UPDATED: Journey into freedom – Olympic National Park

Five Navarre High School grads take coming of age journey

At the top of the travel itinerary it says, “Take pride in how far you have come and have faith in how far you will go.”  Five 2016 Navarre High School graduates are going far, both literally and in their life plans.  The teens are embarking on the trip of a lifetime, described by them as a coming-of-age trip of sorts.  Riley Roberson, Patrick Keele, Jeff Holland, Jacob Blea and Gabe Morrill left Friday morning at 2 a.m. on a 20-day journey with their sights set on a few national parks, including Mt. Rushmore, Yosemite, Mt. Zion and Olympic National Park.  First stop is Kansas City, Mo. for some world-famous barbecue then it’s off to The Badlands in South Dakota.  The group will travel to Wyoming, Washington, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and back home again camping all along the way.

Roberson admitted his parents weren’t thrilled at the idea of the 20-day trek.  “At first it was no.  But after watching the effort that went into planning for eight months and proving our responsibility, they changed their perspective,” he said.

The five have been friends over time but have really bonded over the past few years.  “We figured after high school we would part ways.  So we wanted something to pull us together and create a lifelong bond,” Roberson said.  Roberson and Holland have joined the Army Reserves and will follow suit with their friends to college and enter public service.  Once they receive their degrees, they both plan to obtain commissions into the U.S. Army.  Keele plans to be a military officer, Blea wants to be a park ranger and Morrill wants to become a mechanic and then join the U.S. Navy.

But for the next few weeks, their focus is on building a brotherhood that will last a lifetime.  All five are hoping to learn responsibility and find some independence along the way.  Roberson summed it up by saying, “This is the journey into our freedom.”

Day 6

We had anticipated leaving Mikes house at the crack of dawn, a tired Jacob emerged from his bedroom and informed us it was 9:41 am. A couple of dazed and confused looks later we realized we   needed to pack and get to the car before it got any later. We sat in Mikes driveway cont
emplating what we were going to do for the day. We decided to go and explore a part of the temperate rainforest in Olympic called Quinalt, as told by a family friend Ken that it was extremely pretty. At around 3 o’clock we arrived at Quinalt, it was breathtaking. Driving into the park the size of the trees and imagining the history tweb_0317hey have lived through took us for surprise. We had spotted signs for a ranger station and eventually found the place after about 30 minutes of searching. We walked in and where cordially visited by a Park Ranger named Patrick, telling him we had a couple of hours to burn he explained to us the local area and what the best sites where to visit. Patrick the Park Ranger told us about a 4 mile loop which will take us through a couple of waterfalls and massive trees. We took this loop and it was a great nature walk and showed us one of the three biomes the Olympic peninsula holds. Along the trail we spotted a steep drop off that was full of massive tree roots, the roots provided us with a stairway planted by mother earth down to a stream. We had to check it out, getting to the bottom we instinctively grabbed a couple of river stones and started skipping them. We most likely stayed down at the base of the trail skipping rocks for a couple of hours as the time flew by. The tranquility and surroundings of the stream and the company of great friends provided one hell of an experience. We eventually headed back up and finished the loop, and set the GPS for a little town outside of Olympic called Hoquiam. Hoquiam holds the residence of the Good-enoughs, and there hospitality and kindness was definitely better than “good enough.” We decided to stay at Kens house for the night, he invited us in and immediately started cooking one of the best meals we have consumed. We ate like kings, filling our bellies with Elk steak, King Salmon, roasted potatoes, and a fresh green salad. After our meal we headed across the yard to visit Kens mom, and grandmother. We sat with them and enjoyed friendly conversation. Kens Grandma was especially happy we came to visit, and her kind old spirit welcomed us with open arms. Kens mother spoiled us with a “care package” full of snacks and drinks we definitely needed. The five of us headed back over to Kens and spotted a couple of Cherry trees, lucky enough it happened to be time to pick the fruit off the trees. Me and Jeff hopped on the bucket of his tractor and rised to the prime picking spots high up in the tree. We picked for probably an hour and filled up 3 gallon Ziplocs. It was a great experience we all enjoyed. Me and Jeff spotted a Suzuki four wheeler in his garage and had to take it for a ride, all of us took turns heading down trails and enjoying every second. Once we had our fill of four wheeler riding we headed to a local Walmart for supplies, and returned to Kens house for brownies and ice cream. It was a great treat and we talked about everything under the sun with Ken while watching a old rerun of tweb_03he Mariners and the Astros on TV. We ended the day on a great note, all deciding that when we become old men we will move to Washington and have a couple of cherry farms and four wheelers. Tomorrow we will trek around the Olympic peninsula, maybe we will spot Mick Dodge or a elusive Bigfoot. But nevertheless it will be an amazing day full of beautiful nature and sights we quite frankly might never see again. –Riley

