Does a Bear Shit in the Woods?

            A question apropos to any undertaking in which it is universally understood that questions of clarification need not be asked, yet are anyway. The readership at large I’m certain is hoping that I am going to go into the subject of bear defecation at great length, discussing the color, consistency, and perhaps even the odor. The truly hopeful may be under disillusion, though not after this sentence, that I may have born witness to such an awkward spectacle. Alas, no; this will be the last and final statement on the subject and I will have no further truck with anyone who asks me to elaborate. Instead this article, chapter or whatever the hell it is today will serve to recount some tales about my Boy Scout camping days and perhaps, time permitting, some follow on efforts.

            I already explained my first foray into the deep dark woods in my ‘Webelos’ post and I won’t bother to recount any of that, forcing you to go back and read again, unless of course you just read it recently, in which case you should be OK. Nevertheless, the experience did not deter me a twit from pursuing further outdoor adventures; something I would come to immediately regret. The summer after the Webelos trip my parents decided to treat me to a great time by sending me off to Camp Turner for a whole week, in which they would be free from my nefarious doings; a nice break for them I’m sure. We prepared for weeks; gathering supplies, planning the route down and perusing the colorful brochure that depicted a bunch of happy little assholes having fun.

            I probably would have been a happy asshole myself, had my mother not blabbed the plans to her best girlfriend on one of their marathon conversations. Before I knew what was what, her son, my oft times nemesis, Pete was also coming along for the week. I was dismayed, though a little bit happy to at least have someone whose name I knew along for the ride as I was a shade on the shy side. To make things more awkward, my mother listened to some old friend of hers who had been to this camp many years ago. This idiot revealed to her that campers used footlockers, military style, to haul and store their shit in. So, we ended up borrowing the one this fool had and lugged it home and filled it with my gear. Needless to say, we got there and I was the only one dragging around this antiquated piece of shit while everyone else had sleek modern suitcases.

            I’m sure the other campers in time would have gotten over the fact that my “luggage” matched that of a 19th century sailor, but I was not afforded that opportunity. Pete, within hours of arriving managed to piss off the whole cabin by pushing the smallest guy off some rocks and injuring him. Despite the fact that I too found this to be particularly egregious, I was nevertheless linked to him. Protesting the matter did nothing in my favor as it appeared weasely as if I was turning my back on an old “friend”. This made for a particularly long week in which we both endured muttered threats and I even had the contents of my foot locker tossed a few times. The shunning didn’t bother Pete a whit of course and he continued blindly forward as if everyone didn’t hate him, depriving me of the one soul who should have been sharing the burden of being associated to his own person!

            I managed to survive the Camp Turner experience and even though I managed to avoid all manner of swirlies, wedgies, and the dreaded rear admiral I declined to opt to return the following year as undoubtedly Pete would follow and the whole sorry mess would be repeated. I did, however, decide that if I was going to go camping in a group environment again it would one be with a group I already had an in with, and second, in a much less structured environment. Making fucking boondoggle key chains and playing color wars was a hoot and all but I was simply looking to crash around the woods in as dangerous a manner as possible. I found my outlet in the St Andrew’s Boy Scout troop, a motley group of hooligans masquerading as admirable youth.

            In the traditional sense, Scouting is about service, community, God, country and all that hoo-ha they try and sell you on. I was in it simply for the camping and stated as much, participating the bare minimum amount needed to remain part of the troop and engage in the monthly outings into the deep dark woods. I progressed through the ranks by getting the least number of merit badges required in the easiest possible categories. When I was honorably discharged a few years later I believe it made it all the way to First Class with a host of bullshit badges including Animal Husbandry (one I couldn’t possibly have fulfilled the requirement for), Cross Stitching, and Unrealized Good Intentions, which I didn’t actually have, but got covered while fulfilling Creative Storytelling. My popcorn sales were abysmal as I failed to even convince my grandmother that it was a good buy. The only meetings I showed up to were the pre-campout planning sessions and generally left well before the end to avoid the mini-classes in knot tying and sponge bathing the elderly.

