The Reluctant Scoutmaster Survived Backpacking

I survived backpacking.

When we got home Sunday, I felt like I had been gone a week.  I still felt like that after my very long, very hot shower.  In reality, we were gone just under 48 hours.

I have to say that this trip was far, far better than my first backpacking experience, aka, “The Death March to the Snakes”.  However, it honestly did nothing to inspire me to undertake a third backpacking trip.

We went to the Snow Mountain Wilderness area in the Mendocino National Forest, specifically, to the Bloody Rock Trailhead.  (The name “Bloody Rock” does not inspire a non-backpacker, just sayin’.)  It was sort of pretty.  A fire went through the area about 18 months ago so most of the trees were burned.  The remaining manzanita and shrubby bushes were black and sooty, which meant that any time you brushed against one (which was ALL the time, you got black and sooty too).

The hike itself wasn’t too bad.  Although it certainly wasn’t “mostly flat” as advertised.  We hiked in to camp in the dark Friday night, which means I didn’t really comprehend how much downhill we were actually going.  Which, in turn, meant how much uphill Sunday’s hike out would be.

We camped right along the Eel River.


I did like listening to the river in my tent at night.  On Saturday, we went for a hike along the river.  I thoroughly enjoyed sitting on a rock in the middle of the river for some time while other folks hiked farther.

But I still honestly don’t understand the allure of backpacking.  I don’t mind dirt and bugs, etc. don’t freak me out (just snakes).  I don’t mind spending the day on a day hike or just hanging out in camp, chatting or reading a book.

What gets me is that the activities of daily living – making coffee, cooking, brushing your teeth, staying warm, etc. – are all so freakin’ difficult!  To get water, you have to filter it out of the river.  To cook anything, you have to set up your flimsy stove.  Or, even worse, you have to build a campfire to cook over.  You have to wait forever for water to boil or food to cook (unless you have one of those fancy Jet Boil things).  O.k., the cooking probably doesn’t actually take any longer than it would at home but it seems so much longer because you’re starving from being outside, hiking or just trying to live during the day, and you’re cold sitting there trying to balance in your flimsy backpacking chair.  And there’s nothing to do except sit there and wait.  Once food is finally ready, you have to balance your dinner, while still trying to not tumble over in your chair.  As for the whole, “food tastes better cooked over a campfire” thing?  No.  No it doesn’t.  Because its nearly instantly cold because you’re eating outside.

We were in bear country so once we were all done eating, we had to pack everything back into bear canisters and trek them 300 feet or whatever away from camp, hang stuff from trees, etc.  You can’t even have snacks in your tent!  And finally, deciding when you can finally get cozy in your sleeping bag and likely won’t have to get back up to go pee in the freezing cold, is a fine balance.

However, given all of that, I made it.  I survived the nearly 48 hours (several of which were driving).  I was extremely pleased when I mentioned that I don’t like backpacking, or even car camping for that matter, and one of the dads on the trip responded, “Really?  I would have never thought that if you hadn’t said it aloud.”  Well, good.  At least I put on a good show of it.

The picture below shows our campsite down in the meadow.  Note how high we are above it.  This was taken on the hike out . . . definitely not a flat hike!  I’m hoping I don’t have to ever backpack again.  While I didn’t stick to my declaration of “I don’t backpack and I don’t snow camp” when I agreed to be Scoutmaster, the snow camping is still a definite, hard, NO!


The Reluctant Scoutmaster Goes Backpacking

I think some of you may know that I’m Scoutmaster to a troop of girls participating in Boy Scouts.  I am, however, a rather reluctant Scoutmaster as I have very few outdoor skills and truly don’t like to camp.

So, what am I doing this weekend?  Going backpacking.  For me, this is a very unfortunate turn of events.

I tolerate car camping only because I can bring a ton of stuff with me, like my own pillow, my giant stadium chair, my insulated coffee mug, and lots of snacks, specifically those pink and white frosted animal cookies.

Let me be clear about this next statement:  I HATE backpacking.

I have gone backpacking once before.  My son had just joined his Boy Scout troop and a few of us new moms went along on the backpacking trip, which I believe was over Mother’s Day for some unknown reason.  To this day, I refer to the trip as “The Death March to the Snakes.”

