Camp Read Journal 2007: Part Three

Everybody waive to the camera!

Day Five

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.

Day Six

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.

The famous bonfireThat 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.

Day Seven

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:

Troop 353 dressed & ready to head home.

Camp Read Journal 2007: Part Two

Troop 353’s colors at Camp Read.

There was plenty of activity during our week at Camp Read, for both the adult leaders and the Scouts. Many, many miles were walked. Chores were completed. And the schedule was a busy one. But don’t get the idea there wasn’t any down time. We had plenty. Each day, there was the post-lunch siesta – which allowed the boys to catch up merit badges or chase after frogs and newts and for the parents to, well, take the word literally. And during the course of the week, the guitars came out (along with a bass and a mandolin), more than one Harry Potter volume was seen in camp, and we even made our own ice cream.

Day Three

There was down time and then there was down time. On day three, many of the Scouts and couple of adults took that literally, meaning down as in underground. With the help of an expert guide, the Troop explored an underground cave over at Camp Waubeeka. They scurried down what appeared to be a glorified rabbit hole and scrunched through an underground passage, complete with stream, to the exit a couple of hundred yards away. A unique experience and one that all the participants found illuminating – and drenching as well: there was one part where they had to briefly swim underwater to pass between caverns!

A word about the weather. While we thankfully missed a heat wave by a week, we did get our fair share of rain. The tents are canvas, but they held up well. Ponchos were necessary a few days. And one night we had a real downpour, with the rain drumming on the tents. Most of us stayed dry, and we kept an eye out for violent weather as well.

Day Four

After a morning of classes and a quick lunch, the Troop hit the road down the Northway toward Lake George. It was good to get a break from the camp routine, and the boys were excited about the outing. A gorgeous day with bright blue skies provided the perfect backdrop for our ride at Saddle Up Stables, just up the road from Lake George Village.

We went off in two groups, with all boys wearing helmets. Some had horseback experience, others didn’t but everyone seemed to do well (despite a few allergic reactions that required a brief Benadryl break afterward). The ride was a good hour up into the hills, along a few narrow trails. The highlight for me was a sweeping view of Lake George from the mountain before heading down.

After the ride it was off down the road to Lake Luzerne to the Painted Pony Rodeo. It was strange to find a western/country style attraction in upstate New York – complete with a vocal ‘twang from the announcers – but it was also great fun. We gorged on all-you-can-eat barbecue and the boys played keep-away in one the fields (they met up with another Scout troop from Pennsylvania), and eyed the bulls in their pens. Then it was showtime: a real competitive rodeo, featuring cowboys and cowgirls from the region in fast-paced competition. The Scouts watched amazed at the Bareback Bronc Riding, Saddle Bronc Riding, Steer Wrestling, Tie-Down Roping, Team Roping, Cowgirls’ Barrel Racing, Cowgirls’ Breakaway Racing and the most dangerous of them all: Bull Riding. It certainly put our own hour in the saddle into perspective!

Troop 353 enjoys the rodeo.

We got back quite late from our “western” outing, and for once, the Scouts hit the sack in voluntary fashion. They knew that the next day was the big rafting trip – and for one Scout, a test of survival.

Next: Rolling on the river and the big bonfire. And be sure to check out more great photos from camp – here and here.

Camp Read Journal 2007: Part One

Home for a week

This was home for a week in August: four canvas walls, a nine-year-old bunkmate, and a few furry “visitors” who scampered around our cots from time to time. Yes, the chipmunks were everywhere at Camp Read this year. They say it was the drought, which had the lake levels low, some fire up on the mountain, and some thirsty rodents pawing their way through our stuff. No one seemed to mind.

Five adult leaders and 15 boys escaped the daily world of video games, cell phones, grinding traffic, the daily commute, and piles of email for a week in the woods this August. Thanks to the detailed planning of Scoutmaster Tom McCandless, Troop 353 packed a wide range of activities into our seven days in the Adirondacks. Here, then, is your humble Webmaster’s journal from camp.

