After finishing dinner's dishes, I wander out on Cyphers Mine's porch to snag some coffee. Everyone has started to assemble in anticipation for Stomp, an almost historically accurate musical extravaganza, which is sure to entertain. A few staff carrying lanterns and cumbersome instruments head towards the smaller cabin with dozens of people following in tow. I grab a few more cookies before making my way over, eventually finding a decent seat towards the back. With little notice, the ensemble explodes to life, the entire show interrupted only by raucous clapping and laughing from the crowd. I take my unspoken cue during the last song and begin heading back towards the main cabin as to avoid any rush. I turn around to see a mass of headlamps flickering on, illuminating the dense darkness around them. Camper exodus never lasts long.
Since early morning, heavy clouds have been passing through camp, threatening us with rain. Only in the last half hour has their decision changed, an ever increasing pitter-patter of droplets can be heard on our tin kitchen roof. I finish my dinner and tell my staff to hold off from starting charcoal for our cobbler dutch oven feast while I scout weather conditions. A quick jaunt up to our meadow reveals just how socked in we are— looks like we are making eight cakes tonight. When a Scout has had their expectations set on cobbler for 12 days, cake is severely lacking in culinary appeal. I have had to deliver worse news though, perhaps I'll even get a small slice.
Obligated from the immediate need to start charcoal, I decide to take advantage of the ominous silence in our secluded meadow. Four more days remain until the second Camp Director meeting; it has been hard to quiet my apprehensions. Tomorrow brings the start of August, my final set of days-off begins the day after. There are so many camps I have neglected to visit. I still need to type up the second half of my report and I have yet to hear back on my application to work during fall. I take a breath, deeply filling my lungs with clean mountain air. I try to feel support from the damp rock on which I sit, and slowly, I return to our meadow. Cake nights are insanity– loud music and teenage boys tweaked on sugar– but there is little else I would rather be doing.
My staff are confident and comfortable with running camp in my absence and require no input before my departure. I snarf my breakfast, smear on sunscreen, and switch on my earbuds. Seven strenuous miles up the Rayado, my rendezvous point takes me along a familiar route I have hiked countless times before. Famed for a particular section of trail, “the Notch' is a perilous passage through a windy and narrow section of exposed rock. The crossing is barely wider than my arm span and I recall the stories of dynamite and labor it took to carve this mountain. Most people stop to admire the grand vista, but the rocks are more breathtaking today.
My trail continues upward through dense pine and heavy underbrush. I begin to descend and the scenery no longer feels foreign, a sign my destination is nearing. Radiant afternoon sun bathes the river's banks with warm hues. Swarms of gnats glint in the haze while massive bees buzz back and forth between black-eyed Susans. Trout dart upstream into shadows and crows caw upon my arrival. It would seem as though Mother Nature has granted me quite a welcoming party; I know Fish Camp and its staff will uphold her standards.
Last night's sleep on Fish Camp's couch has completely refreshed my spirit and aching quads; I feel unstoppable. To bypass starting a fire in the wood-burner, coffee is made with water boiled on a portable backpacking stove, then slowly poured through a paper filter resting precariously on one's cup. A flash from my years spent at other interp camps reminds me that this morning's process is pure novelty. Taking care not to spill, I also grab the book I picked up yesterday and mosey outside, situating myself in 'the ring'– a 4-foot wide suspended metal ring thick enough for one person to comfortably slink against. The weather couldn't be more idyllic, hopefully it holds for our baseball game later this evening. Skimming for my place, I realize I am more than two-thirds complete. Perhaps I can finish before we leave, there isn't any room in my pack for rentals.
Go-time is here. I cinch my pack and hoist it onto a waiting chair, shift my weight, then my waist. My eyes fall on a small patch of wilting black-eyed Susans; miniature sundials marking the passage of time by their withering petals. I am fully aware today will be my last hiking day this summer–a fruitless notion–but one I cannot move past. We say our farewells and begin to hike, the Rayado deeply hums while trees gently sway with the breeze. I am so very far from finished.
After showering and scouring off the majority of my last week off, I make my way over to the Villa Philmonte's vast lawn. Softballs thwack into mitts as both sides begin to warm up, voluminous clouds effortlessly drift above our massive green; what a perfect day for a baseball game! I catch an unmistakable scent of hot dogs and popcorn, looks like dinner has been taken care of. Tonight's friendly match determines a “winner” of a two-part baseball series between Backcountry and Ranger leaderships. Our rivalry is comically overstated, but having won the first game, it is apparent the Rangers are hungry for more than just hot dogs.
I watch as the scoreboard is hoisted into the air, proudly displaying the game's final for all to see; it was a blowout. From the corner of my eye, I catch a water cooler-shaped blur racing towards amassing celebratory yellow shirts. In one swift motion, the entire contents is dumped onto Matt's shoulders as he lurches forward, attempting to avoid the icy torrent. Even though we lost by a fair margin, seeing the opposing team's plush mascot stolen and high-tailed across the Villa lawn into a waiting getaway minivan made for a pretty spectacular seventh-inning stretch. After all, it's all just a game; might as well have some fun.
Boundless talks about gather during yesterday's meeting has left me feeling drained and restless. Alone in a sea of people, I wander building to building, mind racing, searching for familiar faces. Past staff members manifest momentarily, a mental mirage generated from previous summers. I desperately want to leave basecamp, but the thought of returning to camp tomorrow morning doesn't sit well either. Hopefully I find a friend going into town who wants some lunch. My days are dwindling. I must finish strong.