While reading an article on the Internet, I ran across a piece that said to the effect of “do something new every day.” Everything seems to be so routine as we go through our day from waking up to our work. This past Friday, my son and I did something new. In 45 years on this Earth I had never taken the opportunity to go camping. My wife, growing up loved camping with her family, but for me camping was usually a beachfront hotel with a bar, running water and a toilet. Now that I have experienced “the outdoors” I can’t wait to get back.
For scouting, my son and I signed up to go with Cub Scout Pack 1155, out of Brentwood on a 3 day camping trip to Cutter Scout Reserve located in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I was very fortunate that my wife owned a 2-person tent and double air mattress, while my MIL had bins of camping gear, including stoves and a propane cylinder. Initially I was under the impression that a camping trip meant a hiking trip, little did I know those are very different. That’s good because I was not ready to shell out $400+ on backpacks for the both of us.
Aside from food, it was less than $300 to buy some camping supplies and two Kelty sleeping bags. Preparation and planning started the week before we were leave for Santa Cruz, as made a list of what to take, what we would eat and what needed to be purchased. While I felt confident about my the planning stage, I knew there would be changes when I looked back after the weekend. This trip also gave me the opportunity to get to Bass Pro Shops in Manteca, but was disappointed in their camping section. I probably would have done better locally, at REI.
I received word during the middle of the week that none of Zachary’s den would be attending the camping trip. In fact only about 15 boys (based on the website) and 16 adults were on the reservation list. While most were Webelos scouts, Zachary ended up being the “buddy” of Andrew, a younger scout directly across from our tent. It worked out well, I always heard Andrew saying, “I’m looking for my buddy.” Together the boys had fun and partnered with another boy and they played around the camp when we had down time.
When we rolled up to our camp site some 2.5 hours after leaving Oakley, I met the Cubmaster and her husband, as well as the Committee Chair, they gave me the lay of the campsite and said find a level piece of ground and set up your camp. Light was fading quickly in the Santa Cruz mountains, with a thick canopy of redwoods and deciduous trees around us. Our campsite went up rather easy, laid out the tent and pop, it was up and ready for use. The fire pit was about a 30 foot walk to our right, so I started our propane Coleman lamps for lighting in the immediate area and made decisions for dinner.
Cooking should have been simple, but it was more of a task because I did not bring a table with us, using the cooler as our table, where all our cold food was. I put all the dry food in a rectangular been, but when I was cooking I was in and out of these bins all the time, so a small table would have been ideal. Lesson learned. Zachary wanted to cook hot dogs and initially I was not going to bring any, but this food and s’mores are a staple on ANY camping trip and didn’t want to deprive him of the experience. He was responsible around the stove and didn’t burn his hotdogs.
Most of my food was prepared ahead of time. Thanks to Julie-Marie Christensen at Protective Diet, I made black bean chili, jalapeno corn muffins, banana bread, tortilla chips and salsa. In fact I made too much food for myself and I always seemed to be eating. Not to be left out, I also decided to buy a 4-pack of Field Roast Apple Maple Sausages (not PD, but I splurged). For containing no meat, these sausages were outstanding! Along with the table, I also forgot a pot to cook in, so I ended up reheating everything in a pan. Not ideal, but it worked. Lesson learned. Again!
As camp got dark we were invited over to the other side of the camp and the campfire for s’mores and some relaxation. The boys had a good time getting their sugar high on, while the adults talked amongst themselves. It felt great to just sit back, in nature and relax without a care in the world. Except for the fact I was not able to get a hold of my wife as we descended from Skyline Blvd, down towards China Grade, our turnoff to the camp site. I tried a few times and finally left a text message, but it would not be until Sunday morning, about 9am we would hear her. I did however received a text message saying, “Honey” but was not able to respond due to no cellular network at 1045pm on Friday.
Sleeping the first night was challenging, I just barely fit in the tent and with very little wind through the mountains, it was sticky, hot. I opened up the tent to allow some air, but it was not much. Add to that, the air mattress had a hole in and by the time we climbed into the tent we were sleeping on the hard ground. Don’t think Zachary had much trouble falling asleep but I tossed and turned all night. Still it was nice to look to up at the night sky through the trees and fall asleep.
Saturday was a very busy day, it was supposed to start with a flag ceremony, unfortunately someone forgot the flag, so we had to pledge allegiance to one of the boys who had a flag shirt on. LOL. It works, right? After the pledge, we ate breakfast and waited for the range to open the BB gun range. This would be the first activity of the day, followed by archery a few hours later.
After all the hours of playing Call of Duty, Zachary was left standing, shaking his head, “Dad the sites on this BB gun are off.” LOL! “I shoot better if I am standing up, not sitting.” Okay, Zach, okay. Still, sitting down and firing two rounds of 25 BBs, he did very well. He was receiving some minor instruction from the rangemaster on the basics of holding and firing the BB gun. The biggest problem I was was his head/eye was really far back from the rear aiming piece, but with that said he still hit the target some 35 times!
