Last week I wrote about my unsuccessful and not-brief-enough career as a Boy Scout camping in the Adirondack wilds.
According to that account, all my camping experiences were unmitigated disasters. But I've got a confession to make: I exaggerated.
Me, exaggerate? I know that comes as a shock, but it happens though rarely. The truth is almost all my camping experiences were disasters. However, a few of them were successes and they all took place at Camp Bedford.
Camp Bedford was a Boy Scout summer camp, just off Route 30, between Paul Smiths and Malone. On the shore of Meacham Lake, it was a virtual woodland paradise, which only made sense since it had formerly been one of the Adirondack great camps, owned by a man named Charles Bedford.
It was nestled deep in the woods, surrounded by beautiful trees full of chirping birds, cavorting chipmunks and the whole schmeer. Around the parking lot were rustic wood buildings - a chow hall, a small store, and the bunkhouse for the upper level staff.
The rest of us slept in tents, which compared to my other camping experiences, were the pinnacle of luxury. Each was pitched on a wooden platform, and best of all, we slept on cots. Because we were completely off the cold cruel ground, I slept in total comfort the entire night - the exact opposite of my camporee experiences. That alone made me enamored with the place.
But while a full night's sleep made me enjoy camping for the first (and last) time, Bedford provided a plethora of other delights.
One was the food. The chow hall had long communal tables and we got served by the kitchen staff. I can't remember what we had for either breakfast or lunch so I assume it was typical mundane fare, but the dinners were the stuff of memories. Each night was a separate gustatory delight - mac and cheese; spaghetti; hot dogs; hamburgers; and my favorite, a true gourmet's delight - tuna a la king. I even liked the chipped beef on toast, though I wouldn't publically admit it: By dint of its nickname alone - S.O.S. - it was something we were supposed to revile, not enjoy.
My brother, being of delicate disposition, couldn't man up for the dinners and survived his week there only by the grace of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which were provided at each meal for the more sensitive among us.
Choices, choices, choices
Every day at Bedford was one long, nonstop flurry of activities, and best of all, because there were so many, we could often take our pick.
There were lessons on woodcraft and woods survival, first aid, lifesaving, canoeing, leather craft, compass and map navigation, and many more I've forgotten. A lot of them were geared for specific merit badges, but I wasn't goal-oriented enough to pursue them.
My favorite activity was working with boondoggle - flat plastic laces that came in endless lengths and infinite colors and that we braided in various stitches. The only thing I could actually make with them was lanyards, but make them I did. Within a few days I had far more lanyards than things to connect them to, but it didn't stop me from making more. I still don't know what their appeal was, but I'll never forget how much I liked them and how beautiful I thought they were.
We also could go on various excursions. My brother remembers hiking St. Regis Mountain, powered by a single Velveeta sandwich.
I remember a three-day canoe trip that started in Upper Saranac Lake. It was led by a counselor named Duane Kenyon. He was a Saranac Laker and a real old guy - maybe 20. But in spite of his advanced age he was a great leader who could still relate to us kids. He kept us on track with what we had to do, but beyond that, he knew how to have fun. He also could tell a mean ghost story - a vital nighttime campfire ritual - but incipient paranoid that I was, one I often could've done without. Even today if I give but a fleeting thought to Mad French Louie, stumbling though the woods, blood-stained hatchet in one hand, little kid's scalp in the other, a shiver runs up and down my spine.
The low point of that canoe trip was finding out one of the waterways we were supposed to use was dried up. This left us no alternative but to schlep our canoes on the road for what seemed like miles. Keep in mind, the canoes were state-of-the-art for the times - Grumman aluminum. Also keep in mind they weighed 60 pounds, not counting our gear that was stowed in them. In short, their total weight was about the same as me and Steve Hunt's, who was my paddling partner.
I can't remember how long we trudged thus o'erburdened, but just as I was about to collapse, the high point of the trip happened: By sheer coincidence, Steve Hunt's dad drove by in his full-ton pickup truck. He noticed us (probably by Steve's bright orange hair, if nothing else) and came back, loaded the canoes on his truck and took off. By the time we'd diddy-bopped our way to the launch, all the canoes were there, as if by magic, if not by miracle.
The trip ended in Lake Flower and as we pulled into the old beach (now the boat launch) I felt as if I'd just starred in an episode of "High Adventure" with Lowell Thomas.
I dropped out of Boy Scouts when I was 13. At that point I'd discovered the writings of the Beat Generation and the music of Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard - strong inducements to take up a Bohemian lifestyle and leave scouting behind.
Ultimately, however, I left scouting because I was a lousy Scout. To succeed in scouting you need focus, determination, and a strong work ethic none of which I had.
Fifty years ago, after three-and-a-half years as a Scout, the highest rank I made was Second Class - one step from Tenderfoot, the starting rank.
Forty years ago, after three-and-a-half years in the Navy, my rank was Petty Officer Second Class.
In the decades since then I've thought about both things countless times, and never once has the irony eluded me.