After five days of nonstop rain, every piece of clothing in Sarah Curley’s backpack was soaked. Her legs and feet ached from day after day of 20-mile hikes. Her 40-pound pack was digging into her shoulders and hips — every stride sending a fresh jolt of pain.
“I remember having my head down, staring at my boots,” Sarah says. “Just one in front of the other.”
Near the end of the day, Sarah approached Crooked Creek, one of Philmont’s staffed backcountry camps. Sarah and her fellow Scouts entered a small cabin where a fire crackled, promising warmth and a way to dry drenched gear.
“This ‘worst day’ of mine turned into a relief,” Sarah says. “We got to sleep in this cabin and got priority on the fire to dry our clothes.”
When she returned to Base Camp on July 10, 2021, Sarah Curley became one of the first female Eagle Scouts to complete a Rayado trek at Philmont Scout Ranch.
This summer, seven young women from six different states hiked, camped and ate together for three weeks, traveling 200 miles through the rugged backcountry of northern New Mexico as part of Rayado, the longest and most intense experience Philmont offers.
“It tests multiple facets of an individual — navigation, first aid, wilderness survival, team building, communication and problem solving,” Sarah says. “It tests the durability of your physical and mental assets, too.”
Sarah, a 17-year-old Eagle Scout from Troop 2019 of Glen Gardner, N.J., part of the Minsi Trails Council, says her three weeks at Philmont changed her forever.
“This trip has definitely opened my eyes to the fact of savoring every moment,” she says. “Even though a day could be terrible, I created a memory in my head that I will never forget. Those memories have given me a different perspective on enjoying the now.”
As she starts her senior year of high school, Sarah has made a conscious choice to relish every moment — the good times and the bad.
“I want to savor the moments of sports games, achievements, parties — to savor the moments I have with friends now, because one day we will be scattered across the country when we go to college,” Sarah says. “Our senior year will be over, and it will be what we made of it.”
Memories formed, bonds created
Unlike a traditional Philmont trek where a group of Scouts from the same home troop can register to hike together, Rayado crews are provisional crews organized by Philmont.
That means an individual Scout can register, show up and enjoy a life-changing three weeks in the backcountry with Scouts from across the nation. Adult leaders are provided by Philmont.
Sarah’s Rayado crew included young women from Florida, Virginia, Idaho, Colorado, Missouri and New Jersey. And because only a certain kind of Scout would register for such a challenging adventure, Sarah expected to find some kindred spirits in her group.
Sarah, an avid backpacker since age 6, was not disappointed.
“The other girls I met were so similar to me, which was cool because I don’t have many female backpacker friends in my area or near my age, and Rayado introduced me to many girls that were in the similar boat,” Sarah says. “We all got to bond on that.”
That put Sarah and her crewmates in a good position as the trek began. As avid adventurers, all seven young women were comfortable in the outdoors. And as Scouts, they were used to working as a team to solve problems.
“It was a rare opportunity to be able to survive and depend on, basically strangers, in the backcountry,” Sarah says. “But by the end of the trek, we were all super close — like sisters.”
Those bonding moments included tough times, like the nonstop rain, but also plenty of magical moments, like stargazing in the Valle Vidal.
“The sky is just so insane out there, and absolutely no one is around, so you can see forever,” Sarah says. “You could see stars, planets, constellations, heat lightning and hear the elks mating call in the distance. It was incredible to share that moment with my crew and further experience the backcountry like that for myself.”
Looking back, looking forward
Some aha moments arrive late.
“I didn’t realize the importance of how the trip changed me until after a few weeks of being home, but it touches everyone in a different way at a different time,” Sarah says. “It’s life-changing for sure.”
Now in her senior year of high school, Sarah is thinking about college. She wants to major in business at a school in either Boston or Colorado.
She has kept in touch with her crewmates on social media, and she even sends physical letters back and forth with a few of the Scouts from her trip.
But even if the group of seven never gathers as one again, they shared something special that will live on forever.
“The memories and bonds we created, and the moments that we savored, will always live inside of my heart and mind,” Sarah says. “I definitely don’t take things for granted, and I enjoy the good and the bad and look at everything with a positive light.”
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