Friday, June 27, 2008

Eagles Don't Make the Man

This has been an odd week for the family. Not only have we been working like mad on my daughter's new room, but she's been gone for all of it at summer camp. (We wanted to surprise her with the finished product. SO worth it! Pictures forthcoming.) She returned this afternoon and was thrilled.

For two and a half hours, the family was together again. We had a nice dinner, and then her brother left for a Scout hike and camp-out. It's like my family is fractured, and I have a feeling that the older (and more independent!) they get, the worse it's going to be.

But on to the point:

As I packed up my son's frame pack with the necessities, I was thrown back to the days when I went on Uintah hikes. I come from a family of campers. As in wilderness, roughing it, actual camping campers. None of this wimpy, drive-up-to-the-site-and-break-out-the-cooler stuff. Puh-leese.

My ward was the same. Every summer, the Young Women went on a week-long trip, leaving Monday morning for the High Uintahs, hiking every day to a new camp site, and coming home Saturday. Those were, quite literally, some of the most molding experiences of my adolescence. Some day I'll wax philosophical about the kinds of things I learned in the Uintahs, especially from our devoted leader, Brother T, but for now, I can't help but share a laugh.

Shortly after high school graduation, I went on a Uintah trip with some friends, along with an adult brother and father (neither mine) for supervision purposes. The group was mixed boys and girls, and I believe every male there was an Eagle Scout.

Hence, I assumed they knew what they were doing.

My first clue to the contrary was the fact that they were packing in at least half a dozen two-liter bottles of ice.

Two major problems with that.

First, do you have any idea how heavy ice is? There's a reason you're not supposed to try to carry more than twenty-five percent of your body weight. Duh.

Second, the Uintahs are covered with fresh springs. If you find a lake (and it's almost hard not to), you can find at least one, and likely several, springs running into it. Sure, you still boil the water to make it safe. You wouldn't drink it straight from the stream. But you sure as heck don't pack in your water when it's right there for the taking.

On the hiking portion, at every break, they'd take off their packs to rest. Okay, first off, that's a total waste of time (getting those things on and off is a bit of a pain). And provided you packed your trail mix in an outer pocket, you can either reach it yourself or have someone else get it for you without having to take off the whole pack.

But another (rather big) problem is that trying to put on a heavy pack while standing on a steep slope can throw your balance off and have you rolling down the mountain like an Oompa-Loompa. You just don't do it.

Then again, what do I know? I'm a girl. A non-scouter.

Then we reached the camp site. The Eagle Scouts got all dude-like and pushed us girls aside to let us observe their masculinity. They went in search of locations to set up the tents. I spotted several great spots, but none seemed satisfactory to them. In short order, they whipped out their camping shovels and began digging rocks out of the ground to make the site level.

In the Uintahs. Which is, by definition, a mountain with lots of angles. Where rocks practically grow on trees. You're trying to dig out all the rocks? Are you kidding me? Didn't you bring a foam pad to put your sleeping bag on? If you had, that would cushion the rocks, because I promise, you won't be getting any ground completely level out here without a bulldozer.

Meals were the biggest joke of all. They brought out heavy pans. (Again, um . . . is it any wonder big brother's hips and back were about to break? His pack must have weight ninety pounds!) They pulled out—and I only wish I were making this up—canned food. Why not pack gold bullion into your pack while you're at it? Might as well if you don't care about weight in a situation where every single ounce matters.

It was all I could do to keep myself upright and stop myself from crying out, "Anyone heard of Cup o' Soup? Ramen? Hot cocoa packets? Anything dehydrated? Freeze-dried? Lightweight?"

I almost looked around for the candid cameras hiding in the pine trees.

The trees had something else in store, though, because after dinner, the men decided we had to hoist all the packs into the pine trees, using ropes, to protect against the bears. I'm sure bears exist in the Uintahs, but I haven't seen any. And even if they do hang around camping areas, don't they, um, climb trees?

