— I grew up in Southern California in the ’70’s, the youngest of three boys.
All three of us became Eagle Scouts. I was in my brother Christopher’s patrol. Most patrols have animal names: Eagle patrol, Beaver patrol, etc.
Christopher had to name our patrol something different. He named our patrol after a mythical fire-breathing dog. We were the Helldog patrol. My mom made us a yellow flag, with a black, six legged, fire breathing dog in the center. Every year there was a big camporee where all the patrols competed in camp skills.
There was an obstacle course, first aid center, rope tying, etc. Judges would also come by each patrol’s camp and score us on cleanliness and on our cooking skills. The first year we went we came in 49th out of about 50 patrols. The next year we came in 13th. By the third or fourth year the Helldogs were No. 1!
Like most Scouts, our activities were primarily outdoors. We would backpack for a week each summer in the Sierras. The first year I went backpacking with the Scouts, I was 12 or 13. We hiked the Rae Lakes loop, which is in Sequoia/Kings Canyon. We had hiked for 3 or 4 days, over Glen Pass, and had come back down to an area that the rangers warned us contained bears. We decided to keep the bears away we would build a big fire and keep it going all night. We took one- or two-hour shifts all night long keeping that fire burning. It worked. The bears didn’t bother us that night. So we hiked on the next morning. We hiked 8 or 10 miles to the next camp, for one last night in the back-country. We were so exhausted from staying up the night before that we decided against keeping a fire going. Instead we hung our food from a bridge over the river and left our backpacks out and open.
We slept out under the stars. Very early the next morning I looked out from my sleeping bag to see a fawn gamboling among the ferns in a small meadow next to our camp, with the doe watching nearby. I watched for a while, enjoying the scene, and then went back to sleep. Later I woke to the dreaded word, “Bear.” A bear had come into our camp, not 30 feet from us and was tearing through our packs. The bear chewed on our plastic canteens a little bit (smelling the Kool aid), and then rambled out of our camp, leaving us as excited as you can imagine. I have had other bear encounters over the years — most recently while backpacking with my three sons and nephews in Yosemite — but that encounter really stands out. I kept that canteen as a memento. It’s around here someplace.
One adventure my brothers went on as Scouts, which I didn’t, was a 50 mile bicycle trip to earn the Bicycling merit badge.
They decided to bike from our home in Glendale to the beach. They picked the shortest route and went for it. They succeeded in the 50-mile bike trip, but Christopher came home with something he hadn’t planned on. The shortest route goes through Watts. He came home with a big fat lip, having to defend his bike from a thief. On that day, he had received a good turn from a friend, when a stranger ran the thief off.
Then, as now, the Boy Scouts program helps develop character in young men, teaching the attributes of the Scout law, largely through outdoor skills and adventures. What I also learned in Scouts is persistence. You can’t give up in the middle of a backpacking trip. You have to push on to the top of the mountain to see the vista beyond. Thank you for the opportunity to reminisce about my youth. Thank you to all the great Scout leaders I have known over the years, especially Roger Greenlaw, Dale Huse, Kevin Smith, Tom Miller, Paul Dunbar and Bill Foster. Go Helldogs!
Larry Ramseyer, M.D., F.A.C.R.,
diagnostic radiologist, Integris Bass Baptist Health Center