Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Costa Rica Mission '08

June 13th
Dearest Trudie and Jeff,

Things are going amazingly well. We got all 60 of us in the multiple vans we rented at San Jose and made the grueling drive to Jaco for a late dinner and then the more grueling drive south along the coast through Quepos to Dominical. It was 2am Friday when we finally got to bed, and we put in a full day of work, painting a church in Playa Punta Uvita, a half hour south of here.

This afternoon I finally got in the water for an exceptional surf session, including several barrels breaking left on the shallow beach. Even the young guys praised a couple of my waves! It was the perfect reward for baking in the sun painting the back of the little church all day.
Tonight we´re dining at the school in Dominical where they´re conducting a fund raiser. I´m starving, so I won´t stay online for long.

I miss you both terribly, and am sad that there´s no phone service from the hotel where most of the group is staying. Six of us are in a house up on the mountain, which is actually a little cool at night. There´s no phone service there, either, and no internet.

I´ll write more later, but trust that I´m safe, happy, and making a small difference here.

Love to you both, Paul/Dad

June 15th

The house on the mountain has no internet or phone, and they do have phone here at the hotel for $2/minute, so I decided to write instead. As always, I´m thrilled to hear from you too, and glad that your time with the Riveras went so well.

We worked at the church again yesterday and almost finished the painting. The associate pastor (Randy and Julie Russell) took us to his home in the mountains and we saw howler and white-faced monkeys, iguana, and horses. His wife fed us lunch and we relaxed for a couple of hours. It was a delightful break from the heat.

The Hettels kids passports had expired, but they were able to get a temporary one and arrived late last night. Dave finally got to surf this morning.

Today is worship and we´ll be there in Uvita, where the church is that we´ve been working on. It´s too small for our group so they´ve rented a larger space for today´s worship.

I love and miss you terribly, but the work is so satisfying, and the surf is amazing (more yesterday morning and evening, and again this morning) so the absence seems worthwhile. Can´t wait to hold you in my arms.

With all my love, Paul

June 16th
Dear Trudie and Jeff,

Today was back to the normal routine, morning surf session (huge), eat breakfast at the hotel, finish painting the Uvita church, and then lunch with my co-workers at a new place in Uvita.
Afterward, Dave Hettell took me in his van to check some surf spots and then back the beach near the hotel, where it had gotten even bigger, and I decided to relax and rest for tomorrow while he went out and charged a few barrels.

Two of our roommates decided to move out of the mountain house (too much back and forth, and being stranded here during the day), so I took them up to pack and we all got showered (a serious luxury here) and I brought them down to their new room at the DiuWak.

We're in the restaurant and I'm using Lee Buckner's computer on a wireless connection before we go out to dinner elsewhere and back here for our evening devotional.

It's raining (NO SH*#!) and I'm sweating already.

Tomorrow we're taking the day off and I'll have a morning surf session, zip line ride around the tree tops, and relaxing in the afternoon.

Robbie O'Brien is arriving tomorrow evening, and his flock is pretty excited about it. Most of them leave on Thursday, which means I'll probably make the drive then, and again at the end of the trip on the 26th.

I love you both and miss hearing your voices. I tried Skype today in the hotel lobby, but they don't seem to have enough bandwidth.


June 18th
Dearest Trudie and Jeff,

Today was the last full day for most of the Beachside group, who are leaving tomorrow morning at 8am. They took surf lessons, helped at the Dominical school, and lounged around. The street was being dug up today in front of their hotel, and right now the power and water are both off. ICE is working on the power, which will also restore the water, maybe. How´d you like to travel all day in the sweat and grime of a hot day in Dominical?

Robbie O´brien and his van of eight other Christian Surfers arrived last night. Sean decided to try to jump into the swimming pool from the top of the waterfall, and broke his tibia & fibula and had to be taken to the hospital in another town (I can´t remember the name right now). He´s hobbling around on crutches with a full cast from toes to mid-thigh, lots of fun I´m sure.

I did a morning surf check and decided to wait úntil later, which turned out to be a good move. After our morning devotional, our construction team went to Dominicalita and built a bus stop shelter where the main road from their town meets the coastal highway. It was challenging with rusty saws, no power, and local lumber (crooked, wet, and heavy). It ended up looking pretty good. So many people stopped by to thank us, ask questions, and praise our work. It was one of the more rewarding things we´ve done yet.

Dave Hettell, Ted Bolt, and I drove to Punta Dominical and surfed huge waves coming in over the reef. It was tricky getting out through the rocks in a narrow channel, and a very long paddle to the outer reef, but the rides were long and fun. Well worth the exhausting effort. We finished just before dark and ate a local soda, Casado con chuletta for me. Yummy!

Tonight we´re going to have a going-away party for the Beachside group, if the hotel gets the lights back on. We´ll see.....