We hiked Mt. Wittenburg.  I neglected to realize that the “Mt.” before “Wittenburg” meant “mountain”, as in, all uphill.  I was miserable.  I could barely keep up with the troop.  It might have occurred to me to not throw “Gone With the Wind” in my pack, but, well, it didn’t.

If you’ve ever hiked Wittenburg, you’ll know that there’s no view from the top.  Actually, the only way you know you’re at the top is if you happen to notice the geological marker thing in the ground.  The lack of a view made all that uphill hiking super disappointing.

When we finally got to camp and set up, I crashed inside my tent, cozied up with Gone With the Wind.  Then, I heard one of the other moms scream.  And I thought, “That’s a snake.”  I know a snake scream when I hear one.

Yep, there were snakes.  IN CAMP.  I am terrified of snakes.  When I finally came out of my tent, I ran to the nearest picnic table, sat on top of it and wouldn’t come off.  Snakes can’t climb up picnic tables, right?

Eventually, we had to make dinner, which meant boiling water for our dehydrated backpacking food.  I had borrowed a backpacking stove from a friend but was a little fuzzy on its use.

I managed to light the picnic table on fire.  Apparently, I didn’t need quite that much fuel.

O.k., o.k., in my defense, it wasn’t a big fire.  The Scoutmaster ran over and put it out.  (I won’t lie, in the back of my mind, there might have been some master plan to get banned from the next backpacking trip.)

Finally, I managed to boil water.  The next morning, the nice Senior Patrol Leader (kid in charge) came over and sweetly asked if I’d like him to make breakfast for me.  “That would be fantastic,” I said.

So, here I am, faced with going backpacking again in nine hours.  Why??  (I’ve been asking myself that a lot lately.)

Because I made a commitment to my group of girls.  I desperately tried to find another mom to go instead of me.  When the girls go anywhere, Boy Scout rules say they have to have a registered (with the troop) adult female along.  Everyone had some reason they couldn’t go.  So what was I going to do?  Tell my girls they can’t go just because their reluctant, wimpy Scoutmaster doesn’t backpack?

When I agreed to be Scoutmaster, I made it clear that I do not backpack and do not camp in the snow.  (The troop does an annual snow camping trip.)  But . . . here I am, going backpacking.

I should clarify how my girl troop “works”.  We’re a separate troop on paper, as required by the Boy Scouts.  But, we’ve “partnered” with a troop of boys and basically run a co-ed troop.  So, the girls do everything the boys do.  There are several requirements that must be done on a backpacking trip so its not like we can just opt out of backpacking.

My distress grew at troop meeting on Wednesday night when I learned that this is “real” backpacking.  As in, no toilets.  Not even a pit toilet!  What??  We were advised “bring your own toilet paper!”

You’ve got to be kidding me.

This led to my googling yesterday, “How to pee in the woods if you’re a girl.”  In my opinion, no one should ever have to google that.  But, apparently a lot of people do because there were several articles on the subject.  Thanks to REI, Self Magazine and a few blogs, I now know that if I can see my shoelaces, I’ve achieved a perfect squat.  And, that its helpful to find a tree to hold onto.

Armed with that knowledge, I’d better get back to packing.  I’ve already determined that I should leave my string of cute little miniature Coleman lantern lights at home.  Normally, I put them on my tent so I can find it in the dark.  And, this time, I’ll find a smaller book to bring.


Wish me luck and no snakes!


Need a Summer Re-Start

My kids have been out of school for less than a week.  Wait, is that really possible??  (Consulting calendar)  Yes . . . the youngest “graduated” from 8th grade a week ago today and the oldest finished up 10th grade last Thursday.  So we’re just one week into summer break.

And it hasn’t been an easy week.  I’d like to re-wind and start over.

The first weekend of summer (last weekend), we scheduled to have a few of my Scouts “camp” here so they could knock out a bunch of their cooking requirements.  By Saturday afternoon everyone was tired, crabby, hot, and definitely didn’t want to do their required cooking.  By 9:30 Saturday night, we had slogged through the cooking and a few other requirements and kids went home early.  But not before we had tears and me swearing I was done with Scoutmaster-ing.

