Halloween and Thanksgiving are fun, but my favorite autumn ritual takes place deep in the foliage-strewn wilderness.
It involves just as much good food (and snacks), but decidedly less indoor plumbing. No costumes are worn, and football games are not watched due to the conspicuous lack of cable television.
It includes no family, and neither of my brothers, but it does boast an abundance of brotherly camaraderie. Some years the ritual is carried out in my home state of Pennsylvania, other years it is staged in West Virginia, and this year it took place down in North Carolina.
Usually it involves 7 bearded fellows, 6 of whom hail from Messiah University (née College) — Nate, Josh, Chris, Rodney, Matt, George, and me. But this year the first 2 of those whiskery dudes were unavailable. One of them missed out because of the ongoing scourge of Covid, which can apparently be contracted even through a manly nest of facial hair.
So there were 5 of us in North Carolina for the annual ritual, along with 6 pounds of shrimp, 4 steaks, 2 canoes, 1 kayak, and 1 poop bucket. (More on that later.)
The ritual usually involves traversing from point A to point B in a remote rural watery wonderland, via non-motorized aquatic vehicles with names like “The S.S. POS” and “Delaware’s Revenge,” along with the notably less imposing “The Pea Pod.”
Now and then we build the ritual around hiking instead, including once when we camped at the top of Spruce Knob in West Virginia and on our first night were buffeted at 1:00am by crusty snow and wraith-sounding winds that threatened to rip the tops off our tents.
This year, on the other hand? Sunny and 75 degrees, despite the trip being later in the calendar than we’ve ever scheduled it. No snow, no wind, no wraiths, and very minimal hiking. Just 17 leisurely miles over 2+ days of paddling down the Roanoke River in my new favorite non-Union eastern state, North Carolina.
The fellas in our group hail from New York, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. Our full slate of guys, this year’s absentees included, are fathers with 1, 2, 2, 2, 3, 4, and 6 kids, respectively. Along with 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, and 1 spouse, respectively. (No polygamists in our ranks, at least for the time being.)
We came (to the Tar Heel State).
We saw (tons of cypress trees and speedboats).
We conquered (an easy, zero-rapids river).
And we conversed. Every waking hour included stimulating conversation about a wide array of subjects, all while canoeing and campfire-ing and eating like golden camping gods. Because when it comes to camp cuisine, even with our usual Michelin-rated chef missing in action this year, these guys don’t mess around. Chris and Rodney kept us nicely sated.
It was a river ride to remember. And 60 hours of college-buddy bonding that further fortified my recently resuscitated soul.
Camping is zen.
Friendship is life.
Ritual is important.
And nature is, without question, the best place on earth.
(Part 2 of 2, with more granular details including the aforementioned poop bucket, coming later this week.)
One thought on “A Wild, Watery Wilderness Rite of Passage”
No polygamists? BORING. (But brilliantly written, nonetheless.) (And don’t tell Dani I said that.)