My Back… (A Philmont Story)

by Paul Alexander

It was hot! A dry heat that allowed the actual temperature to be much hotter than it felt. It was a very dry one oh five in the sun. The Crew rested, packs off, in the shade of a few oak trees lined up along the side of the fire road that was their backcountry trail. They were just finishing up a twenty minute rest break. Twenty minutes because that gave the muscles in their legs and backs enough time to rest but not enough time to get sore. The twenty minutes was almost up though, so it was going to be “pack on” and hiking down the trail very soon.

The Crew was hiking from Middle Ponil Low Impact Camp in the high country (outside of the Maxwell Land Grant which made up most of the Philmont Scout Ranch) to Dan Beard Camp just inside the border of Philmont. The journey is a thirteen mile hike (about twenty kilometers) down from the high country and into the burn scar of the 2003 Ponil Complex Fire. Dan Beard Camp and its C.O.P.E. course rest on the very edge of that almost two decode old burn scar. The trees have yet to fully recover.

There were two windmills marked on their map and when The Crew saw the first one they knew they had already hiked about eight miles and it would be a good time for a twenty minute break. There was plenty of shade near the windmill and so it made for a pleasant place to rest. But those twenty minutes were quickly drawing to a close.

As Nalgenes were slipped back into place on the sides of packs and the last handfuls of trail mix were being munched on everyone heard the same familiar sound at about the same time. The crunch crunch crunching sound of boots on the trail. The sound of another Crew approaching their position. At Philmont, deep in the backcountry, you might go an entire day and only see one other Crew. For the Scouts and Scouters of Crew 714-7C2 this was their first interaction with another Crew all day. Each Crew was different and each interaction between Crews was unique.

Many times there was an exchange of heartfelt greetings and exclamations like “Where are you from?!” and questions like “How long have you been on the trail?” and the ever popular “How much farther to…?” Sometimes there are high fives, sometimes there are fist bumps. As the two Crews go their separate ways on the trail there are calls to “Have a safe trip!” and to “Have a good trek!” A Scout is Courteous and as such, meeting others on the trail is a cheerful affair, most of the time.

Every once in a while though, especially when the two Crews can see each other coming at one another from far off, the interaction between the two Crews becomes something far from Courteous. It becomes a challenge of Scout Spirit, a challenge no spirited Scout can back down from.

When the eight Scouts and two Scouters of Crew 714-7C2 heard the approaching Crew they looked down the fire road and saw them as well. A group of much younger Scouts and their beleaguered Adult Advisors. The heat seemed to have withered the Scouts and their advisors, many wearing their bright red troop neckerchiefs over their heads in an attempt to seek some form of shade. The members of Crew 714-7C2, all current members of Troop 32 from Santa Rosa, California, felt sorry for the young Scouts they saw approaching. Their packs looked big and heavy. Slowly, the Scouts and Scouters of Troop 32, also known as The Green Machine, began to put on their packs and prepare to get back on the trial. That’s when it happened. The Crew Leader of the approaching Crew opened his mouth…

“Thirty!” His yell was weak, it did not start in his chest – it started in his throat. It was hot and he had a heavy pack on his back, he yelled all the same. The other members of his Crew, the Scouts anyway, knew how to respond and that their Crew Leader wanted them to do just that.

“Six!” They yelled back at their Crew Leader, equally weak from the heat and their heavy packs. It was with labored breath, yet they yelled back all the same.

“Thirty!” This time the Crew Leader was a little bit louder, a little bit more confident. He had taken a deeper breath before he started.

“Six!” The rest of the Crew just sounded tired. Tired and now, not very amused with their leader. They yelled back all the same. Their Scout Spirit was tired, but not broken.

“Come on you guys! I can’t hear you!” The Crew Leader’s yell sounded more like a plea, a plea for help.

“Troop Thirty Six! Troop Thirty Six!” The rest of the Crew gave it all they had, it wasn’t much, it was hot and they were wearing heavy packs, they gave it everything they could all the same. They issued their challenge, threw their hat into the ring, took their Stand, made their mark and in doing so they prodded the Beast and sealed their Fate.

The Scouts and Scouters of Troop 32 were no strangers to being challenged by other troops. Being the biggest and the best in the West means that many and more line up to challenge you. If to do nothing else than to try and validate themselves. Although Troop 32 might be an easy target, they are not an easy mark. Especially when it comes to a challenge issued for Scout Spirit. The Scouts and Scouters of Troop 32 are filled with Scout Spirit, it is a requirement when you are Eagle Bound. This was something the young Scouts of Troop 36 were about to learn firsthand.

Mr. Matthew Marshall, the lead Adult Advisor and himself an Eagle Scout, knew a Scout Spirit Challenge when he heard one and he also knew Troop 32 was quite well prepared to rise to such a challenge brilliantly (thank you Cort Daggett).

