Why I am not an Eagle Scout

On a previous post about the Carolina Cup, after I had expressed my aversion to being trapped somewhere far from my car and adequate sanitary facilities, Steven Davis II asked whether that meant I had not been a Boy Scout. I answered as follows…

Actually, I was, but not for all that long.

I was really active in a troop in Ecuador, made up of expatriate gringo kids. I had finish Cub Scouts there, and made it through Webelos, and was really pumped about becoming a full-fledged Scout. Ever since I was a really little kid I had read my uncle’s Scout Handbook, which I took to be The Guide to Life for Guys. I was excited about the opportunity to apply some of those things I’d learned about.

My troop went on one camping trip, to an undeveloped beach near the town of Salinas.

There were zero facilities, of course. It was like a beach on the surface of another planet, with surf pounding against sandstone formations that framed little patches of sandy beach. We carried in our own water in canteens, and washed our mess kits in the surf, scrubbing them with sand. We had brought along some ice and some new metal trash cans. We put our water and perishable food in the garbage cans, and buried them up to the lids in the sand just above the high water mark. You know, for the insulation, to keep things cool.

That night — the darkest night I’ve ever experienced (no moonlight or starlight that I recall, and definitely no manmade light) — we lay in our tents and told the scariest stories we could make up (I was a big Poe fan at the time). The one that stuck in my mind as I tried to get to sleep, listening to the unseen surf, went like this — a ghost ship of undead Vikings lands on our stretch of beach and hacks us all to death before slipping away, and NO ONE ever knows what happened to those Boy Scouts. I lay there thinking that it was the height of irrationality to pay any heed to a ridiculous story that a bunch of 11-year-olds had just moments before collaboratively made up, while at the same time constantly hearing, above the surf, the keel of a Viking longboat grounding itself on the sand mere yards from our tent.

Anyway, during the night, some jerk went to the garbage can and dumped out a lot of people’s water, including mine. Why? You’ve got me.

The next morning, I participated in my five-mile hike requirement for my Second Class badge. We marched out along the beach to a distant point sticking out into the sea, and back. In the equatorial sun. Without water.

I was a pretty scrawny little kid anyway, without a lot of water in my flesh to begin with. Very wiry. It didn’t take that much to wring out what moisture was in me.

It had rained slightly during the night, just enough to dampen the driftwood we had collected for our fires, so I had a hard time cooking my lunch, and finally gave up because between the heat I was able to generate with the coals and the sun beating down on my back, I was about ready to pass out.

On the long drive home that afternoon, I got a bad case of the runs. The van we were in would pull over to the side of the road (facilities? in the third world? are you kidding?) and I would assume the position right there with my fellow scouts watching.

When I got home, I was clinically dehydrated, with my skin starting to wrinkle up here and there.

Later, my Dad was transferred to New Orleans, where our troop leader often didn’t show up for meetings and was extremely disorganized when he did show, and I never could get the paperwork done to get my Second-Class badge I had earned in South America.

I retired from the Scouts as a Tenderfoot.

And my enthusiasm for camping never really recovered from that experience.

5 thoughts on “Why I am not an Eagle Scout

  1. Steven Davis II

    Just an FYI, camping trips don’t always end with you squatting along side the road with your pants around your ankles… just the memorable ones.

  2. Brad

    Well, I certainly remember that one.

    Actually, weirdly enough, sort of fondly. We had a good time all that day before and that night, right up until I started feeling the effects of going without water.

  3. Burl Burlingame

    Huh. You probably don’t recall — no reason you should — that I earned my Eagle my senior year in high school. At that time, I was also serving as asst. scoutmaster.

    I had my share of unpleasant camping experiences, including one lovely weekend in upstate New Jersey that including a marauding bear and getting snowed in that resulted in a nine-mile woodland mush to a cleared highway. We had to navigate via compass and came out right on target.

    I look back on such experiences fondly.

  4. bud

    Where were the adults? Isn’t it an affirmative duty of the scoutmasters to ensure all the young men are adequately hydrated while on a long hike? Not much of an endorsement for the Scouts.

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