My magic hike happened many, many years ago. I grew up in a boarding school for fatherless boys, and by the summer before we would be high school seniors, all the boys in my class had lived, fought, played and studied together every day for ten years. We weren’t just schoolmates. We were brothers.
Many of us spent June and July of that last summer working as junior counselors for the younger boys, who spent two summer weeks away from the city in the beautiful Pocono Mountains of Pennsyvlania. We older guys had the usual duties of supervising assemblies, sports and other camp activities, including hikes. We were in our final week with the final group of younger boys, when one of us came with the great idea for a super hike.
It would involve several senior counselors, old veterans of 19 or 20 who were college students, the dozen members from my high school class and fifty volunteers from among the younger boys. It was to be an overnighter to the town of Canadensis, some 12 miles from our camp. We’d do the first eight miles the first day, set up pup tents and cook dinner around campfires, then continue on into the town in the morning and celebrate with a big luncheon at the Canadensis Hotel.
We carried everything in our backpacks, although without telling the younger boys, we were monitored by an unmarked camp car for safety and supply needs. Bears, bobcats, skunks and rattlesnakes had often been seen on the roads during previous hikes, so the car provided our security. It also delivered some medical (sore feet, scratches, insect bites, etc.) and extra food supplies to the camping site, while all the older guys tried to keep it a secret.
Everything went as planned. There were no drop-outs along the way to the overnight site, although some of us gladly welcomed salve, iodine and band aids. Campfire cooking went well, with a menu of hot dogs, burgers and French fries. Then, we sang and told the required scary stories before everyone crawled in their pup tents for well-earned sleep. The next day went well, too, and although the camp car was available, everyone volunteered to do the 12 mile-five-hour hike back to camp in one stretch.
That wonderful last-of-summer hike is still very fresh in my memory, although it happened a long, long time ago, just before Labor Day in ’41. It wasn’t just the final camp experience with my “brothers” that holds such nostalgia for me now, but that we could never imagine what the future had in store for us. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December, as high school seniors, we soon realized what was to happen.
By the summer of ’42, just after our June graduation, most of us were in Army basic training or Navy boot camp. Then, by the summer of ’43, many were already veterans of combat in war zones around the world. By the summer of ’44, we had lost some of our boyhood friends in Pacific island battles, D-Day in Normandy, in air raids over Germany and Japan and many other areas of the war.
The summer of ’45 finally brought the end of World War II, and by then we had lost too many of our classmates. After we who had survived returned home, several of us got together to try to bring back some of the memories of happier days. In the summer of ’46, we visited the camp and then drove along our hike route, but it wasn’t the same. It never again would be.