Sunday, April 18, 2010

What a difference 14 hours makes!

So I took the Troop camping this weekend in my old stomping grounds of Tolt-MacDonald Park out in Carnation. Back in the day (the day being 1978 to 1985 or so) I went to Tolt-MacDonald roughly every year with my Troop to do our "pre-Camporee" tune-up. My main memories from those trips were the suspension bridge, playing Squad Leader with my friends in the tent late at night (and losing horribly, no doubt), and playing a game affectionately called "Fris-Brawl" that was a mix of Ultimate Frisbee, keep-away, and rugby. No points scored, just attempting to keep the Frisbee away from the other team while they attempted to knock the stuffing out of whoever had it.

Well, this year we were supposed to do a hike to Lizard and Lily Lakes up near Bellingham, but after scouting out the trail (from the west side, anyway) I decided it was definitely too hard to take a bunch of new Scouts on for their first hike. So I reverted to my youth and we went to Tolt-MacDonald. And surprise surprise, things have changed!

For one thing, they've got Yurts on the hillside where we used to camp. There are a couple tent spots there, but I didn't want my 15 Boy Scouts keeping the Yurt people awake (not that it would have been an issue, since we were one of 4 Troops in the Park this weekend). So we instead headed down-river to some isolated spots. This had two advantages: First, we were well away from other campers, so no need to strictly enforce quiet time (or, as the park sign read, "Quite Time"). And second, it required them to carry their crap for a half mile or so. Just long enough to get them complaining, not so far that they rebelled.

The plan (and I use the term loosely) was to practice some skills they'd need for Camporee: knots and lashings, maybe some first aid, some signalling / Morse code, etc. The last one was suggested by our SPL Danny since he'd heard there was going to be a semaphore / Morse Code event at this year's Camporee. I was all for it, and told him to run with the idea. Which was all well and good until yesterday afternoon when he said, and I quote, "Scott, I found a problem with the signalling thing: I don't know Morse Code." D'oh!

Well, they recovered and found some other skills to teach and games to play, and there was always a river to fall in and shoreline to erode, so no one complained too much.

But the fun really began at dinner. And as the afternoon went on and the showers grew more frequent I began to hear some distant rumblings. At first I put them off to jet noise, since they were lasting a long, long time. But as they got closer there was no question it was thunder. Lucky for us, the Troop that had occupied the "group camping" site and it's attendant picnic shelter had left a few hours earlier. And conveniently it was approaching time to cook dinner. So I had the guys move their dinner prep to the shelter.

About 5 minutes after we were settled and cooking the rain began: gently at first, then heavier, then true torrential downpour. And with it came wind - occasionally pretty strong - and some wicked close lightning strikes. I think the closest was within a mile, using the old "one second per mile" rule of thumb. Unfortunately I didn't catch any of the flash-banging on the phone, but I did manage to get Logan and his friends doing the "Rain Go Away" dance (which had no effect on the rain and just made them wetter)...

Eventually the rain stopped, the food was eaten, we made a fire, and the kids had a rousing game of "German Spotlight" (a version of tag played in the dark with flashlights) before collapsing in their tents and (hopefully) changing in to dry clothes and getting some sleep.

So what's this about 14 hours and a difference? Well, when I got up around 7, roughly 14 hours after the thunderstorm, the sun was burning through a thin layer of fog. What had sounded like rain overnight was clearly just the moss on the trees dripping, and it was shaping up to be a gorgeous day. And since the phone battery was pretty much dead and I hadn't packed a real camera, I didn't bother with a picture. But the improved weather did make the packing up and picking up litter portions of the morning that much better!

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