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The Great Outdoors

May 24, 2010

By all measures, including the most reliable — the volume of dirt adhered to the skin — the camping trip was a big success. It was looking a little iffy on the drive down. Okay, a lot iffy. The torrential rain was so bad, we had to pull off the road and we got soaked to the skin walking approximately 4 feet from the car into the McDonald’s where we stopped for dinner to wait it out. Then there was the cloud that began to look suspiciously funnel-like. And then there was one spectacular rainbow and we drove through it and out the other side.

We stayed at a Boy Scout camp built in 1940 on 250 acres along the Rock River. Mr. Spy and AJ and I spent our second anniversary at a state park near there, shortly after we moved out here. But I haven’t been back in a while. I start to think we live in a fairly rural area until I drive someplace like that where the gentle hills of farms stretch as far as you can see, broken up only by stands of trees along the many streams that flow through the area. We drove through many small towns that had grown up along a railroad line. Judging from the size and age of the buildings, it looked like it was quite a prosperous area around the turn of the 20th century. We arrived at the camp around 7:30, registered, and found our campsite, which turned out to be one of the closest ones to the only flush toilets in the place. Huzzah! We set up our tent in about 10 minutes and borrowed a wagon to haul the rest of our gear from the car. For most of the rest of the evening, AJ and his friends ran around the camp playing capture the flag, while I sat in front of our tent listening and reading. It was lovely.

This campout was just for fourth and fifth grade boys with a parent and from my estimations, just about every fourth and fifth grade boy in our county must have been there. One of the camp leaders said the camp was designed for about 200 people but that there were more than 700 there for the weekend. Consequently, our tents were very close together. But we were able to set up facing the side of a long cabin with a tree on one side of us and an open aisle on the other side, so we had more privacy than some. Still, when it was time for bed, it became clear that we were all very close together: we were surrounded by loud snorers. And I’d forget the earplugs.

We were all up with the birds by 6 on Saturday morning. We had coffee and oatmeal and headed out for a day of activities. Activities for the boys, that is. The parents mostly just tagged along. At 7:45 we met by the flagpoles and the miniature Statue of Liberty for the opening ceremony and the raising of the flag. Then we headed to the first station of the day: Scientist. Each of the seven stations were set up to help the boys work on achievement patches. This first station was run by one of the leaders of a den of younger boys in our pack. I don’t know him well, but he’s one of my favorite people I’ve met through boy scouting — smart and enthusiastic without being overly gung-ho. He ran through a whole bunch of physics experiments and managed to talk to them about Newton and Bernouilli without their eyes glazing over. They got to try, among other things, turning a spinning bicycle wheel, trying to pick up a ping pong ball from water using the air pressure in an upside-down plastic cup, and spinning a bucket of water around with their arm without the water falling out. My favorite, though, was his explanation of how lift works on airplanes. He drew a picture and showed how the air flowed around the wing and that it had farther to go on one side than the other. He had the boys form two lines. Then two by two, they had to race to a tree. The catch was that the boys in one line ran straight for the tree, but the other line of boys had to take a specified longer route, but they had to arrive at the same time. The boys were able to see that one line had to move much faster than the other in order to arrive together. Plus they got to run around.

The next station was Forester. For this one, we hiked along a trail of signs emblazoned with fairly neutral Bible verses strung out Burma-Shave style until we got to the chapel, a tiny A-line shelter fronted by rows of wooden benches. We sat on the benches while some adult leaders and a couple of older Boy Scouts talked about area trees. Then we went for a short hike in the woods where we discovered there were massive amounts of poison ivy. This was AJ’s least favorite session of the day because the information was not new to us. But we both enjoyed the walk.

From there we moved on to Archery, a key event at any scout camp. AJ always looks forward to it, but also gets frustrated by it because he has trouble getting the arrows to go where he wants to go and he doesn’t have enough time to practice. This was my least favorite event of the day because there was entirely too much sitting around. The boys had to go up in small groups to shoot 3 arrows. Each boy got to go up twice. But the boys spent most of the time waiting and they were bored and getting tired and hungry. Fortunately, from archery, we went back to camp for a rest and some lunch — hot dogs for everyone. They all perked up after that.

In the afternoon, our first station was Compass. This was probably my favorite of the day, mainly because I thought the teachers were really good. The boys learned to read a topographical map and use a compass. We also learned a little about different kinds of compasses, how they work, what kinds of adjustments need to be made (and how you can find out what the adjustments are from a good map) and how to make a compass from a magnetized needle and a bowl of water. Then we went to a roped-off ring. Along the edges were posts with letters on them. Each boy/parent pair was handed a piece of paper, different for each pair, with a letter for where to start and then a list of degrees. Starting from the post with the letter on our paper, we had to set the degrees on the compass and find the next post and write it on our sheet. Some of the posts were quite close together, so accuracy was important. It took us too tries to get it right. We learned that we had to be standing in just the right spot with our compass to get it right. We also discovered that someone’s camera, laid a little too close to the ring, was messing with the compass needles on one side.

From there, we went to Athlete, which was the clear favorite for all the boys. There were a bunch of games that we were supposed to do in parent/kid pairs — a three-legged race, a race on woodblocks where both the pairs right feet were on one block and both left on the other, Tug of War and an obstacle course. The parents tried gamely, but the kids soon gave up on us and most of them ended up tearing through the obstacle course on their own over and over again.

