CHAPTER FIVE: The 1990's
In trying to write this chapter I encountered a substantial problem. I interviewed several of my Troop 33 friends but they'd just tell me, "You already know these stories," and it is true.
In many ways the history of Troop 33 is still an oral history, preserved through the large body of shared stories and jokes which we tell around the campfire. This collection, however, doesn't translate easily onto paper, so I have decided to tell the story of the nineties by telling my own story.
I joined Scouts in 1993 with my cousin, Sam Carlsen. We were both 12 years old. There were two patrols; one for the older guys and one for the younger. Troop membership stood at around 15 or 20 guys. I was put in the Black Scorpion patrol, which represented the older group.
Even then I heard some stories of the older Troop. Nate Erpestad recalled the days during the 1980s when he had been a patrol leader and had only one other guy in his patrol. They'd found a good way to save time and energy: "I'd just buy a loaf of bread and some meat and that would be all we'd eat, that way we didn't have to cook or do dishes," Nate recalls.
The eighties in many ways could have been called the dark age of Troop 33. John Cody recalls being "initiated" in to the Troop during that time: "They tied me to a tree and grabbed an axe. They then said they were going to chop off my arms and legs and sew them back on, then I'd be a part of the Troop."
(To those of you reading this with children in the Troop, I'd like to make sure you're aware that this hasn't happened recently and is completely a thing of the past and maybe a figment of John's imagination entirely.)
Espionage, Cards, Cookies and Carnival Prizes
My first year was marked by all manner of adventures in camping. The first official campout I attended was an overnight at the Minnesota State Fair. Several other kids and I were allowed to wander off on our own.
Our first destination was the Midway, where John Cody spent at least ten bucks trying to win things and only managed a small stuffed something or other. Then, largely out of money, we headed for the horse stables where Bob Layton, one of the members of our group, had a cousin.
We went in and met his cousin and her horse; I think the horse's name was Blondie. We hung out there for quite awhile. I believe I left at some point and returned with a $10 tub of chocolate chip cookies. Later on I purchased another medium, $7 bucket. Even at this early age my maturity was shining through.
The next campout was at Sand Dunes State Park. All I really remember about it was during the midst of duck hunting season, and we found all kinds of shotgun shells which we collected and hoarded.
There were many other events that year which stand out but two are especially worth mentioning. The first was the trip we took over MEA. We went to the airforce base in Sioux City, Iowa. I remember we arrived late at night and rolled out our sleeping bags in a large gymnasium. I then took the opportunity to slip outside and wander around. In the distance I saw a runway with some vaugely indistinguishable military planes.
This was so interesting that the next morning, several of us crept out and headed for the runway, intending to get a closer look. We had nearly reached the barbed wire fence and were peering through it when a jeep carrying what was presumably a guard out on patrol approached.
Raised as we were on action movies, we all instinctively dove into a drainage ditch, hiding out until he passed. Then it hit me. If this was an armed guard for a military installation, then hiding in the bushes was definitely the wrong thing to do. The jeep stopped.
A man got out. I made to stand up and say something to the effect of "Hi, Mr.-Gun-Carrying-Person we're not terrorists, we're Boy Scouts, so please don't shoot us." This idea, however, was quite unpopular with the other guys who pulled me down. I caught a glimpse of the guard. He was peeing.
As we heard the steady trickle of water, we adolescent boys were overcome with humor and started making all manner of whispers and grass rustling noises. "Hello?" called out the guard.
Then we emerged. The guy was more amused then anything else. He asked us who we were, where we were from, etc. He was pretty nice. We spent the rest of the day playing soldiers in the corn-fields.
The other big event that year was the Ripley Rendevous, a large gathering of Scouts from all the different councils at Fort Ripley in Central Minnesota. It stands out in my mind because we spent both nights staying up to one or two in the morning playing cards in tin-roof barracks.
Card playing was and still is a real preoccupation with the Scouts in Troop 33. It is a good way to pass the time on the bus as you drive to your destination (or are waiting for the bus to get out of the repair shop so you can go to your destination, which is not as uncommon as you might think.) Some popular games are: Euchre, Gin, Dueces High, Egyptian Ratscrew, BS, and, of course, Poker.
The next year I was a Patrol Leader. Under my leadership we continued to do pretty much everything that we had done before. One highlight of my administration was a campout at Nerstrand Woods where, for whatever reason, we found ourselves in possession of a large two-pound bag of sugar. Having nothing to do with it we found that if you threw a handful into the fire, the fire would flare. This entertained us for at least an hour, when Ted McLaughlin came over. "I'll take that," he said simply. We protested that it was just sugar. "Oh," he said, "I thought you guys had gunpowder in there or something." Sugar really packs a punch.
