San Francisco, California

The western span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge pierces the divide between Yerba Buena/ Treasure Island and downtown San Francisco. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
The western span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge pierces the divide between Yerba Buena/ Treasure Island and downtown San Francisco.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

The city where I live, hike, study, play music, and plan trips.

There is never a time when i don’t have at least one trip planned for the upcoming months. I get really antsy and irritable anytime I look ahead a few months and don’t see one or more camping or backpacking trips coming up during that time.

What I’m trying to say here is:

Get OUT there. And do it like you MEAN it. And do it often.

America’s “Real” Pastime

First of all, lest anybody get the wrong idea here, let me just start by saying that I love baseball. I’ve been a die-hard Red Sox fan since before I can even remember; and I have ridden that particular roller coaster with pride (and no small amount of anguish) my entire life. I even worked at Fenway Park for a couple of years in my teens (until I got fired for sneaking my friends into the park).

Yes, I love baseball; and I likely always will. But I have to take issue with the game’s long-time description as “America’s Pastime”. Why? Well, because baseball is not really something that most Americans actually do, per se- so much as they watch it. For most of us who enjoy baseball, the game itself is a largely passive experience: the contest unfolds before us, and we follow along, riding the drama to wherever it might lead. But when all is said and done, watching a baseball game does not really amount to doing anything, in my view. But for all this, it’s no less engaging and compelling an experience.

So then… if not baseball, what activity, if any, is truly worthy of being called “America’s Pastime”? Well, if you were to ask a hundred people this very question, you’d probably get a hundred different answers (actually, come to think of it, you might very well end up with 85 responses of “Vegging on the couch catatonic in front of the TV”, and a small smattering of other assertions, of varying degrees of creativity and interest.)

As for me, I would argue that the term “America’s Pastime” would be more appropriately applied to an activity such as, oh I dunno, say camping, than to baseball. “Camping?”, you might understandably retort. “What percentage of the country ever even goes camping?” And in answer to that question I would say the following:

This here is my blog; and in my blog, America’s Pastime is camping, goddammit; I hereby decree it. However, if you feel some kind of driving compulsion to call something else “America’s Pastime”, then by all means, be my guest, and start your own freaking blog. But until then, and as long as you’re still here with me in my own little slice of the blogosphere, let it be known that it shall be camping that is America’s Pastime.

“On what grounds?”, you might enquire. Well, for starters, on the grounds that I said so; though I am prepared to offer up a more compelling argument than simply the tyrannical wielding of my status as local blog-master.

Consider: Camping is something that you actually do- that is to say, it is an active pursuit. If you’re camping, then you’re actively camping, and that’s that. On the flip side, if you’re watching camping, without participating in it, then you’re kind of weird. And get a life.

Consider further: Camping is an activity that excludes nobody. All Americans (and everyone else, for that matter) are free to enjoy the rich rewards (and, on occasion, the harsh penalties) of living and sleeping for a time in the great outdoors, communing with nature, to one degree or another. Furthermore, you don’t need to be a member of any special club, or pass any kind of qualifying test, or be of any particular age, gender, social standing, or intellectual acuity level to partake of the opportunity to go camping. All you have to do is go out and do it. And what’s more, you can camp anywhere in the country, pretty much: on the coast, in the mountains, in the desert, in the plains, on glaciers, along riverbanks, atop cliffs, on sandy lakeshores, in the forest. Shit, you can even camp in most cities, if you’ve such an inclination.

And so what happens when we go camping? Well I suppose that depends on a myriad of unquantifiable factors, such as: location, weather, group size, level of preparedness, terrain, time of year, amount of alcohol and other sundries at hand, and any number of others. And even accounting for all of these factors, the recipe for any camping excursion will still inevitably include a healthy dollop of the unknown: be your trip a deep back-country outing, a remote car-camp, a stay in a reserved site in an official campground, a tent set up on a small patch of earth, or even just a night in a bedroll laid out beneath a canopy of stars.

Therein lies the challenge, the beauty, and the reward of camping. You can set up the pins; but exactly how they will fall cannot be pre-determined with any meaningful level of accuracy. There might be discoveries unlooked-for, encounters unanticipated, parcels of natural beauty or human intercourse unimagined; and also, there might very well be hardship, injury, even catastrophe. But one thing is assured: when you head out to go camping, you open yourself up to a limitless array of possibilities; and however it shakes out in the end, through this experience you’re bound to learn something new about yourself, and your world.

Regardless of the particulars, camping is always somewhat of an adventure; and it is this fact, more than anything else, that infuses the activity with the mystery, excitement, and promise that merit its being called America’s “Real” Pastime, as I deem.

And if you profoundly disagree, well then lucky you; because there are still a thousand baseball blogs out there for you to enjoy.