I was a boy scout many moons ago. A friend from school was doing it and his mom convinced me that I should join too. I think I went to a few troop meetings but it was right towards the end of the year. Consequently my first trip was summer camp. I remember one of the troop leaders coming over to the house talking about the trip. I wasn’t too sure about it since I didn’t really know anyone but I agreed and a week or so later we were off to Kittatinny Scout camp.
We stayed in one of the tent sites and as I had no tent of my own, I stayed in the camp’s tents. They looked like they could have been left over army surplus canvas tents pitched over wooden platform bases. The insides were crawling with huge daddy longlegs and various other bugs. There were leeches in the lake, the food was bad and we had one kid go to the hospital because his bug bites got infected. My friend nearly cut his hand to the bone working on his woodworking merit badge. I took him to the nurse and her “treatment” was to dump half a bottle of alcohol onto the gash and then wrap it in gauze and send us on our way. It was fairly horrifying for a kid of 10 and needless to say I didn’t put much effort into earning many merit badges.
When the new year started in September things started to fall into a routine. Scout meetings during the week and camping trips once a month. We had our meetings at the elementary school most of us had gone to. During our meetings we’d work on merit badges and scout craft. We’d also get a break during the meeting, maybe a half an hour or so. It’s hard to remember back that far. The cool thing was though we’d play manhunt outside or dodge ball or some other rough and tumble thing.
Most of our camping trips were two-day affairs. We’d head out on Saturday, set up camp and then maybe do some activity together. We made our own dinners and then we were left to our own devices. We’d play manhunt at night or lie out and watch the stars. Of course the big draw was having a fire and roasting marshmallows. Then we’d pack everything up Sunday and go home. A few of our trips though were longer and usually scheduled around holidays.
Our first long trip was hiking up in the Appalachian Mountains during Thanksgiving break. It was usually pretty cold and a few years we had snow on the ground. It was a fun trip but grueling. It’s funny, during the year you’d forget about how much work it was doing all that hiking. The talk always revolved around what this or that person did or what cool thing we found. Then once we got back up there the following year it was like aw shit, this again.
Midwinter campout was usually around Christmas break. For those trips we stayed in cabins. The first few years were at Kittatinny and one of the things we’d do was go ice fishing on the lake. I don’t recall ever catching anything but I guess it kept us occupied. There were snowball fights of course and taking guys sleeping bags out into the snow. We’d also play games, chess, checkers and a guy brought Axis and Allies one year. Pretty sure the game took all weekend. At some point we changed locations and the new place had an awesome hill we used for sledding. There was also a creepy abandoned house on the top of that hill. Some of the guys would hide up there at night and wait for us to bring the younger kids up so we could scare the shit out of them.
The last real big trip we took was around Memorial Day weekend. We would go canoeing down the Delaware River. Some years the water was so cold you were scared to fall out or have someone tip you over. Other years it was just perfect. There was one campsite that had one or two lean-tos. At the end of the night we’d all pile in while the smoldering embers of the fire cast a subtle glow. One year we had a raccoon sitting at the front of the lean-to looking in. Another time a skunk walked straight past.
When I aged out I continued to go hiking and camping because I really enjoyed being outdoors. I had never really cared about badges and ranks, I got to hang out in the woods with my friends and sit around a fire. Things I still enjoy today.
That’s where I was today, out on a hike and while my body was grinding out a few miles my mind was doing it’s own wandering which has lead us here. A lot of guys would start yelling about picking up heavy stuff or telling you to get outside right about now. Yes hiking is great exercise and yes I do go to the gym but for me hiking or camping isn’t about the physical activity or being outside per se. It’s really about the spiritual connection.
What does that mean you may ask?
For me, and I would wager for many others, it’s the ultimate way to disconnect and reground myself. When I feel myself get out of balance I know I need to get up to the mountain. It’s the only thing to fix it. That grounding allows me to be able to reconnect with myself in a deep and meaningful way. To be outside surrounded by nature, by life, every being living in it’s own moment unconcerned about what happened before or what might happen next. There’s nothing like it.
We’re bombarded everyday by so much sensory input that it can be overwhelming. Even if you’re home in your quiet house relaxing reading a book. The fridge is humming, your AC is running, your TV is buzzing, and you don’t even realize it. When you get out in the woods it all falls away and it’s quiet. The wind whispering through the leaves, the gentle gurgling of a creek, The skree of a hawk gliding on the wind, the chattering of a squirrel, and sometimes a silence so complete that you can hear a single leaf drop on the ground.
Take the time to find yourself and reconnect.