            The camping trips were glorious affairs! I don’t know if I enjoyed the summer or winter versions better as each had their own flava, so I’ll begin with the summer. Summer camping simply meant tents, which rocked. Not in the good sense of head banging ecstasy but more of the feeling of banging your head on the rock beneath your sleeping bag. For some reason we always started these adventures on a Friday evening, and usually arrived just around dusk. Why we did this rather than wait until morning and make things easier was something the dads along always wondered but never did anything about. Arrival was chaos. Freed from the loving shackles of motherhood supervision we immediately began games of ‘Commando’, a ‘Capture-the-Flag’ variant with less rules. What it really was was a bunch of pubescent boys crashing through the dark woods at night trying to “pretend” hunting down and attempting to kill one another. How this never actually happened for real I’ll never understand.

            While we acted like idiots, my father and the rest of the adult supervision would try to get things organized and draft dashing bodies who came too close to the perimeter to set up tents or gather firewood. Firewood gathering was a real Br’er Rabbit tactic in which the captured Scout would generally just return to the game instead of fulfill his proscribed mission. It was usually well after midnight when things were finally in a state to eat something. The first night it was usually the classic hotdog on a stick over the fire, followed by marshmallows. S’mores were a “forget it” as some dickwad would eat all the damn chocolate well before the other pieces of the puzzle could be put together. Exhausted, we would pass out in the wee hours of the morning only to be awoken at the crack of dawn by some funny bastard singing the “it’s time to get up, it’s time to get up, it’s time to get up in the morning” song. Fucker.

            Saturday would be spent in a sleep deprived haze of hiking, more Commando, exploring and a little fishing or such. We were supposed to be learning things like building rope bridges, but our troop was matched well with Scouts who didn’t want to learn and leadership not very inclined to teach anyway. Wisely, we eschewed Jamborees and other events when the cracks in our veneer might be observable to other troops had we allowed them to get too close. At night we would dine on a horrendous concoction known as the “foil meal”: ground chuck, onion, carrots, and potato all wrapped up in foil and stuck in the fire. The results were a greasy mulch of undercooked beef and fat infused half cooked veggies. Adult leadership usually had something else to eat along the lines of strip steaks stored in a locking cooler.

            Winter camping was much more interesting, although indoor affairs wherein we would take up lodging in either the rustic Sikes cabin at Schoellkopf or the fabulous McCormick Lodge at Scouthaven. Given a choice between Sikes, which was analogous to Little House on the Prairie, though a little more primitive, and McCormick, a luxurious bunkhouse with electricity, cooking facilities and indoor bathrooms, I would always choose the former without question. Getting to Sikes on a cold Friday night was always a hoot and involved the immediate task of trying to dry out wood, as the already chopped shit was stored, as a rule, in an area calculated to allow it to absorb the most moisture. We would go wood gathering for wood to burn to dry it and usually settled on green wood. There is nothing like the combination of burning green wood mixed with sopping old aged wood to really fill a cabin up with the maximum amount of smoke possible. I recall that it was even difficult to see the fireplace from my bunk, a simple 4 feet away.

            The best camping of the year was the fabled Thanksgiving campout, of which I attended two. The first year it was at Sikes and Gore, the eldest Scout in the troop, set forth to prepare the annual turkey. An enormous 28 lb bird was set on a spit and manually rotated over the fire for the better part of the day. In the evening, the local rangers in charge of Schoellkopf would be invited to partake with us and provide a midnight hayride after. The smell of the bird cooking all day was magnificent! All eyes rested greedily on the succulent bird and our guests salivated in anticipating when it was taken off the spit. To our dismay the initial carve revealed that the damn thing was still frozen in the middle and not fit for consumption even by Thies’s dog! Our creative solution was to hack off big pieces and dump them in a pot of boiling water to bring then up to temperature. A delicious repast was had of watery stuffing, burned baked potatoes, disgusting boiled turkey, and the lifesaving Mountaintop apple pie.

            The rangers, despite not eating much of anything, especially after witnessing Gore rip apart raw turkey flesh with his sooty hands, and Gary stick his even filthier hand into a 5 gallon jug of bug juice to mix it, made good with the hayride anyway. The hayride, a freezing affair in late November, was made even more uncomfortable by the assholes in front who when passing under a snow laden pine branch would do the old shake down and make sure the rest of us were buried periodically by a faux blizzard. The following year the event was held at McCormick with its fancy schmancy oven and a turkey with one of them new fangled pop up thermometers. Less fun then getting shot in the ass with rock salt we all thought, having never had that particular experience anyway.

