During my middle school years, my mother sent me to a residence camp in Northern Baltimore County run by the Pastor of our church, whose name was Ron. After one year of just enjoying my time as a camper, I was offered a leadership position by Pastor Ron as a junior counselor. This was not your average camp; it was a rigorous outdoor camp - one week spent hiking the Appalachian Trail, another week going on long bicycle trips on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, while other weeks were spent white-water rafting, tubing and fishing.
We lived outdoors for virtually the entire 10 weeks of the camp. We actually spent several weeks building our own lean-to shelters, which we lived in while at camp. While we were on the road we would sleep in tents. There were approximately 20-30 campers at any given time.
When I was 14 years old and appointed as a junior counselor, Ron determined it was time for me to learn to shoot. We went into the woods, and he brought a large pistol resembling a German Luger pistol and taught me how to shoot at cans and bottles. As I progressed, we advanced to rifles. I found it unusual that a Pastor of a church would be teaching me all about firearms and firearm safety, but I soon learned he was determined to add riflery to the camp program. After extensive training, I received my rifle certification as a sharpshooter.
The next step was to help give the campers exposure to shooting targets with a .22 rifle. Teaching riflery at an outdoor camp in today’s society would seem unusual, but in those days, we simply went down to the woods, set up targets, gave the kids rifles, and did the best we could. In the early years, Ron was always present on these adventures, but I seem to recall that once I turned 18 and became a head counselor, I may have had firearm instruction sessions with the campers without any direct supervision.
My skills as a marksman improved from this experience, enough so that I considered becoming a member of the riflery team in college. However, this was not considered a form of exercise. For that reason, I opted for the canoe team instead.
Another stage of the camp itinerary during the summer was backpacking for one week, often hiking various segments of the Appalachian trail. We loaded up the camp bus with the counselors, camp director and all 30 campers and drove to a hiking trail.
This was similar to a military expedition as we covered large sections of the trail while camping overnight. We prepared our own meals which consisted of various freeze-dried foods - predominantly beef stroganoff and powdered eggs.
During one of these trips, while in the midportion of Pennsylvania, my brother Bruce, who was a camper at the time, became acutely ill with a high fever of approximately 103. Ron decided that this was a medical emergency. He would have to evacuate Bruce from the trail and get him to the nearest hospital or emergency room. Pastor Ron directed the other head counselor, Bob, and me to the exact extraction point location and instructed us to continue the trip the next morning for approximately 8 more miles until we reached this extraction site.
With intense, direct eye contact and a serious look, that we had never seen in him before, he stated that one of our campers was severely allergic to bees. In the unlikely event that he would get stung, he pulled out a syringe full of epinephrine and said we would have to administer this immediately if a bee sting occurred to this camper. Bob and I looked at each other - this was well out of our comfort zone! But considering that no one thus far had been stung by a bee, we took the syringe and prepared our “troops” for the remainder of the trip that would continue until we reached the camp’s bus the next day.
This trip was beginning to remind of the teenage dystopian novel Lord of the Flies.
As fate would have it, soon after Ron left with my brother, a tornado passed just north of where we were camping which blew several trees down. The next morning, we got up, wet from the overnight rain, packed up our gear and continued on the trail. We came to a section where multiple freshly downed trees now crossed the Appalachian Trail. Bob and I realized we would have to lead the kids over the trees.
As we passed over the third downed tree, we spotted a large beehive. One of the campers bumped into it causing a disturbance, and a huge swarm of angry bees came flying out and guess which camper got stung? Yep, they went right for the highly allergic camper! He was stung multiple times and began writhing on the ground. The other campers ran from the swarm of bees. As Bob and I were being pelted by angry bees, we helped the injured camper (whose face was already beginning to swell) away from the trail and into the bushes. He was covered with hives and seemed to be getting short of breath. Realizing we had no other option, Bob produced the syringe. As he was slightly older than me, he had the honor of injecting the injured camper. Like a team of medical experts, I held out the camper’s arm, and Bob injected the syringe with epinephrine into the subcutaneous space. Within seconds, the camper’s swelling vastly improved, his hives disappeared, and he returned to a normal functioning human being! Since the bees seemed to have dispersed, we regrouped our then disheveled and distraught campers. We decided that in order to avoid another similar experience we should bushwhack around the downed trees, as we had already used our one and only dose of epinephrine on that camper.
