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12/01 Direct Link
Excitement hung thick in the air. The afternoon air, crisp even for mid-October, felt great against my skin, flushed with the anticipation of this weekend. When the last of the gear and food filled every available nook and cranny, it was time to see if we could fit into the remaining available space. “Everyone in?” asked Steve Eaton, school recreational specialist, wrestling coach, and wanna-be scoutmaster. As he spoke, he did a silent head count. Satisfied, he slid the van door shut and climbed in the driver’s seat. The cast of characters were set and the adventure was ready to begin.
12/02 Direct Link
The two hour ride was what would be expected. The first half hour was filled with most of the boys teasing Darrell, a slightly pudgy boy, about standing close to the campfire when he farted. After one such scathing comment from me, Mr. Eaton looked over at me, smirking when he said that I was the last person who should talk about clearing a tent. Things soon calmed down and the van was quiet save for the occasional chattering amongst the boys about what the weekend. I pulled out a book and was soon lost within its pages.
12/03 Direct Link
We were less than twenty minutes away when we all heard a loud pop. Mr. Eaton pulled the van slowly to the side of the road and shut down the engine. He and the assistant scoutmaster, Henderson, a student himself, climbed out to investigate. It only took a matter of moments before we heard Mr. Eaton shout a string of invectives that I am quite sure were not in the Boy Scout handbook. Popping his head in through the passenger-side window, Mr. Eaton said, “We’re gong to be here for a bit, guys. Everybody needs to stay in the van.”
12/04 Direct Link
Telling us to stay in the van was like a girl asking a twelve year old to look her in the eyes as they talked. Nice idea, but wasn’t likely to happen. Within three minutes, all except one or two who were sleeping, hovered around Mr. Eaton and Henderson as they started changing the flat. It wasn’t difficult to figure out why some of us disembarked, the spectacle gave us something to kill the time. I never could figure out why guys who were totally blind got out of the van. What were they expecting, Howard Cossell with the play-by-play?
12/05 Direct Link
Two hours, and several expletives, later, we arrived at our boy scout Shang-Gri-La. Only a few minutes of light remained in the night sky. We boogied out of the van and, those of us with adequate vision, helped in the unpacking of the gear. Once everything was set aside, Mr. Eaton handed Henderson the van’s keys asked him to park it out of the way. Handing the keys for a state vehicle to a young man who was a student at the School for the Blind is a decision that still rocks me with an ironic mirth to this day.
12/06 Direct Link
It wasn’t until we heard the crash that it occurred to anyone that giving Henderson the keys might be a bad idea. We all rushed over to see what had happened and found the van nicely parked, with the exception of the tree limb now sticking through the back window. Henderson had vision, but seems he was a little short on depth perception. Once he had determined that the only damage done had been to the van, Mr. Eaton turned with a somewhat sick look on his face and herded us back to the task of putting up our tents.
12/07 Direct Link
It must have taken us an additional two hours to get our tents to even resemble what they should have been. Much of the problem was due to the fact that we were missing a few bits and pieces that were crucial to the tent’s construction. I didn’t really care, the tent I was staying in had actually been one of the ones properly put together. Exhausted and frustrated, Mr. Eaton said that we would finish up the last two tents in the morning. Four boys without places to sleep were squeezed into other tents. Suddenly, I wasn’t so amused.
12/08 Direct Link
Only three others were awake when the crispness of the morning air slapped me rudely in the face. Henderson, still looking somewhat groggy himself, had just finished starting a new fire in the middle of the campsite. Although there was a public toilet nearby, I chose some bushes at the edge of camp to do at least one of my morning tasks. I liked living on the wild side. I wasn’t supposed to pee in public and you never knew what was going to come out of the woods and take a bite out of you. Quite the rebel, eh?
12/09 Direct Link
When I returned to the main campsite I found that more of my fellow campers were awake and stumbling around, trying to cope with the morning. Seeing the fire unattended, I got a completely brilliant idea. Rushing into my tent, I grabbed my duffel bag and dug through it. Having found the desired item, I scooted back out and made my way back to the fire. I took my new little treasure and tossed it into the crackling blaze. I began picking hands full of leaves and heaping them over the blaze. If nothing else, the morning would be interesting.
12/10 Direct Link
Once the leaves were on the fire, I made a mad dash for the other side of the small clearing. Within thirty seconds, a tremendous boom shattered the early morning and a volcanic tower of leaves rose into the air. Anyone who had been in their tents before the explosion were standing outside fifteen seconds later. I was lying on my side laughing so hard that my laughter became nearly inaudible, more gasps for air than simple mirth. A few of the older campers started laughing as well as soon as they realized the world was not nearing its end.
