So here’s a big disclaimer. Feel free to e-mail, text, or call with your righteous indignations at the following statements. But believe me when I tell you I do not care already.
Here it is. I have never been a fan of the Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts. My older brother was one, still not a fan. My son is one. Still not. I’ve never been woodsy and I am loathed to sell microwave popcorn for hours on end out front The Kroger. The fact the crates say “Gourmet Popcorn” but smell like moldy grass only emboldens my stance.
And since modern day Cub/Boy Scouts is predicated on being woodsy and indenturing first graders into selling popcorn curbside at The Kroger, count me out.
Of course having said all that, Frank loved Cub Scouts and he now loves being a Boy Scout. So while I am an ass, I have put my assiness aside to support my oldest offspring. If you need proof of that statement, and I sure would if I were you, behold! That’s me at The Crossover. Supporting my kid just like I said.
The Crossover is when Cub Scouts move on to become Boy Scouts. Honestly I didn’t think he wanted to do it. He said as much. But at the last minute with some prodding from his mother he decided to attend the Crossover ceremony and listen to the sales pitch from the scout leader of what would be his new troop. The millisecond he was told Troop 6 was the oldest troop in Knoxville and founded in 1915, the boy was sold. He is on such a history bender right now it’s tough to describe.
In the pic we’re about to fist bump after he’s crossed the bridge and met his new Troop. He’s telling me his new Troop is over 100 years old. He was stoked. And I have to say, my disdain for the Scouts was overwhelmed by my son’s happiness. And not for nothing, the kids handled the Crossover very well. They didn’t have to come, they just wanted to welcome Frank and the other two boys crossing over.
The young Scouts met Frank when he literally crossed over the bridge on stage as well as figuratively crossing over from Cub Scout to Boy Scout. They had a Troop 6 patch for his shirt and new neckerchief in hand as they met him on the other side of the bridge.
It helped to amp up what was fast becoming an emotional scene. Of course add to that the beaming look on Frank’s face when the two older boys shook his hand and very professionally welcomed him to the Boy Scouts and the eyes got misty. Mine not his.
Afterwards it was dinner time. That’s when I got the sales pitch. I was prepared with a few diatribes, rants, and all around general musings of Scouting in America. But I laid all that down. I had to. The kid was in. But the dude still pitched me anyway. It didn’t help. He gushed about the hiking and the camping and the hiking and the camping again, and more camping with some hiking. It was like he was daring me to go on a rant. And I don’t need much encouragement.
In a word – I don’t camp. The operative word there being don’t in case you’re not keeping up. And for those of you who know me, we didn’t camp in the Air Force either. I had turn down and pillow mints when I spent time in Central America. Air Force ain’t got no time for no camping.
Of course I just lied to you. Because on the first camping trip Frank’s new Troop had, I went. So apparently I do camp, or did camp, and might possibly be camping again. Mr. Levy, my freshman year English teacher from high school, would be proud of my conjugation efforts there I think. Maybe not.
Anyway so yeah, I hiked and camped all in one trip. I got nature on me. Had to. I made a decision right there on that stage when my son came directly over to me after getting his new patch and neckerchief with a huge smile and look of pride, that I would support his scouting for as long as he wanted me to. No matter how much I disliked it.
I folded, caved, gave in. I’m soft, I know it. And that was a problem for various reasons.
First of all, the Saturday morning of the hike to the camp site it was 30 warm hugging degrees when we gathered in the church parking lot to depart as a group. What was billed as one of the most active Troops in Tennessee was a little light on adult attendance I noticed. Below freezing temps will do that to a person. As will the knowledge that 30 degrees was the warmest it was going to get that day.
No matter, Frank was in so that meant I was too. And off we went. The drive to the Ranger Station and trail head was twice as long as the hike would take. The drive took us through Dayton Tennessee and the hiking/camping area was not far from Dayton. Any of you history nerds care to hazard a guess as to the significance of that? Google the Scopes Monkey Trial and get back to me.
We had already checked all our gear, but we did another quick inventory when we yanked the packs from the trunk and we were good. I have to admit we got some cool stuff. Frank got his first real knife to call his own. I busted out some of the stuff that somehow never got turned in when I retired 11 years ago, carried my father’s small ditty bag from his days as an Army draftee in 1950, and a zip lock bag loaded with chik-fil-a. Man we were set. I was actually feeling good about it. Temp still had not breeched 30 degrees.
The hike it self was uneventful. About a mile and half, maybe a tad longer, barely uphill until the final 200 or so yards to the camp site. We were warm from the hike though. My pack weighed in at 47lbs, Frank’s at 22lbs. I was told by the scout leader 45 to 50lbs was about normal. That sounded heavy to me but what do I know.
