Some college students dream of working at Disney World during their Summer Break. Others work as camp counselors or lifeguards. Some spend the long, hot Summer days working at a part-time job.
I had the opportunity of a lifetime. During the Summer between my Freshman and Sophomore years at Milligan College, I had the opportunity to live out my own dream. It is also the dream of many others who have been involved in Boy Scouts over the years. I was a Backcountry staff member at the summit of Scouting: Philmont Scout Ranch.
I had already hiked five different Philmont treks during my Scouting experience: four as a Camper and one as an adult Advisor. My love for Philmont ran deep. It still does. During my first trek, I had decided that I wanted to work in the Backcountry at Philmont. That’s not unusual, though. I would imagine that at least half of the thousands of Scouts who stream through this high adventure base have this same thought.
There is one event that solidified this dream for me.
Carl, a graduate of our Troop, was on staff in the Backcountry during that first trek of mine. While we were visiting his Camp, brought out a watermelon for our crew to share. Fresh fruit was a luxury on the trail. And watermelon? Well, that was more than a luxury. It was just a little taste of heaven.
As we were passing around slices of the watermelon, Mr. G. said, “Jarod, Matt: remember this when you’re on staff here in a few years!”
I don’t think I’d really considered working at Philmont until that moment. And I never forgot that charge. While I couldn’t secure a watermelon for my Troop when they rolled into camp during my first year on staff, I did manage whip up a little cake for them. That’s just as good.
My first year on staff at Philmont was at Beaubien Camp, one of the largest camps on the Ranch. I knew I was one of the few fortunate people who had the opportunity to work as a member of Backcountry Staff during my first year as a Philmont Staffer. I was in rarified air. And I did what I could to soak in every moment of my time there. It can be a pretty humbling experience when you finally get to live out your dream. All Summer long, I found myself saying things like
“I can’t believe I’m getting paid for this.”
“This is amazing. I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
I mean, I woke up to this every day:
It’s pretty hard not to be amazed.
I also worked with a pretty eclectic group of people. We had a pretty good time, although none of us could play a guitar. That required some creativity when it came to evening campfire time. Fortunately, we learned how to take command of the “stage” and ham it up any time we saw a camera. We’d gladly interrupt each other’s stories, poems, and jokes for a good group pose. Anything for the Campers, right?
It’s kind of crazy to think that there are people all over the world who have pictures similar to this one. It’s humbling to realize that our Beaubien team could be part of someone’s memories from the time when they hiked the trails at Philmont some 20 years ago.
And kind of scary. I mean, look at me. That’s a face for radio if I ever saw one.
But seriously, as I look back on my Summer on staff at Beaubien, I realize that there are some life lessons I learned from that experience that still impact me today. While I was there to help Campers and Advisors have memorable, life-changing experiences, I also had my own share of life change while I was there. Here are three things I learned while I was part of Beaubien’s staff at Philmont Scout Ranch:
1. It’s OK to ask for help.
If you didn’t already know and hadn’t figured it out by now, Beaubien Camp has a cowboy theme. Crews would usually stay at our camp for a two–day layover during their trek. In many ways, we were like a Scout version of a resort for these crews. Crews that had a layover with us would spend two nights with us. So they didn’t have to tear down their tents the next morning and scramble on their way to get to the next camp. They could relax, take warm showers, and participate in some of the activities we had at Beaubien. They could brand their boots or hats (or any other item, for that matter). They could practice roping. They could schedule a horseback trail ride. Each night they were invited to join us around the campfire for some stories and the occasional song.
One of the highlights of Beaubien’s programming is the Chuck Wagon. Not only did the crews learn a little about cowboy life at the turn of the century in the Sangre de Christo Mountains, but they also got to have real-live beef stew with real-live vegetables and real beef. Believe me, after several days on the trail eating rehydrated dehydrated food night after night after night, this is like a gourmet meal.
It’s almost heaven.
As crew members, we rotated job responsibilities throughout the week. Part of the rotation was leading the preparation and cooking of the Chuck Wagon Dinner for the crews. I was having a hard time getting the fires hot enough to cook the dinner.
The crews started gathering for dinner. But we weren’t anywhere near ready.
So they waited.
And waited some more.
They were kind of getting a bit restless. You don’t want to get in between a group of hungry teenagers and their beef stew. And you definitely don’t want to hinder any grown men when it came to their bowls of beef stew.
I was failing as the Chuck Wagon Cookie. And I started to panic.
