The Filial Sons travel across the United States of America: 15/02/2016 (Day 9)

We both woke up at a sensible hour for once and it was a welcome change. After treating myself to yet another super healthy meal we headed down to the car.

Enjoying my vegan, gluten free breakfast

I went to go and inspect some damage the car had incurred whilst on the drive from Monument Valley to Denver. As we were nearing the city centre last night, I hit an obstacle which was pitch black. Thankfully only a small part of the front spoiler was chipped. We also didn’t have to pay any damage costs as we had signed up for the damage waiver. It also brings up an important point when renting a car. No matter how good of a driver you think you are, always sign up for the damage waiver as you never know what might happen. We made a short plan for today and this included a visit the US Air Force Academy. Before that, I first made a plan to meet an old friend of mine who studies at the Colorado School of Mines. My friend Ross used to be in my class in UWC till he moved to Doha, Qatar and now he studies in the Colorado School of Mines. It had been several years since we had seen each other so it was so nice to see each other again.

We fired up Hyunbae and headed for a small thirty-minute drive down south to the Air Force Academy. The drive was fairly standard as we had already the experienced the worst that winter had to throw at us. Soon we reached the Air Force Academy and headed straight for the visitors’ centre.

The overview of the campus

We looked around the museum to learn about what cadets who enlist in the Air Force have to go through over their 4 years of training. The training is tough but they all caduate as Second Liutenants in the American Air Force. Interestingly they all graduate with a Bachelor of Science regardless of what subject they choose to major in. Much like most prestigious instituions the admission process is incredibly competitive. For each incoming class they select the cadets appling from each of the congressional districts. Each is allocated the same number of students. After they're admitted the entire tution and board fee is covered by the United States Air Force. It was also interesting to point out that they also train cadets from armed forces outside of the United States. One of the countries where they take cadets from is Singapore. This isn’t much of a surprise given that the Singapore Armed Forces and the American Military have close ties. The mascot for this school is a falcon and they actually have live falcons which they train for events.

After looking through the museum we went to explore the rest of this massive facility. Because it was a military facility, not all parts were open to the general public. It is like a regular university campus but with a few key differences. There is an airfield that is a part of the campus. There is also a site for cadets of different religions to practice their faith. The top floor is a huge impressive church.

The aforementioned church

It features some wonderful stained glass artwork and a huge pipe organ. On the lower floors, there’s a place where Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists can practise their worship. It was quite nice to see that cadets of diferent faiths could practise their warship freely.

Those were the main differences but otherwise it is almost like a regular university campus. But the size truly is immense. A drive around the perimeter takes at least ten minutes.

The light shining through the stained glass artwork

After looking around the church and the worship site we looked at the small memorial the academy had built for the Vietnam War. It was specifically built for students who had passed away over the course of combat during the war. They later built monuments for students who passed away in other combat missions or during the course of training.

The Vietnam War Memorial

After paying respects we headed to the massive American football pitch which is a part of the campus. The sheer size just blew me away as I am not used to seeing such a massive stadium as part of a University Campus. It showed the importance of sports in university culture. The other sporting grounds around the campus were equally impressive.

The football stadium

Afterwards we we visited a significantly large monument. This monument was a retired B-52 bomber which served in combat for over 20 years. It had a huge number of kills as indicated on its body through the number of bomb images painted on. It really was an impressive sight and it made for a great way to spend the crisp cool Colorado morning.

A B-52 Bomber that served in the Air Force for over 20 years

This aircraft has a colourful history in combat

After the visit to the Air Force Academy, we headed back to Denver to check out of the hotel. After checking out we then proceeded to this vegan restaurant my old friend Ross has suggested. It was a long overdue reunion and we spent most of the time telling each other we had been up to over the past 9 years. The last time I saw him, I remember that he was quite a keen racer. However, he has lost interest in motorsport and has moved on to other sporting interests and his studies. All in all, we spent the rest of the day hanging out and catching up. This included a visit to the Denver Botanical Gardens which is a lot like the Botanical Gardens back home apart from one or two details. It is much smaller than the one in Singapore and features less tropical plants. However, it is a place that is worth visiting. Everything is laid out nicely and it’s very easy to navigate. All the boards are incredibly informative and the staff is also very friendly. They will help with any problems you have. During our time we talked more about some of our old common interests. We mostly talked about aviation as that is a mutual hobby of ours. Since his dad is a pilot we were able to talk about a whole bunch of avaiation related matters for hours on end. After hanging out at the Botanical Gardens we headed to the bar in our hotel which offers a view of the city of Denver and the Rockies.

Our view from the hotel bar

A reunion

It was a fun relaxing way to spend the rest of the late afternoon/early evening before our journey to Chicago. But between us and Chicago, there was an overnight train on one of Amtrak’s famous lines, the California Zephyr. Ross kindly drove us to Union station where we bid a fond farewell promising to see each other again soon.

Union Station

Looking forward to asking Amtrak if I can drive the train

Sadly I was too lazy to walk all the way to the front of the train as this trainset is over a mile long.

We soon boarded the train for an overnight journey across the Midwest to the city of Chicago.