Sharing Winter Adventure, Honoring a Great American

By Cindy Ross
Photographs by Steve Wewerka

Extreme arctic weather cancelled their wilderness ski trek, but it couldn't keep two Minnesota troops from celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day together.

The plan was for two Twin Cities Scout troops to enjoy a cross-country skiing trip.

Troop 346, chartered to All Saints Lutheran Church in Minnetonka, Minn., a western suburb of Minneapolis, initially planned the trip. A private outfitter had set up the high adventure experience in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in the northeastern corner of Minnesota, where the Scouts would spend their nights in a series of remote, round shelters called Mongolian yurts.

The dates were chosen to take advantage of the long weekend in January that included Martin Luther King Jr. Day. But because the troop has no members who are African-American, Scoutmaster Bill Hoffmann determined to make the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day as part of the outing a richer, more memorable learning opportunity.

The weekend's Alpha and Bravo patrols included Scouts from both troops, who teamed up as buddies for all activities, from cooking and cleanup duties, to playing water volleyball, to skiing across a frozen Lake Minnetonka.

So he asked Scoutmaster Bill Butchee of Troop 96, chartered to St. Peter Claver Catholic Church in St. Paul and with a predominantly African-American membership, to share in the adventure.

In preparing for and participating in the trip, the two troops would have a chance to practice some of the ideals of brotherhood and citizenship that the late civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner advocated.

A change in plans

At two trip-planning meetings, the Scouts got to know each other and began to work as one unit. (See sidebar)

But as the long weekend that included the third-Monday-in-January holiday approached, winter weather conditions deteriorated. Forecasts said temperatures could drop as low as 60 degrees below zero, too low even for the troops' "Zero Heroes," who previously had camped when the mercury dipped five to 10 degrees below zero.

Still, so much planning and preparation had gone into the trip that no one wanted to cancel everything. So the Scouts looked for an alternative. Troop 96 assistant Scoutmaster Byron Jackson provided one by offering use of his family's vacation home on Lake Minnetonka outside Minneapolis.

The Scouts' disappointment was replaced by enthusiasm when they saw that the Jackson vacation house included a big-screen TV, shuffleboard, table tennis, and even a heated swimming pool.

Eric Furlich uses music for inspiration as his patrol plans its closing skit.

"This isn't exactly a yurt," observed one Scout, "but it will do!" Outdoors, the Scouts could participate in orienteering and go skiing and ice fishing on the frozen lake. Indoors, they had warmth, safety, and lots of fun things to do.

For the weekend, the Scouts were divided into two patrols, Alpha and Bravo, made up of boys and leaders from both troops.

Inside and outside

The first activity was a lively game of volleyball in the pool, where the heated concrete floor and 80-degree air temperature contrasted sharply with the arctic conditions outside.

In no time, teammates were splashing, razzing, and dunking one another each time someone missed the ball.

Patrol members shared a bedroom, and each Scout was paired with someone from the other troop for cooking and cleanup duty.

The second day included a cross-country ski excursion across the frozen, snow-covered lake.

Troop 96's Derrick Butchee, 17, gave instructions to those new to the sport, explaining that cross-country skiing "is just like walking—with an attitude!"

Each Scout picked a buddy from the other troop to check on throughout the ski hike, to see if he was cold, needed instruction, or was hurting in some way but unwilling to drop out.

Because of the danger of frostbite, all skin had to be completely covered. "It's like going to the moon," Scoutmaster Bill Butchee noted.

Buddies adjusted each other's goggles and face masks and clipped in boot toes to the ski bindings; more experienced skiers showed the novices how to traverse gentle snowy hills.

By noon, the temperature had climbed to a comparatively balmy 10 degrees. On the aptly named "Boy Scout Island (site of a former council Boy Scout camp)," the Scouts built a fire and prepared lunch.

Around the fire, Troop 346 assistant Scoutmaster Fred Landin captured the Scouts' attention with a dramatic recitation of "The Cremation of Sam McGee," the classic poem by Robert W. Service about the Alaskan Gold Rush.

'What we hoped for...!'

After returning to the house, the Scouts (amazingly, still with energy to burn) challenged one another to games of table tennis or shuffleboard.

Having finished the grueling five-mile journey, Paris Michuta, right, and other tired Scouts rest as they await the arrival of the rest of the group.

Watching the Scouts competing against each other like old friends was a satisfying sight to Troop 96 Scoutmaster Butchee. "What is happening [among the Scouts] is what we hoped for when we started planning this weekend," he remarked. "This is the manifestation of Martin Luther King's dream coming true: seeing beyond visible differences."

On their final evening, the Scouts, sitting mixed together like one big troop, held an open discussion. After reading part of Dr. King's 1963 March on Washington "I Have a Dream" speech, Scoutmaster Butchee asked the boys their opinion of the weekend.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Scouts unanimously approved the observation by Eagle Scout Jerome Butchee of Troop 96 that canceling the backcountry trip had been a good thing.

Jerome explained: "This way [by staying at the Jackson family's vacation home] we all got to know one another better."

Troop 346's David Van Sickle, 16, elaborated: "Living, eating, and sleeping together under the same roof all helped to unite us....After this trip, rather than see the differences between us, we realize that [we are a lot alike] and we listen to the same music and play the same sports."

On the final morning, each patrol put on a 10-minute skit commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.'s teachings. Working together on a creative endeavor, brainstorming ideas, rehearsing, laughing together, and then performing was just the cement the two troops needed to totally bond as friends.

The heartwarming finale was topped by an emotional good-bye, as the Scouts embraced and gave each other high fives and playful punches.

The final words upon departure were the same from both troops: "Let's get together again—real soon!"

Freelance writer Cindy Ross is a frequent contributor to Scouting magazine.

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