The Scoutmaster of Troop 272 (sponsored by Kiwanis) had to leave town for an unexpected family obligation, so I agreed to take his place for today’s scheduled five-mile hike. Second Class Scout requirement 1-B: "Using a map and compass, take a five-mile hike approved by your adult leader and your parent or guardian." There were several younger Scouts who had not yet completed this requirement. In addition to the six younger Scouts, two older Scouts came out for the activity, and we had a congenial group.
Due to some transportation issues, the unit leader had planned a circuitous route around the Little River Conservation Area and Jerry P. Combs Lake, which is only about five miles from town.
This is my not-very-detailed map which the unit leader emailed me (sans creases; the creases were my own addition today). I printed enough maps for everybody and got suited up for the hike. The Boy Scout motto is "Be prepared", and I did my best. In addition to dressing in several light layers of high-tech wicking garments, I filled my day-pack with rain-gear, first-aid kit, TP, 2-liter hydration pack, and an extra two light jackets. I also put a couple of extra bottles of water in the truck. My hiking staff in hand and my compass lanyard on my neck, I set off to meet the boys at the lake.
We took a few minutes to review how to orient a map and take compass bearings. Then we took an inventory of everone’s equipment. Everyone had a knife, but nobody had a first-aid kit — bad combination. Everyone had a cell-phone, but only three had brought a compass. Most had brought 1-pint water bottles, so the extra water I brought was handy (I drank 1/4 of my own two-liter ration). One boy was wearing only one sweater over his shirt, so he got one of my extra jackets. The day actually changed from overcast to bright sun during our hike (which was good, since none of the boys brought rain-gear), but it was very windy and felt colder than the mid-fifties registered on the thermometer.
One circuit of the lake is only about two miles, so we decided to make a little side trip in addition to our two circuits. We found that our map failed to reveal a number of drainage channels (read ditches full of water), and that the heavy rains of the previous day had turned dry-land areas on the map into a marsh. After about twenty minutes of slogging in and struggling back out of the field south of "pool 2", the boys were sure we had gone at least two miles. When I asked them to "locate us" on the map, they placed us about a half mile north of our actual position. We spent a little time looking at the landmarks and the map, and unfortunately, even counting the road miles, they found we had only come about 5/8 of a mile. Whoops! We’re about 30 minutes behind schedule, too.
Back to plan B ( or was it plan A?) and a circle around the lake. Not suprisingly, we saw several water birds: a duck and some big herons. More surprisingly, we walked up on an armadillo (the first live one I personally have seen — my other armadillo sightings have all been road-kill). He was busy digging for dinner in a sort of hunched-over sitting position and seemed oblivious to our presence. This was only fair, as four of the boys had hiked within six feet of him and failed to notice him. When I brought him to their attention, they rushed him like a pack of wolves and he wisely beat a retreat into the high grass.
Twice we passed low pools beside the lake that had so many frogs croaking that you could hear them above the din the boys were making. Another surprise for me: I’m not much of a naturalist and had no idea they would be out so early in the year.
As we came around the south side of the lake, we encountered lots of trash. Everyone picked up a few bottles and carried them in to the parking lot (the end of our first lap). I was disappointed to find no receptacle, but we flattened the trash and put it in my truck toolbox.
At this point, it’s a good deal later than anticipated, with two miles to go. "You mean we really have to go back around it again?!" Yeah, the requirement is five miles, not three. Hey, did you guys ever hear of "the Scout’s pace"? No, they hadn’t. The "Scout’s pace" is not in the BSA handbook, not the current one, anyway. When I was a kid, I read some book where the hero maintained the "Scout’s pace" to cover more ground: you jog (run?) one hundred steps, then walk a hundred steps, alternating. That sounded like a good way to get home faster. After the first go-round, we dropped it to fifty jogging steps, and upped the walking steps to however many it took to get rested. We only made five jogs; still, oddly enough, they seemed to enjoy the change of pace. I was darn glad I’d been doing my thirty minutes of cardio every morning, I can tell you.
"A Scout is cheerful." Despite being hungry and having some wet feet (and one wet bottom from a fall), I didn’t hear a single real complaint. The three hours was a great way to spend the afteroon. I had a blast. When I was Scoutmaster myself, I was always focused on responsibility for the whole program. Today I found out what kind of fun my assistant leaders were having.
We ended with a reflection on what we liked and what we didn’t, what worked well and what we’d change for next time. Scouting is about learning life skills and sometimes we learn more from our mistakes than from our formal lessons.
It was a fine day.