Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 16 Oct 2005 09:55:47 -0400

Going Camping

RUNNING COMMENTARY 593

I must not have done enough camping as a kid, or not too much of it in the Army. Going to camp is still a highlight of every year.

Growing up a farm boy, camp was a luxury my family couldn't afford. It wasn't the cost but the time, which my brother and I couldn't spare during our busy summers helping Dad on the farm. I went only once to a Methodist Church camp, as a sixth-grader.

A long time later, my number came up in the heaviest military draft call since the Korean War. Vietnam was my generation's battle, and the basic-training center in South Carolina overflowed when I arrived. We spent our entire nine weeks housed in six-man tents.

This experience soured me tent-camping. My wife Barbara still loves roughing it this way but has long since quit asking me to join her. She shakes her head in wonder, then, that I've become a professional camper in my own way.

These are camps in name only. No one sleeps in a tent or eats around a campfire. No drill-sergeant sound-alike shouts orders all day.

These are camps for runners. Usually they are adults, though they sometimes use camp as an excuse to act like kids again for a week.

I've gone to such camps almost every summer since 1974. They've taken me from coast to coast, and into Alaska and Canada.

One camp per summer isn't enough anymore. This year I took in three of them.

Ask me, "Which did you like best?" and I couldn't tell you. Each one is as different as its location and its director. Each is special in its own way -- from those with luxury condos to others with unlighted, unheated, unwatered cabins.

How do I compare my first camp in Brian Head, Utah, with the latest in Minnesota? One featured the "10K 10K" -- a race of that distance, all above 10,000 feet elevation. The other featured the incomparable Dick Beardsley in his home setting.

I recall the Alaskan camp with its 20 hours of daylight. And the summer stays at three different Winter Olympics sites, past and future -- Squaw Valley, Salt Lake City and Whistler.

But I don't remember the camps nearly so much for the places as for the people. This is what they all have in common: a chance to meet some great people and really get to know them. These chances are too few, even for runners who race.

I've all but stopped speaking at races. I once gave 15 or 20 of these speeches a year. In 2005 I was down to two, and having none next year would be okay with me.

At races I would speak TO runners but not talk enough WITH them. They were too busy obsessing on their race, and my stay was too short, for us to converse much.

Camps let me talk with them one at a time and at length. That's why I go to camps, and will keep going back. Nowhere else do runners get to spend so much time with the people who understand each other the best and appreciate their efforts the most.

(Next time: Letters from my three summer camps of 2005.)

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