Honey, I´m glad to know you made it safely to CA and the lap of luxury....you deserve it! I only wish I could give you this hug in person. XOXOX

Jeff, I´m really looking forward to seeing you again in August, and hearing your voice when I get home on the 26th.

BTW, I´m using a much faster PC at a local internet cafe to send this message.

I love you both madly, and miss you terribly. Paul/Dad

June 19th
Son,I´m so sorry to hear about the mishap, and trust that those involved will eventually come to some peace about it. Bad stuff does indeed happen to good people. It´s a very traumatizing experience to see another person badly injured or killed, as you know. Just this morning I was telling someone how you watched as another student was hit and killed by a car on his bicycle.I took it very easy so far today.

Cal got us stuck getting up the hill from the mountain house to the road, and Jack Driskoll had to be awakened to get us out.We got here on time and helped get the four vans loaded up and ready to go for the torturous drive to San Jose. My main job was sweeping them out and throwing away all the trash that had accumulated during the week.

I stayed behind while the new group of Christian Surfers spent the day searching for the perfect wave (they didn´t find it), had lunch with Larry Scovotto, and a smoothie with Coral, Mirla Rodriguez, and Cal´s dad, Mike. The rain started while we were a Coco´s, and hasn´t let up yet.Tonight we´re doing a devotional here at the hotel and praying that our rear-wheel drive van will make it up the mountain after all this rain....it´s one of the downsides of being located off site.

I love you son, and miss our regular calls. It seems like a long time, for sure.Dad

June 20th
Dearest Family,
Today was hotter than normal, and no rain. We spent the morning arranging equipment, supplies and teams to begin the first round of our surf contest this afternoon. I managed to sneak in a session around 11am. The water was quite stinky from all the runoff from yesterday's torrential rains.

I was one of the judges for the "expression session" heats this afternoon, held in 5 to 8' waves with locals, tourists, and traveling surfers competing for cash prizes.

I just returned from Coco's where we showed movies of today's action and awarded the male and female top surfers.Tomorrow is the main contest, with Grommet, Juniors, and Pro divisions. There's been a bit of a dustup with the pro federation of CR and they aren't supporting the contest, so registrations are low enough that we may be able to hold the entire event tomorrow.

Our awards ceremony at Coco's will preceed a World Cup elimination soccer match between CR and ?, which will be well attended, so we should have quite a turnout for that.This evening Cal, Coral, Ted, and I moved out of the mountain house and into the DiuWak near the contest. It will be much more convenient than pushing the van up the driveway every morning!

If you'd like to see some pictures of what's been going on here since the 12th, go to www.thebeachsidechurch.com and look at Steve Graham's blog.Missing talking with all of you and looking forward to a Verizon call when we return on the 26th.Love, Paul

June 21st
Sorry that you´re hotter in CA than you´d have been in CR. Glad to know you´ll soon be in Huntington where the morning fog will keep it cooler until later in the day. Please give the Smalls my regards.

Jeff´s story about his friend being killed really hit home, since I´ve seen so much death during my life, and know how tenuous our grasp on life is. We really should enjoy every day as a gift. Mike Fisher turned 88 yesterday, a birthday none of our parents have seen.

Today we held the surf contest, and besides helping setup, I was one of three judges for all 15 heats. There were between 6 and 7 surfers in each heat, and it was taxing keeping track of everyone´s rides and their scores. We´re about to go to the awards ceremony at 6pm here at DiuWak.

Tonight I´ll have another dinner of rice, beans, salad, meat, etc. Shocked? I really do love the food here, and usually pay about $4 for dinner. I had huevos rancheros this morning for $2.50!
Tomorrow is worship in the Uvita Church we painted, and then a free day. We may go back to the waterfall with the rope swing, since no one was killed there the first try....

I love you, and miss you so much (Jeff, you too!)!

June 22nd
Honey I,

By now, I´d guess you´re at the Smalls, and enjoying their fine hospitality. Please share my regards with them.Of course I´d love to see the Norris´s any time they´d like to visit. They´re so much fun, and I´m just sorry we can´t golf with them. Well, a little....

Today I rode some near perfect shoulder to head high waves just after sunrise, then off to church, the one we painted in Uvita, and then off to get a flat tire fixed in one of the vans.

I then ran into another part of our group eating ceviche at a roadside stand, and they were headed to Las Ventanas, an amazing rock formation where the waves pound through two caves that pass under a huge rock outcrop at the end of a cove. We swam through the caves into and out of the ocean, pretty scary stuff, but lots of fun too!

Tonight we had a devotional, dinner at Coco´s, and now it´s off to bed to get ready for tomorrow´s dawn patrol.

I love you so much and miss you terribly, Paul

June 23rd
Trudie and Jeff,

Today was rainy (surprise!) but productive. It started with a morning surf session, during which I got out with some difficulty, backed out of a wave, got caught by the next one and my leash broke. So, swim to shore, come back to the hotel and put my spare on. Walk back to the beach, paddle out (easier this time), catch one wave, paddling back out, backup leash breaks, swim in, give up.

