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At long last, the sun arrived to put everyone in an even better mood, especially assistant Scoutmaster Cathy Hanson (seated left), who laughed with the troop during a quick water break.

cials announced the Golden Boot finalists, four troops, including Troop 88, cheered as they received Golden Staves signifying that they were still in the running for the top prize. But the loudest cheers took place moments later when Troop 88 was named the big winner. Boys and adults beamed as they passed around the award: a leather hiking boot spray-painted gold and mounted on a metal base. The award meant that

a Black Hills Area Council committee had examined Troop 88’s efforts in program, advancement, and training and determined that it had the best yearlong program for Scouts. Twelve months of planning by the youth leaders paid off.

ON THE HIKE BACK to camp along the eight-mile Roosevelt trail, a winding, undulating path through thick ponderosa pines, the rain continued pelting the Scouts and leaders. And if, after a few miles of hiking, anyone in this whine-free troop had good reason to whine it was Curt MaHaffy. The 11-year-old’s over-

stuffed backpack would have looked appropriate for a multiday hike. But the adult- size blue pack hanging from his shoulders seemed starkly


out of place on this day hike. That Curt was the smallest and youngest boy in Troop 88 only accentuated the disparity between his gear and what the other boys carried. Curt didn’t seem to mind, though. As he finished the fourth mile, his ankles were sore, but his feet kept pace like a metronome. Still, he was the last boy to

join his troop at the halfway point. When his backpack slid off his shoulders and hit the wet grass with a thud, the noise caught the atten- tion of assistant Scoutmaster Cathy Hanson, who had been walking behind Curt the whole way. Hanson picked up the

backpack and said, “Wow! This is heavy. What have you got in here?” “Let’s see,” the boy said.

Inside, it was as if Curt had raided a convenience store. There were enough snacks and beef jerky to feed the entire troop, three full bottles of water (he had finished a fourth), and four D-cell bat- teries for a flashlight he’d left back in his tent. Yet despite having to lug this unnecessary weight, the boy hadn’t com- plained once. Hanson helped Curt pile

his excess gear into a 15-pas- senger van that would give some hikers a smooth, dry ride back to camp, letting them skip out on the remain- ing four miles of the hike. There were several takers from other troops, but not one was from Troop 88. If Curt was charged up enough to take on the second half of the hike, why shouldn’t they join him? As if wanting to reward

the guys’ determination, the sun made its first appearance of the weekend. Jerzak was the first to shed his rain gear and stuff it into his back- pack. Within seconds, bare shins and forearms appeared throughout the troop. “Honestly, with as much

weather as we’ve received, I would expect the boys to be a little less motivated,” Jerzak admitted. “But the trail is just the right difficulty, con- sidering their experience, and the sun is out at the right time.” When the hike resumed,

Curt took up a place in front and bounced along almost weightlessly.

A FEW WEEKS AFTER return- ing from the Mount Rushmore Pilgrimage, Jerzak already had begun thinking about next year’s event. The Golden Boot winner plans the route for the following year’s hike and then leads other troops down the trail. Jerzak noted his guys were pumped about their role as leaders for the 72nd staging of the event. “The older boys received the maps and are in the process of choos- ing the best route,” he said. “It’s a joy to see them ask the younger boys for input instead of asking the adults. I can’t wait to see their presentation plan in the coming months.” Rest assured that even if

they encounter bumps along the way, Troop 88’s optimism won’t waver. ¿

BRYAN WENDELL is Scouting magazine’s associate editor.

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