The roads were winding and snow covered. The creek alongside the final stretch of road was frozen thick with miniature icebergs jammed tight. As the sun disappeared into a cavernous darkness, the trees tucked in close and the road became a tunnel of pitch black. Our headlights danced against the snowy walls that bracketed the road and rose higher than our mirrors. The sense of adventure grew in the backseat and could be felt from the cars that followed our tracks through the snow. It seemed like forever before the trees relented and the faint glow of a visitor center could be seen through the army of trunks. The entrance to our destination stood proudly in a field of solid white. We had reached Frost Valley.
This expedition was the brainstorm of my children and their Girl Scout troop. Instead of a breezy campsite during the blossoming season of Spring or a sweatshirt-clad romp through the leaf piles of Fall, this adventurous group of girls had decided that their skills needed to be tested during a frigid weekend in February. They would dare the dark, slippery mountain back roads of the Catskills to arrive on Friday night at a stunning YMCA camp hidden away in Frost Valley. They would bunk in an old cabin and prepare for a weekend of snowflake fun.
Before they were even unpacked, the girls were covered from head to toe in insulating layers and out the door. Following a glistening trail of lights partially buried in knee-deep snow, they found an old-fashioned sled hill that was equipped with tubes and a long run out across a frozen field. A stiff breeze supplied enough chill to freeze my breath before it could escape my beard. Icicles formed on my mustache as I stood watching the kids hoot and holler as they dropped down the hill into the darkness and across the moonlit field. A few runs down the hill was enough to generate a thirst for warm cocoa and perhaps a brownie and a visit to the cafeteria of the camp did not disappoint.
Though a mix of a cabin and tweenage girls does not make for a good night's sleep, my secluded room on the far side of the camp in an old estate that once stood as the main focus of the property before it had been donated to the YMCA was a quiet respite from the incessant giggling. I bunked with a couple of other "do-dads" that had accompanied the troop and we sat up into the wee hours debating the woes of the world. It was almost as if we had been transported back into one of the black and white portraits on the wall, pipe-smoking gentlemen smartly clad in wool sitting in the conservatory pontificating at length on the works of Leopold or the elegance of a dry fly drifting on the trout waters that burble near the place.
Saturday morning found us bright and bushy tailed at our assigned tables in the cafeteria, though the girls and our corresponding wives/troop leaders did not look as well-rested. The day ahead had come with a warning of constant outdoor activity in which the cold would sap away any energy left over from the prior night quite efficiently. In this the camp did not disappoint. The hours prior to lunch were a whirlwind of broomball (a skateless version of hockey played on a frozen pond swept clean of snow) and cross-country skiing and short hikes between each activity. With lunch came a break for some indoor crafts and nature education seminars, a time to refuel and re-energize for the afternoon of more tubing and more snow. The lack of sleep began to creep in but most of the girls refused to waste their adventure on sitting in the lodge and playing board games. The evening wound down with a fireside song session before an exhausted trudge back to the cabin (or a gleeful stroll back to the estate for a warm shower and sip of a more enlightened beverage while discussing the journeys of the day and the more accurate depiction of temperature through the use of Celsius).
Our final morning, bright on Sunday, brought an introduction to ice fishing and a crew of girls bunched in groups of three huddled around holes drilled through foot thick ice attempting to peer into the depths of the lake while awaiting a lethargic bite from a sleepy fish. The best part of the trip came while hiking along a ridge in the woods surrounding the property. Most of the group dared the wilds to find themselves greeted by a cable bridge set 40 feet above a small waterfall. One by one they had to cross the bridge in order to continue their journey, their feet balancing on a small cable barely an inch in diameter. Some skipped joyfully across while others were more tentative, carefully testing their limits, but all made it across. The only regret of the weekend before packing up for the sleepy ride home was that some of the leaders, in their own refusal to step outside comfort zones, failed to push a handful of scouts out of the cafeteria and into the experiences they had traveled more than two hours to participate in. Sometimes it is not about the apprehensions of the adults but the strength they project in conquering their own fears to the young women they have been charged to lead. One does not lead from behind nor from a cozy bench in the cafeteria while a fantastically frigid world of new adventures awaits beyond the window. A point that should be strongly discussed amongst the leather-bound tomes of the estate's library while we wait for the girls to pack.