Sam’s WEEBLOS scoutmaster sent out an email plea. He’d inadvertently scheduled the big end of season overnight hike the same evening as his son’s school play. Could someone take the kids out and in and he’d be in later? When I didn’t see anyone respond – shoot, I’m guessing all the parents had already made plans with Junior out of the house for the evening – then a second email indicating they’d have to cancel if no adult could help – I said okay. Fat boy was in.
A 4.5 mile hike in to the Peterson Lake cabin, where I’d never been. The scoutmaster gave me instructions for gear to bring and logistics. I got my pack together and met the scouts the next evening for the drive out to the trail head. My friend Ron was always telling stories of scouting. How it didn’t really matter if the scout had the right boots or clothes. When they all got together, it was about being with your buds on an outing. Kids are tough. Especially when not with their parents.
We got to the trail head and got started about 4:30. The boys had all manner of packs. Samuel had basically a bookbag with a sleeping bag hanging off it. That can’t be comfortable. He never said a word. Just like Ron said. The boys immediately started talking and didn’t stop for 2.5 hours. This was a social event. Not physical exertion. The 3/4 of a mile was actually packed gravel. Then it gave way to an old mining tram trail. We stopped at the falls. As we worked our way along Peterson creek up the drainage to the lake, we started walking on 2×12 planks and other wooden structures that were either over the muskeg swampy portions, or crossed creeks and other rough parts in the rainforest. Up we climbed. The boys talking. I just let my mind wander. I showed the boys how the new buds on devils club were edible, and they tried them. I saw twisted stalk here, too, which is another forest edible I’d just learned.
We got into the heavy forest on mile 3. Lots of root wads and mucky areas. This turned out to be the toughest part of the trail. By this time, it was a scout Ben and me bringing up the rear. Ben had a pack that was almost too big for his skinny frame. The shoulder straps were falling off his shoulders and he was struggling. I had a full frame pack with cooking gear, food and all my stuff and it wasn’t feasible that I just take his pack. I saw the shoulder straps weren’t snug, so I tightened those and then had him tie the tag ends of the shoulder straps around his waist. That helped, he said.
We saw open country ahead. I see the cabin he said. Then we realized it wasn’t the cabin. But it was the lake. He knew the cabin was near, and never said another word about his pack. He let out a whoop and picked up his pace. Kids are tough. The cabin was still another half mile it turns out. It was at the distant end of the lake. But we’d knew we’d made it. When we reached the cabin, the boys did not sluff their packs and collapse in exhaustion like me. They saw a dock with a boat. They grabbed life jackets and soon were out with Josh, the Jesuit Volunteer who is the assistant scout leader, on the dock and launching the boat. Like they just got up in the morning. I broke out the new Jet Boil stove my brother in law had gifted me at Christmas. I got some tannic water from the forest creek, and cranked it up. Soon, I was sipping instant coffee.
I relaxed while the boys yelled instructions to each other on the lake in the boat. As darkness set it, they came back to the cabin. We figured out the propane stove and got some heat in the cabin. Josh set up a tent in case we needed to sleep overflow outside, and I helped him with the set up and knots. A great young man from Long Beach, he’d not spent much time in the woods and wanted to learn. I got Mac and cheese going for dinner. It was the kind you need butter and milk, but their was no butter or milk. I just poured the cheese packets on the cooked pasta and stirred it up. The boys didn’t care. They were hungry and no parents to whine to.
Hooters were talking all across the little ridge across the lake. I noted it could be a good place to come up and hunt. Hike in day 1. Hunt day 2 and 3. Hike out day 4. Eventually, they got their bunks staked out and their sleeping bags set up. The scoutmaster and his son were on their way in the near dark to join us. The boys in the cabin were talking about all order of things. And making farting sounds and laughing like crazy. Josh and I had our sleeping bags on the floor and were immune to the banter. The scoutmaster and son showed up at just about pitch dark. The scouts heard them coming and went silent. As the scoutmaster came in and was trying to be quiet, I said the boys were nowhere close to asleep. At this, they scouts erupted and welcomed in the scoutmaster’s son and the yakking was back on.
I slept terribly on the hard floor and thin sleeping pad I knew would do little for padding as Sam was snoring in his bag with no pad at all. Kids are tough. As I turned over in the middle of the night, the back of my thigh cramped up bad. Took that about 10 minutes to finally not be on a hair trigger to cramp, and I got back to resting. I got little actual sleep but already saw this coming, so accepted it. I can do anything for a night.
Today we were all up early. The kids put their sleeping bags away, then were back out on the lake in the boat. Not a sore muscle in them. I got water going for instant coffee and popped more ibuprofen. Light rain and fog had sent in overnight. By mid morning, fog had rolled in from up the mountain, and you couldn’t see across the little lake. The boat back on the dock, and the kids ate breakfast and we packed up to leave. By the time we left at 11, the fog had lifted, the rain stopped, and it was going to be nice weather for the hike out. I was surprisingly spry and ready to go. The hike out was a lot easier. Downhill, but not too steep. We knew about how far we had gone and had to go by landmarks we noted coming in. The scoutmaster made frequent stops for rests and more yakking. I would catch up to the group, and keep going and they’d catch up again. I like to keep going. I don’t need rests as my knees can start to get stiff. When we hit the packed gravel, we knew we were close. Then we could hear and then see cars. We were back. The boys will remember this trip the rest of their lives.
Now, I get scouting.