Penthouse Retrospective

by Jonah Keri Originally Published: July, 2011

Camping Crazed | 10 Years Ago This Month

Six city slickers head to the wilderness to learn some basic camping lessons — the hard way.

Penthouse Magazine - July, 2011Rocky Mountain Low

You planned the big weekend for months: six lifelong buddies braving the elements, hiking up into the Rocky Mountains for two days, camping under the stars.

You imagine great adventures at 12,000 feet, and what a welcome change of pace they’ll be compared to your bustling city existence: fresh air, clear lakes, mountains, and glaciers — and, hopefully, wildlife. If you come face-to-face with a critter — big or small — no problem: You tell yourself you’ll be brave.

But when a bear shows up, snuffling just inches from your tent, it doesn’t feel like a great adventure. It’s fucking scary as hell. And you’re not alone in that feeling: One of the guys with you, a dude you’ve known for 30 years, looks at the bear, then looks you in the eye — and pisses his pants.

We reached our first stop of the day just before noon. Sprawled out before us was Fern Lake, its crystal-clear waters surrounded by dramatic, snow-capped mountains. It was a perfect summer day, and we were in the high country at the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park, hundreds (thousands!) of miles from our crowded, polluted, stressful everyday existences.

What could be better?

“I’m going in!” shouted Rick. Remember the “snow-capped mountains” part of the description in that earlier paragraph? Yeah, well, we were at about 8,500 feet, and much of the water in that lake was melted snow from a couple of months before. I stuck a finger in and it was 50 degrees, tops. Fitz, a bodybuilder and the most fit guy in our group, tried to keep his foot in the water for ten seconds — then bailed after five.

Still, if Rick was in, Fitz was in. The CEO — so named for being the head of a fast-growing telecom company — wasn’t going to let the other guys one-up him. He was in, too. Mike, our buddy who’s a local and hikes these mountain trails every weekend, was game as well. He’d never met an outdoor challenge he couldn’t hack.

That left me and Cash, who manages a hedge fund (we’re creative with our nicknames, eh?), standing onshore. Like me, he had decided that, where this particulr risk was concerned, discretion was the better part of valor. We stared blankly at this suddenly gung-ho group of born-and-bred city boys. Better you guys than us!

The four of them dove in at once, and amazingly, they swam out 50 feet or so. At that point their bodies informed them of just what they’d gotten into, and they began furiously thrashing their way back, much to our amusement. This Polar Bear Club was abandoned just minutes after being formed. The badassery had been frozen right out of them. Cash and I took the opportunity to toss their towels into the woods before they reached the shore, blue-skinned and shivering their asses off. They did not appreciate the joke nearly as much as we did.

They did eventually warm up, though, and we trekked onward and upward, literally.

A couple of hours past lunch, we started getting loopy. It was a potent cocktail of altitude, nostalgia, and general camping knuckleheadedness.

Mike: “Look around, guys. This is what life was like before concrete buildings and cubicles. Things were so much simpler back then.”

Cash: “This is what life was like before we cured polio. So much simpler!”

Me: “We’re one-third of the way to an airplane’s cruising altitude.”

Rick: “I need to find some women and join the One-Third-of-a-Mile-High Club.”

Fitz (looking at my fingers, which had blown up to twice their normal size from the altitude): “Your hands have fucking leprosy!”

Then Cash dropped the hammer.

Ever since high school ended, Cash had become more and more of a ruthless capitalist, working insane hours, taking home seven figures, and traveling the world with his wife-with no plans to ever have kids or do anything else to cramp his lifestyle. Meanwhile, Mike was so smitten by Colorado’s many outdoor pursuits, he’d slashed his work schedule, leaving both himself and his wife — two highly trained physiotherapists — to support their two young daughters paycheck-to-paycheck, with part-time income. Cash couldn’t stand Mike’s lifestyle, no matter how many hikes, climbs, and triathlons he’d done, or how happy he was. Earlier, sitting in the passenger seat of Mike’s car on the way to the trail head, Cash had made a discovery in the glove compartment. He couldn’t hold it in any longer.