Our troop had a scout go to the World Jamboree this month in England. He said it was great, but there was a Jambo song that got a little old. Actually, I believe he said someone would yell, "JAMBO!" and everyone else around the area would yell back, "HELLO!" - hundreds of times a day.
I've checked out other troops' web sites and notice that quite a few (especially back East) have their own Scout Hut or meeting place. We are quite crowded in the basement of a church so it hinders the activities the scouts can do at troop meetings in winter or bad weather. It would be so cool to have our own meeting area where we could have large group games.
When a troop has a place it can call its own, I believe the scouts are more productive in meetings. Each patrol can have its own 'corner' and motivational items can be left displayed rather than removed after every meeting. An area with a high ceiling, such as a gym or open beam structure gives more room for activities. I believe we will be looking for new space in a year or so and that is what I'll be hunting for.
I imagine most of you have some Purell or similar product in patrol boxes or troop trailer. The gel magically kills 99.99% of germs and makes your hands nice and clean - or so the scouts seem to believe. :-)
I have an ongoing battle to train scouts to wash before preparing meals. In our troop, everything is done by patrol so I'm not directly involved with their meal preparations. But, I do see most of the patrols open their cooler and patrol box and start making a meal right after playing a wide game or doing some other activity. Seldom will a scout remember to wash his hands first.
Quite often, I'll see a scout squirt some Purell on his hands, rub them together and then declare he's ready to eat. The fingernails are still black and the dust has now become more defined as lines and splotches, but he's convinced his hands are clean.
We've had some scouts mysteriously develop bad cases of 'flu' right after a campout. And, it's usually just a 12 hour flu - their bodies dump everything out both ends and then they're ok. It sounds much more like food poisoning to me and I believe it is caused by lack of proper sanitation.
"A Scout is Clean" is an area where I will be asking our next SPL to concentrate on improving the troop. He'll know that we can have contests, games, prizes, whatever he wants to try to change the habits of the troop. I'm looking forward to see what his team comes up with and if it makes a difference carrying into next summer.
I'm even contemplating having him declare Purell as the official fire-starter rather than hand sanitizer. No, just kidding! In case you were not aware, Purell and similar products are about 2/3 alcohol and do a great job as a fire starter. During the day, the flame is very hard to see so accidental burns are a real problem. At night, I must admit it's pretty cool to squirt a line of it on a rock, light it, and watch the pretty blue flame dance away.
Having scrambled up Cloud Peak at 13,167 feet twice this summer, I was pretty pleased with myself. But, it's just a bump compared to the real mountains of the world. There's a young man locally here who is working on climbing the tallest peaks on each continent - now that's ambitious! He tried Mt. Aconcagua at the start of 2007, but had to turn back. Mt. Aconcagua in Argentina is the highest peak in the southern and western hemispheres at 22,831 feet. It's actually the highest mountain outside Asia. I ran into a site called Tusker Trail that leads climbs of both Aconcagua and Kilimanjaro (19340 feet). There's a pretty cool video on the site about Kilimanjaro and the guide that has climbed it over 30 times now.
If you remember in previous post, I mentioned that I though having a scout spend time on camp staff was a great thing. Here's an example.
The scoutmaster of Troop 68 in Melorse, MN has a video of the Many Point Camp Staff leading the Many Point Rouser at the opening of their week of camp. It's inside because of a serious rainstorm, but that doesn't appear to have slowed them down.
Last spring, my son took a tour with his classmates to Washington D.C. and had what he called an 'Excellent' time. These educational student tours are a super way for high school students to explore the country and get to know the other students in their group. My son was in a social studies group, but there are tours for theatre classes, musical groups, and even custom tours. If your troop is large enough, something like this might be a viable way to explore part of the country you normally would not visit, or a way to cut down on vehicles and adults required. If you're really ambitious, you might even go on a tour to another country - remember World Jamboree 2011 is in Sweden. If your son asks about going on an educational tour, I'd recommend promoting that as much as possible. I was pessimistic and figured it would just be a waste of money, but my son had a great time and learned a lot about the government.
