Jun 7, 2015

Assault on Boy Scout Mountain


    5AM
   Air, heavy with early morning dew fills my lungs as I stand pondering the enormous beast-of-a-mountain before me. I have four miles behind me already and my legs have found their rhythm. None of the quad and foot aches I felt just a few hours ago will plague me any longer today.  Three straight weeks of hiking have hardened me for this morning's campaign. I have arrived at Saddle Junction, a small and desolate parking lot nestled at the base of Mount Baden-Powell, the crest that is and always was my destiny to conquer.

  I squeeze my trekking poles, lift my head, and evaluate my target. The 9400-foot monster looms, its hilly guts overflowing fatly. The mountain's peak hides itself from view.  Today this mountain falls.  I lift my right pole and strike the gravelly ground with ringing venom announcing my presence to this peak itself. A chorus of birds begins chirping frantically then fly away with haste.
They herald my coming.  Prepare yourself Mount Baden-Powell.  I'm doing this for me.  I'm finishing this vendetta once and for all.
 I'm doing this for Ricky-fucking-Stadler.





     I know it's hard to tell by looking at me now, but once upon a time I was but a lowly cub scout. I loved the cub scouts.  Something about the badges, patches, jamborees, and wilderness manuals, appealed to my sense of duty.  Before the age of role-playing games the scouts were the original boyhood meritocracy.  From the ripe age of six years old I earned through the ranks of cub scoutting.  I was a Wolf scout, a Bear scout, and finally, after years of learning to tie knots, make paper mache, fold origami, and tactically ask my mother to make cookies for bake sales, I became a Weblo.

No, that's not some sort of pedophilia cult.

   The Weblos were the big kids.  Weblos were too old to still use the child-like "cub" moniker, but not old enough take their place as full-fledged Boy Scouts. I was almost there; just one more year I would be an honest-to-god, full-fledged, yellow-handkerchief wearing Boy Scout!
Everyone looks up to the Boy Scouts. To this day Scouts represent all that is great about America. Their community-based boyhood wilderness and citizenship training is top-notch.  If they stay the course, a Boy Scout eventually earns his way to the Rank of Eagle Scout.
If you ever meet an Eagle Scout, you will know it immediately.

They're that awesome.

 Eagle Scouts have dedicated years of their young lives to forestry study, community volunteering, mentoring, and leadership training. As a general rule, they enter the Air Force ROTC program as fully ranked officers.  They mostly become Pilots in the Air Force before moving on to kick-ass in whatever other field they chosen.  Like I said, Awesome.  


     It was at this stage in my scout career that my mother received orders to ship out and I moved overseas to Misawa, Japan. I was scared to move to Japan and lose all my friends back in the States.  I didn't know how I would adjust to a new school.  I heard the Japanese thought red hair was good luck though, and when I found out there was a scout pack, all my fears evaporated.  I'd make friends there and we would go explore forests in the Japanese wilderness, I dreamed. Oh, so naive....

I joined Cub Scout Pack 18 as soon as possible upon getting settled on base. Most Cub Scout packs are run by a Scout Master and a few assistants. These adults design activities, monitor the pack, communicate with the National HQ, and benevolently oversee a loose wilderness curriculum in a vaguely democratic fashion.

  Pack 18 was a little different. Think "Lord of the Flies." Over the course of a Seven month period, four different Scout Masters attempted to preside over the most rambunctious group of little monsters that side of the Pacific. They all failed. These kids weren't going to be tamed. Ever.

     I suspect that the boys of Pack 18 used their time in Scouts to release their rebellious tendencies. These were military kids, and behavioral issues that arise with military kids is typically met with severe force by their active duty parents.  These people took no shit from kids. Pack 18 was one of the only places these boys could get away with being the vile little monsters they really were.

 The leader of this ragtag group of hooligans was one Ricky Stadler.  Imagine that fat kid from Little Rascals; now give him a few more inches of height, a mean grimace, and a small army of sycophants to do his malicious bidding. That's Ricky Stadler.  He domineered Pack 18 with brute force, emotional manipulation, and the kind of intense peer pressure only pre-pubescent boys can exert.  He was a brat, a bully, and sadist.
     From the moment I joined Pack 18, Ricky took an immediate dislike to me.  Perhaps it was my "dorky" look or maybe my adherence to scouting philosophy and dedication to earning merit badges; No matter the reason, from the time of my induction into the pack I was the target of abuse and ostracization.  All of my input at Scout meetings was met with rolled eyes and whispered mocking. The cub scouts, under Ricky's direction, ridiculed my looks, my family, and my manhood in a campaign that ended in a vicious hazing at an official cub scout sleepover, where I found myself encircled by jeering scouts throwing their shoes at me.
   Ricky Stadler himself, laughed mercilessly and called me names most people couldn't imagine coming out of a nine-year-old's mouth.  I remember feeling the tears well up but being unable to escape the hazing. The taunts grew more sinister and direct. I began sobbing, like the little boy I was, right in front of them.  When I finally escaped and ran home, I told my mother I hated the cub scouts and would never go to another meeting again.  They were "gay," and I wouldn't be a part of that anymore.  She never questioned why, and I never spoke about the Scouts again.

Fuck Ricky Stadler. Fuck the Scouts. Forever.
  
