Monday, July 29, 2013

Stories from my childhood: Midnight raids at summer camp

(by Michael)

I attended my first Boy Scout summer camp at Camp Thunder in Georgia when I was twelve years old.  It was fun, I loved Boy Scouts and camping and anything where I could travel far away and do fun stuff.  This story starts on the last night of summer camp:  Friday night, the night before we would leave to go back home.  We were gathered around the picnic table in our campsite reviewing the week’s activities and how much fun we had.  There were only five boys from our troop who came to camp:  me, my best friend Jared, who was my age, Mat and Mark, who were both 13, and Chris, Mark's older brother.  He was 15.  There we were sitting around camp when suddenly the lantern went out.  KER-SPLASH!  Someone hit me with a water balloon!  There were more ker-splashes, and I soon realized that we were being ambushed by our scoutmasters with water balloons.  All of us were under attack and scrambling.  Mat and I tried to get to the ice chest where the water balloons were stashed while the scoutmasters were busy throwing some at the others.  Now I had ammo to fight back, but I was tripped up by Mark, who was on the ground for some reason, and I dropped my balloons.  Chris was quick thinking and grabbed the water hose at the latrine and use it on them.  After it was all over, we were all drenched and laughing, but still in shock that we were taken completely off guard… and that our scoutmasters had done something so fun and cool.  But what was even more shocking was what they said when we got the lantern lit up again.  “That was fun,” they said, “now, let’s go get another troop.”
We were all up for that and were so excited we couldn’t sit still.  We changed into our camouflage and filled up some more water balloons.  When we came back to the table, our scoutmasters threw us for a loop.  They decided that they could not participate in a water balloon attack on another campsite because if we got caught we might never be allowed to come back to Camp Thunder.  However, they said we could choose to do it on our own.  That way they would have plausible deniability and act like they knew nothing about it.  We were alright with that and started making plans.  We looked at our little map of the camp and picked the campsite furthest away from ours as are target, all the way on the other end of camp.  We waited until midnight and loaded up with a water balloon in each hand, ready to head out.
There were two paths leading out of our campsite.  The shorter route led straight to the main road by the dining hall, and the other path led right through Troop 150’s campsite, which was next to ours.  We wanted to go undetected, so the logical route was away from the campsites, toward the road.  We were soon halted, however, because in the open space around the big dining hall there were several light poles, and next to the dining hall was a pavilion with picnic tables and coke machines.  Sitting under the pavilion were a couple of scoutmasters who decided to stay up and chat.  They would certainly see us as soon as we left the woods to head in any direction, so we knew we couldn’t go that way.  That meant we had to go back the other way, through the campsite. 
We had to be sneaky and quiet so as to not wake anyone in Troop 150 or draw their attention if they happened to be awake in their tents.  We had tiptoed about halfway across their campsite when we heard a voice come out of one of the tents, “Where are you going?”  It was the scoutmaster.  Mat quickly replied, “to the coke machine to get a drink,” which was obviously a lie because we were headed in the exact opposite direction of the coke machines.  “Go back to bed!” the man replied from inside his tent.  “Okay,” he said, but kept going forward instead of turning around to go back.  We got through the campsite and nobody followed us or said anything else, so we thought we were pretty slick.  The trail curved around and crossed the road that passed above the dining hall, the side road that only staff people take to get to and from the staff lodge.  We took that road because it was dark and less likely to be traveled at night, and we could get to it without being seen by the scoutmasters who were sitting by the dining hall.  The only thing is we would have to sneak past the staff lodge at the end of the road where there were many people still awake and lights were on.  Still, maneuvering through the adjacent parking lot undetected was easy enough.  As we started down the dark road, we noticed something.  Someone was missing.  It was Mark!  Back when the scoutmaster told us to go back to bed, we kept going, but Mark actually turned around and went back to our own campsite.  We were shaking our heads but were rather amused at his blunder.  Oh well, we’d press on without him, just the four of us.  It was too bad he’d miss out on the adventure, but we weren’t really sad about it because he seemed more a liability in situations like this, and he’d already demonstrated why.