As part of the planning for our backpacking trek this summer, the scouts needed to figure out how much food to bring. I let them know that I was a lazy old man and didn't want to carry any more than necessary, but didn't want to go hungry either.
This was actually a great learning experience in many ways, most important is that they will hopefully be prepared to pass on their experience to the 2008 trek crews we send out.
We spent some time discussing how many calories are needed in the average day, and how trekking days are not quite 'average'. We also defined calories as being units of energy and found out that 'calories' in food are actually kilo-calories with 3500 kilo-calories in one pound of fat. We discovered that larger people required more calories and carrying a pack requires still more calories.
Then, being some analytical types, the scouts figured a 150 pound person takes about 100 calories to walk 1 mile. They figured all our weights together (plus estimated pack weights), how far we'd be hiking, how many days we'd be on the trail, the elevation we'd gain, and came up with a huge total number of calories required.
Once they had an idea of how many calories we'd need, they set to work dividing that into carbohydrate, protein, and fat calories. Then, they looked for food that would fulfill the calorie needs, pack well, prepare easily, taste good, be relatively inexpensive, and somewhat healthy.
When the dust had settled, we found that you can get a darn good menu off the shelves at normal grocery stores. The menu was carbohydrate heavy with more empty sugar and fat calories than normal, but was pretty good. We had dinners of noodles & beef, spaghetti & dehydrated hamburger, mac/cheese & tuna, teriyaki rice & salmon, noodles & chicken.
When the trek was over, we found that we had packed too much breakfast food and trail food, but pretty much right on for lunches and dinners. We had just about 10 pounds of food for each person for a 5.5 day trek, so we could have trimmed 1 or 1.5 pounds off that.
There is a fairly accurate Calorie Calculator at HikingDude.com along with some other good food ideas.
My Morrell boots had another couple hundred miles put on them this summer from practice hikes, campouts, and two weeks backpacking in Wyoming.
There's a wide range of boot brands to choose from and it can be challenging to find the best one for you. The best thing to do is go to a store and try on a wide range of brands. I especially like the Rocky boots and am thinking of adding those to my birthday list. My current boots have a real nice Philmont brand on them, but since I'll be going there again next summer, maybe I can brand a fresh pair of hiking boots. If you do need new boots, be sure to purchase them well before your hike so you have plenty of time to get your feet used to them. Many boots don't really need much breaking-in time these days, but your feet do need to get used to the fit and extra weight.
I've been fortunate in my few years as scoutmaster to work with scouts that really seem to have it together. Some of them are more naturally leaders and others tend to follow along, but none have had serious personal problems that have surfaced. We've dealt with some issues, but nothing that a plan with parents and scout could not solve.
I expect some day a parent might ask me for help with some problem for which I'm neither trained nor prepared. For times like that, I think it's good to have an idea of alternate avenues of support for families. I've checked our local area for teen support groups and family health organizations so I can mention them to families.
Become aware of the support system in your community for teens. Maybe it's not specifically a part of the scouting program, but it's another resource for you to have at your disposal.
Sometimes you might wonder why you keep spending so much time volunteering for scouting. Once in awhile, you get a great big knock upside your head that reminds you why. This past weekend was a big 'THUMP!' for me.
The Penguin patrol planned a good agenda, actually right down to the 5 minute level, which of course is impossible to follow, but a good schedule to shoot for. With a thorough agenda, whenever a scout asked me 'What are we doing next?', I would just say, 'Ask Sam'. Sam is the patrol leader of the Penguins. This was his first experience with leading the troop.
On this campout, the Senior Patrol Leader did not attend, nor did the Asst. SPL. When that happens, the SPL must pick a scout to take over his duties. For this campout, he chose a scout that had just earned Star rank and has been an Instructor for the past 5 months. This was his first time leading the whole troop.
