Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Boy Scouts must change to become inclusive of all

The Boy Scouts of America say they exclude gays on moral grounds. This is ridiculous for so many reasons, not the least of which is that the arguments' underlying presumption is that gay people cannot live moral lives. Beyond this morality smokescreen, however, there is something more deeply disturbing about the anti-gay policy that the Boy Scouts organization continue to promulgate. It is really nothing more than a cover for the covert indoctrination of young people by fearful adults who fight against progressive cultural change.

As a former Boy Scout I can tell you this has always troubled me. Fortunately the boys in my troop were not the kind to go around calling people "fags" or anything like that. But the leaders were a different story. I remember not being that great at some of the more "manly" activities scouts are supposed to excel in. Plus, I didn't exactly like getting sweaty or dirty - and if an activity involved both of these, forget it! While not one called me a "fag" for my aversion to things other boys thrived on, they did comment that I was "acting like a girl".

This always seemed so strange to me. I knew lots of girls who loved to get sweaty and dirty. My sister - although very feminine - was certainly one of them! The fact that they called my behavior girlish implied that my sister was acting like a boy. This just blew my mind. Perhaps I was too logical for these men.

When I dropped out of Boy Scouts when I was 14 it had nothing to do with the "moral" policy - I knew I was gay even back then, and I was quite comfortable in my ability to hide this part of who I was. Besides, I had no intention on having sex until I was married, or at least until I fell in love and was sharing my life with the man of my dreams. It was simply that the arrogant hyper-masculinity to me came of as inauthentic, almost like these men were hiding something, a loathing driven by a deeper fear of themselves as being less than what they are expected to be as men in our society.

Theirs is a rigid intolerance. But the point of this rant is not to bash the intolerant, but rather to say that the real travesty of all this is that the men who continue to deny gay men and boys the ability to participate in the Boy Scouts are doing a great disservice to us all. We need the Boy Scouts, perhaps now more than ever. The Boy Scouts has a great curriculum where boys can learn so many amazing things that aren't taught in school, or even by many parents in this busy day and age.

The Boy Scouts teaches boys to be self-directed learners, how to seek out mentors from people in the community, how to be creative when coming up with solutions to community problems and how to plan, organize and implement those solutions through community service projects.

Furthermore, Boy Scouts are encouraged to be fit-minded. They are taught to respect their bodies and their minds, and not to pollute them with things that will cause harm to themselves or to others. In this age where childhood obesity is being talked about as an epidemic poised to topple our already crippled healthcare system and irrevocably damage our ability as a country to defend ourselves, we need the Boy Scouts to be inclusive, because by remaining exclusive they are acting in ways that defy the intention of the organization altogether. The model of building up fit boys for the future of our country must be salvaged, wrestled away from the bigots for the common good!

Let's not forget that, according to the Boy Scout Oath, a scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. These qualities are not reserved for straight folks. In fact, they are not reserved for any of us. We must each choose to strive to be these things every day - regardless of sexual orientation or any other determining factor for that matter!

For those of you who wonder why, in light of the Boy Scouts of America's continuing prejudice against gays, I would continue to align this blog with the mission of the Boy Scouts, pursuing the merit badges I missed out on when I dropped out the Boy Scouts organization sometime during my early teen years, please know this: I will not let anyone keep me down, and I will not back away from the challenge of becoming the best man I can be just because someone says I am not "morally" fit to do so. I am committed to living my life as a man of merit today and everyday - and I'm not going to let a few, narrow-minded traditionalists at the top of the Boy Scouts organization push me out again. 

Just like Gandhi said: "First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win."

As always thanks for reading, sharing and tweeting!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Swimming: Assessing skills and setting goals

From its inception, the Man of Merit blog has focused on my fulfilling the requirements of the hiking merit badge, since hiking has been my exercise of choice for the past year of my fit life journey. I have decided, though, that since I am still working toward completing the capstone of the hiking merit badge - completing a 20-mile hike in one day - I should up the ante on my fitness pursuits by taking on another goal. As such, starting today, I will begin working toward the swimming merit badge as well.

