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Far From Home
I was walking back to my camp site after lunch and there it was: a medium-sized bear, about 200 or 250 pounds, brown, claws I could see as it walked out of the staff site and ran across a small field. It was very fast. A lot faster than you see on TV. I was by myself and only about 40 feet away from it. I froze and luckily it ran in the other direction.
I was a long way from Monmouth County.
This summer I worked at a summer camp in upstate New York. This is a boyscout camp that allows scouts to work on merit badges and have a little fun. The camp’s Program Director and fellow scouter asked me to work there. I’ve been going to this camp for six years and it has been my goal to work there since my first year. Once I became old enough my only obstacle was to convince my parents. They didn’t think I would be able to care for myself there. My parents knew that this was something that I had always wanted to do and this year my parents had no excuse for me not to go.
The year before I couldn’t go because I was taking a math course and also we were going on vacation. This year the only thing we had to do was look at colleges. My parents used this as an excuse not to let me go, but we compromised. My parents would let me go, but I had to take a week off to look at colleges. I only had about a week between the time I accepted the position and the time I had to leave, so I had to pack quickly. I was able to convince my friend to come with me so that I knew someone at camp. He was skeptical at first, but once I told him all the opportunities there were he couldn’t wait to go. After hitching a ride from my friend we finally arrived at camp, my home for the next two months. We moved all our stuff into the staff site which is where all our tents were.
Each person got their own tent and cot for sleeping. From the moment we arrived until a week later we did nothing but work. We moved tent platforms, cleared camping sites of brush, and put together wooden cots. This was the first job I have ever had. In the past I relied on money from my parents, birthdays, and other special occasions. Here, I earned a paycheck, and I was being paid about $400 more than anyone else my age except for one guy who started in the middle of the summer.
My parents didn’t want me to go because they didn’t think this would give me any opportunities. To my surprise they were wrong. Larry the camp medic/nurse, was a retired anesthesiologist. It just so happens that I want to be an anesthesiologist when I get older. I walked into his office one day and he talked to me about what I have to do to get into medical school and how to stay on the right track. He gave me all my options and told me to stick with it if it’s something I really want to do. He told me that if I study medicine any path I choose will bring me success and money because I would be a very well educated. He gave me his email address and told me to keep in touch with him and to let him know how I’m doing.
One day early in the trip all of the staff members were called down to the waterfront. The returning staff knew what we were doing, but I had no clue. It turned out we were doing an LBD, which stands for Lost Bathers Drill. After the returning staff explained the drill we went ahead and practiced. An LBD is when a swimmer at the waterfront is unaccounted for. We have to assume the worst case scenario and look in the water. The lifeguards grabbed snorkeling equipment and looked under the docks. The rest of the staff had to line up in the water and sweep the ground with their feet. When the water got deeper I had to dive to the bottom. The next day the siren rang indicating an LBD, so all of staff throughout camp had to sprint to the waterfront and jump in the water. We were told we didn’t have time to strip, so we emptied our pockets, took off our shoes, and jumped in, clothes and all. We were told that if there was a body in the lake that we would have saved them in time. I’ve never had so much adrenaline pumping through me before. I was on the other side of camp and I had never run so fast for so long before.
I worked in the handicraft lodge teaching merit badges. I wasn’t too thrilled about that, but if it let me stay in camp I would take it. I liked the people I was working with, with one exception, but you always come across people you don’t like. One of my favorite badges to teach was Public Speaking. It was an easy badge and I thought it was interesting to hear other people’s opinions. I was a very lenient teacher, but I started off pretty strict. I started to ease up around week five.
It came time for me to go home and look at different colleges just like I told my parents I would. While I was at camp I made an itinerary for my week off from camp while my mom made reservations for hotels. I had just pulled into the parking lot of the hotel for the second college I looked at when my phone rang. It was my friend Matt with terrible news. My other friend had just hanged himself earlier that morning, Matt said. I wished I was at camp so I could have been with my friends. The two boys that I recruited also knew my friend and I wish I was with them when I heard the news. We had to stop my trip early and go home for the funeral.
When I finally got back to camp I was told I was going to work at the camp’s new Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience course. It consisted of a rock wall and different high-adventure elements. This was so much more fun than working at the Handicraft Lodge. I liked the people here better and I also liked using the wall whenever I wanted. By the end of the summer I didn’t want to go home. I could not have anywhere near as good an experience if I stayed safely at home that summer. I learned two things that summer: how to be independent, and the importance of family. My family didn’t only include my mother and father, but my 45 roommates at camp.
When I unfroze and the bear had run off, I immediately told the nearest senior staff member I could find. They did nothing about it. But seeing a bear, as close as maybe two classroom lengths, was exciting. I’m glad my parents let me go. It was my first close encounter with a bear, but maybe it will not my last or my closest.