Since Summer 2016, troop 73 has known that we would have an opportunity to go to the Philmont Ranch in New Mexico. We had won the lottery, and had 24 spots available to our troop. This means that we had the potential to take 20 kids and 4 adults in two crews out to New Mexico in 2017. And from the moment I found out that we would have the opportunity to travel, I knew that I would go. As one of the Assistant Scout Masters in our troop, I knew that I had the certifications that would be needed to attend…but more importantly, I have a son that would be just the right age to make the trip. At 15, going on 16, my oldest would be the perfect age to really enjoy what this experience had to offer.
Now, I should note, as excited as my son was to make this trip (and he was – he fund-raised nearly all of the $800 camp registration), I was probably more so. Since leaving Oregon, I think I’ve had the hardest time out of my family adjusting to Ohio. I love being outdoors, and while Ohio does have some very nice areas to camp and hike (really, it does), they aren’t the same. I miss the mountains, I miss the forest, I miss the towering fir trees that keep the forests green year round. That was my childhood…it represents some of my favorite memories with my family, with my father. And these were some of the memories that I hoped to build with my son…and hoped to relive a little bit while I spent some time in the mountains.
Preparation for the trip
Over the year, there was a lot of preparation that had to be undertaken. Equipment to be purchased, plans to be made. Some of the preparation was getting the kids ready to carry a backpack for eleven days. Some of the preparation was getting ready to hike for 5 hours every day. Some of the preparation was learning skills that would be required when camping in the back country for eleven days. Lots of preparations.
Then there was personal preparation. I turned 40 this year, and one of the things that I got into my head was that for Philmont, I was going to grow out my beard and hair. Why? Well, it was fun. I haven’t grown a beard in close to 20-25 years, so it would be something different. But it was also somewhat practical. With my hair long, and my beard full, I wouldn’t have to worry about the sun burns that everyone else in my Crew would end up worrying about. So how did it go? Quite nicely. I kept a photo record from Feb. 2017 when I started.
The last picture is in the Chicago Union Station with my son. I was quite pleased with my final Philmont beard.
The trip to and from Philmont ended up taking about 15 days. We travelled to Philmont via the train, travelling by bus from Columbus, OH to Toledo, and then from Toledo, OH to Raton, NM. For many of the kids, this represented the first time that they’d been on a train, crossed the Mississippi River, seen the plains of Kansas….it’s a great way to see the country…particularly the fly over country. On the train, we saw fields of corn, a tremendous lightening storm near Topeka, the snow covered mountains in Colorado, and a bear as we neared Raton. The kids spent a lot of time going to and from the observation train car, and generally enjoying the ride. I took a few pictures of the train trip across the country.
For us, the trip officially started in Raton, NM. This is where the Philmont buses picked us up. When you get to Philmont, everything is crazy. To start with, you have to get registered, there is equipment to pick up…lots of things to get done, including a shakedown with the ranger to make sure that everyone has everything that they will need for the trip. For the kids, this part of the trip is probably the most boring. We spend a lot of time sitting, a lot of time talking to the ranger about bears, bear protocols, snakes, water purification, etc. The ranger spends their time telling us all the terrible things that could happen out in the woods (which is fun, because some of the kids are already worried about bears and snakes) and the adults spend our time trying to keep them from going crazy.
You spend one day in base camp, and then you are on the bus.
For our Philmont trip, we hiked itinerary 9 (http://www.philmontscoutranch.org/filestore/philmont/camping/2017Itinerary/Itinerary/itin_2017_9.jpg). This would take us through Old Abreu, Crags, Beaubien, Black Mountain, the Red Hills, Cyphers Mine, Cimarroncito, Upper Clarks Fork, and then over the Tooth of Time to Base Camp. In all, it was a 61 mile itinerary, though my Fitbit with GPS clocked us way over that mileage. I actually journalled the trip, in part, because I wanted to remember what it was like, and in part, because I wanted to be able to give the parents of the kids in my Crew a taste of what the trip was like for the kids. And it was glorious. We climbed multiple peaks, including Red Hill and Mt. Philips. For almost all the kids, every day represented a new tallest mountain. We camped over 9,000 ft 4 times, over 10,000 ft once. We danced on the Tooth of Time. For many of the kids, it was the first time that they rode a horse, or had an opportunity to rock climb, or walk through an old gold mine. For eleven days, we watched the boys grow, mature, and wonder at the beauty of the New Mexico country-side. And I got to do this with my son – to make stories that only the two of us share through this very unique experience and bond. I know that I’ve been told by every kid in our troop that has done Philmont, that it’s a life changing event. It almost has to be…you are forced to push yourself in ways that you might not have thought possible, and bond with your Crew through this shared experience. But I think that as adults, we get just as much. You can’t help but be transported back to your youth. For me, it took me back to camping with my family, hunting with my dad…it let me slow down and appreciate how lucky I was to be spending this time with my own son.
We took a lot of pictures throughout the trip (hundreds). I pulled a few of our time at the ranch.
Probably my two favorite pictures though happened off the trail. The first is of my crew…
We’d just come off the Tooth of Time, down the Ridge Trail, and into basecamp. We were tired, dehydrated, and excited to be home. We were also a little sad that it was all over. While the kids couldn’t talk enough about what they wanted to eat (trail food definitely gets old and hard to stomach), there was also a realization that we were done and would be going home in a couple of days. It was bittersweet for me as well. While it was nice to have a cot to sleep in, and some real coffee to drink…I really wasn’t ready to be done. Even today, as I write this, I wish more than anything that I could get back out on the trail and just walk in the woods.
The other photo is this one:
This is a picture of me and my son, as soon as we got off the trail. We sent it to my wife…our picture as 2017 Philmont finishers. I’m incredibly proud of him, and what he’s accomplished.
And that pretty much wrapped up our trip. Of course, I’m leaving a lot of things out. I didn’t talk about the poison oak that I got into, and the rash the covered almost my entire body (that was fun), or the numerous trips our crews had to the trail doctors (I did mention, this trip is hard), or the logistics of digging cat holes, or eating trail food and sketchy water for days. No doubt – it’s a challenging trip. I’ve done this kind of hiking before (in the Pacific Northwest), and while Philmont is easier (more controlled), it’s still no joke. But if anyone asks – it is so very worth it. And I’ll be back. I have a date with Philmont in 2020, when I’ll take my youngest son, when he’s 15. And I’m sure the experience will be just as challenging, just as enjoyable, and completely different. And you know what, I can’t wait.