"Congratulations, your Crew has been selected to trek at Philmont Scout Ranch during Week 7 of the 2016 program year." With that, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief, cheered at our good fortune... and then came face to face with the enormity of what we'd just agreed to do.
For some, backpacking, cooking and camping in the backcountry for twelve days may be a regular occurrence. For many of our scouts, this was absolutely not the truth. We realized we would all have to up our games. We'd need to get new gear. We'd need to consider how much what we would bring would weigh. We'd need to get in shape... oh man, *I'd* need to get in shape!
For the better part of two years, we made sure we had the right group of people to attend. We had fits and starts. We had firm commitments from lots of scouts, only to have several of them fall by the wayside when the enormity of the trip (both in the effort and the cost) became apparent. At points, we feared we might have to cancel the whole thing, but somehow, at the moments of truth along the way (and there were several), we were able to pull it out of the fire and make the trek viable. We raised money by whatever means we could. We advertised a willingness to do jobs no one else would want to do (having to clear out a garage for an estate sale and clean up rodent damage to a large part of the storage will certainly live as one of the more memorable ones). We planned itineraries and booked flights, hired charter buses, made travel plans both before and after the on the mountain trek. We reviewed medical forms over and over. We went to get certified for Wilderness First Aid and CPR. Most of all, though, we strapped on back packs with all of our gear and we hiked. We hiked on flat paved trails. We climbed and descended mountains. We hiked on grass, in dirt, on forest floors littered with pine needles. We practiced cooking as a group. We dealt with the realities of one of our campers being genuinely gluten and dairy intolerant (as in full scale Celiac disease level, and realizing that nothing on the Philmont meal plan was edible for him). We pitched in and bought him a full compliment of gluten and dairy free trail foods so that he could participate with the rest of us.
Shortly, all of the planning, training, dieting, working out, learning, certifying, proofing, and other stuff that has consumed our lives for what feels like forever and no time at all will be set in motion. We will board a plane. We will fly to Albuquerque. We will be met by a shuttle service. We will travel around the small towns in and around the New Mexico Rocky Mountains until our check in time. We will then hit the trail, scale summits, evade bears, explore mines, climb to the top of Mt. Baldy, cover close to seventy miles, perform service and area improvements, and overall see how well we actually prepared for this adventure of ours.
In my day to day life as a tester, this all reminds me of the countless stories, iterations, releases, and other milestones we have met over the years. At some point, you no longer have time to practice, to learn, or to model what you will do. The time comes that you just "must do". In short, it's "Go Time". You are either ready, or you are not. Your solutions work, or they do not. Your learning is sufficient, or it is not. The one difference is that, when I test, there's always another day, another chance to get it right. Out in the wild, if we do something bone-headed or we take on something ill-prepared, the consequences may not be as mild. Though I am not anticipating it, I have to realize that, during these trips, though the numbers are small, people get hurt or die out here. We can do a lot to mitigate those risks, but we can eliminate them entirely. Now we just have to go out and do our best, and know that we have trained for this. I'm humbled, but I'm also excited.
For the next two and a half weeks, I will effectively be unplugged and off the grid. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to help provide a trek that I hope will be life changing for the participants, and yes, I'm hoping one of the life's changed, in a positive way, will be mine :). Happy trails to you, until we meet again!