Bought a new leash at South Wave Surf Shop, ate breakfast, drove up to the mountain house to borrow tools from Jack Driskoll, visit ¨lumber yard¨on the roadside in the mountains and picked up 7- 3X2s and 10-1X14s, to build a lifeguard stand on the beach here.

Working with 200´of extension cord and a drill, started building the deck while watching a waterspout during a driving rain storm....the usual stuff for CR.

After lunch we went back to work again until we got rained out again. Got the floor joists installed and started cutting the decking, all with a hand saw and very wet wood. Whoopee!

We had our devotional early, and I just finished a delicious dinner of mango y leche, arroz con camarones with papas fritas with Robbie O´Brien and Mike Fisher. Very filling and delicious!

I´m turning in early in hopes of redeeming myself in the AM with my brand-new leash.I´m really getting excited about hearing your voices on Friday, and catching up on your happenings.

I love you both so dearly, Paul/Dad

June 25th

I´m really looking forward to snuggling up with you tomorrow night after my shower. It may be as late as 3am when I get home. Poor Ted has now broken two rental boards, and quit surfing after the second one, two days ago. Needless to say, he´s pretty bummed about it.

Today I ate breakfast first, then surfed (another good day, just not so large), ate lunch with Ted and Robbie, rushed Sharon over to the pharmacy in Uvita to get medicine for Audrey (terrible ear infection that has spread into her jaw and throat) and then Ted and I took Jamie, Sarah, and Anna to a huge waterfall that is a strenuous hike to and from.

We hiked through mud up to our ankles for part of it, the total distance each way about 6.5 km. It was a trek, but well worth it. I´ll have pictures from the girl´s cameras when I get home. I swam up to the falls and it was like a dozen fire hoses all hitting you at once. The water drops at least 80´where I was able to get under it.

The hike back was a killer, much of it uphill, and poor Jamie barfed twice. It´s sad to see a 19 year old in such poor physical shape.

Tonight we had our devotional, Ted, Jack, and I took the last of the tools back up the mountain to Jack Driskoll´s house, and Ted and I just finished dinner. Now I have to pack, which should be easy since I´m leaving so many of my clothes here for the needy.

We leave in a caravan at 4am for San Jose. It will be a long day, since one flight leaves at noon and ours doesn´t leave until 5pm.

I love you with all my heart and can´t wait to see you, Paul

June 26th
Trudie and Jeff,

We're waiting at our gate in San Jose, and leave in about an hour and a half. I'll call Trudie when we land in Ft. Lauderdale about 10pm.

Love, Paul, Dad, UP, etc.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Philmont Journal '07

Great Smoky Mountain Council 721-N1, 2007
By Paul Skinner

Day T Minus 1 – Final Gear Check and Dinner at Dolphins Leap – July 18th
Ray Milcarsky and Patrick Lloyd came over to our house on the evening of July 18th for a final gear check, a fine meal cooked by Trudie, and a sleep-over prior to our 0300 departure for OIAP. Accompanying them for dinner were Ed and Judie Milcarsky and Suzie Lloyd. Dr. David was absent, attending a Ska concert that he and Patrick had planned to take in together before Philmont appeared on their horizon.

Day 1 – Daytona Beach to Colorado Springs – July 19th
We left Dolphins Leap on time with Trudie co-piloting, and made our gate with breakfast in hand and about 20 minutes to spare. The flight was on time to Denver, with a short layover and the much desired breakfast burrito at Itza Wrap at DIA. The second leg was on time also, and as we approached baggage claim in Colorado Springs, Christine of Leading the Way Tours was holding up the photo of me, Ed Best, and Dave Johnson that I had emailed to her. We felt right at home!

The buses were awaiting us, and took the first part of the Great Smoky Mountain Council contingent to Pizza Hut where we ate as though we’d never be fed again. We had time to browse the strip mall shops behind the Hut while the buses returned to the CS airport to pick up the remainder of the contingent, including the remaining nine of Crew 1 from Knoxville, with contingent leader, Dave Johnson, and the two other adults in our crew, Jeff Radcliff and Bill Dials.

LTWT took us to the US Air Force Academy, which while dramatic, looks dated, sort of a “50’s-modern” look. Especially moving was our visit to the Chapel, with various rooms for worshippers of different faiths.

The hotel was pleasant, and Jeff Radcliff, Bill Dials, and I shared a room and got a good night’s sleep after our dinner there.

Day 2 – Touring Colorado Springs and Vicinity – July 20th
After a buffet breakfast at the hotel, the bus took us to the Garden of the Gods, a red rock formation very similar to Red Rocks west of Denver. Christine explained the geology and pointed out the various shapes that could be seen in the rock. I was saddened to learn that the famous “kissing camels” had been struck by lightning several years ago (I’d seen it several times on trips with family and Sky Valley Ranch outings) and now looked like a camel kissing a rabbit. Too weird!