Day 5

Sitting outside of the McDonald’s outside of Yellowstone, we conversed about what to do the for the night. Should we drive the two hours back to our campground in Grand Teton, or just go Seattle? Mulling it over as Riley finished updating the website, we decided to drive overnight to Seattle. So we all pilled in the Yukon and headed on our way. Riley driving for the first three hours, then switching over to Jake. Jake quickly learned that he highly dislikes Montana, after about 30 minutes behind the wheel he narrowly avoided hitting a deer on the interstate. Riley’s response to the commotion of Jake and Jeff he said “This is their country, not ours.” Jake got tired a couple of hours later so Jeff took over. As Jeff was getting off the interstate for Riley to take over and energy drinks and coffee, Riley was sitting in the back white knuckled as Jeff sped off the interstate. Mike Forehand was our contact and host for the night, we had to kill time seeing as he wouldn’t be off of work until 3. So we stopped in a smaller town in Washington to get an oil change and grab some food. Then we went non-stop to Seattle. Once we got to Seattle we decided to do some sightseeing. We drove past the space needle, then headed to Pike’s Place Market. We got to eat some of the freshest cherries from Mt. Rainier, which were the best I’ve ever had. We then headed over to Mike’s house for dinner. We pulled up and we were awe struck by the sight of the house. We met Mike and he showed us around the house. We were out on the patio introducing ourselves and telling him our plans for life. He offered us something to drink and we happily obliged as we were quite parched. He took us to his garage to grab some water. As we walked through the door all of our jaws dropped as we all caught sight of Mike’s maroon, ’65 Mustang fastback. We then sat and talked about Mike’s days as a recruiter for the U.S. Airforce, for about an hour and a half. I walked over and was looking it over from front to end loving every minute of it, as I’m a huge car nut. He pulls the keys out of his pocket and hands them to me, I almost lost all self-control. He said I could drive it but I unfortunately had to decline seeing as I can’t drive a manual. After Mike gets her started Riley hops in and puts her in gear and pulls out. He drives her in a couple circles getting a feel for her and asks if he can drive to the end of the neighborhood. Mike agrees and I hop in. It was one of the coolest feelings ever, I fell in love immediately. When we got back Riley and I were grinning from ear to ear. We all got really hungry and ordered some Chinese near-by, it was some of the best Chinese I’ve ever had. We all then settled down downstairs and watch the movie “Eye in the Sky.” We all got showered and headed upstairs to chill outside by the fire sharing stories and being taught life lessons. We headed to bed to get the much needed rest we needed.  –Gabe

Day 4


Sleeping in the mountainous terrain of Teton was a dream, the winds and waterfalls sang us a song much notable to that of a lullaby. Waking up after the torturous hike from the previous night was rough; with bones and muscles aching we mustered up the strength and slowly but surely packed up our hiking bags and headed for the descent down. We were all out of water, parched and ready to get to one of the filling stations at the end of the trail. The descent was a breeze compared to the climb up, and seeing the terrain in the daytime and how tall the mountains we had climbed were breath taking. The canyon we headed down was called “Paintbrush,” and the name suited the landscape perfectly. It was pure untouched wilderness, something you would only see in a movie or that of a survival show. It looked as if Bob Ross had his easel in heaven and transcribed his artwork into the terrain. We backpacked down the mountain much faster than climbing up; in fact it took us around 6 hours to reach our destination and only 2 and a half to make it back down. Reaching the bottom we started to see the signs pointing us in the direction of the trail-head entrance, and seeing the familiar bridge we crossed to start our hike was the “Eureka” moment for us, we had finally taken into grasp the reality of the hike; and the physical feat we had accomplished. You might be thinking 6-7 miles isn’t anything but a stroll into town, yet our lungs are used to oxygen levels at sea level, and at 9000 feet above breathing even becomes a hard task. When we finally reached the bottom we decided to take a swim in Lake Jenny, and it was cold. Yet the freezing water eased our muscles and was much comparable to an ice bath. We filled our bottles and drank until our stomachs were full at the first filling station we encountered, and then we packed up and headed to get a camp site. Once we reserved our site, we headed for Yellowstone. The drive was slightly boring yet life stories passed around and Jacob noodling on the guitar kept us entertained. You really realize that you are in the middle of nowhere when you try to find a radio station and it searches through them all and cannot find a single one, not even on AM. Once we reached Yellowstone we headed for old faithful and the other geysers, they were pretty neat, yet we had decided as a group Teton was shadowed by Yellowstone and proved to be a much more beautiful park. Once we finished gazing at the geysers we headed into town for some groceries, of course everything in West Yellowstone was closed yet a McDonalds rang a dinner bell through our heads, and the WiFi they broadcasted was a great site for a coupIMG_2777le kids growing up in the age of technology. -Riley

