When my daughter got into my wife’s car on the last day of middle school she casually sighed, “Well, those were the worst three years of my life.”
Middle school – hormones, cliques, peer pressure and a hard time for all concerned. My wife nodded and silently agreed with her, then casually guided the conversation – as only moms can – in another direction, toward the plans for the summer.
So it is with this in mind that I recount the curious story of how one of my fellow Appalachian Trail hikers got his unusual trail name – Sir FOB W. Pott. The story however is not about FOB; it is about his Boy Scout son, and it took place over a dozen years ago.
Over 30 middle school-aged Boy Scouts gathered around in a circle as directed by their guide for the Appalachian Trail camp out. The excursion was the culminations of a long summer of hard work, and each boy had waited in anticipation of the event for months.
The guide was not a Scout and had a reputation as a tough, experienced, no-nonsense wilderness purist who was not known for his patience. The group stood in antsy silence and fidgeted, glancing nervously at each other and, much against their will, waited.
“We’re not moving from this spot until someone owns this,” said the guide with a tone of resolute finality. The already hot humid air seemed to increase in temperature as the last remnant of a breeze died.
The previous night, FOB’s Scout son had, along with all the other boys set up camp just off the trail several hours before dusk. He was careful, as the guide had adamantly directed the Scouts to gather all their food into a bear bag and hang it at the proper height from an appropriate tree limb. This only added to his anxiety. He was already nervous about the possibility of running into wild bears out on the trail, and the idea of sleeping in his tent with only a thin layer of material separating and protecting him from midnight bear attacks hung heavily on his mind.
So around midnight, FOB’s son was awakened. It was a moonless night and nothing was stirring. All the other campers slept. What to do. He had to go to the bathroom and the privy, as he recalled, was about 50 yards away tucked down a side trail – a side trail that led away from the safety and security of the group and seemed to him to invite a bear attack to any camper unfortunate enough to wonder so far away.
He waited and tried to hold it to no avail. He had to go and could not wait any longer.
He remembered that the guide had told the troop that since they had entered the campsite from the north, they would be leaving in the morning headed south down the trail. Slowly, as silently as he knew how, he made his way back to the north side of the camp site, up the trail from which they had arrived. Then, still on the trail because he knew that bears only hunted off trails, he quietly dropped his pants, squatted, and took a giant poop right in the middle of the trail. Quickly he pulled his pants back up, covered up his business with leaves, and stealthily found his way back to the safety and security of his tent and fell fast asleep.
He woke abruptly and sat up. He peeked outside and saw the dawn and realized that everyone was breaking down their tents and getting ready to leave. The guide called everyone to attention and mapped out the plan for the day. Since there had been quite a rain storm very early that morning, he decided that they were going to hike to a different campsite that day – one only a bit north of where they presently were.
FOB’s son froze when he heard the last sentence and his stomach began to hurt. A cold sweat broke out on his forehead as he realized that the troop would hike north instead of south and directly toward his midnight business.
“Maybe, just maybe no one will notice,” he thought.
“Everyone stop. Hello. If I am seeing what I think I am seeing we’ve got a problem,” the guide shouted as the ragged line of Boy Scouts came to a complete halt on the trail. “This wasn’t here when we came in yesterday and it definitely ain’t bear scat,” the guide muttered as much to himself as for the benefit of the boys. “Somebody needs to own this” he shouted and “this is not what we had in mind when we all agreed to leave no trace.”
Not a sound was made, except for the rustle of the Scouts in the back of the line straining their necks to try to see what the guide was talking about. FOB’s son thought he could hear the sound of a clock ticking, growing louder and louder. Not a word was uttered, and the guide’s face began to grow crimson – just like the night before.
“Everyone circle up,” he ordered, and soon all 30 boys were in a tight circle around the exposed pile of poop sitting squarely on the trail. “If we need to stand here all day, that is what we are going to do,” shouted the guide, “until one of you owns this. I can’t believe this, this mess” he shouted.
Years later, at FOB’s son’s wedding, one of the toasts that brought down the house - as the unfortunate story had become well known and widely spread after the incident – was by the best man, who had been on the fateful campout that day – to the “trail pooper.”
And to add insult to injury – and because fathers don’t always have the sensitivity, nor do they realize the gravity of middle school trauma, even when their own sons are involved, – the father had fashioned his own Appalachian Trail name after the incident. And the name he adopted: Sir FOB W. Pott – stood for “father of the boy who pooped on the trail.”
Some things you just can’t make up.