Day One

It’s well over four hours (with stops) to Camp Read, up past the Lake George exits and down through Brant Lake to the dirt road into camp. We arrive in good order and check in. Nice, wooded site a couple hundred yards up the trail from the mess hall. Accommodations: basic. Latrine: smelly. Troop morale: high. The layout is simple – a dozen two-man canvas tents on platforms scattered around a central campsite with a fire-pit, a flagpole, and a couple of picnic benches under tarps. The simple two-hole latrine and wash-basin station is down a short trail in the woods, but it’s olfactory reminder is never far away. (It never fails to make the list in the nightly Rose-Bud-Thorn sessions – enough said).

After a camp tour and swim test in the lake (yes, I passed), we set up camp, unpack our stuff, and rig mosquito netting on the cots. In truth, it’s less buggy than last year; this year’s drought has kep the skeeter population down. Patrols are assigned, a work schedule is drawn up (waiting tables at the mess hall and latrine duty are rotated around the troop), and firewood is gathered. After dinner – and we had hot meals daily! – the parent leaders set to reviewing each Scout’s schedule for merit badges and advancement classes. This, along with constant safety patrol, is our main duty as dads (and one brave mom) – to keep the schedule manageable and moving, maximizing each boy’s experience at camp. I’m lucky in this: it was a great group of adult leaders to spend the week with – Andrea, Tom, Ben and Peter are all tolerant and flexible. We shared chores (and the occasional Tylenol) throughout the week, with almost-uniform good cheer.

Day Two

I learned in the night that junior Scouts who discover the joys of the candy counter at the Camp Read trading post – and then spend the twilight hours consuming roughly the amount of sugar used in a small bakery on any given week – do not generally encourage a quiet, restful sleep. Lesson number one in the books (and boys safely packed away back in sleeping bags), I get an hour or two before dawn.

I have a buddy for the week. In addition to my 12-year-old second-year Boy Scout, I’ve brought my 9-year-old Webelos as a special guest of the Troop. He’s a bit nervous, sleeping in the woods for a week. And we’ve made a contingency plan to come home half-way through. But he does fine, thanks largely to the kindness of the other boys who take him under their wings on numerous occasions. Sure, he groused about the latrine and the early wake-up call and the chores (he wasn’t exempt) – but he sure has talked about camp a lot since we got back! And is just me, or does he seem more confident…

The first full day is hectic for the boys. They have three or four or more classes each day in a wide variety of subjects they don’t get in school: rifle-shooting, amphibian study, leatherwork, archery, swimming and boating, fishing, basket-weaving, outdoorsmanship.

Then there’s the hike – a relatively grueling climb on Mount Stevens and back. Confession: I don’t go. With my chronic back problems and a bit of rain, I can’t chance a spot of traction in the nearest Adirondacks medical facility. So I’m on the radio back at camp. And there are some challenges up on the trail. A steep climb, some rocky moments, a couple of minor injuries. I hear it all like the guy on the shortwave at the lowest base camp of an Everest expedition. “Be careful, lads. Weather conditions stable. Base camp out.” Then I tucked into the next chapter of the book I’m reading. Oh the humanity.

Home for a week

The boys loved the hike, and worked up quite the appetite – which is fine, because Newton Hall serves up some pretty decent chow. During our week, which had spots of cool and wet weather, we had hot meals to look forward to, ranging from simple hamburgers and mac-and-cheese to beef stroganoff and spaghetti. The adult leaders ate everything. Some of the boys can be, shall we say, slightly fussy eaters. But generally, there was enough variety – and the ever-present salad bar at night – so no one starved. And the Scouts learned how to set up tables for the meal (this duty rotated among all the Scouts) and clean up afterwards, including washing down the table-tops and sweeping the floor. I’m 100% positive they each volunteered for this duty once they returned home.

Each evening we spent in camp, we had a fire. Sometimes there were stories, sometimes s’mores, and sometimes we had some music. They became a real highlight of every day, and a great way to wrap up after so much activity. The boys gathered the wood and helped build the fires (usually with Ben’s help – he taught all the boys a lot about fire safety). Chairs were pulled closer to the campfire. Things quited down considerably, and I was reminded of Winston Churchill’s description of a Scout jamboree in England in the 1930s:

“…there twinkled the camp fires of a vast new army whose ranks will never be empty, and whose march will never be ended while red blood courses in the veins of youth.”

Next: A deep cave, a long ride, and a bit of the west high in the Adirondacks.