Thursday, March 3, 2011

Camping and Hiking at Linton Hall Military School ... and how what I learned there might have saved my life

Several of the Linton Hall Military School alumni on Facebook have said that I seem to focus only on the negative aspects of my experience at Linton Hall. I've answered that in my first blog post (March 2010, or the "About Me" section of my Facebook profile) I mentioned several positives (academics, camping and hiking, and making friends.)

I didn't elaborate on friends, since it would probably be of interest only to those who knew the people I mentioned, and I didn't elaborate about academics since past participles and isosceles triangles don't make very interesting reading.

But I have something to say about camping, hiking, and military science.

I enjoyed camping, not only because I had never gone camping before, but also because of the looser discipline. The commandant seemed much more relaxed and friendly when we went camping, and some annoying rules were forgotten, such as having a count of 30 to brush your teeth. If you wanted, you stepped a few feet away from your tent with your canteen and brushed your teeth, if you didn't, nobody got on your case about it. We had a campfire, stayed up later than normal, and several cadets would wear unusual hats and didn't get hassled for being "out of uniform." And there was that cool "Over and Under" patch. I still have mine, somewhere. If I could find it I would scan it to illustrate this note.

Many years later when I was an adult I only went camping a couple of times, and what I learned at Linton Hall Military School about setting up a tent served me well, especially how to set up the tent so it doesn't get flooded if it rains -- and it did rain, a lot.

The most important thing I learned about the outdoors at Linton Hall was during a Military Science class, when Max DuCharme taught us what do to if we got lost.

Two or three decades after that classroom lesson, I was visiting someone in Canada and we went hiking. He parked the car at one of the provincial parks, and confidently went into the woods with the rest of us following. There were five of us, including him.

After a long while, maybe an hour, it became clear that he was lost. We had been hiking through the woods, not following an established trail, and it turned out that in spite of his "confidence" our leader had been zig-zagging randomly, with no clue about where he was or where he was going. Turns out he hadn't even been to this park before!

Thinking this would be just a short leisurely hike, we hadn't brought anything. No water, no camping gear, no cell phone (still rare in those days and we might have been out of range of a cell tower anyway) and not even a book of matches, since none of us smoked.

Time to apply what I had learned at Linton Hall. First rule, a group is easier to find, so stay together. Next, climb a tree or higher ground to see if you can see any landmarks. Scratch that; there were plenty of trees but too many to see through, and the ground was flat. Another rule, don't walk randomly, decide on the best direction to go, and go in a straight line. So we tried to remember in which direction the sun had been most of the time (even though we had probably been traveling in every possible direction) and used that information to head back in the general direction we had come from.

Soon we encountered a rough one-lane dirt road. Good news, since roads don't get built in the middle of nowhere, but are connected to other roads. We followed the road in one direction, to a dead end. Good news again, there must be a road in the other direction. Even better news was that there was a big bulldozer parked at the dead end. Nobody is going to just abandon an expensive piece of equipment. Worst case scenario, the bulldozer operator would be there Monday morning and we would spend the night in the woods. We wouldn't die of thirst and we wouldn't die of cold, since it was summer. We'd just get bitten by a million mosquitos. (Canada has only two seasons, Winter and mosquito season.)

Luckily, after about half an hour we found a paved road, and after another half hour we reached the car.

What I learned in Military Science might seem pretty basic, but people tend to panic in such situations and it was good to know what to do. What might have happened otherwise? I'll never know. At best, just a little inconvenience, at worst one or more, or even all of us, might have died a slow, painful death.

Thank you Linton Hall Military School and Max DuCharme for teaching me what might have very well saved my life.

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This blog is NOT affiliated with Linton Hall Military School. The opinions contained are those of the author.