Sunday, November 23, 2014

Summer Camp at Blackhawk – Day 2: Wilderness Survival

Now, this was the day I was dreading and the one the boys were looking forward to. As part of the requirements for Wilderness Survival, we and to make our own sleeping structure from items we found on the ground. No axes, no hammers, and no tents were allowed. Although, the merit badge pamphlet stated we could we a tarp to avoid sleeping wet.

The BSA was also trying to advocate leave no trace camping so we could not cook any food. We had to eat whatever was in our packs and we had out to haul out all garbage. Indeed, after we left, the campsite had to look more natural than it did before we got there. Well, we didn’t do well with that part of the requirement, as you will see.

Orrin came up that day as he knew a place near our campsite that we could hike to so we would not be tempted to make our way back to our tents at night. The hike was about 2 miles and was not overly difficult. We were in no rush. In fact, the more time we took the better as I had no idea what to do with the boys once we got to our destination.

Well, I didn’t need to plan anything. Once we got to our designated site, the boys took to the task of making their improvised shelter. Now, you would think maybe a small lean-to or something quite rustic and simple would do for the boys. But no, not for these boys. They decided to build a wilderness condo.

They spent hours locating logs, large and small, that they would carry or roll to their build site. They found loose grass that they could use as thatch to cover the roof.  They caked mud on the walls of the outside of their structure to seal it from the elements. Only late in the process did thy discover that some of the gunk they were using was not really mud. It soon became apparent that we were in the middle of a cow pasture.

Well, needless to say, the boys didn’t smell too good that night. But the fresh cow pies and happy flies that soon surrounded them did not deter these boys. They were having the time of their lives. When they finished, they built a structure that fit all four boys and their gear quite comfortably.

After we ate our scanty meal, all they wanted to do was go to bed. I thought about the whole ghost story thing, but there was no need to scare them into bed, they were excited to go. So, after dinner, Orrin and Burt left and there I was in the middle of nowhere with my little scout troop.

Now, part of the whole joy of this experience was that I had no tent as well. I was roughing it just like the boys were. I had no intention of sleeping anywhere near the cow pie condo. Instead, I brought a large tarp. I located a tree that had a large root structure and found a perfect “bed” between two large roots. I put my large tarp between the roots, laid down on top of the tarp and wrapped it completely around my body.

So, there we were the boys in cow pie condo and me in my tarp between the roots. I didn’t care how long the boys stayed awake so the babbled for hours. As they were talking and I was wondering what I was doing wrapped in tarp on the damp ground with occasional spider walking across my face. In my misery, I looked up and saw that the stars were gone.

This was all before the day of instant access to information. I had no idea we were going to be in the middle of a rain storm. I heard the initial ran drops hitting against my tarp. I prayed that we would be spared the ferocity of a summer thunder storm. We had nowhere to retreat to. Orrin and Burt were comfortably in their beds at home and I had no idea how to get back to camp in the middle of the night. To be honest, I had no idea how to get back in the middle of the day.

Soon, those few drops became a steady rain followed by a deluge. Now, I could use my tarp to keep the rain off my head and the rest of me was fairly dry. But the boys were not so lucky. The downpour proved too great for the thatched roof and manure lined wall. I heard an awful creaking sound followed by a loud crash. The cow pie condo collapsed.

Now, this could have been tragic as some to the logs they used to build their structure were quite large. But the roof had been leaking so bad prior to the collapse the the boys were all outside the structure before it came tumbling down. However, all their gear was now covered by thatch, logs, and manure. To add to the misery, it was about 3:00 a.m. and all they owned was now wet.

Luckily, soon after the fall of the manure mansion, the rains stopped. Another advantage to this deluge was that the boys who once smelled of manure and sweat were now cleaned by the storm. We were able to work together to get all their gear. From the remains of the now defunct building they were able to construct four smaller lean-tos that sheltered them from the series of storms that followed that night.

We were all glad when the sun came up. We were wet, tired, and hungry. Orrin and Burt were somewhat concerned about us during the night, so they arrived onsite very early. With Burt being the only one who knew exactly how to get backed to camp, we are trapped until his return. So we were all glad when they arrived early.

Orrin took all our rain-soaked and manure covered gear in his truck and brought with him a poncho for each of us. Orrin was just good that way. After a small breakfast, we donned our ponchos and made our way back to camp. But the way back was not so easy. The rain turned the path to a river of mud which soon covered us from head to toe. Burt was at the front leading the way and I was at the end making sure that no one fell behind.

On two occasions I lost my footing and rolled down the path a few yards to the delight of my troop. After my first graceful fall, try as I could, I was unable to convince the boys to keep looking forward. They wall wanted to watch me fall down the path again. I accommodated them, on accident, of course, and they loved every minute of it.

Needless to say, by the time we made it back to camp, we were all ready to clean up and rest. But, in spite of it all, it was a great adventure. One that the boys will never forget and that will likely become a much more dramatic experience as the years go by. 

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