When asked about their Scout Troop’s trek from Los Altos to Half Moon Bay, juniors Zachary Ottoes and Cole Cummins will respond exactly how one would expect—modestly, sharing only bits and pieces of their immense undertaking. The journey spanned five days and 55 miles. By the end, the hikers had traveled from the corner of El Monte Avenue and Springer Road in Los Altos all the way to Half Moon Bay.
Zachary’s and Cole’s group consisted of seven Boy Scouts, ranging from ages 13 to 17 and three leaders from their troop, Troop 33. Zachary acted as the crew leader for the expedition.
Throughout the trip, the hikers ate dehydrated meals, filtered their own water and had to survive waking up at 6 a.m. from much-needed slumber. The troop would finish hiking each 11 mile segment by 3 p.m. and spend the rest of the time preparing their camp and relaxing.
“The biggest mistake I made on that hike was [bringing] the same exact meal for the entire trip,” Cole said. “I really didn’t think that one out.”
To ensure that everyone could complete the hike in a reasonable amount of time, shakedowns were used to gauge who would actually be able to keep up with the pack. A shakedown is essentially hiking conditioning. The boys would take their packs up to local trails on the weekends and do day hikes with their troop to build stamina.
“As a Scout Troop, we did shakedowns, which really helped increase our strength and made the hikes more bearable,” Cole said.
Throughout the staggering journey, neither of the boys felt that the hike was physically challenging for them due to their previous extensive experience.
“We both have done two 60 milers and one 76 miler so this one, with regards to length, wasn’t so bad,” Cole said.
However, both agreed that the close proximity to roads and buildings on this particular hike was the largest mental obstacle. Although the troop had meticulously strategized their food rations, stopping points and distance, they failed to consider the latent effect of being so close to civilization and how it distracts from the solitude that hiking normally entails.
“Seeing roads was discouraging because we had been hiking for so long and we still weren’t away from civilization,” Zachary said. “At one of the campsites I heard a motorcycle go by, even though we had been hiking for days by that point.”
Despite the training, physical difficulty and pressing reminders of the outside world, Zachary and Cole believe that the benefits from this particular trip certainly outweigh the obstacles they faced.
“I enjoyed hiking [on this trip] because it [gave] me time to think and to get away from all the stresses of high school life,” Zachary said. “It also let me hang out with friends who I don’t see often.”
Most of the outing was spent walking quietly along trails, giving hikers a substantial amount of time to reflect and separate from the normal routine back at home.
“When I am hiking, I usually plan what we will be doing the next day, play games with the others … or [sing] songs,” Zachary said. “I can also use this time to reflect on the past few days or plan ahead for what I am going to do when we get to camp or home. My friends and I usually talk, about anything and everything.”
For both students, hiking is a refuge from the constant stream of technology and offers them a chance to connect on a more personal level by sharing the experience.
“Without distractions, you and your friends really grow a connection,” Zachary said. ‘The main difference between home and backpacking is the lack of distractions like our smartphones to take away from conversations; we actually have to talk when together.”
The boys recommend hiking to anyone interested in the outdoors and especially to those who find everyday life and the pressures of school stressful.
“People hike to get away from all the stresses of life at home, the money, the social expectations or the work,” Zachary said. “When they are away from home, they have a chance to think and relax, without the distractions [found at] home.”
Ultimately, Cole and Zachary consider the hike a success and look forward to the next upcoming scouting event.