On the trail with the Boy Scouts

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - LOCAL NEWS - Bill Ret­tew

Go ahead, imag­ine it: two dozen 11- through 18-year-olds wan­der­ing over hill and dale, through forests and fields.

There’s noth­ing bet­ter for a teenager to ex­pe­ri­ence than get­ting out­side. Con­sider the life les­sons that na­ture holds. And, oh my, the ca­ma­raderie.

We didn’t sell cook­ies, but we Boy Scouts cer­tainly did get out and about in the great out­doors.

We camped monthly. In the warmer months we slept in tents and ba­sic struc­tures. Fire­places in cab­ins kept us warm dur­ing the win­ter.

It seemed to nearly al­ways rain on our week­end trips, but it didn’t bother us.

We drank di­rectly from streams, lakes and springs and no­body ever com­plained about get­ting sick. Now, you would never imag­ine not pu­ri­fy­ing your drink­ing wa­ter.

I never earned my Ea­gle award. I achieved the next high­est rank to Ea­gle. I be­came a Life Scout.

I earned it at an early age and while it was just a patch to me, many were en­vi­ous.

Dras­tic changes in the Scouts oc­curred in the ‘70s. Scout­ing at­tempted to at­tract kids from the city.

The Cit­i­zen­ship merit badge was more cov­eted than Camp­ing and Hik­ing badges by those at the top, but not by the lead­ers of my West­town Troop. I earned all three awards, but my high rank was con­sid­ered part of those sweep­ing changes.

I never re­ally learned how to tie many dif­fer­ent types of knots and didn’t need to. I was more likely to tie a granny than a square knot.

We took two-week-long sum­mer trips. We’d ex­pe­ri­ence high ad­ven­ture, in­clud­ing ca­noe­ing or hik­ing the Ap­palachian Trail and spend an­other week at Camp Horse­shoe.

We wore leather Camp Horse­shoe belts that we could per­ma­nently press images onto. I caught a huge eel in the Oc­toraro River and was able to wear the “Big­gest Fish Award” on my belt. That belt had a horse­shoe for a buckle, of course.

Just after break­fast, one cool morn­ing, I swam a mile with­out stop­ping and earned an­other cov­eted award.

Horse­shoe is lo­cated on the Ma­son-Dixon Line. Half the scout­mas­ters slept in Mary­land and the other half, just feet away, slept in Penn­syl­va­nia. There was a line drawn down the cen­ter of the cabin.

We ate well when we camped, though the food was of­ten burned or un­der­cooked. No­body cared!

Al­most ev­ery­body was fas­ci­nated with fire. Soon after un­pack­ing we would rush into the forests and gather as much wood as we were will­ing to drag back to camp.

It wasn’t just sticks, we learned that ev­ery­thing burned. Scouts would sit mes­mer­ized watch­ing egg shells, card­board and plas­tic burn.

We stayed away from the fire when plas­tic was

lit after hear­ing that the smoke would en­ter your lungs and har­den in your chest.

I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that there is no such thing as a left-handed smoke shifter, though it was a rightof-pas­sage to at­tempt to chase one down.

Sleep­ing on the ground, with noth­ing but an ul­tra-thin ground sheet to pro­tect us from mois­ture was fine. There was al­ways a tree root or rock in the wrong place. Some had air mat­tresses, and with all that reg­u­lar rain, we learned that you could wake up float­ing.

We dressed in our uni­forms prior to din­ner and marched. There was a com­pe­ti­tion, but our troop re­ally didn’t care for march­ing and rarely won an award.

Scouts elected each other to the Or­der of Ar­row which was a se­cret off­shoot and had its own area at Horse­shoe. We worked hard on OA week­ends to ser­vice and main­tain the camp.

I was hon­ored when my

fel­low scouts rec­og­nized me for the OA, un­like I was with the Life award.

Right off the bat, I was cho­sen as Troop “Scribe” and it was good train­ing for a fu­ture re­porter.

I learned enough in those early years to safely hike solo in the wilder­ness of Yosemite and other out of the way places as an adult. I doubt I’d have my love of na­ture if it wasn’t for the scouts.

I strictly be­lieve in the say­ing, “Leave noth­ing but foot­prints; take noth­ing but pho­to­graphs.”

The nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion after join­ing the Cub Scouts, We­be­los and Boy Scouts is to en­ter the Ex­plor­ers. I left Troop 151 for Post 83.

Ex­plor­ers are co-ed. I left those boys and in­stead camped with girls. I was ma­tur­ing and grow­ing.

It was just the same. With just a plas­tic sheet for pro­tec­tion, there was still al­ways that pesky root or rock. Yet, I still didn’t mind.


High ad­ven­ture back­pack­ing with the Boy Scouts.


Hik­ing with the Boy Scouts.

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