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USA Travel Journal Part 1

Hi readers of The Mustard Seed! I thought I would share some snippets from my travel journal when I went to the USA in 2010 – a year before I started this blog! I have some fond memories and would love you to join me on the journey! I was 18 when I jotted this all down, it was my first time away from home and I was travelling on my own for 4 months. It’s painfully honest and captures the struggles of being a teenager. Some of the battles are still challenging today – especially my lack of confidence. The penmanship may seem a bit ‘young’, and emotional – be warned. There are also lots of photos…

It is important for me to share this with you as this was the first time I really realised that I was fully dependent on the Lord. My journey across America was a real eye-opener and stepping stone on my walk with Jesus. His grace was enough. I had to trust Him every second of every day. Some times were harder than others. However, in each moment I was held in His loving arms. 

I will continue to write other blog posts, but if I write a post from the USA, it will be titled ‘USA Travel Journal’. I may have changed some names, just in case people do not want to be recognised… Happy reading!

6th March 2010

Well I managed to get 5 hours sleep last night, better than nothing I suppose! It’s 6.27am in Phoenix. I suppose you could say I’m a little homesick at the moment, but things should only get better. 

My rucksack is so heavy at the moment. Don’t know how on earth I’m going to be able to carry it around Phoenix today. I’m hungry and so thirsty. Roll on breakfast. 

I couldn’t remember the scripture I was looking for but came across Philippians 4: 6-7: ‘Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts ad minds through Christ Jesus.’ 

Ok, so we had the craziest day ever! We decided to take a walk to 2 mountain peaks but didn’t really know where to go. A guy called Jeff asked us if we were lost and said he’d take us wherever we wanted to go. We obviously thought “Stranger. Don’t do it.” So what did we do? Jump in his truck. It was so funny and surreal. John and Peter were in the back and Hannah was in the front. Turns out he was a really cool guy – a walking Wikipedia, and told us all these neat things about the plants. Wish I could remember all he said. 

We went to a place called Papago Park in Phoenix. Absolutely surreal and gorgeous place. So many cacti around, you could walk up to them. We even saw some on the sidewalk! It was absolutely scorching. Jeff had left us and obviously we had to make our way back. No sun cream and about a 4 mile walk we discovered. Awful burns – red as a beetroot!

Papago Park
Papago Park

Very hungry after walking back, we ordered a local pizza and ate it at the Econolodge breakfast room. Didn’t eat that much. The shuttle bus too us to the airport at 5 and then we waited to be picked up by the American Conservation Experience (ACE). 

7th March 2010

I’m still updating from yesterday. The room is so cold where we are all staying. There are three bunk beds which I’m sharing with all girls. The house we’re staying in is not clean and I feel as if I’m going to catch something – even though they emphasize cleanliness here. We are sharing a house with 20 or so people. Crazy times. A lot of people I’ve talked to have travel plans that seem much better than mine and they didn’t get a scholarship. Hope I can make this an awesome experience. 

I’m really hungry and tired. Haven’t had a proper meal in days. Missing Hannah quite a bit as she was like my travel buddy, but hopefully we can meet up soon. 

Today we had a 4 hour orientation – skipped lunch practically. It was quite informative and got to meet some more people. It is snowing here. Had a quick drive around Flagstaff – went on Route 66, shopped at Wal-Mart (the logo has changed) and basically that was that. 


I’m on top bunk which I hate because it disturbs everyone when you need the toilet and I hate the ladder. I probably should go and mingle with everyone. We are going on an 8 day project on Wednesday, so a couple more days of ‘me’ time. 

8th March 2010

Ok, it’s Monday and I was up early! I had Special K for breakfast, milk, followed by a Snickers bar a couple of hours earlier. I haven’t had a lot to eat in 4 days so… Got talking to Amelia. She has chopped and friend vegetables with egg. Quite a good idea. I think I will have to try it. I’m hoping to go to the library at the university today. And get some water bottles for project. Will write more later when more happens. Mum phoned earlier. Can’t get texts from her. Really missing home quite a bit, but trying not to think about it to much. 

Lord, thank you for being with me xx.


Well I went to Northern Arizona University today and checked out the internet. Good way of keeping in touch with people. I’m feeling quite low at the moment. I just don’t know how to talk to some of the girls here. Am I weird? It’s like back home. Can’t really fit in. I don’t feel smart enough. 

