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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?

I explained that I was going down the hill–maybe I said “mountain” – to fetch the right map, the one still in the minivan, and that I’d be right back, and the group should relax.

“Relax?” said Steve. “It’s freezing up here.”

“What about bears?” asked Sara.

“You sure you can find your way to the car and back, Magellan?” asked Jack.

I pulled Robbin and Missy aside and thrust a couple of giant chocolate bars into their hands. “You two are my rocks,” I said. “Feed the group and wait for me.”

Cresting the hill almost an hour later (I got lost on the way down and ended up having to climb out of a drainage ditch and jog up the road to the minivan), I spotted trouble. There were my charges, muttering, whispering, hugging each other, looking to my eyes disturbingly like the not-so-pious Israelites seconds before they decided that a Golden Calf would be a really swell idea.
I brandished the map, told the group all was well.

“We’re good. We’re good!” I exclaimed.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” Sara announced.

“Do you have any idea where we are?” Jack asked.

“You said there were outhouses,” Sara continued. “Where are the outhouses?”

“No,” I replied, evenly. “I said I thought there might be outhouses. Now, why doesn’t everyone just…”

“You said there were outhouses!” Sara bleated. Finally, Steve the sports broadcasting agent put his arm around her shoulders, rubbed her back, whispered something to her. She edged away from him, looking at him as if he were a 5-foot-10-inch dung beetle.

I seized the Duraflame from Steve. In the wilderness, one cannot underestimate the significance and magical power of totems.

“C’mon,” I promised. “There are some great sites just around the bend.”

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