With a substitute SPL and a scout-in-charge, there was some confusion about who was really in charge - I learned a lot this weekend and have a lot of notes for the next troop leadership training! The substitute SPL (my younger son) did his very best and performed well, but his patrolmates tended to not give him the respect due the position. We had some time for his patrol to talk and I'm confident we'll work past any issues just fine.
Other than the leadership confusion, the weekend was a blast. We caught lots of fish - northern pike, sunfish, bullheads, and bass. A few scouts caught and cooked (and even ate) the fish required for the Fishing merit badge. We got a start on the Flyfishing merit badge and a couple scouts nearly completed Canoeing.
It was great having my son the Life Scout back from camp. He led the troop in a couple new songs at the campfire and taught them some new camp skills. This was really good for the first year scouts to see a much older scout enjoying scouting and giving it his best and having fun doing it.
If I start to wonder if it's worth the time and effort, I just start looking back through the troop photo gallery and see how the scouts have grown. That's enough to snap me out of it and look forward to the next troop meeting or campout where I have high hopes for another big 'THUMP!'
We leave in a couple hours for the troop's first 'WaterWorks' campout! We're offering the Fishing, Flyfishing, and Canoeing merit badges at a local Lutheran camp on a lake. They have canoes, rowboats, and paddleboats with PFDs for us to use.
We have 3 adults that have completed Safety Afloat and Safe Swim Defense and are certified in CPR. All scouts have passed the BSA Swimmer test at summer camp and the camp has a designated swimming area in the lake. So, I think we're pretty well set.
The weather forecast is 75 degrees and 10% chance of rain tomorrow so this has the potential for a practically perfect weekend. If the scouts just wake up early and get some fish for breakfast, that'll be great!
The Penguin patrol planned this campout and they have a packed agenda that should keep everyone busy for two days. It's really enjoyable to see a patrol work together to lay out a trip and get the other patrols to contribute campfire skits, stories, and songs and help with instructing skills where needed.
Being pro-active, I set aside a weekend for our new troop leaders to get trained the end of September. The next day, I learned the Popcorn Sale starts that Saturday - no way the scouts will want to miss the first morning of selling. Plus, the high school has homecoming that Friday. So, I moved the training to the next weekend. It appears to be open so we'll see if any other conflicts arise.
I took a look at the school calendar today and to avoid conflicts during the week, we'd need to have scout events on Sunday - every other day has some school meeting or activity. Of course, church is on Sunday and Wednesday with some youth group events on weekends.
Then, there are sports, band, and theater schedules to contend with, not to mention normal holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Makes it challenging to figure out when to schedule a campout 14 months from now, but that is what the scouts leading the troop do every 6 months.
As we get closer to the date and learn of other events that will take scouts away, we consider changing the date. Sometimes it's easy to shift the schedule, other times we just go with it and see who shows up.
I've concluded that being flexible for other family commitments so parents can balance family, school, church, and scouts helps the program in the long run. Sometimes we have low participation on outings, but we do what we can. I'm always trying to figure out better ways to schedule, but it's one of the more challenging parts of supporting a troop, I think.
This coming weekend we have the Waterworks campout - fishing, flyfishing, canoeing, and swimming. Kind of the last blast of the summer. This is the first time our troop has done this so I'm excited to see how it goes. The weather is supposed to be great, the patrol planning it has done a super job, and we have merit badge counselors on the trip.
Unfortunately, we have about 30% of the scouts going due to end-of-summer family weekend trips and various other reasons. We figured this would be a good weekend since families are supposed to take that last fling on Labor Day, but I guess that's not the case any more.
Well, I'll let you know how many fish get caught when I get home on Sunday.
On Monday, we drove to camp to retrieve our Life Scout that was on staff all summer. Well, actually, he started the summer as a 'Counselor In Training' (CIT) which is a 5-week program. The 4th week, they hired him as staff so he got paid for 6 weeks! That was a nice nudge to his ego, especially since he was the only one to get hired.
So, for the past 5 weeks, he's been the merit badge counselor for First Aid. He also worked on the water front, climbing tower, scoutcraft, and various other areas of the camp. He's already informed me that he plans on working scoutcraft next summer, so I guess he enjoyed 10 weeks in a canvas tent with mosquitos.
