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Sea 2 Sky Success
We're back from an awesome week out west! It was amazing how well everything worked out and we got to do every activity that the scouts had hoped for - even doing the Space Needle which I would have just as soon missed. :-)

18 scouts from the flatlands of Minnesota got to experience:

I'm still dumbfounded how we crammed so much into a week. There certainly were some long days and short nights. But, the two crew leaders did great work and we came in under budget. If you would like more details on our trip, send me an email and I'll get back to you.

Check out our SPOT Trek Route - pictures mapped to our route recorded by our SPOT Messenger. I've heard from quite a few parents that they really enjoyed watching us as we slowly climbed Mount St. Helens and rafted down the Deschutes.

Scout On

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Posted: 16:39 06-26-2009 425
Track Our Trek
I've blogged a few times about the way cool SPOT Messenger that our troop uses when we go camping. It's a one-way communication device to let people know where you are and to call for help in emergencies. The unit costs around $150 and an annual subscription is $100 and up, depending on the services you choose. It also includes emergency rescue insurance (which we've not used yet so I can't tell you how good it is). But, the reassurance it gives parents back home is invaluable!

Well, the SPOT folks have two things going on that might help you decide to get a unit for your troop.

SPOT Adventures - if you go there soon, you'll see "troop479" in the Recent Activity list with the sample trip I entered. You can spy on trips others have posted and see the adventures people have taken their SPOT on. These are trips after the fact with photos, story, and travel path to view. It's a replacement for what I did last year manually for our Philmont trek. When we get back from Sea2Sky, I'll make an adventure and let you know when it's ready.

Free SPOT - until the beginning of August, you can get a rebate to pay for your SPOT Messenger unit when you subscribe for two years of Basic and Tracking service. That's $300 for two years and a free unit - you save the initial $150 or so for the device. When our troop breaks down the cost, it is about $2.50/scout each year, or 25 cents per campout.

If you'd like to follow our Sea2Sky trek in real time, check out Our SPOT Page and see how we're doing. The messages should start showing up on Wednesday evening.

Scout On
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Posted: 14:14 06-16-2009 424
Hobbling Along
A broken wrist, two flu victims, three scratchy throats, and less than 36 hours to go. But, I think we'll hobble along and make it ok.

We're finally ready for our cross-country, week-long adventure to the Pacific Northwest and now we're bombarded with small calamities. From the crew leader breaking his wrist in baseball to the SPL getting the flu, it's keeping me hopping. :-)
My job was just reservations as needed, but there were quite a few - for whitewater rafting, snow skiing, climbing permits, space needle tickets, airplane tickets, van rentals, and new online national tour permit (yeah!).

The crew leader put together the itinerary, menu, crews, tenting, practice hikes, and tons of other work. He did a great job of distributing jobs and checking on progress. Even with all that, there's a bit of last minute scrambling. I imagine there's no way to avoid that. But, a rash of sickness doesn't make things easier.

This will most likely be the trip to remember of these scouts. We have so much packed into a week that the four adults transporting the eighteen scouts around are going to be totally wiped out after seven days. It's not a strenuous high adventure like Philmont. We've got campgrounds with showers most days and we'll carry our gear in mini-vans rather than on our backs. But, the activities each day are pretty exciting and this will be the first ocean and high mountain experience for some of the scouts.

I'll take our SPOT Messenger with us and plan to post a URL so anyone that is interested can follow our progress online. It should be cool.

As long as I don't get any phone calls about more accidents tomorrow, we're good to go! Well, pretty good to go anyway.

Scout On
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Posted: 22:20 06-15-2009 423
Wooden Nickels
I've been looking for some sort of fun memento for the troop. Something inexpensive that could be given away and might be held onto rather than tossed. I finally settled on creating a custom wooden nickel for the troop.

My plan is to use these to promote the troop in a fun way:

I've been trying to get scouts to have scoutmaster conferences at least every 6 months with little success. I'm not going to announce anything, but am just going to start giving a nickel at each conference. The word will spread that to get a nickel, you need to have a conference.

If the nickels become popular, and if the scouts want to do it, we can have a troop trading post where nickels can be exchanged for 'stuff'. With the risk of diluting the 'value' of the nickels, one could be received at every campout, service project, or troop activity. One could be 'earned' by rank advancement, leadership role, or special Good Turn. Scouts that participate the most have the most to trade. It would be important to keep it light and fun so the getting of nickels doesn't become the reason for participation.

You can design your own nickel, like I did, at - scroll to the very bottom of the page to view a cool video about making the nickels. They are printed in San Antonio, TX.

If you've used other devices to successfully promote your troop or motivate scouts, I'd love to hear about them.

