To add a little more adventure to our week, we’ve invited Jeff Thrope of Cold Splinters to treat us to a taste of the great outdoors every Wednesday. Check out his new column, and then do yourself and your computer a favor, and go sit under a tree.
The summer before I went to high school was the first in four years that I didn't spend in Bemidji, MN, green and golden, famous among the barns, steps away from Lake Plantagenant and Camp Thunderbird's massive inflatable raft, used to transport tanks over water during WWII (or so they told us.) Instead, I decided, along with my friend, Tim, to take a month long trip to British Columbia with ARCC, camping, backpacking and rafting in one of the most handsome landscapes Mother Nature has to offer. With the Olympics dominating the headlines, I've been thinking about that trip often, remembering what I can about those wonderful 28 days in the vicinity of Vancouver Island and how angry I was when a bunch of idiot kids decided you had to look the part of an outdoorsman to be an outdoorsman.
Camp was about Crazy Creeks, waterskiing and waking up to John Popper's harmonica. Yes, there was some biking (Moonpie, Camp Thunderbird's biking instructor will no doubt be the subject of a future FADER article), camping and climbing, but there weren't too many activities that the fattest of little Jewish kids couldn't handle. The Palindrome Wars (Team Mom, Team Race Car) were always pretty physical, but never involved any outdoor skills. On the other hand, the ARCC trip was backpacking for five days at a time, sea kayaking through Nootka Sound and white water rafting down the mighty Thompson River. So, like any 14-year-old kid without a good backpack or a pair of gaiters (what the fuck is a gaiter?), I headed to REI with my parents and a list, provided by ARCC, of what I would need to come back alive at the end of the month.
For your first camping trip, you don't buy the best backpack money can buy. You don't buy a massive North Face sleeping bag that'll keep you warm on a December night in Denali. I had yet to go through puberty, although my voice would change on that trip to a point that it was unrecognizable to my mother when I called home, so I bought things that I wouldn't feel too horrible giving to a friend's younger brother at the end of the summer. When Tim and I showed up at the airport to leave for the trip, decked out in our gear, full of excitement, I immediately noticed that he had nicer things than I, partly because he had done the whole puberty thing already and partly because he had some of his brother's top of the line hand me downs.
The halfway point of the trip was in Garibaldi National Park, where, for the past two weeks, our 12 person group had bonded over bangs being burned off from too much gas drip in the stove, the ubiquitous "I CAN'T DO IT. NO, NO, I CAN'T DO IT, I'M TIRED!" cries of suburban children and enough repeated plays of the live version of "No Woman, No Cry" to make a man go insane. On a long stretch of hike through the woods on our second day in the park, the smallest and most awkward of the group, Rufus, who got his nickname from George Carlin's character in Bill and Ted, asked who we all thought the best camper was in the group. Without hesitation, everyone initiated a ranking system and immediately put Tim on top. Even with my own suggestion that I was a better camper than Tim, I came in 6th. Fucking 6th! I knew it was because Tim had better gear than everyone, which made the allusion of a better, more skilled outdoorsman, and that pissed my hairless armpits off even more.
Tim was a good camper, sure, but was he the best? No. Because none of us were, none of knew much of anything, other than to listen to our fearless leaders and to make sure we didn't let too much gas drip into the stove before we lit it. The point of the story is, when you're going camping with someone and they have a nice, brand new North Face backpack, it does not mean that they knew what they're doing. It means they haven't used their pack yet.