Our last day on the trail. Reflecting back on this trip, we had done a lot. We hiked through desert. We hiked through aspen and conifer forests, summited rocky shale peaks, and hiked through dry lakes and high mountain meadows. But, we had not yet hiked through Dean Canyon.
Some of our crew lamented that the trip was over so quickly, but I secretly was glad to be winding up. I was ready to go home! It had been two weeks since I'd had any kind of contact with Becky, Hannah or Greg at the distillery, and I was anxious as hell to find out if everything was OK. My anxiety built throughout the day. I had to force myself multiple times to squash it down and continue on with my hike.
We hiked through six miles of the most awful God-forsaken canyon on the planet. Things were hot again, desert-like. And thinking we'd left the mosquitoes at Dean Cow behind forever, we set out, only to be besieged by swarms of the nasty insects through the entirety of our six mile journey. Hot sun baking down on us, no shade whatsoever, and mosquitoes everywhere. Clouds of the insects swarmed each hiker. They bit our faces, bit our arms, bit our hands and knuckles. They even bit us through our shirts. How could this be?! There was no standing water anywhere! And yet they persisted.
I honestly prayed for deliverance. I prayed to God. I prayed to Jesus. I prayed to Yahweh, and I prayed to Allah. None of them would heed my prayer, and we continued to be bit by mosquitoes right up until we finally reached the Chase Ranch. The unfortunate thing was that it was 10am, and we didn't have a bus appointment until 4pm. I most certainly did not want to spend six hours at Chase Ranch. And even there, as we waited for a base-camp bus, we were bit by mosquitoes.
Some of our crew went in to tour the ranch, but I wanted that bus. So I stalked the highway for any sign of a vehicle, ready to pounce and flag it down to rescue me from this horrible mosquito infested hell-hole. I seriously considered offering any passing motorist $100 to drive me six miles to base camp. I was done. But traffic was few and far between and we continued to wait. And for two hours, we waited, until...
Finally, a bus came, but the driver was headed to Ponil, and wouldn't be back for 45 minutes. Damn. I didn't want to wait, but he said there were no other buses in front of him. Wait we must.
Then, fifteen minutes later, a lady drove by with an empty bus and pulled in to pick us up. We were saved!! Hallelujah!
We made our way back to base camp, where we had the promise of showers, a hot dinner in the dining hall, and the luxuries of the snack bar and trading post.
I used Max's phone to call home, unable to contain my anxiety about my business and my family. When Becky told me everything was fine, and I could hear her voice, I broke down sobbing like a five year old. I was so overwhelmed, so homesick and so, so tired. "Please don't ever make me go back there," I begged her. I was a wreck, and had to walk off to regain my composure away from the scouts. Regain it I did, and after a meal, a new pair of warm socks at the trading post, a hamburger, and an ice cream, and a relaxing church service, I felt restored and ready to go home.
That night, as we attended the final Philmont closing campfire, something truly special happened. It was dark, well after nine pm. All week, the moon had been full, obliterating the night sky. Because of the moon and lots of clouds, we had been unable to see the sky that we knew was so visible out west.
But on this particular night, the waning moon had not yet risen and there were no clouds.
We could see the STARS!
The Milky Way stretched from horizon to horizon, bold and white with its beautiful band of stars wrapping the indigo sky. All the constellations were bright and visible like I've so rarely seen. All of the boys, and even Max, had never seen the Milky Way before. Never. The light pollution in Virginia was too bright. And the entire crew stayed up late looking at the sky in awe.
This was like one last gift from Philmont: "Here you go, boys. Here are the stars."
Our trip was complete. And it was totally worth it.
It was time to go home.