Wednesday, May 20, 2009

On trek, "No one comes back the same"

Area teens make 138-mile journey














Geared up for the start of their weeklong Mojave Road adventure are, from left, Lino Cantos, John Slagboom, Jubal Marlatt, Michael Wellesley and Andrew Vasiloff. Photo courtesy of John Slagboom.


By Alicia Doyle
Ventura County Star
Sunday, May 17, 2009

Considered a favorite among four-wheel-drive enthusiasts, the Mojave Road is generally covered on wheels, from its start near the Colorado River in Nevada through the full length of the Mojave National Preserve in the deep desert of southeastern California.

But when a handful of Oxnard teens made the 138-mile journey last month as a backpacking trip on foot, it was more than simply a physical feat. It truly was a religious experience.

“Every hike I go on brings me closer to God and shows me what I’m capable of,” said 15-year-old Andrew Vasiloff.

As a member of Venture Crew 9228, based out of Oxnard First Presbyterian Church, Vasiloff was one of three teens and two advisers who completed the trip over seven days in mid-April, covering the 138 miles from the Colorado River in Nevada to within 25 miles of Barstow, traveling along the historic military wagon route through the Mojave Desert.

Others who finished the trek were Michael Wellesley and Lino Cantos, both 18.

John C. Slagboom, president of Crew 9228, did not hike because of a physical condition but drove his members 1,000 miles to and from their destinations.

Averaging 20 miles on foot a day, the crew is quite possibly the first to ever achieve such an accomplishment, said John Slagboom of Oxnard, crew adviser along with Jubal Marlatt of San Diego.

“There is no evidence that I know of that this has ever been done before,” he said. “It is not contrived to say that the Mojave Road trip had a spiritual development to it as well, which made it all the more worth it.”

The newest Scouts

The Venture Crew is the newest type of Scouting unit for youths ages 14 to 21, said Slagboom, 47, who is certified with Boy Scouts of America for desert and high adventure backpacking.

“Venture crews are designed to teach advanced leadership, organizational skills and character development by providing a venue where young people can collaborate to determine their crew’s mission code of conduct, meeting times, uniforms and, most important of all, their adventures — termed Super Activities like the Mojave Road trip,” Slagboom said.

The young crew members have been preparing for their latest feat for the past five years, since completing a 55-mile trip around the Providence Mountains in the central core of the Mojave National Preserve in the spring of 2004.

Additionally, “Their completion of the entire world-famous John Muir Trail this past summer in 14 hiking days was featured in March 2009 edition of Boy’s Life magazine,” Slagboom said.

On the most recent trip, Vasiloff said, Mother Nature posed the biggest challenge.

“Some are going to say their feet, others might say the mileage each day, but for me, besides not bringing pants, the weather was one of the biggest challenges I faced,” said Vasiloff, an Eagle Scout. “When I think of the desert, I think of sand and gnarly heat, which it basically has been in past trips. The difference between this trip and other trips was that we experienced almost every type of weather condition: extreme heat, extreme cold, rain, snow, extreme wind and sandstorms.”

‘Wizard of Oz’ moment

One of the wildest, most insane moments on the trip was when their tent flew at least 200 feet in the air, he said.

“Usually if a tent flies away, it gets stuck in a bush or rolls into a riverbed, but it never flies 200 feet in the air,” Vasiloff said. “Image ‘The Wizard of Oz’ when the house is spinning in the tornado; that is how it was. I have never seen anything like it before in my life.

“It was so funny to watch, but when we went to fetch it, there were tears in the material and our tent polls were broken. Yet, we still made the tent work like a champ, and slept in it.”

Overall, members of the Venture Crew love the intense physical challenge, Slagboom said. “Even their athletic competitions at school cannot compare to high-adventure backpacking at this level, and they love doing it together. No one comes back the same.”

For Cantos, the experience changed his life in ways he never expected.

“Out there on the road and sometimes too tired to talk, you get into deep thought and you really get to know yourself as a person,” said Cantos, who is now planning to climb Mount Everest with Vasiloff. “I don’t know how or when but expect us to do crazy things in the future. But at the moment we need to recuperate from this monster of a hike we were crazy enough to do.”

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