Wednesday, October 3, 2012

7 10 C 71

My wife is amazed that I can remember so much detail about camping gear I have owned.  Remembering the previous dozen or so backpacking tents is easy.  So are the times spent "crushed" under a very heavy backpack!  Join me as I reminisce about what started my enthusiasm for and love of all things outdoors, especially backpacking.
The Tooth of Time.
Standouts include my second canvas pack, the one that went to Philmont with me, and through college afterward.  Only it went west with an external pack frame including a shelf on the bottom but no waist belt.  It didn't come with that frame, we found it locally and figured out how to attach it so I could carry more weight (what was I thinking?)  Besides the main pocket, the pack had one large back pocket and four side pockets, two on each side with a flat map pocket on the top but had no waist belt.  It carried all my gear and some woods tools (folding saw, hand-axe) the snake bite kit and the iron skillet.  Plus my share of the Troop's patrol food and cooking gear.  The heavy oil-cloth raincoat worked fine but smelled badly, my candle lantern melted candles daily, and the one army canteen I had never held enough water for the whole day.  While at Philmont I wore my one pair of dirty white jeans, a waffle-type insulated long underwear shirt, a green cotton hoodie (not called a "hoodie" back then) and the latest astronaut yellow "space jacket" which was the first fiber-fill light jacket on the market and was really warm, especially when everything else was wet.
Like my second canvas backpack
The leather boots wore well, my cotton socks not so well.  I somehow went the whole Philmont trip with no blisters, a first and last for my life!  I liked my new aviator sunglasses and had made sure my scout uniform was washed and stored dry in my bag, locked up for the return bus trip home.
Philmont was difficult, beautiful, and fantastic, and it rained all day for the final 3 days.  At some point, a few days before this, we had descended into a high mountain valley surrounded with purple peaks.  A stream gurgled through the grass, the pinion pines were swaying with the breeze and the old log cabin sitting just inside the trees waited for me to stop!  I sat down in the grass by the trail, pack, pack frame and all, and watched the patrol march away.  They were only gone a couple of minutes but I swear I could hear my own heartbeats in the peace.  I laid back against my pack and watched the clouds swirl by overhead, listened to dragon flies beat closer and then further away, inhaled the grass and the pine scent and found myself lost there in that singular moment of now.  I wanted to live there in the old cabin, cutting and splitting wood daily for fire and heat, farming the land for food and help teaching new skills to the scouts who hiked by.  I needed nothing else, and wanted nothing else.
My third bacpack
The loud angry noise I heard next was our adult leader standing above me on the trail bellowing something but I was too detached into now/nature to hear his words.  I finally drew myself up, nodding agreement to something I never felt and followed his voice along the trail.  I told them at dinner that night to leave me there and tell my parents where I was while I was washing the metal pots from dinner.  They kept watch over me that night and made sure I didn't sneak off before breakfast.  I followed blindly that day and the next few days along the trail as the weather worsened, sleeping first cold, then wet at night.  Then waking up and walking cold and wet all day.  We were all soaked through but I was warm with my dirty yellow astronaut jacket on.  And that is how we finished the trip, waiting for the bus to pick us up at the end of a dirt road in the cold, dripping woods, watching our breath rise.  I somehow got on the bus back home to Florida, became an Eagle Scout, went to college, found work and made my way through life, marrying well and raising wonderful children.
That canvas pack was replaced a few years after college by my first orange nylon "Skyline" type-pack with a frame (and a waist belt) and it carried me and my gear all over Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina.  The next pack was blue and it carried me to Colorado also, but was way too top-heavy for the on-the-edge-of-the-cliff-face trails like Phantom Terrace in the Sangre de Cristos and the Chinese Wall in the Flat Tops Wilderness.
My fourth backpack
I returned to Philmont one weekend fresh from a hundred-mile bike ride at Taos in September 2001.  I walked around the tent city, checked out the sales at the store and wandered into the Philmont museum.  Inside the museum along the wall they now have a display of several old scouting uniforms, including one like I wore along with the canteen, that flat hat, the long socks and a pocket knife for the times.  I felt sad for a moment that Scouts didn't dress that way anymore and how their world has changed so much since that time.  I knew my son's world would also be different than mine, but figured that he would find his own way just fine.
I earned this!
7 10 C 71 is my Philmont troop number, from July 10, 1971.  I still have the b&w photo of the whole bus load of us in front of the flag pole out front of tent city.  We were the C group of four total groups and the people on our bus all finished the trip.  I still remember the daily "activities" including fly fishing, tying our own flies and actually catching 3-4 fish with a kernel of corn on a hook, that was after we had "drowned" our home-made (nasty) flies. We also rode horses one full day and couldn't stand on our own two legs after that.  My sure-footed horse was named "Orange Blossom".  We got our boots branded along with the cattle and climbed a rock wall with ropes, cooked some good food and spent most nights cleaning pots and just enjoying the New Mexico mountain outdoors.  We even built a new trail as part of our service projects, and that included using the compass to select the grade of the route.  There was survival class under a parachute and we were supposed to cook a southwestern meal but the oil had gone rancid.  We learned about walking uphill all day long (you can't do that in Florida) and about walking downhill without toppling over ourselves.
I pulled out my Philmont map a few years ago and traced our hike across the 214 square miles of the oldest still-in-almost-one-piece Mexican land grant.  I remembered climbing the huge boulders up to the Tooth of Time rock outcropping, overlooking tent city and the rest of Philmont far below while watching the lightning and the storms come close.  We watched virga, where the rain never reached the valley floor below.  It reached us though and never let up until we were somewhere in Texas returning on the bus four days later.  If you can't tell, I had the time of my life!
Several of these hikes are burned into my mind clearer than most of my last winter's hikes and some trails are long forgotten.  We'll discuss more of the past another time.  I'll follow my own advice and make some new hikes now.  Only lighter.

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