Section chief hikes it up for OATC

By Jasper Davidoff & Elisha Valladares-Cormier

Ask any of the hundreds of current and former section chiefs and they’ll tell you the same thing: the job takes a mindset. Guiding every lodge in your section and being a positive example for thousands of Arrowmen means you have to be dedicated and committed to making your year in office the best it can be. This past summer, one section chief showed that that mindset can apply to anything.

Mitch Leonard is the immediate past chief for Section C-3A, which is the home of more than 2,500 Arrowmen in parts of eastern Iowa and western Illinois. Mitch first considered a trek with the OA Trail Crew (OATC) - the service and adventure program for Arrowmen at Philmont Scout Ranch - after hearing of the amazing experience his friend Joey had on his trek in 2013. Being realistic with himself, he considered himself “not very athletic.” Rather than give up, as is always possible when considering a daunting Philmont experience, he decided to work on his own personal development to really make it happen. So how did he prepare for an adventure so physically demanding? Leonard says that it was a matter of starting slow and working his way up to the right place.

“I started out by just doing practice hikes around my town and heading into different parts of it,” said Leonard, “I started without a backpack and after a couple weeks I started carrying one and began adding things to it, like bricks.” He adds that he also began preparing mentally by posting Snapchats with captions like “Week Two!” to have friends help keep him accountable. Mitch reflects that good friend Joey Dierdorf - the 2015 Central Region chief - motivated him constantly. Leonard says that after long conversations, he was reenergized in knowing that he could pull off the trek. “You’ve done all this prep and it’s not going to be for nothing,” Dierdorf told Leonard.

Leonard had good reason to take it seriously, while some might not have been as motivated to prepare so heavily. He hadn’t prepared at all when having gone to the Grand Canyon in 2010 and felt the consequences when he wasn’t able to have much fun from being so tired. He also saw it as a great excuse to get in better shape.

“I could see myself being out of shape and I saw this as the perfect opportunity to get in better shape, so this preparation was for OATC but also as a personal and mental challenge.”

Last July Leonard started his two-week trek. Heading into it, he wasn’t sure what was in store.

“What I expected was not what I ended up with,” says Leonard. “I expected it to be hard and very motivational, but it was much harder than I thought it would be. I didn’t expect to be as drained every single day and absolutely crash on my pad every single night."

He noticed that as he went through the trek, although he was still tired, he wouldn’t really pay attention to how much distance the group covered and that he wasn’t always out of breath. This allowed him to really enjoy the experience and all the great views that came with it. Though the trek was hard, Leonard recalls the life-changing experience of “walking through God’s country on God’s time. I don’t get to see these amazing mountains or vast habitats at home.”

After having the experience of a lifetime, Leonard strongly encourages every Arrowman to try it for themselves, saying, “If you want to do OAHA, just try it. There’s no way to understand all of the potential without trying.”
The Order of the Arrow Trail Crew program allows any Arrowman to get the whole Philmont experience at a reduced price. You’ll learn about conservation and trail maintenance. One journey will end constructing switchbacks and working on erosion control, then another will appear while you plan your own week-long trek around the backcountry. Visit for more information about OAHA opportunities for summer 2016.

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