Legs aching, clothes and shoes drenched in sweat and rain, the Boy Scouts of Troops 23 and 50 trudged their way along the trails weaving through Cimarron, New Mexico in June’s blazing summer heat.
Before the trek officially began, twelfth-graders Cooper Couden, Jude Kolesar, Tommy Morris, eleventh-grader Simon Valek, and tenth-grader Patrick Collins first went to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. Kolesar and Morris are part of Troop 50 and arrived June 21; Collins, Couden, and Valek are part of Troop 23 and arrived June 27.
The Philmont base camp served as the starting point to what would be an arduous trek through the New Mexican landscape. Carrying anywhere from 20 to 40 pounds of gear, the nine scouts and two scout leaders of Sarasota-based Troop 50 and the six scouts and three scout leaders of Troop 23 took different routes through Philmont.
One of three “High Adventure Treks” offered by the Boy Scouts of America, the 80-mile trek through New Mexico spanned 12 days, averaging about 11 hours of hiking per day.
During the trek, Troop 50 participated in the Indian Writings Conservation project, where they built natural barriers using stones to aid against flash floods in North Ponil Valley. Troop 23, on the other hand, felled trees for forest fire prevention in Ute Park in response to the devastating 2018 Ute Park Fire.
While the scouts were surrounded by scenic views, the journey itself proved to be not as pretty. Pushing forward with their hike through the New Mexico heat and days of non-stop flooding and rainfall, some scouts met their match along the way.
“It was really hot and really cold. The coldest day probably got down to 35 or 40 [degrees], and the hottest day was 95,” Kolesar said.
Kolesar suffers from asthma. Depending on the person and environment, the affliction can kick in at any given moment. The altitude proved to be irritable for Kolesar’s condition.
“Especially at higher elevations, my asthma would get super, super bad and I had to stop and take a little hit of my inhaler, get Tommy to put it back in my bag, then I had to sit for a second. Then, I had to keep on going. A lot of the time, I felt like throwing up because it felt like so much or I couldn’t breathe. But I never did! It was pretty enjoyable,” Kolesar said.
Morris aided Kolesar when this occurred by helping to carry some of his weight; during the duration of the trip, he would help a handful of the scouts with their packs, later helping Kolesar again when he injured his foot.
“You had no choice but to keep going,” Morris said, “even when it sucked.”
The trip wasn’t all rough waters, though. The trip’s arduous nature proved to be a bonding experience for many of the boys, especially for Troop 23 scouts Couden and Collins.
“The best part of the trek was being out in the woods, away from all your problems and really getting to know and form friendships with the people you were with… By the end, we knew each other very well and we were good friends. Being with exclusively the same people for 11 days and having no phone or internet to distract you really gets you to talk for a long time,” Collins said.
“Here’s the thing. Patrick is obsessed with Weezer… We sang Buddy Holly so many times on that trip. We had no speakers, no music, no electronics. It was just us singing it. It was so ridiculous, but it was our main inside joke. And so every time I see Patrick, I physically put on Weezer and just play it as loud as I can,” Couden said.
Throughout the trip, the troops endured lengthy periods of time without showers, access to bathrooms, hot food, and sleep. Morris was assigned the duty of waking the scouts of Troop 50 up every morning, which at times meant the middle of the night.
“The worst for me was [when I went to sleep at] 12 and then had to wake up at 3. It was unbearable,” Morris said.
Although the trip proved to be both physically and mentally tough on the scouts, they recommend that every Boy Scout goes on the trek.
“You have to do it. It’s a part of Boy Scouts. If you’re not going to get your Eagle Scout, you at least have to do this,” Morris said.
“I’m not getting my Eagle Scout, but I did this and I feel accomplished!” Kolesar said.
“It was the most strenuous, hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. But if I had the chance, I’d do it a million times over,” Couden said.
This article is linked to a QR code that appears in print on Oct. 29, 2021, News, Page 3, of the Torch with the headline: Boy Scouts’ Philmont Trek.