Sunday, May 24, 2009

West Virginia: Wild, Wonderful, and WET!

May 15th saw the scouts gearing up for one of the most anticipated campouts of the year: the Whitewater Campout! The troop rarely gets the ability to have such a campout due to the factors of cost and scheduling, so many of the scouts going were already getting adrenaline pumping in their veins even before the convoy of vehicles left the church parking lot! The location of the campout was in West Virginia, as the title no doubt explains, and so would require a lengthy drive. The plan was to drive about 6 hours overall between the church and the campsite, 2 hours for a single leg of the trip one way and including two 1-hour stops in between (the first to refill the humans, the second to refill the cars).
However, as said in a famous poem by Robert Burns, “the best laid plans of mice and men, often go wrong,” the trip down to West Virginia had its problems. The first of those problems being when at the first stop for dinner, the choice was at a “Sonic” drive-in eatery, where they’d apparently never had such a large group as the scout envoy and so were rather slow in getting everybody their orders. (Will Carlson, on the other hand, charmed a group of young attractive girls with his guitar skills while we were waiting.) After waiting far longer then an hour, everybody eventually got fed and got back on the road, only for the sky to threaten a fierce rainstorm. The scouts’ luck managed to hold out until the little convoy hit a series of steep hills, at which time the skies opened up and poured out what seemed to be a sea’s worth of water onto the earth. The rain stopped right before the scouts got to a BP to refill on gas, at which point purchases of late night goodies like chips and candy were made before the last leg was started. Towards 11:15 PM, the convoy finally reached the campsite, and it wasn’t until one in the morning till everybody had pitched tents and they were sound asleep.


The next morning had breakfast around 7:30, with simple oatmeal for scouts while the adults had a considerably larger meal. After breakfast, the scouts changed and prepared their dry bags for the trip’s main event: whitewater rafting on the Upper New River. The eager party departed camp at 9:45, arrived at the main location of the Class VI rafting company, and began checking in for the 10:30 trip on the New River. After putting on all the necessary equipment (near-skin tight wetsuits, water jackets, life jackets, and helmets), the rafters traveled up to the launching point in a bus while the trip leader (named George) began a crash course on whitewater rafting 101 at the front of the bus. When the group had arrived at the launch point and the two kinds of watercraft available; the one/two seater “duckies” (inflatable kayaks) and the typical raft were ready, the trip began with some rapids almost right at the start, but nothing that wasn’t a problem for anybody.
The first half of the rafting was a combination of rapids, short periods of calm, and naval warfare by way of splashing via hands and paddles – in short a whole lot of fun was had. CSX also had track that followed the river for all the distance that the scouts would travel on the Upper New River, and there were a few trains that passed in both directions, providing some interesting periodic railfaning opportunities. Right when the party hit the midpoint, marked by a short but wild rapid, the group paddled ashore and had lunch.


For the mid-day meal, the rafting company had brought a little buffet of sandwich fixings, various salads, and “Oreo Cake” for desert, all in all an excellent little riverside lunch. By the time most of the food had been consumed, everybody pitched in to help clean up what was left and reloaded the tables and water cooler onto the rafts before the boats were afloat again and heading across the river to the other side, the next hot spot to see being this old railroad tunnel that was flooded. The tunnel dated back to right before the Civil War, and the scouts were not only allowed going through it, but were also allowed to check out a neat waterfall behind it before the group had to continue on down the river. After a series of small rapids and a rather long period of calm river (the battlefield for duckie warfare, where a few people got dunked into the river), the group hit the rapid known as “Silo,” a.k.a. the longest rapid on the entire trip (a Class III rapid), and going through “Silo” was worth the 6+ hour drive the previous day. The convoy of boats hit some more rapids after “Silo” before reaching the end point, where the duckies were deflated and the rafts reloaded onto the trailer, and everybody got back on the bus, where George handed out soda pop to everybody.


The scouts’ luck had been holding out the entire day, as the forecast had called for a big rainstorm to hit around the time the rafting trip began. However, the skies had begun to darken around the time the group made it through “Silo,” and right as the bus took everybody back to the cars was when the skies opened up again. The problem, however, was that the rain did not stop after half an hour or so, it only rained harder over time. At the Class VI headquarters, however, the scouts showered, changed into dry clothes, returned the gear they had borrowed, and went to the cafĂ© above the souvenir shop to watch a video of the whitewater adventure (which had encountered some severe handicaps like an uncooperative battery and had a reduced price of $10, a low enough price for some to buy it, myself included since the still pictures were far more expensive).


