My River Runaways Part 2 of 3

E-tool and toilet paper (a very quick 360 scan) but no boys in sight. I pulled the rest of of the group together, spoke with my co-chief briefly before informing the other boys what had just happened. They were genuinely surprised and none replied affirmatively when asked if they were aware of Jimmy and Tommy’s plans.

Together we became our own search party with the boys strung out between my co-chief and I in a side-by-side line. We made a few broadening sweeps of the woods until we came to a clearing at the back edge of a farmer’s field. A few hundred yards away we could see the intersection of a country road. No doubt the boys were gone and by this time they could have made their way across the field and ran a significant distance down one of the road.

A collective search was no longer practical. We still had canoes left down by the river, tents to set up, wood to gather, dinner to cook, and oh yes, a latrine to dig. As you might imagine, the other boys were clearly unsettled. Based on their life experiences and their own track records, there were any number of negative ways in which they could respond to the two boys running away. My co-chief and I took a moment to speak privately a few feet away from the boys and agree on our next course of action. Above all, we knew that our own attitudes and behavior would play a major role in the immediate and long-term outcomes and would greatly influence the entire group.

The first thing we did was to stop and reassure the boys. We said a prayer together because we knew Intervention was needed; and to help maintain a focus of concern for the safety of Jimmy and Tommy. My co-chief took the remaining group members back to get the campsite set up. This was the pre-cell-phone era. It’s quite possible that exact location is still waiting on a signal. I needed a phone. I cut diagonally across the field towards the intersection to find a house.

I did, in fact find houses on the road. Now picture this. The intersection was not a crossroads. A paved road basically terminated at the edge of the field (from which I had just emerged) but offered a turn to the left on a gravel road. That’s the spot I was now standing surveying the option of houses. The closest “house” was a trailer. Pardon my French (and the cliché that follows) but there was crap strung out all over the small fenced-in front yard along with a few cars up on blocks. I knew someone was home because I could hear banjo music and someone hollering to tell the pit bulls to shut up.
Next door was a modest brick home and down the road across the street was a loooong drive leading to a large home. Which door would you pick to knock on? Yeah, me too. I strolled casually past the trailer (careful not to make any sudden movement) and knocked on the door of the brick home. No one home. Next, I made the trek down the drive to the large house feeling more settled as I approached the door and thankful I wouldn’t have to brave the pit bulls (or their owner). Are you kidding me?! Is everyone on this road on vacation, or are they just reluctant to answer the door for a random fatigue-wearing stranger with no vehicle?

(Alright, Rick, suck it up. Be a man and go knock on Door #1.)

Somehow I knew that knocking on the front door of the trailer would be even more suspicious. Besides, I’m not sure how I would have gotten there around all the junk. The clock was ticking and I was desperate for a phone. I went up the small steps to the back door.

No need to knock. Right as I reached the top step (no exaggeration) a “gentleman” clad only in his tightie-whities cracked the door open. From behind the chain and while holding the dogs back, he growls out to me,

“Whadya want!”

After hearing me explain my situation, he slammed the door without a word. I heard the clunking of footfalls through the trailer first away from me and then back. The banjo music (only playing in my head) was getting louder. He cracked the door back open and thrust out a cordless phone.

Two quick calls. One back to camp and the next to the Sheriff’s Office. Of course, I had to knock on the door mid-call to ask my new friend his address. (I’m pretty sure they recognized it). Calls made. I’d love to stay for tea. Thank you but I’ll just wait out here on the road.

I couldn’t believe what happened next. I can’t wait to share it with you tomorrow.
A few things occur to me, however. This was certainly not the wildest moment from my camping days. Plenty more stories for other days. Recalling this story also reminds me that oftentimes as a leader, what is taking place inside your head feels anything but confident. But eventually you realize that the only way forward is through fear. These are the times we begin to understand we have been given an unlimited supply of resourcefulness.


Rick Burris


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