With our 20 new scouts in the troop, he is a valuable resource to teach and sign off on all their first aid requirements up to First Class. The SPL will be talking to him about taking advantage of his new skills to help advance the troop.
I'd highly recommend a stint on camp staff for any scouts that have led your troop and are looking for something new. He'll miss a summer of doing things with the troop, but he'll meet new scouts and gain a lot of experience that might be a good boost for your troop. Just be sure to have a re-entry plan for him to integrate back into the troop, as an Instructor or JASM makes sense.
If you're a scoutmaster going to have a conference with a scout, or if you're just in any leadership role and want to have a stress-free chat with someone, here's an idea.
I really like to whittle. I think every boy likes the feel of a blade slicing through wood and being able to physically change the appearance of something. Scouts in our troop love getting the Totin' Chip (many of them get it on the first campout) and then just sitting and carving a point on a stick for 15 minutes or more. That's a powerful way to create a bond with a young scout.
When I'm sitting down to chat with a scout, I often try to have a piece of wood with me, and I always have my knife. Usually, I have a small whittling project under way so I work on that. I'll chip away at it while I ask questions and talk about 'stuff'. It gives the scout something to focus on and he'll usually be more open with his answers. It's a little less intimidating than having this big dude sitting there grilling him about how he's been doing. :-)
By having a simple, mindless activity going on, whether it's whittling, tying hemp bracelets, braiding grass, or whatever, I believe it relieves a bunch of stress. You should give it a try the next time you need to have a talk with someone and see if it makes a difference.
You can ask my neighbors and they'll tell you I've just about always got some silly experiment going on in my yard. For example, last summer I left a 10x10 square of grass unmowed all summer to see how it would reseed. This summer, I pulled weeds by hand except for one area that I sprayed. So, I'm just interested in finding out how well things really work.
The principles of Leave No Trace attempt to minimize our impact when we're exploring the outdoors. Most of them are obviously helpful and don't require much effort in convincing people that they are a good idea. But, I've been interested in how well cat holes really work for disposing of human waste. The concept is that you dig a 6 inch hole in organic soil (not sand or mineral soil), deposit your waste, cover it back up, and then it quickly decomposes. So, I wondered if this really works or if we're just burying our waste so it's out of sight. The past three years, I've backpacked in an area of Wyoming, with a church group and our scout troop. We've camped a night in the same general area each trip so I've had an opportunity to see catholes in action. I found a secluded spot that was very far from camp, minimizing the probability of anyone else walking that far to use it. After digging and using the cathole, I marked it with a stick. The next year, I found the spot. The sparse ground cover looked healthy and the hole was unidentifiable except for the stick. I dug it up and there was no visible trace of waste or toilet paper. So, I used the hole again, covered it up, and marked it. The third year, I found it again and it was still unrecognizable except for the stick. I couldn't see any reduction in the vegetation and the waste had 'vanished'. From this simple experiment, I'm much more confident that by using catholes my impact is really reduced. I believe it is important to find good locations for catholes (in organic duff by trees or bushes), use minimal toilet paper, and carefully replace the ground cover when finished.
As your scout troop explores the outdoors, taking responsibility for their impact falls under the Outdoor Code as well as the Scout Law. They need to be trained in Leave No Trace ethics so they understand and adopt the need to minimize their impact. The Leave No Trace award is a great way to learn, practice, and embrace the LNT principles.
I just received our council's '2007 Popcorn Sales Guide' yesterday. It's eleven pages of instructions, tips, and mostly encouragement to participate - win prizes, get a scholarship, have a great program, support the council, have fun, ... and so on.
There are 12 product items, ranging in price from $9.00 to $50.00 Yes, that's $50.00 for a tin of popcorn - covered in chocolate, but still popcorn. In the past few years, the prices of the popcorn have really popped. We used to have a $5.00 item and $35.00 was the biggest.
