant bright yellow. Later, our plan is to head even further west to the famous Grand Canyon, which needs no introduction.
The first three weeks here at Summit have been a blast and I am delighted to spend the next months in this setting, creating a mental worldview as well as enjoying the physical world view. Learning in this type of environment is a fantastic experience. Not many students can take a ten minute hike and have a study session on top of a mountain. I consider myself blessed that I have this opportunity to join with like-minded believers. Please continue to pray for us as we dive deeper into life’s tough questions over the remaining two months.
Rob McTaggart comes to Summit Semester from near Toronto, Canada. As he looks at paths for future collegiate studies, Rob is considering pursuing a degree in either Journalism or Sports Management. During his time at Summit Semester, Rob is looking forward to deepening his faith, both through the studies and his interactions with other students. During his free time, you’ll probably find Rob either enjoying sports (hockey ranks pretty high), reading a good book, or working through the specs for the dream car.