One Pace at a Time

This is one of the college entrance essays Jake wrote back in late 2007, reflecting on his experience as a boy scout in Troop 118. Jake went on to become Troop 118’s 117th Eagle Scout in 2008. I’m posting this today in honor of Boy Scout Troop 118. They’ve had a tough weekend, as three boys were lost in the Pisgah National Forest during a hiking trip.  Thankfully the boys have been found, and we’re looking forward to Troop 118’s bus pulling safely into the parking lot of St. Stephen United Methodist Church later today.

Jake with young scouts during a winter camping trip in 2008

Water was everywhere. Water stretched as far as the eye could see beyond the small spit of land where we beached our canoes.  Water was coming down in buckets as a rainstorm drenched the Algonquin National Preserve. We slipped in the mud as we pitched our tents on the narrow patch of ground left to us as late-comers. The canoes were rising as the ground, barely above water level, began to disappear. And now water was seeping around the 10X10-foot dining fly where sixteen tired, cold boys and men huddled to eat dinner.

Does this sound like a fun way to spend your summer vacation? Surprisingly enough, the answer for me was yes. I have been a Boy Scout for seven years. I am now completing the last steps to achieve the rank of Eagle. That night, on that spit of land jutting out into Ontario’s Big Trout Lake, I was probably the most miserable I have ever been on a camping trip, and the most happy. After paddling eight miles and portaging a 50-pound canoe 2,396 feet, my arms groaned in pain.  But the food was good, the fire was warm, and I was surrounded by friends, who were all just as wet and tired as I was.

The misery of that wet night faded, and we woke the next day to an incredible view. A majestic moose stood quietly in the rising midst, as we cast off on the next leg of our journey.

I have experienced many such highs and lows as a scout.  I have hiked hundreds of miles with a 40-pound pack on my back. At times my load was greater, when I also carried the pack of a new scout who struggled on the trail.  I’ve grown from a tenderfoot to a Troop Guide, someone who teaches younger scouts.

Along that journey, I have learned some important things:

Master yourself first: You can’t lead others until you can manage yourself. As a patrol leader, if I overslept, no one got breakfast. If I forgot my compass, we all got lost. When you are in the wilderness, hungry, thirsty and exhausted, don’t bother to complain. Everyone else is just as miserable as you.

Make the most of what you have: A scout is taught to be resourceful – to use his surroundings to take care of himself. There’s always something in your environment that can be used to solve problems.

Everyone starts at the beginning: Some go faster, some go slower, but everyone was once a younger scout.  Patience is a critical tool to have in your pack.

My troop’s motto is “One Pace at a Time”.  Success on the trail – and in life – is achieved with good training and help from others who have gone before. When the trail gets tough, utilize your training and your surroundings, put one foot in front of the other, and extend your hand to help those who are behind you.

-Jake Leach, 2007

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