Northern Arizona University.
Northern Arizona University.

Moving on. I’m going on my first project to Lake Mohave on Wednesday. Someone said it was like re-vegetation which is what I wanted to do in the first place! Probably not the most exciting location in the world but I came here to learn, which is what I’m doing. We’re going for 7-8 days. Hopefully it might be easier to make friends with people on project.

We had a safety talk today at the public library. It was long, but interesting all the same. I wrote some notes summing it all up. Wild fires are common in Arizona because it is a very dry – a semi-arid location. It has about 50cm of rainfall (Flagstaff) and very dry soil. Lightning is a common fire starter and so are humans. I also learnt abut some creatures I don’t want to see such as the black widow and Arizona brown spider. 

Hopefully things will pick up soon. xx

9th March 2010

I woke up early again this morning. Felt a bit dehydrated. Had cereal again for breakfast. By 9 I was ready to go outside. I got lost yesterday on the way back from the library. Am I really supposed to be a geographer? However, I navigated myself to the library today and also to Safeway with the help of a map – so I’m proud of myself for that. Getting lost again on the way from Safeway to the library was almost inevitable and I had to ask for directions. I’m not doing too bad though, considering there’s like a blizzard outside. 

Taking mum’s advice, I bought pasta, rice, soup and I got some candy for energy. There is a Baskin Robbins on the way to Safeway. Will definitely be popping in there! 

A bit nervous about the project tomorrow. Hope I can carry everything and I am on time for everything! Lord, I really pray that my first project is a success. 

Really glad we are so close to the library! I’m seeing Hannah and John today which is brilliant – it also gets me out of the house! It hasn’t even been a week and it feels like forever. Wish Hannah was at Cisco House and not Cedar House. 

11th March 2010

It’s been so busy so I couldn’t write yesterday. I’ll finish where I left off. We all went to Downtown Diner in Flagstaff for lunch. Then I went back to Safeway in the snow blizzard with Emily and Nicola. There was a creepy guy called Andy there who asked to speak to us. He was a gin drinker and was hinting he could give us alcohol. He told Emily and Nicola to stay with me or they would become ‘ruthless’. I got the joke and it made me smile as I was feeling left out at the time. Anyways, I can’t really remember much else that night so I will begin with project morning.

I got up at 5.50am as we were supposed to be at the ACE office at 6.45am promptly. Woke up feeling dizzy for the second time now which wasn’t the best start. However, 6.45 came and everyone was waiting in the lounge. I was confused, but a supervisor called Greg asked if there was anyone for Lake Mohave. I was in Crew 2 so had to trek to the office on my own. Apparently, I was early which was weird.

A supervisor called James drove us to Lake Mohave. It took about 5 hours. I really needed the bathroom – never had been so desperate in my life! We stopped off at the gas station and I also got a BLT subway.

Anyways, when we arrived we had a talk as a group about the number 1 rule which was – to wash our hands. That was emphasised a lot. Unpacking my tent and setting it up was hard as a lot of the stuff was just mix and match. An Australian couple helped me as they were more experienced.  

The camp was split into 2 crews – Crew 1 and Crew 2. I was in Crew 2. Both crews shared the campsite. It was very enclosed surrounded by wilderness, water and mountains in the distance. We had one drop toilet without a lock so we all had to knock before entering. It smelt awful – I am sure that is what disease smells like! However, I was grateful that I didn’t have to go 70 big steps away from camp, dig a hole 6-8 inches deep and do my business in there!

Wild donkey at Lake Mohave.
Wild donkey at Lake Mohave.
Sunset at Lake Mohave.
Sunset at Lake Mohave.

17th March 2010

Ok, I am updating from all last week from what I can remember. The reason we were at Lake Mohave was to remove the invasive Tamarisk (salt cedar) tree. It is stopping naive plants from growing and has become the more dominant. Tamarisk was planted in the 1930s during the American ‘dustbowl’ period and gradually spread further and further southwest. We moved around different locations for the removal of the Tamarisk. We managed to clear so much. My job was known as being a ‘swamper’. I had to drag the cut down trees across the rock, desert terrain, sometimes quite far, and make a pile. It was very exhausting, especially in the heat. We had a break in the morning, for lunch and an afternoon break. 

Orange bucket for hand washing and one of our work sites.
Orange bucket for hand washing and one of our work sites.

