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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 knew it was cold, I said. I knew some of them might be feeling a little cranky. But this was all part of backpacking. “You all did a great job at the lake,” I said. Tomorrow, I promised, would be a good day. “And now,” I suggested, in what I hoped was a magisterial, wood-smoked growl, “it’s late and we should all try to get some sleep.”

I shifted and started to rise from the cool camping stool.

“It’s seven freaking o’clock,” said Jack.

“And we’re hungry,” said Steve.

“I hate peanut butter,” chimed in Sara.

“But we already had dinner!” I said. Maybe I bellowed. “Do you have any idea what real backpack…”

Robbin put her hand on my arm, squeezing it gently.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’ll cook. There’s nothing like a hot meal. I’ll cut it up and season it. It’ll be fine. It’ll all be fine. You tell some more of your haunted-house stories, and I’ll make dinner. Just show me where the frying pan is.”

There is something primal and ineffably comforting about sitting around a crackling campfire watching dinner simmer and sizzle over an open flame in a frying pan. Except when there is no frying pan. Except when the group leader has forgotten the frying pan.

“Nice work, Commander,” said Jack. “Really nice work. Who wants some chicken nuggets?”

It was a long night. Robbin and I roasted chunks of chicken flesh in the roaring Duraflame inferno until they were blackened and charred on the outside, completely raw on the inside. They looked just like skinned squirrels. We threw them into the blaze. Hating myself, I sucked down a few nuggets. I think I saw Jack smirk. I shoveled more chocolate bars at the group. Some trail mix, too.

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