An Interlude With Herr Nietzsche

I have two sons of whom I am inordinately proud. From now on I will refer to them as Robert (age 24) and Anson (21). They like to read.

Last night Robert and I went on a little camping trip. To enjoy it as much as I did you’ll need a little background information.

When my boys were much younger I sent them off to Hunter safety Camp. They loved it so much that, on subsequent summers, they repeated the experience (there were then three levels of training).

It covered hunting skills, fishing, and wilderness survival. Marksmanship included compound bows, muzzleloading and modern rifles, and shotguns. In addition they learned field dressing, ATV driving, how to escape from quicksand, etc. In other words, the basic stuff all boys should learn.

When Robert was fourteen his program included a voluntary, “unsupervised,” multi-day backpacking expedition (the instructors were keeping an eye on them from a distance). The camp itself is situated on a large lake – the students were given a destination on its far side. The route around the lake was through a trackless wilderness and included crossing streams and wading through swamps. The temperature was in the mid-90s – dropping into the high 80s at night. The humidity was approximately 100%. This is Florida in the summertime.

As I remember there were twelve boys and two girls in the group. They were informed that they were never more than minutes from rescue by a motorboat.

And so the story begins. A number of them gave up during the course of the day’s hike and sat down to await rescue. When the others reached their designated campsite they found it infested with biting flies. Some of the kids set up their tents and started preparing supper, but several more threw in the towel.

Those who were left got a smudge fire going – and kept it going twenty-four hours a day. They did their own cooking and cleaning; they practiced their wilderness skills together. And more dropped out. At the end of the designated time only two boys walked out under their own power – and Robert was one of them.

When I drove to Ocala to pick up Robert and Anson I was regaled with the highlights of the story (Robert told the story and the instructors proudly confirmed his veracity). When he finished, I said to him, “sounds like a Nietzsche experience.”

He looked at me in puzzlement so I recited the quote that had popped into my head , “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

“Nietzsche experience” immediately become our family’s code phrase for any difficult experience successfully survived.

And now to the present day.

Robert lives and works on the far side of Tampa Bay – about fifty minutes away in good traffic. He rooms in a house with a young couple from our Christian Fellowship (you would call it a “church” but we don’t). This household is a center of a lot of ministry activity – so Robert wasn’t surprised when, two weeks ago, the Frau announced that she would be teaching a Saturday class for younger women – single and married. It was entitled “Keepers at Home.” The men were invited to vacate the premises for the day.

My son decided this would be a perfect opportunity to spend time with the old man. He called me up and asked me if I was up for a backpacking trip. Honestly, the idea made me a little nervous. I hadn’t been camping in about five years and I work in a sedentary job. But hey, this would be a good test to see just how out of shape I might be.

Then Robert informed me that we would be stealth camping in a portion of a state forest where overnight stays are prohibited. This would give us easy access to an enormous dry cave – one that is off-limits to the public. Sounds like fun! If we don’t get caught.

The weather forecast was for a low of 51° with occasional light sprinkles of rain. I met him at his house yesterday after work and he drove us to the park. By the time we had stashed the car it was full dark. We hiked in, set up camp, built a fire, and cooked some steaks. After we cleaned up it was time for bed. Because of the forecast we had only set up light tarps to keep the sprinkles off.

This morning I woke up at my usual time – 4 AM – with the thought of going back to sleep for another couple of hours. I often do that on Saturday mornings. Then I noticed something odd – my pillow was soaked, and my sleeping bag and sweatshirt were, too. I wasn’t cold – I was actually quite comfortable (hooray for wool and modern synthetics!). But I was stiff and sore and decided against trying to go back to sleep.

It turned out that a driving rain had hit us during the night (not that I noticed). The tarps had not been adequate. The whole campsite was drenched.

Robert got up shortly after I did – he was pretty wet too. It was still sprinkling – off and on – so we broke out our ponchos. He made coffee on his alcohol stove as we sat around talking about this and that. Robert opined that this unexpected rain would probably make entering the cavern too dangerous. I told him that I would go along with whatever he decided.

He prepared breakfast (oatmeal with trail mix plus a pound of bacon) but, just as we finished eating, the skies opened up and the rain poured down. Thunder and lightning and everything. At least we had self washing dishes – just lean them against a tree.

Robert then took me on a tour of a nearby sinkhole – not the one with the large cave, but very impressive nonetheless. He wanted to take me over to view the cave (from the outside) but the trail was completely underwater. We returned to camp and packed up our sopping wet gear – all rather willy-nilly – and set out to hike back to the car.

Robert was fairly upbeat – but was doing a little grumbling about his plans being ruined. I simply laughed and reminded him that it was just another Nietzsche experience.

The rain was still coming down as we hit the trail. This led up over a ridge and down the other side. The trail, overnight, had turned into a rushing stream. It varied from ankle-deep to knee deep. By the time we strode out of the woods we were completely drenched. But we were very thankful to God for keeping us safe and healthy (and well fed).

The best part of this whole experience, for me, was that Robert organized everything. He put together the equipment and food. He planned the trip and route. He selected the campsite and had scouted the items of interest in the area. All I had to do was show up and follow orders.

The tough little boy of fourteen had grown up to be a man full of godly confidence. I couldn’t have been prouder.

P.S. It turns out the old man is still pretty tough, himself.