This was the first backpacking experience for Venturing Crew 119; in fact, nobody else but me had ever done it before. So we were going to go slow and do a lot of teaching. We drove out to the Deam Wilderness and parked our vehicles at the Hickory Ridge Fire Tower. I left a few select items behind to lighten my load (some clothes, a second water filter, my spare flashlight). And we made off up the road.
Kaleb was our crew leader for this shakedown. Every time we go on an event, a different Venturer is the leader. For each day's hike, the trip leader appoints a hike leader and a mapigator. The crew leader directs setting up camp, assigning chores, and breaking camp in the morning.
It was a cool and sunny afternoon as we walked north up the dirt road on Terrill Ridge. The Sycamore Trail soon branched off to our right. We walked a couple of miles down a gently sloping trail following the Sycamore Branch to a nice campsite. We set up camp, cooked supper, hung our bear bags, and then it was dark. We built a fire and enjoyed it for a while, then headed for bed.
It was 30 degrees in the morning when we got up (I keep a thermometer hanging on my backpack, though I often forget to check it). We got breakfast going. I discovered a geocaching container while looking for a nice spot to dig a hole. I didn't even need a GPS receiver; I found it with my trusty orange trowel. Then, with some hot food in us, we began our camp chores, which included learning how to purify water. I taught the basics of using a water filter, and then Connor began to pump. While he pumped one bottleful after another, I showed how to use Polar Pure to iodize water. I used that to do the other half of the water bottles.
Full up on water, we dropped the tents and cleared out. The way led along the creek for a while, then turned sharply to the northwest and began to climb the ridge. We passed another campsite with a small deerpond that I remember from Troop 119's shakedown three years ago, and with that, we were atop the ridge. The trail turned west and began to skirt a huge valley on our right. Ridges here run generally northward, like splayed-out fingers. The one we had just climbed was like a pinky turned backwards to the general direction of the hand. Now, we were walking along the "webbing" between two huge fingers.
After lunch, we found ourselves back at the Terrill Ridge Rd., and turned north to our camping spot. We were lucky to get the best spot, with a beautiful view of a very large deer pond. It was just coming on mid-afternoon. We set up camp, pumped some water to make supper with, gathered wood for a fire, and just kicked back a bit. The high this Friday was about 70 degrees. The woods hadn't really started blooming yet, but everything was clear and beautiful. The day's work was about three miles.
We continued to talk our way through the various itineraries Philmont has on offer. I began going through the programs and routes with them that they get to choose from. By suppertime, we had shortlisted six. I'll post those in my Sunday School room at the church. At our next meeting, we have to choose our top five in order of preference.
We built another nice fire, and whiled away the evening. The night was much warmer. It was 45 degrees when I got up the next morning. We made breakfast, packed up, and walked over to Terrill Cemetery. This is a sobering spot. There are stories told only in names and dates that remind us how lucky we are to have modern medicine to help us. There was a new grave, half dug. Somebody was excavating it by hand (his shovel was in the bottom of the grave). So, they're still burying here.
With that, we sauntered south on the main trail back to the fire tower, about two and a half miles away (in all, we did maybe seven and a half to eight miles in three days). Just as we were approaching the end, Scott put on a burst of speed and ran the last 40 or so yards in full pack. Makayla tried to catch him, but came up just short. The youth were just getting used to the idea that one old guy had outrun them when I (the other old guy) walked up, dropped to the ground, and did five pushups with my backpack on. Then I stood up and barked my Venturing slogan, "Rougher! Tougher! Buffer!" They were duly humbled. (Of course, they then still had the energy to climb the fire tower, while we adults rested below.) We made the acquaintance of a Boy Scout troop from New Palestine, just getting ready to hit the trail. They were a youngish lot, just learning the ropes. One of the older boys had been to Philmont last year, though, and he was still starry-eyed over it.
And so we returned to civilization (or whatever this is) by way of a convenience store so we could get our Diet Coke fix. All the daffodills were bursting into bloom as we left the Hoosier National Forest. Arriving back in town, we dropped crew gear at the parsonage, the Venturers met the new kitties, and we parted company for now.
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