Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Boy Scouts and Bear Lake

"I wish dad would have taken us to the mountains more when we were growing up." laments my younger brother.

It's around 11:30pm. My brother and I are roommates in a hotel in Colorado. We are laying on our beds, in the dark. The next morning is a competition. These long arguments or "discussions" have become somewhat routine during our competition trips.

"The mountains were too expensive. That's why Polynesian people don't do those kinds of sports." I retorted.

On our first trip as roommates we argued until 3am in the morning and then got up at 6:30am to get ready to race. We are both headstrong and would relentlessly try and get in the last word. Sometimes I would disagree with his opinion just to make him angry.  I think he might have been doing the same thing.

"There's always a way. There's always some applications for financial aid. They should have researched it. Plus, I think Poly people just don't want to do outdoor stuff. They like basketball and football." he responds while rolling from his belly to his side.

A lot of times the "discussions" are regarding race. Many times we talk about growing up. When these "discussions" began, our voices and tones sometimes had force and anger. Now we're more quiet and always come to the conclusion that we are different people entitled to a difference of opinions.

"You forget there was no Internet back then. You couldn't just Google 'financial assistance for poor people and outdoor recreation. I think that Poly people just never had the opportunity to do that stuff so how could they like it? Plus basketball and football is seen as a way to escape poverty. You don't see anybody escape poverty in rock climbing." I retorted while staring blankly at the ceiling like I could see a window into the past.

At the time of this discussion I didn't remember any outdoor experiences except the time my dad took us to the ski resort. He was working as a bus driver and drove the route that took skiers into the mountains. So he became a little familiar with the resorts and took us up there for a break. I remember we were all bundled up and got out of the car. We looked for ten minutes and left.
To my brother, it was probably like taking a kid to a candy store and then leaving without buying them anything because you couldn't afford it. To me, it was like taking me to a cold foreign country that spoke a language that I couldn't even begin to understand. I couldn't  fathom enjoying because nothing, from the clothes people wore to the way people talked, was familiar. I was just longing to get back to something familiar like sledding, Nintendo or hookie-bobbing.

Now that I think about it we did have a few great-outdoor experiences. I remember some that had no monetary cost like pulling over by a river or canal near the mouth of a Canyon and jumping into the deep cold rushing waters. Some costed money like the time I went on a week long Boy Scout camp to Bear Lake with Troop 811.

Recently I had the chance to go to Bear Lake Aquatics Base again, as an adult leader for that a same troop. Bear Lake is located on the northern border of Utah. It's different than most other lakes in that it's different shades of blue leave one wondering if you are in Hawaii or the Caribbean. This is why they call it the Caribbean of the Rockies. It's so clear you can generally see the bottom.
The trip brought back a lot of nostalgic memories for me. My first trip there, I was somewhere between 13-15 years old. I don't remember how much it costed but I do know that I was scared to ask my dad if I could go. 

As a young man, I was always ill prepared for camping trips with the scouts. It wasn't because I was trying to disregard the scout motto of, 'be prepared.' My sleeping bags were very thin with broken zippers. Usually the sleeping bags were supplemented with blankets. I used garbage bags as backpacks. Luckily, Bear Lake in the summer is warm. I don't remember being cold except in the water.

As an adult at this camp, I had better equipment. My sleeping bag is awesome! It's called a sleeping pill and it has vents so you can adjust the temperature of the bag. I also have a nice headlamp. My backpack/garbage bag has been upgraded to a suitcase. The only thing missing for me is a good sleeping pad. I slept in a pretty hard ground for the first two days. Luckily the Bishop, my ecclesiastical leader for my church, Bishop DeMoux left me his air mattress and I slept like a baby the last three days.
One of the worst memories of that camp, back in the eighties, was the showers and the toilets. The showers didn't have any privacy and the toilets were an outhouse with toilet seats on deep holes with the strong smell of ammonia. I learned they are called a kaebo. In fact, I didn't want to use either but that very thing caused me to need to do both. I held in a number one so long that I had an accident and while in the kaebo, I decided the best thing to do was to throw the underwear in the hole. (lol-ing right now)

I hadn't planned on taking a shower but after the outhouse accident, I needed to go investigate the shower house. It was very reminiscent of the junior high school showers except at the junior high we just showered by wetting our upper bodies and kept a towel on over our shorts but there was nobody doing that plus my bottom needed cleaning the most. To add to all that, the water was not hot, nor was it warm, it was cold.

