Monday, October 23, 2006

Uncle Harry and the Trail Of Courage

This weekend Natalie and I went on the YMCA Adventure Princess fall campout. Two full days of nothing but dads and daughters, bonding with nature. The weekend began Friday night when we arrived at Camp Kon-O-Kwee, after carbo-loading at Applebees with friends (we were forewarned about kon-O-Kwee's state-of-the-art institutional cuisine ahead of time, so I made sure to pack the antacid) and a couple of wrong turns. The first event was the Halloween costume ball. Natalie went as a princess (of course), and I was a dashing young lad made all that much more dashing by my five-dollar "Instant Geek" costume. I know, I know, not much of a stretch.

The dance lasted perhaps 45 minutes (you can only hold kindergarteners' attention for so long, after all), and we all retired back to our barracks...I mean our bunks.

The bunkhouse was designed to sleep 94 people. There were probably 93 staying there. You know what happens when you put 45 or so young girls into a big room when they are tired but not ready to go to bed? Chaos. Utter chaos. Add that to the fact that the acoustics in this log cabin were such that every sound was amplified about thirty times the normal volume, and we didn't get much rest that night. But kudos go out to Stu, one of the dads who bravely climbed out of bed to quiet a small group of dads who were getting a bit rowdy late at night. I say kudos because it takes a brave man to ask a bunch of other men to quiet down when he's wearing fluffy rabbit pants. He had forgotten his normal sleepwear, so he'd improvised using his costume.

First thing Saturday morning, we were introduced to the dining facility, and to Uncle Harry.

Uncle Harry, the veritable Pide Piper of Camp Kon-O-Kwee, is a gentleman whom for years has taken ownership of this camp and made it what it is today. Each meal was spent listening to Uncle Harry explain how the girls are owners of this camp, not the dads, and that "girls rule, boys drool". Dads who fell out of line with the rules of the weekend (no newspapers, no blackberrys, no drinking) were promptly disciplined by their daughters with a buttwhacking aided by a canoe paddle. the rest of Harry's speech involved not-so subtle suggestions that monetary donations to the camp would get us special favors. Like not being smacked in the butt by our daughters.

After a meal of French toast so hard that I bent a knife trying to cut it for my daughter, we ventured off to the craft room to paint T-shirts, and then to the Trail Of Courage. The Trail consists of several kid-friendly challenges like a rope ladder, zip line, a high wall climb, and log bridges. The kids certainly strutted their stuff, taking on these challenges like they were the living room coffee table and the back of the couch. I kept expecting to turn a corner in the woods and come upon the obstacle where the kids have to crawl under barbed wire through the mud while we fired rifles over their heads, but no such luck.

The rest of the afternoon involved all the classic camping activities such as canoeing, rock climbing, archery, and hiking, until their little feet gave out (the dads' feet, that is), and then it was back to the dining hall for a dinner of government surplus burgers and dogs, bug juice, and convict-grade cheese.

After dinner was the ceremonial campfire. I've been sworn to secrecy here, but let's just say it involved flaming torches, small explosions, and some screaming. Along with my daughter "Butterfly Princess" I, "Running Deer" became one with our circle and one with the tribe. And we finished up our enlightenment ceremony with a viewing of the movie Casper the Friendly Ghost. How spiritual.

The bedtime hour begat chaos, as the gaggle of overtired kindergartners felt it necessary to chase each other around the room while screaming at the top of their lungs (reminder here that the bunkhouse greatroom has the acoustics of the inside of a municipal water tank), while that dads stood around with a glazed look, wondering if perhaps they should call a mom or two to help bring order to the craziness. After about a half hour of this, an idea finally occurred to me. I borrowed a copy of a children's' book from one dad who was already making a pitiful attempt to try and sleep, and announced to our flock that it was story time. As I read through the trials of Frog And Toad, a calm swept through the barracks, and soon there was evidence of yawning. By 9:30, they were all fast asleep, and so was I.

The next morning, after another industrial breakfast, we tackled the Trail of Courage once more, and we were off for home. After having made so many new friends, Natalie was absolutely giddy to get home and tell her tales of the weekend to mommy. So excited, in fact, that less than a block from the house she threw up all over the back seat of the Mazda. Aw, swell.

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