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April 2005

Oy, Wilderness: First-Time New York Campers

Three days. Two nights. Five New Yorkers who had never slept outdoors. And a leader who has some issues with map and compass. What could go wrong?

And that’s when I admitted he was a better fire-builder than me, and a better tent-putter-upper, and a better food-hanger, and that maybe my compass issues and testosterone-fueled paranoia about his designs on Missy had prompted some regrettable, childish remarks from me, and that, actually, a couple wieners that last night would have been pretty tasty and I hoped I didn’t spoil the idea of camping for him forever.

We didn’t hug or anything, but we had a moment.

Almost a month later, and Steve and Sara are dating. Robbin says she’s going to take her husband out on the Appalachian Trail next week. Missy is seeing someone other than me, or Jack. Jack and I are buddies again, though we avoid discussions that involve campfires and directions.

Did the rookies learn to love backpacking? I’m not sure. But I do know what I learned. I discovered how to read a compass better, how to read trail markers. Probably not the best situation to study up on that stuff, with five novices in the woods – but still, I learned. And I learned, once again, the remarkably timeless appeal of the “I Want My Liver” tale, especially in the cold and the dark, with a headlamp set at a scary angle. And the wonder of Duraflame. And how to work a BlackBerry. Mostly, I learned that the wilderness, even the semi-wilderness, exerts a positively gravitational pull on the soul, that just a couple days in the woods – even with a merely semi-competent and semi-prepared leader, and a squabbling bunch of wet and cold friends, and a rain-flyless tent, and no frying pan–can make people very, very happy. If I weren’t so flinty-eyed, I might even say it can restore the soul.

We’re planning to go again.

Writer-at-large Steve Friedman would like to publish a book containing all of his favorite scary campfire stories.

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