When the scouts had finished buying souvenirs, etc., it was time to head back to the camp to make dinner, which thankfully was easy due to there being a structure providing a roof from the downpour that was still coming down with no signs of stopping. The scouts’ dinner was a delicious beef stew made by Nick Burnley, while the adults once again had a feast for a meal, including beef stroganoff and about two other main dishes, but prayer for everybody was led by Steven LaCount. When dinner was finishing up, the rain had at last stopped, but the damage was done: the tent Nick Burnley and Bret Carwhile shared had somehow gotten absolutely soaked along with everything in it, forcing Nick to sleep in one of the cars and Bret to use the backup tent. The fire pit was also soaked, and there seemed to be no hope of finding any wood close by that was dry enough to start a fire, so some of the group left to go buy some dry wood. However, by the time they got back with some dry wood, Nick had once again proven his unofficial title of “Troop Pyro” by managing to start a fire with the wet wood around him. After the dishes from dinner were all cleaned up, it was time for cracker barrel, where everybody was able to indulge in the same tasty treat: the S’more! (A standard in outdoor living cuisine) I went to bed soon after, but before I could doze off there was some commotion outside, and one of those flatbed trucks was moving about in the parking lot for some reason. Due to my state of sleepiness, I decided to learn what happened tomorrow.


The next morning, I think I was the first one fully packed up and out of my tent out of everybody else in the group, which made waiting for them to wake up a very long time as it took around 90 minutes for everybody to wake up and leave their tents for breakfast. The scouts simply had doughnuts to simplify clean up (just throw the boxes away), while the adults had yet another large meal to eat. Due to the fact that a 6+ hour drive still lay ahead of the group, those who had finished eating began to start packing their stuff up and breaking down tents, or began to load up Mr. Black’s pickup with the general camping gear again to hasten departure. When everything was loaded up again and the campsite policed, Steven performed a quick chapel service under the shelter before everybody began the trip home.


The first stop was actually at the New River Gorge visitor’s center, where there were nice restrooms with hot water and a 200-foot staircase that led to a platform giving a great view of the river and the signature bridge, which was 20 feet taller then two Statue of Liberties put on top of the Washington Monument! After going to the center and learning a bit about the area’s history, the scouts began the real trip back home. The trip home was like the trip there with its division of travel and breaks, but the lunch break was made at a Fazoli’s restaurant, and the food was not only better than Sonic’s but the food was served at a much faster pace as well compared to the long wait at Sonic. However, many scouts needed to use the restroom, and due to the fact the Fazoli’s only had a single-stall restroom, the wait was a bit long, and to kill time some scouts (including Dr. Reynolds) began playing Frisbee in the parking lot. The rest of the trip after Fazoli’s was rather uneventful, everybody arriving at the church around the estimated time of 4 PM in a state of tiredness but fulfillment as well in regards to the campout. After a slight crisis involving tent assignments, S.P.L. Will Carlson dismissed everybody, and so the whitewater rafters began to break up towards their homes and a nice, hot shower.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Election Night

The most recent troop meeting began a little earlier at 7:00, but only for those who were going on the whitewater rafting campout this upcoming weekend so the plans as to how to carry out the trip could be established. Half an hour later, the real meeting began as usual. To start off the meeting, Joel Neuhart hosted a short skill session on the 8 and ½ points of safe swimming, which was a good refresher for those going on the upcoming campout.

After the skill session, the scouts headed into the chapel to cast their votes for the next Senior Patrol Leader (S.P.L.). The nominee votes had been counted from last meeting, and three scouts were eligible for the position: Bret Carwile, Joel Neuhart, and Avery Reynolds. After each of the candidates had given their speeches, the other scouts were given a sheet with the names of the three possible choices and were instructed to circle the name of who they wanted to be the S.P.L. before handing the sheets back in. When all the votes for the next S.P.L. were turned in, the next item on the agenda was Patrol Leader nominations for the individual patrols, but unlike the S.P.L. votes, scouts could choose two scouts to nominate to run for Patrol Leader. Finally, after passing in the second round of ballots, the scouts went back into the main hall to play “swing the thing,” where one scout swings a “thing,” an unlucky paper towel tied to the end of a rope, trying to trip scouts who are jumping over the “thing” a few feet away from the swinger.

In between the elections and the game, I got comments from the S.P.L. nominees in regards to their feelings about the election:

Avery Reynolds: “This election could decide the course of my life for the next year!”
Bret Carwile: “The three candidates are great, any one of them would be great for the troop.”
Joel Neuheart: “I think whoever is elected S.P.L. will do a phenomenal job!”

