Don’t worry; it’s not just you. Maybe you’re a workaholic who couldn’t stop searching for signal in a backcountry paradise. Or, you spent what was supposed to be a relaxing river trip with two toddlers hell-bent on killing each other.
Either way, when we return home from a kayaking trip, we share only the highlights, which can leave other paddlers feeling like they’ve failed after a less than the picture-perfect trip.
Here’s the truth.
1. I didn’t check my phone all weekend
I know all the excuses because I’ve made them myself. I’m just bringing it for the camera function. I’ll only turn it on in emergencies. I’m leaving it in airplane mode. Yeah, right.
Rationally, we all know how deadly it can be to text while driving, yet the number of us who still do it is an indicator of just how likely we are to avoid the temptation. Especially on a trip when the only harm of sneaking a quick peek at Facebook is a purported disturbance to a vague and abstract concept like psychological calm.
As someone who caught his wife peeking at the baseball scores halfway through a supposedly technology-free wilderness trip, I can say avoiding temptation is not likely. Justification is easy. When the average person checks his smartphone 46 times a day, checking it once or twice on trip rounds down to zero, right?
2. Our kayaking trip was so relaxing!
Just like you and every other sensible person I know, relaxation is best enjoyed after utter physical exhaustion. It’s that feeling when the 100-pound pack is finally lifted and the searing pain goes away. Or you’ve been paddling for eight hours against a headwind and you arrive at your campsite with barely enough energy to set up your tent and crawl inside.
Or, you’re so mentally preoccupied trying to stay warm and dry that all other concerns evaporate. There’s no stress, no worries and no preoccupations with work, politics or current events. There’s just the exhausted here and now. Bliss.
3. We really bonded as a family
There’s a reason that most trip photos are of happy times and sunny days. Few of us document our kids when they’re having a meltdown—we’re too busy managing the crisis to snap a shot of something we’d rather forget.
Humans are hard-wired to remember the good times. My last trip with my family was awesome. We really bonded as a family. That’s code for the children drove us crazy; we barely slept. But I’ve mostly forgotten that part.
4. We didn’t see anyone else
…After we busted a gut to beat all the other parties to the campsite, that is. The day went like this: “Honey, there’s only one campsite marked on the map up there but those other boats look like they’re heading the same direction. If we put in a 20-minute sprint and we can beat them, quick! Good, now relax and look like you haven’t been trying. Give them a friendly wave.”
After the other paddlers were forced to carry on to the next lake, we felt like we were the only people on earth. It was the same the next day, after we got on the water before dawn to pass those suckers in their sleep. Total solitude.
5. It was so inexpensive
Once you’ve invested the GDP of a small island nation into the future generations’ wealth of the families DuPont, Johnson and Chouinard backcountry trips are practically free. When my wife points out that the combined value of the boats in our backyard is more than our two family cars, I tell her that has nothing to do with the reason we can’t afford an all-inclusive beach vacation.
Everyone knows the first principle of the Official Gearhead Rules of Family Accounting. And I quote: “Capital expenditures shall not be counted against the intrinsic value of the experiences which they enable.” Gear purchases exist in a separate and distinct category that is exempt from standard auditing, otherwise filed under the heading “anything goes,” in which all costs are to be automatically justified and immediately forgotten.
6. We can’t wait to go again
Oh yes, we can. Exactly one year, in fact. The precise amount of time it takes to forget the misery and remember the good is the reason that it’s called an annual tradition. In this way, backcountry camping is a bit like Christmas.
7. Camping is so healthy and wholesome
Take a closer look at my trip menu, where every second line includes a marshmallow or a gummy bear or something containing the words “chocolate” or “sausage,” cut and pasted liberally in the name of quick energy and boosting morale.
Sugar and fat are the universal replacement for fresh fruit and vegetables and the salve that soothes the aches and pains of a pastime that evokes a prehistoric existence that was nasty, brutish and short. And don’t forget the coffee. Sleep in the wilderness is defined as the episode of nocturnal tossing and turning that is bookended by doses of ibuprofen and caffeine.
8. We strengthened our friendships
Some of my closest friendships have been built on trips, but I’ve also learned which people I’ll never go camping with again. There were the doting parents who left the trip early without taking any of the group’s garbage, including all their kid’s dirty diapers. “We just don’t have any room!” they fake-apologized once they were already packed, seemingly oblivious to the fact that with one more child, we already had a lot more to carry.
Then there was the couple that implored us to bring them on a trip, posing as kindred lovers of wilderness. When it came out that they had no camping experience at all, we bent over backwards to accommodate them, planning a beginner-friendly car-camping trip against our own preferences.
After a poor sleep the first night, they announced rather proudly that they had decided to head home early. “We’ve had enough of a camping experience,” they said, “and besides, we have nothing to prove.”
We spent the rest of the weekend incredulously repeating those words, and to this day “I have nothing to prove,” has become family code for “I’m only in this for myself.” As in, “No thanks, dear, I’m not going to wash those dishes, I have nothing to prove.”
We’re not bitter. Past inconveniences are a small price to pay for the laughter we get out of these stories today. But we’re a lot more careful about who we invite camping. After all, we have nothing to prove.
Tim Shuff is a freelance writer and firefighter in Toronto who honestly spends most of his free time bonding with his family on healthy, relaxing, inexpensive backcountry trips. He promises that he practically never checks his phone in the wilderness. Like, twice a trip max.
Liar, liar, neoprene shorts on fire. Feature Photo: Paul Villecourt