In June, I had the incredible pleasure of going to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico with my son and several other scouts and dads. We spent 11 days in the mountains, starting at 6000 feet elevation and hiking as high as 12,500 feet–most of it with packs weighing anywhere from 40 to 65 pounds, depending on how much food and water we carried. We lived out of our packs, camped in tents, and ate packaged food. The dads grew their beards out, the boys didn’t brush their teeth or their hair, and nobody showered. We put away our phones when we went out and, for the most part, didn’t turn them back on until we returned.
I can see the face you’re making. I assure you, it’s an experience I’ll carry for the rest of my life.
Because in addition to bad food and sore feet and feeling nasty and wishing I could just find a flush toilet, I got to watch eight teenage boys do things teenage boys supposedly can’t do.
It was like one of those silly camp movies where each kid has his own special dysfunction–in reverse.
We had the boy who, no matter what happened or how bad things got, could be counted on to crack jokes and get the group laughing.
We had the boy who, whenever we needed somebody to scout ahead and find the trail or double back and find something or someone, always volunteered.
We had the boy who was afraid of heights, and wasn’t sure he could make it to the summit of our highest climb. But he kept going and–you guessed it–made it to the top.
We had the boy who was deathly afraid of snakes, and the day we saw a rattler, was convinced another was hiding behind every rock or bush; but he finished one of the hardest days of hiking we had.
We had the boy who, three days in, got bad news from home and had to carry on for eight more before he could resolve it–and still distinguished himself as a leader.
We had the boy who simply wouldn’t stop going, no matter how tough the hike or how rugged the terrain, and who, when he spoke at all, had a zinger for whatever boy was razzing him at the moment.
We had the boy who did everything asked of him, without complaint, without hesitation.
We had the boy who fell on the second day, who we had to have evacuated for a concussion, who kept saying “I’m fine. I just need another minute,” when he was seeing double and could barely walk even with help.
And we had my son, whose enthusiasm and courage waxed and waned in inverse proportion to the difficulties of the moment; at the toughest parts of the trek, we could count on him to start slapping high-fives and shouting for enthusiasm.
It was a banquet of courage, and I sat at the head of the table. I cried when I called my wife to tell her about it.
It’s normal for older generations to look back at younger ones and wonder whether we have a chance. For eleven days in June, I got to see how good our chances are with this next generation.
If you care to bet against them, I’ll take your bet. In any amount.