United Methodist Philmont Trek 2010
Over a year ago, the National Association of United Methodist Scouters approached Philmont Scout Ranch about doing a United Methodist Trek. The idea was warmly received. We took counsel with our Catholic Scouter friends, who have done their St. George Trek at Philmont for many years.
In our case, we took Jedediah Smith as our patron and exemplar. Smith was the original Mountain Man. He was a towering figure in the opening of the West, and his life and deeds were so big as to make Smith himself disappear into the iconic Mountain Man of fiction and folklore, leaving his lesser associates (such as Jim Bridger) better known than he. Smith was also a Methodist, whose character was formed in the Methodist Societies of his youth, and who in his letters to his family spoke of his spiritual life and his desire to be upheld by the prayers of those back home. So our UM trekkers would be “The Children of Jedediah Smith.”
We launched a national call for trek participants. We had some nibbles from here and there, but nobody signed up by the deadline we set. Perhaps the Jamboree was absorbing all the attention; perhaps the price tag (organizing a Philmont trek is expensive) was too steep in these difficult times; then, too, the ability of NAUMS to reach its intended audience may be less than we hoped. The NAUMS Board would have to deal with these questions; in the meantime, we had a reservation for Philmont and no trekkers.
As Trek Advisor, I was hoping to find space for one or two members of our church’s new Venturing Crew that was just then a-borning. In the end, I turned to them and asked them if they would like to pioneer this new program, and they all said Yes. And so Crew 119, chartered to Ellettsville First United Methodist Church, set out to prepare themselves for a Philmont Trek under the auspices of NAUMS.
We had eight crew members, five youth and three adults. Makayla, the only girl going, was our Crew Leader. The four boys were Connor, Kaleb, Ben, and Jordan. The three adults were Scott (Connor’s father), Melodie (Makayla’s mother), and myself, Dr. Arthur Collins, President of NAUMS as well as pastor of EFUMC. All the crew members but myself were going on their first Philmont trek (this would be my fourth).
Getting there is half the fun
We left Ellettsville, Indiana, the morning of Monday, July 5, 2010, and headed west toward St. Louis. We intended to drive to Philmont and back, camping along the way and seeing the sights. Our first stop was the Gateway Arch and the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial beneath it. Afterward, we camped at Babler State Park just west of the city.
The Venturers had planned an excellent menu for the trip out and back. Our first night in camp, we had watermelon for dessert. I can’t remember when I have enjoyed a melon as much as that one. It was sweet, clear essence of refreshment!
The next morning, we were up early and heading down the road, right into the middle of St. Louis morning rush hour. Eek! Still, we got through it and made our way west down I-70 toward Kansas City. On the Kansas side of KC, there is a giant Cabela’s – the mother ship of the outdoorsman’s chain. We stopped to gawk and shop for last minute necessities. We ended the day at Wilson Lake State Park in the middle of Kansas.
The next morning, the wake-up call I sang to the trekkers was from the Wizard of Oz: “Come out, come out, wherever you are, and meet the lady who fell from a star. She fell very fast, she fell very far, and Kansas is the name of the star.” Bleary-eyed Venturers emerged from their tents and began the processes of cooking breakfast, personal grooming, and breaking camp.
It was sprinkling rain as we drove down to Fort Larned, the old Buffalo Soldier fort along the Pawnee Fork in Central Kansas. Fort Larned was built to protect the Santa Fe Trail, which we would be following all the way to Philmont. After touring the fort, we set out for points west. We passed through the southeast corner of Colorado, and entered New Mexico by Raton Pass in a driving rain.
When we finally arrived at Cimarron Canyon State Park outside of Philmont, the boys were positively giddy. None of them had ever been to the mountains before. Their giddiness and excitement bordered on seeming drunkenness, and I was reminded of the impression upon the crowd made by the disciples on the Day of Pentecost. Faith had turned to Sight, and their dreams were becoming real.
Other imagined possibilities were becoming real as well. We awoke in Cimarron Canyon to find that a bear had upended the supposedly bear-proof garbage container just two campsites down from us. Bears would never be far from our thoughts throughout our trek.
Each night, as we did our evening devotions, I shared stories and thoughts from the life of Jedediah Smith with the crew.