            Another great feature about the Thanksgiving campout was that it was traditionally where the new troops broken in. The year that was my first and the same trip that featured the frozen turkey, the legend of the day was that of old Johnny Schoellkopf. The first night we arrived myself and the other newbies were told of old Johnny, the black sheep son of the camp namesake family who killed a whole Scout troop, sacrificed them to Satan, and was guaranteed immortality to skulk about the camp and do so at will until the end of time. Although we were fed a line that countless troops were dispatched in such a fashion, usually ambushed on night hikes, my question regarding why everyone just didn’t go to some other campground was not answered to my satisfaction. It also didn’t seem kosher to me that immediately after this dark telling it was announced that we would be going on a night hike. I smelled a rotten banana and resolved to keep my eyes open.

            I hung towards the back of the formation and was not surprised to see one of the older Scouts, “too sick” to come along, slip out the front door of the cabin before we lost site of it. He was an extremely shitty tracker and I managed to figure out where he was most of the time being gifted with serviceable night vision. On a whim I held further and further back myself and managed to disappear into the woods after we rounded a bend. Hunkering down, I waited for our tracker to pass and began tracking him. As expected, when the troop got into the deepest woods he began with the moaning and chucking around of branches. The other younger troops got pretty panicked, especially with the older guys feigning a ‘Blair Witch’ level of terror. While “Johnny Schoellkopf” stopped to arm himself with snowballs to barrage them with, I managed to walk up right behind him and went with the classic “Boo!” His initial reaction was severe enough where it may have included some bowel voiding, though he quickly followed it with characteristic violence. By the time I extracted my inverted form from the brambly snow bank, the jig was up and we returned to the cabin.

            There was one ill conceived attempt one year to tent camp in the winter time. It was the annual ‘big brother’ team up with the Webelos where in the guise of shepherding them toward the glory of Scout-hood, we would terrorize them for the weekend and get some laughs. The laughs were on us that year my friend, as somehow the Webelos ended up in cozy cabins while the real Scouts got stuck in tents. In January. The official line was that it was planned that way, but given our well unorganized leadership I’m guessing they forgot to book us a cabin and found none were left available when someone finally figured it out.

            Good Scouts should be able to tent camp in any weather. Hell, other troops reputedly even occupied lean-to’s in the dead of winter, but it was universally acknowledged that we simply weren’t good enough Scouts for all that and would probably die if it were attempted. The tent experience almost did the trick. As usual, we set up on a Friday night, my father and I picking a prime level location in a slight depression. A light rain had begun just as we turned in. By morning things were quite wet, and we were getting water intrusion into the tent. I spent most of the day running around in the woods in the rain, becoming thoroughly sopped, all the while exhibiting a magnificent deep chest cough. By late afternoon it became apparent why all attempts to stave the water off were not working – we had pitched our digs on a big sheet of ice that was melting faster by the second. Our sleeping bags were soaked and no dry cloths were left to change in to. Evening approached and the temperature dropped. I was grateful that my father decided to call it and we packed the show up and left once it came out that the Webelos were not going to be sharing the cabin, though would let us come in to dry off for a bit.

            The magnum opus, a term that really doesn’t apply here, of my Scouting camping days was the great Northern Lights canoe trip. The Scoutmaster of my troop, Joe, worked summers as a guide and talked a bunch of us into making the bus ride up to Algonquin National Park up in land of snow and Canuks. Many preparations were made ahead of time, and once again I had an unwelcome item foisted on me through the advice of another old friend of my mothers who had been up there once 30 years prior and was plagued by skeeters. Thus I made the trek up with a giant bee keeper’s hat/ mask that the other fellows naturally found hysterical. I declined to wear it of course and kept it stuffed in the bottom of my duffel.