Scout On

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Posted: 10:09 06-11-2009 422
New SPOT widget
We use SPOT Messenger when we go on campouts and high adventure treks.
There is now an embeddable SPOT widget so you can publish and share your adventures. It's pretty cool and makes tying pictures to trips much easier.

See my sample trip from this past week at Visit Wisconsin.

Scout On
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Posted: 9:37 06-09-2009 421
Two Millionth Eagle Scout
Anthony Thomas of Troop 3471 here in Northern Star Council (I believe Burnsville, MN) has been recognized as the 2,000,000th Eagle Scout yesterday. How cool is that?

Arthur Eldred of New York was the first Eagle Scout in 1912, so it's been a busy 96 years.

Congratulations, Anthony!

Scout On
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Posted: 21:07 05-23-2009 418
Expanding Cooking
Let's play Jeopardy...

I'll take Scout Cooking for $200, Alex.

And the answer is: Hotdogs

BZZZZZ... "What is the simplest way to get Second Class requirement 2g signed off?"

I'll take Scout Cooking for $400, Alex.

And the answer is: Poptarts

BZZZZZ... "What is an even simpler way to get Second Class requirement 2g signed off?"

I suppose you probably know of some even simpler - maybe heating a piece of bread with a Bic Lighter? So, the question becomes "What constitutes 'cooking' for cooking requirements?"

By expanding the cooking repertoire on a campout, the meals can certainly be much more challenging and rewarding. I really enjoy making meals outdoors using heat from coals burned down from a fire that I started with just sticks, my knife, and one match. As a matter of fact, I'm usually up before anyone in camp just so I can play with fire without scouts seeing me. :-)

There needs to be a consistent definition of 'cooking' across the leadership of your troop. That definition should come from the PLC with the scoutmaster's input. It should then be shared with each scout and adult leader so everyone is on the same page. If you've not done this, give it a try and I bet the scouts will come up with a fairly good definition. Then, they own it and can ensure it is followed for rank advancement.

As leadership changes and troop dynamics evolve, some skills will trend down while others improve. In our troop, cooking has gradually degraded into the simplest prepackaged, precooked, processed foods available. It's time to push that skill back up so the SPL and I will discuss it next week.

boy scout cooking Last weekend, the SPL and ASPL had meals with the adults. They really enjoyed all the dutch oven meals and they even made cookies in a dutch oven. Well, actually one big cookie, but they made it and cooked it perfect.
At the end of the weekend, the ASPL said it was amazing how easy the dutch ovens are and how good the food is and how he plans to have his patrol use them more. Now, the adults have been using d.o.s for 3 years and have been trying to get scouts hooked with virtually no luck. Maybe this ASPL will be the convert that wins the tug-of-war.

Using dutch ovens is just one way to expand the cooking experience at camp. They really are easy, but until scouts are confident using them, scouts will stick with pots of water, hotdogs, and poptarts.

There are many other ways to cook on campouts. We have a few of those pie irons that clamp stuff between bread and roast over a fire. Stuff wrapped in aluminum foil and dropped in the coals can be good cooking with a variety of vegetables and meat and spice. Getting off propane and onto a real fire occastionally is a good move to make towards more expansive cooking.

Scout On
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Posted: 13:21 05-20-2009 417
Police Explorers and Terrorists
The BSA has quite a broad scope of programming, from Scouts and Soccer to Law Enforcement Exploring with ages ranging from 6 to 21 years old. I'm just doing my best to keep up with the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts programs with which I am active, but there's a whole lot more than that available.

Exploring is part of Learning for Life's career education program. Law enforcement is one of those careers, along with fire service, aviation, science, skilled trades, and others. Exploring helps youth gain practical knowledge of and experience in a career.

Did you know explorers can learn to fight terrorists? WHOA! What's that, you say? Yep, and that's probably the typical and hoped for reaction the NY Times was looking for with their recent article. There are some great pictures of explorers with guns, explosions, storming buses, and attacking terrorists. There are a couple sensational quotes. There are a couple statements about sexual abuse by leaders. Everything needed to make a great, informational piece of news. :-(

Weapons use, hostages, negotiations, first aid, self-defense, crisis intervention, and ethics are just some of the skills law enforcement officers need. These explorers participate in a complete program, which I expect includes a whole lot of training before participation in the mock scenarios as presented in the article. Too bad the article didn't mention how many hours were spent learning and demonstrating all the skills in teamwork and safety before the drill. But, that would have been boring.

The part most interesting to me was scanning through the 475 comments left since yesterday and that a large number of them had to be censored. People can read one article about a certain facet of a program and extrapolate it into paramilitary, nazi-like, world-destroying, right-wing bigotry.

This specific explorer post has sure pushed the envelope and made an exciting program. From what I can see, they've followed the BSA Explorer guidelines. I wouldn't be interested in participating in such a drill, but it looks like a real learning experience for youth interested in a law enforcement career.

