Back in the Saddle

Atop Mt. Baldy, NM; elev. 12,441′ MSL.

Wow. Just…wow.

In nearly two weeks at the Philmont scout ranch, I hiked over 90 miles (most of it uphill – even the downhill parts felt uphill) with a gaggle of grabasstic teenagers and managed to not strangle any of them in their sleep.

But really, the kids were great. Mostly. Funny as you-know-what. And man, what a trek. Truth be told it was probably at the ragged edge of our collective abilities, which I suppose is kind of the point. Anything less would’ve been boring, and the important thing is 100% of our crew toughed it out to march triumphantly into base camp last Friday.

There was so much to do and so much to tell that I don’t even know where to start, but the important thing about Philmont is that it’s a lot more than just hiking. Each day has a purpose, some program or other where the boys (and dads) can do things they may not have ever done before: panning for gold (hint: no early retirements in our future), trap shooting, burro racing, pole climbing, rock climbing, and rappelling. So it’s kind of like Scout boot camp.

The feeling at the end was in fact reminiscent of marching in from the field at Parris Island, knowing the end was in sight and laughing at the noobs getting ready to head out for their own adventures. We found their obnoxious cleanliness amusing – conveniently forgetting that we were exactly the same just last week – because 10 days on the trail leaves one kind of filthy. While we waited to check in, an outbound crew was prepping their tents and getting chewed out by one of the moms for getting that nice clean tent in the dirt. Boy, was someone about to get schooled.

I’ll be writing about it in more detail over the next few days, in between getting reacquatined with civilization and selectively ignoring the news. Let’s just say my mind is clear and I’d like to keep it that way. If nothing else, this experience reminded me of how much BS we allow ourselves to become burdened with. We suffer collective ADD from the onslaught of meaningless crap blared at us every day until we are left numb to it all. Right now, I view current events as meaningful only to the extent that they affect decisions I need to make in my own life.

What matters is that my son and I climbed a freaking mountain last weekend. After a full day of continuously hiking uphill, we finally made it to the saddle in the afternoon, barely in time to make the final climb up the summit. My late uncle was an avid climber, and for the first time in my life I truly understood why he did it. Hours (or days) of pushing yourself to the limits of your own endurance, each step up made that much harder by the thinning air, to finally reach the top in a combination of exhaustion and euphoria that I’m still having trouble putting into words.

On a side note, I have to say that e-readers may be the single most unappreciated technological advance for backpackers. A lot of ‘packers traditionally would just get a paperback and maybe tear it in half, taking only the sections they figured on reading to save weight. When every single ounce counts, being able to carry a whole library in something that weighs less than a paperback is a Godsend. We didn’t have much down time, but when we did it was sure nice to be able to pull out the Kindle. And the book that kept me company was simply fantastic: Leviathan Wakes, a bit-beyond-near-future space adventure that is as close to pitch perfect as anything I’ve read. Fittingly, I finished it on the flight home from Denver.

More on all of this later. For now, it’s just great to be back.

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