What’s Really Making You Feel Bad?

At story about keeping warm at winter camp

By Scouter John Barker, April 15, 2004

It was a fairly good camp, considering that we were out in early February in tents. Twenty-eight Scouts aged 11-15 and with four Scouters went tent-camping in Southwestern Ontario. Friday night had been a little hectic setting up the tents in the dark, but everyone settled down eventually and the camp gradually drew quiet.

The following morning, I arose and stuck my head out. It had been very cold last night; down to around -20°C. Crystals had formed on the inside of the tents, a result of our relaxed breaths during the night. A very light dusting of snow covered the tables along with the occasional glove that had been forgotten during the confusion of camp setup the evening before.

I started the stove and began heating water so the other Scouters could have coffee or tea on their rising. Slowly the Scouts' tents showed signs of life. Over the next half-hour, Scouts sporadically emerged and began preparations for breakfast. It was still incredibly cold. My fingers were quickly numb fumbling for matches. Mornings are always so cold because your body hasn't started exercising, everything you touch just sucks the heat out of you, and the sun's not doing much to warm things up yet, either.

Most of the Scouts were making comments about the uncomfortable cold, but two in particular, Joe and Blair, were teetering towards being miserable. They obviously weren't going to brush this off as a minor inconvenience or something to be tolerated, and they shared their misery with anyone who would listen.

We winter-camp every year, so to only the first-year Scouts was this a new experience, and only these two seemed to be having trouble. We ensured their clothing was dry, their boots and gloves in good condition, and asked them to bring back some firewood from the distant pile, which would get their blood circulating.

Twenty minutes or so later, one of the other first-year Scouts commented that Joe and Blair were back in the tent. I asked that he roust them and get them up and busy. He left, returning a few minutes later to let me know that now they were both lying in the tent, crying.

I poked my head into the flap. Sure enough, there they were, lying prone on top of their sleeping bags, shivering, with tears quietly flowing down their cheeks into their ears. Obviously, something needed to be done and quickly. I told them to get into my car and we'd get them warmed up.

A 20 km drive to a local village with the heater on full blast finally slowed the shivering. We pulled into the donut shop and I ordered two large hot chocolates for them. Blair started sipping at his immediately, but Joe seemed content to simply hold it, warming his hands. After observing this for a minute, I mentioned that it'd warm him up more if it was inside. He continued to warm his hands.

I was frustrated by his seemingly oblivious behaviour, which I interpreted as still wallowing in his misery and not now being interested in helping himself. My voice began to rise as I directed him to drink the hot chocolate NOW. He began to sip away and, by the time we got back to camp, all the drinks were gone and the Scouts were in much finer spirit. Not only were they re-warmed, but the sun was up, people were bustling around, and the camp wasn't nearly as cold as it had seemed when we left. Life was good.

No more than ten minutes had passed when Joe came tottering over to me, obviously not feeling well. He looked pale, his large brown doe-eyes containing all the sadness in the world.

"What's the matter, Joe?"

"Sir, I really don't feel good. I think I'm going to throw up," he said in a quavering, plaintive voice.

I could see his throat and stomach working a bit, and wondered if this was perhaps a ruse to call his parents for a ride home. "Is it just the cold, Joe? Is that really why you don't feel well?" I asked.

"No, sir," he gulped. "I always throw up when I drink hot chocolate."