            The trip was memorable in that it was a first hand exposure to the glory of unspoiled nature, roughing it miles away from paved roads, and eating the Boy Scout equivalent to military MREs every day. It is not worth mentioning much further simply for the fact that nothing at all funny happened, so my exasperating descriptions of some fuck face turtle sunning itself on a log is more than I feel comfortable burdening the readership with, especially as I tend to go on forever as it is. Oh, we did have a momentary giggle when one of the guys was calling his mom in a phone booth and everyone took turns sticking their head in and muttering ‘blowjob’ into the receiver; something he didn’t appreciate as much as we did.

            Shortly after the Northern Lights voyage I ended my association with Scouting for a number of reasons. For one, I had entered high school and felt I was getting too old for that schtick and didn’t want to be one of those pathetic 18 year old Eagle Scouts. Second, a few months after the trip, Joe the Scoutmaster got charged with child molestation. He came to my parents house to disclose this and made the claim that it was pure fabrication of his jilted ex girlfriend who was using her son, who stayed up at Northern Lights with Joe all summer, as a means to get back at him. Though I had no personal evidence of any wrong doing on his part, I and most of the rest of the troop slipped quietly away, even after he resigned.

            I reentered the world of camping once I became old enough to go without supervision, though this was highly inadvisable as the other participants tended to be the likes of Knaus, Thies, Dave, Little Dave, and sometimes Jeff. In retrospect, it was far more likely that someone would get killed or worse with this group than the Scouts, but somehow we managed to straggle home each time. I can think of two voyages worth mentioning.

            The first was the epic trip up into the Adirondacks during the storied Comstock era. This trip consisted of Knaus, Thies, and some dude named Brian who Knaus knew and who we never saw or heard from after. It was a long ride up in Knaus’s van and an even longer hike up the side of the mountain, especially for me as I still did not have a frame pack and relied on my fathers old duffel bag which makes one wish for death when lugging it up a steep mountain.

            The first night there was fantastic. We set up camp and decided to try for the peak of the mountain after dinner. We managed to make it up there just as the sun was beginning to set; a glorious view of nature and all that crap. The undertaking was naturally ill conceived as none of us brought a flashlight. The trip down was danger fraught and filled with infinite risk of tumbling down the poorly defined pathway in near pitch darkness. Undeterred we bounded down at breakneck speed while Knaus entertained us with one of his frequently utilized caricatures of a pissy old man. He had us in stitches and remarkably no one needed any.

            That night I bore witness to further danger in the form of the indigenous wildlife. We had been advised, and surprisingly followed, to tie our food well up in the trees at night for fear of bears, who as it turns out, like to eat as much as they like to shit in the woods. The first night I heard noises and unzipped my tent just a squeak. There in the moonlight was a large brown bear clawing away at the base of the tree our grub was stashed in. He looked my way with a “you want some of this?” expression. I withdrew trusting the razor thin layer of nylon of my tent would be ample guard against his deciding he preferred something fresh. I declined to wake Aaron, who I was sharing the tent with, in fear that he would either attack the bear in defence of his salami sandwiches, or run screaming like a little girl into the woods with the ursine creature lumbering in pursuit, turgid and in a heat of passion.

            Another memorable trip was taken down to Rushford with Knaus, Dave and Jeff, who decided to come out again anyway despite Dave’s earlier plans to stop him with a deft throw of his hatchet. We camped out at my cousin’s property with the stated goal of having a very relaxing weekend, though Dave saw too it that this would assuredly not happen. Right before leaving for the trip, Dave finished his shift at Noco, the one across from the dirty bookstore we loved so much, and the drawer count came up short. Dave, whose work ethic rivaled that of competitive eating champion Takeru Kobayashi, worked himself into such a tizzy that the miscount would bring down the mighty Noco empire, found it impossible to relax.

            The first night there we quickly got a fire going; I was “fire guy” known for my legendary ability to ignite almost anything from kerosene soaked tinder to toilets. Dave brought with him this time a full size axe to go along with the little one strapped to his thigh with duct tape. He neglected, however, to sharpen it before leaving, and despite this found it crucial to chop as much wood as possible. While the rest of us tried to sleep restlessly, Dave spent all goddamn night thunking away at the timbers until we were sure the whole of the forest would be leveled like in that Dr Seuss yarn with the buttinsky Lorax. Lo and behold when we awoke and found that the mighty commotion he spent all night irritating us with resulted in but three sections of green log, such was the dullness of his blade and his wits.

