Editorial: The Three Types of Fun

This editorial about the outdoor Fun Scale originally appeared in Canoeroots and Family Camping magazine.

It happens to me on most trips. Usually on a portage, the yoke grinding against my collar bones; the unevenly packed food barrel on my back pulling just enough to one side to make me miss every third step; the drone of mosquitoes inside the overturned hull reminding me that if I swing an arm to swat, I’m going down. It’s the moment when I question whether I’m having fun.

It’s no wonder I’m often met with a blank stare after trying to convince non-paddlers that this stuff is enjoyable. Sometimes I feel like telling people that if they have to ask, they probably won’t understand. But I want to share the good feeling I get from canoeing and writing people off is unproductive.

So, my strategy has been to use the Fun Scale. If you’re into mountain climbing, you may have heard of the scale before. A mountaineering guide first introduced me to the concept and it applies just as well to canoeing as it does to climbing.

Type I fun is the purest type of fun. It’s fun while it’s happening. It would be great if it never ended, and when it does end, it can’t happen again too soon. It’s bluebird days, skinny-dipping, long weekends, s’mores or stopping for a cold beer and a hamburger on the way home. It’s the moments you hope for when planning your trip. Curiously, the giddy feeling Type I fun instills rarely lasts long enough to sustain me until my next trip.

In the moment, you’d be hard pressed to call Type II stuff fun. You might be glad when it’s over and you’re probably not looking forward to it happening again. For me, Type II usually includes long portages, five a.m. wake-up calls, weather-bound days, collecting firewood, plain oatmeal and blackfly season. This type of fun makes for great campfire stories and inspires me to plan my next trip. It may involve rattled nerves and frustration while it’s happening, but it builds character and makes us better paddlers and better people.

Type III fun isn’t fun at all. Not while you’re doing it, not afterwards. It can’t be over fast enough and you look forward to the day when you forget it ever happened. Examples of this one are limited only by the imagination. I’ve had my share of Type III moments. In fact, the guide that shared the Fun Scale with me did so as I was being evacuated from an Alaskan mountainside with a perforated lung. The old saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” applies here. And while that might be the case, it doesn’t mean I want to relive those moments and it’s difficult to look back on them with a smile.

When doubt creeps into my head, I make an effort to recognize it’s probably just a Type II moment. Type II fun is, after all, still fun. And when the trip is over, I can relate my experiences, making fellow paddlers smile around a campfire and helping those who have to ask understand a little better.

Michael Mechan has developed a knack for turning Type III moments into Type II fun.


This article appeared in Canoeroots & Family Camping, Spring 2012. Download our free iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch App or Android App or read it here.


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