Author Archives: David Wilkerson

Lonesome Lake and Cascade Brook Trails

I’ve started a new category in my Scouter blog. “Coping with…”. Initially I was using the category to collect narratives that narrow in on my protracted attempts to recover from a foot injury and generally mediocre fitness and name it something banal; Coping with Ailing Feet. Then, I thought, I should expand it to include the root cause, age. Of course that won’t be broad enough to cover every complaint. Ergo the open ended “Coping with…”

A few weeks ago my son, my daughter, and I headed up to Franconia Notch to hike up to Lonesome Lake.  To be honest, it’s a great beginner trail. I was adequately challenged but not overwhelmed and once we reached the AMC hut I was ready for more.  Understand, I passed NO ONE on the way up though many passed me.

Every step required me to consciously place my foot. I found that I needed to lead with the injured foot and stepping up worked that leg hardest. Fortunately the elevation gain is not significant.  It’s a little less than 1,000 feet in just over 1.5 miles.  The footing is really pretty good. Especially for such a heavily traveled trail.

My point is to say that I would have regarded this as an easy trail, in the past. Now that I’m no longer “growing up” but am well into my “growing down” I appreciate that I was challenged by a “beginner” trail.  I need more of these.  A month earlier I joined up with another troop to hike the Starr King trail in hopes of reaching my first NH 4,000 footer,  Mount Waumbek.  This is an elevation gain of over 2600 feet in just under 3 and 1/4 miles. For me this was a strenuous hike. Note: This is a very wet trail. On our trip the wetness was compounded by recent heavy rainfall in the region.

Returning to my point, I appreciated that I was able to feel challenged yet successful hiking up to Lonesome Lake because I did not reach the summit of Starr King, much less Mount Waumbek.  On that hike I was too aggressive in my pace. I allowed myself to be driven by my awareness that I was slowing the team significantly. I did not wear the ideal footwear for such a wet trail and I overestimated my readiness for the adventure.

I’m not sure how far I made it up the ascent. I would like to say I was more than 3/4 of the way up the summit of Starr King but I am not confident of that. I did not bring an altimeter and it was nearly impossible to take any map bearings.  I’ve not calculated my pace on this type of terrain so I was unable to use dead reckoning either.  Based on what I saw on the map and my surroundings when I turned back I know I made it over 1/2 up.  However, the damage was done. Once again I failed to reach my objective.

The trip to Lonesome Lake boosted my enthusiasm and helped me realize that there’s a path to recovery ahead even if I have to take smaller steps and do so more slowly than in the past.

Life lessons: (1)You won’t reach all of your goals. (2)You really do need to reach some of them.  So, on the Lonesome Lake Trail I achieved a goal… and I did more. We elected to return by way of the Cascade Brook Trail. This caused the overall distance covered to reach nearly 7 miles. In addition, if the Starr King Mountain Trail is the wettest I have traveled, the Cascade Brook is the most “root laden”.  Truly, I can’t remember expending so much effort navigating roots… ever.  I mention this to express how truly my optimism improved. The decision to more than double our trip took me to my limit but did not diminish my growing confidence. It also helped me to have a concrete view of my current limitations and gain a sense of how I might evaluate future efforts.

Meanwhile, the overall goal of this blog is to reflect, generally and specifically on Scouting.  This hike gave me some new insights.

Scout lessons: (1) I am not physically (at present and perhaps forever) capable of accompanying our troop on challenging activities. (2) Other, healthier adults are needed. As a Scoutmaster this is a bitter pill to swallow but it offers me renewed insight into the true nature of leadership. If, as we claim, we wish to instill good character in our scouts through development of skills, service, and leadership then what better means is there than to demonstrate a key aspect of leadership: delegation.

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It Would Be So Much Easier…

Here I am again, less than a week after speaking my mind about the perplexity of giving scouts the room they need to succeed (or fail). This time the frustration is hitting me in the pocket book.

