A clear Adirondacks sky greeted the Troop as we piled into our cars for the last out-of-camp activity for the week – and a good thing too. We planned to spend a good portion of the afternoon out on roaring river, getting mightily wet. Above Lake Luzerne, New York, a 3.5-mile section of the Sacandaga River is filled with stretches of friendly rapids and fast-flowing ripples. The Sacandaga River is a tributary of the Hudson River and enters the Hudson at the border of Saratoga County and Warren County, and that’s where we aimed to end up – if we survived the rapids.
After getting our flotation gear set up, the scouts and leaders boarded a packed bus for the ride up to the the launching spot, just below the Sacandaga dam. The Troop split into two groups and we muscled the big rubber rafts down to the river, each with an experienced guide telling the boys (and the dads) what to do. After a few minutes of arranging paddles ands seats we were off. A few rapids in the early going gave the lads a bump, but we soon found ourselves on a smooth, clear stretch under a sun-streaked sky.
Man overboard! After a few friendly paddle splashes between the two boats, one of our guides “boarded” the other raft and tossed young Michael into the river. Then he got tossed. And then it was Katie bar the door – soon David, Sean, Matt, Brad, Tim, Kelsey, Dan and Simon were floating, and then Brandon, Anthony, Nick, Devon, William and Andrew hit the water, as did the dads. We floated for a mile or so, relaxing under the warm sun – our reverie broken only by the occasional splash fight.
Then it was time to reboard for the more serious rapids, all class two’s and three’s. The chant of “stroke, stroke, stroke…” broke the air and we battled our way through a few deep gulleys and around some big rocks. All too soon, we entered the Hudson and beached the rafts. Everyone agreed: the rafting adventure was one of the highlights of the trip.
We raced back to Camp Read because one Scout had an important appointment – Sean was going on his wilderness survival overnight, and needed to head out for the mountain. The wilderness survival test is a tough one: a night in the mountains with virtually no equipment – no tent, no sleeping bag, no food, no matches. Just water bottle and a poncho. And the forecast called for rain.
And rain it did.
Overnight, we had a bit of weather and it was dark and damp in camp as we rolled out of our bunks. But one scout was up earlier than the rest: Sean had made it through his wilderness survival test and was standing in the middle of the camp, quiet and exhausted. Many of the other scouts just stood there staring at Sean, like some kind of apparition. Later, he told us the night hadn’t been so bad – he’d built a shelter and stayed fairly dry. Boredom, it turned out, was stronger than fear.
Of course, the fear test would arrive that night – our last in camp, after a day of completing merit badges and some zip-line splashing and rock-wall climbing – with the telling of “Third Brother.” I am prohibited by the code of Camp Read from repeating this harrowing and truly scary tale, but let’s just say it’s well worth the listen – even if it does cost you some sleep.
Which is not to say plenty of sleep wasn’t lost to scary stories and tall tales during our week. It was. Not surprisingly, the older Scouts had some – shall we say – tricks up their sleeves for the younger guys. And the first-timers were suitably terror-stricken. But I will say it was all in good fun, that no one went over the line, and that post-terror, a degree of kindness reigned. Indeed, for the biggest “trick” of all, we had several volunteers! The scouts had the idea to use a human volunteer as our troop “flag” for the camp competition – one boy would be proudly “flown” from the flagpole. Andrew won the shoot-out and soon found himself hog-tied to the pole. Let’s just say, the judges didn’t quite get the Troop’s humor but we all thought it was hilarious.
That kind of leadership from the older boys was evident the night of the Big Bonfire – which came after an in-depth Firem’n Chit safety training course led by Ben, our troop’s Activities Chairman. With the help of the entire troop, a huge pyramid of wood was assembled, ready for the spark. And the boys decided that the youngest scout – our Webelos guest Devon, only 9 – should have the honor of starting the blaze. And quite appropriately, it should be started the right way, they decided, with flint and steel. It took a while, and there was one false alarm, but the veteran Brad led the youngster through the test and soon the fire was leaping into the air (quite possibly visible from space). That fire was really one for the record books, and we all stayed up late – telling and embellishing “Third Brother,” hand-churning some homemade ice cream, devouring the tasty snacks rustled up by Mike D., breaking out the guitars, and conducting our final rose-bud-thorn of the trip.
The fire died down slowly and one by one, we stole away to our cots.
The last morning was all packing, sweeping up in camp, last-minute inspections and some hilarity down at the mess hall as a few of the counselors got some pie their eyes. After breakfast, we packed the cars and looked forward to real beds and real bathrooms (this was a consensus view). But there was time for one last troop picture – until next year that is: