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A young couple walks barefoot across the Mesquite Flat Dunes, a vast expanse of hundred- foot-high sand hills in California’s Death Valley National Park. It’s a few minutes past 11 on a 60-degree morning, and the man and woman carry camp chairs. Each has a hard- back book tucked under one arm. Their steps make parallel footprints in waves of corduroy sand. Ostensibly, they’re set for a peace-

ful, enjoyable day. Until … “Go! Go! Go!”

The Scouts of Troop 19, who

interpret “peaceful” and “enjoyable” as antonyms, run as fast as the sand will allow. They’re carrying snowboards and snow sleds, unmindful of the fact that they’re in the driest, hottest, least- snowy place in North America. Their eyes remain fixed on the tallest dune on the horizon, in too big of a hurry to notice the couple. But the woman sees them. And the novel under her arm evidently becomes a lot less appealing. She turns to the man walking beside her and says, “Oh, sandboarding. That would be so fun!” She’s right. And what compels

Troop 19 to leave its rainy, Bay Area base and make an annual pilgrim- age to this remote, arid spot is the chance to ride snowboards down sand dunes. They’re engaging in a brand of frenzied, off-the-wall, guess-what-I- did-last-weekend adventure that keeps Troop 19’s retention rate high year after year.

It starts with Paul Maheu’s “chaos

theory.” The sturdy Scoutmaster, whose gray beard and red jacket speak to 18 years of Scouting experience, has helmed the Berkeley, Calif., troop for nearly two decades. Maheu’s approach to leadership might mean that he’ll never have all the answers, but he knows what works: Let the boys get crazy and make mistakes, keep the leash long but stress safety, and do it all from the moment you arrive on Friday night.

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“Then by the time we leave, they’re a well-oiled machine,” he says. “It gets better and better all the time. They learn better when there’s chaos.” Good thing. On this trip, the Scouts tested Maheu’s chaos theory long before they made their first sand- board tracks on Saturday.

SCRAMBLED EGGS AND HOT DOGS. That’s one dish, not two. Judging by Coby Stein’s and the Jackalope patrol’s latest breakfast creation, why wait until lunch to cook up some franks when you can have them with orange juice right now? Maheu’s fine with that. Scouts, he

says, can eat whatever they want, but “we do like to recommend they make a real breakfast. We kind of have a no- doughnut policy.” At the first smell of cooking food, stomachs growl in anticipation. But there’s one problem. “Apparently, after the last trip, the Scouts didn’t clean

That’s no mirage. That’s Dominic Montagu (opposite page, left) and his son Dylan tak- ing the scenic route down the Mesquite Flat Dunes on snowboards. Back at camp, Scoutmaster Paul Maheu (above, in red jacket) offers words of wisdom before turning the Scouts loose to prepare breakfast. For the adults, Jeff Bruno’s breakfast creation is french toast made with gourmet artisan bread.

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