We’re almost ready.
After numerous small trips (of escalating difficulty and complexity), skills work, planning sessions, gear shakedowns, shakedowns, and more shakedowns, we’re on the homestretch. Within 72 hours, we’ll all be headed for Colorado, and then New Mexico, for a two-week expedition.
The training has paid off. We’ve managed to get a bunch of teenagers comfortable with long-distance backpacking, with wilderness ethics, with all the skills necessary to be happy living of the gear they carry, AND somehow manage to do it during a global pandemic. Next week, we set off on what will be a life-altering journey, something this crew will remember – despite the inevitable pain, discomfort and fatigue – for the rest of their lives. Something they’ll tell their kids about.
Our destination is Philmont Scout Ranch, outside Cimarron, NM. Most Scouts know this place as THE High Adventure destination for older Scouts. We are looking forward to summiting peaks high above treeline, packing burros, exploring old gold mines, climbing (rocks and spar poles), archery, skeet shooting, clear and dark night skies, and a lot of other things our sea-level group doesn’t often get to experience. We get a taste of all these things while also having a support structure that greatly simplifies logistics, food resupply, and emergency response (if needed). In truth, our training trips have exposed the group to specific physical and mental challenges that will likely exceed MOST days at Philmont. We’ve dealt with long miles, heavy packs, all kinds of weather and lots of varied terrain. These guys now know what they’re doing, and have the skills to do their own wilderness travel without the infrastructure and support – but a little help gives us the opportunity to hike all morning, and have fun all afternoon. For twelve days.
We’re also looking forward to the time together. The guys on our crew have been good friends for a long time, and would be, with or without this trip. But watching them size each other up, encourage those who needed help, establish roles based on individual strengths – it’s heartwarming to see a level of maturity and understanding that they are a TEAM, that they will succeed together. They have developed even stronger bonds, which will serve them well during potentially stressful times to come.
They’ve even taken the initiative to address problems on their own. Last year, while we were in hard lockdown and couldn’t meet as a group, several of the boys (with parental consent) conspired to get together, fill up packs with dummy weight, and go hike – just to get in shape. As recently as last week, while most of them were together on another trip, they decided on their own to go climb a nearby mountain, as a group, just because the opportunity presented itself. I can’t tell you how happy I am to see these guys embracing one of the things I love most in this world – backpacking – particularly after we started this journey with a lot of apprehension, soreness, complaints, struggles… Now, we can’t wait to get away from the trailhead.
As is normally the case (for me), I’m anxious about the things I haven’t been able to control – of course I’m stressed about everybody’s health and proud of the fact we’ve negotiated a COVID pandemic pretty well. Even with a vaccinated crew, getting on a plane, traveling across the country, and convincing everybody on the receiving end that we are healthy and ready… let’s just say I’m on edge because I know that many, some with veto power over the entire expedition, are understandably on edge about welcoming a bunch of strangers. Thankfully, we’re all healthy, and paperwork is in order, but I’ll still feel better once we get out on trail, on our own.
So now, we wait, we check, we double-check. Packs are packed. Crew gear that will be shared is packed into travel boxes. Supplemental food (specific alternatives for those who deal with allergies) is packed up for distribution to our resupply spots. Paperwork is complete.
Now it’s time to execute. Wish us luck!
Get Out There