It was around this time last year, when the leaves began to turn, as they say up here in the Northern Hemisphere, that I did something fairly foolish.
I’m living just across the Charles River from Boston and in October the air gets a bit nippy and you suddenly notice that you’re out of time; summer is over and within a month you’ll be sequestered indoors, standing near electric heaters and, if you’re anything like me, wearing fourteen layers of clothing and making all sorts of quiet promises to yourself about getting back to the tropics for good, and to hell with this cold insanity…
A winter in Boston is a tough time for a man from the tropics. The sun is a dim, far-away lantern and the streets are covered with ice. I can’t walk over ice with the confidence of a local, and I never will. I like to think it’s because my natural stride involves a certain amount of confident swagger; it’s a more off-balance, manly strut than the local upright gait of these well-heeled gentlemen of the North East, but what I’m saying is that all this antipodean cool comes at a price. My center of gravity is moving when I walk, and on a frictionless surface, I tend to fall over. Often. Again, it’s not for a lack of coordination but a matter of involuntary style.
And sure, a Bostonian can go gliding across slippery ice while yapping into a cell-phone and carrying groceries with dignity and grace; I can respect that. I’m only saying that, when I walk on slippery stuff, I have no option but to take one wobbly-step after another, swearing and muttering as I go, and usually with my arms out like wings and with my mind swirling and snarling with dark thoughts about the stupidity of the Puritans and their masochistic willingness to found cities this far from the equator.
A man is what he is. It helps, I suppose, that whenever I go passing by, ladies will stop and, noting my rugged, confident antipodean stride, ask themselves, ‘who is that manly man with the rakish walk and the mien of a buccaneer?’ That’s why that, as far as I’m concerned, on the topic of my constant tendency to slip over on the ice, Fate and I can just shake hands now and call it even.
So in October last year I found myself knowing that I was, yet again, about a month away from needing to rent a reliable Tauntaun simply to get over to the shops, and it made me really annoyed suddenly. I felt a bit frantic, to be honest. I kept going outside as often as I could - not merely to seize the day, but to hug it desperately for all its lingering warmth. That’s why I decided to take my dog hiking in New Hampshire. In the context of everything it just seemed like a really sound idea. And yes, alright, the whole thing turned into a minor disaster - but wait, look at me, getting ahead of myself.
First of all, I ran the idea of going camping by some of my mates of mine here and, to my surprise, they all seemed to want to come with me. Each in turn offered their own perspective of the unfamiliar territory that is the North-American camping experience.
Ned said: Dude we should totally go out there. Take off all our clothes, sit under the stars and drop acid.
So I said: Another option is that we don’t do that. And, because I don’t think we’re gay, maybe we should do something that isn’t very gay?
My friend Kurt’s reaction had a bit more of a heterosexual lean to it.
Kurt said: Dude. I’m down for a total bro-fest. Me and my bros can pick up a half-dozen kegs and some fireworks and we can build a bonfire and go swimming, dude. It would be wicked. Like I’m thinking it’ll basically be Where The Wild Things Are, if that story had a lot of bros with beer and a bonfire. Dude! We should bring Dave! Dave has a helicopter. In the event of a medical emergency he can totally medivac us.
Medivacs are awesome, he concluded knowingly.
And I said: How many bros are you thinking?
So Kurt said: Dude, just the core wolf pack. I’m thinking forty or fifty. We’ll keep it small.
I didn’t mention it to Byron, because you don’t plan things with Byron. He just sort of shows up unprepared and people feed him. The best way of organizing Byron is kidnapping him at the last minute. I mean, you can give him two weeks notice and he’ll fret for two weeks and then show up unprepared anyway, so trust me, the best approach is to not tell him that you’re going camping and just show up in his living room at 4am with your core wolf pack of forty or fifty bros, all dressed in camo gear and holding various kinds of inexplicable demolition equipment, and just tell him to come along with you and you’ll explain everything later.
Trust me, when have I ever not known what I was doing?
I didn’t talk about my camping plans with any ladies, because if experience has taught me anything it’s that ladies make everything more complicated, simply because they try to be prepared for every eventuality. Ladies seem to know about things like lyme disease and ticks and toxic vines, if that is a thing. Really useful stuff, of course, but if you bring them into the discussion at the preparing stage, the camping trip turns into a vacation in a well-appointed hotel in a city with a population upwards of five million. It’s still a ‘camping trip’ but some people called Deidre and Colin are there and you have to make polite conversation with Colin, who is some sort of accountant, while the ladies go to a spa. And Colin doesn’t know why he’s there either and you end up bonding with each other anyway and getting drunk somehow and wind up getting kicked out of a Toys’R’Us for reasons you can’t remember, except the ladies are really angry at you both now, and the camping trip is canceled and everyone goes home, though later Colin joins your online gaming team and you, he and all your mates spend two evenings a week for the rest of your lives killing homophobic 13-year-olds over and over and over again, listening to their little spirits break in your headsets as their frustrated racist epithets dissolve into incoherent sobs of impotence.
So going camping is complicated stuff, and it’s really tricky organizing so many bros, even with a helicopter at your disposal. Besides, Kurt’s mate Dave might own a helicopter but he doesn’t have a pilot’s license or a job and, now that we’re thinking about it, nobody is even sure from where he got the helicopter. Some basic Risk Assessment warning lights are beginning to flash on the dashboard of my mind. And Ned is talking about bringing his entire nudist drumming circle, and Byron still doesn’t know about this camping trip even though we’ve been talking about it around him for weeks. Complete strangers are asking me if I am going on the camping trip - telling me how epic it will be and how they’re bringing along their girlfriends, children, cats and goldfish.
It was all becoming a bit much.
So early one Saturday morning, while all my nearest and dearest were still asleep and thus unable to talk me out of it, I snuck off to the woods of New Hampshire by myself, taking only a few meagre provisions and my dog, of course. We were having an adventure, I explained to her. “I don’t know much about the American outback,” I told her, “but I expect there’ll be bears and rattlesnakes. And cactuses. There’ll be hillbillies and rotund gentlemen wearing camouflage-pattern pants and U.S.S. Enterprise baseball caps, hunting extremely friendly and inquisitive deer. This means you must be on your very best behavior.”
My dog looked at me, eyes glistening with enthusiastic promise, and she capered a little dance in my hallway, her tail swishing about with delight. She knew adventure awaited and her eyes shone with the promise of being a very good girl, just you wait and see.
And I ruffled her neck with happy naiveté, forgetting what a God-damned liar my dog can sometimes be.