One week of my twelfth summer was spent the way most sweaty, snot-nosed twelve-year-old boys spent summer in 1973 – at Boy Scout summer camp.
Fifty miles from nowhere, nestled on the northwest corner of a secluded lake sits Camp Horizon Wilderness – a sweltering, chigger-infested, cactus-riddled death camp to anyone with a lick of sense, but a vacation paradise to any self-respecting boy two months shy of junior high.
Upon arrival we received the compulsory safety lecture. The majority covered the camp’s abundant wildlife – four-thousand varieties of snakes (all poisonous), thirty-two types of scorpions and spiders (all poisonous), four kinds of centipedes (all poisonous) and poison oak and poison ivy (ditto).
The lecture concluded: “Don’t wander from camp or shoot each other on the rifle range, always swim with a buddy so if you drown, someone can tell us, and in case you’re wondering, there is no Girl Scout camp across the lake, so don’t even bother.” Surprisingly, no one mentioned playing with knives, axes, fire, or maintaining personal hygiene. I liked the place immediately.
We were then turned loose to invade our campsites and unpack. My tent was a huge six-man canvas behemoth conspicuously pitched in what appeared to be a dry creek bed. I was assured significant rain was highly unlikely.
We then rushed off to explore the camp and its nature trails, craft pavilions, canoes, rowboats, rifle and archery ranges, and a main campfire area perfect for conducting top-secret spooky rituals and telling scare-the-crap-out-of-you ghost stories.
We cooked our own meals over open fires. Four things I remember in particular: lantern fuel starts great fires, raw pancakes with burned middles don’t taste half bad, I can survive without fruit, vegetables or cleaning my plate, and Bisquick is in every recipe known to man.
I frequented the lake despite its rumored 50-pound snapping turtles. Each morning I canoed and then swam until I resembled a giant exhausted prune. A decent swimmer, I nearly drowned far less often than I expected.
Then I was off to the Trading Post. This hilltop oasis hawked crafts, camping gadgets and snacks of all sorts. I visited for only one reason – ice cold Big Red soda. After the steep, half-mile hike from the lake, I’d pound three cans in two minutes. To this day I’m amazed I didn’t slip into a sugar coma and roll down the hill into the waiting jaws of famished snapping turtles.
The rifle range always came next. At twenty-five cents a clip my fortune went fast, but I loved shooting. I saved every bulls-eyed target. Later, during a “highly unlikely significant rain,” a river snuck into my floorless tent and stole a woodcarving project, three pairs of initialed underwear and all my targets.
Each day after shooting I attended merit badge classes, dinner, and nightly stories by a roaring fire.
I loved camp. Sweltering days, humid sleepless nights, floods, grime, sweat, stinking canvas and imbedded cactus needles obviously didn’t bother a typical twelve-year old.
The week passed all too quickly. But not before I had collected countless bites, cuts and scrapes, a sunburn, the runs, zero showers, six merit badges, and a million memories I have to this day. I longed for another week.
Oh, to be twelve.
Tripp Holmgrain is an avid outdoorsman twelve years old at heart. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.