Saturday, January 19, 2013


On a Saturday in June, rain pours down upon a rag-tag group of Cub Scouts as they paddle canoes down the Elk River in southwestern Missouri. Our vessels are filling with water. I'm soaking and cold, and there nowhere to take cover. My father and I can only row on and hope we -- and Dad's camera equipment -- don't sink.

Around the bend we come to a canyon, where high on a cliff sits a beautiful lodge, dry and spacious, with a sign: "Ginger Blue Canoe Camp." Oh, how I wished I was there.

If you want to know why I don't camp out when I travel east for historical pursuits, this is why. Cub Scouting exposed me to more than enough elements, including too much testosterone. Man up, you say. Fair enough, but that's a little hard for somebody who hasn't reached puberty.

Father-son outings like this are supposed to build family ties and weld relationships, from the time we pitch camp in the early afternoon, to taking that canoe out for three or four hours in the semi-solitude of the waters, to the night by the fire and a slumber under the stars with scrambled eggs awaiting in the morning from a Coleman grill.

That's the Norman Rockwell version. Here's the reality:

  • Four hours on the road from Kansas City on mostly two-lane highway.
  • A dome tent that's not quite designed for our body shapes.
  • Nearly losing my shoes after getting in the canoe (but fortunately finding them later).
  • Mosquitos.
  • Contending with jokesters who treat the canoe like a bumper car, ramming you and shouting, "Whiplash! Whiplash!"
  • The rain.
  • Losing our Chips Ahoy cookies to the rain.
  • Camp showers that don't work.
  • A sweaty night in the tent.
  • Hearing that guy with that air mattress in the next tent over panting into the fill valve at 4am.

One go-around should've taught me, but I went on several of these trips. I figured I owed it to my father, if not myself, to stay in the game. This was the time of my life when I was discovering I was more house-nerd than naturalist. And still, I ended up at Scout Camp for a long weekend when I hit my Webelos years.

I wish I'd said, "Mom, Dad, I'm done with this. I don't like it, and I don't fit in with the guys that do. Find me a computer camp instead." Mom would've understood instantly. Her version of camping, dictated to me a wee lad: "Traveling in a Winnebago and staying at the Holiday Inn at night."

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