Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Great Outdoors

After moving to the Northwest, I have become acutely aware of the amount of people that enjoy a wide variety of outdoors activities, like camping. They actually plan time to trek out into the cold, damp wilderness, set up a gingham shelter and sleep on the ground. I find this procedure asinine. We as humans have spent a lot of time and energy to make astounding advancements in technology so we could live a comfortable life indoors. I have been told that camping is a great way to “escape” and to reconnect with nature. Again, I have to say, this seems asinine to me. As far as I can see, the people that go camping invest a LOT of money in buying expensive and durable equipment to shield themselves from the nature they are trying to connect with.

I guess I have never been what you could call an “outdoorsy” kind of girl…I know, shocker. I have been known to enjoy an occasional long walk, I have skinny dipped in the ocean at dawn, and I have even enjoyed the beach, as long as there is shade near by…that is where my outdoorsy exposure really ends. So you can imagine my horror when I was asked to join some friends on a camping trip, in my mind the only form of camping I was aware of was 3 stars or less.

As I was faced with the fate of spending 3 whole days surviving the elements, I realized that I should probably try to arm myself. I rarely entertain the idea of buying flat shoes, let alone hiking boots. A helpful coworker suggested that I try to keep an open mind and go to REI (conveniently located across the street from where I work). I do want to point out before I begin this open-minded tale, that I find it slightly ironic that people by the thousands gather at this temperature controlled Mecca for out-of-doors activities, to buy very expensive prepackaged merchandise to enhance their experience of the great outdoors.

I was awestruck by how immense the store was. It housed literally hundreds of thousands of items all for people who wanted to go outside all in the name of “fun”. The floors were decorated with staged scenarios and pristine models of colorful equipment, it was like the Ikea showroom (only most of the items in REI have names that are slightly easier to pronounce). I wandered around for nearly an hour just staring at the displays in wonder. The first thought that came to my mind was, how many people out there actually assemble these things correctly on the first try? I’m sure the instructions to these things are more complicated than the Rosetta stone, and anyone that could actually put them together, let alone make them look as good as they looked perfectly displayed in REI, has got to be a genius of Mensa quality.

I first located the biggest item that I figured I would need, a tent. Wandering through the entire section of the store dedicated ONLY to covering oneself, I found myself overwhelmed. Did you know that there are over 20 types of tents? I didn’t. Tents with names that include, Chum, Kohte, Lavvu, Sami Tent, Loue, Pandal, Sibley…I take back my afore mentioned comment about the product names at Ikea.

“Well hey there! Do you have any questions?” asked an overly chipper voice behind me. The first thought I had was to say a polite no thank you and beeline out of there to find myself a place more suited to my personality (preferably a store that stocked high heels). But instead I looked this guy dead in the face and said,

“I have a camping trip coming up, and I don’t really know what to get.”

“Oh well sure! I can help you with that! I’m Chip! Well, the first thing you’re going to need is a tent!” I repressed my urge to say ‘No shit Sherlock’ and instead blindly nodded and followed Chip and his popped collar down one of the isles. “Well, the first thing you should consider, is your location. Do you know where you’ll be camping?”

“In the woods?” I answered. He laughed hysterically for about 2 minutes and then said,

“You’re funny!” It was all I could do to keep from kicking him in the shin, as ‘the woods’ really was my best approximation of where I would be going. My friends did of course mention where we would be camping, I just chose not to retain any of the information dispensed after hearing that we would be braving nature. Chip then noticed my helpless and somewhat miffed face that obviously had no fucking clue where I was going and abruptly stopped laughing. I believe it was at this moment when he realized that he was dealing with a camping virgin. It also must have dawned on him that this was a rare encounter in which he could sell an immense amount of useless crap to an inexperienced first timer.

“We should get you a cart” He said and rushed off. I stood in the isle, much like a cow stands in line at the slaughter house thinking “gosh this is a nice change from shitting in a field, it sure smells funny in here, but I’ll stand here because they told me to. Hmmm, I wonder where Bessy went?” Upon Chip’s return, I had come to two conclusions, one, that I was totally and completely helpless in this situation; and two, that I was going to regret letting Chip help me.

As we piled stuff into my cart Chip would pause intermittently to show me the benefits of the latest lightweight poncho or the exciting advancements in Swiss army knife technology and I would nod in feigned interest, I haven’t had to work that hard at faking anything since my last relationship.

Out of sheer morbid curiosity, I was beginning to wonder what all of this was going to cost me. In fact, I think investing in real-estate might be cheaper and at least in that case I would theoretically have a house to stay in instead of paying to expose myself to all of natures glory. “Hey Chip, what is all of this going to cost me? I need to be able to afford a couple of other things this month, like food and rent.”

“Well, let’s see shall we?” He whipped out a plastic calculator and began to furiously tap away, adding up just how much of dignity was going to be lost while trying to set up this equipment. “Looks like with tax, everything is going to come out to about $1,465.00” After the stunned silence that followed, I was able to muster up the only logical response I could think of,

“Let me get this straight Chip, you want me to spend $1500 on equipment that I will probably only use once, that I will probably not be able to set up properly, and that I mostly likely wont even need to use unless I plan on summiting Everest on this trip?”

“Well, the self cooling rust resistant hydration pod is really very useful and that inflatable respite divan will give added comfort-“

“Well, let me put this a different way, Chip, the ONLY way I am spending $1500 on a 3 day weekend is if it is going to involve a passport, a bikini and barely dressed waiter resembling Brad Pitt carrying a Mojito.”

In retrospect I think I may have bruised poor Chip’s ego a little by reacting the way I did…but the thought of spending that much money on something that ultimately means less to me than socks, was a bit too much for me to entertain seriously. Eventually I was able to walk out of there with less than $100 worth of equipment and a smile on my face…and Chip was able to walk away with at least one testicle still descended.