OM385 - The Mefeking Cadet Corps

This week, Ken and John talk about:

Spending time in the wilderness and survival as a leisure activity (OM385)

Future lava lizards living in the wilderness or in abandoned Radio Shacks, struggling for survival in the rubble of our civilization, might not know that people used to do survival for fun. They were called tweakers and John has a lot of tweaker stories, even recent ones.

The first time people went outdoors was a part of the Enlightenment, the idea that indigenous people were somehow elevated, enlightened, unspoiled by civilization, and lived in a state of grace. Transcendental experiences were supposed to await you in the Amazonian virgin forest. But did any of those people actually go camping?

The Victorians have probably thought of it as a lark and went out and even brought the children. Their biggest estates had Follies, outdoor buildings with foe-Greeko-Roman vibes. Marie Antoinette had a little rustic village called Hameau de la Reine, a petite Trianon that they only built because she said she would like to have that.

Those people would at least traipse down to the end of the estate and cook a roasted goat. It must have been aristocracy because you don't have time to traipse when you are bringing in the Millet. ”Hey kids, would you like to sleep in the fields tonight?” - ”We did that 3 years ago when the Sorghum crop died!”

Then there was the age of exploration. Was going out on a camping lark really just rich-people folly? Camping seemed cool, romantic, and adventurous, and there are Knut’s (?) ideas of boyzone adventure tales from far away parts of the globe. It has an exotic resonance, always also trying to steal some Aztec gold.

Camping in Alaska and in Washington (OM385)

John grew up in Alaska and car camping was not a thing but everybody went camping-camping, partly because there wasn’t an infrastructure of big camp grounds with established fire-pits. You can go camping 5 minutes outside of Anchorage, you just pull over and walk into the brush, which people do, and you just tent-camp in some pretty spot where there is no-one.

John used to go on 3-4 day hikes where you would hike up and when you got tired you pitch your tent on a flat place of ground. The next day you hike higher and it was usually about gaining altitude until you were at the top of something. You always find a big steep field of Shale and everybody ends up sliding down the Shale. It is incredibly fun to lose 1500 ft just surfing on a piece of Shale! When John got back to Washington he went to YMCA camps.

Today there is a camping culture with an abundance of young male people who for the first time in their lives have money and BMWs and there are beautiful mountains nearby. Car camping really baffled John: Drive up to some place, pull over, roast weanies on a gas grill and put a tent very near to your car? There are trucks with camping tents on the roof, and that seems very cool.

John going car camping with his family in Oregon (OM385)

This coming weekend John, his family, and some friends are going car camping down in Oregon, roasting wieners and marshmallows, sitting in uncomfortable slung-back chairs, and getting bit by things. All of your clothes smell like smoke in the first minute!

John’s daughter probably doesn’t want to hike to 3500 ft (1000m) and then ride down on shale, but she also doesn’t know if she wants to or not because she has never done it. She wants to get her feet wet with some Marshmallows and in case of a freak-out the car is right there and you can go in and listen to Sirius FM.

Ken’s family not being into camping (OM385)

Ken owns all the camping stuff, like a camp stove and sleeping bags, but he did not grow up camping because South Korea is not particular conducive to it (tell that to the cast of M*A*S*H!) Ken is the most pro-camping person in his family and even he can take it or leave it.

Mindy dislikes camping and she is incontrovertibly correct. They have a really good life and there are many better ways to experience nature. There is really no need to hike to 3500 feet (1000m) and find an appropriate piece of shale to get back down on, and most middle-class ways to enjoy nature do not involve sleeping on the ground.

Also the food is not as good as anywhere else and the clothes do not smell as good as anywhere else: Camping is full of privations and Ken doesn’t know how to sell it to someone. Occasionally his kids were good sports and at different ages they wanted to camp, but it was pretty sporadic and he would really have to drive it although he is a 5.5 on camping at best. Still, as a Northwesterner or as an American man he does feel a certain obligation to be hearty like that.

One time they went car camping with the kids and although he had his kindling and his tinder and his 4 stages of things to light a fire he could not get the fire to light. He felt like a primal failure, which is not the case if some of his other skills didn’t work, like if the risotto didn’t come out or he couldn’t get the tabs to align on his word processing document.

Luckily the kid nearby had some lighter fluid and Ken asked to borrow it. John does not recommend it because the weiners taste like lighter fluid and it is dangerous because the flame can go up the stream into the can and create a bomb. It was a dumb way to feel because in our society lighting a fire is not a survival skill for at least another 5-7 years.

John thinks Ken is supposed to be able to light a fire and he should not wait 7 years to figure it out when he is living in a Radio Shack with lava lizards. For Ken that is just a beautiful dream because he will never have every skill he would need in that scenario, but he would only last 30 seconds, even if he had all the gear.

John being a pyromaniac (OM385)

A group of John’s friends call him ”Sparky” because he will get a fire going every time they stop on a trail for more than 20 minutes. He likes to start fires and he is also a pyromaniac who will stare into a fire until you pull him away.

Scouting culture, Ken and John's history with scouting (OM385)

John's experience

John was an avid Cub Scout who was engaged in all the Cub Scouting things, but it didn’t translate into being a Boy Scout. He was a Boy Scout and he still obeys the law of the pack. He got his Totin’ Chip (he says Chippentoad) to carry a knife or a hatchet after he passed all the requirements and he was very proud to carry a hatchet on his belt, but one time he was out in the woods with a group of kids, threw his hatchet at a tree, some scout leader saw it, and he revoked his Totin’ Chip. He deserved it because he had violated the law of the pack and he was extremely ashamed.