However, it wound up being a great thing that kids went home early because Sunday morning, we were awoken by our beloved 6 year old, yellow Lab having a full-blown grand mal seizure.  It was terrible.  Absolutely awful and terrifying.  We were all hysterical.  Then, it got worse.  When he stopped seizing, he was completely disoriented, didn’t recognize any of us and became extremely aggressive.  He was snarling, growling, barking and definitely would have bitten.  We finally got him outside without anyone being bitten.  But having their best friend lunge at them sent my kids over the edge.  And left me wondering how on earth I was going to get my snarling dog in a crate and to the vet.

Thankfully, he returned to himself within about 15 minutes, let me put a leash on him, got in a crate (which he never, ever goes in) and off to the emergency vet we went.  Since then, he hasn’t had any more seizures.  We followed up with our regular vet yesterday and started medication, which he’ll have to have twice a day for the rest of his life.

The vet said that, should he have another seizure, the extreme aggressiveness will likely be his pattern.  So  now we have a “dog seizure protocol”.  Its been traumatic.

And finally, my oldest has decided to change Scout troops.  This decision has been building for a few weeks and it hasn’t been easy.  We’ve had a lot of conversations about it and last night, there were a lot of tears over it.

So, that’s been our first week of summer.  Fabulous, right?  I suppose it can only get better from here!

The Reluctant Scoutmaster – Scout Skills

More Scouting events coming up this weekend.  But, thankfully, none of them are camping!

Friday and Saturday, I’m going to be faced with a bunch of Scouts who need some requirements signed off.  Problem is that I’m supposed to teach them the necessary skills.  Hmmm . . . we all know I don’t really possess any Scout skills.  Problem!!

Solution?  Enlist my son who is practically an Eagle Scout (he just needs to do his Eagle project)!!  But really, I should have a basic idea so I can at least serve as teacher’s aide.

Friday evening we have to use a map and compass to take a 5 mile hike.  I recently learned how to use my compass.  First, you figure out what heading you want to walk in (that’s what direction you want to walk).  Then, you turn your compass dial until the heading (180 degrees, for example) lines up with the little line or arrow or whatever your compass has.  Then you turn  your body around until your north arrow is lined up with north.  Then, you walk whatever direction you’re facing.

Or . . . do you line up with north first?  And then move the dial?  Oh geez, I can’t remember!!!  Better get out my compass and try to figure it out.

We’re also supposed to do something about orienting a map.  I didn’t even really know that maps had to be oriented.  Don’t you just like, look at your map, figure out where you are and where you want to go?

Saturday I’m supposed to teach a bunch of aquatics requirements.  This one is easier.  The Scouts need to pass the BSA Swim Test – that’s easy to oversee.  They need to talk about proper position in a canoe and name the parts of a canoe / kayak.  Got that!!!  I grew up on a boat so I know the difference between bow and stern, port and starboard, etc.  I need to brush up on my rescue techniques . . . I think its “Reach, Throw, Go” or something like that.

Thankfully, there’s the fabulous “Boy Scout Handbook” that has all of this information.  I have some reading ahead of me.  I do excel at appearing like I know what I’m talking about when I really have very little idea.  That should help.  And thank goodness for  my almost-Eagle Scout son.

Maybe, just maybe, by the time my daughter earns her Eagle award, I might be kind of Scout-y myself.

The Reluctant Scoutmaster – Fort Ross

The Unicorns camped with the Troop at Fort Ross State Historic Park this weekend.  As I’ve said, I don’t like camping, but apparently its part of being Scoutmaster.

Camping at Fort Ross actually wasn’t too bad as camping goes.  First bonus . . . once the park closed to the public, we got to drive our cars down and park right in front of the fort gates!  No schlepping our stuff down and back up the looooonnnggg road!!!!  Yay!!!!

Second bonus, we got to actually sleep in the fort buildings!  No pitching a tent!!!  Double Yay!!!  My tent is really easy to set up so I don’t mind that too much.  What I do mind is trying to fold it back up so that it fits in its bag.  Can’t the bags be just an inch or two bigger??  I got a whole half of the upstairs in this building all to myself!!  Believe me, after a day with Scouts, some alone time is imperative to my sanity.