We then headed to Manitou Springs, the lower terminal of the cog railway that takes you directly to the top of Pike’s Peak. My initial reaction was that summiting a “fourteener” by train would be very lame. It turned out to be great fun, watching the gorgeous scenery go by, spotting marmots, deer, chipmunks (which we would later learn are called mini-bears at Philmont), magpies, etc. By the time the train reached the summit, there was a mad dash for the restrooms in the gift shop. On top, the air was cool enough to wear jackets and hats, and we enjoyed the magnificent view for a few minutes before the clouds rolled in. I purchased the famous donut holes to share with Joe Black and Dave.

We ate our lunch subs on the bus while headed to the Royal Gorge. A little like the Tweetsy Railroad, it is a sweet, dated “attraction” slapped into the middle of some truly amazing scenery. Besides the suspension bridge over the gorge (claimed to be the highest in the world), there is also a cog railway to the gorge floor, a tram over the gorge, observation points over the gorge, gift shops over the gorge, etc. Except for all the construction, it was beautiful….

For dinner we attended a western dinner and musical show at the Flying W Ranch, where the headliner was the five-time world champion fiddle player, Tony Ludiker. The show and dinner were quite good, and we had a lot of fun. Again, we ate like it would be our last meal.

Day 3 – Colorado Springs to Cimarron and Philmont – July 20th
Our bus left early for Philmont, about 3.5 hours away. During the ride, Christine talked a lot. Finally she put the video about Philmont done by Wild Kingdom on, and after that an old Fred McMurray film about Scouting, “Follow Me Boys”. While the adults waxed nostalgic about a time long gone, the boys slept, chatted, or read. I could identify with most of the characters in the story in some way. I cried at the end.

We zipped through Cimarron without hitting a single traffic light (there aren’t any), and rode past the majestic Villa Philmonte on our way to base camp. The first impression you get of Philmont is that it’s dry, dusty, and that there apparently aren’t enough showers for all the youth that are there.

The purpose of base camp is to give PSR a final chance to look you over, outfit you, and get you properly oriented to trek safely before dropping you off somewhere in the wilderness. It also gives the trekkers another day of acclimatization to the altitude. We were assigned John Lesser as our Ranger, who would walk us through the base camp process, and stay with us for the first two nights on the trail. He’s an engineering student at U Penn and an Eagle Scout, who still lives with his family in Frederick MD. I liked him immediately, and by then, was getting used to the pervasive smell of BO.

Much of Scouting’s impact hinges on ceremonial functions, and Philmont is no exception. Mealtime is an orchestrated affair, with Rangers doing a backward fall of faith from the bell tower, and that first evening’s campfire a retelling of the history of the land on which we would be trekking. It was fun and moving. Let’s get going!

Trek 7 Itinerary
Program Features
Base Camp
Opening Campfire
trail camp, Ranger Training, See world's only Tyrannosaurus Rex Track
Indian Writings
Archaeology, Tour Petroglyphs
Western Lore, Cantina, Horse Rides, Chuck Wagon Dinner, Chuck Wagon Breakfast
Dean Cow
Rock Climbing, Environmental Awareness
Burro Racing, 12-Gauge Shotgun Shooting & Reloading
Deer Lake Camp
trail camp
.30/06 Rifle Shooting & Reloading, Metallic Silhouette Shooting
Webster Parks
trail camp
Upper Clark's Fork
trail camp, Side Hike Hidden Valley, Western Lore, Campfire @ Clark's Fork
Tooth Ridge
trail camp, Dry - water @ Clark's Fork, Side Hike Tooth of Time
Base Camp
Hike in via Tooth of Time, Awards Campfire
Courtesy of Dan Yoder

Day 4 – Base Camp to Anasazi – July 21st (thus the 721 designation)
A school bus takes us the 25 minutes from base camp to the trailhead at six-mile gate near Anasazi. I was a little nervous, being the oldest of our crew of 12, whether or not I would be able to keep up. We headed out single file, Scouts leading the way, adults at the rear, and began settling into what would become a daily ritual, walk, eat, sleep, and repeat.

The first stop was a T-Rex footprint, claimed to be the only one in the world. Thanks to vandals, the stone is completely surrounded by wire mesh and a metal roof. It is amazing to think about the omnivorous animal that could leave a track that large, and it wasn’t believed to be a particularly large specimen. I was grateful that our only threats would be bears.

We then hiked to the sites of a pit house dig, a slab house, and the ruins of a cabin. It had stone footers and a corner fireplace indicative of the Spanish influence. It was fun to imagine the pioneering spirit of those who had chosen to live in such a remote place, where emphasis was on self-reliance. Ah, a lot like a Philmont trek….

