“For food, for raiment, for life, for opportunity, for friendship and fellowship we thank you, O Lord, Amen.” We uttered this prayer together before every meal on my Philmont Trek last summer.
Philmont Scout Ranch, located in Cimarron, New Mexico, offered large variety of foods. I remember the first time we set foot in basecamp’s mess hall. As we entered the room, the murmur of the crowd was dwarfed by the thundering tone of an upright piano flat against a wall. The pianist was playing Clocks, by Coldplay, a grand song that soon became the theme song of my Philmont adventure: grand, adventurous, and breathtaking. That evening, we ate roast beef, potatoes, cooked vegetables, and a yeast dinner roll. That was a delicious dinner labored over with care, a stark contrast to the packaged food we ate for most of the trek.
My contingent would joke that this trail food was a blessing from the cellophane gods because they took pity on us because we forgot to stuff the savory roast beef from the mess hall into our packs. Breakfast and lunch were usually cold, high-energy foods, packaged in cellophane. For dinner, on the other hand, we took turns cooking the meal and serving it. That was the easy part; cleaning was hard. To clean, we had to first lick our bowl clean, pour water in the bowl, swish it around, and drink whatever murky substance that was produced by the former action. Anything we couldn’t eat, including the numerous cellophane wrappers, we folded into a meal bag and packed it out. I remember being disgusted with this at first; but by the end of the trek, I could not have cared less. I guess I had either matured or gotten used to it.
For Raiment (Clothing)
What is there to say? I completed the entire 11-day, 95-mile trek with only two complete sets of clothes. One distinct memory I have is of is the place I got to wash my clothes: Dean Cow. Dean Cow was a climbing camp with two climbs, an easy climb and a hard climb. I have never been more proud to get up the easy climb that day. Now, normally I probably would and could have done the hard climb, but an unfortunate mishap had happened at another camp the day before: I dislocated my left shoulder. I had jumped up to hit a volley ball, and the force was just too much for my unsuspecting left shoulder. Volleyball is deadly, evidently. While climbing the easy climb at Dean Cow, I was afraid that my weight would pull my shoulder out again, therefore sending me home. Yet I persevered and made it to the top, showing not only that I was able to finish the trek, but also proving to myself that I could keep on going even when the going got tough. This was crucial to molding me to, well, me.
Bears are a major problem in Philmont. So much so that each night, we had to put all our smellables (food, toiletries, stationary) in a bear bag, which consisted of old feed sacks tied together by an impossibly complicated knot and draped over a 20-foot-tall wire. The first thing we did when we arrived at a new camp was divide the crew up into two groups: one group of four would put up the dining fly while the other group would put up the bear bag. More often than not, I helped put up the bear bag. We first put all the extra food in three or so bags and tie them together with a complicated knot that only one person in the entire crew knew how to tie (and untie). Next, a person with a good throwing arm threw the two ends of the rope (the bags were in the middle) over the 20-foot wire, and we worked together to pull the bag up and secure it to a nearby tree. The rest of our smellables were put up in the “Oops” bag, a bag attached to a carabiner that could be raised and lowe red independently of the rest of the bags. As the days passed, we functioned more like a team, putting the bear bag up faster and faster.
Whether I was struggling up a ragged pole, or climbing to the summit the mighty Mt. Baldy (elev. about 12,000 feet), I found that Philmont had something to offer for everyone.
On day two of the trek, we stopped at a logging camp called Pueblano to try spar pole climbing. To climb, I first put on a harness with a fabric band and metal spikes on my boots to provide grip. I did not get it at all, and had the most trouble of everybody. I kept on slipping down because I could not get a good grip with my spikes. I could have just given up then, but I am more than that. So, I persevered, fighting for every inch of pole. When I finally got to the top, I was, once again, never more proud of myself.
Mt. Baldy is the highest point in Philmont at around 12,000 feet. We left our hiking packs at the base and climbed about five miles along a ridge to get to the top. The last 100 feet was the hardest, for we had to climb up well over a 45-degree incline over loose, slippery rocks. Once on top, the wind buffed us, threatening to blow us right off the mountain. To combat this, people before us had created rock alcoves that we nestled down in, out of the wind, to eat lunch. As for the view, it was spectacular. On every side, lush green hills rolled away into the distance sporadically mixed with the brown flat plains. On one side was a giant lake with tiny black specks for houses dotting the shore. Was this Cimarron? I never knew for sure, but one thing I do know is that this experience was worth the exhausting climb up. It was worth it, not only for the view, but also for the feeling of accomplishment that slowly molded me.
For Friendship and Fellowship
For the first few days of the trek were the roughest, for we were still getting used to life on the trail. The first night, we camped at a backcountry campsite called Flume Canyon, and here our inexperience showed. It took us a long time to put up our tents, and we got the rope for the bear bags tangled around the wire. We ended up having hoist up a Scout who then held a giant stick to get the rope down. It took us around three hours to set up camp. By comparison, the last day of the trek it took us 30 minutes. This huge difference I attribute to the teamwork and leadership the entire crew learned throughout the trek.
We first really started working as a team in the challenge games at Head of Dean. One game consisted of two metal wires and four wooden beams. To win, we had to get everybody across without touching the wire or the ground. It sounds easy enough. However, there is one problem: assigned disabilities. These disabilities bonded us closer because we had to understand each other without speaking. One group of four did it through grunts “mmm, mmmm, mmmmmm!” With the last grunt, they pulled the last beam forward with their legs while pushing the first beam forward with their arms. It was crude but effective method, for we eventually got everybody across.
We thank you, O Lord, Amen
Through the whole trip, we stayed reverent to God. At basecamp, we went to different services: Jewish, Catholic, Roman Orthodox. All of these were very enlightening, but I was inspired the most by the daily devotionals. My favorite two devotions were at the back camps Elkhorn and Aspin Springs. At Elkhorn, we had our devotion on a jagged rock outcropping in the middle of a barren plain littered with the remains of scorched trees. This offered an amazing view of the sunset to accompany our devotion. Only later did we realize we were on top of a mountain lion den.
By contrast, Aspin Springs was in the middle of a pine forest tucked up against a boulder. At one point on the boulder, we were able to squeeze through a gap to climb to the top. On the top was a sandy recess with a magnificent view of the Tooth of Time, a mountain that towered over basecamp. Here we had our devotion as the day faded into a calm twilight. I will admit I do not remember what was said in the devotionals, but I do remember that it changed me.
I have no idea which influence was the tipping point. Maybe it was my accomplishments throughout the trek, or maybe it was bond I formed with the other members of my contingent. Or maybe it was everything, the good, the bad, the easy, and the hard, that forced me to look at the world a different way, a way I had never dared look at it before. A way that transformed me into the confident, self-reliant person that I am today.