Having secured most of my gear, I tell Carter I am nearly ready to leave. Taking a peek inside one of Miranda's heavily decorated trade tents, I find Cody preparing to give a trade-talk with an approaching crew. Tools, utensils, large ropes of dried tobacco, and furs from varying small game adorn the tables, each item baring a story which waits to be told. With a firm handshake I wish him well before throwing on my pack and finally heading down the mountain. It's been two weeks since I last saw beer and there's a green chile burger with my name waiting for me at the bar. We waste little time.
Once again I find myself seated at one of the only restaurants in town, the St. James Hotel, this time for lunch. As far as I am concerned, there are few things better than eating a hot meal having directly come off of the trail. Shortly after ordering, our food arrives, and like slovenly kings, we feast. It occurs to me tonight is Abreu's Phil-Fiesta; a themed event where each camp picks one day to party and eat as much as possible. Noting the irony of food begetting food, we pay and exit. A weather-worn building I frequently park against catches my attention. Bold colors of the Southwest peel away from the crumbling wall, a great reminder to reapply sunscreen.
Abreu and Zastrow are geographically very close, in fact, few if any camps share a neighbor as close as we do. My plan is to stop by my camp to ditch everything except crucial overnight gear and to take care of some business with a few of my staff. I am expected to return tomorrow morning, however, an unannounced visit will help set the tone needed for my brief discussions. Quickly, I take care of my business, grab my lightened pack, and wrangle up my friends; time to party. We head out and begin the leisurely walk to Abreu; it's a good thing I have one more night off.
I take my heaping plate of food out onto the porch and begin stuffing my face; one of the many joyful benefits from constant exercise is the lack of anxiety over calorie consumption. A quickly setting sun dips behind the mountains, outrageous hues streak through heavy cloud cover, painting the sky in an explosion of warmth. Lavender and orchid, peaches and cream; an ethereal dream floats and flickers around me. The intensity only lasts for minutes before settling into a more familiar shade of dusk. Grabbing a knit beanie from my pack, I head back into the kitchen. Dessert is almost ready.
By now, most of the guests have left. Under dim oil lamps, a few people remain, gently swaying on rocking chairs and porch swings while muted guitar melodies twang over buzzing crickets and the humming Rayado. I sit back and reflect on the totality of my journey from the last several days; improvising and planning both played an equal role in the success of my set. In previous years I wouldn't nearly have been as brazen or as carefree. My knotted shoulders and sore hips remind me of how far I hiked the past two days. I glance over and find Ben also deep in thought. Perhaps it is time for bed.
Our horseshoe pit is almost dangerously too tiny; we need to make an addition. Future land development has been permanently obstructed on three sides by (1) a large, dense thicket of mature scrub oak, (2) our leach field, and (3) a 70 year-old apple tree planted by the camp's founder. The most plausible solution for expansion lies in removing a hideous stump with vulgar juniper bushes growing from its base. My passion for having this atrocity eliminated is akin to old men and their need to silence noise disturbances. However, the stump is enormous and the afternoons are sweltering, our shovels are small and our time is limited. Gordon found me obsessing and in an encouraging tone proclaimed “mountains are tall and rivers are wide.” So we started digging. And digging. We dug for two weeks. And when it all seemed like too much, we even got a little help from out friends. Proof that if you dig it, they will come, even if it's in the form of a bulldozer.
All crews who camp overnight at Zastrow are spending their last night in the backcountry. Part of our evening program involves a somber ceremony in which we ask the participants to silently reflect on their trek and personal journey through Scouting. Towards the beginning of summer, I empowered my staff to accomplish and improve this area of program without relying on my help. My main intention was to give them something to grow and be proud of, but also to capitalize on 20 minutes of quiet during dusk; hopefully a recipe for success in passive leadership. So far, so good. As I glance upwards at the dim and nearly cloudless sky, I notice dozens of headlamps flickering and bobbing down our Northern hill as campers return from the ceremony. The skies indicate we might even be able to offer Astronomy program tonight, a first in days.
It's uncomfortably hot—again. The preponderance of flies has been driving me insane. I angrily swat a few more away from my pasty legs, sweltering heat has driven me to wearing shorts. Tomorrow cannot arrive quickly enough; never have I wanted to take my days off more than I do now. June feels like it was eons ago, late August seems impossibly distant. Midsummer doldrums are undoubtedly effecting my staff as well, perhaps I'll let them sleep in tomorrow. Reflexively, I smack my tingling neck with an open palm. Stunned and still buzzing, I finish him off with the horseshoe in my other hand. “Thirty-eight!”, I gleefully shout towards the main cabin.
Noon arrives and I couldn't be happier. Although this set will be a day shorter due to the second Camp Director meeting which is in a week, I still have plenty of desire to hike. Practically skipping, I make it to the cars in under 15 minutes. Engine roaring to life, sunglasses on, windows down, I take off down our bumpy dirt road. Just before exiting onto the main highway, I cross under power-lines which are responsible for Zastrow's power. An invisible and impossibly long corridor explodes out in front of me. Visions of dolly zooms and mirrors endlessly reflecting play out into the horizon.
My borrowed car skids to stop at the turnaround. I get out, lace up my boots, and hit the trail. With only a few more open days left in my schedule for hiking, I based my evening's destination purely by trail preference. As I continue onward, the air becomes heavier with moister; distant rumbles of thunder encourage me to pick up my pace. I cross over the North Fork dozens of times, eventually losing count. Delicate wildflowers and dainty waterfalls decorate my path, a lushness found in few other places on the Ranch. Not much further on, I find myself in a familiar grove of aspens. I must be getting close.