Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Okay, It's not the Odyssey, but still ...

The not-so-little man and I just returned from a five day/50 mile canoe trip with his Boy Scout troop in the Kenai National Wilderness. Despite weather that wasn't always pleasant -- a couple days had more or less continuous rain -- and 16 portages, Eric was a real trooper every inch of the way. He handled everything without the tiniest dent in his sense of humor, never mind actually whining. Speaking of portages, a couple were roughly a mile. Actually, a mile portage is three miles: one transit with the canoe, another with the pack, and the return trip in between. Despite being one of the youngest guys on the trip, with a body weight to payload ratio much less favorable than the bigger guys, he powered through them all.

To put it briefly, I am very proud of him.

This link ( will take you to a map I made of the trip. Here is a screen grab:

The only real downside was in the area of the Moose River, the last two days of the trip. The flat, swampy area around the river meant mosquitos in the kind of swarms nightmares are made of. Thank goodness for DEET.

Here are some pictures:

Eric after his first portage

All in all, there are worse things

The troop leader arranged for a surprise airdrop on the third evening. The rainbow came at no additional charge.

The package contained individually wrapped filet mignon and fresh corn-on-the-cob.

Approaching the end, the scouts broke out the troop and American flags. Eric, unwittingly, is doing a credible George Washington imitation.

Being new to all this, I mostly kept to the background during the trip. However, at this point, I used my fighter pilot experience to cajole the guys and their 11 canoes into a tolerable semblance of a V-formation. Guess which boat I am in.

Absent a short backpacking trip last month, this was my first real experience with both living in the wilderness -- we didn't see anyone other than ourselves until midway through the last day -- and the Boy Scouts.

Regarding wilderness living, I can do with, or without, it. It is a unique experience to get that far off the beaten path, but getting through the daily necessaries takes a whole bloody lot of effort.

The experience the 17 boys got, though, was incredible. Never mind getting to do things most boys scarcely dream of, the whole approach is aimed at building leadership skills. The troop leader issued the bare minimum of instructions (e.g., we are getting up at 0730, and want to be in the boats by 1000). The four adults then stepped back and left the boys, divided into four teams with one overall leader, to their own devices, with a critique after all was said and done. They got to make mistakes, and we were there to keep things from getting out of hand.

At the risk of having the NOW emergency response team show up at my front door with pastel truncheons, the trip made strikingly clear ineradicable differences between boys and girls.

Last month a friend of mine helped lead his daughter's Girl Scout troop on a two-day canoe trip along the Colorado river along the Arizona-California border. He said it was one of the worst experiences of his life. Most of the girls never figured out how to keep the canoes pointed in remotely the proper direction. The days were rife with crying, backbiting, and hysterics. And that was before putting up with camping overnight.

In contrast, over half the boys had never canoed. Yet, despite that, nearly all of them figured out in short order, and with scarcely any instruction, how to stop being headless vectors -- all speed and no direction. With the exception of a couple boys, they quickly cohered into teams: the pack instinct is far greater among boys.

Most strikingly, perhaps, is the difference in accountability. None of the girls really cared whether they could paddle a canoe, or work effectively towards a common goal. Kind of like a dog walking on its hind legs: the point isn't that the dog walks badly, but rather that it walks at all.

Among the boys, though, it was very different. The guys who couldn't figure out how to paddle a canoe, or didn't pull their weight in camp (the same boys in both cases), while not tormented in any way, were clearly viewed as not having the right stuff. One could sense that life just isn't going to go as well for them.

More sadly, it was all too easy to imagine the gulf between these boys and the vast majority of African-American children. Here there were boys whose parents -- emphasis on the plural -- cared enough to get them into Scouting, and enough dads willing to make the trip possible by being there.

The contrast with most African-American boys could scarcely be more stark. And that is before addled city councils prove once again, as if further proof is needed, that "progressive" is the long way to spell "idiocy".

Comparing the boys' obvious joy parading their flags that last mile with fatherless children in the 'hood, who may not see in their whole lives the kind of fatherly guidance the Scouts took for granted in five days was one step of analysis I could have done without.


Blogger Harry Eagar said...

This is roughing it in the 21st century-- air dropped filet mignon?

Good for you. I never was able to go on any of my son's long Scout adventures.

The trip to the World Jamboree in Canada, in an old school bus with a rebuilt engine, didn't work so well.

The engine failed and instead of 11 days at the Jamboree, they got one.

A good lesson in many respects.

I always found the boys to be OK on our winter camping trips but some of the dads were a trial. I came real close to slugging one.

Looking back on it with the perspective of 20 years, I wish I had.

June 18, 2008 11:37 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

This is roughing it in the 21st century-- air dropped filet mignon?

For sake of brevity, I neglected to mention the next night, where a surprise airdrop yielded four gallons of ice cream, plus toppings.

No, I suppose that isn't exactly roughing it.

I always found the boys to be OK on our winter camping trips but some of the dads were a trial.

A couple of the boys, one in particular, were pretty annoying. One, who paddled worse than a girl, was particularly prone to sensing slight, even where none was intended.

Turns out he had been tormented so much at school that his parents pulled him out for homeschooling.

I'm going to have work on being nicer to him.

All the parents I have run into have been very easy to get along with.

June 19, 2008 1:51 AM  
Blogger erp said...

What a handsome son!

Sounds like a great experience, Deet and ice cream w/toppings = roughing it in style.

Our ten year old granddaughter's class went on a three day hiking and camping trip. She was incensed about the behavior of her female classmates. Most of the girls cried and wouldn't participate. They whined about washing their hair in cold showers, wanted to go home ...

It doesn't matter that much if girls behave that way, but for boys, it matters a lot. If they don't figure it out, they'll spend their lives resenting those who succeed in life.

Re: V formation picture. My guess is you were in the boat that could levitate above the water.

June 19, 2008 7:10 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

My guess is you were in the boat that could levitate above the water.

I wish, but guess again.

My wife took that picture from a bridge just before the takeout point.

It doesn't matter that much if girls behave that way, but for boys, it matters a lot.

Yes, it does.

Which is why I find it particularly disturbing that schools have practically eliminated all activities where being a boy matters.

June 19, 2008 4:22 PM  

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