TWIN LAKE, Mich. – When inches of snow pummeled West Michigan over the weekend many people stayed indoors, but not one group. One hundred Boy Scouts of America, including the co-ed Venturing group and troops from Missouri and Ohio, spent the weekend camping and sleeping in the snow at the Gerber Scout Reservation.
“We were so excited for it. Our biggest concern was the safety of people traveling and getting here,” says Rich Riley, OPIK course director.
It’s an annual challenge to live outdoors called “OPIK.” Scouts first undergo training weeks beforehand, then are put to the test. For example, imagine sleeping in what’s called a “quinzee,” or snow cave. The scouts built them and then spend the night inside.
“You have to have perseverance that’s one thing. Camping in the snow, it being freezing cold in the negatives, it can get you down really quick; you just have to have a high attitude,” says Mason Calhoun, high school junior and Boy Scout.
These teenagers say they learned some lessons the hard way, like what not to wear.
“When they say ‘cotton kills’ it does,” admits Calhoun.
“Tarps always work better than shower curtains, always,” adds Rachel Merz, high school sophomore and Boy Scout of America Venturer.
And for some first-time campers, they left in awe.
“Last night we had a camp fire and when I saw the sky, oh gosh, a lot of stars, it looked like the universe; I never saw that before,” says Jack Wenlong, high school junior and Boy Scout.
Riley says when asked to describe this weekend in one word, the teens mostly answered with “cold,” and then “beautiful,” and “epic.”
“It’s just thrilling to come out and see the kids who are apprehensive, and even the adults who are like really? But you get them out there and you come back in on Sunday and they’re just pumped and excited to have made it,” says Riley.
A grueling weekend of skill-building and camaraderie that’s sure to keep these scouts warm for a lifetime.