Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Camping, Boy Scouts, and Life

By day, and most hours of the night, I'm a complete and utter geek. Working on servers at work (and home) I make a good living because Microsoft can't make a operating system that works. Now how does an geek like me prepare for the end of the world, and feel fine about it? Well, I love to go camping.

Long ago, in the dim recesses of time, I was a Boy Scout. Although some of the scoutmasters were a little creepy, we didn't have too much to worry about. There were two scoutmasters in particular that shaped me into who I am today. One was a top-secret electrical engineer for a defense-related company. The other was a schoolteacher in one of the toughest schools in the northeast.

They taught me to use my brain, rather than cop out and use excuses. I was never one to excel at rank, but by the end I had more merit badges than anyone else. We learned first aid, fire starting, wilderness survival, and so many other skills. To this day I have 30 different knots burned into my memory... I just counted by tying them on a piece of networking cable.

In a week and a half, I'm going on a camping trip. I get together with my buddies and head out to the ass end of Mass, and camp out in the middle of nowhere. No cell signal, no internet, no way for the boss, girlfriend, wife, or kids to call. Blessed silence. The benefit from one's mental outlook from unplugging for a weekend usually lasts a few months. We also consume a lot of beer, which helps immensely. Not as much as we did in college, but as one friend says "Kids play games and count beers, real men just drink!"

I fully intend on going on a few hikes to see how long it takes to re-attune from my suburban mode of sensing the world around me to a wilderness mode. I'll look for deer and bear sign, and just take a technological time out. No GPS - I still use a map and compass.

I'm certain I'll think of all kinds of useful stuff while out there, and I'll write them down on - get this - paper, and bring them back. Since my buddies have been talking more and more about the looming financial crisis, I'll find out who's been prepping and who hasn't. Maybe we can hatch a plan of mutual support, and start a little survival group, we shall see.

One of the strengths in my patrol in Boy Scouts was our specialization, and redundancy. Any survival group should follow what we did, as it is the most efficient way to get things done. No one could learn every skill, so we divided the skills needed up between us. There were several meets throughout the year where competitions were held between all the patrols of all the troops in the area. each of these competitions had several challenges, and your patrol was scored on how well it accomplished the task.

The tasks were varied, and included many of the scouting skills. Here are some of the ones I remember. Orientation with a map and compass, fire building where it was timed to burn through a string at a specific height, first aid, rescuing someone by throwing a rope 50' and so on and so forth. What we did was each person in the patrol had to master one event, and act as a backup to another event. When I first joined, I had to tie 10 different knots and show them to a referee in the shortest time possible. I was the backup first-aid guy. By divvying up the amount of stuff we had to learn, we were always the best in our troop, even though we were considered by many to be the patrol of fuck-ups.

If your lucky enough to have a survival group you can work with, then I would suggest following that strategy for the broader skills needed. For example, If you have five couples in the group, there is no sense in having everyone learn how to hunt and butcher a deer to start. Because food is so important take three and have them learn that, while two more learn how to tan the hide.

Some should concentrate on growing and preserving food, while others can master making solar stills. Someone needs to know how to work on engines, while others will need to learn about alternate energy. You cannot learn it all, but once your group has all the skills covered, then they continue cross-training.

Of course some skills are needed by everyone. Safe firearm handling and maintenance. Silent communication with hand signals, what fruit is edible and which is poisonous for the common plants in your area, how to shoot, how to read a map.

Robert Heinlein said that "specialization is for insects" but the way our society has relied on specialists for so long, you have to start somewhere. I feel we are short on time, and long on things that need to be learned. I have never baked bread in my life, but I will tonight.

If you have a child interested in scouting, I say go for it. The trick is that the parents need to be involved. I'm willing to bet that if the parent of the child is there, and involved with the whole she-bang, the less likely they will be a target of one of those sick bastards. Also, don't pressure your kid to get to eagle scout. I saw many kids that had their parents all over them to get that far, and all but one of them buckled under the pressure. you know what's best for your own rug rat! But stay involved! So many of the parents looked at scouting as extended day care, just dump the kid off and pick them up later.


hilljack33 said...

Nothing wrong with being a geek. I was a unix/linux geek for years. I am also as comfortable in the woods as I am in a corporate meeting.

I was never in the boy scouts, but grew up running around the hills of SE Ohio. Love nature. Microsoft couldn't write a good OS if Billy Boys life depended on it...

Nice blog by the way.

theotherryan said...

I think specialization in a survivalist sense is good if not taken to extremes. Everyone needs to know some stuff (starting a fire, basic first aid, etc) but having one person who knows more about it (emt, mechanic, etc) is a good thing. Keep cross training in mind also.