One Last Cast – Chapter 24 – Readers and Writers Book Club

One Last Cast – Chapter 24

One Last Cast
From Alaska Outdoors Radio Magazine
By Evan Swensen
Chapter Twenty-24
Charlie’s Parachute Experience

The boy scouts of Troop 188 had earned their way to a remote camping adventure on Alaska’s Lake Louise. But, as in all great adventures, much of the adventure was found in the preparation. Not only did the troop prepare the usual things like getting gear and food together, but they were required to learn outdoor skills, advance in rank, and pass off Merit Badges.

One of the basic skills all boy scouts must learn is to build a fire in wet weather. Many scouts and leaders call it a one-match fire. First, the boy is given a knife and one match. Next, he must find dry wood, keep it dry, make tinder, start a small fire, and make it bigger until he can boil a cup of water over the flames.

The scout is taught where to find dry wood under a spruce tree and the paperlike bark of birch. He quickly learns that even in the most wet weather, he will be able to find small dry spruce branches tucked under larger, living, green needle-covered branches further up the tree. His Scoutmaster shows him where to gather the branches and how to keep them dry by putting them under his raincoat or in a waterproof bag. He will also demonstrate the merits of building a fire under the tree from which the scout obtained the branches. Finally, he explains to the 12-year-old how to clear away dead leaves and branches under the tree and build a fire ring to prevent starting a forest fire.

The scout also learns how to build a fire and the importance of never leaving camp without knowing the fire is completely out. All in all, fire mastery is probably the first skill most scouts learn.

That’s the way it started with the boy scouts of Troop 188 as they prepared to camp in the wilderness around Lake Louise. Many scouts were on their trail to the coveted Eagle, the highest award a Scout can earn. All winter they had passed off camping skills and lifesaving merit badges. By the time summer rolled around, they had the skills and self-confidence to venture forth in Alaska’s wilderness and come back alive. Mosquito-bitten a bit, and perhaps with a few cuts and bruises, but very much alive, and alive with adventure tales to last a lifetime.

Somehow during one of the training sessions, probably during a time of kidding by the Scoutmaster, the scouts had gotten the idea that they would have ice cream on one of their remote wilderness days. How the idea grew is a mystery, but it was there as they departed Anchorage.

Charlie’s pilot’s son was one of the scouts and asked the Scoutmaster how he proposed filling his ice cream promise to the Scouts.

“Ice cream promise?” the Scoutmaster asked. “What ice cream promise?”

Then he learned about the rumor that the Scoutmaster would show them how to make ice cream in the wilderness. So the troop departed Anchorage with the Scoutmaster wondering what he would do about ice cream on Lake Louise.

Five days into their six-day trip found the scouts 20 miles from the road and anything resembling ice cream. Then, about halfway between lunch and dinner, they heard the drone of Charlie’s engine and then saw the faded red Stinson circle overhead. Inside Charlie’s cockpit sat two fathers of the scouts, one of them being Charlie’s pilot.

Before takeoff, the two fathers had visited Carrs market’s ice cream department and purchased two gallons of ice cream of varied flavors. The half-gallon containers were quickly wrapped in several layers of the Anchorage Daily News and then wrapped again with duct tape. Next, the fathers fashioned a makeshift parachute out of a 35-gallon trash bag for each of the four cartons. Eighty-pound fishing line became parachute cords and were tied securely to each duct-tape-and-Daily-News-wrapped cartons of ice cream. Parachutes and ice cream were then placed in a picnic cooler and loaded into Charlie’s back seat.

Circling Charlie low over the scout camp, Charlie’s pilot estimated the wind and plane speed and lined up for a parachute drop. Charlie’s passenger forced open the door and dropped and pushed an ice-cream-laden trash bag parachute out on four separate passes over the camp. Then with a wave and a wiggle of Charlie’s wings, the pair of fathers pointed Charlie’s nose back toward Anchorage.

As can be supposed, the scouts had tall tales to tell about their week’s wilderness adventures, and at the top of the list was searching the forest around their camp for four-duct-tape-and-Daily-News-wrapped one-half-gallon containers of various flavors of Carrs’ ice cream. They found all four containers and promptly consumed them.

Perhaps there is a moral in all this. If there is, it’s that duct tape works on many things, including ice cream parachutes; there is at least one good use for the Anchorage Daily News; and a scout, as the scout law states, is trustworthy. And so is their Scoutmaster, even if he promises ice cream in the wilderness.

Evan, who lives in Anchorage, has 9 children, 25 grandchildren, and 6 great grandchildren. As a pilot, he has logged more than 4,000 hours of flight time in Alaska, in both wheel and float planes. He is a serious recreation hunter and fisherman, equally comfortable casting a flyrod or using bait, or lures. He has been published in many national magazines and is the author of four books.