Adventures await on an urban scavenger hunt

Riding a city bus or locating a downtown restaurant might not seem that exciting, but for a young Scout who has never done either on their own, the process presents a new adventure.

Boys Troop 330 and girls Troop 2330, both of Campbell, Calif., scoured the streets of downtown San Francisco last year, looking for clues in an annual scavenger hunt. Along the way, they learned life skills like buying a bus ticket, reading city maps and trying new foods.

“I hadn’t done anything like this before,” says Evelyn Campbell, an 11-year-old Scout. “Leading up to this event, I asked my mom to print out paper maps. I was really pumped.”

Such an event requires some logistics to ensure everyone has a fun and safe time in the big city.

Urban planning

The troops’ scavenger hunt teaches Scouts how to use public transportation and navigate a metropolis. Each patrol is tasked with finding more than a dozen sites with slightly ambiguous instructions.

“They get one clue at a time in a sequence,” Scoutmaster Daraius Sorabji says. “Adults have the list, so patrols aren’t following each other.”

For example, one patrol must first “take a cable car to the crookedest street and take a picture of your patrol looking up at it,” while another patrol has to “picture yourself with lions at the gate to Chinatown.”

It’s 10 a.m., and the hunt is on. Patrols head out, each accompanied by two adults. Working as a team, Scouts must figure out what their first clue means, find the site and determine how to get there. They can hike, take a bus or hop on a cable car.

Once they think they’ve figured it out and head there, they snap a photo of the whole patrol together and send it to their Scoutmaster. If they’re right, the Scoutmaster provides their next clue, like “find a fountain with Yoda” or “eat something you’ve never eaten before.”

By the time all the patrols finish the list, it’s around 9 p.m. If the Scouts get on the wrong bus or walk in the wrong direction, everybody goes the wrong way; the accompanying adults don’t share any tips.

“You do a whole lot of walking,” Sorabji says.

Some patrols finish the mission in less than 10 miles; others take more than 15. The prize for the first patrol to complete the hunt is a free movie pass. But as many Scouts discovered, the real prize is the hunt itself.

New experiences

The list of sites varies every year, although some are mainstays, such as Chinatown. When Scouts visit, they are challenged to expand their palates. First Class Scout Sydney Whiting, 17, sampled mooncakes, a traditional Asian dessert.

“It had red bean paste,” she says. “It looked like it was glazed with something.”

Other Scouts tried oxtail soup, salty doughnuts and dim sum. Scout Sarah Quintana, 13, was already a fan of Asian cuisine, but she found something she hadn’t tasted before on the menu: uni noodles with fish cakes.

“It sounded pretty interesting,” she says. “I tried it and I really liked it.”

Dinner as a troop is also a tradition, usually at a waterfront restaurant in Fisherman’s Wharf. Patrols dine together and then enjoy ice cream. It’s a nice treat after a long day of walking.

Fuel during the day is important, too. Scouts carried daypacks with water, snacks and their 10 Essentials. They used smartphones to take photos and to look up directions. They also utilized GPS devices and printed maps. All proved beneficial during the scavenger hunt surrounded by skyscrapers.

“I had a little bit of a problem because my GPS kept moving around,” 17-year-old Life Scout Zachary Margulies says. “It was a good, fun challenge.”

Solving problems as a patrol and working toward a goal while using Scouting skills is fun, especially when the goal takes you to some cool places. The “crookedest street” clue led Scouts to Lombard Street, a street built on a steep hill with a 27-degree grade. The “fountain with Yoda” took them to the Lucasfilm headquarters.

“I didn’t know there was a statue of him; that was really cool,” says Scout Erin Handelsman, 11.

Scouting spirit

Learning about the city was also part of the outing. Scouts checked out the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco Cable Car Museum. Cable cars have provided transportation for San Francisco residents since 1873; today, more than three dozen cars traverse the city’s streets.

Scouts also learned where cable cars went and, more important, where they didn’t go. Often, they had to hoof it because public transportation didn’t travel exactly where they needed to head. Scouts remained cheerful.

“I thought it was fun,” Sarah says. “You got a workout from it, and we got to experience places I hadn’t been to before.”

The Atomic Tacos patrol finished first, securing the movie passes, but the other patrols didn’t feel like they lost.

“My patrol wanted to go and get it all done,” Sydney says. “Halfway through, we decided it didn’t matter as much to us as it did earlier in the day. We decided to just have fun.”

Advancement opportunities

Just as Scouting adventures can happen in the wilderness or the city, advancement can also be accomplished in both places. Incorporating an urban scavenger hunt while teaching Scouts how to read a map and use a compass offers an engaging way to fulfill a requirement.

“Advancement happens when you’re having fun,” Scoutmaster Daraius Sorabji says.

For more tips on hiking in the city and how it can help teach Scouts the Hiking merit badge, check out this story from the September-October 2019 issue of Scouting magazine:

Photos by Alexis Cuarezma.

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