It's pretty difficult to encourage scouts to sell items that are priced about 3 times what they are worth. The $14.00 microwave popcorn has 15 packets in it. I can buy a 3-pack at the grocery store today for $1.19 - that's $6.25 instead of $14.00 In the BSA fundraising guidelines, we are supposed to offer a product or service in a way that customers get their money's worth. That no longer seems to be the case with popcorn sales.
Our troop sells popcorn at the same time we sell wreaths. Every year for the past 5 years, the percentage of sales from popcorn has steadily decreased while sales of wreaths has held steady. Neighbors like supporting the scouts and they enjoy having beautiful wreaths delivered that are fairly priced. Unfortunately, I've had a few tell me the prices of the popcorn are out of line and they'll no longer purchase it for that reason.
It's mid-August, do you know where your Webelos are?
About this time, it seems that Webelos and their den leaders start thinking about visiting troops and choosing one to join in the spring. If you are hoping to gain a few new members in your troop, don't wait any longer to start working on it. With the start of school, planning will get more difficult.
There are a few things that greatly influence where Webelos go when they cross-over...
the Younger Brother - if there's already a boy scout in the family, the younger brother almost always joins that troop. This makes life easier for the family chauffeur.
the First One - in any Webelos den, wherever the first scout decides to go and announces it, many of the rest will probably join him. These are the ones that don't put in their own research (and they're often ones that don't last long in the troop). So, convince a Webelos to join your troop right now and tell all his den mates where he's going.
the Fun Event - an event put on by a troop specifically for Webelos that is just exhausting fun can pull in a bunch of scouts. Our troop did an overnight lock-in for many years - it had no scouting to it at all - but it was very popular. Now, we have an all-day event with a patch, collecting trinkets, earning prizes, and food - it seems to work great too.
the Night - if your troop meets on Tuesday and the scout has band, theatre, karate, swimming, ... on Tuesday then he'll go to the troop that meets on Thursday. Not much you can do about this unless it seems 'everyone' has a conflict with your meeting day and then you might consider changing.
the Den Chief - having a boy scout work with the den can either gain or lose a lot of scouts. It depends on the skills and effectiveness of that scout.
If the Senior Patrol Leader and his team have not started planning at least one event aimed at recruiting Webelos, they really need to do it this month. A good idea is to offer a day hike in October with fun activities to cover the Scout Oath, Law, motto, slogan, ... so attendees can complete Arrow of Light requirements 2, 4, and 5.
Make sure you publicize your offerings to the Webelos den leaders early so they can get their scouts to show up. If you can get the phone contacts for each Webelos scout family, that's even better, but more work.
Our troop now invites 4th and 5th grade Webelos to its day event and gives a different patch to each grade. This gives the 4th graders something to look forward to the next year and more exposure to the troop.
A scout from our troop attended the 21st World Scout Jamboree in England the past two weeks and got in a picture on the BSA web site - he's sitting wearing a maroon shirt. Now that the jamboree is finished, we're excited to have him give a presentation at the next troop meeting - hopefully it will excite some scouts for the 2011 Jamboree in Sweden.
A jamboree is too big for what I enjoy - just a District camporee seems too crowded. :-) But, hey, if it's in Sweden then that's a different story - Ya, sure, you betcha!
Last night, we had an awesome lightning storm here in Minnesota. Once the front moved through, I watched that back side of the storm for 1/2 hour. It was the first time I've seen a storm go through with absolutely clear skies directly behind it - no lingering clouds at all, just twinkling stars and the back side of a huge thunderhead exploding with lightning about 15 miles away. Very Cool! Weird thing was that there was no thunder at all, it was completely quiet with no wind.
Anyway, I read that some scouts at Philmont had a run-in with lightning while hiking on Baldy Mountain and 11 got medical attention. They were all fine and rejoined their crews. Sounds to me like they were very fortunate.
