The best part of the time in Maine was when Mark, a local guide, and I paddled with a Boy Scout Troop for five days and four nights within Muscongus Bay. Mark asked me what we were getting ourselves into when he discovered that we were on the water with ten youths, 13 to 17 years old, and four adults. Mark was accustomed to paddling with active adults in their mid 30′s to 50′s. I assured him that it was going to be a relaxing ride in the country or it was going to be a roller coaster of torment. All I had to do was ask two questions. He was very puzzled with that statement.
We got to the boat launch unloaded the seven tandems, our single kayaks, and all of the kit. Then waited as we ate Wicked Whoopie Pies. Not to digress, but yum!
Everyone arrived in two large vans. We greeted them, I found out who the Scoutmaster was and asked my first question, “Could you introduce me to your Senior Patrol Leader?” He smiled and and quickly introduced me to their SPL. I introduced Mark and myself then asked the youth “what is your float plan for the next five days?” He grinned from ear to ear and said he has been looking over the charts for two weeks, he has a few places in mind for camping, and then wanted to know if he could organize the scouts to get the gear dispersed among the kayaks. After his answer I smiled to Mark and whispered “hold on you are in for a treat”.
I have been in the Boy Scouts since I was eleven. I have seen it all, the good, the bad, the understood, and the misunderstood. It is a volunteer organization that is created by volunteers and run by volunteers. And the things that motivate volunteers is as numerous and diverse as the people themselves. Luckily this was a troop organized around the philosophy that boys are to learn to be leaders. And adults are spotters only to be used for advice.
The youths had a plan. They quickly asked about the most efficient ways to pack their boats. And they understood my analogies about backpacking balance and weight distribution. In fifteen minutes, everyone had boats assigned, packed, and were ready for the float talk. Mark talked about safety, navigation, communication, and group management on the water.
The first morning we paddled in protected waters watching and coaching everyone on paddling. These youths comfortably paddled at a three mile an hour pace. This was a faster pace than Mark had planed on. We made it to Crow Island in no time. After landing I smiled at Mark and said “you will fall over backwards if the SPL responds to my next question in the way I think he will”.
We had plenty of time in the day to play but a few things had to be done and I wanted to see if the SPL, SM, and I were all on the same page. I commented to the youth that now we had gotten to the island ahead of schedule “what is the consensuses on how we should conduct ourselves this afternoon?” He scratched his temple and said “I think we should get camp ready for the night, get dinner prepped, and then if you and Mark are willing can we paddle more?” Wow, if only every troop was like this.
I have to say that as I reflect on this paddle it appears to be to good to be true. And the reality gets better…
After camp was set we discussed a plan and went searching for seals and found them. Unique mammals, seals are. Then it was back to the island for dinner. Some of the scouts had stayed at the island cooking. We were treated to some tasty vittles made in a box reflector oven. That’s right the guides did not cook. In fact the scouts even served us and washed our dishes, utilizing the patrol method. For every meal the youths were split into three groups: those who prepared the fire, those who cook, and those who clean up. With all of the organization and attention to detail these boys were more organized than most adults.
Then as the sun set I heard the sounds of boys. “Three, two, one…o’ no… too early…” silence “three, two, one…o’ no… too early…, silence “three, two, one…o’ no… too early… yeah!” Yes this was one of their nightly rituals. That, and skipping stones.
We stayed on Crow Island for two nights. We visited the waters around Thief and Cranberry island. And on day three we relocated camp to Black Island. That is where I finally decided after skipping rocks with the other leaders to go for a swim. So cold, the water was. I never felt water that cold. Well so I thought. December 31, 2012 Darren and I went whitewater kayaking down the Youghiogheny River in Pennsylvania. That is a story for the future.
On the last night I shared a treat with the scouts. Traditionally, the last night of every camp out I eat Jiffy-pop. I had a great time with these young men that I gave the SPL the Jiffy-pop to make. First words he uttered was “cool, we’ve never made popcorn on a camp out”. He walked away knowing that I just wanted a little popcorn. From the beach the other leaders and I could hear them discuss the directions. And then their excitement as it began to pop “it’s going to explode…quick take it off the stove!” Then to hear their dismay when they opened it only to realize that the steam had made the dome. Quickly they mashed down the foil and put it back on the stove. This resulted in an aromatic presence of scorched popcorn. I did get a sorry form the guys. I smiled and then told them the story of a few of my old scout friends melting an aluminum dutch oven, as I munched on scorched popcorn.
Two months later I got a package in the mail. It was from the Scoutmaster of that troop. In the package was a thoughtful letter and two Jiffy-pops. It was a very fun and rich time.
The package from the Boy Scout troop reminded me that it is the thoughtfulness and support of others that make every adventure possible. It is the support of family, friends, locals, training, and commonsense that make expeditions possible. A lot of my friends who have written about their adventures for magazines are always beholden to the desires of the editor. And the thing lacking is what sometimes happens at home while they are paddling.
I will post the rest of the story in five days: