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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 coaxed Sara out of her tent, where I thought I had heard sniffling, sat her down on a rock, and, with the Duraflame between us, assured her that the woods weren’t dangerous, that there were no bears, that it was too cold for Lyme-disease-carrying ticks, that going to the bathroom in the outdoors would make some of her macho authors respect her even more.

Jack tightened the stakes on his tent, which he continued to complain about, and tightened everyone else’s, too, while he bitched and moaned about the rocks. He also gathered some wood. He also rigged a food-hanging spot. He also built some campfire seats out of rocks. He was a sulky bastard, but, I had to admit, a competent one.

We sat in a circle around the fire, and I broke out one of my meticulously planned meals – the ham-and-cheese, turkey, and chicken sandwiches I’d bought at the grocery store the night before, along with apples and mint chocolate chip cookies. We munched, and sucked down our dwindling water supply. A gust blew through camp, and we shivered a little as we watched a hillside of red and yellow and orange ripple in the breeze. But soon the skies cleared (I reminded everyone that weather forecasts are notoriously unreliable) and contentment reigned. Except: Sara wanted to know, if there were no bears in the nearby woods, how was it that we were camping next to a place called Bear Mountain? And Jack demanded to be told “if our leader’s so experienced, how come he brought a tent with no rain fly?” And Steve would not stop poking at his BlackBerry, announcing baseball scores.

And then two visitors entered our camp. Their names were Alice and Crash Bang. I’m not making that up.
They had some questions.

“Do you have whistles, in case you get lost?” Alice asked.

“Whistles?” Robbin whispered.

“Lost!?!!” Sara shrieked.

“We’re going everywhere together,” I said, reflexively patting the Duraflame and gazing into the mid-distance through eyes of pure flint. “No one’s going to get lost.”

“What about if someone has to go to the bathroom at night?” Crash Bang demanded. “And they can’t find their way back to the tent? Do you at least have an agreed-upon distress signal?”

You hike into the woods to relax, to get away from life’s petty and foolish concerns. You anticipate solitude, or, if you run into fellow outdoor enthusiasts, you figure they’ll be bighearted, mellow, liberal-Democrat, Grateful-Dead-loving, life-affirming folks. Then you meet a couple of fearmongers like Alice and Crash Bang. What was their problem?

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