By the time Athlete was finished, everyone was hot and tired and a little grateful that we got to move inside for a video about native plants and animals. Then we went for a short scavenger hunt and the boys played a game demonstrating what happens when flyways are interrupted with buildings or pollution.

Then we headed to the last session of the day, Knots. This was classic boy scout. The boys and parents got to learn (or, in my case, have my memory refreshed) how to tie a two half hitch and a taut line. Then the boys were divided up into three groups. Each group was given a tarp, two poles, some tent stakes, and a bunch of short pieces of rope. They then had to build a shelter using the knots they’d learned. The three groups raced each other and despite some initial setbacks, AJ’s group won and had the pleasure of lording it over the others.

Afterwards, we headed back to the campsite where the boys were put to work making dinner for themselves and their parents — foil packets of hamburger and chopped vegetables that were cooked in a fire pit that they built. After dinner, everyone got cleaned up (although I use the term “cleaned up” rather loosely) and the boys put on their uniforms. Then we all headed back to the flagpoles for the closing ceremony and on to a nearby hillside for a campfire at which each and every pack performed a skit. This was not quite as painful as it sounds (although it was close). Some of them were downright unsettling, including one where a bunch of Cub Scouts pretended to stab and shoot each other with sticks ending with a “punch line” of a couple of kids blowing them away with a log-as-bazooka. And then there was a version of this skit (apparently, after a search on UTOOB, quite common) which went on for 15 minutes — about 14 and a half minutes too long:

AJ’s pack’s skit, which did have enforced parental participation as I had feared, was at least mercifully short.

After the campfire, we headed back to our own site where the boys ran around for a while in the dark with flashlights, tried to spot constellations through the trees, finally ended up telling each other ghost stories around the fire until the adults got tired and packed them off to bed, where we all crashed quickly.

We were up at 6 again to pack up and head home. We saw a wild turkey on the way out. It was the only real piece of wildlife we saw on the trip. I’m pretty sure the sheer number and loudness of that many boys in one place sent any sensible animals running for cover.

AJ and I both napped in the afternoon, he in his room, me in front of reruns of The Monkees. Then we headed to AJ’s baseball game which they won soundly 17-5 — their first really big win.

And now this morning I was awakened by the buzzing of low-flying planes spraying for Gypsy Moths at 6:30. AJ slept right through it, fortunately. And now there are generators buzzing next door, where they are doing some kind of construction project or another. I’m missing even the snoring. After breakfast, AJ came into my room where the camping gear was all piled up to be put away in the storage area.

“Mom?”

“Yes?”

“Can we go camping again next weekend?”

My work here is done.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. May 24, 2010 11:08 am

    You can’t have Scout Camp without archery.

    I was in Western Illinois last week visiting a client. They said the rain hasn’t stopped in a while. Has it really rained that much down there?

  2. freshhell permalink
    May 24, 2010 11:18 am

    Whew! Glad it went well and there was no downpour during the camping. It rained off and on all weekend here but it was welcomed. And the garden is quite happy.

  3. May 24, 2010 11:20 am

    There’s been a lot. It’s been dry since Friday, but we’ve had nearly 8 inches of rain this month — that varies quite a bit even locally, because of the nature of the storms. That’s more than double the average and the month isn’t even over yet. The last really big rainfall a couple of weeks ago — nearly 4 inches in less than 24 hours — came when the ground was already saturated by a lot of steady rain and resulted in some of the worst local flooding I’ve seen in the 8 years we’ve lived here. That said, the river levels, while high, have been much worse on several occasions.

  4. readersguide permalink
    May 24, 2010 1:45 pm

    Oh, I love camping. REI was having a sale this weekend so I got a new pair of hiking boots and a new sleeping bag for Maddy – her last one was a short kids’ bag and she is now 5’10.5″ so I guess it’s time. But now I really want to go camping. Maybe for my birthday.

  5. teranika permalink
    May 24, 2010 1:59 pm

    What a cool weekend! Sounds like it was fabulous. I remember the archery at Girl Scout Camp, but we never got to camp outside. We were always in bunks. I wonder if that was just a peculiarity of Camp Beaver (Yes, it was really called Camp Beaver), or if the girl scouts simply don’t get to camp.

  6. May 24, 2010 2:10 pm

    I don’t know that I ever camped in tents as a Girl Scout either, although maybe I did once while living overseas. The Boy Scouts definitely seem more outdoors oriented in general. Lots of survival skills and athletic events. Although after a certain point, they are also expected to sew well enough to put their badges on their uniforms themselves. Of this I entirely approve.

  7. readersguide permalink
    May 24, 2010 2:24 pm

    In my experience, the girls scouts never got to do anything interesting. I don’t think we ever went camping.

  8. May 24, 2010 3:21 pm

    Hi, Ms. Spy, I was in what I think must be your neck of the woods a couple of weeks ago. At a restaurant after our expedition, the table of three men and two women next to us talked about weather, rain, rivers, and floods in a way that made me think it must be a favorite local topic that they are expert on! After reading your blog, it seemed kind of what I expected!

  9. May 25, 2010 11:12 am

    This is the third year running where the spring rainfall has been astonishing. Talking about flooded basements has become a way of life!

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