Our first campsite had a fairly steep pitch and we set up our tents on the flattest ground we could find. Several of us took naps while Bill took a group of Scouts on a side-hike to the top of the ridge above our campsite. By morning, Dave and I were crunched up in the foot of our tent from the downhill slide all night.

Meals are predominantly prepackaged foods like dehydrated dinners, fruit, meat, trail mix, energy bars, etc., so preparation is fast and simple. Suppers are usually hot, requiring only water to boil and a Zip-Lock bag in which to mix it up. I don’t recall what we had each evening, but it was always much-anticipated and good.

Day 5 – Anasazi to Indian Writings- July 22nd
Another relatively short hike took us to Indian Writings where Staff member Adam took us on a hike along the canyon wall to look at and learn about petroglyphs, ancient Indian symbolic drawings. One persistent theme was that individuals born with deformities had great divine powers. It reminded me of the man born blind and the question Jesus answered about his or his parent’s sin as the cause. His answer; neither, it was so the power of God could be seen in him.

Later, Adam took a group of us on a hike/climb up a box canyon to a cave dwelling. It was an exciting scramble over the boulders in the steep canyon floor, and in the cave the air was cool and dry. Shortly after we arrived, the distant thunder became close lightning strikes, heavy rain, and hail. We waited it out in the cave until it stopped. The climb back down to our campsite was slick and treacherous. It felt good to get back to our second campsite.

While we were cooking dinner, another thunderstorm rolled through and drenched any packs and boots, etc. that were uncovered (including my boots). Fortunately, our bedding was in the closed tents and was dry. The ground had less slope and we got a better night’s sleep.

Day 6 – Indian Writings to Ponil – July 23rd
We broke camp and hiked to Ponil where our campsite was on a rocky promontory that had been burned out in a forest fire. A wrong turn at the main road in the camp area took us an extra half-mile from the Staff Cabin and our campsite.

After setting up, we met up with the conservation crew and hiked up to a trail in which the log-bars needed to be replaced by rock-bars. The digging was easy with the pick, but finding enough small stones to pack around the larger rocks was tedious. It was hot and bright, and most of us used up the water we carried. Conservation isn’t glamorous, but it does so much to prevent the kind of terrible erosion we would later see at Harlan.

Hot showers were a welcome treat, and the Cantina had cold root beer and a very funny western show following our chuck wagon dinner of beef stew and Dutch oven bread. Each night, slipping into the sleeping bag felt better than the night before.

Day 7 – Ponil to Dean Cow – July 24th
The boys had their horseback ride first thing in the morning following the chuck wagon breakfast. One highlight was being able to repair the pancake batter dispenser for the staff, which had been broken for several weeks. The Leatherman tool came in handy several times during the trek. The pancakes were delicious, the last prepared food we would have until we returned to base camp.

I had a bit of a scare returning to our vacant campsite from cooking breakfast, when all the trails began to look the same, so I kept back-tracking to a critical turn to prevent getting lost. I finally found the right trail and found our camp, although it gave me an appreciation for those who require wilderness rescue when they become disoriented.

While the Scouts were riding, Dave and I disassembled, cleaned, and reassembled the MSR stoves, which had become balky following the dinner cooked in the rain (and mud). We topped off our fuel at the Trading Post and I replaced my headlamp which had broken while in my backpack.

It was noon when we started hiking up the ridge to Dean’s Skyway, and the heat was unrelenting. The ’02 wildfire had denuded much of the Ponderosa pine cover that would have shaded our climb, so it was trying for all of us.

Our campsite at Dean Cow had a few level spots for tents, some shade, and the nastiest outhouse we would see.

Day 8 – Dean Cow to Harlan – July 25th
After breakfast, we did some rock climbing and rappelling. I took the easier of the two routes up the top-roped face, and enjoyed making the summit and especially the rappel down. Kait was an able instructor, and she seemed to be a favorite of several of us.

After an early lunch, we started the nine-mile slog to Harlan around noon. About 15 minutes out, Travis announced that his right knee was dislocated. Bill and I examined him and found that it appeared to be stable. Dave gave him a choice of coming “off the trail” and returning home (which is a huge disgrace at Philmont), or sucking it up and continuing. In his words, “Travis, it’s showtime!” Travis decided to stay with us, and we continued. It was hot and steep again at first, but a front moved in and kept it shady, cool, and breezy all afternoon. We got a bit of a scare crossing the meadow at Vaca, when lightning began hitting close by. The closest strike was ½ mile away! Once at Harlan, a steady rain began falling, so we deferred setting up camp until after eating tomorrow’s lunch on the porch of the reloading cabin.

The rain stopped, and we set up camp in one of the nicest sites we’d seen yet.

After setting up camp, we followed the boys back to the meadow in front of the staff camp for burro racing. It consists of the boys dragging the burro uphill for about ¼ mile and then the burro dragging the boys downhill for the ¼ mile distance to their barn and corral. One pulls the halter, one runs alongside, and one at the rear slapping the rump and failing to avoid getting kicked. It was hilarious!

