RONAN - For someone who has lived in Lake County his whole life, Erich Trickel sure knows of a lot of places around the world.
The 14-year-old from Ronan proved his knowledge to the rest of the state when he took second at the state geography bee on April 9 in Billings.
"I was nervous during the first round, but felt better as it went on," Erich said. "Then I got nervous again during the final round."
Erich's second place finish, out of approximately 100 fifth through eighth grade students, was pretty sweet, he said. To get there, he won the Ronan Middle School's tournament in February. Then, Erich took a written exam. The top-100 scores on the written exam, which was taken by middle school winners from around the state, were invited to the state bee in April. At the state tournament, which took around four or five hours to complete, Erich outlasted most of the other kids, reaching the finals with two other contestants.
"My best memory was watching the third place contestant go off because I was like, ‘whoa!'" Erich said. "As other competitors were leaving the stage, I wasn't as nervous."
His original goal was to get in the top 10, but as other contestants began dropping like flies, Erich realized winning a trip to the national bee, held later this month in Washington, D.C., was not out of the question. Instead, he took second, winning $75, a duffle bag, and of course, a brand new National Geographic World Atlas.
"The last two [rounds] were intense because the questions are really difficult," Erich's mom, Stacey, said. "Some questions I didn't know at all, and he would answer it and I was very surprised."
For anyone without some heavy preparation, it would be nearly impossible to make it past the preliminary round. Erich faced questions that would describe something in an American state, and then ask what state was north of there. He said he guessed when asked what island country is located north of Malaysia (the answer is the Philippines). The one that finally stumped him in the finals asked what peninsula Macedonia, Albania and Croatia are located on. The answer, which Erich said he knows, is the Balkan. Another question category was famous people's residences locations, like Thomas Jefferson.
"I wish they'd asked about Michael Jackson because I've been to Neverland," Erich said, referring to the infamous California ranch owned by the late Jackson.
Besides Neverland, Erich's been to a lot of places around the world, something that has helped him learn geography and prep for the competition, his mother said. He's visited approximately half of the United States, and can name the states and their capitols without a problem. Erich's world travels include six trips to Europe, meaning he's visited the continent close to once every two years of his life.
"We've done a lot of bicycling in Europe so you get to know the geography well," Stacey said. "It created an interest and understanding [in Erich] of geography and different cultures."
Much of the biking came during a 10-month trip throughout 14 European countries, from Slovakia to Portugal and many in between. Stacey said the slower pace of biking creates a closer connection to the land and area being traversed.
"When you're biking, you can read a sign for three minutes rather than three seconds," Erich said of the contrast between driving and biking past a monument.
The bicycle riding may be the slowest tempo to Erich's hectic life. He also plays jazz piano, competes on the Math Counts team and has dreams of being a particle physicist or chaos mathematician.
"He wants to go to Switzerland and bang around some atoms at their particle accelerator," Stacey said.
For now, he'll have to finish eighth grade in Ronan, and prepare to enter high school in the fall. After that, Erich Trickel just might take on the world.