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When Fun Isn’t: A Guide to Type II Fun

When a sketchy Austrian guy with a grizzled beard offers you a tent/sleeping bag/sleeping pad combo for 30 Euros, you don’t waste time wondering if it’s a good purchase; you get three, pass them out to your friends, and head out for some seat-of-the-pants backpacking.

The first three nights are crystal clear, accented by the distant knocking of cowbells and an impossibly thick sprinkle of stars. The fourth night it rains all night, and you learn that, while the “waterproof” canopies of bargain Euro-tents are unbelievably permeable, the floors seem to be made of the world’s heaviest-duty tarpaulin, meaning that once the water gets in, it damn sure stays there. You might as well sleep in a lake.

This, of course, is a miserable way to spend a night, but when you get back to town and have had some time to dry out, you won’t be telling stories about the pleasant nights you spent under the stars. You’ll reminisce instead about the time you almost drowned inside your tent because, of course, it’s that sort of experience that sticks with you: miserable and hateful while it’s happening, legendary when it’s over. Getting lost, getting cold, getting hungry, getting wet, getting scared, and coming out on top; that’s the stuff you remember. That’s Type II fun.

Even if you’ve never heard about the fun scale, you will probably understand it pretty intuitively. On this highly scientific spectrum, Type I is the easy, fun-while-it’s-happening stuff—mellow powder skiing, lazy cragging, afternoon hiking. You’re bummed when it’s over, but you’d be hard-pressed to remember more than a few specific examples. Type III fun resides at the other end of the scale—miserable while it’s happening, still miserable when it’s over and just as miserable to think about later. Anything that ends with you eating your own shoes, being evacuated by helicopter, or featuring prominently in a non-fiction bestseller likely classifies as Type III.

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Somewhere in the middle of this mess lies Type II fun, which is God-awful while you’re doing it, but totally worth it once you’re done. You get lost and a pleasant hike becomes soul-killing bushwhacking; halfway up your dream line, easy skinning turns into a marathon postholing session; you go camping and spend a sleepless night lying in a freezing puddle. None of these things are life-threatening, but they’re nothing that you’d go out of your way to repeat, either. Indeed, on the surface they seem like things that you’d try pretty hard to avoid. So what’s the big deal?

Maybe we’re all in it for the barstool cred (a story were everything goes to plan isn’t a story at all), or maybe we’re more into “character building” than we realize and understand that heinous mosquitoes, extreme hunger, and getting lost somehow make us better people. Maybe we love testing ourselves, but often aren’t brave enough to do so on purpose, and Type II adventures let us push our limits without psyching ourselves out and backing down before we get started. No matter how you slice it, enjoying Type II fun requires a pretty damn selective memory, one in which significant unpleasantness is relegated to the margins and every bad experience comes with a qualifier: “I mean, it wasn’t that bad, and besides…”

Often, too, Type II fun rewards you in more concrete ways. The postholing nightmare ends with a perfect ski down a 4,000-foot couloir, or the accidental bushwhack spits you out at an overlook you didn’t know existed and never would’ve found had you been less incompetent. Perhaps, then, Type II’s secret is that it turns misery into happiness and failure into success. Or maybe we’re just overthinking the whole thing and Type II isn’t anything unusual; maybe it’s just the ups and downs of life, distilled into a single afternoon, and maybe that’s the whole point. After all, if your food’s spent the night soaking in a puddle, the oatmeal’s ready to eat as soon as you get up.

What’s your best Type II story? Share it in the comments section below.

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