My son got word from his patrol leader to provide about $45 bucks worth of food items for their cooking exploits for an upcoming encampment. I don’t need to tell you I can get a lot of mileage out for $45 bucks when it comes to cooking for a family of five or six. When I heard the shopping list I thought these scouts have a LOT to learn about thrift.

As I write these lines I am reminded of an event a while back when I was the pastor of a church in Georgia. A destitute young couple with a baby came to the church for help. Their food stamps had run out and they had no food. Not willing to just “hand out” some coupons and hide from the potential ugly truth, I visited their home. Their  cupboard where they kept dry goods was void of food and their refrigerator was perilously empty.  So, off to the grocery store we went. Immediately they headed for the TV dinners. What! I didn’t yell but I excitedly asked them what they were doing.

I learned very quickly they didn’t know how to shop and, much less, how to cook. That night I introduced them to the world of potatoes boiled, potatoes baked, and potatoes mashed. I showed them how, on a food stamp sized budget, they could feed themselves and their infant well provided they were careful with the shopping. We made up several weekly grocery lists and menus. I wish I knew if they really benefited but I know this, without practicing thrift, they were doomed.

That brings me back to scouts. Somewhere it seems scouts, and their families, have lost sight of thrift. Why wouldn’t a teenager prefer to warm up frozen meatballs in lieu of making his own? Why not purchase orange juice as a filling substitute for water at breakfast? Why not? Because cost isn’t a major concern.

Scouts are supposed to learn to budget, prepare a menu, and cook. Whether it’s for front country, backpacking, or a Friday night while Mom and Dad are out scouts should know how to care for themselves (and others). I wonder if this is what’s happening instead; Mom or Dad head to the store and fill the basket with whatever is on the list “to get it done”. It only happens once a month or so; what’s the big deal?

The big deal is it robs a scout of being responsible, learning thrift, becoming self reliant.

Meanwhile, I have sent my daughter to the store to fill the basket and send “the boy” off on his encampment. Why? I just don’t have time to deal with it right now. I guess we’ll have to learn self-reliance and thrift next time!

Rainbow at NH Jamboree

A Typical-Not-So-Typical Troop Meeting

Rainbow at NH Jamboree

There is a pot at the end of the troop meeting rainbow… but it isn’t always gold.

Getting a handle on how to help a group of scouts lead themselves is perplexing. When I started as Scoutmaster, I did not know the history or culture of this troop and how we got where we are. Additionally, their personalities were a mystery to me; I did not have a prior history with these scouts or more than a couple of their parents.  With so much ignorance on my part I was bound to be baffled. The fact is, I still do not know the factors that shaped the culture of this troop. My familiarity with the parents remains largely unchanged. And, to a large degree, I remain baffled.

Maybe one quality of a adult “scouters” is an ability to work for good in the midst of perplexity? Think of it, the scout who starts a term as Senior Patrol Leader scarcely knows himself much less has the experience and skill of a proven leader. Indeed, the whole point of being an SPL, in my view, is to gain the skills and the experience. He, and the troop, are a work in progress; a writhing mass of physical and emotional contradictions carried out in the larger context of teen age. Yikes! How, then, can a scoutmaster have a firm grasp on what to do?

At times I envy professional educators.  Besides the depth of training they have received they possess many concrete resources of which a curriculum is key. Think about it, a well defined curriculum serves as a road map to learning with a clearly defined destination. To be fair that is an overly simplified understanding of a curriculum. Indeed, most educators I know are engaged in something called “differentiated instruction”. That’s the term applied to the idea that students are persons and tend to have unique learning needs. In other words a curriculum cannot be a mold into which every student is squeezed (or crushed). As I understand it, curriculum is descriptive not prescriptive.

Right now, and strangely, I find myself thinking of the “Pirate Code”.  “… code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules. Welcome aboard the Black Pearl…” When it comes to teaching, guiding scouts, working with “persons” it may be best to accept that some measure of perplexity is inevitable.

