Speaking of scouting, many people will point to the visable when referencing the benefits. Camping, cooking, pioneering all teach young men valuable skills. However, the most unspoken yet biggest benefits scouting had to offer young men was a managed pressure cooker. Through scouting, boys are put into situations that push them beyond their comfort zones. They are required to lead other young men, organize scouting events, prepare meals. All of this done under the watchful eye of leaders who serve as the pressure valve and backstop. This knowledge allows the boys to grow, take on more responsibilities and ultimately mature into functional adults.
When I was a scout we too were given roles and responsibilities to keep the troop running and moving forward. Our troop went everywhere from Hawaii to the Redwood Forests. One memorable trip was a fifty mile backpacking trip we took to the high Uintahs.
Ours was a youth run troop. My father as the scoutmaster pushed most of the responsibilities to us to accomplish. So we had a small handful of leaders going on this trip that would serve to help the newer scouts.
Backpacking on relatively flat terrain has its challenges. Backpacking in the Uintahs where sometimes you leave the trails to cross over and connect to another is a different story. Our first day out had us climbing about 1500 feet in elevation over the course of five hours. Not too difficult but the younger scouts struggled and it caused us to miss our day one campsite goal. We found a small clearing and set up for the night.
The next day we woke up to the moans of sore muscles and poor sleep all too common in the first days of a trip when bodies aren’t acclimatized to the load and elevation changes. We set out, but stopping for lunch one of the boys was sick and vomited up his food. Asking after him, he just said his lunch didn’t agree with him. We didn’t think too much of it until later in the day at our day 2 camp spot. We pushed hard and got back on schedule but the boys were worn out.
The boy who was sick during lunch again threw up after eating his dinner. This was our first clue something was wrong. He said he was fine but you could tell he wasn’t getting the nutrition necessary for the hike.
Additionally, another of the newer scouts was struggling hard. He clearly had no business coming on the trip but his excitement overshadowed any rationality. On the first day we had to physically keep putting him back on the trail because he would just sit down to rest. He would get up and walk about 100 yards before sitting down again. Finally the scoutmaster pulled me and Rick aside and said; “We are going to keep hiking. If we stop every time he does, we will never get to our goal. Do what you have to, stay with him but keep him going as best you can.” The troop moved forward while the three of us plodded along. He was a good kid. Just out of his depth. On the second day, we hiked down from the top of a giant cliff face and when we stopped for a break, he realized he left his tent up at the top. Rick and I ran back trying to find it but never did.
That second night, we ended up sharing our food with the boy who was sick. It was thought after looking at his food that the MRE’s had gone bad. We confirmed that the next day when he felt better and was keeping food down.
But still we were falling behind.
The third night, most of the boys had gone to bed and the youth leaders were sitting around the campfire talking about the troubles we were experiencing. As we went around the circle, everyone gave their opinion on continuing to the end versus turning around and getting back to the point of beginning. Most of us had agreed the safe thing to do would be to turn around and get the boys back home as quickly as possible.
It was then the conversation came to my father who was the last to speak. He repeated back what we all had discussed. We were behind schedule. The boy was sick from food poisoning. We had lost the tent. All of these things were true. But then he said this:
“We’ve gone though a lot on this trip. And honestly, going home will be the safest thing. It’s certainly faster than getting to the end. No one who hears what you’ve gone through on this trip will ever think less of you for your decision. But, years from now as you look back on this decision, will you be able to say we pushed through and despite all the challenges finished the trip? Or will you tell everyone you quit? When you’re faced with making difficult decisions, when both decisions are right… decide to do what will make the best story.”
We will throughout life be faced with making decisions that have consequences long lasting. Knowing this, determine to make the choices be those you will want to one day tell others and be proud of.