BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - When Rolf Schroeder celebrates his birthday July 19th, he will be 81.
In June, Schroder went on a Boy Scout Extreme Adventure, which is known for its physical challenges. He was wearing the emblem of a US Marine Corps reunion on the baseball cap, perched on his snow-white hair. He was in the "4-56" the fourth class of 1956 to finish training at Quantico.
In the boundary waters between America and Canada, Schroeder and I began our trek with the young men of Boy Scout Troop 7 based at St. Aloysius Church in Baton Rouge.
Rolf has a long history with the Boy Scouts, as he was an assistant troop leader back when his adult son Eric was a boy. In fact, it was that experience that was the driving force behind Rolf's desire to go on this Northern Tier Boy Scout Adventure.
"Eric and Ben (Eric's son/Rolf's grandson) were big motivators," says Schroder, "I was assistant leader when Eric was a scout, and we took them canoeing up to Buffalo River in Arkansas a National Scenic Waterway twice. So when I heard that I could do this with my grandson. I really wanted to do this."
30-plus years later, "The application for the trip was totally different," Schroeder remembers, "35 years ago, you just said you were a scoutmaster, got a uniform and worked with the kids. There were no online courses, no rules, no paperwork."
I must have blurted it out when I asked "How did you get ready for this trip?"
"I have always stayed in shape, " Schroeder said. "I used to be a high-mileage runner. In fact I gave it up just this past spring, because my knee had been giving me problems. I bike 4 or 5-thousand miles a year! I also got an MBA at LSU years ago, so I can use the LSU Rec Center and work out with co-eds.. tough duty!"
As for me, I had borrowed a friend's workout machine and had labored twice a day for two months to build the stamina for this venture
But, I think both of us were surprised when the mission it meant paddling 12 to 20 miles a day, and carrying sixty-pound packs on your back called "Whale Bags", named for their size.
Our tour guide Eric Scott was a 21-year-old student at The Citadel, and he kept making it plain that falls were to be expected. Team members would have to be able to help each other up, he said, because the packs on our backs were so heavy, we'll feel like a turtle flipped over on its shell. We'll be unable to get up without help. As it was, I think I set the record at twelve for falls on granite boulders and rocks made slick by constant rain activating the bio film on them.
Each night, Rolf and I would discuss our new injuries of the day. Balance problems did not bother Rolf enough to stop, but he constantly checked himself and stepped with care. We both agreed every day that it was worth it. The pristine lakes, forested mountains and camaraderie of finishing a tough day knowing you had succeeded.
"The kids took it well," Rolf said, "I was surprised. You and I, it was like 'If I can make it another day... Ya know', but we managed to get it."
Rolf says since coming back to Baton Rouge, he has told several people how well the 14-year-old and older scouts had performed. "My friends said, 'Really? ' They said 'Aren't they couch potatoes? Hooked on computer games?' That may be true for many kids, but for our kids in scouting, they were remarkably tough and excited by the challenge. Especially Jack Rittenberry! He always insisted in carrying the heaviest load. He carried a 70 pound bag the whole week!"
When we returned to Northern Tier home base near Ely, Minnesota, they asked the overseers who was the oldest ever to try the adventure. To that point, the officials said they remembered a 63-year-old man. That means Rolf Schroeder of Baton Rouge has set a tough standard to beat at age 81. Schroeder good-naturedly admitted that, "On that trip, I realized I'm not 60 anymore."