Most of those things have changed at that camp, thanks to generous donors. There are private showers. They have hot water. Well, it fluctuates between hot, scalding and cool depending how near you are to the water heater and how many people are using the showers (hahahahahaha).
One thing that hasn't changed is the toilets. They are still the same stinky little kaebos. At least I'm not shoveling a hole and getting bit by mosquitoes while squatting in the woods like the summer of 2014.

Despite the Kaebos and showers, as a young man, this camping trip was one of my favorite scout camps in my life. Because of it I became familiar with things I never could have at home. I developed a love and familiarity for Bear Lake that would help me share the experience with my brother and sisters. We never went to Disneyland or Disney World but we could definitely afford the two hour drive to Bear Lake.

I remember being intimidated by the swimming test they had at the camp but because it was required to do other activities, I was motivated to give it a try. The water is cold in the testing area which adds another dimension to the test. I attempted a few times and was only able to pass half the test. It was only a half victory but it gave me confidence to try again and pass the test later.
As a 39 year old, I retook that test and the confidence I obtained from long ago had been increased to the point that the test was easy. During that test in the summer of 2015, I remembered and could see myself swimming my little heart out as a teenager. At the same time, I was encouraging the young scouts I was with to pass the test. As an adult, I could see how it would benefit them. Some of them, I brought down to the test several times to try the test and became their loudest cheerleader.
When the young ones passed, I noticed a confidence in their step and swim stroke. It was awesome!
Flashing back to when I was a boy, I remember many of the badges costing $10 to $50. I had come to the camp with no cash. As a younger boy, I got all my badges in Cub Scouts but when I became a Boy Scout, I became disinterested in Boy Scouts. So, I really didn't care too much for badges. My leaders paid for my Archery class and they had a snorkeling class that you could earn a patch for free. I signed up for that.

One of the requirements of the snorkeling class was that I had to dive down and pick up this huge rock and bring it to the surface. I remember hearing the instructions from the camp counselor and thinking, "say that again, what do you want me to do?" Back in those days though, I was a shy child and so I didn't say those thoughts audibly. When my turn came, I swam towards the rock, expelling the air from my snorkel. Time felt like it slowed down and I felt like I was swimming in slow motion. I got the rock and swam to the surface. After that, although I am not a professional snorkeler,  I became a huge fan of snorkeling. The familiarity with the sport has allowed me to snorkel in Hawaii, Samoa, Jamaica, Cayman Islands and Mexico.

As one of the leaders of the boys I wanted to help the boys get familiar with something new. As they passed the swim test, we decided to sign up for an hour of tubing. They had a blast and it was a great reward for passing the swim test. We had a contest to see who could stay on the tube the longest. I teamed up with one of the boys and we hung on to the tube the longest. Check out the video here. (coming soon)

Like I mentioned before, after an illustrious Cub Scout career in which I got all the badges, I lost interest in scouting. Although I didn't participate much, I am grateful for the Boy Scouts of America program. It gave me, a teen from a low-income family, experiences that I would have never been afforded. I gained a lot of base knowledge in a lot of topics that would help me later on in life. It also gave me respect for the limited resource of the great outdoors.

Without the Boy Scout program I wouldn't have the great memories from the difficulty of the swim test, fear of the snorkeling rock, stealing the flag games in the wilderness, etc. Most importantly, I wouldn't have felt the confidence that came from achieving those specific difficult challenges at that camp. Later on in life, I would be able to repeat that process over and over with changing circumstances like missing limbs.

Now don't get me wrong, it wasn't just because of the Boy Scouts of America but the program is an excellent place to challenge young men to achieve. To that I give my phantom Scout salute!

During the camp, I met a young Polynesian kid. He reminded me of myself. I saw his backpack, a garbage bag. He didn't have much of sleeping bag. Our troop played Steal the Flag and I invited him to come play. He asked to take a picture with me on my phone.
Someday, I know he will look back and remember all his experiences at camp. He'll also remember the other Polynesian guy, the one with no hands.