A Few Thoughts … On artistic types in the wilderness

By Sandy Compton
Reader Columnist

Each year, a backpacking trip into a nearby wilderness is undertaken by certain artistic types (ATs), most often plein air painters. ATs follow “guide” Bearly-Seen Svensson (not his real name, for legal reasons) into the wild, stopping often to art their hearts out as Bearly catches up on his rest and decides which obscure and difficult route leads to the next artful spot. This year, the group trundled up a “trail” (haha) into a place unnamed for fear it will be trampled by unguided ATs seeking plein air possibilities and then Search and Rescue folk seeking said ATs. 

During several trips of late, one recidivist AT (yes, they do come back) has been assertively pointing out things Bearly-Seen forgot to mention in “planning” (haha, again). Beating uphill through mountain maple or slip-sliding down an 80% slope sprouting false huckleberry and devil’s club, this AT might blurt out, “This wasn’t in the brochure!” As if there is one.

Bearly, occupied at times like these with tight-roping an alder bole or some other feat of wilderness travel, doesn’t respond. But he thinks, If there was a truthful brochure, no one would come on these soirees. Then, he looks at the string of ATs behind him and thinks, Except these maniacs. Hmmm. There might be others like them.

So, Bearly has designed a brochure for his appropriately-named Pain-Aire Adventure Company. The front page features a hiker who is barely seen thrashing about in an extra-dense patch of alder (which is how Bearly got his moniker — that, and smelling like a bear after Day 1). The type proclaims “Pain-Aire Adventure Company: Taking you places you never thought you’d want to go,” plus the company motto: “It could be worse.®” 

Veteran Pain-Aire clients assume it will be.

The brochure continues: 

“On your Pain-Aire Adventure, your guide will see that you get your daily recommended dose of alder, eye gnats, sweat, biting flies, nettles, mosquitos, huckleberries (there are some benefits), sweat, devil’s club, fresh spring water (another benefit), cliffs, disappearing elk trails, sweat, disturbingly large piles of bear poop and fear — lots of good, healthy, old-fashioned fear.

“Pain-Aire Adventure Company is ready to take you for a frolic in the wilds of North-Central Western Montaho. Our no-money back guarantee is unique to the industry, as is our 22-page liability disclaimer you will sign after handing over a paltry $5,000 — just $1,250 a day (plus legal fees) — for four days in places like Mortification Meadows, Upper Hell, Chunion Flats, Lower Hell, Goat Wallow Lake, Middle Hell, The Cliff and other spectacularly under-visited spots. (The Cliff needs no other name.)

“You will have the opportunity to carry way too much food in a certified bear-proof canister that weighs three pounds empty and is impossible to open without breaking a nail. Add water (when it can be found), tent, sleeping bag, stove, whiskey (don’t show it to the guide unless you want to share), camera, cook gear, toilet paper, trowel (to go with the toilet paper), spare clothing you likely won’t put on, rain gear you surely will, first-aid kit, bear spray, sunscreen and GPS (just in case the guide takes a wrong turn — again). Add to that assorted items you thought you couldn’t live without but will find that you can and wish you had left behind (like that extra can of Spam.)”

On the third page of the brochure, just above a block of very, very, very fine print (six-point), again denying all liability, is a glossary of Pain-Aire terms and definitions, allowing guests to understand what’s really going on: 

• It’s just over that next rise: We’re about half way there. Maybe. 

• Let’s just pop over to that next peak: Do you have a headlamp with you?

• There’s our camp spot, right over there: It’s less than four hours away. Maybe.

• I’m pretty sure this is where I think we are (guide pointing at a map): We might get there today, might not.

• This alder patch won’t take much time: We won’t get there today, and maybe not tomorrow. 

• We don’t need no stinkin’ trails: That’s good, because there are none. 

On the back page, below a lovely picture of a beautiful couple standing in a flower-laden hillside meadow looking at a fantastic view (a total marketing ploy), is a list of questions for potential Pain-Aire clients: 

• Are you a maniac artistic type? 

• Need a place to try out new swear words? Or learn some?

• Tired of knowing exactly where you are?

• Does your art benefit by suffering and struggle? 

• Are you working out fears of bears, bushes, heights, being lost, bumps in the night outside your tent or pooping in the woods? 

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, visit pain.aire.adventures.omg or call 1-800-TAG-ALDR and reserve space in next year’s Pain-Aire Adventure. 

Sandy Compton reminds you that any resemblance to real ATs and “guides” (haha) is purely coincidental. Check out his new book, 34 Poems, at local bookstores and amazon.com.

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