At the end of the meeting, the results of the two elections had been tallied and were announced. The new S.P.L. after Will Carlson’s term ended would be Avery Reynolds, although the votes for each candidate were reportedly very close. For Patrol Leader candidates, they are: Max Goldberg and Steven LaCount for Hurricane, Nick Burnley and Dante Smith for Viking, Adam Oppold and Matthew Ruehlman for the Kodiak Bears, and lastly Ben Marquez and Alex Stringfellow for the Falcons. The Flaming Arrow patrol had already elected their Patrol Leader at a previous date, so they did not need to perform elections.

One last big event occurred right before the meeting was closed, however, and that event was Dillon Whitehead receiving his Eagle Scout patch from the previous scoutmaster, Mr. Siebenburgen, completing the Whitehead Eagle Scout trio. Mr. and Mrs. Whitehead were also in attendance as well so Mrs. Whitehead could pin the patch onto her son. When she pinned the rank onto Dillon, however, the resulting scene could be compared to Captain Parmenter receiving his Medal of Honor from the 1960’s TV show F-Troop.

Ben Hallenbeck, Troop Historian

Monday, May 11, 2009

Blood, Sweat, and Gears

At the latest scout meeting, the subject was Auto Mechanics, which believe it or not, is an actual merit badge. After the usual beginning for every typical meeting, the scouts were led outside to the parking lot behind the playground for the skill session, where the flower orders were originally set out. At that place, several of the assistant scoutmasters had set up three stations to teach scouts about different aspects of car repair or to give them hands on experience: Mr. Adkerson with a station reviewing basics for tire, engine, and brake care; Mr. Van Keuren with a hands-on lesson on switching out tires (on the trailer, as the adults probably were not letting scouts swap tires on the real cars); and Mr. Ossman and a crash course in various car parts (although, since there were so many different parts - along with various car manuals Mr. Ossman had - it looked more like a flea market seller’s table). While the adults did a good job not showing it, they were probably belying some concerns over the cars being able to get back home without needing a tow truck, but in the end they were able to drive their vehicles back relatively unscathed, the extent of the damage probably being one car having a wheel with insufficient air pressure in it.

After the scouts had all been through the stations, everybody went back inside. Since the Auto Mechanics skill session had taken so long, there was no time for a game, but there were other things that needed to be done. Right after coming back into the church, the scouts assembled in the chapel to nominate scouts to be candidates for the staff position of Senior Patrol Leader. Then, after the scouts fell in again, Noah Rechtin talked about how he was taking names to be volunteer counselors for a summer Cub Scout day camp (apparently lots of people want to be stationed at the BB rifle range - myself included). Mr. Ashley was also present and announced the seven people who had completed BSA Snorkeling training in order to go on the Sea Base trip (5 scouts, two adults). No more announcements came after Mr. Ashley’s, so Will had everybody circle up and call it a night.

Ben Hallenbeck Troop Historian

Monday, May 4, 2009

Color Wars II: Attack of the Scouts

On Friday, April 24th, the scouts gathered to load the trusty Troop 281 trailer full of both personal gear and very heavy patrol boxes in final preparation for the next campout, Color Wars: Rematch! The anticipation for this particular campout was especially high, as the previous Color War campout earlier in the scout year had been ended early due to the unending deluge of cold rain the entire weekend. This time, however, the weather was relatively calm and warm, a complete 180 from the miserable conditions of the last Color War.

From the start, everybody knew this was going to be an interesting Color War. Due to the location of the scout campsites in the back of Camp Achewon, the trailer needed to be hauled as far up the drivable path as possible, but Mr. Carlson’s car was struggling to pull the heavy trailer even on paved roads, and without Mr. Ossman’s “Mighty Yukon,” the problem seemed to have no solution. Then Mr. S, the former Troop 281 scoutmaster, showed up and devised a plan to use his uncle’s tractor (Mr. S’ uncle owns the land Achewon sits on) to pull the trailer to the back of the camp. After fixing a small breakdown with the trailer hitch, the tractor was able to haul the trailer…with a small army of scouts pushing it from the back. Another problem arose when both the Hurricane and Viking Patrols claimed the Falcon Ridge campsite as their Color War HQ, but settled the matter by simply combining themselves temporarily into the Black Dragon Patrol. The Falcon and Kodiak Bear Patrols also combined into the Falcon Bear Patrol, leaving only three patrols competing in Color Wars: Black Dragon, Falcon Bear and Flaming Arrow.

The next morning, the Falcon Bear Patrol performed flag raising, and Color Wars truly began with open season being declared for flag stealing. After being dismissed from flag raising, the patrols went through a round robin of challenges that were: tent set up/pack up time trial, a test of first aid know-how in an “emergency” case, Will Carlson’s card challenges, and a lengthy orienteering course set up by Avery Reynolds. After the four challenges were done with, the patrols went back to their campsites for lunch. During that time, I asked some of the Falcon Bear patrol members on their opinions on this Color War, and these are their responses:

Elliot Horstman: “Awesome! I’ve never been on such a fun campout!”
Ross King: “Happy, and fun!”

