The man who said yes.
My husband Tim described his dad as a “no” machine. Only one opinion in the family mattered: His. Anything he didn’t like himself was branded unworthy of exploration. So deeply ingrained were his parameters for life that to go against his way of thinking was, well, unthinkable.
But I loved his dad. He was all gracious Texan charm to me and to his acquired grandchildren. Even after the unimaginable happened. One day at a family gathering, he expressed a less than favorable opinion of teachers. Since I was one, I felt the need to challenge him on the subject.
I literally remember a collective gasp from the rest of the family, who awaited the punishment for my crime of having an opinion, but, as I recall, he merely smiled his gracious smile, a twinkle in his eye, and moved on. Apparently, I may have been the only one who did not fear the paper tiger that had ruled this family.
But Tim had ingested a wealth of “must held”opinions, one of which was that outdoor adventures, especially camping, were stupid. Our family, on the other hand, only went on camping adventures, being too poor to do anything else. And every weekend we seemed to be doing something in the outdoors. As someone who only found peace from conflict on family camping trips, his anti-camping stance presented a conundrum for me.
It took years before I began to devise a plan and then to feel safe suggesting it. Knowing that his version of camping was a motel, I first broached the subject of a “cushy” camping week, all meals provided, tents set up and a week to kayak with the orcas off the northern end of Vancouver Island. And the “hook” was this:
We would stay at a hotel on each end of the trip.
He agreed, to my surprise. When we arrived at the dock with our gear bags, a small cruiser awaited to boat us to a remote location with eight other participants all, we learned quickly, from foreign countries. After about 45 minutes, we turned the corner into a small cove, and the engines were shut off as we coasted to about ten or so yards off shore.
One of the crew member threw a park bench over the side as our “step ladder” and reminded us to carry our gear over our heads to keep it dry, sending us one by one into the icy water.
And, yes, it was a portent of things to come.
Once on shore, we were assigned to one of the permanent tents scattered around the hillsides. We were directed up a root tangled trail into an overgrown, rank forest. In the afternoon air, a rotting smell filled the air, which I chalked up to the hot midday sun. Throwing our gear inside, we hurried back to the main camp for dinner.
As the light faded, we clambered back to our awaiting tent after dinner with our insufficient flashlight, noting the smell had intensified. But sleep eluded us both. With the odor and the sound of a small stream nearby, the only antidote to the effects of intense nausea we were feeling was to drag our sleeping bags down to the beach in the dark to spend the night.
Stretching our bags on to the rocky sand, we lay there under the stars fighting the downhill tilt of the beach. In the distance, we spotted a cruise ship lit up like a Christmas tree and fantasized about swimming out to sea and pretending we had fallen overboard.
But finally sleep overtook us both. At least until I was awoken by the beautiful sound of waves crashing on shore. Getting nearer. And nearer. I wrenched my eyes open to note flashes of white near my feet.
The tide was coming in and we were below the tide line.
That was the beginning of the worst “cushy” camping trip in the history of mankind. Within two days, we had also discovered that Tim’s legs were too long to fit in a kayak without pain, and I had panic attacks when they tried to button down the skirt on my kayak to be in open ocean. We were land bound for the remainder of the trip.
Without kayaking as an activity, we became the guardians of someone else who found kayaking not to be to his liking: one of the twin teenage boys from Germany whose only English was the F word. At least that’s what he and his brother had convinced the group to believe, but I saw the twinkle in their eyes, and decided my contribution to their language study would be to add the sign language for “loser” to their vocabulary. Not our finest moment, but we somehow bonded with him over this sign language, and the three of us applied it far more than was appropriate.
Being the adventurer I was, I begged Tim to bail and go home early. We were covered in bites from an active sand flea invasion every night.. Sleep eluded us, and we woke up every morning to soaked sleeping bags. And our leaders expressed incredulity that anyone would book a kayak trip who did not, in fact, kayak. But we did kayak. Once. In an ocean kayak on Maui. True, we flipped it the moment we put our paddles in, but I was so sure this would be different.
Tim held the line. It was only a week.
Yes, a week. The longest weeks of our lives. Finally set back down on the dock, we limped to our car and drove to our hotel room. Once inside, we both literally looked at each other and started to weep. Uncontrollably. I looked at his slightly swollen, bug bite covered face and caught a glimpse of my own in the mirror. We had never looked so beaten up.
You would think that would have ended Tim’s adventures in the wilderness, but I continued to come up with wild ideas for “cushy” wilderness experiences, and, unlike his father, he continued to say yes. Yes to car camping, yes to tent camping, yes to camping on a river trip. Yes. Yes. Yes. In none of these trips did he ever have what I would call a positive experience. But he has hung in there.
When I read him my take on this adventure and asked him if it was accurate, he replied that it was all totally true. As we processed our less than stellar record with outdoor adventure, I shared that I marveled at his unfailing good humor when presented with yet another crazy idea, given his family DNA. . He looked me in the eye.
You know why I would do that?
Because I love you.
And so friends, we are headed on an another adventure this week to New Mexico to run in the White Sands and whatever else comes our way. Just another crazy idea. But because love is reciprocal, I booked a casita for us. Someplace with hot running water and fresh baked bread for incoming guests and a pool and a hot tub. Someplace where toilets flush and the yard is fenced.
Somewhere fit for a man who turned his back on “no” and, because of love, embraced the adventure of a spontaneous, sometimes uncomfortable life.