Responsibility and Disaster
In the suceeding years the Troop and I shared many adventures. It was around this time that I began to mature and the time that is hard to describe came upon me. Gradually I became someone who felt at home organizing a patrol. I developed philosophies on how to run a patrol. I grew tough and week-long canoe trips in the middle of nowhere became fun where before they had only been something close to hell.
But I didn't become mature in the classical sense. I did not learn to jump and obey an order in a second. I didn't learn to boss people around. Boy Scouts is not the military. Instead I learned who I was and how to be myself. As I moved on to higher positions of responsibility, such as teaching swim lessons at Ajawah, I developed a strong faith in myself.
I think one of the most important lessons I learned in Scouts has been the true meaning of responsibility. It is not blindly following the directions those higher than you, but the ability to make your own decisions and accept the consequences.
I'll admit I learned that through a series of acting upon crazy hunches. Sometimes a good idea of mine has become a success, sometimes a disaster. Which brings me to the second great lesson I've learned in Scouts: Disaster is the spice of life.
The Quest to find the Gas Station
A good example of triumph and disaster was my two-year-long quest to find the gas station near Sand Dunes State Park. During my time in the Troop I have aquired an interesting dual reputation for A) Always knowing where I am on long hikes and coming through uscathed B) Initiating ridiculously long hikes to obscure locations which I am always late in returning from. My greatest personal adventure in Scouts was when I set out to find a gas station at Sand Dunes State Park.
When you're in the middle of nowhere and your only food is cooked over a fire, a gas station, or even better, a fast food restaurant, seems like an oasis of good junk food. Because of this, they are prized destinations. They are also just something good to shoot for.
The year was 1995; the place, Camp Ajawah. I was a patrol leader and the Scout line was having its annual campout at Sand Dunes State Park. Driving on the way in I noticed a gas station but the route in was treacherous and twisty and I lost my sense of where it had been.
That afternoon I set out on a hike to find it. Accompanying me was Matt Bowlby and one other member of my tent, I'm not sure who. My stated goal was to walk around the lake but that was because I expected to find the station, or at least a road to it, in the process. At that point I really had no feel for the terrain and my hike became instead a robust crazy walk through a large district of low price lakefront homes which had no stores whatsoever. I didn't even find a way around the lake.
The next session I again set out to find the mysterious station. The route we used to drive in was especially confusing; it went east past the gas station, then southwest into the camp on a ride down a dirt road which intersected a large set of dirt roads, finally leading to the campsite.
This time I decided to avoid having to redo the entire dirt road network by taking what I presumed to be a shortcut. I would go north, then west, attempting to emerge somewhere in between where the gas station was and where the road turned southwest. I missed that spot by about three miles.
Every step I took west brought me farther away from my destination, but I stubbornly refused to give up. I had to do a fair amount of talking to get my single companion to keep going. (He had probably started wanting to turn back after about mile 3.) We walked and walked and walked. No store. On hikes like this your mind begins playing tricks on you. You see a store over the next ridge; you think a farm is a store. You walk to the top of a ridge on the highway and see nothing, and then the next ridge beckons. It's really a pretty crazy experience.
Finally we stopped and I asked a guy if there were any stores in the area. "Well," he said, "There's a grocery store about a mile and a half that way." We were overjoyed, but what the guy didn't tell us was that it was part of a town. We had walked five miles to the very place which the camp bus had gotten off the highway. It was quite a feat. We talked about it as we walked the five miles back and arrived late for dinner.
I didn't get another opportunity to try again until the next year and the next Boy's session. Now a member of staff, I resolved to find the gas station. I ran over my last hike in my head and then I realized that I had made a wrong turn. If that had been the case, I figured I'd probably only been a mile or so from the gas station when I came out of the woods. Since this didn't sound like much of a challenge I resolved to get to this gas station, the location of which I was now certain, by taking the circuitous route around Sand Dunes Lake and coming at it from the south.
I made very quick progress on this hike. We were halfway around the lake in no time. Then I made a big miscalculation and lead my small party due south. I turned north finally but because we'd gone so far south by the time we turned and headed north toward the store, people wanted to head back to the camp, stopping just short of the store. Since the sun was setting, it seemed like a good idea.
In my next and final journey, I resolved to make no mistake and I just headed out on the short route. The short route turned out to be about four miles, and there it was. I'd found it. In the process, I'd probably walked a total of 30 miles, dragging various unwitting fellow Scouts along with me.
Troop 33 History