Have you ever been with your friends and some competitive event arises amongst the group? It may be physically related, such as sports. Or the completely random competitions, for example who can grow the best beard or who can shovel the driveway faster. An uncontrollable sensation builds up to win and losing is not an option. Winning grants you bragging rights over them, but most importantly, it makes you the alpha male. Whether you win or lose, backing down is not an option. These constant little battles builds the genuine bond of friendship.
When I was eighteen and first moved out of my parent’s house, I was living with one of my former hockey teammates, Caden. It was late February and we were watching a survival documentary. Throughout the documentary, an urge to go deep into the woods and spend a few days camping began to arise. There had been a stretch of a few “warm” days that week. By the end of the documentary we were pumped to go camping, but most importantly, the ability to out-camp one another. There was no way I was going to let him camp longer and better than myself!
The decision had been made we would go camping that weekend for three days. It was supposed to be 25° degrees out. We headed over to Walmart and each bought a 30° sleeping bag. Of course we ensured each other that would be warm enough. Each of us had our own expert plan for the items and food to bring.
The plan was to find some state land and hike in a few miles to set up camp. Google Earth is a great tool to get a brief understanding of the land. We decided to go to the Eau Claire State Forest. As we were driving out to begin the adventure, there was a lot of big talk to reinforce each other we had what it took to make it the full three days. Maybe we would stay for four days, why not?
Neither of us had ever done any real camping. I went out a few times with my parents as a kid, but I never hiked into the woods and camped out. After walking a couple of miles, an agreement was reached our location was a good spot. In reality we were both surprised how difficult it was to walk through the wet snow with all our gear. Day one primarily consisted of setting up our gear. I choose to sleep in a hammock and Caden went with a tent. He assured me that a tent was a great idea because the snow would serve as padding. Despite the cold, we were in high spirits throughout the day as we crafted our own campsite.
On the morning of day two we expressed how each of us slept like a baby. It was actually the coldest I had ever been, but no way I was telling him that. We brought a hatchet to acquire firewood. Prior to the trip, we had this peculiar desire to chop down our firewood. Both of us had no idea how time-consuming it was to get firewood. A saw would have been much better tool than the hatchet. Since our friendship is built around competition, a hatchet throwing contest quickly sparked. This lead to a long distance throwing challenge. Caden was first and threw the hatchet as hard as he could at a tree 35 yards away. We watched the hatchet fly through the air, miss the tree, and disappear into the snow. This lead to an hour investigation. Assuming it was gone forever we started walking back to camp. All of a sudden Caden’s boot kicked the hatched under the snow and we hugged in joy for about five minutes.
My brilliant game plan for food was to bring only Bush’s Baked Beans. Caden brought various granola bars and about four cans of sloppy joe’s. We were heavily dependent on canned food, and a can opener would have been a great idea to bring. Unfortunately the hatchet was our only option, it worked about as well as you’d expect. The best strategy was to chop a hole in the side of the can. When Caden hacked opened his first can of sloppy joe’s, he realized you actually need to buy ground beef as well. I had a great laugh about this and criticized his camping abilities. However, I lived on fast food as most eighteen-year-olds and didn’t know you needed to buy beef either. Luckily I had a surplus of Bush’s Beans and didn’t each much due to the difficulty of opening a can.
It was still getting dark really early and we spent half of the day sitting in the dark. We were a little blown away how dark it really was and the little amount of light a fire provided. We spent most of the time sitting in my hammock observing the bright stars. Without light pollution from a city, the night sky comes alive. By the time we were going to bed, the only pants I brought were completely soaked from the snow. I was dreading the long night ahead and it was much colder than the prior night because of the wind. So I hung up my pants and decided to wear my jacket as pants. Sleeping in the hammock was absolutely terrible because you can only lay in one position for eight hours. The wind was so cold on my back I was considering laying on top of my sleeping bag instead of inside it.
The next morning my pants were stiff as a board. I could swing them around like a tennis racket. Caden had a lot of snow in his boots making for an excellent start to the morning. Somehow he made it both nights without water soaking through his cheap tent. We agreed to pack up our gear and make the hike back to our car at the break of dawn. The closer we got to the car, the more we began to admit our mental and physical challenges. We’ve played hockey in so many different cold rinks and thought it had conditioned us. We couldn’t believe how cold it had been and most importantly the pure excitement to get into a warm car.
As we loaded our gear into the car, still starving and freezing, we were laughing and full of joy to be alive. We’d never been so cold and laughed about how we were going to freeze to death before admitting we wanted to go home early. Caden said he was convinced I was going to cave once I started wearing my jacket as pants. We stopped at the closest McDonald’s and went inside to enjoy the warmth and food before heading home to sleep all day.
It has been a few years since this adventure and every February Caden and I laugh about the trip. We consider this to be the weekend we became men. Even though we were awful campers, we found our limits and what it means to struggle. Since then, we’ve done a lot of long and difficult camping trips. For some reason the unanticipated difficulty of this trip made us love camping. Now we do lots of research and each invested in a good quality sleeping bag. Our mind-set to “out-camp” one another has morphed into an appreciation for nature and the significance of teamwork.