First session Rayado women on top of Mt. Baldy, 12,441’, 6/12/11
For once, a free evening in base. I’m sitting in the laundry room, my clothes sitting in the dryer, my friends crowded around me at a table, overall maps strewn about, planning our Rayado itineraries. This has been a breathless three weeks.
What’s happened? Ranger training, my first crew, RAYADO TRAINING! We hit the trail again, for 20 days, on June 20th. We have a few days to intensively plan our itineraries, down to the food and risk management. I am partnered with a ranger named Alli from Richmond, and we’ll be leading 5 or 6 girls around this beautiful country, each day a surprise to them. It will be an incredible adventure.
But first I’ll catch up. I trained with TC (training crew) 16, a hilarious and wonderful group of first and second year rangers. We took an easy swath in South Country, hiking some trails I had never seen before, passing through lovely camps I’ve never visited. We laughed until our stomachs hurt, mostly from the antics of Kris and Tripp, two first-year rangers who constantly cracked random jokes. To a deer approaching us at Carson Meadows - “Hey! Didn’t you know this was a singles-only event?” To Katie, a second-year ranger in our TC - “Hey Katie! Hey Kaaatie! Whatcha thinkin?” The best, though, was when they put their tent on a tiny island in Rayado Creek. They pronounced it “The Island” in a Jamaican accent. “What time are you waking up tomorrow?” Simultaneously: “Island time.” Aaron, my Ranger Trainer, was very laid-back, a great fit for a second-year ranger like me. Our hikes were moderate, leaving much nap and reading time in camp. Ranger Day Off was the sixth, and we went to the Rio Grande to swim, then hit Taos Pizza Outback, a ranger favorite, for dinner. An excellent start of the summer, I’d say, but I couldn’t relax - I got my first crew on the eighth, some wholesome and great boys from Tulsa, OK. More later.
A quick note before I head out on ranger training -
As soon as I stepped onto base camp, these past 9 months faded away. Being a second-year is wonderful; I gave and received so many hugs, hellos, and waves to all the returners. My training crew is very cool and my ranger trainer, Aaron, is great as well. He hasn’t told us where we’ll be going on training. My pack weighs a ton, I have 6 meals for the crew as well as 3 additional vegetarian ones, five liters of water, heavy layers for the cold nights, and other stuff like sunscreen and a book. Whoops.
The first two days I worked on my Rayado application, and I’ll be interviewed on the trail along with all the other applicants in the next few days. We find out on the 10th. Of course I would love the position, but I’d be very content being a regular ranger as well. I’m excited to pick up my first crew on the 8th - I wonder where they’re from and what they’re like?
In short, so happy to be back, but more happy to be finally hitting the trail.
This is an REI quarterdome T-2 plus, plus my new sleeping pad (2 and a half inches of goodness). It’s exactly the same as my borrowed tent last summer, but longer and for two people. It’s a little over 5 pounds with the groundcloth and rain fly, so maybe a bit on the heavy side, but I figured if I was going to make the investment I’d get a tent I can share with a friend.
Four days until Philmont!
I’M GOING BACK TO PHILMONT. I’ll be gone May 28th to August 17th, and it may be my last summer in this incredible place. The offer letter was inevitable, but my return finally feels within reach. I can’t wait to do everything I didn’t do last year: the Ranger Marathon (northernmost camp to southernmost, in a day - about 40 miles), visit camps I’ve never been to, climb some peaks in the south of the ranch, climb a 14,000’ mountain in Colorado…
Sidenote: it took me all summer to realize I was wearing the wrong size polo. My new reds this summer will be stylin’!
Nothing better than seeing Phil-friends in the off-season. This photo was taken on January 2nd, after an incredible New Year’s reunion. Another highlight of the weekend was a 12 am screaming of the ranger song, in our characteristic unintelligible slurring of the lyrics. “wheretherain’sa’seepintentsyou’resleepinwaterssayHELLO!” It’s 2011 now - in 5 short months I’ll be back in New Mexico!
The length of winter break and my relative inactivity has me pining away for Philmont. I need to get busy again to distract myself from the mild depression of being homebound and bored. I’m taking a Wilderness First Responder class starting on Monday, an 8 to 5, 80 hour intensive course that will teach me how to react to medical emergencies in the backcountry when hospitals and medics are a few hours or days away. I think the knowledge will be empowering and will make me a more confident ranger. I am fortunate that none of my scouts gouged their legs or seized on the trail, but I know other rangers that did face these difficult situations.
“I! Want to go back to Philmont!”
Some of my last pictures of the summer. First, Cathedral Rock and Cito Reservoir, a spectacular centerpiece to middle-country. Then, flags at Urraca in the gorgeous sunset. Finally, sunrise on the Tooth during an early-morning hike-in to Base.
Sitting at a small kitchen table in Danny’s apartment in Athens, Georgia, I figure it’s as good a time as any to add a closing post to this blog. I could write about my last two crews - my experiences with them remain vivid. I could tell you how I accidentally melted the cover of an advisor’s JetBoil pot or how I dealt with my first homesick boy, a fourteen-year-old energetic pipsqueak who spent the day trying every new experience he could and the evening with tears down his face, crying for his mother. I could wax poetically about the beauty of Fish Camp, a camp nestled far west in the South Country, with a clear, cold river running through it, making the grass impossibly lush, cloudless blue skies only adding to its daytime brilliance and facilitating a spectacular meteor shower at night.
But I’m afraid I’m weary of these crew anecdotes by now. I’ve loved documenting the diverse experiences with my twelve crews this summer, but over a month after my departure, it’s time to reflect.
It is difficult to express how my life has been enriched by this summer. I’ve experienced uncommon beauty and met some of the most special people I will ever encounter. I’ve dealt with difficult crews; egotistical lightweight backpackers, sexist advisors, boys without spirit or passion. I’ve also spent hours laughing with engaging, hilarious boys and have talked far into the night with some of the most interesting ones. I’ve departed on ill-advised adventures because I have an insatiable desire to seek new experiences and explore new places. I have regretted none of them.
How have I changed? Maybe I shower a little less, but I found that I fell back into the rhythm of civilization disarmingly quickly. It frightened me how I delighted in picking out outfits again, or sleeping late. I hesitate to put my finger on specifics, since Philmont probably changes you in subtle, intangible ways. But I find that I am a lot more serene. A friend of mine reading this, recalling my stress-induced rants and ceaseless running from meeting to meeting, would disagree. But occasionally I will be walking with a companion and will settle into quietude, tuning out the world.
I suppose things just bother me less now. I’ve learned to live with only the necessities on your back and heavy-soled boots to take you where you need to go. Or don’t need to go, but want to explore. It is nice to have a computer again, experiencing the stimulation from my beloved New York Times or Student Government meetings, but I yearn to go back into the wilderness, and soon. Minus the red polo shirts, the dry heat, the Tooth of Time, and friends from across the country, it will surely be a different experience. But it will fill me with the vitality and essential passion for life I felt acutely every moment at Philmont. I cannot wait to return next summer. I will only update this blog infrequently now, perhaps with UMD experiences that remind me of Philmont or tales of Phil-reunions and more backpacking trips. I thank whoever is reading for sharing in what was undoubtedly the best three months of my life.
Wilderness is not a luxury, but a necessity of the human spirit. -Edward Abbey
Looking at my last Philmont sunrise this season from Mark Anderson’s lawn, the director of programming. We all dragged our foamies here.