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Why I Hate Camping -- And Then an Epiphany

by Tom Johnson on Sep 4, 2008
categories: general

Last week Shannon informed me that we needed to attend her family reunion, which occurs every four years, more or less following the Olympics. Family reunions in Utah, it turns out, are a big deal.

Her cousins and aunts and uncles drove in from all around the region, from Arizona and Idaho and Washington. They rented out an entire campground over at Warm Springs, Utah – about 2 hours southeast of Salt Lake City. More than 50 people attended a 2-3 day cabin-based reunion experience. The "family president" organized the event, and the "family president-elect" was in training for the next one.

Apparently 50 people is a small family reunion in Utah. My brother-in-law's friend informs me that her family reunions are a "little bit larger," and include upwards of 150 people. Coming from a small family outside of the Utah culture, with cousins that I can count on one hand, the sheer size of the gathering is a bit of a wonder to me.

As we entered the Warm Springs campground and unloaded our bags into an electricity-enabled cabin, I pulled out my BlackBerry and saw the saddest two words a person with a BlackBerry can see: "No Service." Without service, a BlackBerry is little better than a paper weight, so it stayed in my glove box for the ensuing two days.

For the next two days, I shot baskets on an old, bent rim, threw Blongo balls at a frame target, kicked around a soccer ball with my kids, tried to get a rally going with volleyball, paddle-boated on an algae pond, attempted to find a hiking trail up a small ridge, doodled my name on a picnic table banner, burned marshmallows around a smoky fire, guessed the names of my wife's cousins, picked burs out of a dog's fur, and mostly sat around on picnic tables eating sloppy joes and cantelope.

About what you would expect from a lazy-paced gathering in the middle of nowhere. Despite the immersion in nature, the opportunity to "get away from it all," I longed for Internet access. And then something happened.

My father-in-law, who has the skin of a polar bear, swam around in a frigid creek like it was a warm bath. As others joined him, I also slowly waded out into the cold rushing creek -- slowly, allowing my skin to numb little by little. My first time in the creek was merely one of prolonged endurance to the cold. After 20 minutes, I waded out to my waist and dipped up to my shoulders, but that was it.

The next day, however, someone loaned me a pair of Crocks sandals, and I maneuvered across the rocky bottom to a narrow gap in the river where the current rushed past. Wearing my Michael Phelps goggles, I swam my best crawl stroke upstream against the current. Swimming at full strength, I could move just up to the mouth of the gap, but not past it. I spent the next while swimming my heart out against the current, and then floating back down. Swimming up towards the gap, and floating back down.

Later, Shannon floated downriver on an inner-tube, and I swam beside her looking underwater, still wearing my goggles. I saw several big trout swimming right where we were. The water was shallow, and I could grab hold of the mossy rocks with my hands/fins.

It was while swimming in the river that I had my epiphany about why I hate camping. It's not that I hate nature; it's that I dislike sitting around. I need a challenge, some obstacle to overcome. To drive out into the middle of nowhere and … just … sit … around … outdoors -- it bores me.

When I was a teenager, I was involved in an Explorer Search and Rescue group. Our mission was to rescue lost people in the wilderness (and we were often called us in the middle of the night). Sure there were times when I'd stumble upon a hidden meadow full of wildflowers bent over with morning dew, the sun just rising over the mountain, and I'd stop and think, Wow. This is awesome. But that's not what kept me going. What kept me going was the hunt, the search, the quest to retrieve.

During these searches, we navigated off course with compasses, pitched tents made of tarp where tents were never meant to be pitched, kept our boots dry with Goretex gators, fired up Whisperlite stoves to thaw our frozen bodies with hot chocolate -- I loved it.

The same traits carry over into my career in IT. Almost every day, I'm confronted with a problem to solve. Something doesn't work right -- I try to fix it. Something is confusing -- I figure out how to explain it. Someone is having trouble -- I learn how to help them. Something is completely mysterious -- I define it. A career in information technology is a career in problem solving. It's a daily battle, but an enjoyable one. Take away the problems and it's the equivalent of going camping and just sitting around.

I spent over an hour in the creek that second day. And then before I knew it, the reunion was over. We packed up and drove home through the dark, through the small roadside towns in Utah, just two headlights winding around at night. Deer are rampant on highways at night in Utah. I nearly tagged several of them. This kept me alert despite my tired body. The deer became a game, a course of obstacles to avoid.

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