Saturday, August 22, 2009


We had one of our troop alumni, Matt, attend camp for a couple days. He came up for two reasons. The most obvious reason was to participate with us on our hike day. One day at the camp we attended is dedicated to going on one of several hikes into some beautiful wilderness area. It's a highlight for many. It's dreaded by some, if they're not prepared or not in shape. But that's another post.

I'll get to the less obvious reason Matt came up to camp shortly.

First I wanted to foray briefly into a book I read recently, On My Honor by Jay Mechling. It's a really interesting book. Mechling creates a fictional summer camp based on actual events that happened on his visits to a certain troop's summer camp over a period of several decades. He delves into all kinds of deep topics regarding human behavior and why boys and leaders do the things they do at camp. The author was a Scout himself and while he honors the BSA, he doesn't pull any punches in his analysis and assessment either.

I don't want to go too much into the main themes of his behavioral studies, but rather mention a few interesting things from the book. The first is the length of the camp. This particular troop would go to camp for three weeks! The first week, while dads and older scouts set up the camp, the troop goes on a 50 mile backpacking trip. They then spend two weeks at the main camp, earning merit badges and participating in all kinds of fun activities. I'm not sure I could handle three weeks. 5-6 days seems to generally be plenty. They also have 4-5 patrols, up to 50 boys in the troop, which you would never see in an LDS troop.

While reading the book, I looked back on my own experience both as a boy and as a leader. While some things in the book were different from how I experienced them, many things were eerily similar, even comparing an LDS to a non-LDS troop.

Thinking about Matt's second reason for attending camp made me think of another tradition in Mechling's book. The adults had their own stash of treats, including alcohol, in their campsite where the boys were not allowed to go. When troop alumni would come to visit, they would bring beer and various snacks to share at the adult campsite.

Drinking alcohol on any BSA event is questionable but absolutely out of place with an LDS troop, so I'm happy that Matt didn't come up to camp to get drunk. :) But one of the big reasons Matt came up to camp was so that he could bring chips and salsa and not share them with the younger boys. Only adults could eat them. And he could. Because he was now an adult. He drove four hours each way over terrible roads into the mountains so he could hike and eat chips that the boys were not allowed to eat.

Matt's mom is Sister Smyth's visiting teacher, so for two months in a row, his mom told my wife all sorts of stories about camp. Well, to clarify, she told all the same stories in both her July and August visits. I'm afraid her visits aren't doing anything to help Sister Smyth understand or appreciate Scouting.

She told Sister Smyth about Matt's chips. I didn't need to hear her story since I was there to witness it in person as I was eating chips with Matt when my ASM's son, who is one of the younger boys in the troop and also about the nicest, most helpful kid you could find, came to get a chip. Matt had his glorious moment of denying the young scout a chip. My ASM wasn't very appreciative of the slight, but he did eat some chips and salsa anyway. Matt's mom made a point of talking about how these chips were a tradition in the troop. Matt had been denied chips and salsa for years and upon coming of age could now partake and help to pass on the tradition.



Is it still a tradition if we didn't do it last year? Matt's dad came up to camp with us last year and didn't bring chips. I had never heard of it before, and if someone did tell me about it, it didn't make enough of an impression on me that I remembered it or actually did it. I don't plan on doing it next year. Am I wrong for throwing away 10 years' worth of tradition?

Giving the boys letters from their parents telling them how much their family appreciates them...great tradition. Requiring everyone who doesn't have the Environmental Science MB to take that class at camp...indispensable tradition. Having the boys plan the menus and cook our own food...I have some great cooking techniques and recipes now from watching 13 year olds carry out their assignment to be in charge of a meal because of this tradition.

Not sharing my treats with the boys even though a lot of them are pretty generous with sharing the treats they bring with everyone else...not really a tradition that interests me much.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Camp Wrap-up

We ended up having a good camp this year. Like I've said before, it's always stressful getting ready for camp, but in the end it always turns out fine. I felt strangely prepared for this camp, which is weird, because we actually left more things home that we needed than we usually do.

We had the most boys ever this year, which is a good way to follow last year, which was the fewest I ever had attend a week-long camp. We had a boy come who doesn't turn 12 for a few more months, plus another boy who had just moved out of our ward.

I had been worried about bringing our own food and dealing with the camp bear boxes. I absolutely refuse to do a cafeteria unless that is the only option at a particular camp. Last year we did the commissary, where the camp provides you food and you cook it. I disliked the commissary, like I knew I would, so we decided to bring our own this year. The bear boxes were plenty large to fit all our food, which had been my main concern, so that ended up working out fine.

I had gone to the store to buy the food late Saturday night. We had planned the menu with the boys a few weeks before. Time-wise, it just didn't work out to have all the boys come help do the shopping, but normally I have them do that with me. I spent about $200, checking out about 5 minutes before the Sabbath began. At church, I talked to another SM who had just bought the food for their troop. After he told me they spent $500 for about the same number of kids, I went back to the store about 1 a.m. Monday morning and bought another $100 worth of food. For about 15 people each day, we spent $20 per person. I just can't bring myself to pay $70 per person for the commissary and have so little control over what we get to eat. We eat much better for less than a third of the cost. I'm still kicking myself for not bringing our own food last year.