Day 9 – Harlan to Deer Lake – July 26th
We loaded 12-gauge shotgun shells in the morning and then hiked to the skeet range. James Radcliff and Joe Black each hit five of six, while I couldn’t hit a thing (I might have hit an air molecule once, but no one could be sure.). It was one of several humbling experiences I had during the trek.

We cooked the previous night’s dinner and ate it for lunch, before heading out to the Deer Lake Camp. We found our best camp site yet, on the north side of the lake, and set up camp. James and I waded out into the weedy lake to fill the water bags with lake water. The lake was alive with various larvae, minnows, and of course, leeches. I did manage to take a dip (quite by accident, I’m sure) to clean up and cool off. After removing the leech attached behind my right knee, we added the Micropure to the water bags and dried ourselves out in the bright sunshine.

The campsite is on the gentle slope of the caldera-like basin surrounding the lake, and it was one of the most beautiful sites we visited. We enjoyed a lazy afternoon of cooling off our hot feet and drying out our socks and boots.

Day 10 – Deer Lake to Sawmill – July 27th
We awoke at 0415 and were on the trail by 0530. This would be one of the toughest hikes yet, probably 9.5 miles and mostly uphill. While we stopped for breakfast, I took my first wilderpoo, which if you have to ask, you haven’t done. It still beats the “pilot to co-pilot” mode that Dave and I had employed earlier in the trek.

One small glitch occurred when an officious staff member in the Ute Gulch trading post at first refused to sell us fuel without solid threaded stoppers in our fuel bottles. We stayed pleasant and cooperative, and he finally relented and sold us the much-needed fuel. We also took on our last issue of trail food.

I was whipped when we arrived at Sawmill. We reloaded .30-06 rifle shells and then set up our camp, at 9,280’ our highest camp site. Part of our climb took us through moist, verdant canyons with ferns and flowers that reminded us of the Smokies, very unlike the normal dry forest floor of Philmont. The range of biodiversity at Philmont is amazing! Given the absence of snakes at this altitude, the mini-bears were huge, and FAT!

We hiked to the range and each fired at least three shots at silhouettes. I could hit these, unlike the clay pigeons. Some of the boys put their ball caps and wallets out to be shot at, and they came back looking like rat’s nest material. Wait ‘til they start buying their own stuff!

Our dinner was one of the best, beans and rice on tortillas. It was wonderful!

Day 11 – Sawmill to Webster Park – July 28th
We awoke at 0430 and broke camp to walk down to the front of the Sawmill staff cabin and eat our breakfast. The top of the canyon opens onto a dramatic vista nestled in its vee, so being assigned to the staff camp there must be a special treat. The sky was glowing orange and the distant mesas were blue and purple. The sunrise was awesome!

Then we hiked about 4.5 miles to Webster Park where we found a grassy tenting area and set up our camp before 1000. Bill led a contingent of Scouts to find drinking water.

The remainder of the day was a great one for rest, cooling off hot spots on tired feet, and reorganizing gear for the final few days push to our hiking highpoints and back to base camp. I came to treasure our infrequent downtime.

Dave and I were napping in our tent when an 8-point Mule deer walked past just a few feet away. His horns were covered in velvet, and he was majestic.

Day 12 – Webster Park to Upper Clark’s Fork – July 29th
We awoke early to see several deer in our camp, including another (perhaps the same) 8-point Mule deer. We stopped in Cimarroncito to eat our breakfast.

During the day, we visited Cathedral Rock and Window Rock, with spectacular views of the surrounding area, including the Tooth Ridge. Dave took lots of photos, including the Philmont Arrowhead in the background.

We hiked down and then up again to get to Upper Clark’s Fork, where we took on our last treated water. Since the Tooth Ridge camp has no drinking water, we would need enough water for the last two days on the trail.

After lunch, Dave and I hiked down to take our last shower on the trail. It felt so good to be clean, however briefly. Roses, Thorns, and Buds and a devotional rounded out our day. Your Rose is your favorite thing about the day, your Thorn is the thing you liked the least, and your Bud is the thing you are most looking forward too. The devotional is taken from a handbook issued for Philmont treks, and fits perfectly with the experiences and mood of the crews at the trek unfolds.

Day 13 – Upper Clark’s Fork to Tooth Ridge Camp – July 30th
We were on the trail by 0540 and began the steep, steady ascent to Shaefer’s Peak, the high point of the trek at 9,414’. I was anaerobic much of the way up, but kept up a slow, steady pace the kept me moving. Besides my 6 liters of personal water, I was carrying 7 liters of crew water and my usual crew gear, so it was the most challenging climb of the whole trek for me. The trekking poles I was using were lifesavers, allowing my arms to lift quite a bit of the extra weight. We summited by 0740 and held a worship service led by Jonathan and Patrick. It was very moving to see these young men taking on spiritual leadership roles.

