Camping was of course a big feature of Boy Scouting, which was perfectly logical and expected, given the origins, nature, and mission of Scouting. We had several weekend campouts in various parks and other places. But there were other things, as well. There were “merit badges” to be earned, and meetings to attend at which merit badge work could be reviewed and camping trips be discussed and planned. I’m sure there was more but that’s what I remember.
The meetings, once begun, were OK. They were a bit more regimented than the Cub Scout gatherings, and for better or worse, included very little involvement by our moms. But we were older, and could go off and participate in such things by ourselves. I also, with some fondness, recall the wild, impromptu, undisciplined, “capture the flag” sort of games we would play in the OLGC gymnasium, which nicely counter-pointed the organized meeting which immediately followed.
But it was the outings — in my mind and memory, at least — which seemed to be the predominant activity. As I’ve indicated earlier, we had various campout experiences. But far and away the ones I remember most fondly took place in winter.
Each year, deep in the winter, we would spend a couple of weekends (Friday evening through Sunday afternoon) occupying the small, rustic cabins at camp Kedeka, in the heart of Bliss Woods in Sugar Grove, IL.
For a Boy Scout camp the name Kedeka seems a nicely appropriate Indian-sounding name, but was in fact the concatenation of the first letters of the three counties which the camp served; Kendall, DeKalb, and Kane. We had no idea where we were, and could not have found Sugar Grove a map to save ourselves, and Bliss Woods had a much more primitive and remote feeling than Camp Blackhawk ever did. But the car rides to and from were much shorter, so we knew we weren’t too far from home.
We would settle in late on Friday afternoon and because, as I have said, this was the dead of winter it was already getting dark by the time we arrived. The cabins in which we stayed were actually a bit more than rustic — they were primitive. Memory fails me here, but I’m guessing that they were each no more than 15 x 20′. The central feature was a large fireplace, opposite the entrance. The accommodations were four wood frame double bunks built against on each side wall. The bunks were man size, however, so there was plenty of room, and with a thin mattress to supplement our sleeping bags, they were downright luxurious compared to sleeping in a tent on the ground; even dry ground.
Settling in, we would cook and eat our dinner, then tidy up and all gather around the fireplace of one of the cabins for stories. We were too keyed up from just being there to turn in early on Friday, so we would sit well into the night, mesmerized by the fire, lost in the stories the troop leaders would tell, which of course would include the terrors possibly lurking in the dark snowy woods just outside the thin cabin door.
Saturdays were filled with activities; woodcraft and knots, of course, and usually a hike in the dense woods. We would stop for lunch at some small clearing, or beside a stream, and the troop leaders would again provide proof that a cooking fire could indeed be built and lit in the damp cold woods. After the meal we were taught how to properly douse our fire, and disperse the remnants, so as to leave the woods as we had found it.
After Saturday night’s supper, and a few more stories, or sing-alongs, or whatever, we would turn in; being pretty tired on this night from the exertions of the day. This was what I was waiting for. Every time we went winter camping at Camp Kedeka, I took with me the same plan. My intention was to sleep for a few hours, and then get up about 1 AM, and go for a hike of my own. I wanted very much to hike the winter woods in the complete and silent solitude of the cold dark snowy night. It just seemed like such an adventure, and I would look forward to and plan my trek for days before we would make camp.
Alas, it turned out that each time I had the opportunity I was just as tired as everyone else, and I would sleep through the night. Each time this happened I always had a tiny sense of failure. I hadn’t brought my plan to fruition.
The upside was that when morning came I always awoke fresh and properly prepared for the Sunday breakfast of pancakes and sausage, which set us up nicely for Sunday’s fun. I regretted missing the opportunity to have my solo adventure. But okay, I’d do it next time, for sure.