I shouldn't have been surprised when they pulled out canned peaches, actual eggs in their shells, and Spam for breakfast. Oh, golly. I had to bite my lips together into a tight line to keep myself from laughing hysterically.

All these years later (and we're approaching the two-decade mark), I still giggle when I think about that trip. They thought they were so darn cool, but in reality, they made the trip so much harder for themselves than they needed to. (I think there's a metaphor for life in that.)

To say I wasn't impressed with their Eagle Scout prowess would be an understatement.

So it was with great pleasure that I remembered my dad's classic know-how (Eagle, schmeagle; I have no idea if Dad earned his, although he probably did, but he knew what he was doing) on what to bring, how to pack it, and what not to put in the pack.

I even had my son stand on the home scale and weigh himself with and without the pack like we used to on the back porch to be sure it didn't weigh too much. We got it a few pounds under twenty-five percent. Perfect.

Scout leaders have the best of intentions, and I have no reason to believe that ours are the kind that lug Spam and ice into the mountains, but if my son's going to grow up to be a real camper—a real manly man—he'll benefit from Grandpa's tutelage.

So Dad, I can't wait until you're home again and we can take my two oldest on a real Uintah camping trip now that they're old enough for it. I'm counting down the days.


Annette Lyon said...

And a post-script: Readers of Lost Without You will now understand why I wrote about the Uintahs in it.

No research involved there. Hands-on experience, it was!

Anna Maria Junus said...

Two things, yes as your kids get older your family will get more fractured. It's part of the growing process of finding their own identity and lives. I speak from experience.

As for camping, I'm not a camper. Never have been and have no intention of ever becoming one. So years ago when my oldest were little my then husband went on a camping trip. He set up the kids tent in a spot that screamed to me that it wasn't a good place. It was in a dip. I protested, but what did I know since I'm not a camper and he is.

Sure enough, it rained that night and the tent was flooded. We had some very wet kids in our tent.

Shirley Bahlmann said...

Wow, I had no idea you were such an outdoor woman! What a funny, and informative, essay!

Sandra said...

Are you kidding me? Now, I am not a great camper, but my boys are masters at it. I learned about it because that's what good mamas do, right? I remember the competitions they would have to see who could get the lightest pack and still have what they needed.
And now, 2 of them are Marines and are great at packing all their gear.

Larsens said...

As I was hiking up the Y this past May, I was talking to our Scoutmaster who was telling me about their most memorable scouting trip to some Uintah lake a couple of years ago. All I remember about that story was that cast-iron skillets, tri-tip steaks and potatoes were involved. And these leaders are taking my boy to a scout camp? I have to make sure that no skillets or steaks are packed in his pack.

Julie Q. said...

This is such a funny story. You gotta love the spam and eggs breakfast. My husband is taking my oldest on the scouting campout this year and I can guarantee they'll be packing light. My husband is of the "all you need is the clothes on your back" philosophy when it comes to camping. I'm usually the one filling the cooler to the brim and taking 3 pairs of extra socks and 4 bottles of sunscreen just in case.

I love the Uintas, by the way. We go at least once a year (but we're wimps, I guess, cause we use the campgrounds). I do hate the mosquitoes though. Is it just me or do they get worse every summer?

Annette Lyon said...

Great stories! Thanks for sharing, everyone.

And Julie Q, I say that camping of any kind with young children is brave, even if it is the campground kind. No way have I introduced my little ones to the "real" kind. Even the campground kind is tough on young families. We haven't gone every year because we're too big of wimps!

charrette said...

Yeah I have a friend who did the entire Appalachian Trail -- TWICE. She shared some interesting tidbits about what and what not to pack, and what they discarded along the way. Fascinating lesson in priorities.

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

I'm way too big a wimp to take up camping with the kiddos. I hope I overcome that in time, but so far I'm still thinking a tent in the backyard should be good.


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