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June 2003

The Seven Deadly Sins (And Why We Love Them)

This classic roundup appeared in the June 2003 issue of BACKPACKER
seven deadly sins"The Seven Deadly Sins" from the June 2003 issue of Backpacker.

By Michael Mason

MEMO To: Hyperactive adventurers
From: Those of us lollygagging by the fire
Re: Your insufferable ways

It’s never enough for you, is it? The campfire glows orange, cobalt smoke curls into the morning sky, the smell of brewing coffee steals from tent to tent. We’ve escaped the mania of the mundane; we wake now in the dappled forest, serenaded by God’s creatures.

But this is not enough for you. Barely out of the sleeping bag, you survey the campsite, and instead of nature’s loveliness you see only Challenges To Be Met. Perhaps today, you think, I’ll macrame a tarp from pine needles. Among the many types of outdoorsmen, I know your kind too well: You are one of the industrious ones, the outdoor achievers, and there will be no rest until you have wrung every possibility for self-improvement from our surroundings. Before the hour is out, you will be organizing a dayhike-cum-27-mile death march.

Somebody needs to talk to you and your tribe, and I’ve been elected. Look, if you guys want to tackle the John Muir Trail without a tent and toilet paper, go right ahead. Determined to throttle and elk with your bare hand and serve it for dinner? Be by guest. But please, leave the rest of us alone. We’re here to relax.

For us, the outdoor indolent, the only essential piece of camp equipment is the hammock. We don’t prepare five-star meals by firelight, and we refuse to construct Taj Mahal-in-the-woods. Unless there’s something spectacular to see–say, an erupting volcano–do not ask us to hike waaay over there just so we can trudge waaay back here. I repeat: We are here to relax.

Call it laziness–even sloth, if your diction runs to anachronisms–but some of us learned to appreciate nature the hard way. Growing up in Atlanta, I belonged to a kind of fundamentalist Boy Scout troop. Monthly campouts took us to places with names like Blood Mountain, where we packed in every can of food, every steel pot and pan, every 30-pound canvas tent we would need. Modern conveniences, like canister stoves or fleece, were forbidden. Duties were assigned. Meals were scheduled. Inspections were frequent, and demerits were issued, liberally, by grown men in knee socks. There was camaraderie, but it was the sort shared by soldiers under fire. And because we were so busy, so distracted by pointless diktats, the beauty of the outdoors escaped us.

Years later, in California, I rediscovered the mountains, this time with a tiny stove, fleece, a lightweight tent, a self-inflating pad, and an array of other comforts that will see me in Boy Scout Hell. But for now, I’m issuing the demerits. You get one for interrupting me while reading. You got two for misplacing the corkscrew, three if it happens around cocktail time.

"Adopt the pace of nature," says Ralph Waldo Emerson. "Her secret is patience." Slow down, my frenetic friends. Fall in the campsite hammock, stare up into the trees, and remember why you wanted to be outdoors: Not to prove something, but to feel something.

Michael Mason, a freelance writer based in San Francisco, likes to eat deviled ham when he camps.

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