After our worship, Dave handed out mail from home, which he had been secretly carrying for all of us. I had a sweet card from Trudie that really lifted me up. Hearing her “voice” after so long a forced absence made me cry. I was really missing her, and Jeff too!

We descended to the Tooth Ridge and encountered several other crews that were headed in or out of base camp. There were several dramatic views from along the ridge, and we passed the Tooth of Time on our right as we descended to the Tooth Ridge camp.

Dave and I took in the views on the Cimarron side of the Tooth, while Jeff spotted a bear cub in a meadow just below our campsite. It would be our only bear sighting throughout the trek.

Day 14 – Tooth Ridge Camp to Base Camp – Aug. 1st
We awoke at 0315, broke camp, and set up a pack line in our campsite. Carrying only water and our breakfast, and using headlamps and moonlight, we headed up the Tooth of Time. We made the last of the rock scramble before sunrise. The route is treacherous in daylight and was especially so in the dim moonlight. We summited before dawn, and the view from 9,003’ was awesome! We could see into the panhandle of Oklahoma, west Texas, and all of the Cimarron area. We soaked up the sunrise as we ate our last trail meal, breakfast. Dave took lots of photos and handed out Tooth of Time pins for everyone.

We then returned to our pack line, rucked up for the last time, and began the long slog to base camp. We arrived at 0835 and began the demobilization process.

After much-needed showers, at 1100 we took the bus into Cimarron to Simple Simon’s Pizza, which was delicious and very filling after 10 days of trail food. We then scattered for shopping in the local seasonal shops.

At 1530 we took in a tour of Villa Philmonte, the summer home of Waite Phillips, the benefactor of Philmont Scout Ranch. It reminded me so much of Fair Acres, the home of my grandfather and grandmother on my mother’s side in Connecticut.

At 1745 we had a real dinner of meat, potatoes, and beans. What a treat after 10 days of trail meals!

Dave and I went to chapel, which seemed to be a complete waste of time. The pastor had us start by singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”, leaving out a word with each repetition. We left, but learned later that he did bring in the crew of Scouts who had been hit by lightning while on Mt. Baldy. Their story was riveting, and at least some of our Scouts were still there to hear it. After being medi-vac’d out, all eventually returned to the trail and were able to finish their trek, which you may have heard, is a “once in a lifetime opportunity”. Seriously.

We went back to the tent city to repack our gear for the bus, plane, and car trip home. We attended the closing campfire at 2030, which was held in the crew gear area (STOP PLAYING WITH THE BUNGIES) since it was raining. It was fun but very uncomfortable sitting on the dry, dusty gravel under the shed.

Our bus picked us up at 0100 and we headed to Colorado Springs Airport for the flights to Orlando and Knoxville.

Day 15 – Base Camp to Orlando – Aug. 2nd
Patrick, Ray, and I caught a flight to Denver, where we had another much-coveted breakfast burrito before boarding our final flight to Orlando. Judie and Suzie were in the main terminal waiting for us when we arrived, and we made our final ride back to the Daytona Beach area.

It’s still too soon to have reflected completely on the experience, but Dave’s frequent comment about it being a “once in a lifetime opportunity” was so true. We learned to rely on one another, care for one another, and rise above the petty stuff that seems to clutter up “normal” life. The important thing is to become small in the creation, and share the experience with others you meet along the way. Kudos to Dave Johnson for showing real vision and leadership for our benefit. His fund to provide scholarships for needy youth to attend Philmont is a wonderful legacy.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Chief Skinner's "Wildfires of '98" Article