     Fast forward – two and a half years later. I was older and bigger now. I rolled with a different crowd.  I had friends.  Filipino ones.  That's right, I said Filipino.  That might not mean much these days, but back in the early nineties BRAT community having Filipino friends was like having black friends, but even more exotic. They were cool and dangerous.  My little crew and I ran the small collection of streets we lived in. It was a small neighborhood within Misawa's larger base housing community. We spat indiscriminately, whistled at 13 year old girls,  and sometimes even stole cigarettes and booze from our parents. I was a bad boy now.  I had a BMX bike.

      I remember one absurdly bright Sunday morning, my friend AJ Villanueva (Filipino, remember) and I were rolling around our neighborhood like kings on horseback. We flew down the quiet streets, stood up on our bike seats, and generally made ourselves look fierce. It was so bright, I almost couldn't see him, but something caught my eye in a sweeping glance and from that moment, the fate of two boys was sealed.

  Who did I spy merrily swinging on the swing set, in MY park, in MY neighborhood?  Ricky Stadler.

  The terror in his eyes was unmistakable as he ran. I pumped my legs furiously; my BMX bike raced through the park causeway at light speed. The sound of small children on other play-structures buzzed in an out of my ears. I wasn't paying attention to them, but I knew they were beginning to follow my speedy bike. Good. "Let them watch," I thought.  I was headed straight for him for him. He yelled something but kept running. Coward.  Not fast enough, though.
 I could feel the adrenaline race through me, fueled by a pent-up seething hatred that boiled my blood and stirred my very young soul.
I had no fear.  Only spite.

   When I chased him down finally, Ricky Stadler fell in a heap on the street less than 50 yards outside the park entrance.  His fat wheezing frame hunkered down so heavily on the concrete it was as if gravity itself had already picked sides in the contest.  A gaggle of young seven year olds surrounded him screaming "FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!"  I dismounted my BMX bike and entered the circle coming face to face with my nemesis. 
     The greatest college professor I ever had once told me that we never confess to things we are not secretly proud of.  He was right and this confession is no exception. I'm proud of what I did to Ricky Stadler that Sunday morning. You can say there's no redemption in revenge and that two wrongs don't make a right, and I agree.  Now try telling that to a humiliated 9 year old who's had shoes thrown at him.  That fat motherfucker had it coming. The Universe gave me the opportunity to be the arbiter of justice for a crime, which I was the victim.  I seized the shit out of that opportunity. 
     After I beat his ass in front of the entire neighborhood, Ricky Stadler lay at my feet, crying in pain and humiliation. The children laughed and laughed at his weeping. 

Karma motherfucker.

   What does any of this have to do with my ascent of Mount Baden-Powell?  For those of you who may be rusty on your Scouting history, Mount Baden-Powell is named for Lord Baden-Powell, the Chief-Scout-of-the-World and founder of the Scouting movement. Formerly known as Lower Mount Baldy, Mount Baden-Powell is the highest crest on the Silver Moccasin Trail, a 53-mile stretch of the PCT, that the most prominent Boy Scout dens in America hike at some point during their Scouting careers. The metallic, obelisk shaped plaque on top of the mountain proclaims that the trail is the where all young men come to find "High Adventure!"
Fuck that.


Baden-Powell is just another bitch on the PCT mountain hit-list.    
I steel my eyes and begin the climb.

     A long series of winding switchbacks roll around the mountain endlessly. It's one of those crests that grows bigger as you climb higher up.  It's difficult only in its massive elevation gain.  No matter.  I'm too strong now. This ain't Idyllwild, and I'm not elevation-averse any longer.  I ascend the mountain in less than two hours. Fierce winds whip my pack and beat against me as I stab the peak again and again with my carbon-fiber trekking poles.  This Mountain is mine. I beat it the way I beat Ricky Stadler that sunny Sunday morning over 20 years ago.  It's over. I never needed the damned Scouts anyway. Fuck this mountain.
I eat my lunch right next to the obelisk.  

  Seven hours later I sit on the concrete parking lot in Saddle Junction. again.  Exhausted, defeated, and staring up at Mount Baden-Powell the mountain I had already conquered; The one I should be miles away from.

   The Pacific Crest Trail had continued past the summit.  Ten more hard miles of hard hiking brought me to an official PCT detour. I'm forced to choose between two alternate routes. I go left, as that option, according to the redirect, will reconnect to the PCT with less addtional miles.   The detour is a result of lobbying by Environmental groups for the protection of particular species of  Yellow Frog. The Forestry Department insists hikers take one of the two detours lest the Yellow Frog be ill-affected by folks hiking through their water supply.

  The shorter, left side detour that I chose, is less well mapped and still adds an extra 20 miles to the overall route.  The lack of a map ends up costing me dearly.  The trail is so treacherous, so winding, so badly marked, that I lose myway several times. Finally it takes me to some valley basin that calls itself the "Devil's punchbowl."
There's a devil's everything out here.
Devils must have been pretty common back when we were naming things.

    The punchbowl turns out to be a derelict campground with a small stream. Some kids play merrily in the water; their parents are packing up the car and appear to be on their way out.  The detour trail leads nowhere before disappearing completely. I'm screwed. It's getting dark and I'm 10 miles from where I was forced off the PCT originally. I have no applicable maps of this area.   I'm forced to ask for assistance from the parents. They grudgingly agree to bring me to entrance of the punchbowl a few miles away.
Turns out that entrance to Devil's Punchbowl was Saddle Junction. After defeating Mount Boy-Scout and hiking hard for over 18 miles, the Universe in some sort of sick joke, has returned me to where I began.  It's almost dark, and I don't have it in me to take the mountain again, it's just too damned big.

I’ve made no progress whatsoever. 
What. The. Hell. 

Karma motherfucker.  
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