Jeffrey Gilbert

Thorns, Buds And Roses

With a final look upwards, I summoned a burst of energy and scrambled up an almost sheer rock face, just in time to watch the sun peak over the sprawling, endless landscape.  And at that moment, I looked out over almost one hundred fifty thousand acres of land, from the verdant mountains behind me to the dusty, brown desert in front of me. Every memory from the previous eleven days flooded back to me. Philmont is world famous as a backpacking reservation, but it is much more than simply a trip through New Mexican backcountry.  From the drop off at the deserted Zastrow’s Turnaround to that breathtaking view from the Tooth of Time, I could safely say that this had been my most life-changing experience ever.

It’s a very rare opportunity to be able to leave behind all modern technology and spend a week and a half backpacking through southwestern wilderness. Everything I took for granted at home, from plumbing to spitting out my gum, weren’t at Philmont.  And although archaic water purification methods were abandoned, replaced with MicroPur tablets, the luxury of being able to drink just after pouring myself a glass was gone.  Not only did I have to wait five minutes until all the bacterial poisons had dissolved, I had to perfect the art of holding my Nalgene in the springs to avoid getting “floaties” in with my water.  

Despite all the trials and tribulations our crew may have experienced, I don’t think I would have had it any other way.  Thinking back to each night, we were instructed to go around in a circle, and to share our thorn, our rose and our bud of the day.  The only regulations given were that the thorn had to be a negative, the rose a positive, and the bud something for days to come.  We couldn’t use names of other crewmembers, and we had to end on a positive note, meaning we couldn’t end with our thorn.  But I knew years down the road all the thorns would fade away, and all that would be left were the roses.  

There were thorns along the trip.  They were the things that created aggravation and anger throughout the trek.  I toyed with the idea of tripping and breaking my ankle so that I could be driven back to base camp and get sent home.  Thorns included the annoying adult advisor whose main priority was making sure that his son’s pack stayed light, leading to making my already heavy pack even heavier. But I knew things were really bad when I found out my tent mate was urinating blood, and had a contusion to his  kidney, forcing him to leave the trail early.  Reflecting on them each night just made me angrier.  And although these things were so horrible at the time, instilling various emotions, at this point they seem so petty and silly.

Buds were the events and expectations we had for upcoming days.  They were the hopes and aspirations for the next few days.  All of us were uncertain of how things were going to turn out, but we knew we had these expectations and wants for the upcoming days.  Some of these were fulfilled, others not.  There were unexpected twists to the trip, but despite these unforeseen events, somehow everything turned out for the better.  Even though it seemed that the end of the trek would never come, we always had something to look forward to and anticipate.

The roses are what made everything worthwhile in the end.  Despite conflict and anger, in the end it was the good experiences that made Philmont amazing.  Everything, from the distinct feel of each campsite to the bouts of laughter, caused merely by altitude sickness was simply incredible.  I don’t think this backpacking trek was so much a backpacking trip as the best experience of my life.  From the first introductions and first leg of the trek to the sprint to the “Welcome Back! You Made It” sign, it’s not even possible to sum up my emotions.

Even now, only six months later, I can’t recall why there were crew arguments, but I can imagine sitting at Lambert’s Mine campsite and trying to catch a chipmunk.  I can see the beady little eyes of the fat brown chipmunk staring in confusion at the slightly dusty and dented pot we were using to make a trap.  I can hear every laugh that our crew shared and can even still remember how delicious an apple tasted, being the first food in days that wasn’t freeze-dried or non-perishable.  I can picture clearly in my mind the hills of aspen trees and feel the relief as we entered our campsite, dropping the burden of a fifty-pound backpack.

Standing there on that rock face, everything hit me; despite my frustrations or wanting to go home, right then, I just wanted to sit there forever, absorbing every feeling possible.  The faint outlines of about a hundred tents making up base camp seem so distant.  I had come full circle; was it really only eleven days since our bus had pulled into bus camp?  Now, a week and a half later, we would be boarding another bus to return home.  

My feelings about Philmont are indescribable.  All my feelings and emotions can’t be distinguished.  They are all balled up into one giant mass of emotion, encompassing frustration, sadness, empowerment, anger, excitement, joy, and so many more.  Despite the thorns and the buds that never came true, Philmont was simply unreal.  And just like a true rose plant, without the thorns, there would be no roses.  Without the buds, there would be nothing to grow into.   And without any of these feelings and experiences, I would certainly not be at the point I am in my life right now.


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