Third bonus . . . there were actual beds in the fort buildings!  The “mattresses” were pretty dismal but, with my sleeping pad on top, I was pretty cozy in my fort.

But, really, the best thing about this campout was the setting.

download  The ocean is my happy place so that alone improved the prospects that this camping adventure would be tolerable.

I still don’t believe that food cooked over a campfire is any better than regular food (and has the downside of getting cold almost immediately because you have to eat outside) but we did have some pretty good meals.  Dinner was Dutch oven fried chicken and veggies; breakfast was biscuits and sausage gravy.  Not too bad.

We did some cleaning up around the fort as a service project.  Raking leaves was much better when you’ve got an ocean view.  And we took the Scouts on a one-mile orienteering course, which took over two hours to traverse.  Aaahhhhhh . . . Scouts.  And then, we just sat in the sun for awhile.

So, all in all, the weekend wasn’t too bad.  But, I think this is my last weekend of camping until summer camp.  And I’m definitely not sad about that!

The Reluctant Scoutmaster

A few years ago, I made a good effort at getting Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to admit girls.  (I’ve written a little bit about this before.)  Here’s a link to the New York Times article that was written about us:

BSA has changed their policy and girls can now be members.  Yay!!!  When it came to forming my daughter’s troop, I asked who she thought was going to be Scoutmaster.  “You are.” she said, like it was the stupidest question ever and there was no other option.

So I went and did Scoutmaster training.  I made my husband come with me.  So now, I’m Scoutmaster of the Unicorns of Troop 55.  Our troop meetings are Wednesday nights.  Every single Wednesday, I wonder to myself (and, admittedly, sometimes aloud), “What the heck am I doing as Scoutmaster??”

I don’t like camping.  I don’t know how to tie a sheet bend, a timber hitch, a clove hitch or any other kind of hitchy-bendy knot.  I do, however, know how to tie a square knot.  Yay, me!  And, actually, I can tie a bowline. (I think its just that the lake, tree and bunny story that is the instructions for tying a bowline stuck in my head.)  I once lit a picnic table on fire while trying to use a backpacking stove.  I don’t chop wood nor do I know the difference between kindling, tinder and regular firewood.  I’ve got no clue which is a wrap and which is a frap when it comes to lashings.  I insist on bringing my full-size regular pillow on camping trips.  I’m decent at first aid – like if  you’re out in the woods with me and something happens, you’re probably not going to die.

Have you ever seen the movie, “Troop Beverly Hills”?  That’s me.  (Love that movie.)  I don’t understand why all women don’t wear jewelry with their Scout uniforms.  Just because we’re in tan uniform shirts and green pants with a million pockets (o.k., the million pockets are convenient), doesn’t mean we can’t look good.  It makes me sad that my

This coming weekend we’re camping at a historic fort on the coast.  Its a State Park and no one, except Scouts apparently, gets to actually camp in the fort.  Woo-hoo?  No, it will be kind of cool.  But, I’ve been to the Fort and there’s a loooonng road down to the fort from the visitor center parking lot.  Yesterday I told my daughter that I’m bringing a wagon to haul all my stuff down to the fort (assuming we don’t get to drive down and park right at the front door, which, of course, would be my preference).  She was horrified.  Horrified.  “Why??” I asked her??  “That’s lame,” she said.  “I am not a lame Scout.”  “Oh,” I answered.  “Well, I’m a lame Scoutmaster.”  “I KNOW” she said.  Geez, she’s the one who insisted I be Scoutmaster.

I guess I won’t be bringing my wagon and I’ll actually have to carry my stuff down and back up the looooonng road.  Did I mention its a hill also??  The fort is down at the bottom of the hill.  Of course it is.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Rain Camp

I survived camping with the Unicorns over the weekend.  Just barely.  It rained the entire time.  The.  Entire.  Time.  I spent all day . . . All DAY . . . Saturday huddled under a pop-up, in front of the fire pit.  So much fun.  Not.

My friend, who, mind you, didn’t go camping, kept telling me “You guys only got a quarter inch of rain.”  Whatever.  It was a quarter inch of all day mist, drizzle, and honest to goodness rain.

