Crunchy Spaghetti

My name is Alan. I’m eleven years old and a member of the Blazer patrol of Boy Scout Troop 103. We don’t get to do many things with the older Scouts, so when the Scoutmaster came to our meeting and asked how many of us wanted to go on a winter campout with the troop, every hand shot up.

“That’s what I thought,” he said. “I want you to cook in patrols, so start planning your menus.”

We had to plan a supper and a breakfast for six—Josh, Justin, Russel, Mark, me, and Russel’s grandpa. “Spaghetti and garlic bread,” I suggested, and everyone else thought that sounded good. We planned to make hot chocolate and French toast for breakfast.

The campout was set for the day after Thanksgiving. The weather was cold, and there were about four inches of snow on the ground. Mom bought me a new pair of moonboots, put two quilts in our heaviest sleeping bag, and made me wear long underwear, a flannel shirt and a sweatshirt under my coat, and two pairs of socks.

We met Friday afternoon in the church parking lot. The sky was dark and cloudy. We were all waiting when Dave, the assistant Scoutmaster, pulled up in his truck and began loading the tents and camping gear. He told us that the Scoutmaster had had trouble with his truck and that he’d come up later, which he did. Dave said that he could only take two passengers with him in the cab of his truck, and he chose a couple of older Scouts to ride with him. We’d have to find another ride to the camping place. My mother offered to drive the Blazer patrol to the campsite, so we all piled into our station wagon and headed for the hills south of town.

When we came to a sign announcing that we were entering a national forest, Mom asked, “Now where do we go?”

We all looked at each other. No one knew. There was an open meadow nearby where Scouts sometimes camp, and Mom said she’d see if Dave was there. He wasn’t, and I had a sinking feeling. We waited for about an hour to see if Dave would come; then Mark remembered that one of the older Scouts had mentioned something about Lead Drop.

Russel’s grandpa said that he knew where Lead Drop was, so we all got back into the station wagon and drove to a mountain road about two miles from the meadow. The road was fine for a while, but then Russel’s grandpa said that we had to turn left and go up a steep hill. Mom’s car wouldn’t make it up the snow-covered road, so we had to get out and walk from there.

A half mile from the top of the hill we found Dave and the two other boys setting up a tent. Although we were winded after our climb, we couldn’t rest. The sun was going down, and we had to get our tent up. It was an old eight-man tent, and right away we ran into trouble. We tried to drive the stakes into the ground by stomping on them with our boots, but after they went down into six inches of snow, they hit rockhard frozen ground. Luckily, Russel’s grandpa had brought a hammerhead hatchet, and we were able to drive a few stakes solidly into the ground. We had to tie the rest of the tent tabs to trees and bushes and hope that the tent wouldn’t blow away.

When we laid out the tent poles, one of them was missing. Russel’s grandpa found a stout stick, and by shifting the poles around and using the stick, we got the tent up, though one side was a little lower than the other.

By then it was dark, and we still had to cook our supper. First we had to build a fire ring, and the only place where we could find any rocks was a small stream that ran by the camp. When we started gathering rocks, Mark picked up one that was too heavy. He staggered and stepped right into the freezing water. Mark went back to the tent and changed his socks, but he had to wear the wet boots.

We dug a pit in the snow and arranged the rocks, then borrowed wood from another patrol to start our fire. Josh was in charge of cooking, so we left him to fill the water pot while we collected more firewood. I was tugging on a branch of a dead tree when it suddenly broke loose and hit Justin on the head. It didn’t hurt him, though.

We came back to camp with our arms full of wood just in time to see Josh spill the whole package of spaghetti. It looked like a porcupine sticking out of the snow. He just picked it up, snow and all, and dumped it into the pot of water and set it in the middle of the fire. We put our foil-wrapped garlic bread at the side of the fire to get warm. I knew it only took my mom about twenty minutes to cook spaghetti, so we kept testing it, but it didn’t get soft, even though we kept throwing more wood onto the fire. Josh wondered if he should have let the water boil before he put the spaghetti in.

Finally, after more than an hour, we couldn’t wait any longer. We dumped a can of spaghetti sauce into a pan, stirred it until it started to steam, and dished it up along with the spaghetti. We all stood around the fire, crunching hard spaghetti in lukewarm sauce. By that time the garlic bread had burned, but we ate it anyway.

The cold froze our backs when we faced the fire, and our fronts when we backed up to it. After Russel got too close to the fire and burned his glove, we decided to go to bed.

Russel’s grandpa was smart. He had lugged up a propane tent heater and set it up in the middle of the tent. We arranged our coats and boots around it, and Russel scorched his boots by putting them too close. Mark had to break the ice off his socks before they’d come off. We all laid our sleeping bags in a circle around the heater with our heads toward it, except Mark. He put his feet closest to the heater.

It was hard to go to sleep. The ground had looked level when we spread out the tent, but I guess the snow covered a lot of things. I kept rolling over hard bumps, and sharp things kept sticking into me.

The next morning was beautiful. But the sun gleamed so brightly that its reflection off the snow hurt my eyes. Breakfast was much better than supper. Russel’s grandpa sort of took over the cooking chore for us, and he cooked French toast until the bread was gone. Mark dropped the jar of strawberry jam on a rock and put out our fire. I had to eat my last three pieces of French toast without any jam. I’d probably overeaten anyway, because I had a stomachache the rest of the day. We used one of the other fires to finish heating water for our cocoa.

Then the Scoutmaster called us together for some activities. We divided into teams and had a stretcher race. We had to find some sticks, make a stretcher, and carry a victim back to camp. The first team to return would be the winner. We found our sticks, made our stretcher out of coats, and, since I was the smallest, I got to be the victim. We would have won, too, except one of the sticks broke and I got dumped into a snowdrift.

For the next activity, Dave gave us a compass and a piece of paper with directions on it and said that we would find a pot of hot soup if we followed the directions correctly. We took off, with Justin counting the paces and Russel pointing the compass. But something must have disrupted our compass (Mark said a plane flew over and disoriented it), because we ended up halfway down the hill. There was no soup there, so we went back to camp. But Russel’s grandpa was looking out for us. He’d stayed in camp (where we were supposed to have ended up!) and made sure the others saved some soup for us.

While we ate, a black cloud covered the sun, and the wind began to blow. The low side of our tent dipped lower, and the Scoutmaster said that it was time to go home. We threw all the gear into the trucks, stuffed the tents on top of it, buried our fire ashes in the snow and scattered the rocks, and drove off down the mountain before a snowstorm came.

When I got home, I smelled like smoke. I was dirty and hungry and wet and cold—and I’ve never had so much fun in my life!

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dale Kilbourn