The Camper’s Dilemma

I recently traveled with my three sons to a Boy Scout Camporee. For those who have no experience with Boy Scouts, a Camporee is an event, where some volume of Scouts, from different troops, gather to camp together in a field and participate in activities around a central theme.

Growing up I attended local Camporees in both the fall and spring. These events were famous for being held during the times when the western New York weather was absolutely the most dangerous. It was not extreme heat nor cold that threatened the neckerchief-wearing campers, no it was the combination of rain and not-quite-freezing temperatures.

Hypothermia was the danger, and letting judgment deficient teenaged boys traipse around in thirty-eight degree rain is a perfect storm for the condition. These gatherings were so consistently awful that to this day, any form of cold and rainy conditions is referred to in the Nazarian house as “Camporee weather.”

The granddaddy of all Camporees is the “Klondike Derby” which is held in January. The word cold does not even begin to describe that ordeal, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

 

The Camporee we just attended was neither cold nor wet, in fact the weather was fantastic. We set out in a caravan of cars and trucks on a Friday morning. Our destination was the United Stated Military Academy at West Point for the 53rd annual West Point Camporee. This two-night event is run by West Point cadets and had a fun, military theme.


Camporee activities, West Point Style

We arrived by midday, parked our cars, and hopped on a shuttle bus that took us to a trail head where we began a four-plus mile hike to the site of the Camporee. The troop trailer was transporting all of our gear, so our burden for the hike was light.

We arrived at the campsite, set up our tents and began to prepare dinner. As we settled in and started to cook, dozens of other troops filed in and began doing the very same on all sides. Before nightfall, 6,000 scouts would be camping around us. We enjoyed a dinner of meat starch and vegetables seasoned with dirt, and a variety of the other detritus one finds in the woods.

We ate it, not because it was good,
but rather because we were really hungry.

 

When you go camping, your sleeping clock gets messed up. You go to bed earlier than normal because it is dark, and apart from staring into a fire, there really isn’t much to do. You also get up much earlier than normal because you wake up with the sunrise and the chirping of the birds, but also because you went to bed so damn early.

So on a camping trip, your sleeping clock shifts; so what?

 

The sleeping shift is a problem because none of your other habits shift along with it. Most significantly I am talking about the times when you eat and drink. You eat your dinner at a normal time, but you go to bed early. This is precisely what leads to the title of this story – The Camper’s Dilemma.

Camping is by design an unpleasant experience. You haul all of your outdoor equipment into the wilderness, and then you make every effort to achieve the same comfort level of home, which is of course impossible.

Your bedroom, known as a tent, is smaller than your bed at home. Your bed is a synthetic torture device called a sleeping bag. Your pillow is a rolled up sweatshirt that is either dirty or damp or both. In your tent you also have something called a backpack that serves as your dresser, closet, kitchen cabinets, and toolbox – it does none of these jobs well.

As you get ready for bed the question is not if you should change into something like pajamas, but rather how much of what you have been wearing all day should you remove before cramming yourself into the sleeping bag.

Much like a college night of bad decisions, when you camp you find yourself sleeping in your clothes, on the ground.

 

Fortunately, the activities leading up to going to bed are exhausting so you have no trouble falling asleep; it’s the staying asleep that is the trick. Any movement as you sleep brings discomfort. Inches away on one side of you is your tent mate, who is never your wife, so I’ll just leave it at that. Equally close on the other side is your backpack, which is not good for snuggling.

Within the first couple hours your sleeping bag will begin to twist like a French cruller, making attempts at improved comfort ever more difficult. Once the dew has begun to collect outside, every surface of your tent feels like a cold, musty wet nose of a dog. It is of course impossible to move more than two inches without touching the tent.

This is what a sleeping bag feels like in the middle of the night.

This is what a sleeping bag feels like in the middle of the night.

 

The dilemma presents itself in the wee hours of the morning as you run afoul of the mismatch between your consumption and sleeping schedules. By this I mean you need to pee.

Of course you do not know what time it is because your watch is on your wrist, and your wrist is stuck deep in the giant Chinese finger trap that your sleeping bag has become. You try and convince yourself that at any moment the birds will begin to chirp, the sun will rise and it will be time to get up. Twenty minutes goes by, this does not happen, and now you really need to pee. At this point you find yourself smack dab in the middle of the Camper’s Dilemma.

Do I endure the discomfort of a full bladder in my (somewhat warm) nylon spiral prison, or do I get up and stumble outside to pee?

 

When camping, if your tent is your bedroom, then the rest of your “house” is the outdoors all around you. The difference is that to access any of the rest of the house (and by that I mean the bathroom) you must put on your boots and traverse dozens of yards in the dark cold. It is certain you will get wet from the dew, you will likely get dirty and there is a good chance that you will trip over something, probably your untied boot laces.

So there you are, awake and uncomfortable, trying to decide if the relief you so desperately desire is worth the additional discomfort and risk required to achieve it.

 

Eventually you manage to extricate your watch from the depths of your sleeping bag only to realize it is just 2:00am. Up you get, and out into the abyss you go, traveling the absolutely minimum distance to an acceptable “pee tree.” Moments later, you’re back in your tent, you’ve reset your twisted sleeping bag, and as you place your head upon your damp, dirty sweatshirt of a pillow, you ask yourself a simple question.

Why did I wait so long to do that? It wasn’t so bad and I feel much better now.

 

We all face the Camper’s Dilemma every day. There are things we know we must do eventually, that we delay because we think it will be worse than it actually is. Before long the discomfort becomes too great and we decide to suck it up and just do it.

From late January every year when the W2s show up in the mail, millions of Americans may as well be campers with full bladders, as the calendar ticks down to April 15th.

Much like a dog that constantly falls for the fake ball toss,
we never seem to learn the lesson.

 

So, the next time you find yourself (metaphorically) all twisted up in a sleeping bag in a state of discomfort – don’t wait, get up and pee. The job will be done, you’ll feel better, and you’ll get to go back to sleep. It may take some time to change your behavior, but it will be worth it.

Oh, I promised to tell you about the Klondike Derby. The Camper’s Dilemma is very different when it is twelve degrees outside and the ground is covered in snow. In that situation you tend to care much less about the optics of what you need to do in the middle of the night. So, most mornings after a night of winter camping the first one up will see a thin yellow line in the snow in front of nearly every tent. I’ll leave it to you to figure out why.

 

Copyright © 2015 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved.

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One thought on “The Camper’s Dilemma

  • Dad, this was a great post but I believe that the moral of the story is to tie your foot wear before you go anywhere so that you do not trip and fall and have an even more terrable sleep with your sleeping bag being soggy for the rest of the trip because you fell in dewy grass

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