We had Dutch Oven pizza, chicken and rice, hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, Dutch Oven potatoes, quesadillas, nachos, pancakes, Dr. Pepper chicken, cobbler, s'mores, and more. There was plenty of food to go around. Some days we ate it all and some days we didn't, but there was always enough. A good trick is to bring a couple extra loaves of bread and PB&J material so if anyone doesn't like the planned meal, they can make themselves a sandwich.

Food aside, we did pretty well in terms of advancement. Most of the boys who didn't go last year worked on First Aid and Wilderness Survival in camp with one boy's dad who is a doctor, plus Environmental Science and a couple other badges. I always require that boys complete Environmental Science at camp if they come and don't have it yet. Most of the newer boys also got almost everything passed off towards their 1st class ranks. We'll have them all passed off soon. The boys who came with us last year to camp all earned 6 or 7 merit badges last year, and unfortunately most of them only got 1 or 2 this year and not much in the way of rank advancements. I'm not too worried about them, but I just feel bad I didn't push the older boys harder to get more done.

I didn't take a ton of time pushing them, since I was going to the BSA Lifeguard class. You really should have a Lifeguard if you do any water activities. I had done it 3 years ago at camp, so it was just expiring. I need to complete my CPR and First Aid certifications with the Red Cross, and then I'll be done. It's kind of weird how everybody gets Safety Afloat and Safe Swim Defense trained all the time, and one of the required items is a Lifeguard, yet nobody ever goes and gets Lifeguard trained. I think it's a fun class to do, even in the cold water. I also like it, because the boys see that I'm going to class and earning stuff just like they are. The downside is that while I'm in class, I can't be reminding the boys that they need to go to class.

We had 4 boys attempt the mile swim and 3 complete it. One was three-quarters done and going at a great pace when he got a cramp in his leg and had to stop. I was almost tempted to try it myself. I've been swimming for a triathlon I participated in recently, plus the Lifeguard class. I'm sure I could have done it. Maybe next year if we go to a camp with a warmer lake and I remember to bring my Speedo and goggles.

I had several dads come up for a couple days throughout the week, which is always nice to see. Later as I was thinking about it and talking with Sister Smyth about who came up, I noticed a pattern I hadn't ever noticed before. Having been to camp quite a few years in a row now, and thinking back on what dads came this year and other years, I haven't been able to think of any dad who came up to camp, whether for just a day or two or the whole week, who hadn't been a Scout leader. One of the dads, the former SM, had talked about how he didn't understand how a dad wouldn't want to come spend time with his son at camp. My dad never came to camp with me. I mean, we went camping as a family and on Fathers and Sons outings, but he never came on a BSA campout with me. I never expected him to. That's just my experience, so not a very large sample size, but a definite pattern repeated year after year.

Showers were kind of strange on this camp. Most, if not all, of the camps in our council have installed heated showers with individual stalls. Gone are the days of an open shower room with just cold water. In spite of the private, heated showers, it always seems hard to get the boys to take showers. Usually by the end of the week, you can tell who's been doing it and who hasn't. I normally end up showering a couple times during the week. Some of the camps with really nice lakes, however, aren't too bad, since you spend so much time in the water that you almost don't even need to shower. Almost.

So this year, the boys were almost obsessed over taking showers. We were supposed to sign up for 2 times for our troop to shower during the week. They complained that it wasn't going to be enough. I was pleasantly surprised. One of them actually refused to do the Polar Bear, which consists of sitting in a freezing cold stream for 10 seconds, since he wouldn't have time to shower after the Polar Bear before the next classes. Why he needed to shower after dipping into a stream for a few seconds, I don't know.

Since I was doing the Lifeguard class, I was in the water a lot, so I kept in pretty good shape in the smell department. On Wednesday, I was feeling the need, but it just so happened that something went wrong with the showers and they were not functional. I don't mind too much going a couple days, but pushing 3 days without a shower is not good. On Thursday, the shower was working again in the morning. All the boys went down and showered. Around noon, after my Lifeguard class, I headed over to warm myself up and clean off, but alas, the water was off again. Around dinnertime, some more of the boys went down and showered. I was helping with dinner, so didn't get down right away. That night after dinner, I headed down to try again. No water again. I was so confused. I even headed over to the lodge and asked someone about it, thinking that maybe the water did work; I just didn't know how to turn it on. Perhaps there were two shower houses, and I was going to the broken one. Nope. There was just one, and the girl confirmed that the water was out in the lodge as well. That night, I had a dream that I had gone to the showers and found this lever I had missed before and was able to get the hot water to flow. Friday always ends up being hectic, trying to wrap everything up and get ready to leave. I ended up going the whole week without showering until I got home. Again, I was in the water a lot and changed my clothes and put on deodorant often anyway, but even so, that's just not right.

One of the best experiences I had was sharing a little spiritual experience with the boys and giving them letters from their parents during the overnight canoe trip. I hadn't ever done it before, but it's something my current troop has generally done, and I plan on continuing to do in the future. It worked out even better than I'd imagined. I highly recommend doing it one night, whether or not the camp has an overnight canoe option. You can just do it in camp, but I think doing it away across the lake provides a little more intimate, serene environment.