Latenight Blowout

The concussive boom shattered the stillness of the night.

“Huh… So, it wasn’t a dud after all.”

Thursday nights were “overnight” nights at Thunder Ridge—at least for my program area. We taught the Wilderness Survival Merit Badge. In that merit badge, there was a requirement to build a shelter and spend at least one night in it. So, during the week, my staff member and I had the scouts working on their shelters for the Thursday night sleep-over that took place out in our program area. This area was far and away from the rest of the camp. It could get quiet out there. We always did fine.

The first year, I was not involved with the sleep-over. The junior staff member that taught the merit badge was. Over the next few years, it evolved into myself and Mathew (mentioned in a former post) running the Thursday nights. We would sit in our crafted lounge chairs, a small fire burning in the fire pit, and the Scouts would gather around as we would talk about the week—or whatever—into the night. Eventually, They would be sent off to their shelters to sleep—since, well, you know, that was the requirement. Mathew and I would remain in the area as adult supervision—in case of things like bears (or whatever).

Taken on a cool early morning with a disposable camera. On the left, there is a fence with working gate. Behind the gate is my chair, then a firewall with a small fire pit behind it (the wall reflected the heat back toward those seated in the chairs—it worked very well), then Mathew’s chair, a small table was built between the two chairs (not visible). And, a windbreak wall with a couch built-in using woven rope for the seat (the couch could also double as a bed—it was surprisingly comfy).

As time progressed, so did the campfire corral activities. Like the introduction to M.R.E.s. (I know what I wrote)

The first time I brought an M.R.E. (Meal Ready to Eat), I talked over the whole point of what they are, what they are supposed to be used for, and other such stuff. Most of the boys had already heard of them. Most of those that had heard of them had tried them. For those who were unfamiliar with them… They were like children who had just come face-to-face with Santa Clause: Mind-blown.

I would share recipes of M.R.E. cooking and would also share said recipes’ creations with the youth. They would pass the packets around and sample whatever goop was proffered. Some would think it was okay, others divine, others still would try not to dry heave. I get it.

One of the main reasons I bring this up is because all this eventually evolved into some M.R.E. bombs.

The M.R.E. explosives I have mentioned before, and whose recipe I will still not share (because I’m not stupid). But, because camping is supposed to be fun, and I understand explosives and what I am doing with my own bomb(s), I would once in a while bring a few bottles of prepared popping to entertain the kids. And, it worked.

As each one was prepped, tossed, and popped, the boys found it fascinating. I always tossed it in a safe direction. I always was safe in preparations. Nobody ever got hurt (again, because I’m not stupid). See, dry ice bombs are dangerous due to reactivity. More specifically, the speed of reactivity. M.R.E. bombs don’t have that danger (I’m not stupid). It was fun to go and look at the ‘damage’ from the small bombs. The water would be spread out and steaming. The bottle would be melted open. Almost like it was torn open, but, with a heat tool of some kind (kinda melty, but not). The warped rendering of the bottles was always the best part. Examing the ‘shrapnel’ to see what it looked like. How it had rent itself asunder… I digress.

One night, I was forced to use slightly less materials, for the same volume of container—due to shortages. Fine. It happens.

The bottle was prepped. Tossed. We waited.

And waited.

And waited…

A-and waited…?

And waited some more?!?!

“Everyone, stay here. I’m gonna go check it out.” My bomb. My mess to fix. At worst, I would be splashed with boiling water. So, no worries. I got to where the bottle was sitting. It was swollen—due to the heat and pressure—to its maximum. It couldn’t take any more. Sadly, the internal reaction couldn’t produce any more either. Stalemate. So, I returned to the campfire to let the Scouts know not to go over where the bomb was (still a bomb), and, that I would take care of it the next day when I could see better.

Soon everyone was headed to bed, it was late, and we were all sleepy. Nighty-night time.

BOOM!!!

Even I jumped a little. It was unexpected. What was that?!? “What was that?” Mathew asked.

“The M.R.E. bomb? I guess?” I was slightly confused. See, that particular night was slightly colder than other weeks had been. Also, there was more humidity in the air. What has that got to do with anything? you may be asking. Well, let me tell you…

‘Sound is louder in cold air. This is because as the temperature goes down the sound waves have a tendency to refract more and they are usually refracted towards the ground. Further, the intensity of the sound will be higher.’ (I already knew this, but had not immediately realized that’s what had amplified the shockwave)
Source: byjus.com. For more information on how temperature and humidity can affect sound waves, feel free to visit discovery.com or sciencelearn.org.

As you may recall, I already mentioned that the ratios were off—from the beginning. This decreased the odds that the M.R.E. bomb would explode in the first place. Since the reaction is a heat-based one, and the thing had not gone off under less than ideal circumstances, I figured it might be a dud—it had occurred before. If you factor in outside influences such as the bomb landing on the cold, wet earth, low night-time temperatures, the chilling effect of extra high-elevation mountain humidity, and the aforementioned less-likely-to-go-boom bad start-up, everything pointed to a dud. A no-go. Well, I’ve been wrong before.

So, what’s the point then? you may now be asking. Good question. Fair question. The point is this: That boom was far too loud, at far too late in the supposed-to-be quiet night. It sounded like an almost military-grade explosion. And, I have a pretty good idea of what one of those would sound like. My staff and I checked around to make sure nobody was hurt or scared. None of the first, some of the second. Once all were reassured, we went to sleep.

Each morning the camp staff had a role call formation at 7:00. My staff member and I would get up, leave the area, and head to formation. We used a wind-up bell alarm clock to wake us, it would also wake the Scouts. They were responsible to get to their own campsites just as my staff and I were responsible to get to our formation. We always made it, sometimes the Scouts were a little slow on their arrivals. Still, nobody ever got hurt or lost during those nights.

At formation, both the Camp Director and Program Director were more than a little grumpy. They let the staff know that due to a late-night noise “…that woke them from their sleep and seemed to echo on forever…” they had to go and investigate the source. At first, they assumed due to the volume and intensity of the noise, it had to have been a shotgun. So, they journeyed just under a quarter of a mile, over uneven terrain (on a path, but still a mountain path), in the dark, toward a possibly armed somebody(s), to see if someone had broken into the rifle range’s gun safe and was using the camps shotguns. All rifles and shotguns were safely stored (unused), as they should be.

Next, they wandered about the ridgeline of the camp and areas where they thought the sound may have come from (my direction, over one-third of a mile away), to see if any trespassers were wandering about shooting at who knows what. Then, they walked about the Scout’s campsites (that distance alone is somewhere between just under a mile to almost a mile and a half—depending on how one traverses the land) to see if any Scoutmasters were awake and had possibly snuck a gun into their campsite and were attempting to shoo away possible bears.

I can see why they might be a smidge, or two, grumpy.

These two camp administrators had spent much of the night walking about the dark, under the assumption that there was someone(s) who may or may not be endangering the camp with a shotgun (or other) and wanted to know if anyone knew anything. Sheepishly, I came forward, explained what had occurred, and vehemently apologized for it—also noting that it would not happen again. Fortunately, my brother—also a Marine—was the Program Director and was willing to hear out the circumstances of the situation. He did mention to me that he suspected that I was involved somehow…

Key
Yellow: Names and distance markers.
Orange: Approximate area covered by Administration.
Estimated distance covered: 2.5 miles. Late at night. In the dark. Over uneven terrain. At an elevation of over 9,000 feet.

Look, I’ve been wrong before.

But, I’m not stupid.

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