Alex Stringfellow: “Interesting, better than the last Color War (due to it getting rained out). The Flaming Arrows are easy prey, and we get our own campsite this time.”

The second half of Color Wars started around 2 PM when the famous “fire building contest” took place, where one scout from each patrol builds a fire with only one match, while all the rest of the scouts go gather burning material. The challenge was supposed to last around half an hour, but thanks to Nick Burnley (of the Black Dragons) having both skills at setting fire to things and a pre-harvested supply of easy-burning hay, Nick literally “smoked” the competition in 10 minutes, although some flag stealing was attempted in that time. After the fire burning contest was a second round robin with different challenges: the traditional Spider Web maze, the “tower of power” (with one scout always holding a hula hoop, the patrol must get the hoop down a very tall pole then back up again while being timed), the “bound ankles” challenge, a blindfold obstacle course, and Carlson’s Challenge Cards 2.0. The obstacle course, “tower of power”, and the bound ankles were fun challenges, but “spider web” was the most difficult of all the challenges, being that most scouts were too large to fit through the holes (the Black Dragons built human pyramids to get Nick Burnley over the top), and Will Carlson’s challenge was a little ridiculous (the most ridiculous one forcing one scout to consume an entire package of Oreo cookies. And no, I’m not pulling legs here, I’m dead serious that Will Carlson got scouts to force bunches of Oreo cookies into their mouths.)

After the second round robin was the dinner challenge, where the patrols make their best dishes to impress the brave tasting judges (I think health coverage is provided, not sure), who for this campout were Mr. Wilson and Mr. Carlson. The Black Dragon patrol simply made a giant smorgasbord of what originally were going to be their separate dinners (Hamburgers for Viking and Steak Chunks for Hurricane). However, before dinner could be served, Brandon Bodner got an injury when he got accidentally cut by a pocketknife, and had to leave the campground to go get medical attention. After dinner was flag lowering and campfire, the latter being held at the chapel. At campfire, there were demonstrations of skits, songs (Nick Burnley and Joel Neuhart sang the theme from “Dragon Tales”, and sang it off-key too), and scary stories. When campfire was done, the scouts split up into various activities: the Flaming Arrow patrol went to roast marshmallows, some scouts went to bed, some took Bret Carwile up on the offer to “sleep under the stars” and went to fetch their sleeping bags, and the rest gathered in front of the flag poles to play the famous “hide and seek” camp wide game, where the scouts do their best ninja impersonations and try to hide in the woods while the adults go try and find them in a period of 30 minutes, give or take (this also plays into the Color Wars scoring structure: a patrol gets 1 point for every scout not found by the adults). Only two scouts were found, Nick Burnley and Jack Van Keuren, but only because they thought someone saw them and kept asking “Who is that between (campsite name) and (campsite name)?” and so were caught in the process of switching hiding spots. No other hiding scout was found, however, and so after the game ended the scouts went back to their camps and went to bed.

The next morning started off kind of groggy, as half-asleep scouts began to disassemble their tents in preparation for leaving. At flag raising, flag stealing was ended, pretty much ending Color Wars, but Brett (acting SPL as Will had left the previous night to go to the Turpin High School Prom) would not reveal who won the War until he would dismiss everybody back at church. After flags, the scouts who camped in the woods brought their belongings out to the parade field to be picked up by the trailer…except Mr. S was away, and only he could operate the tractor, so the troop trailer was hauled to the parking lot on top of a hill where it would be loaded without danger of being to heavy to haul up the hill. The patrol boxes were driven to the trailer via the golf cart, which the adults drove around in. For the personal belongings of the scouts, the only option was to carry, haul, or drag their gear to the trailer.

When the trailer was mostly packed, the scouts attended chapel with Mr. Katt giving a speech about the underlying themes of the “David and Goliath” Bible story. After the scouts were done with chapel, the trailer was loaded with the final items the scouts had brought, and then performed a series of “police lines” all the way back to the cars to ensure that there was no trash left where the scouts had been. When the camp was deemed clean, the scouts headed back to the church. Finally, after the trailer was unpacked, tent cleaning duties assigned, and other post-campout necessities were done with, Brett called the scouts to fall in one last time to announce the winner of Color Wars: the Black Dragon Patrol, the Falcon Bears surprisingly not far behind in second, and in third/last place was the Flaming Arrow patrol, not far behind the Falcon Bears.

Ben Hallenbeck, Troop Historian