Are you really ready to trek?

By Phil Winegardner

PSA Trek Ready?

Disclaimer – This is long, but if you’re serious about trekking, please read completely. You’re thinking about trekking. The PSA Trek and Autumn Adventure are the PSA’s signature outdoor activities for PSA members and eligible family members. You want to experience Philmont’s fantastic backcountry – either once again or for the first time. You know you need to get in shape. You’re serious – you really want to do this! But, are you really ready to trek? The point is – a trek is so much more than just hiking. Of course, you need to be in great shape for the hiking. You need to start serious physical training many, many months before you trek. But, there is a mental component to trekking which is just as important, if not more so, than being physically fit. You may be in shape for a hike, but are you really in shape for a hike and all the extra work involved when you’re not on the trail? Is your brain ready to accept the fact that you’re not checking into the Holiday Inn after each day’s hike? Are you ready to be a team player and a crew member that pitches in for the chores? Of course, everyone says yes. Unfortunately, once in a while an individual signs up that doesn’t quite understand what all is involved on a backpacking trek. They have great intentions but they quickly wear out. They stop being a team player and struggle to take care of just themselves. They can be young or old. They can drag a crew down. Less people to do the same crew work. They take longer getting their personal gear ready. They don’t have room or they’re not physically able to carry crew gear. The planned itinerary is put in disarray. Activities and programs have to be skipped. The beautiful, fantastic trek is disrupted by one individual. Is this disruption fair to everyone who has paid serious money to take off a week or more from work to go on the Trek? Do you remember what a trek entails? If you’ve never really trekked, do you know what all goes on? To be plain and simple, it’s a lot of work. A lot more work than just hiking 5, 6, 7 or more miles every day. What follows is typical for a normal day on the trail…

You finally reached your destination for the night. You hiked 6.2 miles with your 42-pound pack and you’re tired. You made it. Your legs and feet held out. Your fitness training at home has paid off. But, now it’s time to get to work. You can’t plop down on the nearest log or rest in your backpacking chair.

First get all the smellables out of your pack. Help the crew get these items accumulated. Who has the bear ropes? Let’s hike over to the bear cable with all our bags of food and other smellables. If you’re in a Leave No Trace campsite, then you need to spend more time searching for suitable trees to use. Get the ropes up – not always an easy task. Get the bags tied on properly. Hoist it all up in the air. It’s crew work. It’s teamwork. It’s work.

OK, back to the campsite. Who has the dining fly? Find a location and get crew members to assist setting it up. Who’s got trekking poles to use? The ground is rock hard. It takes major effort to get the stakes in the ground. The wind is blowing hard. It’s work.

Finally, it’s time to set up your tent. Your room is not waiting for you. You have to create it. Get the tent out. Find a good spot. Work with your tent mate. The ground is still hard and the wind is still blowing. It’s work.

Back to your pack. Pull out your sleeping gear. Get the air mattress inflated if that’s the type you have. Not as much oxygen here in the backcountry, is there? It took some work but your room is finally ready.

But, it’s not time for that log sitting or resting in your backpacking chair. It’s time to start thinking about dinner. Not everyone cooks at every meal, but maybe it’s your turn tonight. Gather the meal packets and start figuring what you need to do. The brain has to keep working. Lay out your kitchen area. Get the stove assembled.

Cooking water. Water. The lifeblood of backpacking. You need water. If you’re in a staffed camp, you or another crew member need to hike back to the spigot and fill up multiple bottles. Why did the staff put you in Campsite #38? The water is one-half mile away. Or, you’re in a trail camp and you need to search for the spring. Maybe the creek is close by. Don’t forget to take the time to purify that creek or spring water. Water is work.

Cook the evening meal. Someone has to do it. It’s work.

Well, you had a great evening meal. But, now it’s time for cleanup. More water to boil. Who is cleaning the big cooking pot? Wash and rinse pots to prepare. Actual dish washing. Sump the dish water. Put away all the kitchen gear. It’s work.

Now it’s time for more bear bag action. Round up all the remaining smellables. Hike back to the bear bag location. Get the “Oops Bag” up in the air and tied off. It’s work.

Bedtime. You’re tired. Time for a great night’s rest. You sleep in a bag on a 2 inch pad every night of the year – right? You’re used to tent zippers going up and down all night long as fellow crew members visit the woods to find a flat rock? Is that snoring coming from the tent behind you or the one in front? Thank God your tent mate doesn’t snore – yet! Are you really going to sleep as well in the backcountry as you do at home?

You did manage to fall asleep, but you’re soon awakened by your fellow trekkers who have arisen early and are laughing loudly about something – in the early dawn. You can barely see them when you look out your tent – it’s still dark.

So, you’re up and ready to start another day on the trail. Who wants to hike over to the bear bags and lug everything back to camp? Morning coffee and breakfast won’t happen unless the bear bags are retrieved. It’s work.

Who’s going to set up the stove and boil the water for your coffee. Who’s going to find today’s Breakfast #4 hiding in those 48 bags of food. Work.

Time to break camp and hit the trail. Distribute all those food packets again. Take down the dining fly. Stuff your sleeping bag. Deflate your sleeping pad. Take down the tent. Repack your pack once again. Don’t forget the crew gear you’re carrying. Police the campsite. Get more water for the trail. Who’s going to run the accumulated trash back to the staff cabin since you’re heading out in the opposite direction? Did you have a campfire last night? If so, don’t forget to collect the ashes so you can spread them around once you’re out on the trail. It’s all work.

Before you leave camp, somebody in your crew carrying a GPS unit notices that he hiked 6.2 miles yesterday, but now he’s showing 9.4 total miles. How did that happen? You do a lot of walking / hiking in the backcountry – but not just on the trail. Hiking to program, water runs, latrine activity, coffee at the staff cabin – it all adds up during your 6 days in the backcountry.

You hit the trail. With that good night’s rest (not), you’re ready to notch another 7 miles to reach the next camp and then you’re going to do all the previously described chores (work) all over again. Just saying…

One final note. Are you prepared to handle all the above activities while it’s raining? It has been known to rain at Philmont.

So, are you really ready to trek? This article paints an accurate picture for backpacking on a PSA Trek at Philmont. How in the world does the event sell out every year? Why do PSA members trek year after year? The answer is simple: the PSA Trek is a fantastic experience. Each one creates a lifetime of memories. New memories and revisiting old memories of when you worked at Philmont. Truly priceless. Are you really ready to trek?