June 14th, 2008


Wilderstead Twenty-Miler

The Hiking Merit Badge group went out to Wilderstead and stayed in our cabin Thursday and Friday nights, the better to tackle the big twenty-mile hike we'd been gearing up for.

Why go all the way to Ohio County for a hike? Well, twenty miles is twenty miles, and I wanted to allow fourteen hours for the hike. I figured that if we went camping, then we wouldn't waste time waiting for adults to drop kids off, driving to the trailhead, etc. And if we were in a cabin rather than tents, the amount of fiddling around with camp chores would be minimal. Both pointed to Wilderstead. As for staying a second night, I thought Zach (siege) and I would both be too tired to drive back three hours after hiking twenty miles (and I was right).

So, we drove the little boybarians out to Wilderstead, and they moved into the cabin. We got there about 9:00 p.m. Thursday, and were mostly quiet by 11:00. Marshall managed to build a fire in the fire pit by the last shred of daylight to pass a requirement for Second Class. We snacked on chips and salsa and had a quiet night.

Morning came way too early for most of the crew. I got up at 5:30 a.m. and gave first call. At 6:00, I told them breakfast was ready (no cooking involved, except for hot water for coffee or hot choc). By a few minutes before 7:00, we were walking up the road and on our way.

The guys had chosen a route that led them along the high ridges of Ohio County for the first part of the hike, then down into the Laughery Creek valley. The day opened breezy and bright, and we made good time. The critters were out playing the whole day. We saw at least a dozen deer on this trip, plus all kinds of butterflies, red-winged blackbirds, turkey vultures, and an amazing variety of roadkill. Michael managed to pass both his plant identification and animal identification requirements on this one day.

We stopped for lunch at the halfway point, under a bridge over the South Fork of Laughery. After ten miles, we were almost completely out of water. I was instructing the boys in how to use water filters when a local kindly offered us the use of his frost-free faucet's city water. Bonus!

We "caterpillared" back up the ridge and continued on our way. After a couple more miles, it began to spatter. By mile thirteen, we were in a rainstorm. We sat it out for a few minutes, then walked on in a light rain, descending steeply to the valley floor. A huge thunderclap burst right over us while we were walking along Laughery Creek. By mile fifteen, though, the rain was mostly over.

We hiked through Milton and finally got back to Wilderstead some twelve hours and fifteen minutes after leaving it. Quite a respectable time for twenty miles! We were all stiff and sore, and several were nursing blisters, but we were still on our feet and complaining was minimal.

The rain started up again, a steady drizzle, but we were inside and comfy. We made some hot soup and had supper. It was Michael's twelfth birthday (and he spent it hiking with us -- I'm touched), so we sang him the "Russian Happy Birthday Song" and had him blow out a candle. By 10:00, we were all crashed down for the night. I got up about 6:30 this morning; we were all cleaned up and out the door by 8:30 and home and dry by 11:30 a.m. Another great hike!

Click on a pic to enlarge

Early morning Early morning
The sun climbs up over Woods Ridge
Here's Your Sign Here's Your Sign
Helping end the heartbreak of unwed gazebos
Violators will be Toad Violators will be Toad
South Fork, Laughery Creek
Skipping rocks never gets old Skipping rocks never gets old
Michael, left, spent his 12th birthday hiking 20 miles with us.
Trudge, trudge, trudge Trudge, trudge, trudge
Marshall keeps pace with Zach
Classy old barn Classy old barn
Ohio County, Indiana
We're off to see the Wizard We're off to see the Wizard
The Scarecrow (T.J.), Tin Man (Bryan), Dorothy (Michael), and Cowardly Lion (Jackson) ease on down the road despite the rain.
Winners Circle Winners Circle
Official "after" picture of Scouts completing 20-miler


The Wordsmith's Forge

(My column for church newsletter, July 2008)

At advancement time at a recent Troop meeting, I sat down with several Scouts doing Hiking Merit Badge with me to plan out a twenty-miler – the longest of the six hikes required for the badge. All of us were gearing up for a big challenge.

To my surprise, Marshall, an eleven-year-old Scout who just crossed over from Cubs in February, joined us. When I asked why, he said, “I want to do Hiking Merit Badge.” My eyebrows almost jumped off my face. “You do realize we’re talking about twenty miles here, don’t you?” I said. He professed his readiness to complete the hike.

When his mom showed up to get him, I talked with her about his wanting to go on this hike. She said, “I think it’ll be good for him.” My eyebrows already having shot skyward once, I don’t think I had any way left to register my amazement. But, I thought, Who am I to tell a healthy boy he can’t walk twenty miles if he wants, and his mother will let him? (Shrug)

Well, my suspicions were confirmed, and Marshall had no clue just how far twenty miles is. How could he know, seeing as how this was his very first hike – of any length? But he did just fine, and I give him full credit for guts. For that matter, I give full credit to the other Scouts, who also tromped along and nailed the big one. As I like to say, the agony lasts for just a day, but the braggin’ rights endure forever.

Anyway, as we drove home, I found myself thinking about Marshall’s decision to go on a twenty-mile hike as his very first hike in Boy Scouts. It’s a lot like when you volunteer for something. Nobody really believes the hype about teaching Sunday School or being on a committee or singing in the choir or being a Scout leader as “just an hour a week/month/whatever.” Nevertheless, even though none of us really knows just how much it’s going to take to do what we’ve volunteered for, we go ahead and volunteer anyway, and many of us keep on doing it, despite its costs and hassles, and find it truly rewarding.

In the same way, none of us really understands the amazing words we say when we profess our faith and join the Church – at least, not at the time. And those cosmic promises (Yes, sir, please God, I will follow Jesus Christ for ever and ever, no matter what it takes, cross my heart, etc.) – how could we ever know what it’s going to take to follow Christ for the rest of our lives? Yet, we stand up and say those words and make those promises, and God is pleased when we do. It’s only later (much later) that we ever begin to realize how much it takes – how much more than we even have to give – to really follow Christ.

And yet, looking back, we are glad to say we did it. I wouldn’t have missed the journey for the world. How about you?