Tomahawk Staffer 1997 through 2004, and at Snow Base 2006
Over the course of my eight summers working at Tomahawk, on occasion a former
staff member would come by for a visit and become overwhelmed. “Never stop working at camp, real life will never compare to it” was a statement I’ve heard before, although few articulate to such a degree. Wistful shakes of the head and stories of forgotten times, the glory days of youth discovering their seemingly limitless possibilities in life. I figured I’d have to find something distinctively good to top the tremendousness
of my years of summer camp.
One aspect I appreciate about Tomahawk was the attitude that you are limited only by
your own creativity and energy. If you’ve got a wild idea and some ambition, you can
make it happen. With a college diploma hanging squarely on the wall next to my
Eagle picture, I was up for something big. The thought of grad school and careers
made me queasy, so a few weeks after the final giant flag ceremony in Navajo, the
dining hall and buildings entombed for a cold and solitudinous winter, I loaded up my
bicycle and headed out into the warm early fall with a vague goal: bike until I hit an
ocean, then turn right. Then keep that up until I get back home.
I didn’t know what to expect when I left St Paul last September to bicycle around the
perimeter of the United States. I didn’t know if I would be able to do it. I’d look at
my US map in my tent at night and shake my head and wonder. Such a long way to
go. In honesty, I attribute much of my success to abilities and resources I accumulated
at Tomahawk and through Scouting. Outdoors skills without question I learned
through Scouting. On mornings that I woke up with water bottles frozen solid or a
snowy tent, I was glad to have gone to Snow Base so many times. I pulled out tricks I
hadn’t thought of in years, Cooking Merit Badge meals and orienteering on cloudy
confusing days, even Personal Finance proved to be worth something when it
came to budgeting. These skills enabled me to participate in the journey. While
incredibly useful and important, this skillrelated aspect of Scouting was a more minor
part in my trip in comparison to the more profound but less concrete qualities I
have derived from my years in Boy Scouts.
My experiences over the next year were about as diverse as this country can offer.
Mountains, plains, desert, big cities, tiny towns, oceans, swamps, ditches, back
yards, you name it. Wandering around the country I met folks from all walks of life.
They were often intrigued by the stranger in cycling shorts with a funny trailer off the
rear of his bike; funny accents and an interest in the ways of different folks caught my
attention. Some stared wide-eyed at me as I rolled through, a few invited me into their
homes. Rubbing elbows with fellow bums or having lunch at a nice country club,
having interacted with different types of people at Tomahawk set me up well for
getting along with people leading lives very different from my own. I didn’t go to
preach my personal views of the world, instead I went with my mind open to see
and learn how other people go about their days. By trying to maintain a high standard
of personal conduct, such as concepts of the Scout Oath and Law, and by treating
people with as much respect as I could muster, it wasn’t difficult for me to accept
people without regard to their social, ethnic, or economic standing, and in return I
regularly felt welcomed into their communities.
Related to the acceptance of and interest in different sorts of people is an appreciation
of the many functions and manifestations of American society. Beauty exists all
around, and that beauty isn’t limited to wilderness. Countless small towns and
unending farmland, strip malls and Santa Fe evenings, ours is a big and sundry culture.
After sweating so hard only to wind up in a dumpy-looking area, I’d force myself
to find value in what I saw. Camping out in a ball field with permission from the
town hall in a place few would venture to call charming did not fill my eyes with
beauty as did the Grand Canyon or the rocky Pacific Coast. But the friendliness
and community strength I regularly encountered possessed a resilient, albeit different,
form of beauty and quality. Furthermore, a lack of a permanent roof and
refrigerator, and regularly dwelling in solitude with no friends or family for thousands of
miles, reinforced in my mind that important role of human society to my happiness and
A person can learn outdoor skills from plenty of other sources or organizations. Scouts
certainly isn’t the exclusive way to meet different kinds of people. Merit badges aren’t
the only ways to learn handy skills. Lots of people can suck it up enough to get through a tough situation. But to wake up on a bad day and be excited about it, to have a good attitude, is something for which I am uniquely grateful to Scouting, particularly Tomahawk. On lots of days things didn’t go according to
plan, and plenty of days I didn’t have a plan at all. Bad weather, knee-grinding mountains, nowhere to set up the tent at night, harrowing
traffic, being alone so much … to have let it get me down would have been the end. I’d
have jumped on the Greyhound before two weeks were up. Being willing to work hard at something, finding the quality in demanding and wearisome situations, and looking forward to what may be next is a unique focus of Scouting, and is well practiced at Tomahawk. This aspect of Scouting is what aided me the most in my travels.
After 13,500 miles, 355 days, 34 states, and dozens of new acquaintances, I finally again rode down the streets of St. Paul, down Hamline Avenue, back to my old neighborhood, and was done. Done with a bike trip, anyway. Now that I’m home I feel very much like I’ve just started something, that getting off the bike for the last time was really stepping up into a new and uncertain arena. And has all this topped my more youthful summers well spent? While that was never the driving motivation for biking around the country, I have to admit some sadness when thinking about the dining hall songs and canvas tents and crazy Scouts on which I missed out. Many would argue that such a trip is no more “real” than working at Tomahawk, but these experiences incubate qualities that cannot be taught in school or on a job site, and the time taken to achieve such qualities is incontestably time well spent.