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.
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.
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.
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.