First Person:
Steve Donohue

A Not-So-Model Campsite

If you're looking for a story with some serious mistakes, this one is for you!

My first Winter Camping trip was in February of 1977. Looking back on it, I'm not sure the other participants, Jeff Rand, Doug Wilson, and Mike Osvath knew that. I'd only been a Scout for about 18 months and my troop had formed when I joined, so we had no tradition of Winter Camping.

Our project was simple. We were headed to Charles Howell Scout Reservation, formerly located in Brighton, Michigan. Our Lodge was putting on the Lincoln Pilgrimmage and we were going to erect a model campsite. I'm not sure when we got the idea to camp in it, but that's what we did.

We arrived relatively early on Friday and put up our campsite. It was somewhere below freezing, but not bitterly cold and Friday went pretty well. Our campsite was two tents, a cooking fire and a gate. I think Doug and I shared one tent, something that would never be allowed today, since I was a youth and Doug, at 20, was an adult.

Our tents had no floors, no screens, and no zippers. They tied with cotton strings at the corners and flaps. We had cots inside the tent, old army surplus models that lifted us well above the snow. I dimly recall spreading newspaper on the cot before putting my sleeping bag on it, but I'm not certain. I do recall Chuck and Sarah Warren being amazed at our sleeping arrangements.

The Pilgrimmage must have been on Sunday, because we spent most of Saturday setting up and improving our campsite. We made an axeyard and built a “quadripod” over our fire, a four-sided pyramid. Four sides were necessary so that everyone could warm themselves by sitting on one of the cross-braces. Once the site was set up, we spent a good deal of time doing just that. Curiously enough, during our entire day as a model campsite only one person noticed that our cooking structure was not a tripod - he's the one who named it.

I don't recall if it was on Friday or Saturday night, but we had a “contest” to see who could stand the cold the longest, and I remember that I won. Jeff later pointed out that I had turned blue from the cold after sitting out for more than half an hour with no shirt.

On Friday, I remember putting some of my clothes in my sleeping bag, a trick I had picked up from late October camping. In the morning, the clothes were great, but sliding my feet into my cold boots with their now frozen liners was not as pleasant. On Saturday night, I put those liners under my sleeping bag and they stayed a little warmer.

On Saturday evening we decided to take a trip to our other council camp, D-A. We'd always wondered if there would be an easy way to get from Brighton to Metamora, and the prospect of solving that riddle while traveling in a heated car was very appealing. I know that until then we hadn't been inside any sort of shelter for about 30 hours or so.

We visited the Warrens and their troop at D-A, then returned to CHR after spending about three hours out of the cold. Disaster struck when we discovered that someone (maybe Mike?) had misplaced their keys sometime between Friday and Sunday morning. Miraculously, the keys had been lost at D-A and were picked up by Chuck Warren who returned them.

Sunday morning we slept in 'til about 9:30, then made brunch. Getting up at 9:30 was much warmer. The brunch didn't have a name at the time, but eventually became known as “Rand Stew.” Included in the ingredients was nearly a pound of margarine left from earlier meals. Most of the ingredients were leftovers.

I remember that we had fresh vegetables in the stew, because Doug was forced to cut the frozen potatoes with a bow saw. Later, we had to try to clean the grease out of the pan in the Main Lodge because the extreme cold made the grease keep setting up faster than we could remove it.

When we returned, we made a lot of jokes about the “tropical” conditions closer to Detroit. I missed a week of school after being diagnosed with walking pneumonia, probably because of my cold-sitting victory.

All in all, I had a great time while I was there, and I don't remember really feeling sick that following week, not that I'd like to have pneumonia again.

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