Well, we did it. Our first practice hike is in the books. The plan was to get the boys out for a weekend hike and make sure all of their equipment fit, worked and was everything they needed to support them while at Philmont. We also began to talk about what they don’t need and what percentage of their packs should be dedicated to Crew Gear, food and water. Showing up with a full pack when it is only your personnel gear doesn’t leave a lot of room for the rest of the Crew’s needs.
I handed each boy a notebook and asked them to write down a list of all of the gear in their packs. More importantly, I asked them to put a check next to all of the gear that they used during the hiking trip. We are starting to build a list of the gear we need and use and will hopefully shed the gear that we don’t use. This process will continue throughout the rest of our practice hikes and will (hopefully) eventually lead to lighter and more efficient packs. We all realize that there is certain pieces of equipment that we will always have with us that hopefully we never need to use (e.g., first aid kit, rain gear), however, the gear lists will sort out the extra shirts, fleece, and other personnel gear that will not be needed.
Another part of this training was to get the boys used to carrying everything on their backs and being completely responsible for all of their own gear. During routine weekend scouting camping trip the boys are always responsible for all of their own gear. The main difference with these hiking trips is that the entire campsite is packed up and moved every day. Organization, packing and repacking are very important when you need to find and use the cooking or cleaning or sleeping gear in different campsites each day. Finally, I wanted the boys to begin to understand the amount of time that is needed to set up camp, prepare meals, break down camp, and move to the next campsite, each and every day. The lesson wasn’t to rush to get to the next place or event, because I want the boys to live by the motto: “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” However, at the end of the journey, you need to have time to enjoy the destination (and set up the campsite, eat and clean-up).
All of my preparation for the weekend was focused on the mechanical. I wanted to make sure the boy’s new gear was working for them. Was it comfortable? Did it fit? Did they know how to use it? Could they make it through the weekend dry, safe and comfortable? I know that these seem like very basic expectations for a group of boys that are heading to Philmont this summer, but for some of these boys, this would be there first backpacking trip and most of their gear still had the tags on it.
What my preparation didn’t account for was the progress we made at becoming a Crew. The boys started the weekend separately but very quickly became a team, a Crew. It was a completely different dynamic then a normal Troop camping weekend. The boys interacted differently, worked together better and really seemed to understand that they all needed each other to fully enjoy the experience. I wasn’t expecting that from the boys, and was very pleasantly surprised. Let me say that I wasn’t expecting complete anarchy either. This group of boys are GREAT Scouts, very good leaders, and very responsible. That being said, the progress they made as a team greatly exceeded my expectations. I was very proud of them. Don’t get me wrong, we all have a lot of work to do during the next few months, but their hearts and minds are in the right spot, and I can’t wait to see the progress.
One story sums up the growth that these boys made this weekend. At one point during our hike we came up to a stream with no way across (without getting wet). As the boys were discussing what to do next there were many different opinions. The air (and water) were cold and the water was about 30 feet across and about two feet deep in the middle. After much debate and discussion, the plan was to cross the stream. (Just to make it clear, initially I was on the turn around and find another way side of the argument.) The decision was made to cross and some of the boys were really nervous about crossing. As a team we discussed the pro’s and con’s and eventually the Crew began crossing. We went through the safety rules associated with a stream crossing and one by one we crossed. In the end we all made it across safely and dry. Even the boys that didn’t initially want to cross (including myself) had a great time crossing the stream. This minor adversity became the best team building activity we could have hoped for. We will all tell the story of crossing that stream…..
That’s all for now. I know we have a lot to learn as a Crew to get ready for our adventure this summer, but we are well on our way after just one time together.
During the weekend, I discovered a few things about my own gear choices. More of that to come…..