Those of you familiar with the Boy Scouts will recognize “Be Prepared” as the Boy Scout Motto. It’s one thing to recite it as part of your Scout training, but very much another to learn its importance as part of real life experiences.
I just returned from a 12-day trek at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico, a 137,000 acre mountainous high-adventure mecca for Scouts. Stephen Hankins, a fellow Scout leader and seasoned backpacker, and I took a group of six Boy Scouts from Houston’s inner city Third Ward on a backpacking adventure they’ll soon not forget. I usually start training Philmont crews 12 months out. This gives us plenty of time to have at least three shakedowns, multiple practice hikes, acquire gear, test gear, learn necessary processes and procedures, and get physically in shape. For this crew Stephen and I had four months to get them ready.
In our home Boy Scout Troop, young Scouts learn the “Philmont way” and how to backpack starting the minute they join our Troop. Our new group of six young Scouts for this summer’s trek had little outdoor experience. We had our work cut out for us. The bad news . . . they had no gear. The good news . . . they had no gear. This gave me the opportunity to properly outfit them with quality gear that was light. You can see my standard gear list here. We were only able to schedule two shakedowns before our trek in June, and unfortunately only four or five boys attended each trip. Logistics for a group like this became a major issue. Throw any idea of readily available transportation and family support out the window.
To say the least, we hit the trail at Philmont to cover 67+ miles with some fairly inexperienced boys. In fact, several had never flown on a plane. We were confronted by some of the most diverse weather I have ever encountered this time of year at Philmont. Unbelievably dry and hot days with humidity dipping below 5%. That’s brutal for a group of guys from the Texas Gulf Coast used to 90% or higher humidity. After three days of scorching heat and penetrating dust, we had rain, hail and lightning every day until we hiked back into base camp. Those 14 and 15 year old Scouts endured steep climbs, long hikes in blistering heat, cold rainy weather, hail and lightning, muddy trails, rocky terrain, blisters, sore knees and turned ankles to traverse more than 67 miles over mountainous terrain covering elevations from 6000 feet to over 10,000 feet.
What did they learn on their odyssey? Besides how to put up bear bags, cook one-pot dehydrated dinners, to eat breakfast as you hike, and wake up, break camp and be on the trail in less than an hour? Number one answer from four out of six after we were back in base camp: “It’s important to plan ahead and be prepared.”
There’s something much more important that these six kids learned on a journey like this, and I quote from one of them, “The most important thing I learned was that you can do anything if you set your mind to it.” (Marvin)
This trek was a pilot adventure conceived with a goal of bringing a life-changing event into the lives of young men who are faced with life and family challenges daily. These youth are fortunate to be involved in Scouting at the Yellowstone Academy Middle School and Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Houston’s inner city. They receive the Scouting program weekly at school, and their outdoor experiences are infrequent, but very meaningful. It is my hope to give other young men this rare opportunity, a chance otherwise not available to youth in this community. An outdoor experience like Philmont can have a monumental impact on the life of a young man who struggles every day to find hope and meaning in his life. We now have eight complete sets of gear ready to hit the trail for next summer’s adventure, and the next, and so on. One adventure is over, but another one begins again to help disadvantaged youth gain the knowledge and confidence to succeed in life.
You can see more photos of the trek on the Houston Urban Philmont Crew Facebook Page.