Dearest Family and Friends,
Several of you have asked what we did during the 4th of July holiday, particularly July 1st and 2nd, so here goes:
El Niño gave us the wettest winter in Florida's modern history. Many of our lakes and rivers reached flood stage at one time or another between January and the end of March. Our wild lands had not looked so lush and green since I moved here in 1964. Beginning in April, the rain stopped, which we welcomed at first. By June 1 we were 60 days without rain, which in Florida is extremely rare. It proved to be dangerous as well.
On June 6 we were attending a fire department picnic at the beach when I learned that we were sending units on mutual aid to Flagler County for a wild fire. We later heard that 23 houses were destroyed and many others damaged.
In a state of growing unease, we watched as June progressed without rain. To make matters worse, there was a steady, dry west wind. It reminded me of the Santa Anna winds when I lived in California. Wild fires became more frequent and eventually an inter-agency fire fighting team was assembled in the area to combat the many fires that were beyond control.
During this period, we sent units to Ormond Beach, Maytown, Port Orange, and a variety of other places without real names, to assist with other crews working continuously to combat the fires. None of them had approached our City limits from outside, although we had a few fires inside the City that we were able to contain. (Our City is 62 square miles, about a fourth of which are forested.)
On the morning of June 30th there was a significant fire threatening from outside the City in the Indian Lake area west of town. Federal fire fighters were cutting lines around the blaze and were expected to contain it. We continued to help our neighbors with mutual aid crews, but had not yet geared up for a major firefight.
After attending the 0700 inter-agency briefing at the Volusia County fairgrounds base camp the morning of July 1st, I decided to go have a look at the Indian Lake/Rima Ridge area myself. I watched for an hour as US Forest Service dozers plowed a wide firebreak to widen the logging road ahead of the fire's eastward path. I decided to drive the road north all the way to Ormond Beach to get a feel for the scope of the problem.
When I returned to the City limits an hour later, the forestry dozers and fire engines were loading up to evacuate the area. I decided to sit and watch just south of the fire's right flank and head.
The air was electric with the crackle of gallberry and palmetto exploding, and occasionally the fire would crown in the tops of the resinous pines. As the flame front approached the newly widened road, I could see a wall of flame about half a mile across and thirty to fifty feet high. The air was thick with brown smoke driven by the west wind.
Spot fires were already burning across the clearing as the fire created its own wind, sending burning pine cones, branches, and detritus flying downwind up to half a mile. Our city was now the front line!
After studying my topo maps and using forestry predictions on fire behavior, I radioed our shift commander that the fire would probably enter LPGA to the east by around 4pm. I then took a drive through LPGA to inventory those buildings and houses that we would have to defend. There were eleven on my list. There was also a possibility that the fire could jump interstate 95, so I drove through the Indigo development. There were too many wood shingled houses and townhouses there to count.
I called our Deputy Chief, Larry Taft, and our shift commander, Jim Robertson, about what would probably occur during the afternoon and evening. We agreed to gear up for a full ICS operation. We established my Blazer as a mobile incident command post and our downtown headquarters as planning, logistics, and finance. Taft opened a "war room" in his office, with a sign on the door saying "Make it happen!" He began hiring 25 additional personnel on overtime to beef up our normal on duty strength of 21 and put all our available reserve apparatus in service. I then ordered the mandatory evacuation of the northwest quadrant of our City.
In the field, I met with Robert Cunningham, the US Forest Service branch director, and Dave Bowland, the Volusia County Fire Services logistics officer. We created a "unified command" post on the LPGA overpass over interstate 95, since both of them were closed because of the smoke conditions. Unified command is often used when large-scale multi-agency operations occur to facilitate coordination among the crews. Robert and I stuck together throughout the night to coordinate our five divisions, which at the height of the fire included about 125 personnel, 30 engine companies, 10 brush trucks, and a half dozen dozers.
The night became a blur of assigning and reassigning units from division to division and location to location to keep our resources at the many buildings which were attacked by fire as it progressed from west to east. From my elevated vantagepoint, I could see the orange glow in the smoke as fire scoured LPGA, jumped the interstate and spread through the woods towards Indigo. We kept two strike teams staged there throughout the night. Other areas turned out to be bigger problems.
As each division took its turn in the firestorm, you could hear the strain in the voices of the officers radioing their situation reports to their division commanders. In case after case, they were pinned down against the rear of buildings at the edge of the forest, defending the structure as the flames engulfed the dry ground cover and trees. They
would call for more resources while we engaged in the calculus of command, deciding which situation was more urgent, and if any should be "written off" as hopeless.
By daylight, the situation reports were amazing. We had successfully defended every structure, sustained only the most minor injuries, and had no citizen casualties! This is a record of which every neighboring City is envious, and for which I couldn't be more proud of our fire fighters. They faced a seemingly unstoppable enemy, fighting hand to hand and door to door in defense of our City, and won!
After dismantling our command structure, I drove through area after area where the forest was black from the ground to about 50 feet up, yet not a single structure was damaged, even those that were only 4 feet from the forest. The heat killed landscape plants, but the buildings were unharmed. It still amazes me when I think about the determination it takes to stand your ground when faced with a 50-foot wall of flame.
On July 2nd, we faced another fire head that attacked the LPGA clubhouse and headquarters buildings. Again, our men and women stood their ground, and we successfully defended them as well. The next week, the Commissioner of the LPGA gave us $5,000 check by way of saying thanks! Lest this account become too maudlin, attached is a snapshot taken during the fire's advance to the clubhouse. Hey, if the late Alan Shepard could play golf on the moon, why not!
To say that I am proud of our fire fighters and officers would be an understatement. Having served my time in the trenches, I know what it takes. I am humbled by their courage and determination.
If you are still reading at this point, thank you, for there was something of a catharsis in the writing. Thanks also to the many of you who sent e-mail or called during our fires to express your concern and support. I wouldn't have missed it for anything!
Love to all, Paul S.


This is the first installment in the Skinner Family blog. Members of the extended James C. Skinner Family are invited to make postings so that we can keep up with the various happenings among the family.