Adventure travel: We used to call it ‘camping’
December 13, 2002
Something’s nagging me about this whole Nevada “adventure traveler” campaign to bring in tourists.
Now, I could be wrong because it’s been awhile since I’ve been what I would consider to be an adventure traveler. But aren’t they, um, cheap?
Maybe they all drive Hummers. Maybe they’re packing thousands of dollars worth of gear. Maybe they’re upscale, big-ticket, high-rolling, platinum-carrying members of the idle rich.
In my day, though, the term we had for adventure traveling was “camping.”
And we mainly camped because we couldn’t afford a motel room.
Here was the typical adventure vacation for me and my cronies to Lake Powell:
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Cram all the people, dogs, coolers, canoes, fishing poles, lawn chairs, sleeping bags, tents and backpacks into one truck so that we wouldn’t have to buy gas for two vehicles.
I even had a checklist so that we wouldn’t forget anything. Two reasons: One, we weren’t going to be anywhere near a store for days at a time. Two, even if we did wander into a store, we had about $7 among us.
The coolers would be packed with beer first, because beer would get you through times of no food better than food would get you through times of no beer. Or something like that.
That made it imperative we actually catch some fish, otherwise we would have a couple of hungry nights. We made our own trail mix — none of that store-bought stuff, which was outrageously expensive.
We would head for a place called Fry Canyon, which had a store and a couple of gas pumps. Nothing else. It was an outpost on the road to nowhere. From the looks of it, the store wasn’t getting rich off people like us stopping in for an emergency bag of Cheetohs and just enough high-priced gas to get us home.
In the early years, we had a canyon all to ourselves with plenty of driftwood backed up in it from the lake. We could camp there for a week — having as many adventures as we could muster — without seeing anybody.
Later, though, people started discovering our canyon. We would arrive with our gypsy caravan of dogs and canoes to find a couple of other pickup trucks parked along the shore and fishing boats moored nearby.
Then the worst thing possible happened. Somebody improved the road. By “improve,” I mean they took what was no road at all, just a couple of ruts that wove their way through the gullies, leveled out the roughest spots and laid down crushed gravel.
So the next time we arrived with our fishing poles and beer coolers, we discovered a half-dozen RVs set up on the shore, with their shade awnings unfurled and their charcoal grills smoldering. Power boats were zipping up and down the lake, and kids on Jet Skis were doing circles in our formerly remote canyon.
A chubby guy in a floppy hat eased himself out of his lawn chair as we pulled up. He offered us a beer and seemed eager to chat, but we didn’t stay long. Although we found another canyon and camped, it didn’t seem the same — especially when we woke up the next morning and crawled out of our tent to find a house boat parked about 100 yards away. I’ve never been back.
My conclusion is that when the Tourism Department goes after adventure travelers, what they’re really shooting for is the crowds of people who eventually will follow the adventure travelers. The people with RVs and power boats and Jet Skis and, most important, credit cards.
It’s inevitable that by the time a remote wilderness paradise is “discovered” by some national magazine, the adventure travelers — still known out on the trail, I think, as hikers and campers — are looking for somewhere else. Somewhere without motors and satellite dishes.
That’s why the announcement this week that Reno has landed the Great Outdoors Games fits perfectly with the theme. Northern Nevada isn’t really looking for a bunch of log-rollers and archers to drag the local economy back on its feet.
We’re really looking for the people who like to watch Great Outdoors Games on TV, in the comfort of their living rooms, so that when it comes time to actually head out into the great outdoors they’ll know where to reserve their rooms.
That’s where I am these days. I haven’t unrolled the tent in years. My biggest adventure traveling will be Chicago O’Hare over the holidays. I have a credit card. I like hotel beds. Even better, I like living close enough that I can go home and sleep in my own bed.
Next time I’m sitting in my lawn chair next to the shore at Lake Tahoe or Pyramid or Topaz and a truckful of adventure travelers rolls up with their dogs and canoes, I’ll be sure to offer them a cold beer.
Look for me. I’ll be the chubby guy in the floppy hat.
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