The Unicorns and their fellow Scouts amused themselves by building a giant bonfire.  When fire and sticks got boring, they retreated to their tents to play board games or Uno.  When that got boring, they went back to fire and sticks.  Their bonfire didn’t have pop-ups surrounding it (a good plan, actually) so all Scouts were generally muddy and damp.  They didn’t seem to mind too much.

On a positive note, my new tent stayed dry.  I was pretty content in my sleeping bag.  I was super happy about my new tent because choosing it at REI probably could have been the subject of a blog post all by itself.  Did you know that REI will let you set up tents right there in the store to assist in choosing one??  I was like the Goldilocks of Tents . . . that one is too big!  That one is two small!!  Finally, the 3 person plus (not sure what the plus is about) REI Half-Dome Tent (I think that’s its name) was just right!  God bless the poor REI employee who had to deal with me for an hour.

Another positive . . . one of the adults who came along, is a pretty good camp cook.  Although I still don’t think camp food tastes better because you’re outside and freezing cold.  Really, the best part about the meals was that it marked that at least a few more hours had gone by, which  meant I was that much closer to getting in my tent, which meant I was that much closer to going home.

One final positive was the other non-camping dad who came along.  Throughout the day, when no Scouts or our other, more enthusiastic parents were around, he would turn to me and ask, “Can we go home yet?”  I was like, “I’m right there with you friend.”  So I wasn’t totally alone in my feeling that camping in the rain is an absurd idea.

My Dad would say that the whole experience “built character.”  That was my Dad’s excuse for any semi-miserable experience . . . “It builds character!”  Let me tell you, I’ve got a lot of character.

So, we survived.  The Unicorns and I left a few minutes earlier than the others and headed to the nearest Starbucks.  Aaahhhh . . . warm comfort in a cup.

Camping Anxiety

I’m going camping this weekend with my fledgling Scout Troop of girls.

I’m just going to take a minute here and complain about nomenclature (I think that’s the correct fancy word.)  We can’t say “Girl Scouts” because that’s a different organization and they get understandably ticked off.  Boy Scouts of America has changed their name to Scouts BSA to reflect their new, co-ed, status.  “Scouts who are girls” is just too much of a mouthful.  I think I can just call my girls, “Scouts” . . . I have to figure this out because I’m sure this new adventure is going to be the subject of many future blog posts.  Or, how about just, “my girls”?  Or, “the Unicorns” since that’s their patrol name and how they’ll be known in the larger troop (that would be the troop we’re linked with, which is an all boys troop as required by BSA.)

O.k., now that I’ve got that out of the way . . . I’m going camping this weekend for the first time with my girls.  I’m super anxious about it.  So much so that I woke up several times last night.

As I’ve mentioned, I don’t really like to camp.  I don’t mind sleeping in a tent.  I actually went to REI yesterday and bought myself my very own tent.  I don’t mind the outdoors.  I like sitting around a campfire, looking at stars.  And I like the quiet start to the day, being woken up by birds.

But that’s about all I like.  Because everything else about camping seems so difficult.  Especially cooking.  It takes forever to cook anything, especially coffee.  I hate standing around in frosty mornings, waiting for stupid water to boil so I can have coffee.  And then, my coffee and food gets cold in about 2 minutes.  Hate that!

And then, what do you do all day?  I can only sit and chill out for so long.  I don’t mind hiking but I don’t want to hike all day.  You eat breakfast, you clean up, you go on a hike or chill for awhile and then you have to go right back to getting lunch ready because, again, cooking anything takes so long!

I know people are going to tell me that you can bring stuff pre-cooked, there’s a ton of easy camp recipes, etc.  I know all that.  I’ve camped with my son’s Scout troop many times.  And in the end, I know it will be ok.  But it doesn’t stop my anxiety from flaring  up before I get there.

Also, its supposed to rain this weekend.  Like, really rain.  Ugh.  By the time we get to our campsite tomorrow evening, its going to be dark.  Dark and raining.  And I have to set up a tent I’ve never set up before.  Yay!!  My blondness tends to seriously flare during these situations.  That’s usually not helpful.

