Of Scouts and Scouting (pt.1)

My hiking boots and Scout socks - 50 miler 1981 - original photo by Ron SimpsonThe Road Traveled

In 1975 my scouting career began when I joined Cub Scout Pack 254. About the time I advanced from Webelos into Boy Scouts we moved to another part of town, prompting the change to Troop 206. From 1979 until 1986 I traveled the trail from Scout to Eagle Scout and on to Asisstant Scoutmaster.

It’s The Journey Itself

Scouting was a big part of my life growing up. So naturally my memory of youth is filled with scouting related activities. My recollections of Cub Scouts are tied mostly to den meetings at leaders homes with the occasional pack meeting and events like Pinewood Derbies. I had a brief opportunity to visit with my Cub Scout Den Mother a couple of years ago and instantly flashed on her back yard and kitchen table where I spent my Wednesday afternoons for a couple years.

Advancement was important to Pack 254 and to Troop 254, though my time in Troop 254 was short. I remember always looking ahead at what was coming next and to get my next Rank. My mother and I moved from Willow Glen the summer of 1979 and I had only been a Scout for six months. The move was made while I was on a genealogy trip with my grandmother back to Kansas for the big family reunion. When we got back I was in a new apartment I had never seen before. I was there for a week when it was time to “ship out” on my first trip to scout camp.

Stress in the Sierras

Camp High Sierra has always held strong memories for me, some of great fun and accomplishment, and some of hardship and great stress. My first year at High Sierra was difficult. I had not transfered to my new troop yet and and so I had to go as a Solo Scout. My mother thought it would be a lot of fun for me to be at camp for two weeks rather than the traditional one week adventure.

Under normal circumstances she would have been right, but these were not normal circumstances. With my life being relocated while I was gone for six weeks, then coming home to a new and strange environment, finding a lot of my things gone/broken/damaged etc. and only having a week to process it all, then heading out as a new Scout to a camp more than three hours away from home with a bunch of strangers… It was, to say the least, a difficult time for me. After the first week I was ready to come home. A couple of pleading phone calls later relief was in site, my mother and aunt were on their way to pick me up.

You might think this soured me on summer camp but it turned out to be a lot of fun on reflection and I was lucky to have been able to see the situation for what it was, a difficult set of circumstances. As it turned out the next year at High Sierra was a lot of fun. I had a year to get to know my fellow scouts in Troop 206 and while I was one of the youngest scouts at that time I jumped in and made the best of it.

The following year I didn’t make it to High Sierra with the troop because I was working on staff at Camp Stuart in the Santa Cruz Mountains above Saratoga for the entire summer. While I liked working at Camp Stuart there wasn’t much opportunity for advancement and Troop 206 was strong on advancement at that time.

Keep Moving Forward

After a couple of years in 206 I had become established. The older scouts that were there when I had come in had moved on, Scoutmasters had changed out and I had been working my way through leadership positions in the troop and had been plugging away at new rank. 206 was with out a doubt a camping and advancement oriented troop. Once a month we were on a weekend camping trip. Each patrol was responsible for its own food and planning, and each trip had some skill building along with opportunities to move up the next rank.

Then it happened… The 50 Miler!

It was one of the Holy Grails of scouting. A 50 mile backpack trip that would take a week. Out in the middle of nowhere, if you got hurt, it was many hours and a helicopter ride before you would get to a hospital. Sound pessimistic? The Scout Moto is Be Prepared! It was a well planed and orchestrated event. We did several prep hikes on our monthly camping trips to get ready for the 50. One of my favorites was the 26 mile Skyline-to-the-sea hike. It began at the intersection of Highway 9 and Highway 35 in the Santa Cruz mountains down through Big Basin National Park and out to the Pacific Ocean north of Santa Cruz. It was a long and grueling 3 days, but well worth the effort.

I am and have always been a big guy. When traversing long distances it is the slowest person that sets the pace for the group. Most of the time I was that pace setter. Some times it was tough having that distinction, especially when some of the other guys felt bogged down. It was made clear on more than one occasion that some of my peers were not pleased with my pace, but I plugged on. The 50 was in the Emigrant Basin National Forrest and was a hike I will never forget. Reaching the turn around point was a huge relief. After making camp I had to lose myself for a little while and have a mini-breakdown before I could rejoin the group. On the way back out we stopped at a lake along the trail for a swim, a one mile swim, another of the Grail achievements. As exhausting as this trip was, it was a huge accomplishment for me.

The 50 Miler was a turning point. Up until then I didn’t have much of a sense of self, I felt as though I was the fat kid slowing everyone down. Completing the 50 AND the Mile Swim on the same trip made a huge difference in my self esteem. To my fellow scouts it was most likely not all that evident, but for better or worse, I was a different person after that.

The Long and Short of It

In the long run, Scouting has been very good to me. I have lasting friendships with fellow scouts and scout leaders to this day. There is more to this post but I am getting upwards of a eleven hundred words and at some point I need to get some “day job” work done today. For now I will leave you with…

To Be Continued…