It was time for lunch and a short quarter mile walk, uphill back to our camp site. I broke open the black bean chili and jalapeno cornbread muffins, while Zachary had another hotdog and some tortilla chips, we also shared some banana bread. One thing I noticed during our meals, not enough variety. I forgot some juice for Zachary, so he was limited to water, hot chocolate or Gatorade. I planned on water and tea for me, which I was okay with. It would have been nice to bring a wider variety of food, but that is something for the next camping trip.
After lunch, we waited for the ranger to unlock the archery range and the rangemaster set things up. Archery was a sport that Zachary had never done, unless of course you consider his mastery with bow and arrow on the Xbox. Sorry kid, doesn’t count. He was in the first round of archers to take their place on the range, as all the boys were required to wear an arm guard to protect the forearm area, on the arm you were holding the bow with. I noticed Zachary put the arm guard on his right arm and I tried to correct him, but this is how he wanted it. To me, it was backwards, but for him it worked.
Each boy had 2 rounds of 5 arrows. Zachary let fly his 5 arrows and had 3 hits on the target. His second arrow was by far his best shot! Less than one inch from the bullseye and the arrow necklace the rangemaster was passing out to those who hit the center of the target. This would be his best shot of the day, which gave him a big smile and nice boost of confidence, but he tried too hard and shots seemed to get a bit worse. His third round he just barely grazed the target and left the range a bit frustrated.
It was early afternoon and there had been some talk about a 3 mile hike. Unfortunately it never materialized. The Cubmaster had seen a scout to check on the ‘Dern Trail’ that had a head new the BB gun range, but it was a dead end. This left the afternoon wide open and most all the boys played in and around camp. Zachary and I sat down and went through his Webelos book discussing some of the topics and marking off items we completed. We hiked a few hundred feet down the hill from our tent and found a walking stick. Back at our tent I started teaching him the basics of a knife, using my Swiss Army knife. He had some trouble with it and I told him I would not give him this knife or any other until he could demonstrate he could open and close it safely and have a basic understanding of how to use it. In the end, we carved some wood and he asked me to start working on his walking stick, which I striped of bark and attempted to smooth it out for him.
Zach and Andrew played around camp for much of the afternoon and I took the boys down to the pond, which had another group of scouts canoeing. While a group of Boy Scouts were “fishing” on the shore. The pond was very low from the look of it and the spillway appeared to have been dry for a few years with growth around it. We walked the pond and stopped with the Boy Scouts and watched them fish for a bit before heading back to camp as it was getting close to dinner time.
Saturday George and Lisa showed to up talk to parents about transitioning and supporting their boy(s) from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts. Honestly, listening to their talk got me a bit worried myself about making the jump. They put on a very informative talk, which left me with many questions unanswered. I don’t even know if Zachary will follow through to be a Boy Scout, time will tell, especially after I told him boys his age will be leading them and they go on camping trips at least once a month.
Dinner came and went without a hassle, more hotdogs for my son, but I sliced up squash, green pepper, zucchini, onion and Field Roast sausages and roasted them in foil over our propane stove. I know the sausage alternative isn’t PD (See Protective Diet), but this was camping and it sounded good for dinner and went very well with my roasted veggies. Amazing flavor in a meatless sausage, but it won’t be a regular meal, as it includes ingredients I want no part of including oil and wheat gluten. Still, dinner was a success and it was followed up by dessert, hot coco and roasted marshmallows for Zach and a few pieces of banana bread and jasmine tea for me.
I relaxed much of Saturday evening sitting next to our tent, watching the boys successfully light their own fire in the fire pit (supervised by adults). The poked the fire, ran around with their headlamps on had a great time in between their marshmallows. About 8pm, we joined Boy Scout Troop 98 from Livermore, near the pond, which had a small amphitheater as boys from 98 and Pack 1155 performed a few skits as entertainment. The night closed with a song and we headed back to camp.
As the weekend drew to an end I reflected on what I had been missing by not wanting to camp for 45 years of my life. Sure, the toilets were nothing more than a stinky hole with a metal bucket and toilet seat, there were no showers and the running water was somewhat limited. But that in part makes camping a wonderful experience. Being outdoors, realizing there is so much to do and see, not in the the US, but worldwide, if you just get outside and open your eyes. It was a great weekend to see none of the boys with their noses stuck in their Apple iPads or mobile devices, but learning, experiencing, competing and having a great time in the outdoors.
I know for a fact this won’t be the last time we camp, I am already looking at other overnight trips that Zachary and I could go on and once my wife’s back heals from her most recent surgery, the three of us can get back to nature as a family and explore this great land. Prior to leaving on Sunday morning, Zach and I made our way across camp to say goodbye and thanks to those leaders who set up this opportunity. It brought a small tear to my eye to hear Zachary say thank you to Carrie the Cubmaster with a smile on his face, as well as thanks to her husband, Todd, the Assistant Cubmaster, as well as Val, our Committee Chairperson. The drive home was fun, talking about what we experienced the past few days and we look towards the future and some more fun outdoor adventures.