This was my second time to lead the UM trek. It was also my fifth Philmont trek. The youth had chosen Itinerary 28, a Strenuous, 83-mile, all-you-can-eat tour of Philmont Scout Ranch. In the end, we hiked about 87 miles in all. It was going to be the hardest backpacking trek I had ever done, and I knew what I was in for. Most of the others in the crew did not. This was a cause of great concern for me, and I was assiduous in lining up prayer support for the undertaking.
Official "Before" picture
Our crew consisted of three adults and six youth. I was the lead Advisor, ably assisted by Sarah (on her second trip to Philmont) and Pat (T.C. and Cheyanne's dad). Michael was our Crew Leader, T.J. was our Chaplain's Aide, T.C. was our Wilderness Pledge Guia. Jeffrey, Dakota, and Cheyanne rounded out the crew. Back home, we are known as Venturing Crew 119; here, we were Expedition Number 712-L.
The longest journey -- and ours would wind up taking us more than 2400 miles, round-trip -- begins with a single step. A single day. And on the day we left, I felt profoundly unready. Still, we only had a short trip the first day, to the other side of St. Louis. So, eventually, all the gear was stowed, the vehicles ready, and we were off. At our first stop (still in Indiana), we discovered that the van we had borrowed was three quarts down on oil. It also required a jump to start after running for a while with the AC on. My stress rose. In Missouri the next morning, I bought a set of jumper cables, which we used a few times on the trip. The long trip ground on.
Dakota zonked by travel
We stopped at Cabela's in Kansas City, KS, to ooh and ah at the camping gear. Cabela's even has their own hotel chain, so you can book a vacation next to your favorite outfitter.
Great Wolf Lodge and some great Wolfs
Then it was back on the road. Eventually, we reached Wilson State Park in the middle of Kansas. We cooked supper and the youth played in the lake. Nobody wanted to set up tents, so we stretched out a dining fly and meadow-crashed underneath it.
Wilson Lake, Kansas
The next day, July 11, we dropped by Fort Larned. Fort Larned was built to protect the Santa Fe Trail. Much of the fort has been restored. It was mostly an infantry post, manned by Buffalo Soldiers (African-Americans) after the Civil War. Philmont Scout Ranch sits on the Santa Fe Trail, too; indeed, the Tooth of Time got its name from travelers on the Santa Fe Trail, who knew that when the Tooth of Time had been sighted, they were two weeks from Santa Fe.
T.J. in uniform at Fort Larned
After Fort Larned, we headed out into the wide open spaces of Western Kansas, "where even the jackrabbits pack their lunch." Then it was the dry Southeastern corner of Colorado. Finally, we topped Raton Pass and dropped down into Colfax County, New Mexico. Pronghorns began to be sighted. We spent the night in Cimarron Canyon State Park, just outside Philmont. We were almost there.