Monday, August 16, 2010

A Note on Experience

Probably most readers (and at this point, I think I might be my only reader) know me personally. But in case not, here's a primer on my actual wilderness experience.

I grew up in Vermont, in a small town, with patches of woods on all sides. The patches were large enough for you to go on a long walk--long enough to get tired or bored--without seeing a house or a road or a person. I spent many afternoons walking these patches of woods. Though the walks were very casual, it gave me an everyday comfort with navigating trails, climbing slopes, and generally being at home in the woods alone year-round.

My father took me (and sometimes my sister) on short camping trips when we were young. We hiked in our stuff and set up tents at campsites that were established and regulated, but not really developed. I was pretty small for most of these.

When I was in high school, I went on a couple of Epic Canoe Trips. This eccentric old man from my hometown would take about 20 kids and maybe 8 adults on week-long wilderness canoe trips in northern Quebec. (I remember that the drive was 10 hours, and we lived about 3 hours south of Montreal, though I can't pinpoint just where we went on any map: it's a hell of a lot of big blank green up there.) The first year, I went with the group, and the second year, my dad signed up as a chaperone. Though no one gave us any dire warnings at the time (which is why I find the dire warnings in the Useless guidebooks so exasperating), we were really roughing it. We carried everything on our backs or in canoes. We camped in tents and dug little holes to poo in. We ate horrid calorie-dense foods and drank untreated lake water. (No one got sick.) We portaged our stuff through thigh-high peat and mud. We saw bears. We saw zero people. The eccentric old dude probably could have written his own Idiosyncratic Guide, what with his put-up-or-shut-up attitude and penchant for mesh shirts, though it would have been an even older-school, Roughneck kind of book, as he was nearly 80. My gear at that time was also thoroughly Idiosyncratic: external-frame backpack with two giant pouches and basically no external pockets or straps, down mummy sleeping bag (both were my dad's and from the 70s--he's a bit Idiosyncratic himself), army-style tent, and my fucking Doc Martens, from which I was inseparable, all kept lake-proof with trash bags. It all worked fine.

Since then, I've done recreational camping here and there. When I lived in Tucson, I did a fair amount of hiking and some wilderness camping, usually only for a day or two, but it gave me experience with staying hydrated, un-sunburned (in the words of Pickles, "I'm, like, very Irish-American."), and un-impaled by desert flora, skills I'll need for the last legs of the trip. We've camped on the canoe-only Island in western Massachusetts for the past four years, but that's pretty easygoing.

I feel like I have some good experience under my belt. I also feel like my most intensive experience was long ago enough that I'm almost starting over. Luckily, though the equipment has changed, the woods have not, and I can't imagine I won't still feel at home.

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