I pulled away from the New York Times Sunday crossword to check on the sun. It was not close. It felt unseemly to still be in pajamas with an unpacked camp at 10:34 am. But it was October on the Main Salmon. The sun was taking its sweet time creeping toward Jim Moore Beach, and we were not in a hurry. Our tent flies were still dewy, and 56 down was on the tip of our tongues. Becca and I returned to the crossword. We didn’t shove off until a leisurely 12:13 pm.
Two weeks prior, I’d woken up in the dark on that very beach, made coffee by headlamp and shoved off at a “respectable” 8:54 am. This week, though, we wouldn’t leave camp until the sun touched our faces. Or until we wanted to. This week was all about type one fun.
I was raised on a healthy dose of type two fun in the outdoors. In my house, we were oddly proud of self-imposed suffering. Whether we were backpacking, nordic ski racing or rafting, the bigger the slog, the better the glory. The more difficult the challenge, the sweeter the victory. Type two fun is the kind of fun that’s actually agony. It’s fear, struggle and suffering. Only once you survive and make it out the other side can you look back with a sliver of fondness and call it “fun.”
When I studied recreation in college, my classmates and I traded stories where danger and exposure were protagonists. In my guiding jobs after college, we proved our expertise with tales of great endurance and near escapes. We doled out respect based on perseverance through suffering.
My friend Becca is not about needless suffering. She listens to my stories but doesn’t try to one-up me with her own, though she definitely could. As a wildlife biologist with over a decade of field experience, she has hiked for days to find bighorn sheep and she’s endured extreme cold to gather data on wolves.
But Becca likes going slow. She doesn’t subscribe to the idea of misery as worth. She’s content to be unimpressive in the wilderness.
We used to coexist this way: me chasing misery and telling tales, her not feeling compelled to feel that same misery. She models type one fun—where it’s actually fun in the moment, and there’s zero threat of death. Type one fun involves no suffering, just straight enjoyment, joy or relaxation.
Quite honestly, it’s a blast.
Becca jumpstarted my journey to engender more type one fun adventure in my life. It began in earnest three years before our Main Salmon trip. We’d finally gotten ahold of a book we’d been wanting to read. Yes, we’re in our 30s, and yes, we love a good read-aloud. So, we schemed up a weekend adventure: three days sitting by the river and reading. There would be a heavy emphasis on snacks and swimming.
“I know a spot on the North Fork of the Boise!” I told her eagerly. “It’s got a sweet swimming hole, and we can bike or hike from a trailhead up the road. Oh! Or we could packraft!”
“You can,” Becca said dryly.
I sobered for a second and then recalibrated. I do not need to be intense, I told myself. This weekend, there’d be no pressure to bag peaks, count miles, or send stout lines. We only needed to be present outside. And read a book. Without remorse, I left the bike and the packrafts at home. I had been granted permission to be unimpressive.
That weekend was three days of icy dips in the swimming hole. It was three days of learning where the sun interacted with camp. Three days of identifying animal tracks and noticing their thoroughfares. Through it all, we watched the water trickle by like a meditation. Turns out, it’s pretty fun not to be miserable.
Since that trip, Becca and I have intentionally built type one fun into our lives in both the back and front country. We’ve done a lot of sitting next to bodies of water and reading. We laughed our butts off wearing backcountry face masks. We’ve spent time being still and noticed things I would never have otherwise.
I often feel a sense of urgency when I go outside—there’s so much to do and so much to see, and I want it all. What’s around the next river bend? What can I see from the next ridgeline? I can feel guilty when it seems as if I haven’t fully capitalized on every opportunity or moment. Becca reminds me that there’s another way to be.
Instead of focusing on being the first or the fastest, being outside is also an opportunity to feel at ease and connect to a place. When type one fun is my intention, I’ve found that I can unsubscribe from the pressure—to do more, go harder, be sendier. Plus, it’s freeing not to think we’re going to die!
I do love escaping death, don’t get me wrong. The outdoors is a space to push boundaries and do things we didn’t think we could. There’s something to be said for a healthy dose of type two fun every now and again. It can foster positive growth and confidence and push us to, as they say, “get comfortable being uncomfortable.”
“I still think the ratio should be tipped in favor of type one,” Becca tells me when we reflect on this dichotomy. “There will always be pressure to go to new places and try new things. But it’s fun, too, to go back to the same place again and again, to build a relationship with a place. See it in new seasons! See it in new lights! It’s okay to be laid back.”
I haven’t nailed the perfect ratio yet, but I’m grateful to have a friend who never pressures me to be extreme. Without her type one fun tutelage, I wouldn’t have stopped at Lantz Bar just to taste apples, where we sampled at least 12 different trees.
Nor would I have investigated bear scat and followed bear tracks to an après nap spot. I would have pushed through the flatwater above Magpie instead of drifting sideways. I would have missed the two giant wolves on the hillside just above the river, staring at us as we passed. And I sure wouldn’t have finished a Sunday crossword.
The next time you go boating, consider eddying out. Maybe stay still instead of summitting. Take deep breaths, watch the sun drift along the ridge, and listen to the birds. Go out there and get inside your comfort zone: it’s pretty nice there.