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Two Kinds of People

You could say that there are two kinds of people in this world: those that stake the corners of the tent down before erecting the poles, and those that slide the poles through the tent sleeves first and stake the corners of the tent down last. 

Of course, there are so many other kinds of people in this world—there are people who have someone else pitch their tent, people who glamp, people who sleep in a hammock…hell, there are even people who have never pitched a tent once in their life and have no desire to start the process now, thank you very much. But I’m talking about people who matter here, and among people who matter, there are two kinds of people: those who stake first, and those who stake last. 

It seems like a simple difference that should have no true consequence on one’s life or identity, but the process by which you erect a tent says a lot about who you are as an individual. Staking the edges first implies that you are confident enough to know, without a doubt, that the spot you picked out for your tent will be the perfect spot, even after it’s fully erected. Some might call that unwavering confidence “arrogance.” Staking the tent last implies that you’re a bit more whimsical and prone to changing your mind, and maybe after you get the poles inside the tent sleeves and see the thing in all its glory, you’ll want to move it to a slightly different location. Some might call that indecision “flighty.”   

“Stakes first” people are rule followers. “Stakes last” people think rules are cute suggestions. “Stakes first” people have 401(k)s. “Stakes last” people are relying on sandwich loyalty punch cards as a retirement plan. 

Other than being in agreement that camping is awesome, “stakes first” people probably will not see eye to eye with “stakes last” people on a lot of issues. For instance, there’s a good chance that everyone in the “stakes last” camp insists on torching their marshmallows on the end of the stick when they’re making s’mores, while everyone in the “stakes first” group probably roasts their marshmallows slowly, careful to caramelize the sugar treat but not burn it. “Stakes first” people like Pearl Jam, “stakes last” people like Nirvana, and they’ll slap any fool who disagrees. 

It should be noted here that the printed instructions on all tents expressly tell you to stake down the corners of said tent first. Don’t believe me? Go find your tent and look at the instructions sewn to the inside of the stuff sack right now. It’s right there in black and white. 

It should also be noted that I have been firmly planted in the “stakes last” group of people my entire life. It’s odd, because I was raised by a “stakes firster.” Perhaps my late-staking tendencies are an act of rebellion? I also burn my marshmallows, have been described often as “flighty,” and, if I’m being completely honest, won’t even bother staking down my tent half the time. 

Yes, I’ve read the directions on the tent, analyzing the graphic that clearly shows how you should stake the corners of the tent down first, then slide the poles into place. But I’ve always considered those directions to be either A) a misprint; Or B) a trap. I’ve also always considered people who stake down their tent before erecting it to be psychotic if not outright criminals.  

I am a “stakes last” or die kind of guy. Nirvana over Pearl Jam. Burnt marshmallows all day. 

Or so I thought. 

I was camping recently with a group of new friends, one of whom is a “stakes firster.” I mumbled some disparaging comment about his kind under my breath as we were setting up our two-person tents, and he challenged me to a competition. I pitch my tent stakes last, he pitches his tent stakes first, the person with the tautest tent wins. We had identical structures, so there could be no mistake about the victor. The gauntlet was thrown. He might as well have slapped me across the face with a glove and questioned my civility as a gentleman. The duel was on.

We each went to work erecting our tents in our own methods, and when we finished and stepped back from our temporary abodes, the results were undeniable: his tent was significantly tauter than mine. Not only that, but he had an easier time getting his poles through the sleeves and erecting his tent with his corners staked first. 

I was dumbfounded. My entire belief system had been shattered in a matter of minutes, and it hit me hard. My whole life, I had been pitching tents the wrong way, but my near-religious fervor had blinded me. I’d even taught my own children to pitch tents the wrong way. I had been positive that “stakes firsters” were monsters, but in reality, I was the monster. 

I’ve been questioning a lot of things since that fateful day. What else have I gotten wrong in my life? Should I take more care when roasting marshmallows? Are sandwich loyalty programs not a viable retirement plan? Dear god, have I been wrong about Pearl Jam this whole time? 

I don’t know anything anymore. If anyone needs me, I’ll just be here questioning my own existence while listening to the album “Ten” over and over. 

Cover photo courtesy of the author.

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