Waking up with a week’s worth of food strewn about the campsite, most of it eaten by a large wilderness predator was not the best start to my Boy Scout patrol’s second day on the trail. Looking around in the dim dawn light, trying to make sense of it all, we checked the condition of our bear bag – after all, we had secured it to a limb of a tall tree, well out of a bear’s reach, before sacking out for a night under the stars. None of the other patrols had their food splayed on the ground, just we older boys.

The answer to our oft-repeated question of how it could happen did not brighten our mood. The bag that had contained all of our food when we hoisted it into the tree was still there, mostly. Hanging by its straps were the bear bags of each other patrol and the adult leaders – the strain of all the extra weight had ripped its stitching, spilling out all of our provisions to the ground below, while leaving the rest suspended high in the air, safe and sound.

I honestly don’t remember what we said to the Scoutmasters and other patrol leaders, but I guarantee it wasn’t kind. We were on the second day of a week-long hike through the Sierras, and because every other patrol decided to piggy-back on our well-chosen food storage, most all of it was ruined, chewed and slobbered on by bears and other woodland creatures.

One of the most vivid memories I have of that trip was of our patrol eating breakfast that morning – licking Crystal Lite off a large rock, against which the bag had exploded after falling from the heavens. “Lemonade off a rock!” became something of an in-joke among us from that point forward, and I have no doubt we all remember it.

Taking stock of what food was actually salvageable, we came up with some rice, taco seasoning, a small bag of honey, and several granola bars. The rice would likely stretch us through the rest of the trip, if very carefully rationed, and the bars would at least provide us some energy while on the trail. We were of a very grim disposition about the whole affair.

At that moment we had a choice – turn back, taking an adult with us, and abandoning our long-awaited trip, or press on and make due. If we had left, it would be very unlikely that the remaining boys could carry all of the equipment – remember that we were lugging all of the young boys’ gear as well as our own – and surely their trip would be fairly worse off for it, if not cut short altogether. My troop had a philosophy of “leadership for scouts, by scouts” which meant that, as the oldest and most experienced patrol, we were responsible for guiding and educating our younger members, particularly when it came to the outdoors.

None of us wanted to shirk that important responsibility, though I’m sure we were all tempted to. With stoic determination, we made the decision to keep going.

Both for our own health and out of spite for the patrols which had sabotaged our food supply, we decided to continue as before, but with a twist – we weren’t going to carry all the other boys’ food for free. Or help them set up tents. Or teach them orienteering skills. Every meal break, as we helped them use their camp stoves, we made sure that we took a bit of chicken, or some pasta, or seasoning as our fee. We knew how much food the other patrols had (after all, we were carrying half of it) so we weren’t going to run them out of anything, and it was a great way to supplement our meager reserves.

Conveniently enough, the younger boys also wanted to join in on our “friendly” game of poker most evenings. To take a line from the movie Rounders:

We’re not playing together, but then again we’re not playing against each other either. It’s like the Nature Channel – you don’t see piranhas eating each other, so you?

By the time we made it to the Evolution Valley basin, we were hungry and tired, but had made the most of a truly memorable half-journey. We still had a full day within the valley and then the entire trip home ahead of us.

Part 4 coming soon!

Header image by Jenn Wanderer, used with permission.