            After spending all night chopping wood, overtired and still pinging about Noco, Dave waxed a bit weird and we finally suggested he go take a nap. In the mean time, Knaus, Jeff and I set to work trying to solve the bridge problem that plagued my cousin. Every spring the stream that ran through the property washed away whatever bridge he built over it. We, three young assholes with no concept of architecture or mechanical design, were determined that we could solve this problem of the ages. While Jeff and I took the approach of building a mighty wooden structure using fallen timber, Knaus set to work attempting to actually change the course of the stream all together and routing it away from the property by constructing a veritable fortress of a mud and stone dam using material dredged from the stream bed. Jeff and I saw merit in this and added our timber collection to the cause.

            A few hours into it, we managed to divert a small portion of the stream about 6 inches to the right. Without warning we were under attack. Small stones came flicking out from the underbrush every few seconds and splashing around us. I finally charged into the woods to find Dave, well camouflaged (or so he thought), with his little pile of armaments and taking aim at Knauses mud and water laden coif. He turned and seethed at me. “If I were a malignant hunter with a gun, you would all be dead right now.” This was apparently in defence of his pre-trip argument to procure an actual gun for this very possibility. Wisely, we knew an armed Dave was a terrifically bad idea under any circumstance. Jeff never camped with us again.

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2 Responses

  1. I also joined Boy Scouts simply for the camping, though I was not the shirker you were. You are a disgrace, though you managed to get to what I dubbed “the breaking point.” for those that do not know the joys of Scouting, you can quickly rise to the rank of Second Class with not much more than semi-regular attendance and breathing. The first real work you have to do is to get to First Class. This means mastering all the traditional skills: cooking, starting a fire with two matches (or the testers take great joy in kicking your failed fire apart and you have to start with gathering tinder again). This is where you separate the boys from the.. uh, boys. This is the point where, eventual pass or fail, most Scouts climax. If you find a Scout that makes it past First Class, then you have found yourself a real Scout. Well, First Class is a real Scout also, but he has proven all he needed to, and may leave.

    We also would arrive Friday nights at dusk. I think it was so the moms had the entire weekend to be rid of our foolishness.

    That song sucked, but we all soon learned the skill to sleep through it so out Scoutmaster used the tried and true tactic of banging a pot next to your head.

    Summer camping at least meant no need for a fire to be kept going all night, so no need for night watch.

    Foil mush and adults eating steak was my experience also. This is why, when and older scout I was given the choice of eating with the other, younger scouts or eating with the adults for the price of doing all the cleaning, I gladly grabbed a Brillo pad.

    Good old Schoellkopf beats Scouthaven any day, except if we stayed in the learn-tos on top of the mountain at Scouthaven. All you need is a tarp over the missing wall and that iron Grizzly stove kicked out enough heat to make you sweat in your sleep.

    I remember that Johnny Schoellkopf crap. Sometimes he had a hook or a mask, depending what the latest horror movie out at the time was.

    Northern Lights, the sight of my recently told canoeing trip in “Courting the Ladies.”

    I remember that trip, and that guy Brian. I think we have pictures form that trip somewhere. Some pictures of you in the parking lot with that duffel bag.

    “We, three young assholes with no concept of architecture or mechanical design, were determined that we could solve this problem of the ages.” That is the best line you have written in a long time.

  2. Ha! Testers… In my troop the “testing” consisted of…
    “So, Wolfie, you uh, built your own fire and stuff?”
    “Uhhhh….. yeah?”
    “Excellent! You sir, are First Class”
    “Kneel before Zod!”

    OK, I probably made that last line up, but I feel it would have been an appropriate response.

    You are probably right about packing us out to get the full weekend.

    I am not at all surprised to hear you became the voluntary scullery maid to the slovenly adults simply to suckle on the teat of a juicy rib eye!

    Ha again! Watch…. yeah, we usually just woke up freezing to the last embers of the fire dying down. Probably one of the many reasons we were banned from the lean tos as a huge insurance risk.

    You are pictures from the trip? Hey, didn’t Knaus have a pic of you on top the mountain against the sunset on his website?

    I feel that if I write enough lines, you will eventually like one!

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