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Camping with a worldly 16-year-old

October 1, 2013  By Ian Robinson

I'm about to hike the mountain back country for a week with my son.

My outdoor gear was, in some cases, 40 years out of date.

Now let’s just pause and ruminate on that, shall we?

’Cause when I figured that out, it kind of took me aback.


I have a World Famous canoe pack that I’ve been adventuring with since I was 16 years old.

(NOTE TO WORLD FAMOUS: You guys made a really good pack. I only wish I’d held up as well over the years.)
And, like most guys, between the ears … I’m still 16 years old.


Except for those unfortunate parts of the day when I find myself passing before reflective surfaces. And it looks to me like somebody decapitated my father and made me wear his head.

 (NOTE TO SELF: Write serial killer comedy movie script in which the killer wears his dad’s head as a hat. Hilarity ensues as people keep mistaking him for his father. Only to be replaced with horror as the head falls off and hits the floor with a hollow THUNK!)

Actually, the head transplant thing isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds if you’re at all familiar with the movie Human Centipede.

(NOTE TO READERS OF DELICATE CONSTITUTION: If you are not familiar with the film Human Centipede — even by reputation — do not Google this title. It will not benefit you to see images or have the concept in your mind. Allow this to be a little, stand-alone reference that other people, less fortunate than yourself, understand. I wish I had never even heard of the movie Human Centipede. Do not put this in your head if you can help it. Live with the mystery. Let it be like how they get the caramel into the Caramilk. Let it be like quantum physics or why hot women sometimes date guys who look like fantasy movie forest trolls.)

At any rate, I wondered if there had been some technological advances in back country camping equipment in the decades since this notorious cheapo had gone shopping for stuff.

Boy. Has there ever.

My new camp stove folds up to the size of a couple of cigarette lighters. My new, German-engineered and manufactured alpine pack basically envelops the person carrying it in a padded hug from behind.

Women who’ve claimed to have been in love with me haven’t hugged me as nicely as the new backpack.

My tent weighs less than five pounds and is nicer than my first apartment when I moved out to attend university and wound up living in an uninsulated sun porch. In Ottawa. In the wintertime.

All this matters because in spite of the fact that I am 16 years old in my head … I am not. I am the father of a 16-year-old and we are going to hike through mountain passes that are almost 7,000-feet high. And better gear will translate directly into an easier trip because I am middle aged and about to sleep on the ground for a week.
I am doing it instead of lying on a beach somewhere because … because there are things you learn about your son in a week in the wild without distraction doing something difficult that you will never learn, for instance, on a beach vacation in Maui.

I have learned things about my son on such trips that I only suspected.

I have learned that he is tough.

I have learned that, when faced with adversity, he laughs and keeps going.

I have learned that he is—shockingly—a profoundly spiritual human being who thinks deeply about a great many things.

This is a shock because his normal conversational topics are usually restricted to:

a)  Girls

b)  The fact that girls have boobs

c)  The latest science-fiction/fantasy novel he’s reading

d)   Butts. Girls often have butts that are worth a great deal of attention.

e)  The relative lameness of many of those employed in the educational system.

f)   Are two boobs enough? Would a third boob in the centre of the back—to hang onto while slow dancing—just be overkill?

g)  Also legs. Girls with butts and boobs, in whatever number, most often move from place to place on long and shapely legs that are a pleasure to gaze upon and Jake also firmly believes that whoever decided that short shorts were fashionable again deserves a Nobel freaking Prize.

Not that there’s anything wrong with anything on that list.

But it’s good to know there’s more to him than that. Which is something the mountains taught me.

I’m not sure what the mountains have taught him about me but it can’t be that bad because his face lit up when I said, “Hey, you wanna do another back country trip?”

Which is good.

Because I’m not sure how many mountains I’ve got left in me.

Because even my inner 16-year-old understands something I did not know when I was really 16.

To quote the late, great rock and roll star Jim Morrison: Nobody gets out of here alive.

And to quote the late, great insurance executive and poet Wallace Stevens: Death is the mother of beauty.

So there’s a sweetness verging on sorrow to these trips that my younger adventurings lacked.

Plus … I’m looking forward to using the combined power of our intellects to answer the age-old questions: Are two boobs actually enough?

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