The Boy Scout motto is “Be prepared.” Has better advice ever been given?

Trapped under a blistering sun in the no man’s land between Morocco and Algeria, with Algeria not letting me enter on foot and Morocco not letting me back in because I’d obtained an Algerian visa, I was about to find out.

But I’m getting ahead of the story …

Anson didn’t have a Boy Scout troop when I was growing up. Or much of anything else – which created a desire to escape and see the world.

So I didn’t get to learn the value of preparedness from the Boy Scouts. Instead, I can thank the magic of the movies, because I learned it from watching “That Man From Rio” at an impressionable age. In it (although I now see it as a wonderful homage to terrible movies), the lesson Young Andrew naively absorbed was that mental and physical preparation allowed you to survive anything. If I was going to explore that wide world I was now determined to test myself in, I’d better buckle down. Who knew what natural or human obstacles I might have to fight my way through, or what bit of information might save my life someday? So I transformed my body and made The World Almanac and Book of Facts my best friend.

My parents encouraged learning and my mother advocated a healthy diet, but would I have studied or trained as diligently, or said “no” to soda, candy and desserts as willingly, without also having the example of lean and limber Jean-Paul Belmondo walking across the face of buildings on ledges, parachuting into jungles, evading crocodiles and escaping melees to inspire me? I suspect not.

Real fitness bred confidence.

Embden Pond? Swam across it. That railroad bridge in Anson, crossing the Kennebec? Walked over the trestles, side to side. The Anson-Madison Bridge? Walked under it, riverbank to riverbank. My motto: No thrills without chills.

Fast forward to my sweat-drenched, appropriately concerned but not yet nervous 21-year-old self, perhaps destined to be a collateral victim of geopolitics, perhaps not. An imposing physique had prevented certain trouble already, but I ultimately got out of this North African jam – others were yet to come – by using my mind.

Describing how would merely relate an adventure, not reinforce the life-saving lesson. And the lesson was and is: You will never go wrong by being truly fit, widely read and willing to engage the world on its terms.

My adventurous days are now behind me. But the retrospectively silly romanticism I took from “That Man From Rio” stayed with me. A healthy lifestyle continues to pay off as I near 60, and the curiosity I cultivated gives life more context and deeper meaning.

I may have gotten there by misreading a movie, but the Boy Scouts were right all along. Believe it.

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