Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Into the Woods

This time of year always brings back memories of the years in which Chuck was a Boy Scout in Troop 601 and the annual camping trip upstate to a piece of property owned by Bill, the Scoutmaster. In my role as "Assistant Sidekick to the Assistant Scoutmaster," I went along on this particular adventure each fall.

Though he had a house on the property, we would trek about a quarter-mile uphill to a spot where Bill had constructed a small cabin and there was plenty of open space for the boys to pitch their tents. (We fathers got to sleep in the cabin and we were quite a collection of snorers, so that it must have sounded like we had a buzz saw running in there!) There was also an outhouse up there, so that we did not have to do in the woods what bears do.

We would usually depart at about 5:00 p.m. on Friday and make the three-hour trip as a caravan. As this was the mid-1990s, very few people had portable phones, so we made do with walkie-talkies, which, unfortunately had limited range and were of little help if someone got lost. We would all pack some sandwiches, etc. and eat dinner on the way.

On one of the trips one of the boys brought along a 2-liter bottle of soda to quench his thirst. In the course of the first half hour or so, he drank it all. Needless to say, it was not long before his bladder took note and we had to make an emergency stop on the side of the road. Even as the car was slowing down, he bolted out the door and ran up an incline in the dark.
We never quite figured out where it was we had stopped, but our soda-drinker managed to relieve himself all over a hunter who was lying just over the hill. He came running down the hill almost as fast as he had run up it.

Once we reached the property, we would fill canteens and water jugs at the spigot in Bill's house, then head up the hill and set up camp. Once everything was set, the boys would retire to their tents and the dads would head into the cabin.

On Saturday morning, we'd get the campfire going and everyone would have breakfast of bacon, sausage and eggs. Then we'd head down the hill to where Bill had a skeet-shooting area as well as a rifle range. Bill and John, the co-leader, were both Nassau County police officers and knew their way around guns.
Bill's philosophy about having the boys use rifles and shotguns was simple: If they learned about them properly, there would be no fascination and they would be less likely to try using one in an unsafe situation. The boys (and the dads, for that matter) were thoroughly drilled in the safety procedures before anyone even picked up one of the guns.

Along the way, we would have lunch, usually more of the sandwiches that had been packed the before. When the shooting was done, some of us would lead some of the boys on a hike around the property while others prepared dinner. The boys were on their own for this one, having been charged with working together in small groups to bring enough food for everyone. We fathers ate separately, usually a beef stew prepared by Karl, the father we dubbed our "gourmet chef of the woods."

The evening was spent around the campfire. Some of the boys would work on merit badges; others would play hide-and-seek in the dark. Often we would have a radio and tried to pick up a far away station.
In 1993, we listened to Game 6 of the World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Toronto Blue Jays. I remember this in particular because the day before, just as Chuck and I were getting ready to leave for the trip, I got a call from Angelo Messina, the Ronalds Printing rep that I dealt with. "Use your Air Canada miles, " he said, "and meet me in Toronto tomorrow. I've got two tickets for the game." I explained that I was leaving on a Boy Scout camping trip and had to pass on the opportunity.
Well, as the baseball fans among you might remember, Game 6 was the one in which the Blue Jays won the Series on Joe Carter's ninth-inning walk-off home run, probably one of the most exciting Series conclusions ever. Listening to a broadcast that faded in and out -- at one point we had the radio hanging on a branch in a tree above us -- one of the other fathers told me, "If your son ever tells you that never sacrificed anything for him when he was growing up, just tell him how you were sitting on a rock in the woods when you could have been at the World Series."

Eventually, everyone would go to sleep. And the night quiet would be shattered by the snoring coming from the cabin. Hey, I'm sure it kept the bears away!

On Sunday morning, we had another communal breakfast of bacon, sausage and eggs. Then it was time to pack up, clean up the campsite, and head home. It was always surprising to the boys to discover just how much trash we generated in 36 hours! Of course, when we pointed out to them how much food they had consumed in that period, they understood a bit better.

The first year that I went on the trip, I had four boys (including Chuck) riding in my car. We were not far along on the drive home when one of them started complaining that his stomach hurt. Thinking that he might upchuck, I told him to roll down the window and to make sure to stick his head out if that was the case.
He continued to complain and I started questioning him about the pain. Was it sharp? Was it throbbing? Did it feel like he'd been punched? Suddenly, I had a thought. "When," I asked him, "was the last time you went?"
"Thursday," he replied.
"Thursday!? You realize that everything you have eaten since then -- and it has been a considerable amount of food -- is backed up in your digestive system?"
"Well, I didn't want to go in the woods!"
"You didn't have to. You could have used the outhouse like everyone else did."
"Yeah, but I also didn't want to wipe myself with leaves!"
"There was toilet paper in the outhouse."
I pulled into the first rest area I came to, followed by the other cars in our little caravan. He ran inside and was in the men's room quite awhile. The other dads and scouts wanted to know what the emergency was and I gave them a quick explanation of my "diagnosis."
We stood around waiting for awhile and I finally had to go inside and check on him. He was still in the stall. "How are you feeling? Was it what we thought it was?" I asked.
"Ooohhh yeah!" He replied, with great relief in his voice.
The postscript to the story? When I dropped him off at home and told his mother about his digestive adventure, she said, "I packed two rolls of toilet paper in has backpack! Didn't he even look?"

Did we learn from this particular misadventure? You bet we did. Bill added a new rule for the camping trips: "Bears $#!+ in the woods and so should you."

1 comment:

  1. Y'know, those bears can be pretty smart... they LIVE in the woods after all!

    Of course, in the final analysis, there are a couple more very important lessons. 1) As they say, when you gotta go, you gotta go. Side of the road or in the woods... but Mother Nature wins EVERY time. 2) Always trust Mom.

    I remain,

    Eric L. Sofer
    The Bad Clown...