With the end of the school year approaching, my parents made the decision to get me out of the city for the summer. That year they shipped me off to summer camp for two months, far away from the friends they disliked and the opportunities to continue to get myself into trouble. I didn’t mind the camp really, I mean there were a multitude of opportunities to break the rules and wreak havoc on the masses, but I dreaded the camp’s annual canoe trip. Four days in the wilderness of Northern Ontario, paddling and portaging through the yet to be civilized Algonquin Park. And that’s when I met Tripper Jack.
We sat in the dining hall the night before the dreaded canoe trip, listening to the trippers and expedition leaders explain exactly what the hell we were about to set out to do. I really wasn’t paying attention, I mean I would have rather not be going. It was made clear however, that this was not an optional outing. “Are there any questions?”, the head tripper, Jack asked.
“Why aren’t there any girls here?”, I asked.
“Because they’re not coming.”, he replied.
“Why not?”, I added.
“I have my reasons.”, was his response. I really couldn’t think of a single reason not to bring the girls, but several very good ones to bring them along immediately sprang to mind.
“Well, this is gonna suck.”, I said in protest.
“We head out at 5 am.”, he continued, ignoring my objection. “So get your asses into bed. We eat and start loading up at 4.”
I sat up most of the night hoping for some kind of apocalypse, any kind really, that would stop this nightmare before it began, but none came. At 4 o’clock or so, long before any of the other living things were stirring, we all gathered in the mess hall, dining on eggs, toast and some kind of meat product most of us wouldn’t touch, and then, piled into the back of a panel van sitting atop milk crates, boxes and our camping gear. The roads were winding and filled with hills and valleys and, as the van swayed with every turn, Eric Soloway puked his guts out all over the milk crates beside him. “We have a winner.”, Tripper Jack chanted. “Anyone else eat the mystery meat?” No one had. No one else dared to. When we pulled up to our launch site the sun was up, and the water was clear and calm. We loaded the canoes with our gear and supplies, and headed straight across Canoe Lake.
As luck would have it, I shared the lead canoe with Tripper Jack. We paddled and paddled for what seemed like forever, making little progress as we tried to cross this never ending lake. ‘Mississippi Queen’ was playing on the transistor radio he had brought along, and using the paddle as a guitar, Tripper Jack nailed the solos.
There were hundreds of canoes on the lake. Hundreds of people setting out on a journey to nowhere, that inevitably led them right back to where they started. “You wanna get totally wasted?” Tripper Jack asked as he passed me some peyote. “This will totally mess with your head.” I didn’t even answer as I took the magic button, and waited for it to take effect. I was a little surprised that we were now travelling through a Equatorial rain forest although I’m pretty sure that the surprise had little to do with the forest itself, and was more likely due to the effects of the peyote. Looking at the river’s edge, lined with tangerine trees that reached up to marmalade skies, I saw rocking horse people jumping in and out of newspaper taxis in a desperate attempt to elude the evil Blue Meanies. “What the fuck is this?”, I heard myself ask..
“Yellow Submarine meets Sergeant Pepper.”, I heard someone answer. “Weird, isn’t it?”
“Who the hell are you?”, I asked.
“I am the walrus.”, he replied.
“I think you’re mistaken.”, I said with some certainty. “The walrus was Paul.”
“Paul’s dead”, he replied.
“That’s just a rumor.”, I informed him.
“But not an impossibility.”, came his reply. “Remember there’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.”
This certainly wasn’t my first sojourn into Pepperland, but this time I seemed to be watching it as if I was in the audience of a Fellini film. “Well this is one weird fucking trip.”, I told Tripper Jack.
“I told you it would fuck with your head.”, he said. “Prepare yourself. A lot of really weird shit goes on up here.”
‘Ride Captain, Ride’ seeped out of the radio as we passed a garden of cellophane flowers that towered over our heads, finally arriving at the site of the first portage. It took two trips to transport all of our gear 1/2 mile across rock and muck to reach the shore of another lake that seemed very much like the one we had just left. We set off again looking for an island to spend the night. Tripper Jack spotted one that had a gentle sloped beach for the canoes, and a higher grade for our tents. A group of female canoeists who had already set up camp there agreed to share their site with us in exchange for protection from the wild animals they heard were known to live on these islands. “I come up here twice a year.”, Tripper Jack told me. “And every time, there’s a group of female campers on this island.” We set camp and made a fire. Some of the guys went skinny dipping in the lake, and a few of the girls joined them. Tripper Jack handed me a joint, and went off with a big boobed, blonde teen sensation that he hoped would soon be bobbing up and down on his lap. I stayed on shore, preferring to sit and talk with Naomi, the leader of the girls expedition. Despite being older than I was, I couldn’t help thinking about jumping down her shorts. Naomi and I disappeared into the woods and proceeded to get high.
“Why aren’t you in the water with the others?”, she asked as I passed her the joint.
“I’ve been waiting to go with you.”, I told her. She sat with her insanely long legs slightly apart afforded me an unobstructed view of her wondrous camel toe. “What do you say?”, I asked. “Should we go for a swim?”
“You just want to get me naked, don’t you?”, she asked. “I can see how you look at me.”
“I certainly do.”, I told her.
“Well”, she continued, “we don’t have to go in the water for me to take my clothes off.” She stood up and began undressing. “Come on.”, she said. “You have to take yours off too or its no deal.” I was already hard, and she noticed. “Well, someone likes tits.”, she said as she removed her top. Indeed someone did. We spent the night together in a sleeping bag in the woods, and when the sun came up, we parted ways.
“So that wasn’t so bad.”, Tripper Jack said as we paddled away from the island. “And now you know why I don’t bring the girls along.”
We did another button listening to ‘Draggin’ The Line’ on the radio, as the walrus swam beside our canoe. He followed us for what seemed like forever, but really it was only as long as the peyote lasted, “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream.”, he told me just before he left.
“Its hard to do when I’m listening to the colors of my dreams.”, I replied.
“It is knowing.”, the walrus said as he swam away into the river of marshmallow pies.
On our return to camp, Tripper Jack and I remained quite close. I had developed a fondness for peyote, and outdoor sex which I attempted to share with several of the female counselors. One night in early August, I got caught on the girls side of the camp knocking on heaven’s door with Ellen Rose behind the girl’s shower. And while she was a willing participant and an eager recipient of my manhood, I was held responsible and sent home for violating camp rules and performing lewd acts with the unsuspecting and innocent female staff at the camp. I didn’t protest, despite the fact that Ellen Rose, who I was sure held a graduate degree in blow jobs, was far from innocent. My parents were notified and informed that I had been expelled from the camp for life, and they were expected to remove me from the property the following day. With nothing to lose, I spent that last night on a mission of sexual depravity that would have made de Sade blush.
My parents arrived first thing in the morning, and the old man wasted no time in expressing his disgust and disappointment in my behavior. As we loaded the car, a group of friends arrived to say their goodbyes. Tripper Jack and Eric Soloway were there. Ellen Rose and a handful of the other female counselors I had moon danced with the night before appeared as well. Tripper Jack slipped me a small packet as we shook hands, and Ellen Rose, handed me a piece of paper with her phone number on it. I suppose it wasn’t a totally wasted summer. I stayed in touch with Tripper Jack for many, many years until he moved overseas. I met up with Ellen Rose a few times over the years, tripping the light fantastic until she married. My parents never really got over the horror of my tarnishing the family name with my, and these are their words, perverted and unprincipled behaviors. Three years later, I returned to the very same camp as a staff member and, following the example set by Tripper Jack, helped a couple of intelligent, insightful young women find their own way to Pepperland.