FATHER FILES: The call of the wild (and wet)

2011-06-19T06:30:00Z FATHER FILES: The call of the wild (and wet)By Dave Bundy stltoday.com
June 19, 2011 6:30 am  • 

"Be prepared" is the Boy Scout motto.

That's why scouts learn first aid, how to tie a sheepshank knot and probably why I was out with a group of them on a very wet Friday in May setting up camp on a squishy patch of Missouri clay.

If it ever rains for 40 days and 40 nights, this troop knows how to deal with it.

Camping has long mystified me. Mankind has spent centuries getting comfortable with heat, well-constructed roofs, pleasantly firm mattresses and microwave nacho cheese. Yet, for some folks, there's a curious but undeniable pleasure in chucking all that we've worked so hard to create to live as we could have millennia ago.

To be clear, the scouts and other adult scout leaders were resourceful, happy and pleasant, as sunny as the day wasn't. I was the jerk - the cold, wet jerk - with the bad attitude. It might have looked like I was smiling, but I was really gritting my teeth.

Our scouts put up their own canopy, somehow rigging it so rain collected in massive, menacing pools that hung over our heads. My son quickly pitched our tent all by himself.

Tents are kind of funny. The bottom of them has to be pretty waterproof to keep water from seeping up, while the top must be kind of waterproof to keep it from seeping down. Our tent's bottom proved much more waterproof than the top, which turned our tent into a giant, under-flated water balloon. We ended up sleeping in the back two seats of our Chevy Suburban.

By most standards, sleeping in your car barely qualifies as camping. But the other car-related thing I did probably erased any semblance of roughing it. Whenever nature called, I drove the 660 yards from our campsite to a cozy, comfy restroom with running water and aimed its hot-air dryer at my soaked shirt to take off the chill.

Our Boy Scout troop is divided into two patrols. One patrol cleverly made omelets in zip-sealed plastic bags immersed in boiling water on a camp stove. My son's patrol less cleverly tried to cook burgers in ever-darkening conditions.

Just about anything cooked over a campfire is alleged to taste good - compared to starving, it probably does - but salmonella doesn't care where it gets cooked, only that it doesn't get cooked to death. Any bacteria in our ground beef probably was just getting warm and comfortable when I ingested it.

After dinner, I was reminded of an age-old truth. Just about anything fried in fat, then sugared, tastes pretty good. In a vat of boiling oil, we tossed hunks of dough, yanking them out when golden brown and shaking on cinnamon and powdered sugar as the grease on them glistened from the light of our propane lantern.

My backwoods dessert was the trip's highlight until the next day when the continuing rain forced us to cancel our planned activities and return to civilization early.

On my way home, stuck in a traffic jam on I-44, listening to a carload of 13-year-olds singing rap songs and trading jokes that every 13-year-old thinks funny, I reflected on what a weekend of roughing it is really about.

It's about teaching us something about ourselves.

And I learned this: Under just the right circumstances, I'm a bigger whiner than my kid.

Dave Bundy is publisher and executive editor of the Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He can be reached at dbundy@yourjournal.com or (314) 744-5772.

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