I'll stick to my backpacking and square knots and try to help a few scouts grow in citizenship, character, and fitness. But if participation in a mock hostage situation is the 'high adventure' reward built on a strong base of skills that gets some other youth to grow in those same dimensions, then good for them.

Scout On
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Posted: 18:08 05-14-2009 416
The Good Turn Daily Knot
I was asked what the knot is at the bottom of the 2nd Class and 1st Class scout rank badges that reminds scouts to do a good turn daily, and how to tie it.

It is an overhand knot in a bight and it's pretty simple to tie but has few uses. Now you can impress all your scouting friends on your next campout by learning to tie it.

On the actual embroidered badges, it's difficult to make out and there are different versions of the knot, but you can see the full size official image by clicking this thumbnail -

See the Guide to Tieing this Knot.
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Posted: 22:29 05-10-2009 415
Get Fit - or Stay Home
Our troop is using the new BSA medical form this year since it's available and makes life so much easier - same form for everyone, instead of Class 1, 2, and 3. The fact that most of it can be done online and saved by the parent is great - saves them lots of time each year.

The new BSA medical requirements are that everyone get a physical check every 12 months - no more 3 years for youth and adults under 40. Every year, every person.
As a scoutmaster responsible for safety on our outings, I'm glad this change is in place. In 3 years, a scout changes an incredible amount.

There have been some grumblings about this. The only valid argument I've heard is insurance not covering a physical exam that often. If that's the case, then slipping your exam date out a week or so every year might be needed.

Another health item that is part of the new medical form is the Height to Weight participation requirement. This one is causing a lot of concern.

From the health form: Individuals desiring to participate in any high-adventure activity or events in which emergency evacuation would take longer
than 30 minutes by ground transportation will not be permitted to do so if they exceed the weight limit as documented at the bottom of this page. Enforcing the height/weight limit is strongly encouraged for all other events, but it is not mandatory.

When I look at the weights on the chart, it's amazing how heavy someone can be and still be allowed to trek. The arguments against this requirement range from being big-boned to solid muscle and in great shape even when over the limit.
At our roundtable meeting last night, I figured about 1/3 of the guys there would not be allowed to backpack - and I certainly would not want them anywhere near any trek I was on.

There is good, sound reasoning for these limits - obese people have a much higher risk of heart failure and other problems under physical exertion. This isn't the BSA being dictators, but setting limits to the minimal level of safety on strenuous activities.

Setting an example of being fit is a very important part of Scouting for adults. The "adult interaction" method lets scouts see how adults 'should' be. A fit man able to hike along with the scouts should be a requirement - and has been a requirement at the National BSA camps for years. BSA is just pushing the Philmont, SeaBase, Northern Tier requirements down to units doing their own high adventure treks.

Obesity continues to be a growing problem in our country. On the charts I could find, a 6foot person is considered obese if they way over 220 pounds. The BSA height-weight chart allows a 6foot person to weigh up to 239 pounds and still participate in high adventure. That sounds quite generous to me.

Finally, the height-weight limit does not eliminate obese scouters from participation. The limits are not mandatory for short-term camping within 30 minutes of emergency help. Car camping at the local park can still be done by any adult volunteer that completes the annual medical record.

Here's the chart. Will you need to diet before that big backpack trip or before attending national jamboree in 2010?

See BSA Annual Health and Medical Record
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Posted: 8:13 05-08-2009 414
BOGO again
Another opportunity to boost the overall uniforming of your unit. has a Buy One Get One sale this month for Classic uniform items.

It looks like they are clearing our the left-over switchbacks, shirts, socks, sashes, and such. I'm still happy with my switchbacks I got in August, 2006!

If you'd like to promote full uniforming, it's a lot easier to get families to buy $20 pants rather than $40. Two scouts or a scout and parent can each get a pair, even different sizes.

Scout On
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Posted: 13:00 05-04-2009 413
Doing Natl Tour Permit Online
Both national and local tour permits can be done online now at MyScouting. I'm working through the process for the first time with a national tour permit and either I'm doing something wrong or the system isn't quite ready.

First off, when you log into MyScouting there is no place to get to the online Tour Permits. You first need to change your profile to enable the link to Permits.
  1. Go to
  2. Click the MyScouting link at the top and enter your account info.
  3. Click MY PROFILE
  5. Check the TOUR PERMITS chekbox
  6. Click SUBMIT button at the bottom
  7. Now TOUR PERMITS appears in the list of features.

Once you have that done (whew) you can start making tour permits. You need to enter vehicle information, leader info and training, and then info about the trip with itinerary, training, and policies.

For some reason, when I submit a permit I continue to receive a pop-up warning that the itinerary info is not complete. We'll see if it gets accepted or not.

Scout On
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Posted: 10:56 05-02-2009 412
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