Upper School English teacher Jenifer Baro spent some time this summer on a long backpacking trip through the mountains of northern New Mexico with her son's Boy Scout troop.
Philmont Scout Ranch is in northern New Mexico and covers 140,177 acres of wilderness in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. In one of just a few high-altitude adventure opportunities for Boy Scouts over 14 years old, a small crew of scouts and leaders journey on either a seven or 12-day trek carrying food, gear, water, and supplies. The journey is designed to be physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging while also promoting individual responsibility, teamwork, and personal growth. Our trek took us over rocky and rugged terrain as well as through forests and grasslands.
Every day, after a challenging morning, we would open our lunches to see what kind of modified meat product was in the package. I never imagined that my body would crave the high salt and fat of Spam, but sitting on a mountaintop after a demanding incline, looking out at endless vistas, there was nothing better than eating that block of mystery meat because our bodies demanded the fix after expending so many calories to get up the steep trail. Fuel and hydration were essential elements for success, and they took many forms: at the summit of one mountain, we melted snow for cooking and drinking, and a highlight of our trip was catching trout and cooking them over the fire.
As magnificent as the journey was, we also faced challenges. Daily, we lugged 50 pound packs. On our most demanding day, we traversed a total of 14 miles up one side of a mountain and down the other with a massive change in elevation. At one point, we took a wrong turn because of an unmarked trail, forcing us to backtrack and trying our patience in the process. In addition, the trail was extremely treacherous with boulders in the path and a steep ravine on the right just begging to swallow us if we took one faulty step. At some points, we were forced to crawl because the terrain was so steep. Frustration grew as some crew members ran out of water, knees ached, and darkness approached. The words "just breathe" and "put one foot in front of the other" never carried so much weight.
This experience was indescribable. It was glorious and brought gratitude and mindfulness to the forefront every day. The physical and mental challenge was highly rewarding, and our bodies rose to the occasion, performing beyond their usual requirements. It was a gift to have the ability to focus on one goal: arrive at the next camp with a safe and healthy crew. Enjoying the peaceful quiet and solitude and being removed from civilization and technology was magnificent. Being with my son in the great outdoors, overcoming adversity together, and making memories is a gift that I will always treasure.
Today I reflect back on many moments of the trip and feel empowered and stronger. I walk a little taller. I stand a little straighter. I am a little more confident. Trite as it may sound, I am forever altered.