August 11, 2006

I'm Back

I'm back (as of early Tuesday morning). My boots are still damp from the world-beating, totally-unprecedented-in-our-experience rainstorm that we were hit with in the last mile of our trek.

Pictures and a detailed narrative to come — some observations in the meantime:

  • All of the Scouts enjoyed themselves. I observed a lot of crews on the trail that were emphatically not having fun — their experience had basically broken down, with crew members sniping at each other, adult advisors ready to recount their tales of woe to anyone unfortunate enough to be standing nearby, and everybody looking depressed and hangdog. Thank goodness we were able to face monsoon rain, long days, and dehydrated Hawaiian-Style Chicken (with pineapple chunks!) without breaking down into one of those crews.

    I don't know if anyone in our crew had some kind of transformative or religious experience at the end of their Philmont trek, but I think that everyone was pleasantly surprised and pleased by what a strong-hiking crew we turned out to be (particularly those who hadn't been doing so well on our pre-trek training hikes). Since much of the Philmont experience hinges on taking part in program once you've reached your daily destination, it's important to hit the trail early and make good time as you hike to your goal for the day; our relatively young and scrawny crew was leaving much older, burly-man crews in the dust. Go us!

    While my fear before we left was that certain crew members weren't physically ready for the demands of a trek, it turned out that emotional readiness was the key component. Some crew members did better (a lot better) at working as part of a group than others.

  • Things in my old workplace, the Philmont photo lab, have changed even less than I'd thought in eleven years' time. Old favorites like the Pentax 67 (a venerable medium-format camera) and the Jobo Autolab (the film processor than I once had to disassemble, diagnose, and repair, following over-the-phone directions from a guy in Santa Fe) are still seeing daily use. The biggest change is that they have two Noritsu photo printers (much like what you might see behind the photo desk in your local Costco) to rapidly print crew photos. Back in the day, if we needed to print twenty copies of one crew's photo, we'd set up an enlarger with the negative, expose a piece of photo paper, and then carry it over to the print processor. Twenty times in a row. Kids today don't know how easy they have it.

    The next couple of years may be when the lab finally cracks and goes digital, though. Apparently running a lab becomes more and more of a creative enterprise as Kodak retires various items from its product line — for example, glacial acetic acid (nasty stuff, the only thing we always wore a respirator and rubber gloves to handle) has been discontinued and is now replaced by bottles of white vinegar from the kitchen. They're in the market for a digital-capable Noritsu or two. I left behind my E-mail address and told them to get in touch with me if they wanted any help buying copies of Adobe software.

  • Amtrak: man oh man. I know that some people don't like Deutsche Bahn, but I would have given anything for an ICE train between Los Angeles and Chicago. Despite the fact that we'd reserved our tickets as a group weeks ago, the conductor onboard the outgoing Southwest Chief was shocked, shocked to find that there were people boarding his train in Fullerton; we ended up spending the 22-hour trip sitting in noncontiguous seats spread across two levels of two cars. (Thankfully, the station staff at Raton and the on-train personnel during our homebound trip were much more clueful; they knew we were coming, and had a block of eleven seats saved for us.)

    But more than the 1950s lets-move-chits-around-on-paper 'reservations' system, the biggest thing holding back the passenger-rail experience in America is the fact that Amtrak owns little of the rail that it travels on. In our case, the rail owner (BNSF) had no incentive to improve the rail beyond its own needs or to prioritize Amtrak traffic over its own, meaning bouncy-bouncy-bouncy travel for us and long, mysterious stops in the middle of nowhere as stacked-up BNSF freight trains passed us by.

Also: bleah. Today is the first day since my return where I didn't wake up feeling completely out of it. This is a good thing, as in addition to the demands of work, there's a giant stack of adoption paperwork waiting for me to read through, and Shelby is exceedingly eager for me to get started at filling out my half of it.

Posted by Kevin at August 11, 2006 02:26 PM

How odd. I know that in Philadelphia, Amtrak owns the tracks and SEPTA (local system) has to give way to Amtrak trains.

Glad you had a good time.

Posted by: J at August 11, 2006 02:51 PM

There are a few places (mostly in the Northeast, with the Boston-to-Washington Northeast Corridor being the best example) where Amtrak owns its own trackage.

In theory, Amtrak trains are always supposed to receive priority, even where Amtrak doesn't own the rails. In practice, that's usually not the case.

Posted by: Kevin at August 13, 2006 01:00 PM

I had the ultimate DB experience on Saturday. Write-up to follow soon.

Posted by: J at August 14, 2006 03:54 AM

i was in union station in LA on saturday and saw a group of boy scouts .. twas around..1pm.

that you?

Posted by: el s at August 15, 2006 10:22 AM

Nope, wasn't us. (We got off at Fullerton, on Tuesday morning -- it just took me a few days to get up the strength to return to blogging.) Might well have been some other group returning from their Philmont trek, though.

Posted by: Kevin at August 15, 2006 05:11 PM
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