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Backpacker Magazine – October 2012

Worst Nightmare: Blindsided

A hair-raising tale of wilderness terror that will haunt your backcountry dreams

by: Steve Friedman

Blood (iStockphoto)
Blood (iStockphoto)

Afterward, many parents praised the summer camp director, even the ones who yanked their boys from the remote cabins the day after they received his phone call, even the ones who gave the damning anonymous quotes to newspapers (“What kind of a man hires teenagers like that?”).

The director had heard the news at sunset, on a Wednesday in August, after a camp-wide capture the flag game, and he had stayed up all night to make the calls. “Your boy is safe, but something terrible has happened,” is how the director started out each call. And then, after a few long seconds of him pursing his lips, staring into the middle distance: “One of our most popular counselors, a college freshman the boys called Badger, had a terrible accident.”

According to camp lore, RR—which is what the kids all called Richard Rayak, the director—said that Badger had died after diving into a raging river. He snatched an eight-year-old camper from the water’s icy grip before being sucked downstream himself. RR might have believed that, but court records tell a more nuanced tale. A jury determined that Badger had been drinking beer, because of beer cans with his prints on them. It was likely that he had been horsing around in the river, and simply drowned.

Enrollment dropped, but the camp survived. RR still led the boys in “Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore” at the Friday night campfire, but he forgot the lyrics sometimes. And sometimes at night, when midnight skinny dippers snuck back to their cabins, RR would materialize out of the woods, like a ghost, but he wouldn’t say anything. It was like he couldn’t even see his campers.

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