Day 3
The beginning of the day was quite anti-climactic compared to what was to come ahead. It was time to depart the Black Hills of South Dakota through the needles highway. After a series of long winding mountain roads and squeezing through the thin passes carved into the mountain side we were on our way to the desolate landscape that is Wyoming. Long hours pass by with no sign of progress in our journey to the Grand Teton National Park. The flat lands seemed to continue forever in every direction. It took us a total of driving 8.5 hours along 80 mph roads to even see a glimpse of mountain ranges on the horizon. With no guaranteed camp site and hopes of scoring a spot, we entered the grand mountains. We had run out of luck. All walk-in camp sites were full for the night. Our next and only option was to pray for an open back-country camp site. Five miles up. That was what we were told. We could walk up the mountain side, set up camp, and stay the night. The only problem was that it would be night fall before we even started the hike, bears would be active, and moose would be settling into the trail.

Following the true spirit of adventure we set out to achieve, we accepted. With our bags packed, our head lamps at the ready, and our motivation high we set out on what we thought would be an hour hike up the mountain. However, the first hour alone was spent looking for the trail head. Frustration was setting in and a little bit of anxiety started to settle in my stomach. It only took the help of some experienced Ukrainian hikers to point us in the right path to glory. Once on the trail the true magnitude of what we had to go through really came to light. Or rather, the dark. Our only source of light up the steep mountain face was what we had plastered to our face and the lantern pat carried along leaving us about ten feet of light in any direction. When departing for our hike the ranger in charge of dispensing the back-country permits gave us a few tips to void any unwanted wild life, make noise. All along the path we screamed like banshees and yelled bloody murder in hope of avoiding an unfortunate encounter with a large predator or even worse, a mother moose. Many times a chill would run up my back as we heard twigs snap in the distance or a rustling of leaves in the bushes behind us. IMG_2749

The Air grew thin, our breath grew heavy, and our spirits dropped. The motivation we once carried had quickly been left at the trail head. Through a series of stream crossings and waterfall traverses, we pushed forward. The trees dwindled and the highland turned to rocky terrain. We rounded a large boulder and were met with glowing bright green eyes in the distance perched on a boulder. The group halted and quickly quieted down and stared. The eyes followed our movement glowing like green fire. We shouted at the unknown figure in hopes it would leave the area. No luck, it just stared. Our bear mace and knives were at the ready in case of emergency. No movement, just staring. Us staring at it, it staring back. There was only one option we could take, push forward. We never did find out what was watching us but I think we all agreed that we didn’t want to know. Nearly 2 hours later we were still hiking though and very ready to quit and set up our tents on a rocky ledge. Not wanting to stop, Jeff and I took our packs off and hurried up the rocky cliff in hopes of finding the invisible camp site. For once on the hike, luck was in our favor. Not more than 100 yards from our stopping point laid our camp. Needless to say, Jeff and I were excited. We rushed to the boys and pushed forward. We settled into our designated area and threw our tents up, unrolled our sleeping bags, and passed out. Not being one to quickly fall asleep, I lay in the pitch black listening to what could be heard. The wind crashed through the trees long before it could reach our camp so much so that you could actually time the approach based on when you heard it. Thousands of feet in the air, we slept in the shadow of the giants. -Jake

Journal entry July 2:

We left Navarre at an ungodly time of 2 a.m., knowing we had the start of the journey ahead of us. The first leg of the trip was seven and a half hours with only the gas stops necessary to keep us sailing down the beautiful road I65 North into Memphis Tennessee. We made a pit stop at the Bass Pro Shops in the Pyramid for some last minute camping gear. We then drove a couple hours down the road and decided to stop at a small mom and pop music shop. We were welcomed by an extremely cordial staff and they gladly let us have a Jam Session in the shops forte.  We got lectured on how you don’t need a $3000 dollar guitar to make an acoustic noise that sounds angelic, and the proof was in a couple of fifty dollar thrift-shop guitars that had been upgraded. They resonated with noise you would only hear on an old country album. When we finally made it to Kansas City we met Jacob’s Grandparents and indulged in a grejourney to freedomat meal from Bates City Barbecue. We ended the night with a family Jam Session. We are now off to bed, and will be embarking at 6 am to the Badlands and Mount Rushmore.

Editor’s Note:  We will be following Roberson and friends as they take this coming of age trip across the country and back.  Follow our website and Facebook page for daily photos and updates.

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