Thursday, September 04, 2008

on misery and the Great Outdoors

I'm learning!
Maybe five or six years ago I agreed to sign up for a weekend canoe-camping trip down the Wisconsin River. I was really apprehensive. I mean, I'd gone to summer camp many times as a kid, and I'd slept in a tent on the lawn, but I'd never been out tent camping. And this wasn't easing into it at an escape-car-and-bathroom-close-by setup either. We'd be floating down the river and camping at a different site each night. I remember being particularly afraid about the etiquette of the thing. What if there were tons of unspoken rules and unconsciously held "everybody knows"-type rituals that I wouldn't find out about till I was on a sand bar in the middle of the river? What if I was ridiculed for not bringing a multi-bladed whatizmajiggy and everyone else relied on them implicitly for survival? My friend Linda took pity on me and made me a camping list that I still rely on, and all was well. And of course I had an amazingly-awesome time.
Since then I've had heaps more amazing camping - and eventually, kayaking and backpacking! - experiences. Because I didn't grow up with the stuff, though, I still feel green in many respects. I get excited about learning new things. My best one so far, I think, was one of those "profound once you hear it" kind of things that I gleaned from the BOW weekend this winter. It was getting down to 40 below at night and the weekend coordinator announced that we would not be having the planned bonfire. Reasonable right? But her reasoning surprised me: "the wind is strong enough tonight that if you were to dress in a way that would keep you comfortable at those temperatures, you'll be wearing something flammable, which won't be safe with sparks from the fire". Wait a minute - all this outdoor stuff isn't supposed to be about pushing misery to her very edge, growling fiercely, and carefully retreating back to civilization??!
As I think about it, though, she's right on. Camping really isn't supposed to be about being miserable. It's about (among other things, of course) finding ways to be comfortable in conditions that would be miserable without preparation. And while I might have been able to nod and smile at that thought after my first camping trip, it was about half-way through our crazy (well - crazy to flatlanders! Coloradans, don't laugh!) backpacking trip over Flattop in the Rocky Mountains a few weeks ago when I suddenly realized something. I was comfortable. I had finally packed and left behind the right stuff, had figured out the things in the past that really had made me miserable, and figured out ways to avoid them this time around. It wasn't perfect, but I think I'd reached a turning point. In that light then, I think I may post a few things that have made a difference for me so far, and others as I learn more.


  1. Great post! I hadn't realized that you've only been doing the camping/backpacking stuff for 5 or 6 years! To me, you've always been the expert! :)

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.