Sitting at the head of a small conference table, Boy Scout leader Chris Rasmussen is flanked by 10 of the 11 people who will accompany him on an outing to the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area in the northeastern pocket of Minnesota.
Rasmussen, an ex-Marine, survival-course instructor and Boundary Waters veteran, reviews essentials every Scout should know for the trip.
Entering the conversation is information about packing supplies, guarding against leeches and lashing canoes together for traversing the lakes.
Scout Matthew Browning waits for the right time to ask one very important question: "Will those holes (pit toilets) be equipped with toilet paper?" It breaks up the flow of the meeting but allows Rasmussen to provide one very important answer: "You get a Ziploc bag and bring your own."
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Matthew, a 14-year-old Harrisburg resident, has been looking forward to this trip for about a year. He figures he's been on 20-plus camping trips in the last 21/2 years. But none of them will compare to this, his first "high adventure" outing.
And a little toilet tissue issue is not about to get in his way.
Matthew is a member of Troop 13, which had one of its last preparation meetings before the trip last Sunday at its scout house where Eastfield Road meets Old Statesville Road.
"It's what I live for right now in Scouting," Matthew said. "It's my first high adventure trip, which means it will be fun."
Most of the six Scouts and five adult leaders were scheduled to depart Charlotte Douglas International Airport early Saturday. Driving ahead with only supplies - and possibly his 7-month-old Labrador retriever mix, Bailey - Rasmussen was planning on meeting the rest of the group in Minneapolis.
From there, adding a rented van and driving both vehicles to the town of Ely, the group was to split into two patrols and put their canoes in the water for the first time this morning. For the next five nights they will camp out in the wilderness and canoe throughout the Boundary Waters' 1 million acres during the day.
Part of the Superior National Forest and adjacent to the U.S.-Canada border, Boundary Waters is a very protected area. For example, only a limited number of adventurers are permitted to enter at certain points each day, and minnows (for bait) are not allowed to be transported from one lake to another, to protect the natural order of wildlife.
Other than the fish they catch, the Scouts and their leaders will have to survive on the dehydrated meals they will have prepared. That's an additional challenge for Matthew, who has soy and nut allergies. But he says the greatest challenge he anticipates is going to sleep every night and "missing the scenery."
Also providing background on Boundary Waters at the preparation meeting was Troop 13 committee member Pat Hymes, who was one of the adult leaders, along with Rasmussen, the last time Troop 13 visited in 2006. Hymes remembers seeing moose, bear and landscape marked by Native American pictographs.
As part of their training, the Scouts were instructed to practice hanging a "bear pack," which is a backpack containing all supplies with a scent that would attract a bear, such as food and toiletries (it's hung above a bear's reach). At the end of last week's meeting, Matthew led fellow Scouts Brent Babb, Dylan Kaplan, Ben Cournoyer and Noah Degrace, all of Charlotte, in a bear-pack-hanging demonstration.
Matthew tied one end of a rope to a backpack and the other to a 10-inch stick, which the Scouts took turns trying to throw over a 15-foot-high tree branch. Kaplan finally succeeded on their fifth try, drawing some ribbing from the adults.
If a bear ends up in their campsite, accessible toilet paper might be the least of Matthew's worries.