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The Princess in the wild

Alison Berkley

By the time you read this, I will have probably already used the outhouse.Not only am I going to leave my beloved snowboard behind for a pair of skis, I’m going on my first-ever hut trip, so that means bye-bye plumbing for two days. Don’t get me wrong: I can play the whole natural chick in the mountains thing. I can wear braids and choker necklaces with beads, all Patagonia and no makeup, and even skip a shower or two. But honestly, I haven’t camped more than 500 feet from the car since I did a 30-day National Outdoor Leadership School course outside Lander, Wyo., when I was 20. Let’s just say it didn’t enlighten me as much as it was supposed to.Outward Bound and NOLS were all the rage for spoiled kids from Connecticut back then. All my friends had done these outdoor courses and come back with tales of communing with nature, discovering their true inner self and losing at least 10 pounds – the one part of it that actually appealed to me. I hated every minute of it, cried every day, and was the biggest loser in my group. I almost got struck by lightning, had blisters the size of Connecticut, came face-to-face with a brown bear and had bug bites on every square inch of exposed skin including my lips and eyes so I looked like I had some kind of horrible disease.For starters, I was by far the slowest one. And that didn’t go over so well with this crew of trailblazers who acted like they were training for a marathon. Granted, I was rounder than I was tall back then and had only been living in the mountains for less than a year with a boyfriend who loved me just the way I was. (I was like, “Really? You don’t think I’m fat? In that case, pass the fries!”) Come to think of it, he was the one who came up with the idea for me to take the course in the first place. The group’s opinion of me was summed up one day when our instructor interjected during a heated debate about how we were going to split up into smaller groups for a peak ascent. He said, “Let’s just get to the bottom of this. The real problem is no one wants to be in the same group as Alison.”Suffice it to say the whole experience did nothing to enhance my leadership skills. If anything, I was a better leader before the damn course. I was used to being popular, always the center of attention. I had gone from leader to loser.The instructors were a married couple named John and Mary who had never taught a course together before, and a rookie instructor from Georgia with some backwoods southern name like Buck or Bud whose accent was so thick I was convinced he must be speaking a different language. John was one of these veteran instructors with legs like fire trucks who thought nothing of walking 20 miles a day. When he wasn’t bickering with his poor wife, he was about as warm and nurturing as a drill sergeant when it came to dealing with neurotic spoiled little girls from Connecticut who were convinced they might just drop dead at any given moment from some rare wilderness disease. (Of course, I was the only one in the entire group who didn’t get sick or injured during our four-week death march through the Wyoming backcountry that covered over 90 miles.)Like this one day I was trying to apply bug spray, that sticky, horrendous smelling stuff, when I accidentally sprayed a wad full into my mouth and swallowed it. The bottle had all those poison warnings all over it, the ones with skulls and crossbones that say, “Do not swallow this product or you will swell up, turn blue, and explode in the middle of the street.” I was terrified.John took one look at me, shrugged, and laughed. He had this perverse sense of humor that made it hard for us to connect. Needless to say, I walked away from the bug spray incident unscathed, but he so did not feel sorry for me during all my suffering. One day we were hiking along and I tried to be inquisitive and curious and express my interest in flora and fauna, and said, “I smell something oniony – is that a certain type of flower?” He turns around and goes, “No, I just farted.” I just couldn’t look him in the eye after that. Speaking of farts, the food we ate on the trail had this way of digesting in an unpredictable manner, resulting in what the instructors deemed “the 30-second warning,” another gross thing they thought was so cute. During one of our little outdoor classes, I had a TSW that sent me running for the woods. So I’m hauling ass down this hill, so to speak, trying to get far enough away from the group that no one can see me drop my drawers. But at the same time, I have to go so bad that just looking for a spot was heightening my anxiety. I settled for squatting behind a tree that was narrower than I would have liked, but on a steep enough pitch that I was out of the view of the group. Just when I’m getting comfy, a bolt of lightning strikes about three feet from where I’m standing, literally knocking me off my feet and down this long steep ravine. I tumble down this dusty, pine needle and rock-strewn slope with my pants around my ankles and land on the bottom in a heap while the mosquitoes feast on my plump, exposed cheeks. I’m sure this trip will be different. Let’s just hope I don’t get caught with my pants down.The Princess will be away from phone and e-mail and promises she isn’t avoiding you. Send your love to alison@berkleymedia.com.


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