 

Forty Seven Paces – At Lincoln Woods and Franconia Falls

It was a P E R F E C T day in the White Mountains. Every factor converged to render the hike for some of our newest scouts an experience worth remembering. The trail we selected was an alternate. Winter is releasing it’s grip slowly this year and it made no sense to lead the boys on a “post holing” adventure on some of the trails we initially considered. Instead we selected the Lincoln Woods trail to Franconia Falls. trail ahead

With few exceptions, the trail was covered in hard packed snow. Where it wasn’t was either ice or mud. Hiking was not difficult but definitely required more effort than I usually associate with a trail such as this one. For those who do not know, Lincoln Woods trail is built on the old rail bed that once carried timber from the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Old ties and spikes remain on the trail bed and, even with the snow and ice, were occasionally visible.

This is a “first event” for “first year scouts”. These are scouts who a few weeks ago were still attending den and pack meetings. Now, they are Boy Scouts and are ready to see proof that the promise of adventure is real. As everyone realizes, the scale an adventure might have depends on the skill and experience of those being challenged. Too little and the boys will look askance at the promise while the lure of video games grows. Too much, however, and they will be overwhelmed and doubt themselves. On this day the change in venue and the accompanying weather made for an adventure of just the right proportion.

Another factor, and one I worry about a great deal, is my own physical capacity. I am not as young as other parents involved in scouting. You could say I am on my second lap as a parent. My oldest is over thirty and my scout is 13. I’ll let you do the math but I was out several years out of college when my oldest child was born. end of the hikeMy age is, in itself, not the chief factor underlying my concern. Instead, I am plagued by the consequences of my horribly sedentary life style. I am sharing this because I know that I am not the only adult involved in scouting whose life style has seriously eroded their ability to meaningfully participate.  Ironically, the only means by which I can “live the adventure” is to resume fidelity to the promise all scouts make. Which is “… to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”

For me, this adventure genuinely stretched me. My knowledge is solid and my skills have been tested under many circumstances but my endurance was definitely tested. Hooray! One older scout acted as our Troop Guide for the day and he provided much of the instruction. Together we introduced how to read a map, a trail guide, and make limited use of a compass to navigate the environment. It was delightful to observe how, on an almost perfectly straight trail, the new scouts had to work hard to orient the map to their environment and make decisions based on their understanding of their location.

Shortly before lunch the scouts had a chance to measure their pace against a measured distance of 200 feet. It was fun to see their surprise when they learned to measure their pace as more than a single step. Surprisingly, they came up with reasonably accurate numbers for the length of their pace. As for me, I hobbled along at 47 paces per 200 feet.

Lunch was a progressive affair. Even with snacks in hand, it was clear the scouts could and would have eaten much more if they could have carried it. Lessons were learned “the hard way” about making sure all gear was ready and at hand. Scouts weren’t the only ones who learned this way.

The fine weather held for more than the first half of our trip but clouds beganThree scouts Franconia Falls to thicken just before we reached the turn off for Franconia Falls. Our pace to the half way point was slower than I had hoped and the forecast 30% chance of scattered showers in the early afternoon looked like it would turn out to closer to 70%.   Our lunch (a very late lunch) was curtailed by a rapid change in conditions. Hurried lunches varied from sandwiches to sardines with one scout digging into his provisions to cook some noodles.

The temperature cooled substantially and that kind of cooling, even in late winter or early spring can be the harbinger of thunderstorms. In view of the skies and the chill the boys were eager to add some layers, including rain gear. By the time most had eaten the rain began. Or, more specifically, the thunder sounded. Our lunch spot was one of the few exposed areas on the trail. For those familiar with the area, we were at the old bridge abutments that mark where the track crosses the Pemigewasset at the Franconia Falls turnout.  Clearly we needed to abandon our lunch spot immediately and, if possible, find shelter. The woods in this location are dense and the trees are generally the same height. That’s a way of saying there were no trees to avoid nor any shorter trees to prefer. We could, however, make ourselves into smaller targets and equally important, spread ourselves out. Believing that our safety would be best enhanced by ensuring we were removed from any clearings we  headed back towardscouts on trail the trail head and kept ourselves spread out.  To be honest, it took a fair amount of coaxing to persuade the boys not to clump together. One asked why we should spread out and, despite hoping to defer the question, another offered, “So if one of us gets hit, the rest of us can help out.”

