Be prepared

Be prepared. It’s the Boy Scouts’ mantra.

Regardless of your political view about the Boy Scouts and their not-quite-as-popular-in-2014 policy of excommunicating gay scouts from their ranks, it’s difficult to argue against the benefits of being prepared.

Like a lot of American kids, I joined the Cub Scouts and participated in all of their life skills pack activities, like making crafts with leather and cheap bead jewelry and binding with Elmer’s glue, racing cars at the Pine Wood Derby, and eating cookies and milk during pack meetings.

That’s right. Mainly fun and games.

After Cub Scouts and Webelos (had to fit this quirky word into the story somewhere), it was time to graduate to the Boy Scouts.

Most of my friends’ parents were an outdoorsy bunch – campers, hikers, climbers. I loved the outdoors, but mainly for playing sports like soccer and football and games like Kick the Can and Hide & Seek. I never much considered sleeping outdoors unless it was the height of summer, much less in the middle of winter. In Washington, “height of summer” means a high of around 80 degrees, give or take.

Hence, I was a little “unprepared” for my first campout with the Boy Scouts that occurred in the middle of winter in the month of January in the beautiful setting of a place called Wiley Creek.

Mom and Dad had been divorced for a couple of years then, and my mom was therefore helping me prepare for my January night out with the boys from Troop 4xx. This should have been the first sign of trouble, but knowing virtually nothing myself about camping, I just went along with the plan (or lack thereof).

Naturally it was going to be cold, so Mom went to work putting together my “sleeping bag”. I quote the words sleeping bag because, while the intention was to serve as a sleeping bag, one could argue that a sleeping bag it was not.

Her idea of my “middle of winter” sleeping bag was to take an indoor sleeping bag that was barely qualified to keep one warm indoors and sew a standard bed blanket into it, stuff it into a black 32-gallon trash bag, and send me on my way.

For those of you who don’t know camping very well, compact, warm, and lightweight sleeping bags have existed for decades. And because scouts often hiked from campground parking lots to their camp sites (often a long distance), “true” scouts would load up a back pack with living essentials along with a lightweight (but warm) sleeping bag that could be conveniently attached to the bottom of their backpacks without sticking out. Easy peasy.

So there I was in the middle of January, mind you, hauling a grocery bag of living essentials and a very large 32-gallon trash bag with my “sleeping bag” to a 3-walled cabin in the middle of nowhere.

Shift your focus away from the word “cabin” above and refocus your eyes back to the term “3-walled”. Many people have never experienced a 3-walled cabin, but it’s just as you’d expect. A 3-walled cabin is 3 walls with an opening where a door would normally be. It also usually means plenty of “ventilation” to let the outside (cold) air circulate and ventilate the cabin.

When we finally reached our campsite after an exhausting hike from the parking lot – especially for those of us who were less than judicious in how we “prepared” for the campout – we set up our sleeping area in the cabins. Washington is not known for being as cold as Alaska or Montana, but I recall that night being one of the coldest I’d ever experienced – somewhere in the 20 degrees range.

I shivered my way through the night until morning came and somehow survived without losing any fingers or toes to frostbite. I’m sure it was close. As a newer scout, I and those newbies with me on this campout got to experience nature’s beauty, as well as her lack of mercy.

I now have my own kids learning life’s lessons through scouting, although they haven’t yet been sent out with jury-rigged camping equipment and unprepared for whatever nature might bring. We have different, perhaps more civilized ways of teaching them the¬†power of being prepared for just about anything.

For the record, I don’t harbor any hard feelings toward my mom, who thought she was doing what was best for me in cobbling together a makeshift sleeping bag with little more than spit and baling wire. She never was much of an outdoors(wo)man.

One thing she did help teach me, though, through my cold experience was the mantra “be prepared”, which took on a whole new meaning for me after that campout.