Last week I wrote about my adventures at Boy Scout camp, Camp Bedford. Or more exactly, I wrote about some of my adventures, for very few could be covered in one column. And thus this column - Son of Bedford.
First let me clarify something. While I liked Boy Scout camp, I wasn't much of a Boy Scout. Then again, that was the beauty of camp: I didn't have to be an accomplished scout in order to enjoy what camp had to offer, probably because it offered so much.
For one thing, there was a huge variety of activities, and they went on nonstop. There was, for instance, always a hike of one sort or another. The one I remember was up St. Regis mountain.
Today when I think of St. Regis, I think, Yeah, OK, it's about two hours up and almost that long going back down. Four hours, give or take. No big deal. But that's me now. As a chubby, non-hiking 12-year-old, it was an epic adventure, along the lines of summiting McKinley, Denali, or maybe even the big kahuna itself -?Everest.
And it really was an adventure, due in no small part to our equipment - or by today's standards, our lack of it. We didn't know any better, and the high-tech stuff we now take for granted hadn't been invented. We wore sneakers instead of boots. Our packs -?like our mess kits, canteens, ponchos, flashlights, and a lot of our gear - were World War II surplus. If we were lucky, we had packs with frames; otherwise, we had rucksacks, which were nothing more than canvas bags with shoulder straps. Hiking poles were unknown to us, as was sun block.
The upshot was a lot of us didn't hike St. Regis -?we struggled up it. And when we got to the top and took in that fabulous view, we felt triumph of the purest sort.
Now, as a jaded adult, if I climb St. Regis, it's fun and a challenge of sorts but nothing special. I've done it a bunch of times, so many that while I might look at it as a good day's exercise, I never see it as the mind-blowing conquest it was to me as a Scout. And there's no doubt I'm poorer for it.
Another great adventure was a canoe trip. We started at Meacham Lake and ended up in Lake Flower, but like hiking St. Regis, to me it was an epic adventure. One hard part was when we had to make an unplanned portage because the water was so low. It was a long, tough haul, in both the woods and along the main road. Our canoes were old aluminum Grummans that not only weighed a lot to begin with, but as I recall, in which we'd put our packs, paddles and cushions them as we shlepped on our not-so-merry way.
Luckily, Steve Hunt -?he of the bright orange hair -?was with us, and by sheer chance his dad came driving by in his truck. Steve's hair, a beacon in the day, caught his dad's attention and he stopped. Then he was kind enough to haul our canoes to the next lake, thus preventing the Adirondacks' only outbreak of mass hernias.
The counselor on that trip was a grizzled old guy of around 20 from My Home Town named Dwayne Kenyon. He was a great guy and a good leader, and a whole lot of fun. He also told great stories of the macabre around the night's campfire. Really freaky stuff -?homicidal hermits, sadistic circus dwarfs, ghoulish baby sitters -?and he told it well too well, in fact. After I'd get back in my tent, no matter how warm I was in my sleeping bag, I still had the chills.
The thing is I knew his stories were all made up, but because he told them so well, they seemed real. Plus, no matter how much I reminded myself they were fiction, inevitably I'd be face-to-face with the brutal possibility that they could happen - and happen to me, at that!
When we ended our trip, in Lake Flower three days after we started, you can bet Ulysses had nothing on me.
Saved by the chow hall
In the camp itself there were all sorts of activities. Among them were woods skills classes, athletic competitions, first aid workshops, and crafts. The only craft I did was working with boondoggle.
Boondoggle, lest you not know, was a flat plastic string that we could weave into various shaped cords. It came in all sorts of colors, so using, say, four strands of four different colors and using different weaves, you could turn out what I thought were beautiful products. Or more exactly, beautiful product, because there was only one thing you could make with boondoggle -?cords. So all I made was lanyards. And let's get real, one lanyard is all anyone'll ever need -?no matter how many you make.
Finally, there were the meals. The chow hall itself was a beautiful wooden building (with walls of knotty pine, as I recall). It was of course jam-packed at meal time with what seemed like thousands of feral boys, who maintained the decibel level of a 747 on takeoff.
To me, the meals were delicious and the portions were huge. No one left the table hungry, nor should they have, since we were burning calories galore. I can remember only four of the evening meals: hot dogs, hamburgers, spaghetti and tuna a la king (which we were delighted to find out was known by the acronym, S.O.S., the last two letters standing for On Shingle. You can figure out the first one all by yourself, I'm sure).
The chow hall also holds a special place in my brother's memory, but one which has nothing to do with the food.
My brother is not an Adirondack native. He was born and lived his first six months in New York City. As a result, he's always had a certain city delicacy about him, a decadent metropolitan effeteness, if you will. He was a good enough sport about roughing it, but somehow the bright lights of the Big Apple had been imprinted on his psyche. Scout camp put his sensitivities to the test. And nothing tested them more than the outhouses, which were the only "bathrooms" we had in the campsites.
Last week when he and I were talking about Camp Bedford, I mentioned the chow hall, and he said he loved it.
"The food?" I asked. "You loved the food?"
From what I remembered - again due to his sensitive nature - he didn't like the meals, and instead subsisted on peanut butter sandwiches.
"No, not the food," he said, and shuddered slightly, almost imperceptibly. "The bathroom."
"The bathroom?" I said. "What bathroom?"
"There was one in there," he said. "It was for the staff, I think."
"And what about it?"
"Nothing," he said. "Other than it spared me the misery of using the outhouses."
"You mean you never used the outhouses?" I said.
He said nothing. Instead, he looked off in the middle distance.
Then he shuddered again - this one, a shudder impossible to miss.