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Breaking Bad

I have a lot of rules that I live by. Obviously, I try to adhere to the standards like “thou shalt not kill,” but I also have guidelines that are more tailored to my life, like, “never get in an elevator without snacks” (my fear of confined spaces is superseded only by my fear of being trapped without food), and “maintain a two-beer buzz at all times while on a boat” (motion sickness is a problem). One of the most important rules I live by? The time spent on an adventure has to be longer than the time spent in the car traveling to and from the adventure. 

It’s simple math: If you’re driving three hours round trip to ski, you have to ski for at least three hours and one minute. In order to maximize the fun, the effort to get there needs to be less than the reward of the adventure.

If you want to break it down into an equation, it would look like this: E < R = F2. 

You can’t argue with math. Or, if you prefer a metaphor: The juice has to be worth the squeeze. 

I broke my own rule recently when my son and I found ourselves with an entirely free Saturday with no team sports and decided to drive south to ride a specific pump track. It was a long drive, at least 1.5 hours, and we had to cross state lines. Normally, I wouldn’t entertain driving that far to ride a pump track, but there were extenuating circumstances—it had been raining for days and all of the trails close to us were soaked. This pump track was built by Velosolutions and was paved. So we loaded the truck with snacks and our bikes and drove through South Carolina’s horse country to cruise this small loop in a county park next to a community garden. It wasn’t exactly a bike destination. There wasn’t even a brewery nearby. But we had a complete blast. 

We rotated hot laps with a couple of older guys on BMX bikes and a gaggle of 8-year-olds on scooters. Every lap, we tried to push ourselves faster through berms and jump higher over double rollers. All in, we rode for maybe two hours, a solid hour less than the effort it took to reach the pump track, and yet the juice was very much worth the squeeze.  

I had broken one of my golden rules and liked the results. It made me question the personal code that defines how I navigate the great outdoors. Here are a handful of rules that I live by when it comes to outdoor adventure, all of which might need to be bent, if not outright broken. 

Rule: Don’t push your carbon fiber bike up the mountain.

If you have a really, really nice bike, you better be able to ride it. I’m an okay biker, so I ride an okay bike. It would be ridiculous for me to roll into the trailhead with a $10,000 carbon fiber trail bike, and then proceed to push the uphills and ride the brakes on the downhills, right? I stand by this rule, but mostly because I can’t afford a $10,000 bike. I’ve been fortunate enough to test them, though, and I know that you get what you pay for. You can’t buy talent, but you can buy a bike that covers up a lack of talent. You might not even have to push up the hills if you’re pedaling a feather-light whip. If you have the money, this might be a rule worth breaking. 

Rule: Never take your family camping for just one night. 

This is a subset of the “Effort versus Reward” equation. It takes 36 hours to pack for a family camping trip, and that’s true whether you camp for one night or five nights. If you’re putting in all that effort, you should spend a minimum of two nights sleeping outside. The problem is finding two consecutive nights when the entire family is free to camp. There are too many baseball games/birthday parties/track meets/sleepovers to make it happen. I’ve had this rule for years and admit that I break it on a regular basis. Every time we go camping for a single night, and spend the better part of two days prepping for the campout, and another two days cleaning all of the gear after the campout, I swear on the grave of my grandmother that I will never go camping for just one night ever again. I typically break that promise a few weeks later. Sorry, grandma. 

Rule: Always bring a beer into the backcountry. 

I’m not talking about hauling a keg. This rule isn’t about getting snockered in the woods, it’s about bringing a little bit of the civilized world into the wilderness. Nothing says “I’m done with the hard stuff” like putting your feet up and drinking a beer. That holds true whether you’re finishing a day at the office or a day on the trail. Putting that beer in a cold stream to chill it is wonderful, but even a warm beer after miles of hiking or biking can be as comforting as a hug from your grandmother. The only way I can see breaking this rule is if you can somehow manage to bring a well-appointed cocktail bar on the adventure with you. Because a negroni in the middle of nowhere is better than grandma hugs. (What’s with all the grandma references?) 

Rule: Don’t ride an e-bike unless you have to. 

I’m not hating on e-bikes here. I love them and think they fill an important niche and are broadening the spectrum of people who ride bikes on a regular basis. I look forward to riding one when I’m too old to pedal my regular bike. That’s the caveat that always follows my proclamation of e-bike love, though—when I’m older. But damn it if I’m not completely wrong here, because I recently rode an e-bike on a bar crawl through my hometown and it. was. awesome. It was just like riding a bike through town, but better. And I didn’t get sweaty. So, throw this rule out the window completely. Everyone should ride e-bikes. As often as possible. 

Rule: Don’t bring Netflix into the tent. 

Part of the reason we’re camping is to take a break from the trappings of civilization, i.e. streaming The Bachelor. Bringing a small board game, deck of cards, or chess board is more in tune with the wilderness aesthetic, but watching a movie or TV show in the woods feels…wrong. But one time I broke this rule on a multi-family car camping trip by bringing a projector and screen and showing a movie for the kids after the sun set. We still did all of the camping stuff—we went swimming and hiking during the day, and had a campfire and s’mores at night, but then the kids chilled out and watched The Goonies. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I’d say stick to this rule 90% of the time, but every once in a while, a movie night in the middle of the woods is pretty cool. Bonus points if that movie is The Goonies. 

Rule: Never wear cargo shorts in public. 

I like pockets, but cargo shorts are rarely appropriate, at least that’s what my wife said when she took all of my cargo shorts to Goodwill and banned me from wearing them ever again. 

Breaking my own rules is fine every once in a while, but I never break my wife’s rules. That might be the only part of my personal code that’s non-negotiable. 

Cover photo courtesy of the author.

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