Last anxiety producing issue here is that I don’t know the three other adult leaders who are going.  I mean, I’ve met them at troop meetings the past few weeks but that’s it.  New people make me anxious as it is being a truly introverted person.  And now I have to camp with them??  Oh geez.

So, overall, I’m worried and anxious.  I’m trying hard to stay focused today.  I’ve made a to do list because that helps me focus my day.  And I’m trying really hard to keep a positive attitude for my daughter.

Wish me luck and drier weather.  And feel free to pass along camping recipes too!

A New Scouting Adventure

Well, today is the day.   Today, my daughter officially becomes a Boy Scout.  Its been a long road to this point for us.  Follow the link to the New York Times article to see just a bit about the story:

Today, Boy Scouts of America will allow girls to join Boy Scouts.  Did we have a part in that change?  I’d like to think so, even if it was just a tiny part.

So today starts our new Scouting adventure.  I find myself as the Scoutmaster of a troop of girls.  (Girls can join but must be in a separate troop, although can be “linked” with an existing, boy, troop.  That’s what we’re doing.)  I have a lot of camping and hiking in my immediate future.

And I’m starting all of this with a bit of trepidation.  I ticked a lot of people off in our local Boy Scouts.  Some people are still against the idea of girls in Boy Scouts.  Very against.  Some people do a good job of letting me know that.

So I feel like my relationship with Boy Scouts is complicated.  When we brought the gender discrimination issue to the forefront, there was so  much nastiness, I often wondered why I would want either of my kids involved in the program.   But, I believe in the program.  Maybe not always in the people who are running things but, the people “on the ground”, the leaders, for the most part, are good people trying to just give kids some good experiences and skills.

And change is hard.  I get that.  BSA had been boys only for over 100 years.  I’m all for tradition.  Truly, I am.  Sometimes, I questioned whether going co-ed was really going to be a good thing.

But, here we are.  My daughter is so excited.  And I’m excited for her.  Its been a long, sometimes difficult, road and she’s hung in there.  She had this day circled on her calendar with a big “Become a Boy Scout!!!” note.  The Oath and Law have been pasted to her wall for at least a year now.  She knows them by heart.

So, here we go.  I’m interested to see where this new phase of the journey takes us.  And for now, I’m ignoring the fact that I don’t really like camping.  (Shhhh . . . don’t tell anyone!)

The Unicorns Are Going Camping

This was us in 2015:

Now, Cub Scouts are co-ed and Boy Scouts are admitting young women on February 1, 2019.  Its been a long road.  Here’s the link to a lovely “infographic” the Boy Scouts of America put out to explain the whole thing:

Unfortunately, most of my Unicorns have gone other directions.  But I’m starting a “linked” troop (see lovely infographic) on Feb. 1.  We’re excited!

Even though they can’t officially join until February 1, girls can do things with troops now to begin to explore what Boy Scouts is like, just as older Cub Scouts who are soon bridging to Boy Scouts have always done.

So, the Unicorns (well, two Unicorns) are going camping!  (Oh, for those of you who didn’t click on the link to the NY Times article, “the Unicorns” is the “patrol name” the girls gave themselves back in 2015.)

I’ve done a lot of Boy Scout camping with my son and is been a ton of fun, plus I think its been very positive for our relationship.  I’m really looking forward to finally being able to do the same with my daughter.  I’m looking forward to the opportunities Scouts will give her.  And I’m extremely proud of her for sticking with this process and remaining steadfast in her goal of being an Eagle Scout.

A word about Girl Scouts here – I think Girl Scouts is a good program and has many opportunities for young women, teaches great leadership, etc.  It just wasn’t the program for us.  I believe that people should have a choice and all of the same opportunities regardless of gender.  That’s why I pushed for Boy Scouts to go co-ed (its co-ed in the vast majority of the rest of the world and Girl Scouts / Girl Guides exists right alongside it.)  But there were moments, and still are, where I have my reservations.  I’m a big believer in traditions and I believe its important for both young men and young women to have their own space.  And all of that is probably for another blog post.

Because, in this post, I just want to say that its been a long road and I’m very excited for the Unicorns to be going camping with their linked troop.  And now, I need to go pack my backpack!