“Alright guys, pack on and line up… What should we give them? My Back?” The eight Scouts of Crew 714-7C2 all nodded their heads knowingly. They had the look of sailors lovingly loading their favorite shell into their favorite cannon and preparing to fire it with great accuracy. Mr. Marshall recognized the look in their eyes and he smiled back at them, a broad and pride filled smile. The smile of a ship captain as he pulls his vessel into battle stations and prepares to fire a full broadside salvo.

The Scouts adjusted their shoulder straps, clipped into belly bands and snitched their chest straps tight. Their heavily laden packs settled back down onto their hips and many of the Scouts let out slight grunts as the weight of their packs settled onto their bodies. They had prepared themselves for the trail and they were going to let the world know as much.

“Is anyone not ready?” Landon asked. He was the Crew Leader of 714-7C2 and he knew it was easier to ask if someone was NOT ready versus asking if everyone was ready. The yes’s end up drowning out the no’s. The rest of the Crew gave Landon a “thumbs up” and he nodded his head in return. “Pack on!” was his spirited reply.

As The Crew began to step forward, Mr. Marshall watched their spacing as they stepped onto the fire road and approached the marching Scouts of Troop 36 (from Somewhere, U.S.A.). He wanted to get the timing just right. He also saw the faces of the Adult Advisors of the approaching Crew. They were in awe, as if they were seeing celebrities for the first time. Famous Scouts that up to that point they had only seen on the pages of a Boy’s Life magazine. He gave their look a quick thought and then he looked at the Crew that had lined up in front of him. Every Scout wore a hat, either the Troop 32 Class B baseball cap, the black cap of a Troop 32 Eagle Scout, or the broad brimmed Troop 32 Boonie Hat. Every Scout wore an Official Troop 32 Philmont 2019 Class B shirt. Everyone’s pack was tightly stuffed and well rigged – no dangling shoes, silver aluminum pots or any other such nonsense. Mr. Marshall looked at himself and the other Adult Advisor of Crew 714-7C2, they were wearing the exact same outfit, from their Troop 32 Boonie Hats to their long sleeve Troop 32 hiking shirts to their green switchback hiking pants and even their boots, one hundred percent leather upper – waterproof Lowa heavy duty hiking boots. The image went beyond that though, beyond the mere uniforms of the Crew, because the actual members of this Crew could not be denied. The youngest of them could only be called an “Older Boy” while the oldest among them demanded the title “Young Men.” Of the ten members of his Crew, five are Eagle Scouts and the other five are all well on their way to earning that same honor. They all stood tall and proud, wearing their backpacks just like any other piece of clothing, their boots fit like sneakers. They might be tired or in pain, but they showed the world that they felt that pain and it gave them joy. Joy in knowing that the pain and soreness would lead them to be better people, stronger men. Mr. Marshall started to see what those other Adult Advisors were seeing – the very best of what Scouting has to offer young people, personified in a group of ten brave souls – the Scouts and Scouters of Crew 714-7C2.

The Adult Advisors of Troop 36, they couldn’t wait to see the Scout Spirit of this group – as if they were waiting for a fireworks show. Mr. Marshall saw the two groups closing quickly and he quietly called out the timing to his Crew.

“Three, Two, One –“ And they let Troop 36 have it, full broad side – no punches pulled.

“MY BACK IS ACHING

MY BELTS TOO TIGHT

MY HIPS ARE SHAKING FROM LEFT TO RIGHT

SAY UH UNGAWA

THREE TWO’S GOT THE POW’R

WE SAID IT

WE MEANT IT

WE’RE HERE TO REPRESENT IT – OHHHH!

<even louder now>

MY BACK IN ACHING

MY BELTS TOO TIGHT

MY HIPS ARE SHAKING FROM LEFT TO RIGHT

SAY UH UNGAWA

THREE TWO’S GOT THE POW’R

WE SAID IT

WE MEANT IT

WE’RE HERE TO REPRESENT IT – OHHHH!

<Mr. Matthew Marshall solo>

TROOP 32!

<everyone together>

EAGLE BOUND!”

The Scout yell echoed across the valleys and through the trees of Philmont Scout Ranch, spreading Scout Spirit across the land. The young Scouts of Troop 36 were not embarrassed or shamed for issuing their challenge, quite the opposite. They were invigorated and seemed to hike on with a new spring in their step. Much like students on a school bus making gestures at a truck driver or a train engineer asking them to sound their horn. Let us hear your Sound of Liberty. Let us hear your undeniable Freedom. Let it ring out loud. Then, when the trucker or the engineer obliges them and blasts their horn the students cheer in response, they got what they wanted. They got to hear the Sounds of Freedom ring out across the land. The Scouts and Scouters of Troop 36 felt much the same way after encountering the Scout Spirit of Crew 714-7C2 and the pride and strength that make up The Green Machine of Santa Rosa, Troop 32. Eagle Bound.

You can be Free and you can sing, let Freedom ring.

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