Experience Counts by Gary Benton
I can remember, a few years back, a very interesting camping trip I went on with two of my friends. We were living in New Mexico and planned to take a few days and head north, into the mountains around Taos. The weather was great, and we had been excited all week about going. As soon as Friday’s work was finished, we loaded up the car and headed out.
Of the three of us, John and myself were very experienced campers, while Jim was not. He had never spent the night in the woods in his life. All the way to the designed area Jim bombed us with questions about the great outdoors. He wanted to know about bathrooms, sleeping arrangements, and many other things. I could understand his concern and excitement, but for me it was just a hiking and camping trip.
We soon arrived at the spot we were to leave the car. Loading up our backpacks and gear we were soon walking up a meandering mountain trail. I thought our packs were lightly loaded, around forty pounds, and we were making very good time. Then, after about fifteen minutes on the trail Jim called for us to wait. Turning back, I could see he was in no shape to continue walking at that moment.
“What’s the matter, Jim?” John asked as he removed his backpack, placing it on the ground. I noticed that John had not even broken into a sweat yet.
“I am tired. This is a rough trail.” Jim stated bluntly as he threw himself down on the ground with his pack still on.
I noticed beads of sweat on the man’s forehead as he closed his eyes and leaned his head back. I knew right then, our backpacking trip would not go as quickly as I had expected it to. John looked over at me with a slight grin on his face. He knew that Jim was out of shape and our trip would have to be kept at the slowest man’s pace. We paced our backpacking to the slowest person for safety reasons. We would never leave a person on the trail because they could not keep up.
John and I both knew, that while the trial had a slight upward angle, it was not really that hard. Nonetheless, we both gave a grin and decided to make the best of it. After all, there just wasn’t much we could do now except to continue on at a slower pace. After about twenty minutes we were up and moving again.
It took us over three hours to make a hike that would usually only have taken John and I a little over an hour. But, we were there and things, at least in my opinion, were looking better. John and I had camped together so often that most camp chores were not even discussed. We each just did our thing to get organized. As he constructed our shelter, I gathered the firewood, dug a fire pit, and got a small fire going. Jim, I noticed, had fallen asleep. We just let him sleep for a while.
Once the fire had been burning a while, I took out our dinner. Placing a folding grill over the deep red coals, I soon had three nice thick steaks cooking. The smell of the searing meat teased us as John placed a small loaf of French bread near the hot coals. Jim still did not move a muscle. He was obviously exhausted. In less than thirty minutes the meal was done and I jarred Jim awake.
“Oh, dinner is done?” Jim asked as we wiped the sleep from the corners of his eyes. I could still see the redness of fatigue in his eyes.
“Yea, and so is everything else.” John replied with a little contempt and sarcasm in his voice.
Jim never noticed that the shelter was up, fire going and dinner done. I honestly suspect it just didn’t enter his untrained mind that someone had had to do those tasks, and while he had slept.
“Here, you need to eat some, you had a hard walk up the trail.” I said as I handed the man a nice steak, salad, a large piece of French bread.
I was a bit surprised as I watched him take a bite of his steak and then quickly spat it out, into the fire. Jim put his plate on the ground by his feet and said, “This thing tastes like smoke. I can’t eat this.”
“Jim, it’s a campfire, of course it tastes like smoke. But, that is hickory, a very good barbeque flavoring.” John said, obviously attempting to change Jim’s mind.
“I don’t like it. I won’t eat that.” Jim quickly responded in a defiant voice. He reminded me of a child when he said it. So, as John and I watched, somewhat surprised, the man rolled over in the dirt and went back to sleep.
“Well, this is just dandy”, I thought to myself. Here we are miles from the car with a man who does not, obviously fit in. He didn’t like the hike up to the campsite, he doesn’t like the food, and I know soon he will be complaining about the smoke in his eyes. I was not sure what we were going to do. But, one thing I knew, we were not going home that night because he was not a “happy camper.”
To make a long story short, it was not a very good weekend. That night Jim complained about how hard the ground was, the lack of a proper toilet, no place to shower and, as I suspected, the smoke in his eyes. He had absolutely nothing good at all to say about the place. He even complained that the temperature dropped when evening came. I had never in my life seen a person just not made for camping. We had actually planned to stay for two nights, but eventually Jim’s whines got the better of us and we went home the next day, early.
Once we returned Jim to his house, John and I met for a cup of coffee to determine what had happened, how it had happened, and how we could prevent it in the future. We both quickly realized that some people are just not made for camping. We knew the whole situation was our fault, not Jim’s. He would have been best left at home to the comforts he was used to. But, how could we prevent a repeat in the future? How could we know what people to bring and which ones not to bring along?
We both thought it would be very unfair to keep someone from going with us due to a lack of experience. So, we devised a few “trials” for the individual before we would take them on long trips. Of course, we never mentioned these to the unexpected member.
• Start with a short exposure. No serious treks of backpacking, but rather an overnight camping trip in a designated camping spot. You know the places, showers, toilets, and running water.
• Cook with hard woods that are used for campfires, and see if the person can enjoy the meal. Some folks just don’t like the taste.
• Take the person on short, but challenging hikes, to see how they held up with the weight of a pack.
• Measure the person’s attitude during the whole situation. Did they view it as a fun challenge, or too much work? Was it fun to them, or was it viewed as punishment?
• Eventually make sure one trip lasted for at least two nights. Many people will tire of the roughness of camping after just one night. But, if they could not take two nights in a designated campground, they for sure would not be able to handle a rough and remote camping trip.
Camping should be no rougher than the weakest individual in your group. If you are with kids, or first time campers, plan accordingly. Don’t try to do too much with an inexperienced camper. Take it slowly and expose them to different aspects, one task at a time. Make sure they are gradually exposed to nature and not rushed into it. (As far as I know, Jim never went camping again). Forcing too much on a beginner will most likely turn them away from the sport of hiking or camping.
Plan your trips, as I have said, to the weakest or least experienced person in your group. I suspect that by teaching as you go, you can take a novice and turn them into an experienced outdoors person. But, it takes time, patience, and understanding. Have fun and stay safe in the woods.