Other roles for volunteers were ‘applicators’ who used herbicide on the stumps after they had been cut down. I didn’t want that job simply because you spent most of the day crouched down!

‘Sawyers’ chainsawed the trees so we had to wear PPE (hard hat, gloves, ear plugs, long sleeves and safety glasses). We had a safety circle talk every morning where we had to give a stretch, give a safety tip and answer the question of the day, some which included: ‘If you were Batman, who would be your Robin?’ and ‘What meal would you cook that perfect person?’ and so on.

For the first few days of project we had a 20 minute drive from the campsite, followed by a 15-20 minute walk to the work site, whilst carrying 5 litres of water, lunch, amongst other things.

I set my alarm for 5.45am most days. It was so cold in the mornings and it was hard to leave my sleeping bag. You could hear coyotes howling early in the morning and wild donkeys in the distance. Breakfast was always cereal. There is a woman who’s job it is to buy food in especially for project. She is good at it – we had tasty meals. We all had to cook twice, but we had 3 of us preparing a meal which made it more relaxing. I volunteered to cook on the first day to get it out of the way!

Washing up consisted of 4 bowls: 1 for getting the food stuff off, 1 for washing, 1 for rinsing and 1 with a tiny bit of bleach in it. It makes you ache, having to sit on the floor washing up, sometimes in the dark with your head torch on. I did my fair share and more of that! We had to dig a hole away from the campsite to pour out the food water so the animals wouldn’t eat it.

We had a water pump and a filter which we would take in turns to pump water from the lake – real camping! We also had an empty tin with holes in it and two, thin metal strips attached to it, which we would place in the bucket and wash our hands with.

The 8 days we were on project did go surprisingly fast. However, I kept waking up in the middle of the night. Sometimes I would feel completely disorientated and feel that I was in a tent located somewhere completely different, and that people were moving outside my tent. I even felt at one point the tent poles were branches and I was trying to grab them. Bizarre!

The people on my project were really cool and I talked to most of the with ease. It was a lot of fun. I felt y strength improved. First day I was struggling to lift and by the last few days I was dragging big trees! Sometimes you can feel weak in comparison to the guys on project, but they were all really nice and helped me if I needed it.

I felt so gross on project. The lake water was icy cold and it was uncomfortable to try ad bathe outdoors as I didn’t have suitable clothing. Also, the pebbles and sticks of the shore were sharp! I was really dirty and smelly. The other girls managed to stay quite clean with no worries. Maybe there is something wrong with me? I also had a brown jumping spider on my work trousers whilst by the lake – scary stuff! Haven’t seen any rattlesnakes yet, but spotted a small(ish) snake crawling into a bush on project. Was sweet really. 

Break times on project were a time to doze and find shade. It was so warm! It must have been warm in Flagstaff also, as most of the snow had melted when I arrived back. I have accumulated several mosquito bites, rashes, cuts and bruises all over my body as part of being on project. Not attractive. I am semi-tanned but not as brown as I’d like to be. 

I am trying to remember a week’s worth of stuff which is always hard! We had a campfire almost every night. It was so picturesque under the stars. Tony would sing us country songs such as Copenhagen and the Armadillo Song. We even had toasted marshmallows a few times – although I wasn’t too keen! 

About 3 days into project there was a severe wind. It was very scary to camp out in. The next morning it was so gusty we couldn’t cut the Tamarisk at first, so we picked Brassica instead. It’s a small flower/weed that is poisonous to turtles and is growing everywhere. That made a nice change from the strenuous lifting of logs, but was about as interesting as watching paint dry. Toward the end of the day, they managed to find a spot which was more sheltered which desperately needed the removal of the Tamarisk. However, it became scorching hot with no wind and we had to carry the wood up very steep terrain. Made me feel very sick. 

Today was busy. We had to work for a couple of hours in the morning as ACE’s project partners were coming into the field. After that we packed up and set off for home. My tent came down with ease (not looking forward to setting it up!). We had to clear out the food boxes at Cedar House and then wash them. Afterwards we went to the ACE office to sort out the vans. Hard work!

We went to NiMarco’s pizza place for tea. Most of the crew showed up. I’m still a bit lost for directions at times but hopefully will soon be geared up to know my way around! Anyways, I’m off to bed now! So tired! 

I will add USA Travel Journey Part 2 soon…