The Tooth, the whole Tooth, and nothing but the Tooth
We arrived at the Welcome Center just as they were opening up. They didn't have any tents ready for us yet, but that was okay. We just wanted a shower to start off with. So, off we went to get showers, and by the time we returned, they had some tents freed up for us to move into. We met our Ranger, Kevin, and our day got properly underway.
There are two secrets for handling that hectic first day at Philmont. The first, and biggest, is to arrive early. The more time you have, the less stressful check-in is. There are medical rechecks to conduct, meetings to attend for Advisors and youth leaders, meetings with Logistics, getting crew pictures taken, etc. Think of your average first day of Scout camp -- on steroids. Then, too, as soon as you meet your Ranger, he begins going through the training routine he does with you. Some crews are much less prepared for the backcountry than others, and the Ranger must make sure that all crews have the gear, the skills, and the right attitude to be let loose out there.
The other secret to handling that first day at Philmont is to bring your own gear. Philmont will gladly furnish all your crew gear (except tent stakes), and rent you much of the other, personal, gear you need. But if you bring your own stuff, you don't need to check out Philmont's stuff, which takes time. Plus, your crew is already used to handling your gear and the Ranger doesn't have to spend time teaching you how to use it.
The extra time we bought came in very handy, as we had an unexpected problem. One of our Venturers had a major meltdown, which ground the entire preparation process to a halt. The details of the problem are not appropriate for discussion here; suffice it to say that such things happen from time to time. Trying to solve problems under the stress of time, however, makes everything more difficult. In this case, I realized that the more we tried to solve the problem, the tighter the Venturer was going to resist the solution. The only answer was to let time work on the issue. I told our Ranger that we would simply slow-walk the training until such time as we were all ready to go forward with it. In time, the issue simply burnt itself out, and despite some private misgivings expressed among the adults, never re-asserted itself throughout the rest of the trek. I repeat, everything's easier when you get there early.
By supper time, everything was back on track. We attended chapel together and then the Opening Campfire.
Jeffrey at Opening Campfire
I was up early the next morning. Venus and Jupiter were keeping company with a rapidly waning Moon. I found coffee in the Advisors Lounge. After breakfast, we got our packs ready for the trail. We had had several days' trail food issued to us the day before, and we topped off our water bottles. My total load weighed in at 45 pounds. Pat was carrying 60, and Sarah had tried to spare some of our smaller youth by carrying more stuff and was hoisting 55 lb. on her back. We were obviously out of whack on this, and Kevin addressed it the next day, after which we were better organized and less burdened.
Sarah at pack weigh-in facing the consequences of her choices
We caught an early bus to the the Zastrow Turnaround. A short walk brought us to Zastrow Camp, where our Venturers did Orienteering and Geocaching. Then it was on to Abreu, with its Mexican Cantina, and finally our first campsite at Rimrock Park.
Dumped in the backcountry
Ranger training continued. We had some problems with picky eaters at our first meal in the backcountry (a continuing theme of our trek, I'm afraid). I found that I had left my belt behind and when I put on my long pants, I had to cut a piece of string to use to keep them up, pajamas style. Well, you always forget something, so you'd better learn how to improvise.
Hanging bear bags
As we began to wrap up our first night on the trail, Kevin asked for our Chaplain's Aide to lead devotions. He was startled at the way T.J. did so. Instead of mumbling his way through the lines in the book, T.J. had studied them and was prepared to actually address the crew and ask for responses. T.J. is, of course, a serious and capable young man with a solid spiritual side, but then, we are a crew quite accustomed to talking about God and with praying together. It's just who we are. And this quality shone through our entire trek.
Part of the Ranger's training consists of a number of "potty talks" about wilderness sanitation. Most campsites are blessed with what we call "Red Roof Inns" (outhouses with roofs and walls). On the other hand, there are other kinds of backcountry easements, especially in older sites. The old "P2B" (Pilot to Bombardier) style box-over-a-hole can be found in some places, and there are other kinds of "treasure chests" out there. Some of these things can be found in rather open country. And, of course, if you can't find any sort of facilities, there is always the Magic Trowel for making your own wherever you are. It all requires a bit of adjustment, especially from people who've never been in the backcountry before.
Still a few P2Bs around