12/11 Direct Link
We were all still laughing when the van we had arrived in came whizzing into the camping area, the driver slamming the brakes, nearly spinning the van as it stopped. Mr. Eaton jumped out, leaving the driver side door open, and rushed toward a large group of us standing near the fire. “What happened? Is anyone hurt? Where’s Henderson?” Before we could respond, Henderson rushed out of one of the tents. He and Mr. Eaton stepped out of earshot. Mr. Eaton’s body language was very animated while Henderson seemed to be doing his best to calm the older man down.
12/12 Direct Link
I knew things were not going to turn out well when I saw Henderson point a finger in my direction and I saw Mr. Eaton’s expression when he turned to face me. I had not hesitated in admitting that I was the one responsible and even took bit of pride in how spectacular it had been. Now, though, I was beginning to rethink the wisdom of taking credit. Roger Eaton had an Italian temper and was built like a pit-bull. As broke from Henderson and headed my way, I could tell he was building up a good head of steam.
12/13 Direct Link
“What the hell were you thinking you were doing?” I was too busy quaking in my boots to come up with a reply, witty or otherwise. “Don’t you know that you could’ve hurt or killed someone pulling a stupid stunt like that? Not to mention scaring the crap out of me and almost causing me to have an accident.” When he said this last thing, a smirk broke his solemn expression and I knew he was more frightened than angry. He looked at Henderson, “Although if I had had an accident, it would’ve done a good job covering for someone else.”
12/14 Direct Link
“What the hell were you thinking you were doing?” I was too busy quaking in my boots to come up with a reply, witty or otherwise. “Don’t you know that you could’ve hurt or killed someone pulling a stupid stunt like that? Not to mention scaring the crap out of me and almost causing me to have an accident.” When he said this last thing, a smirk broke his solemn expression and I knew he was more frightened than angry. He looked at Henderson, “Although if I had had an accident, it would’ve done a good job covering for someone else.”
12/15 Direct Link
Now we had all the groceries we would need for the weekend, but just had no idea what it actually was going to be. Would it be stewed tomatoes for breakfast or waffle mix for our dinner. Only the Gods and a man with a can-opener would be able to tell us. For now, we dealt with a few items that had not come in large metal drums. We had eight cartons of eggs, and five pounds of bacon. I offered to help with the breakfast, but was discouraged from getting too near an open flame. Geez, I don’t know why?
12/16 Direct Link
Not having gone on a lot of camping trips, either before this one or since, I learned at least one thing from this weekend – the outdoors suck. Give me a Motel 6 or a Holiday Inn anytime over a tent. As far as the idea of “living off the land” goes, unless the land includes a MacDonalds or a Dairy Queen, I ain’t stayin’ in the neightborhood. For those of you who live for this kind of life, God bless you. I will honor nature and enjoy nature as much as any of you….as long as there is a whirlpool at the end of the day.
12/17 Direct Link
It did not take long before breakfast was prepared and greedily consumed. I was thankful that that particular chore was not part of my punishment. I wolfed down my portion of eggs and bacon, blissfully blocking out the drudgery that was soon to follow. As soon as the last camper had cleaned his plate and left to get ready for the day’s activities, Mr. Eaton pointed a menacing finger at me and then at the pots and pans that greasily waited for me. We had brought along a supply of paper plates. That did cut down on the nightmare somewhat.
12/18 Direct Link
I grabbed a bag with cleaning supplies and a tub with some of the dishes and made my way down to the bank of the river. With SOS pads at the ready, I attacked the filth with as much eagerness as can be expected from a twelve year-old. I was working on my second skillet when my good friend David, who was totally blind, was brought to my location by Stephen, a fellow camper. I guided David to where I was and sat him down. He said Mr. Eaton had told him to supervise me which made us both laugh.
12/19 Direct Link
I dipped the pan into the brown water of the Ten Killer Dam, pour out the, and then attack it fiercely with my SOS pads. Soon there was something resembling a glimmer on the surface of the pan. David would look speculatively proclaim it a job well done. Who was I to argue with a superior?? Each pot, pan, and utensil followed this procedure until the chore had been completed. On the way back to the campsite, David carried the cleaning material whilst I carried the clean dishes. We still had an hour of free time and was not about to waste it.
12/20 Direct Link
Free time usually consisted of various scouts doing some king of camp clean up or hiding in their tents and reading books, dirty or literary. One enterprising scout Leonard, had decided to bring a BB gun from home. One he had produced it from his tent, he became the most popular boy in a one mile area. We felt that we each needed to test our shooting accuracy…but what to shoot at? The job of placing an empty Pepsi can onto the branch of a nearby tree was given to one of the lowest ranking, and slow witted scout, Craig Mathews.
12/21 Direct Link
Understanding that we were all scouts of limited to no vision, you must understand how unlikely the odd were that we would hit anything at all, much less a Pepsi can hanging on a branch at twenty feet or so. I was one of the first to line up and take my shot and have no idea if I got even remotely close. While others took their turns, I wandered over to the cooler and removed a bottle of water. I heard the occasional ping as a BB hit the can and the immediate hollers of triumph and congratulations.
