The Boy Scout Canoe Trip
Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip
That started from this tropic port
Aboard this tiny ship.
This is a tale of an excursion which could have ended badly, but didn’t, because true valor, positive mental attitude, a special ethical code, and the Boy Scout motto prevailed.
The Scout troop started out cheerfully at 6:00 a.m. on a rainy morning. There were 19 people present; 14 youths, 4 adults, and one half youth/half adult – my son, who would reach his 18th birthday during the trip. None of them knew what was in store for them.
Equipped with their Positive Mental Attitude, the group drove north into the dark and foreboding wilderness. By 11:00 a.m. they put in the Allegheny River somewhere south of Erie, PA. They had eight canoes and two kayaks, and since it was my kid’s birthday that week, he got to use one of the kayaks. But he made the fateful decision to tie his duffel bag into the canoe which was piloted by the least experienced scouts in the troop.
I’ll let the birthday boy tell it in his own words:
The First Day
It rained on and off the whole day, and gusts of wind impeded our progress. We arrived at the island we were scheduled to stay on at about 6:00 p.m., only to find that the entire site was ankle deep in mud. We determined to set off for a point farther down the island, but we found that the rainstorm the previous night had dramatically increased the current around the island. The inexperienced scouts in the canoe attempted to anchor themselves on a tree branch, but flipped their canoe over – that was the canoe with my gear in it. At the same time, I accidentally dropped my paddle, then swamped my kayak when grabbing a tree branch. I dragged my kayak over to the island and emerged, sopping wet, from the river. Later on, I found out that another canoe and kayak had also flipped, and that the first canoe to flip, which had my gear in it, had disappeared downriver while the scouts in it swam to shore.
Thus we landed at our campsite, scattered at various points along the shore, with three boats swamped, one boat missing, our propane stove at the bottom of the river, three of us without any gear at all, and dinnertime fast approaching.
Ah, but all was not lost. All scouts and leaders were accounted for, and safe. The scoutmaster, following the Boy Scout Motto “Be Prepared,” had stuck an extra ‘Pocket Rocket’ one-burner stove in his bag. The cooking pots were in my son’s kayak, which had not disappeared. The scouts dined that night on a hot meal of chicken alfredo, followed by cookies.
Soldiering on, the Scouts got space cleared for tents. The adults, in a show of true valor, loaned their sleeping bags and dry clothes to the gearless boys. There were no extra sleeping pads, so my son slept on a bed of life jackets, with a garbage bag as a pillow.
The next morning, my son’s birthday, the day began with sunshine and a hot breakfast. Despite the lost gear, a Positive Mental Attitude prevailed as the scouts set off down the river in search of the missing canoe. The birthday boy reports:
A couple miles down the river, we had just about the biggest stroke of luck we could have imagined. We had expected to find the canoe stuck on a tree or a rock, like one of the paddles we lost, but instead we were flagged down by a family who had seen our canoe floating upside-down past their house at 9 o’clock the previous night, towed it in with their kayak, called 911, posted about it on Facebook, and were drying our stuff out on their porch. I was able to recover most of my gear; I only lost a pair of pants and a t-shirt, and my books of campfire stories were completely dry, as well as my sleeping bag and pillow.
I think there must be a special ethical code among people who live along a river bank. The code says that if you see an upside-down canoe floating in the river, you investigate. Apparently these people feared the worst, and risked going out in the swift river current to find out what they could. Once they got the canoe on shore, they looked through the stuff for identification, reported their find to the police, put my son’s cell phone in a bag of rice, and did all the other things he said.
I have to point out that my son had followed the Boy Scout motto “Be Prepared” when he packed his stuff, and that’s why his ‘campfire stories’ books and sleeping bag were utterly dry. The ‘campfire stories’ are books by Bil Lepp, five-time winner of the West Virginia State Liars' Contest. We first heard him live at a local storytelling festival. He is the best live entertainment I have ever encountered. (Actually, he’s the best entertainment dead or alive.) Those Bil Lepp books have been to every Scout campout my son has ever been on, and my son is known as the campfire story-reader. It’s amazing grace indeed that the books once were lost (down the river) but now are found.
The tale of the canoe trip took on a slightly biblical tone after that. The birthday boy writes:
On the third day, the sun was shining, the river was high, and we saw that this was good. The rest of the trip passed without incident, and we reached the end (at Tionesta) about 12:00. We had a lunch of sandwiches, with dessert at a local ice cream store, and arrived home at 5:30 after the traditional pit stop at Sheetz. I immediately showered, washed all my clothes, and went to my friend's graduation party. I'm not sure if I actually liked this trip, but I will definitely remember it for the rest of my life.
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When my son told us the story at dinner, I asked why a kayak is preferable to a canoe, and he explained, “It’s better to be in a kayak by yourself, so you don’t have to deal with another person, trying to get the hang of steering the canoe.”
Oldest Daughter said, “What’s to get the hang of? Can’t you say something to each other so you can steer the canoe?”
Youngest Daughter said to her, “Boys’ mouths don’t function the way ours do.”
At the end of his story, my son summed it up: “I didn’t go swimming at all, except for unintentionally.”
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Dear Reader, did you do anything this month that you did not intend to do?