It was, thankfully, a very brief storm but before it ended the storm produced small hail stones. This seemed to add to the boys’ sense of adventure. I suppose, in another season, the canopy would have offered a little protection. However, the bare limbs and branches only helped a little. In typical New England fashion the storm cleared as quickly as it arose.

Like others, I wonder what lessons I learned from this trip? First, I learned that the training I have pursued is time well spent. Knowing what to do and not to do in hazardous circumstances makes a huge difference in the outcome of any trip. Consulting weather forecasts, checking in with the Forest Service before setting out, and providing an itinerary to the Forest Service are key steps to a safe departure and return. Additionally, having the benefit of knowing the expert opinion of those familiar with the area paid off. If we had taken another of the trails we would possibly been at greater risk when the storm arrived. As it was, being outdoors in any thunder storm is dangerous but some spots are unequivocally more perilous.

I am glad we returned without injury but I am also delighted that for the boys it was a genuine adventure. I asked one scout that I thought might have been a bit overwhelmed, “Was it an adventure and are adventures a good thing,” I got a smile and a thumbs up.

For those who wish to know the details of skills the scouts began to develop they are the ability to locate their location on a map using the evidence of local terrain. Identify the difference between a proper topo map and a trail guide and the benefits each offers. Practice rudimentary trail etiquette when meeting or passing other hikers. Refreshing the fundamental aspects of leave no trace.  Discovering where their endurance begins to fade and how to cope. Idenfication of weather indicators and proper responses. And, finally, a concrete understanding of what gear is required and the price of not being prepared.

Step One

Get started and keep going. That’s my message to myself tonight. I counted several “getting started” drafts on this blog of mine and realized that the words were not lyrical because they really didn’t mean anything to me. I didn’t care for those phrases so why should you? Even now, as I speak to myself and permit you to look over my shoulder, I am conscious of a tendency to speak to myself with a voice that is off center and not true to me.  So, forgive me if you will –or don’t but I really need to get these words out and remind myself of a few things.

First, in the few months of working with scouts in my troop I realize how much there is to learn. Oh, I know plenty about stoves, and frostbite, declination and sheep shanks. The biggest thing I am struggling to learn are the scouts. What were they like when they were Wolves or Webelos. What color was their favorite Pinewood Derby car? Who are they? Last week one of them made a joke and, for a moment, I thought he was serious. What he said about my uniform was funny, really, but it took me a moment to catch on. He was patient and didn’t give up and in doing so I learned something about him. I also learned something else. I learned that it must demand a lot of patience for any scout to work with a new Scoutmaster. If I can look at things as they see it I can wonder what it must be like for them. That is, if I don’t know them they sure as heck don’t know me. I imagine they will wonder if I will get angry? Will I give up on them? Will I believe in them when their self confidence runs bone dry? They have no idea. So, we all have a lot of learning to do.

At a recent encampment with another troop the scouts observed the other troop’s flag atop a tower of lashed together staves. They told me they had considered replacing the other troop’s flag with their own but chose not to because they weren’t sure how I would feel about it. Oh, but we do have things to learn about each other.

Second, we also have a lot of unlearning to do. Planning is one new adventure. These scouts are ready for it; they are as ready as they can be for something they know little about. They are ready for adventure, but do they know their own capacity? Or, do they know mine? Maybe I overestimate them? More likely we underestimate each other. There’s so much to sort out and so little time to do it.

How much time is left? The clock is merciless and is not my friend. There’s no snooze button; some of these scouts are already 17 and time is accelerating. The same clock that struck the first bell of midnight when they joined the troop moments ago is on it’s penultimate toll.

So, that’s the lesson tonight: Get Started and Keep Going!
Time and tide wait for no man (or scout).