Monday, October 10, 2005

Scouting Outing (Boys)

Every now and then over the last couple of weeks, my wife would casually mention that I had a father-son campout coming up with Cub Scouts. No details. No where, when, how. Just what.

Finally, she started mentioning little details. Like "you need to buy a tent and sleeping bags". And the location -- in a nearby county park. Well, that's not bad at all. I stayed there a couple of times when I was a scout, but we had a lodge with bunk beds. No tents or sleeping bags required. Why is this different?

My wife explained two days before the campout that it was actually going to be at a county park in another county south of home. That added about 1/2 hour to the journey. But when? I had this vague recollection that it was going to be on a Friday night, just like my daughter's. Friday morning as I was getting ready to leave for work, my wife shows me the schedule. We had to be there by something like 4:30. That's good for the kids, since they had a half-day of school. But I was planning on being at work until 4 so I could spend time at the party of the co-worker who had just returned from Iraq. I didn't want to miss it completely, so I made plans to leave at 3. I hurried up, spent half an hour at the party, and got back to my office to close up for the weekend. Traffic is always heavy on Friday afternoon, otherwise I might have missed my bus. But it was late. And as a result, I was late coming home. Around 4 PM, my arrival prompted the wife to order my son to start getting packed. Whatever happened to "Be prepared"? She also had to look up and print out directions to the camp site.

By the time we left, it was after 5 PM. Next stop: Wal-Mart, the closest thing to an outdoors store en route. Sleeping bags? These two look pretty comfortable, and pretty cheap. Tent? Just a two-person tent should suffice. Grab a couple of torches (big boxy battery included) and we're all set.

By the time we got the stuff out to the car, dusk had set in and so had the rain. After about ten minutes of debate and discussion, I decided to go back home. We're late, we're missing stuff already, and we don't really need to stay overnight. There was much crying until I promised that we would camp outside sometime over the weekend, most likely out in the yard.

When we arrived back home, my wife informed me that she had gotten a call from one of the other Cub Scout mothers. The camp out is tomorrow, not tonight.

It's a good thing that I came home then. If I had gone all the way out to the campground and found no one else there, I would have come home spitting pure bile in the general direction of my wife. However, I was high and dry, and somewhat relieved, as I not only got to stay at home that night but also had a tent and sleeping bags for when we did go camping. Since I didn't want to completely disappoint the boy, that would be the next night, with the Cub Scouts.

So we left mostly prepared the next day at 3:30. It took us about 45 minutes to get there, but it was light out, there was no rain falling, and the campground was visible from the paved road. So far so good. Never having pitched a tent before, I paid close attention to the instructions while my son -- who should have been assisting me -- kept wandering off to play and mess around. He's not cut out for this any more than I was as a kid, so we mostly kept to ourselves the whole time, aside from Scout group activities. The tent was surprisingly easy to erect, and the boy even came back to help a little with the set up.

The opening ceremony was the only reminder that this pack consisted almost entirely of Roman Catholics, as the ceremony began with a prayer and lots of people crossing themselves while I stood off to the side with my hands in my pockets. You can't be too accommodating, after all. I did join in the Pledge of Allegiance, watched the kids have a massive tug of war bout, and heeded the call when the spaghetti was ready.

The rest of the night was very scouty indeed. A blazing campfire raged while the Bobcats were elevated to the rank of Wolf, as a phony Indian Chief administered a "potion" as part of the ceremony. It was vinegar and baking soda. My son said it tasted like Sprite. It must have made the 'smores that he had afterwards taste really good.

Speaking of 'smores, I let the kid make his own while I stood off on the sidelines. These gatherings are really for the boys, so I interfered with him as little as possible. My patience paid off, too. After the kids had their fill of marshmallows and campfires, they ran off to play Ghosts in the Graveyard. Most of the adults had wandered away, too. I stepped towards the fire and spotted a bag of marshmallows, some chocolate bars, and graham crackers lying around unused. Saturday night party in 'Smore City, baby!

Some folks also roasted wieners, and a dessert of apple and peach cobbler was planned for later in the evening. My son was too tired to stay up for it, so we retired to our tent. This is when cold harsh reality reared its ugly head. When you buy a two-person tent, you need to check the inner dimensions. If the tent is six feet at it longest extent, and you are a little more than six feet tall, you really ought to consider a larger tent. I didn't even notice. I spent the first 3-4 hours trying to get comfortable, angry at myself, angry at the world, and angry at the boots and backpacks that had more room than I did. There wasn't even space for me to get comfortable in my sleeping bag. The zipper was inaccessible. So by the time morning came, I was cold and more than a little wet. The rain fly didn't do its job. The only comfort was that I had a relatively short walk to the portable restroom facility. Ahhhhhh. If not for the smell, I would have slept in there.

Breakfast was pancakes and sausage. There was juice, too, which turned out to be orange Kool-Aid. (I knew Kool-Aid would come into it somehow.) I broke camp while the boy was hanging around the fire with other scouts, so after breakfast we were good to go. To my surprise, he told me when he was ready to go. Maybe he is going to inherit my aversion to group involvement in spite of his mother's machinations after all.

Next camping trip ought to be a family adventure. And we'd better do it soon, before the kids grow into surly teenagers who want to kill me.

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