And everyone waited.
I feverishly tried to start a roaring fire. And I was failing miserably. Did I mention that we were in the middle of monsoon season and all the wood was wet? It was a horrible, horrible mess.
I felt horrible. Having experienced the Chuck Wagon dinner as a camper, I knew that this was supposed to be one of the milestones of the trek. They were going to have the equivalent of a gourmet meal. And I was letting them down. Horribly. I was stunned. I was at a complete loss. I had no idea what to do next.
All of a sudden, someone appeared at the Chuck Wagon site from seemingly out of nowhere. A look of determination shot from his eyes. He looked at me, looked at my lame attempt at starting a fire, and looked at me again. He rolled up his sleeves and went to work without saying a word.
A few moments later, the fire was roaring and the stew was beginning to cook. Chuck Wagon dinner was saved. We all had Trigger, our camp’s Assistant Camp Director, to thank.
“I’m sorry,” I said to him as he was about to walk back to our cabin.
“Don’t be. It happens to all of us. Why do you think I came down here? You should’ve asked for help.”
“I didn’t want you to think I couldn’t handle it.”
“Do you know how many times I’ve had trouble getting the fire started for Chuck Wagon? Ask for help next time. We’re all here to help each other. Don’t forget that.”
And I didn’t forget. There is no shame in asking for help. That’s a lesson I’ve remembered ever since Trigger saved my hide from a pack of hungry Campers and Advisors.
2. There’s more to life than “Nike…Nike…Nike…”
At the end of our Campfire each night, Trigger would usually about a man who was told to fill his pockets with rocks. I’ll spare you all the details of the story (because it’s better to hear than to read, anyway), but challenge at the end of the story was to make the most of the opportunities available at Philmont.
When you’re hiking along the trail, it’s tempting to just look down and watch the feet of the person in front of you. It’s easy to get hypnotized by the rhythm of the hiking boots in front of you. So all you see while you’re hiking is “Nike…Nike….Nike…” And Trigger would remind everyone that there’s more to Philmont than just “Nike…Nike….Nike…” There’s amazing scenery and wildlife and experiences that you’ll miss out on if you don’t look up and take it all in. But it’s a choice that you have to make. You can choose to look down, which is easier, or you can choose to look up and experience all that Philmont has to offer. The same is true with the backcountry programs. You can sit in your camp and mope around, or you can choose to make the most of your opportunity and participate in all of the programs that are available while you’re there. Because there’s more to Philmont than “Nike…Nike…Nike…”
The same is true with life. We have a choice every day. We can just do what we always do or look up, see the opportunities before us, and then take advantage of those opportunities. That sounds a lot like the ancient Todd Family Motto: “It behooves us to live,” doesn’t it? We have an opportunity every day to make the most out of every minute we’re alive. So grab life by the horns. And when you think you’re too tired or it’s too hard, just remember that there’s more to life than “Nike…Nike…Nike…”
When we choose to live, we’ll have a life full of memories and experiences, and hopefully we’ll have very few regrets.
3. I’m no cowboy.
While a Program Counselor at Beaubien, I spent my days interpreting the life of a cowboy. I taught people what life used to be like on a cattle ranch. I also helped show them what life can be like on a cattle ranch today. I had a blast doing it.
There were some at our Camp, however, who actually worked with the horses all day long. They were the Wranglers. And they were awesome. While they didn’t interact with the Campers all day long, they were an integral part of the Beaubien operation. Several of my fellow Beaubien Program Counselors had a desire to become Wranglers. And some did serve as Wranglers during subsequent years at Philmont. And they were great at their jobs.
In order to learn the Wrangler ropes while they were Program Counselors, these dedicated teammates of mine would get up before the sun and help the Wranglers feed the horses and get everything ready for the day’s trail rides. They basically spent the summer working two full-time jobs. It seems they were bitten by the cowboy bug.
Much to the dismay of Alyson, our horse-whisperer, I was not bitten by such bug. Don’t get me wrong. I love horses. I think they’re beautiful creatures. They’re amazing to watch. It’s just…well…I’m just really not that into them.
But that’s OK.
Because there’s a dedicated group of people who are into horses and they do a fabulous job taking care of those horses throughout the Summer. They probably don’t get the publicity of the Backcountry folk who are decked out in interpretive gear (like I was), but they’re probably the hardest working team on the Ranch.
I might not be a real cowboy. But holy cow, it was fun pretending to be one for a Summer.