We approached the campsite we selected for our target.  It was pitch dark outside.  We huddled together behind a picnic table that sat near the entrance to the campsite to go over our strategy so everyone knew what to do.  Our biggest concern was not getting caught, so we made sure we knew when to book it out of there and what our escape route would be.  While we were crouched there together, someone started walking out of the campsite in our direction.  We started to panic.  We all shushed each other and tried to stay perfectly still, hoping whoever it was would not see us and pass us by, but inside I was sure we were caught, and I was already trying to think of some excuse why were there.  The person came closer, and I was about to start running away when he spoke in a whisper, “guys, is that you?”  It was Mark!  “Mark! Get down and shush!” we told him as forcefully as possible in a whisper.  You can imagine we were just as perplexed and shocked as you are about how in the world he wound up there at that time, and we started asking questions.  It turns out, when he realized he was the only one who went back to camp, he decided to catch up with us by going the other way…walking right past the two scoutmasters who stayed up talking by the dining hall.  He even went into the staff lodge to look at the big map of the camp on the wall to find out how to get to the target campsite.  Evidently, he took a different trail that led to the other end of the campsite… and walked right through it until he found us.  We were all face palming and cursing him under our breath.  Our operation was doomed, we thought.  How could you be so stupid, Mark!  He swore up and down that nobody noticed him.  We doubted that, but had come too far to turn back.  Everything seemed quiet, so we felt secure in going ahead with the plan. 
We crept into the target campsite to take our positions.  None of us took into account that Mark was absent at the time we made our final plans by the picnic table.  The tents were set up in a large circular formation.  They were canvas tents with door flaps on each end.  Crouching like ninjas, we filed in, each of us positioned behind a different tent.  We all had a water balloon in each hand that we had been carrying with us the whole time, which was another reason why we were so upset with Mark.  He said, he had kept them out of view, but I still thought it was a stupid thing to do.  He was positioned at the tent next to the one I was at.  I was still ticked at him, so I told him “don’t say a word” in a stern whisper as we entered the campsite.
We were all set.  I was waiting on a sign from Chris or Mat.  They were the oldest, so they were the de facto leaders of our team.  We had to do it quickly and all at once.  I was ready to follow their lead.  Then Mark started motioning at me.  He was about 15 feet away. I had no idea what he was trying to say.  I just waved him off to tell him to stop messing around and get ready.  Then he tip-toed over to where I was.  “Now, what?!” I thought to myself.  He leaned toward me and asked in the softest whisper possible, “what do I do if there’s only one person in the tent?”  I gritted my teeth and whispered “throw it at ‘em! Now, get over there!”  When we were back in position, I peeked inside the tent where I was at and beheld my victims.  I perked my eyes and ears again, waiting for a signal to go.  I did not want to wait any longer, so I lifted the tent flap, raised my water balloons in the air, and… SPLAT!  SPLAT!  I did it!  Then I took off running through the middle of the campsite back out the way we came.  Soon, the others were right behind me.  We kept running—filled with adrenaline—until  we were far away.  As I ran I could hard contain my laughter brought on by the exhilaration of what had just happened, but I was conscious about not making too much noise.  When we were far enough away and in a spot where we were sure no one could see us, we stopped to look back to check if anyone had followed us and to make sure we were all together.  “Did you throw yours?” I asked the others.  “Yeah,” they all said.  We all laughed out of excitement, but quietly, because we were still worried about getting caught.  “I thought you were gonna go first,” I said to Chris.  “I don’t know,” he replied, “I just froze and didn’t know what to do until I heard you throw yours and start running.”  Mark held up a water balloon in his hand and said, “hey guys, what do I do with this?”  “Get rid of it!” we told him, so he busted it on the ground. 
We decided  it was time to move on.  We took the long way back to our campsite to stay away from anyone who might decide to look for the culprits.  We weren’t in too big of a hurry at that point.  We walked along and retold our event to each other over and over, and commented on how awesome it was and how we should do it again next year.  We snuck back into our own tents easy enough, and not two minutes after I was in my bunk we heard pick-up trucks driving up and down the roads.  I was sure they were looking for us.  We were camped close enough to the road that I could see they were using spotlights to search for people lurking around.  I had a quiet fear that they would wake everyone up and start questioning us all, but as the noise drifted away I swelled up with a sense of pride and accomplishment about our successful secret mission. 
The next day we heard nothing about it from anyone around camp.  Everyone was getting ready to go home that day.  I thought about what it was like for the poor, unsuspecting individuals we had bombed with water balloons the night before.  It was quite amusing to me.  We discreetly told our scoutmasters about our mission accomplished, but didn’t say anything else about it until we were out of camp.  I had enjoyed summer camp that week, but that night’s events made my whole summer.  I couldn’t wait to replicate the adventure at the next summer camp.
To be continued…

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