To be a successful Boy Scout is hard because you have to do things, while as a Cub Scout everything is handed to you, it is just a weekly activity. As a Boy Scout you have to figure things out if you want a badge. These days scouting has become watered down.

Any time John is out in the trails he will find someone’s Eagle Scout project where they built a bench somewhere and then put a big plaque on it. It is like grade inflation! Shouldn’t they have built and old-folks home or a solar-powered car that drives across the desert? "You built a bench? Come on!"

The guy that John is going camping with this weekend is an Eagle Scout, and John’s best friend from High School was an Eagle Scout and as well, he was beavering away as a scout, but he never told anyone because he thought it would make him very unpopular with girls and John was one of the only ones who knew about it. He would put on his Polo Shirts, pop his collars, put his Vuarnets on, and come to school and say: ”Whatever, man! I am not some nerd who knows how to tie a bowline!”

When John left the Scouts he joined the Civil Air Patrol Cadet Corps, which was not even pretending to not be an Air Force auxiliary. It allows you to advance through the ranks and go to the Air Force academy and it bumps you into the Air Force with some advanced placement.

Ken's experience as a Mormon

Ken’s next door neighbor Oscar has two avid Boy Scouters, which Ken doesn’t understand because it is 2020 and they are Liberal Seattleites. He must have loved scouting as a kid and both kids just love scouting, which seems like hard work! They are perpetually driving to some place in the Cascades!

Ken’s experience with scouting comes from a Mormon generation being in the Mountain West where rugged boy’s adventure seems important and is keeping the youth out of trouble and is keeping moral after school. If you keep them tying knots and making fire, they won’t touch themselves. If you keep the boys in canvas tents the girls can work on their needle point! That generation came up formed as good people, probably just like Ken’s neighbor, and they wanted their kids to have this, too, but in the case of the Mormons they ran a major religious organizations that ran the American Mountain West.

They were able to make it compulsory, essentially conscripting kids into Boy Scouts like a draft. All the Romney boys are Scouts for sure, you can tell by just looking at them! The camp youth night arm of the LDS church for teenage boys all runs according to Boy Scouts and Ken was chafing at it a little because he was forced into Scouting as well every Wednesday night, even living in Korea, but he can’t tie any knots today, he was just hanging out with his friends.

The problem with making Scouting compulsory is that you end up with a bunch of people who don’t want to be there, including leaders who have been frogmarched into it. The Lutheran, Catholic, and Jewish troops all want to be there while the Mormons can’t get their driver’s license until they get their Eagle. Maybe that is why there are so many stupid benches out there, it is a bunch of LDS kids who have to do their Eagle project.

Ken did not advance in Scouting at all. At 16-17 years old he was the senior patrol leader, but he could not care less about the requirements for star or life, and he didn’t like the idea that there was advancement while others really liked that. There was also a controversy that there was no equivalent infrastructure for women, maybe because Girl Scouts seemed a little progressive. John has always wondered why Girl Scouts are out selling cookies.

John's daughter and sister

One time John was at the Four Seasons hotel Downtown with his daughter when she was 3-4 years old and a group of 6 Girl Scouts were racing around up and down he stairs. John asked them to tell him more about Girl Scouts and they gathered around all excited and sung its praises and they seemed like extremely capable 10-12 year old girls who told him how great it was and that he really should get his daughter into it. It did sound like a world of adventure.

John’s sister was a Brownie, the equivalent of Cub Scouts, but she never moved up into Girl Scouts because there was not anything there for her.

John at Outward Bound (OM385)

see also story in RL160!

When John was in Outward Bound a lot of the other boys wanted to be there because of the adventure, while John was sent there as a disciplinary action and he was put into the troop of kids that had been sent there by the courts. The other groups were mixed-gender, they had their little hats on and were trooping off to get into their canoes, while in John’s group there was a guy with a switch blade in his boot, and a guy who had cigarettes rolled up in his sleeve.

They came from all around the country, had been put there against their will, and they resisted everything the entire two weeks. John ended up sleeping on his own outside because the others were dangerous, but because he was the only kid who could read a map or light a fire they didn’t kill him. He was the youngest, too! It was a crash course in regional delinquency, like a World War II movie that has a guy from Brooklyn, a Jewish guy, and so on.

John meeting Boars in the Netherlands

The reconnaissance connection to Scouting and the paramilitary trappings date back to the second Boar War in 1899. The Boars are pretty resentful of the British even now! One time John met 3 Boars in a Youth Hostel in Amsterdam and they had the ability to understand Dutch, but no Dutch could understand their Afrikaans accent. John paled around with them for a few days. They were wicked and had the secret power of being able to understand what everyone around them was saying while they could talk very openly and just befuddle people. They hated the Dutch, like the Québécois do.

The decline of the Filson brand as outdoor clothing (OM385)

The other day John went to the Filson store with a friend whose bag had worn out. They have a lifetime guarantee and he got his bag repaired. Filson used to be an outdoor clothing brand, but the old outdoor people who are riding bicycles around the Northwest are not wearing wool and leather anymore.

There are micro-fabrics now and all the people in the store were young people with giant beards who go LARPing and see outdoorsmanship as a fashion statement. John is not completely absolved of this himself, but he wonders if scouting isn’t going to end up as a LARP of the mustache wax culture and all these guys are going to have kids one day and think they need a $700 hatchet. Maybe Gen-Z is bummed enough that they never have kids, like it happened to Gen-X, but they had at least a few kids.


John never walked through Wales, but he walked from Heathrow Airport north to the ferry in Harwich that took him to Hoek van Holland. He didn’t want to go to Dover and go to France.

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