Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Hapless wanderer

Kids these days, with their Nike™® this and iPhone©®™ that! Brands rule, all else drools. If it ain't shiny and new, it just ain't.

Once upon a time we Boy Scout leaders decided to out-Shinola™® those shiny baubles with some guerrilla marketing of our own.

Thus was hatched the Hurner-Turner Burner™©-brand Backpacking Trip.

Hurner is Greg Hurner, just now stepping down as Scoutmaster for our sons' Troop. Greg grew up cattle ranching and hunting, born outdoors, built Ford™® tough and all that. He's got hooves for feet and can climb slopes at a sprint. With an impish grin (some may say slightly wicked), he frequently challenges Scouts to the limits of their physical ability, encouraging activities that are safe but just beyond their comfort level. He's good for the Scouts. That's him above, stick-figured high atop a peak.

Turner is me, Scoutmaster at the time, born old and indoors, the Air Force brat who didn't take up backpacking until my son joined Scouting. I love the outdoors as much as the next person, but count every trip a success when I and the Scouts return unscathed. 

I was the Troop's Nervous Nellie, bearer of paperwork, making sure that the Troop filed all the necessary permits, that drivers were secured, and enough trained adults were on hand to help. I was always the sweep, the last guy in line on a trek, making sure no one was left behind and prodding Scouts even slower than me to pick up the pace. I was good for the Troop welfare, I think. That's me in the way back of the illustration, sweeping.

We adults were fighting a growing epidemic in the Troop, a slouching toward languor. When Scouts joined outings at all, they preferred car camping: Ride in a car to a campsite, unfold lawn chair, open Spaghettios®© and Gatorade©™, argue with other Scouts about who does dishes, collapse late in a sleeping bag leaving the dishes a mess, breakfast on Pop-Tarts™®, gather the dirty dishes in a blanket, throw it in the car, argue about who will take it home to wash, drive to In-N-Out™© for burgers Animal Style®™, go home.

Car camping has its rare place in the Troop, but it falls under the category of Things Scouts Can Do Just As Easily With Their Own Families. Boy Scouts can be unique among kids' groups if we let it, and backpacking is one of its classic distinctions.

(Yes, yes, Boy Scouts is supposed to be boy run, but without a good nudge/push, it would be Spaghettios®™ and Gatorade™® and grousing over dishes ad infinitum.) 

Nudging the Troop toward a backpacking trip, we decided to make it an event, complete with its own T-shirt, the way we traditionally did for summer camp.

I designed it with felt pen which I scanned into Photoshop®™ and enhanced with an Illustrator®© flame and letterform shapes. A lifetime absorption of little R. Crumb and Big Daddy Roth, some Sempé and R.O. Blechman and George Herriman and Sunday comics, leaked out into the finished piece.

In an important way, the Hurner-Turner Burner®© was a hit, attracting most of our Scouts, and even a couple of full patrols, which was rare. Desolation Wilderness, a funny name for such a beautiful place above Lake Tahoe to the west, provided something for everyone, a "wasteland" of granite face for play and solitude. Heavily protected, Desolation Wilderness requires permits and restricts visitors' first night's stay in certain zones of the wilderness. It required our Troop to split into patrols and operate on their own about a third of a mile from one another for the first night. Everyone ate out of his own mess kit, so arguments over dish washing fell by the way.

While new Scouts stayed near a lake and took it easy trying out their first backpacking experience, older Scouts spent a night of the long weekend hiking in the slopes of another zone and roughing it among themselves near a distant peak.

In another important way, the Hurner-Turner Burner™© was a big failure.

Let's just say it involved an abundance of confidence, a good measure of hope and a scarcity of preparation; a hopeful contingency plan, a mis-read topographical map, a missed trail spur, a long vigil for Messrs. Hurner and Turner in a remote parking lot; and a California Highway Patrol helicopter.

Everyone was safe, no one got hurt, except for feelings and egos. Recriminations surfaced, the thin veneer of civility wore through in places, and my fire-bright outlook on Scouting dimmed a bit.

A snow camping trip, tentatively called the Hurner-Turner Ice Burner™© or the Hurner-Turner Snow Churner®©, never materialized. Previous trips had cured older Scouts of any desire to camp in snow ever again.

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