My good friend Oscar thinks I’m crazy. Now, he’s not alone in that assessment, but it’s the reason for this belief that’s the subject of this post. He simply can’t understand the great enjoyment that I derive from going camping solo. It is one of my favorite things in life … quality time in beautiful settings doing exactly what I want, when I want.

The roots of my love of the outdoors go way back. My parents were not big on the outdoors and the closest we ever came to camping was staying in cabins in Wisconsin for a few days at a time (my sister still insists that “roughing it” is a Holiday Inn without cable). However, when my family moved to Baltimore when I was 8, we lived in a house that had a large wooded expanse adjacent to our backyard. I knew every inch of those woods and used to spend hour upon hour in there. Good times. But it wasn’t until my mid-teens that the definitive event took place. I spent 28 days in the woods of North Carolina at Outward Bound.

For those of you who don’t know, Outward Bound is an outfit that takes folks into the woods, teaches them skills and essentially stresses them out. Pushing their limits is the goal. It was originated as a result of the Second World War when many merchant seaman were perishing after their ships were sunk. It was deduced that the high casualty rate was because the men simply gave up hope due to a lack of self-confidence in their ability to survive. Outward Bound was created to show people that they are capable of far more than they themselves believed possible. They’re very good at it. We spent many days hiking long distances with little food, canoeing whitewater rapids, rock climbing 600′ cliffs, rappelling and, ultimately, spending 3.5 days alone in the woods with no food. It was quite an experience, one that left me with a deep-seated love of the outdoors as well as an appreciation of my own capabilities.

Shortly after my return I became good friends with Tom. Tom & I would go off to Western Maryland and West Virginia for hiking and caving trips. We would pile into my old VW with too much gear and head out. We did this for years and I have many fond memories from those trips, as well as some pretty funny stories. (For example: we rated the wet caves we went into as to whether you had to wade through any water that hit “yodeling depth,” that being the depth of water that hit certain regions of a man’s anatomy that makes him yodel. There was also the time he set himself on fire, but that’s another post.) I have been regularly camping since those days.

GSMNP, 2009

One of the perks of my job is that I get a lot of time off. My Loving Wife (MLW) does not get nearly as much, so for the past several years I have been taking some time shortly after Labor Day and spending a week by myself camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This has quickly become one of my favorite trips of the year (not including ANY trip with MLW, of course) along with my annual trip with my buddies to the Shenandoah Mountains on the 2nd weekend of January … 25+ years and counting. I head up there with my gear & some fine bourbon and spend a few days hiking at my own speed (slowly) and taking lots of photos. Cool nights around a campfire next to a noisy stream and believe me, it doesn’t get any better. I just made my arrangements for this year’s trip and I simply can’t wait.

Try it, Oscar, and you may just understand.

Outward Bound, North Carolina, Too Long Ago

Above: Yup, I’m in there.

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