How I Fell in Love with the American West

In 2018, I was asked by the lovely Faye Lichtsinn to join her on a backpacking trip through the South Dakota Badlands. I must begin with admitting that a Badlands backpacking trip was on my bucket list, and I also had a crush on Faye. This was clearly an easy decision to make, and the journey and relationships formed were nothing short of beautiful.

This isn't a blog post about Faye and I's trip into the Badlands, but I did want to share a few photos of the trip, so here you go!

So, I eventually arrive into the Rapid City airport where I'm quickly greeted by Faye and her grandmother, Gwen. Faye and I had plans to begin our trip first thing in the morning, so we stopped at the grocery to pick up a few items and then headed back to Gwen and Curt Eiklor's home.

When we arrived at the house, I saw an older gentleman sitting in his recliner and reading a book. We shook hands and exchanged introductions, and soon after I felt what seemed to be a bromance in the works. Later in the evening, we began chatting about our adventures and experiences, and this new relationship immediately had an impact on me. Curt shared a love for wild places with me, and the connection I felt we shared was one of those special things we all too rarely get to experience in life.

Curt Eiklor joined the Airforce at 18 years old, and he served in the Vietnam War. He was also well-travelled due to his service and was able to spend small stints of his life in places such as Germany and Turkey. He loved the outdoors, and he loved reading old books about the American West. Here is a gem of a photo of Curt.

Curt introduced me to Louis L'Amour, and this favor alone opened up so many doors of interest for me. I immediately began the Louis L'Amour's Sackett Series and literally haven't stopped reading L'Amour's work to this day. Louis L'Amour's work mostly consists of old romantic tales of the American West. There have been many writers of this genre, but L'Amour's stunning accuracy in his historic perspective is what made him the best American West storyteller of all time. The respect he had for Native American history and their customs helped shape my understanding of the Old West, and kept me yearning for more.

The first few books in the Sackett Series really made an impact on me. European explorers having encounters with pirates and military factions up and down the Atlantic coast of the Americas. Then exploring westward into unknown territories occupied by the mysterious Native American tribes. I was hooked immediately.

Since reading Louis L'Amour, I have taken courses in Native American history and pretty much exclusively read works of the natural history and adventures of the American West. I dabble in other genres from time to time, but I always end up finding my way back. Embarrassingly enough, I even named my dog after the protagonist of the third Sackett Series book. Here is a picture of Jubal below.

Below is an almost complete collection of the Sackett series, which was gifted to me by Curt's wife, Gwen. I am very thankful for this gift, for I know the love these paperbacks have received through many years of read-throughs.

After Faye and I returned from our trip in the Badlands, we spent a day or two back at the Eiklor's house. Here we shared stories and laughed about the mishaps of Faye and I's trip, but I truly enjoyed the down to earth and simple friendship I was developing with Curt.

Curt and I had meaningful talks about life, family, and friendships. He mentioned to me that life is all about "you get what you give," and I was taken back by this because I had just written this quote on the back of my friend, Austin Dixon's, new motorcycle helmet a few days earlier. Another thing I loved about my conversations with Curt was he could empathize with the feeling of having a nomadic soul. I, personally, am often concerned that no matter where I move to, and no matter how perfect the place seems to be, I will never feel "at home." I will always need to find the next new place. I'm not sure if Curt felt the same way, but I do believe he understood my words and allowed me to temporarily share this burden with him.

I hope Curt's family will accept me writing this blog in his memory and the impact he made on my life. I sometimes wonder if our connection was due to me never having a grandfather or consistent father figure of my own. Either way, I want to thank Curt for the friendship we shared, despite how fleeting it was.

Curt, thank you for welcoming me into your home and sharing precious parts of your life with me. I will always think of you whenever I pick up a Louis L'Amour book. Rest easy.

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