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21 Days Out
Expect the Unexpected

Story by Chase Ensz

720 Rayado Womens 1, or 720 RW-1, crew hikes through Lookout Meadow. 

“Expect the Unexpected”. This is the motto of the Rayado special trek. Scouts from all over the country come to Philmont for 21 days in the backcountry. They wake up each morning not knowing where they are going or what they are doing for the day. By the end of the trek, they have learned new skills and are changed.

This summer, part of my job as a photographer here at Philmont was to create a photo story. When I approached my photo manager about the desire to write a story about rangers and follow them around, she recommended I follow a Rayado crew around. I wasn’t too terribly keen on photographing something I knew absolutely nothing about. We ended up with a bit of a compromise. So not knowing what I was getting myself into, I decided to pursue the story.

I talked to a ranger friend and told him that my boss wanted me to follow around a Rayado trek. He suggested I follow “Tait and Bowman’s crew”. Once again, two guys I didn’t know at all. I had never met them or even heard of them. So, I went to the Rayado trek coordinator and asked if I could follow the crew around and take some photos of them while they were out on their 21 days in the backcountry. 

Tait Ferguson and Bowman Davis: two first-time rangers who applied for the Rayado program during the first half of the summer. The Rayado coordinators selected them and then Bowman and Tait were given a crew, 720 Rayado Mens Crew 1, or 720-RM-1 for short. They had a week to prepare for the incoming Scouts, all of whom they had never met either. 

The Scouts, from all over the country, arrived at Philmont, and the two rangers, along with nine crew members, hit the trail. I got to spend the second night out with them, the 11th evening with them, and the 19th and 20th day with them. Every time I met them, their spirits couldn't be higher. 

Here at Philmont, I think I’ve heard the phrase “type-two fun” just about every day I’ve been on the property. It’s the idea that in the moment, the activity you are participating in is just miserable. But, then later in life, maybe even later that day, you look back on it with fond memories. You laugh about it and tell the story while smiling the whole time. 

I went to find RM-1 on their 11th day on trail. I had hoped to meet them in the morning at Baldy Town, but when I got to the camp around 9 a.m., they were already out on trail. So I sat on the porch of the Baldy Hotel – which, if you are a staff member, you know has a beautiful view and is very luxurious and upscale in comparison to other backcountry staff cabins. I sat there and read, took a nap in my warm sleeping bag and enjoyed a nice cup of apple cider while the rain kept coming down in the 50-degree, 10,000-foot elevation camp. 

Finally, around 4 p.m., I saw and heard the Rayado crew coming up the mountain. I went down to meet them, and I got to hear stories about how they have been in the last week and how the day had gone so far up until that point. The last part of their hike had been from Pueblano to  Ewells Park backcountry camp and then up the trail and finished at Baldy Town. But, like I mentioned, the day had been wet. 

“The previous two days it had been some of the worst rain Baldy country had seen all summer,” Tait explained. Because of all the rain, Tait and Bowman talked about what the trail between Pueblano Ruins and Ewells Park might look like. “Once we got to it, low and behold… the whole trail was a stream. We weren't even going to attempt to get across it while staying dry.”

“The first two crossings were fairly quiet,” Tait said. “Then after about 20 minutes, one kid just started chanting something. And then, all of them just start yelling and their ‘thuse’ [enthusiasm] levels just go through the roof… Bowman and I had these massive smiles on our faces because these guys are just in some of the worst circumstances and they are just off the walls bouncing with energy…That’s the moment you live for as a ranger”.

That was day 11.

I didn’t see them for another week after that. But, from what I hear, there were plenty more stories that came out of that week. A lot of fun, including type-two fun, was had.

I spent the last two days with 720-RM-1. I sat in on the last session of roses (something that made you smile that day), thorns (something that disappointed you that day or made you upset) and buds (something you are looking forward to the next day), or RTB’s for short. The crew, closer to a family at this point, went around the circle and all shared some things that throughout the whole trek, made them smile. The next day, the crew finished their trek. They made their way into base running and yelling. Tait and Bowman couldnt be prouder. 

The two later recounted a moment when one of the Scouts looked at them and said, “I hate you for making me do that, but I love you for showing me that I can.” 

The Rayado special trek program is interesting. You experience moments that can be miserable, but you also experience moments that put a massive grin on your face. It teaches you backpacking skills, but more than that, it teaches you about yourself. It teaches you to push yourself farther than you thought you would be able to go. It teaches you to be prepared for anything that might come your way.

Like the Scouts that came for the Rayado trek, I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into this summer. I hadn’t been involved in Scouting for nearly 10 years. I came on a trek last year as an advisor with my younger brother, but I didn’t know what living and working at Philmont was going to look like. I didn’t know that I would be a photojournalist for the summer. I didn’t know I would meet incredible photographers and other staff. I didn’t know that that staff would look like family by the end of the season.

I faced challenges, both mental and physical. I had loads of fun, both type one and type two. I learned new skills. I experienced magnificent moments in nature and exciting moments with friends. All of which were unexpected. Just shows that that’s what you should expect.

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720-RM-1 discusses their RTBs at Metcalf Station.