12/22 Direct Link
Stephen stepped up to take his shot at the only marginally harmed cola can. Having had my back to them at the time, I did not see Stephen raise the barrel of the gun, aim, and shoot. I did however hear the small ping of contact and a brief yelp of poor Craig Mathews who stood only twenty feet away from me and well behind our vision-impaired marksmen. Everyone rushed over to check on Craig, who was fine, just a touch frightened. We gave him a once over and started laughing when we found the cause of his sudden cry.
12/23 Direct Link
Sometimes the law of averages is unjust to the extreme. Some men are destined to invent the next revolutionary machine, find the woman of their dreams, or win several million dollars from a string of random numbers. Not Craig. Craig was too young, heck, we were all too young, to realize that we were laughing not at him but at the just damned bad luck of his. The BB had hit the cola can, ricocheted almost straight back and managed to his Craig in the crotch. There had been enough velocity to breach his breeches, but not do any harm.
12/24 Direct Link
There was a sniffling sound coming from poor Craig, only slightly heard between our bursts of laughter. Mr. Eaton quickly came out of his tent and over to where we were to inspect the situation. After a brief explanation, he just shook his head in amazement and did his best to quash a smile of his own. “Don’t let it get to you, Craig,” he said, patting the young man’s back. “Another two years and that BB might’ve actually hit something important.” He turned to Stephen and grabbed the BB gun. “Next time this goes off, I’ll be the one aiming it.”
12/25 Direct Link
Protests exploded from all of us. It had only been an accident and it wasn’t fair that we were getting punished for it. Mr. Eaton held the gun above his head in a way that stopped all of us from yammering. “Me big chief and you all little Indians. Understand?” Although it was somewhat half-hearted, we all grudgingly agreed. He continued. “You will stop shooting people and blowing things up! You’ll behave like scouts!” He lowered his voice and shooed us all away. “Now, go away before I’m the one shooting at you.” He turned and went back to his tent.
12/26 Direct Link
The next couple of hours were relatively uneventful. Anytime one of us considered making it more eventful, it took only one look from Mr. Eaton’s solemn face to convince us otherwise. We weren’t really worried about him being upset…as long as we gave him time to cool down. A few of us were cataloging at least enough of the local plants to warrant a merit badge while others were repairing tents that had not fully made it to completion the night before. Henderson had even decided to take a group of scouts down to the river to try their luck at fishing.
12/27 Direct Link
It was not long before evening stole upon us. Many of us were just plain tired after the long afternoon. A late afternoon hike had sapped much of what energy we had in reserve and now we were just ready to eat and relax. After getting a good fire blazing, Mr. Eaton opened up a few of the remaining cans of food. We all crossed our fingers hoping that dinner would at least be tolerable. Bingo! We got stew! We took the tin-foil off of one of the previously opened cars and joined our stew with some fruit cocktail.
12/28 Direct Link
The food was good and the conversation better. As the night around us grew darker, the fire in front of each of us only became a brighter beacon. We slurped our bowls of stew, picked out the rubbery grapes out of the fruit cocktail and threw them at campers across the campfire. It never did escalated into an all out food fight. The stories we told were of men with hooks at the end of one hand and sweet young that hitch-hiked along country road before magically disappearing. Most were told badly, all were wrong in their details..but It was incredible fun.
12/29 Direct Link
I really could not say that I disagreed with him. Although it had been fun in its own incredibly way, the weekend had had more of a “Twilight Zone” feel than “Davy Crockett”. I also wanted be far enough back into civilization so that peeing in nearby bushes were not really an option. Eaton told me to go ahead and hit the sack. He and Henderson kept working on cleanup and stowing gear. I could occasionally hear light snatches of cursing as Henderson or Eaton discovered that not all of the broken glass had been removed from the van.
12/30 Direct Link
Fortunately, the only thing broken the next morning was the darkness by the sun. We had a nice little breakfast, cleaned up and packed away the supplies that were still left, and began dismantling our tents. Having finished repacking the van a little early, we took a small hike along the shoreline of the lake. None of us wanted to admit it, but the bizarre aspects of the campout had actually made it more fun than it probably would’ve been otherwise. By the stroke of noon, we were all piled into the van and slowly making out way back home.
12/31 Direct Link
There were many pitfalls to that campout that have not made this text, some due to space limitations and others to the fact that they weren’t none of your dang business. Rest assured that after that weekend a few things changed in my life. First, I learned to appreciate the superstitions of others and develop a few of my own. Second, nature is God’s way of making you appreciate even cheap motels. And finally, never let the visually challenged carry firearms. And thus we made it safely home, by God’s Grace, at four in the afternoon of Sunday the fifteenth.