Once we traversed the section of downed trees, the trail opened up and we arrived, hours later, at the camp school bus, our “extraction” site. Bob and I looked at each other, both feeling a sense of accomplishment as we had led our troops through this adversity. In the current climate, I’m not sure that this type of outdoor adventure camp would fly.
Another week of the camp was spent whitewater rafting and tubing. The main source of whitewater rafting was the Youghiogheny River near Ohiopyle in Western Pennsylvania. The entire camp rented multiple rafts. Each raft contained an older counselor with several kids. We would proceed down a day-long whitewater river trip through several class 4 or class 5 whitewater rapids. The minimum age of the campers to do this trip was 12 years old. One year, I remember we had one camper that was technically only 11 years old.
My assignment was to be next to this camper, as he was on my raft, and make sure he did not go overboard. The trip began with a series of mild to moderate rapids. As we came around the bend, we approached the largest rapid on the river. It had its own name. It was called, “Washing Machine Charlie” and consisted of several large hydraulics and large boulders in the middle of the river. This was the largest and most infamous rapid on the Youghiogheny.
Our 6-man raft started racing towards the rapids and we tried to with all our might to keep it straight. Eleven-year-old, Carl, was right next to me. As we hit the second hydraulic, we used my paddle to power forward as the spray from the water drenched us. Suddenly, I looked at my side and lo and behold, Carl was gone. He was overboard in Washing Machine Charlie! I desperately tried to keep my raft straight while searching the whitewater, and I was finally able to spot him just off to the side. I recognized the look of panic in Carl’s face as he drifted into the hydraulics of Washing Machine Charlie. It was reminiscent of my own experience capsizing in the rapids of the Susquehanna River many years earlier (see Chapter 4). The difference this time was that Carl was wearing a life jacket instead of a heavy ski jacket, and I was going to be on top of this. I reached out with my paddle and, luckily, he was able to grab hold. I pulled him in towards the raft as we lurched sideways into Washing Machine Charlie. The rest of my team, seeing the problem, helped to grab and yank him back into my raft. Somehow, we were able to traverse the rest of Washing Machine Charlie sideways without capsizing.
Given my previous history of capsizing, was this just a coincidence that the boy who fell overboard was named Carl? I found it ironic that Carl and I shared the same name and experience. I felt that by saving Carl I was somehow “repaying” those anonymous shad fishermen from years before who pulled me from the cold waters of the Susquehanna River.
When we finally reached the quiet waters at the end of the day, the camp director asked if everyone had a good trip and, surprisingly, Carl was the first one to say he had a great time. Everything turned out well and the incident was not spoken of again.
Another skill that was accelerated by my camp experience was driving. Although I had my driver’s license, a number of camp vehicles that were present were a little more difficult to drive. For example, driving a school bus requires a special license. However, on occasion, one of the counselors may be asked to move the school bus from point A to point B on the camp premises if the camp director was busy – with no passengers inside of course. Both the other head counselor, Bob, and I had these opportunities.
However, my ultimate challenge was during our bicycle week trip. Similar to a mini-Tour De France, the entire camp would load up 30-40 bicycles and go on extended bike trips (sometimes over 100 miles) on Maryland’s Eastern Shore up to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. One of the counselors would always have to drive the “Sag Wagon.” This was the club van with a stick shift on the steering column, and a trailer full of backup bikes, flat tire repairs and other amenities necessary for a bike race support team. The “Sag Wagon” was also necessary to pick up any straggling campers that were not in good enough shape to make the trip. As a 16-year-old, this club van was difficult to drive at best. Frequently we would have to follow the bike team at slow rates of speed or stop to change a flat tire.
During one of these bike trips, I was driving the “Sag Wagon” which was a pulling a trailer carrying 16 bicycles up a steep mountain while being followed by a school bus full of campers. As the gears grinded, I rounded a steep curve and could not downshift. I continued to try as the van began to roll backwards towards the small guardrail and steep drop beyond it. The bicycle trailer jackknifed. Luckily the camp director, Pastor Ron, driving the school bus behind me, hopped in and downshifted the club van. Driving a manual transmission on the steering column proved to be too difficult for a 16-year-old to do. After this event, my duties of driving the “Sag Wagon” were reduced. As there were no cellphones at this time, we were often out of communication on these long bike trips. Some campers were not be in good enough shape and fell behind. This would necessitate the counselor who was biking to slow down and remain with the camper.