How could I not go for the swimming merit badge with access to this?
As many of you know, I am an adult who, upon turning 40 last year, took up the goal of spending the next 10 years trying to accomplish my dream of completing the requirements for the Boy Scouts Eagle Scouts rank. I dropped out of scouts when I was younger because I had low self-esteem and felt I couldn't keep up with the other boys. Now that I have the confidence, I may not officially be able to earn the Eagle Scout rank but I'm sure as hell going to benefit from the experience I missed out on all those years ago.

Achieving the Boy Scouts of America Eagle Scout rank requires that scouts earn a total of 21 merit badges. Ten of these are considered core requirements, and among the 10, only nine are mandated. For one, scouts are given a choice among three options - hiking, swimming and cycling. So I will probably plan on taking up the cycling merit badge once I have lost a bit more weight, too.

While I have wanted to add swimming to my fitness routine for a while, it just wasn't convenient. But I recently moved to the sunny and hot desert region of the Coachella Valley in Southern California, and the community where I live in has a pool that's perfect for taking on this new challenge. So here I go!

My friend Dan will help me with the requirements of this merit badge that require two people. He recently gave me a swimming lesson that helped me improve my breathing while doing the crawl stroke, and he said he'd be glad to help me further my swimming goals.

The requirements of the swimming merit badge can be found on the Boy Scouts of America web site. I already know I can do many of the requirements and will get with Dan soon to check these off my list. Meanwhile, I will begin with requirement five - the strokes - since these are the fundamentals that I still may need a little work on. Here is what is stated in requirement five of the BSA swimming merit badge:
Swimming: Req. 5. Swim continuously for 150 yards using the following strokes in good form and in a strong manner: front crawl or trudgen for 25 yards, back crawl for 25 yards, sidestroke for 25 yards, breaststroke for 25 yards, and elementary backstroke for 50 yards.
For the past week I have been swimming a little over 150 yards each day of both the front crawl as well as the breaststroke, so I'm good with these. The elementary backstroke and sidestroke I know are easy for me, so this will not be a problem. But the back crawl might pose some difficulty for me, so I think I'll head out to the pool in a little bit to practice this.

Based on the size of the pool I have access to - which is approximately 50-feet long in the center lane - I will plan on doing the following to complete this requirement by swimming the following continuous progression:
  1. Front crawl - two lengths
  2. Back crawl - two lengths
  3. Sidestroke - two lengths
  4. Breaststroke - two lengths
  5. Elementary backstroke - three lengths
For the first four of these strokes I will actually be swimming 33 yards instead of 25 because of the length of the pool. This is good, I figure, since I am older than the typical scout who would be doing this and possibly in greater need of the extended aerobic exercise! Plus, some of the other requirements of the swimming merit badge include lifesaving and survival skills, for which I will need to be in better shape than I currently am in.

As always, I appreciate all my followers for reading, commenting and sharing my blog with others. This blog is my way of tracking my progress and creating accountability for myself as I pursue my goals. You're a big part of that! Thanks!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Thoughts from the hiking trail to San Jacinto Peak

Out on the trail, a man has a lot of time to think. This past weekend, I spent 7.5 hours in the San Jacinto State Park Wilderness. While I did say "hey" to a few of my fellow hikers, and I even stopped to chat with a few, the majority of that time was spent with my thoughts.

Collection of maps and guides for San Jacinto and Southern California
I'm a map guy, so I had several maps with me to help me find my way from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway's Mountain Station to the summit of San Jacinto Peak, looming 10,834 feet above the Los Angeles Basin. I picked up the free state parks map from the ranger station, and I bought the $2 map available at the tram's gift shop. I even brought along two hiking guide books with maps of their own. I was well equipped to find my way.

Sign near the San Jacinto Peak trail head in Long Valley
Still, as I walked from the lush forests of lodgepole pines at the bottom of Long Valley to the sloping fields of enormous black-speckled white boulders above, my eyes took constant notice of the trail and its many signs, made by nature as well as left by man.

A ridgeline rises from the mostly dry stream-bed leaving Long Valley
Trails have a way of following the easiest route, much like water. In fact, many old trails follow the paths of the flourishing and green riparian environment, close to streams where travelers and their animals would find refreshment and cool respite away from the blazing sun. Other trails follow ridge-lines, where the elements of land and sky come together to aid onward navigation. At least that's how it is here in the desert southwest, home of grand mountains.

