STANLEY and I are going on a hiking and camping trip in the
mountains. I don’t know what I was thinking when I said that this time, I’d
like to tag along.
My husband actually enjoys this sort of thing. It must be the Albertan in him -- due to their brutal and interminable winters, Albertans spend months of the year in a state of cryogenic preservation. Thus, they aren’t fully evolved.
So when Nature isn’t distributing hardship willy-nilly -- with droughts in May and snowstorms in July --Albertans are genetically programmed to seek it out. They’re on a constant quest to make their lives more difficult. In other words, they’re the polar opposite of British Columbians.
Anyhoo, for many years, Stanley and a bunch of his old buddies met once every summer in the Rockies for long, full days of tromping uphill in flannel shirts, with gigantic backpacks pulling them in the opposite direction. The highlights, such as they were, seemed to consist of glacier-side “boil-ups” of Sapporo Ichiban and beef jerky washed down with Tang around noon. Night-time in the mountains apparently fell about 6 p.m., at which point they’d mix some Crystal Lite with rotgut vodka, sit around a campfire, and break wind while tallying up the day’s marmot sightings.
Given the all-male aspect of these trips, I always suspected that there was a bunch of comely wenches hidden in them thar hills. I figured that as soon as the boys got their tents up, so to speak, a herd of strippers would emerge from the woods and put on a show.
It would be a long production, and not especially graceful, as the gals would have to peel off parkas, fleeces, and hockey socks before getting down to that irresistible thermal underwear layer. At that point, with everybody’s teeth chattering in the August night, not even the most inebriated fellow would be cruel enough to demand that the “dancers” take it all off and expose their Gore-Tex pasties. He might, however, slyly ask that the most attractive one remove a mitten before pouring the men their hot chocolates -- the real climax of the performance.
That’s the thing about camping in the Rockies: It’s bloody freezing. I was all enthused about our holiday plan when I imagined meandering along a path near Lake O’Hara (in BC, near the border between the provinces) in bright sunshine with a bunch of our Alberta friends. I imagined relaxed sandwich lunches over easy banter by a turquoise lake while good-looking, overheated men jumped off cliffs into the water in their underwear. Then I got a bit of advice from our super-outdoorsy friend, Griz. “Don’t forget your tuque, gloves, and down jacket,” he said. “You’ll need them while you sleep.”
Oh, yeah -- Lake O’Hara is in an alpine environment, and the higher up you are, the colder it gets at night. On the rare occasion that I have camped in British Columbia, it was in Osoyoos, where you were more likely to incur death by Riesling than risk hypothermia on your way to the john in the middle of the night. The campsite we had in the Okanagan, for instance, came with its own rentable fridge, which was chained to a tree. I’m pretty sure a tray of local artisanal cheese was circulated around the campfire during happy hour. Interpretive walks, if any, would have been led by a sommelier.
This is not the Alberta-style camping experience. Once my memory was unleashed by Griz’s practical advice, I began to recall the other awful things about camping. Night falling fast and fully, and there being no light to read by, for one. Vigilant park rangers checking you for contraband alcohol and bad attitude, for another. Outhouses without sinks or mirrors for hand-washing or tooth-brushing. Hungry bears of the grizzly persuasion.
Worst of all, I remembered that tents are made for Little People. I don’t know how Stanley and his friends, who are all taller than I am, handle it. How do you put on a turtleneck when you’re bent in half? Do you have to be some sort of yogi? Must female campers do up their brassieres while lying down? How inhumane. Frankly, I suspect that people who camp don’t change their clothes at all. Yech.
Another worry -- Therm-a-Rests. The Alberta camping experience demands that you throw your weary hiked-out bones onto a thin pad only an inch wider than your body, and plan to stay fixed in that (inevitably pebbled) spot all night. This is impossible. I generally wake up in a location in the far northeast of that position, face squashed against the side of the tent so hard that an imprint of its brand name remains on my cheek for much of the day.
Of course, things have improved since the 1960s and 1970s, when outdoor gear was really terrible. We used to camp once or twice a summer as kids and it fell to my poor dad, one of the world’s least handy guys, to put up the tent, with the “help” of three uncooperative children under the age of 10.
Ours was a canvas behemoth of the type that would let in the rain the moment you poked at its sodden roof, which of course we could not resist. There was no such thing as Therm-a-Rests in those days, so we slept on smelly foam rubber in lumpy old sleeping bags. The highlight, beyond whatever swimming could be done nearby, was the utter decadence of being allowed to eat mashed potatoes made from flakes that came out of a box.
As a kid, when it comes to holidays, you must simply go along with whatever the rest of your family is doing. As an adult, you get to choose. For me, it’s time to face facts. I like the camping views, and I like the camping company, but I am not in the least charmed by adversity. Between April and December, I would prefer to experience no snow whatsoever.
In other words, as Woody Allen once said, “I am at two with Nature.”
Fran Lebowitz, a fellow New York writer, sums up my thoughts on the matter. “To put it bluntly, I am not the type who wants to go back to the land; I am the type who wants to go back to the hotel.”
I’d like that hotel to have a raw bar, a fluffy dressing gown, and free Wi-Fi. Surely that’s not too much to ask.