During one of these trips from St. Michaels, Maryland to Ocean City, Maryland (well over 100 miles), we set up camp at various locations in between until we reached our final destination - a camp site along the beach near Cape Pendleton, Delaware. After days of riding bikes, we finally concluded our mini-Tour De France. I had laid my sleeping bag down on the sand along with my fellow campers when all of the sudden a massive thunderstorm hit. The entire camp was hit with a flash flood and water began racing into our tents, eventually reaching anywhere from 6 inches to a foot deep. We all were completely drenched. Our sleeping bags were drenched. Everything was drenched. The entire camp was forced to spend the night in the camp school bus which became pretty cramped. It was exhausting considering we had just spent the last three days biking almost 14 hours a day.
Another area in which Bee Tree Camp was helpful to me was in swimming prowess. My mother had three younger boys to care for and putting me in activities was not a high priority on her things to do. At approximately age 10, she finally enrolled me in swimming lessons with the “Guppies” at the YMCA. This was somewhat humiliating for a 10-year-old. However, when I learned of being hired on at Bee Tree Camp as a camp counselor, Pastor Ron informed me that passing the senior life-saving test was a prerequisite.
Becoming a senior lifeguard was no easy task. It required rigorous swimming training, and this, ironically, was offered at the nearby swimming pool at the local psychiatric hospital. I was very familiar with this hospital, because as children, we would ride our bikes approximately a mile to the facility and sneak into the bass pond to fish. Somehow, we were never chastised for this. Although we saw an occasional patient from the hospital wandering free, they never disturbed us.
After several weeks of aggressive swim training at the facility’s pool, we were ready for our final day of testing. There was a large man, approximately 250 pounds, on the far end of the pool that we had to rescue and drag the length of the pool while he fought us the whole way. I found this test extremely difficult as the man purposely attempted to pull me underwater, as well as wrestle and disrupt my rescue attempts. Despite this, I successfully passed the test and became a senior lifeguard. This was only four years after I attended the “guppy” swim class. I was now able to serve as a lifeguard for raft and tubing trips or whenever we visited a nearby pool.
One summer at the camp, the director decided to attempt a more aggressive trip. We drove to the Long Trail in western Vermont and hired a local hiking guide. We commenced a several day hike and camp on the Long Trail when we reached the summit of Mount Mansfield, the highest point in Vermont. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip.
Forty-plus years later, after battling several health ailments, I returned to this same summit on Mount Mansfield in 2019 with my son-in-law. It was a great feeling.
After Vermont, the camp director loaded the entire bus and drove us to Montreal during the 1976 Olympics. After we crossed the border and were attempting to reach Jacques-Cartier Square in Montreal, we realized that we were lost. As the only French speaking member of our team, (previously having had four years of French in school) I had to act as translator with several locals before we could find the Square and then locate parking for our bus. I did experience some difficulty with the Canadian dialect.
As I wandered the Square seeing numerous Olympic athletes from various countries along with local performers, a host of Canadians began wishing me “Happy Birthday”. At first I did not understand, but then realized it was July 4, 1976, and the birthday was the 200th anniversary of the United States - our “Bicentennial.”
We enjoyed our time in Montreal while camping outside the city, and it was an especially exciting experience for a teenager.
The other strong suit that the camp director found useful was my fishing skills. He soon announced that one week out of every year at the camp would be totally dedicated to fishing. He would take all 30 campers on the camp boat fishing in the Chesapeake Bay. This would require them all to get up at 4:00 am, load onto the bus and meet at the boat at 6:00 am. After the trip, I found myself left alone with almost 100 fish to clean by himself. For some reason, none of my campers were ever interested in learning how to gut and clean fish.
Another area where we took the campers fishing was the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River (the site of the previous capsizing incident I mentioned in chapter 4). This time, however, we fished from a catwalk on the dam rather than renting a boat. Having thirty kids fish from a dam was challenging to say the least - filled with snags, tangles and even kids hooking each other. We managed to come home with a large collection of catfish which were once again left for me to butcher and fillet.
To this day, I am forever grateful to the camp director, Ron, who hired me for this position and helped to make a man out of me.
Dr. Anderson Enroute
Dr. Anderson near the summit