From Round Valley, Cornell Peak, rises to 9,721', still 1,000' below the goal
Along the well-worn path to San Jacinto peak, I followed the low trail, along a creek bed whose springtime rush had calmed and collected in near-still pools among the leaf litter of the forest floor, a vibrant riparian canyon. The trail signs led me, sometimes steeply up the sloping canyon walls, to the popular wilderness campground at Round Valley. From there I could see the various smaller peaks within Mount San Jacinto State Park, which lead northward toward the mountain's high point - San Jacinto Peak. Even these smaller peaks seemed so far off. Later, though, as I reached the top, I was humbled by the realization of how small they actually were, and by knowing that I was that much smaller still.

Rain over lower Coachella Valley and Salton Sea, seen from Wellman Divide
Continuing on, I struggled a mile or so more to reach the popular resting point Wellman Divide, a saddle where one catches the first glimpse of the sweeping Coachella Valley below, and of the Salton Sea many miles to the southeast, that disappears into the shimmering grey horizon.

Tall pines thrive among a field of black-speckled white boulders
The trail rises gently to the east en route to San Jacinto Peak
From Wellman Divide a number of trails branch off, which at first glace is confusing, but fortunately a clearly marked junction sign post was there to spark me off again in the right direction. The trail from the divide is more gentle, slowly climbing through a boulder field - more impressive than the one before - and rising finally above treeline to reveal carpets of low-lying alpine shrubs. The shrubs were teeming with bees, so much so that as I sat silent on a rock amidst them their buzz sounded almost mechanical and techno, like I was inside a factory of some sort as machines droned on to do the work of man.
Gently beauty on upper portion of San Jacinto Peak trail from Long Valley
The bees love these alpine shrubs on the trail to San Jacinto Peak
The upper reaches of the trek became less well-signed and I had to rely more on informal forms of finding my way. The final ascent led to an emergency cabin, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, and from this point any sense of an official trail all but disappears. The remaining climb becomes a free-for-all scramble. Cairns, or piles of rock left by hikers who have come before, give a general idea of which way to turn. Everyone seems to pick their own best way here, as the trail spreads out and you are suddenly joined by folks who took other routes up to the peak. Eventually you find yourself maneuvering among a cap of loosely fitting large boulders, one of which is higher than all the others on this great mountain.
Emergency cabin, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s
Cairn marks the way to the final reaches of the San Jacinto Peak trail

Pulling myself up onto these huge behemoths of rock made me tense as I could not ignore the question of how I might make my way back down. But the call of the summit was great, and capturing it was the only thought imminent, and I was sure that reaching it was the only way to make sense of all the effort I'd put into finding my way to this point in the first place. So I tucked my maps and my camera in my backpack, took my time boulder by boulder, and finally made my way to my destination on top of Mount San Jacinto.

The end of the trail, San Jacinto Peak, elevation 10,834 feet
Peace and victory, at the top of the world on San Jacinto Peak
Flush with joy upon reaching the summit, I almost lost my balance and fell off the slanted pile of boulders as soon as I'd topped it. Fortunately, I maintained balance, and so I hopped on the capstone boulder for just long enough to have a 360-degree view and let a fellow hiker take my picture to mark the accomplishment. There were others waiting for their own photo opp, so I shimmied my way back down, and as I stepped on a boulder just under the one on top, I noticed that tucked beneath it was a little box apparently holding the remains of a mountaineer who never made his way back down.

Unfortunate reminder that not all who make it to San Jacinto Peak return
From here I snapped a few shots and finally had a great look around, making my way from 2nd-tier boulder to 2nd-tier boulder, to identify the surrounding peaks of the Transverse Range and the small mounts of Catalina and the Channel islands I could make out far to the west. Then I made my way back to the main trail to begin my descent to the trail head.

View of Diamond Valley Lake and Laguna Mountains from San Jacinto Peak
What I thought about during all that time out on the trail is hard to put it in to just one simple sound bite. But as you read through my blogs and follow me on the adventures yet to come, you'll probably get a good idea of what's going on in my head as I ramble round the wild places of the world.

And please know, I really do appreciate you reading my blog and joining me on my adventures. It's great to be alone sometimes, but friends are what truly make living worthwhile!

For more info on the hike to San Jacinto Peak, check out the blog HikeyHikey! For info on hiking and other fit-life activities, check out MyFitLife2Day.