Guess what, it was heavy. Frank’s was too but that kid could have carried mine he was so damn happy. He had his own tent because he wanted to be on his own like the high school kids in the troop. I get it, no problem. And because we practiced setting the up the night before we left, we had them up in short order.
Frank was a part of six new boy scouts to the troop, so while the older kids went on a five mile hike, Frank and the other newbies stayed in camp. That time was filled with lessons on the basics of camping, caring for the environment, scouting history, knife and fire safety and so forth. The guy did a great job and most of the six participated and did well. Of course Frank didn’t speak up until the history of the Scouts came up. Then he plowed through the questions. Another proud moment.
Then it started getting colder. Looked at my weather app and it said 26 degrees. I decided not to look at my weather app anymore. My mind was calculating how cold it could get when the sun actually goes down and what effect that may have on the sleeping part of the entertainment.
On the ground if you aren’t following, we were essentially sleeping on the ground. Yeah I had a sleeping bag rated to below zero, and by the way that became an issue. And yeah I had a “mat” under the bag, but lets not be aristocrats here. That mat was not making the frozen ground one wit more comfortable for a 225lb full grown man. But really the ground was not the issue.
It was the freaking cold! That was the issue. I was tucked in my bag fully dressed save my boots. I had a hat and gloves on and a face mask. A very cool looking face mask I might add. And since I have been trained by your tax dollars, I had the next days clothes I was gonna wear packed in the sleeping bag with me. I did put on clean clothes to sleep in. I had gone through various stages of sweating and not sweating in the clothes I wore all day. Figured it would feel better with clean clothes on and it did. Plus I hung them over the fire right before I changed into them.
A father actually asked me “Won’t they reek of smoke?” Yeah man they will, but I’m good with that. What I wanted to say was Bro, its south of 25 degrees and we ain’t done. There is not a cloud in the night sky which means any heat left in the sub atmosphere is rapidly escaping the earth. Meaning whatever real temp it gets down to, it will feel colder than that. Smoke filled clothes is the very least of our worries right now.
But he was a really nice guy and was probably worried more about his kid than anything and I was likely overreacting to the impending ice age, so I bit my lip. Frank seemed unaffected. I felt like I should worry more about him but he was so damn happy. He changed, bundled himself in his bag, and was out. Kids.
It was cold man. Laying on the ground letting the cold drain your life away is not a lot of fun. The area around my eyes was the only exposed part. Opening my eyes was not good either as I could feel my eyeballs immediately get cold. Such a weird sensation. In the morning I had another issue. I had basically stood up all day. Even by the fire and during the big dinner and camp skits the boys put on, I was standing up.
That became a problem when I tried to get up and get out of the tent the next morning. My calves and thighs literally gave up.
Yeah screw you man, we have gone as far as we can carry you my friend. You got your last click out of us.
And down I went, into the leaves. On my face. Like a struggling turtle in the heat of the sun, except in the freezing damn cold and in reverse. I flipped over from my face onto my back. That’s when I saw it.
Why the hell is the top of my tent all white? And why does my face feel frozen but burning? Well the tent, which I thought would be useless, acted as a barrier to the decent layer of frost that settled on the area. That frost would have been on me without the tent. So the tent did it’s job. Lesson learned.
My face burned because the small area under my eyes left uncovered, my cheek bones I guess, was also frosted over. These revelations aside, I still needed to pee. I was still on my back in the leaves. I needed my legs. It was gonna be a tough morning.
Finally got my legs under me, took care of all morning ablutions and got the fire going. I received a few kudos from the veteran parents who were there. I had the fire rolling by the time they all got up. They made breakfast for everyone and we broke camp. By the time we policed up the grounds and doused the remains of the fire it was 60 degrees.
We were sweating like pigs when we made it to the car. For some reason we both laughed as we loaded everything in the trunk. Not sure why.
Also important to note, I may be soft but I’m not dumb. I left shorts and t-shirts in the car for us to drive home in. Man that felt so good. Like taking off your boots after skiing all day.
We talked about Dayton as we drove through town, knocking down fries and shakes from the local establishment. He was riveted about the history of Dayton, astonished it was only an hour from our house. We talked about the events of what we just went through together, laughed hard about me laying in the leaves and a lot of other stuff. Even cussed a little.
Anyway then we had to call Mrs Frank’s Place to tell her we survived and that we had slept in 16 degree weather, the lowest temperature point during the night. I let a few four letter words slip, as is my Modis Operandi, and was scolded immediately.
Frank blurted out, We’re mountain men now mommy this is how we talk! I supported with an Amen Brother! Then hung up the phone. We went back to our fries and our walk through history.
We’re mountain men now, that’s what we do.