Last year, we turned back from our summit hike on a troop backpacking trip due to encroaching storms. It's never the wrong choice to turn back - it may not be popular, but its always safer. If it's just rain, I don't mind scouts getting wet and muddy. But, having the chance of lightning when we're above timberline makes me very nervous - since I'm 6-2, I'm usually the tallest target around. :-)
I've been in contact with Kris Goodrich at Carnot Industries about his Flint & Steel and Bow Drill products. He has agreed to contribute products for prizes in our monthly contest - how cool is that? Just click the "Prizes" link at the top of any page to enter.
Kris's story is pretty interesting. He and his two brothers worked through the ranks of scouting, from Cub Scouts to Eagle Scout. Kris got interested in primitive fire starting at scout camp in 1997 and they've now been selling 'Sparks Fly' kits since 2000. They started from scratch with a friend, a forge, an anvil, some coal, and a big dream. With that, they started producing flint & steel sets for their troop and then to sell.
Kris has continued to 'give back' to scouting by being a JASM and then Asst. Scoutmaster so providing products to build scouting skills naturally fits with his scouting life.
If you are thinking of Flint & Steel or Bow Drill sets for your troop, please consider supporting the business of some fellow Scouters.
This spring, our troop was in need of some new tents since we had gained 20 new scouts and some tents were wearing out. I checked around the Net and found ScoutDirect.com which sells ALPS Mountaineering tents. We ordered some 4-man and 2-man Taurus tents with fiberglass poles. Aluminum poles are lighter, but more fragile and much more expensive.
I just spent 14 nights in a 2-man Taurus backpacking in Wyoming. 7 nights were with another adult leader on our scout trek, then 7 nights were with my son on a church youth group trek - his patrol let us borrow the tent.
I've got to give a great big Thumbs Up to the ALPS Taurus tent. On these treks, there were Eurekas, Keltys, and some other tents. The rainfly on the ALPS comes completely to the ground which has a few great benefits:
The inside tent never gets hit by rain, unless it splatters up from hitting rocks on the ground.
Strong wind whips around the tent instead of turning the fly into a big sail.
The fly creates a large vestibule on both sides for dry storage of gear you might need at night.
We had a strong, short hail storm - you might see the white hail on the ground in the photo. But, we also had a 10 hour rainstorm all night. The ALPS kept us and our gear in the vestibules dry, while the other tents got wet inside from blowing rain.
Another impressive thing about the ALPS tents is that they go up with just clips - no sleeves to slide poles through. My son and I timed ourselves and it took just 3 minutes 14 seconds to erect the tent from being bagged to completely staked out with rainfly. There are just two poles and no third pole for the rainfly so it is a very simple, sturdy set up.
What don't I like? Well, there's a little plastic window in the rainfly so you can look out from the inside - I could do without that since it just means more seams to possibly leak. But, the scouts like it. And, I wish there was green or tan colors, but it just comes in blue unless you double the price up to the Outfitter style in tan.
Have your Troop Quartermaster take a look at your tent inventory this fall and then check out ScoutDirect.com to see what they offer.
Well, two weeks later and 8 pounds lighter, I'm back. :-)
What a terrific trek through a bit of Wyoming with a great crew. All 8 scouts got a good start on the Backpacking merit badge requirements and they expect to finish it next year with their Philmont trek being the grand finale.
The crew set the summit of Cloud Peak at 13,167 as the main goal of the trek. Everyone reached that goal, some having an easy time of it and others digging deep to find the endurance to keep going. We only got to enjoy the summit for about 5 minutes before the clouds dropped and we had to slowly creeep down to 12,000 feet before getting out of the clouds. After that, it was much better. The entire day hike took 12 hours, which is about 4 hours longer than normal.
The next day, we were scheduled to hike most of the way out and spend one more night in the woods. But, since we had 11 hours of rain all night and it was still dreary, the crew elected to hike 12 miles out for showers and a campground.
There was a great amount of leadership, cooperation, and support demonstrated on this trek. A couple scouts that tend to take a back seat stepped up, while I learned about some areas for improvement for a couple of Life scouts.
I'd be happy to share our itinerary with anyone that's interested - just send me an email.