Play Wiffle Ball! Discuss Descartes! Swim Buck Naked!

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Camping Special, April 1997

Play Wiffle Ball! Discuss Descartes! Swim Buck Naked!

Because there are no boring camping trips, only boring campers
By Brad Wetzler

There's always one in the crowd, the neophyte camper who, in a panic over leaving behind The McLaughlin Group and the latest edition of Slate, blurts, "What will we do out there?" An excellent question. What will you do? Herewith, a guide to keeping occupied in the Big Inestimable.

Get smart. Catch up on reading. Many of the world's most experienced campers will tell you they never leave home without a good paperback. What kind? "Doesn't matter," says Outside's own Randy Wayne White. "Something lightweight and expendable." Other favorite intellectual pastimes include paging through nature guides to match the pictures to reality and discussing such beefy metaphysical questions as the validity of Descartes's ontological proof for the existence of God.

Get stupid. There's no end to the list of simple, silly activities that prove to be gonzo-good camping fun. Throwing things ranks high on many campers' lists. You can skip rocks or seashells, play fetch with Fido, learn to juggle using pinecones or rolled-up socks. Wiffle ball-and-bat sets are cheap and very light to carry. And don't forget rest: Scientists say that most of us working stiffs suffer from serious sleep deprivation.

Get back to nature. After all, that's what you came for, so strip off that stale Capilene and go swimming. It's a wise camper who plans her itinerary around the presence of swimming holes. The best are at least ten feet deep and accompanied by a natural launching pad for cannonballs. Other options: identify biota, climb trees, take photographs. Try your hand at animal tracking (Tom Brown's Field Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking is a superb starter manual). Or attempt to catch dinner's main course: A freshly built beaver pond is often a sure holding tank for big trout. Night hikes and night swims are two other ways to stimulate the senses, but Paul Petzoldt says his favorite night activity is sitting quietly in the woods and "listening to the orchestra of night voices." "Try," he preaches with utter sincerity, "to pick out the flute, the violin, the drums."

Worship the campfire. It's a well-known fact that darting flames encourage introspection--and good storytelling. Petzoldt advises yarn-spinners to stick with nonfiction. "Real people are always more interesting," he explains, "and after a while people start talking about themselves. The group will get to know each other better." Of course, if this starts to turn into a maudlin group-therapy session, apply the brakes. Steer the conversation toward something utterly harmless, like trying to remember the words to old songs. ("Billy Don't Be a Hero" springs directly to mind.) Take a tour of the constellations. Hold a sëance. Call the spirits of Euell Gibbons, Jim Bridger, or--yikes!--the Donner Party. Make a circle and then give a backrub to the camper to your left. Now do the camper on your right.

Illustration by Ross MacDonald

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